Then Jacob went on his journey, and came to the land of the people of the east. As he looked, he saw a well in the field and three flocks of sheep lying there beside it; for out of that well the flocks were watered. The stone on the well’s mouth was large, and when all the flocks were gathered there, the shepherds would roll the stone from the mouth of the well, and water the sheep, and put the stone back in its place on the mouth of the well.
Jacob said to them, ‘My brothers, where do you come from?’ They said, ‘We are from Haran.’ He said to them, ‘Do you know Laban son of Nahor?’ They said, ‘We do.’ He said to them, ‘Is it well with him?’ ‘Yes,’ they replied, ‘and here is his daughter Rachel, coming with the sheep.’ … While he was still speaking with them, Rachel came with her father’s sheep; for she kept them. Now when Jacob saw Rachel, the daughter of his mother’s brother Laban, and the sheep of his mother’s brother Laban, Jacob went up and rolled the stone from the well’s mouth, and watered the flock of his mother’s brother Laban. Then Jacob kissed Rachel, and wept aloud. And Jacob told Rachel that he was her father’s kinsman, and that he was Rebekah’s son; and she ran and told her father.
When Laban heard the news about his sister’s son Jacob, he ran to meet him; he embraced him and kissed him, and brought him to his house…And he stayed with him for a month. Then Laban said to Jacob, ‘Because you are my kinsman, should you therefore serve me for nothing? Tell me, what shall your wages be?’ Now Laban had two daughters; the name of the elder was Leah, and the name of the younger was Rachel. Leah’s eyes were lovely, and Rachel was graceful and beautiful. Jacob loved Rachel; so he said, ‘I will serve you seven years for your younger daughter Rachel.’ Laban said, ‘It is better that I give her to you than that I should give her to any other man; stay with me.’ So Jacob served seven years for Rachel, and they seemed to him but a few days because of the love he had for her. Then Jacob said to Laban, ‘Give me my wife that I may go in to her, for my time is completed.’ So Laban gathered together all the people of the place, and made a feast. But in the evening he took his daughter Leah and brought her to Jacob; and he went in to her…When morning came, it was Leah! And Jacob said to Laban, ‘What is this you have done to me? Did I not serve with you for Rachel? Why then have you deceived me?’ Laban said, ‘This is not done in our country—giving the younger before the firstborn. Complete the week of this one, and we will give you the other also in return for serving me for another seven years.’ Jacob did so, and completed her week; then Laban gave him his daughter Rachel as a wife…30 So Jacob went in to Rachel also, and he loved Rachel more than Leah. He served Laban for another seven years.
When the Lord saw that Leah was unloved, he opened her womb; but Rachel was barren. Leah conceived and bore a son, and she named him Reuben; for she said, ‘Because the Lord has looked on my affliction; surely now my husband will love me.’ She conceived again and bore a son, and said, ‘Because the Lord has heard that I am hated, he has given me this son also’; and she named him Simeon. Again she conceived and bore a son, and said, ‘Now this time my husband will be joined to me, because I have borne him three sons’; therefore he was named Levi. She conceived again and bore a son, and said, ‘This time I will praise the Lord’; therefore she named him Judah; then she ceased bearing.
Jacob is yet another of those Biblical characters who is, how shall I say it, less than perfect? He’s a trickster who has deviously obtained both his brother’s birthright and the father’s blessing due to Esau. Not that it has done him enormous good but nevertheless he’s got them. He finds himself having to work for his kinsman, who, it turns out is just as dishonest and tricksy, fooling Jacob into working for the wrong wife and having to work a further 7 years for the woman he does actually fancy!
Setting aside, temporarily, the appalling patriarchy of fathers ‘owning’ their daughters, it’s quite satisfying to read of Jacob getting his comeuppance, even if ultimately it does set him up for a final revenge on his father-in-law (spoiler alert!). I do hope, however, that this led to a period of reflection by Jacob and perhaps helped to make him less devious and dishonest in the future?
And in our present, I find the continuing dishonesty of humanity distressing in the extreme. Consumer programmes and social media alike report and warn of scams aplenty that prey on people’s greed, ignorance and/or naiveté in heartless ways. I write this in the first weeks of the Covid-19 outbreak hitting the UK, during which new scams have already appeared, playing upon fears engendered by the pandemic. As if we didn’t have enough to worry about!
I do, though, remain of the opinion that our belief system is based upon fairness, justice and kindness. A part of our calling to spread the gospel, is also one to share that ethical nature. Persuading and encouraging folks to be unlike Jacob and more like the giving, helping, supporting, loving Jesus at the core of our faith? Now there is a biblical character who is never anything less than perfect!
Lord God we pray in the face of tricksters and fraudsters for the wisdom to see past their deceit
We pray for comfort and restitution for those who have been the victims of such fraud.
And, hard as it is to do, we pray for the perpetrators of such scams, frauds and thefts, that, like Jacob, they reflect on the harm and hurt they inflict, and that they will cease their evil acts. Amen
The Rev’d Peter Clark is Minister in the Bridport & Dorchester Joint Pastorate