Laban Disguises Leah!
Jacob the deceiver was about to be deceived. And that’s just the beginning….
Then Jacob said to Laban, “Give me my wife, for my time is completed. I want to sleep with her.”
So Laban invited all the men of the place to a feast.
That evening, Laban took his daughter Leah and gave her to Jacob, and he slept with her.
And Laban gave his slave Zilpah to his daughter Leah as her slave.
Genesis 29:21-24 (HCSB)
The man who deceived his father, was deceived by his father-in-law. And the man who passed himself off as the firstborn son now receives Laban’s firstborn daughter to be his wife. It’s an inescapable law of life that we eventually reap what we sow (Gal. 6:7-8).
God in His grace forgives our sins when we confess them (1 John 1:9), but God in His government allows us to suffer the painful consequences of those sins. This disappointment was just the beginning of the harvest for Jacob.
As strange as this may seem to our Western way of doing things, I can see how this could have happened.
Had Jacob celebrated too much?
Perhaps. Or maybe he was intoxicated by his passionate love (Prov. 5:19).
“That evening”, the time came for the business at hand: The procession of the bride being escorted to the tent of her anxious groom. Not only was the night sky black, but by custom the lamps in his tent also remained unlit.
For the bride, darkness was compounded by a thick veil that thoroughly obscured her face and most of her figure. The veil remained in place until after the marriage was consummated, “a very ancient custom, indicating modesty, and subjection to the husband. Her voice, too, was hidden since the bride was to be presented in utter silence.”
Something happened on that dark evening. Traditions were inverted, thrown out of joint. Rather than being sacred, the tent became a place of secrets. Truth remains hidden beneath the covering of night as uncle Laban did the unthinkable.
…he took his daughter Leah and gave her to Jacob…
No, poor Rachel was not lost in translation.
Laban “took” his firstborn daughter and “gave” her to a man who didn’t love her, to a man who didn’t want her, to a man “who had never shown her the least regard.” Her father gave Leah away as if she meant nothing to him.
How could Laban do such a thing – this “monstrous blow,” this “shameless treachery”?
Had he planned the wedding – night deception all along?
Or had he expected Leah to marry during those seven years but then at the last minute force upon her the nearest bridegroom, not caring how many lives he ruined as long as she was duly wed?
Whatever his reasons – none of them valid – we can imagine Laban disguising Leah, just as Rebekah disguised Jacob, and shoving her younger sister’s wedding clothes into her arms, demanding, “Do as I say.”
Did Leah have any choice in the matter?
Took and gave make us doubtful. I wonder how Rachel felt. I also wonder how Leah felt. This was hard on both of these sisters.
Was Leah a willing partner in the trick or did her unprincipled father force her to obey him?
And where was Rachel during the drama?
We can imagine several possible scenarios but can be sure of none of them.
Had Leah so desired, she could easily have revealed the plot, but that would have embarrassed Laban before his guests and probably led to Jacob’s being banished from the home without his beloved Rachel. Then for the rest of her life, Leah would have had to live with a disappointed sister and an angry father, who would devise some means to get even with his elder daughter. Not, revealing the scheme just wasn’t worth it.
I feel that Leah was a willing accomplice, happy to get a hard-working husband like Jacob, who would inherit Isaac’s wealth and enjoy the covenant blessings of Abraham. Certainly she knew that Rachel would also be part of the bargain, but was willing to risk whatever problems might ensue.
Leah may have “borrowed” some of her sister’s garments and even learned to imitate some of her personal mannerisms. If so, she was treating Jacob just the way he had treated his father when he pretended to be Esau.
When morning came, Jacob realized Leah was the one with him in the marriage bed.
Jacob: What have you done to me? Did we not have a deal—seven years of labor in exchange for your daughter Rachel? Why have you deceived me?
Genesis 29:25 (VOICE)
But imagine the groom waking up on the first morning of his festive week and discovering that he was married to the wrong woman! Among Semitic peoples, for seven days after their marriage, the bride and groom were treated like a king and queen, but Jacob must have felt more like the court jester. Laban had made a fool of him, but there was nothing Jacob could do about it; for the father in the household was in supreme control.
Laban: That isn’t something we do here in this country—giving the younger daughter in marriage before the firstborn.
Genesis 29:26 (VOICE)
All the commentators I’ve read said there was no such custom and that this was just a feeble attempt by Laban to justify his actions. Even if there was such a custom, Laban certainly should have told Jacob about the custom and not have had him labor under false pretenses. This was fraud, pure and simple.
I’m not sure what Laban’s reasoning for this was. It’s possible that he had a genuine concern for Leah and didn’t want her being an old maid while her younger sister enjoyed marriage. I think it is more probable that Laban knew Jacob greatly loved Rachel and would work another seven years for her. So Laban did this to force Jacob into working for him seven more years. I think it was greed motivated.
If you complete this wedding week with Leah, then I will also give you Rachel. But in return, you must serve me another seven years.
Genesis 29:27 (VOICE)
This probably hurt Leah and Rachel very much. It caused many problems between these sisters over the years. In a sense, Laban used his own daughters as prostitutes. Jacob’s unscrupulous father-in-law had married off two daughters to a potentially wealthy man and had secured another seven years’ service from his son-in-law as a bonus! Laban was one cold-hearted businessman.
Jacob agreed and completed his week with Leah. And then Laban gave him his daughter Rachel in marriage. Laban gave his servant Bilhah to his daughter Rachel to be her servant. Then Jacob also slept with Rachel, and he clearly loved Rachel more than Leah. As agreed, he served Laban for another seven years.
Genesis 29:28-30 (VOICE)
Jacob protested the way Laban had treated him and Rachel, but he meekly accepted his lot and went back to work for another seven years. Little by little, Jacob was learning to submit to God’s loving hand of discipline and was growing in faith and character.
At the end of Leah’s marriage week, Jacob married Rachel, the woman he loved, and had another week to live like a king.
Jacob did get Rachel, but at what cost?
He had to serve 14 years instead of seven and the shock, shame, and anger he endured at the hands of his uncle was costly. Jacob had been the deceiver, violating his father’s trust. Now he is the one who is violated.
Whatsoever a man sows, that shall he reap (Galatians 6:7). Jacob didn’t get by with anything. He had to flee his home and family. His brother wanted to kill him and many years later on his return this would cause him great anxiety. He was violated and shamed, taken advantage of, and was basically a bond servant to his uncle for 14 years. His wives were not friendly to each other, and he got caught in the middle more than once. The wild oats Jacob sowed in his younger life produced a crop that he had to eat the rest of his life.
Laban must have congratulated himself on the success of his scheme, not realizing that the Lord was ruling and overruling in the entire event. “Human wisdom, brilliance, insight—they are of no help if the Lord is against you.” (Prov. 21:30). As Jacob’s son Joseph would say many years later, “You plotted evil against me, but God turned it into good” (Gen. 50:20). Christians today would quote Romans 8:28.
“We know that in all things God works for good with those who love him, those whom he has called according to his purpose.”
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