Famous Lovers: Jacob and Rachel
By Doug and BJ Jensen
Jacob and Rachel, Genesis 27-35, 37
Doesn’t everyone love a love story where couples live happily ever
after? Whether it’s a young man dropping to one knee to propose
wedded bliss or a great grandpa slowly bending over to kiss his wife’s
white-haired head as he rolls her in a wheelchair, these scenes bring
warmth to our hearts.
Jacob passionately loved Rachel at first sight. But his passion for her
didn’t guarantee their marriage would run smoothly. Quite the opposite
happened. What was it that allowed Jacob to continually love Rachel all
of their days together?
His father Isaac advised him to take a wife from the family of Laban.
Jacob traveled three weeks to reach the land where Laban lived. He stopped
at a well and inquired, “Do you know Laban?” Shepherds at
the well responded that Laban lived close by. While they were talking,
Rachel, Laban’s younger daughter, arrived with her father’s
sheep. “When Jacob saw Rachel daughter of Laban, his mother’s
brother, and Laban’s sheep, he went over and rolled the stone away
from the mouth of the well and watered his uncle’s sheep. Then Jacob
kissed Rachel and began to weep aloud” (Genesis 29:10-11).
Jacob was smitten from the get-go. Jacob’s strength of passion,
gratitude, relief, and conviction when his eyes feasted on his cousin
Rachel is substance for a passionate story. But that’s not the best
part of this love story.
One month later Jacob asked Laban for Rachel’s hand in marriage.
Any modern day father might be shocked but appreciative if a prospective
suitor asked for permission to marry his daughter. Check out Jacob’s
proposal: “I’ll work for you seven years in return for your
younger daughter Rachel” (Genesis 29:18). Seven years? That’s
2,555 days! Jacob could be nominated for giving the best proposal of all
time. But that’s not the best part of this love story.
Jacob completed seven years of labor for Laban, and then he announced,
“Give me my wife. My time is completed, and I want to lie with her”
(Genesis 29:21). That’s getting right to the point! Remember, Jacob
had been in Laban’s fields for seven years, in the sweltering heat
of the day and frigid nights, dreaming about his wedding night. He was
anxious to claim what had been promised to him. But that’s not the
best part of this love story.
Laban planned a big wedding party for the whole town. Everyone ate, drank,
and became merry. The celebration proceeded smoothly until Laban contrived
a bait and switch trick. “But when evening came, he took his daughter
Leah and gave her to Jacob, and Jacob lay with her” (Genesis 29:23).
Genesis 29:25 describes the surprise the next day: “When morning
came, there was Leah!” Shocked, Jacob said to Laban, “What
is this you have done to me? I served you for Rachel, didn’t I?
Why have you deceived me?” The deceiver had been deceived! Sometimes
Scripture does not explain things in detail, and we’re left speculating.
How was it Jacob didn’t recognize that Leah had been switched for
Rachel? Jacob had been dreaming of this moment for seven years, and he
was passionately in love with Rachel. Was it that dark? Was he
inebriated from celebrating his marriage? Was he that anxious?
Laban shrugged it off by saying it wasn’t the custom to give the
younger daughter in marriage before the older one. He wanted Jacob to
finish Leah’s bridal week and then Jacob could marry Rachel in return
for another seven years of work. This man drives a hard bargain! He finished
the week with Leah, and then Laban gave him his daughter Rachel to be
Now read this carefully, because this is the best part of the
love story. Because of Jacob’s passionate love for Rachel, he was
willing to work another seven years for her hand! Can anyone top fourteen
years of labor for the privilege of marriage?
Even though there is no Scripture that states that Rachel returned Jacob’s
love (and she at times really tried his patience), he remained steadfast
in his love for her to the end. We know this because when Rachel died,
Jacob set up a pillar for her. Jacob only set up four pillars in his life:
two to God on the two occasions when God appeared to him, one as a peace
offering to Laban, and one for Rachel at her death. Jacob was faithful
to his marriage promise to Rachel.
The worst part of the story is that Jacob wasn’t loving toward
his first wife, Leah. Leah suffered the humiliation of unreciprocated
love. She felt her husband’s rejection because Jacob made a decision
not to love her. Are you married to someone you have decided not to love?
Another Love Story
The light chestnut horse approached the jump with confidence. Buck was
a fearless American Thoroughbred with years of training in both cross-country
and stadium events, and his rider was an experienced competitor. During
the Memorial weekend event, no one was prepared for Buck’s sudden
stop, least of all his rider. Flying head first over the “W”
jump, Christopher landed on top of his head, breaking his nick between
the C1 and C2 vertebrae. It was the worst immobilizing spine injury possible.
He couldn’t breathe on his own.
After five days of unconsciousness, Christopher Reeve awakened in ICU.
He was told by doctors that he had sustained a neck-down paralyzing injury.
When the horrible realization was fully absorbed, he wanted to die and
save everyone a lot of trouble.
His wife, Dana, came into the room. She stood beside Christopher’s
bed, and they made eye contact. Christopher mouthed his first lucid words
to her: “Maybe we should let me go.” Dana cried and said,
“I am only going to say this once: I will support whatever you want
to do, because this is your life, and your decision. But I want you to
know that I’ll be with you for the long haul, no matter what.”
Then she added the words that saved his life: “You’re still
you. And I love you.”
If she had looked away or paused or hesitated even slightly, Reeve later
said, of if he had felt there was a sense of her being noble, or fulfilling
some obligation to him, he didn’t know if he could have pulled through.
Have you ever experienced the challenge of keeping your wedding vows?
We have. Being imperfect humans, we regretfully catch ourselves doing
and saying things to each other that are hurtful. Regrets have a way of
building up over a period of time. That’s when a spouse doubts if
she or he married the right partner. It’s behavior like this that
shows us why we need marriage vows.
Our vows are not only promises to our partner, they are also promises
to God. They are pledges made to God about our commitment. The Bible is
quite clear that vows must be fulfilled. “When a man makes a vow
to the Lord or takes an oath to obligate himself by a pledge, he must
not break his word but must do everything he said” (Numbers 30:2).
“When you make a vow to God, do not delay in fulfilling it”
(Ecclesiastes 5:4). For many couples, living out their wedding vows and
commitment to each other becomes challenging. That was the case for Matt.
Matt’s shoulders drooped and his back ached from another physically
demanding day of construction work. As he opened the front door he speculated
on who would be there to meet him. He knew he’d be greeted by his
two wonderful children, but he was never sure if he would be welcomed
by his wife, Kelly. Would she be there, or would it be Susan in a rage,
or Cathy withdrawn and silent, or Linda obsessing over every little imperfection
in the house? Matt took a deep breath and entered tenuously, hoping today
would be different.
Kelly had been battling multiple personality disorder for years. When
they looked at Kelly, family and friends saw a woman who had progressively
lost her sense of reality and drifted into a dark, bottomless pit of oblivion.
Matt saw the radiant bride he had married. Every day Matt reminded Kelly
that God loved her and had a purpose for her life. He held stubbornly
to the hope that some day she would again embrace life with energy and
Later that evening, after putting the children to bed, Matt still faced
the same scene that had played out every night for two years. Kelly was
catatonic, passed out on the living room sofa, from the battle that raged
within her. Matt repeated his usual pattern. Lovingly and gently he picked
her up, carried her to bed, and cuddled beside her. He would wrap his
body securely around hers like a spoon.
In the morning he rose, made breakfast for his children and wife, and
left for the construction site before anyone else was awake. At work,
one of his co-workers asked, “How much longer are you going to endure
your hopeless marriage situation?”
Matt replied with determination, “When Kelly and I exchanged wedding
vows, I committed to God and to her that I would her ‘in sickness
and in health.’ I will honor that commitment. As long as I lover
her, the situation is not hopeless.”
Through God’s grace, Matt’s steadfast love, praying friends,
and the help of trained counselors, Kelly gratefully returned from her
pit of despair. Today, she speaks to women about overcoming shame, guilt,
and regret from difficult circumstances in their past.
Matt is a godly man who refused to see his wife through the clouded eyes
of the world. He focused on the beautiful woman God created. Matt was
committed to a marriage that would go the distance.
What allowed Matt to love Kelly through her darkest days? Was it his
deep love for her? Yes, and more. It was his commitment to his marriage
vows made not only to Kelly but also to God, to love her in sickness and
in health, for better or worse. Matt was committed to keeping his vow,
even if Kelly was incapable of responding to his love. Matt was determined
to love her no matter what she did or how she responded because Matt was
a man of passionate love and commitment.
The secret of a lifelong, loving marriage is… Commitment
to your wedding vows.
Deceiving a Deceiver
From Doug’s Perspective
Jacob’s first big deception was pretending to be his older brother
Esau so he could receive the coveted blessing from their father Isaac.
In those times a father’s blessing was like a will or trust of today.
It passed on an inheritance, typically to the oldest son. By stealing
the blessing Jacob believed he was obtaining an inheritance of vast lands
and power. It backfired because Jacob was forced to leave the land he
loved to avoid Esau’s wrath.
God saw what Jacob did and was not pleased. Deceit is always a sin because
it prevents full disclosure of the truth. Anything that hides even a portion
of the truth is deception, which separates us from God. Jesus said, “I
am the way and the truth and the life” (John 14:6). It is His nature
to always tell the whole truth. The truth is the way that leads to life.
The Source of Success
In exile, Jacob headed east. God appeared to Jacob in a dream and said,
“I am the Lord, the God of your father Abraham and the God of Isaac.
I will give you and your descendants the land on which you are lying”
(Genesis 28:13). No pun was intended by God, I assume, when He referred
to Jacob “lying.” This Scripture is highly significant. In
my opinion, God was saying to Jacob, “I am the one who promised
your grandfather Abraham and your father Isaac that their descendants
would inherit the land. Therefore, do not deceive anyone, because I am
the one who will bestow what I have promised. You wanted your father’s
blessing because you believed the blessing was a guarantee you and your
descendants would inherit the land, but it is not your father’s
blessing that will make it happen. I am the God of success and I will
make it happen.”
Jacob had not trusted God with the outcome, so he stole the blessing.
After God appeared to him, Jacob’s heart was softened and he made
a vow that he would trust God in the future, provided God continued to
give him success.
My Vow of Honesty
When I was 12 years old my father caught me in a lie. I promised never
to lie to him again . . . but I did. Then as an adult, I found myself
lying to my employer, saying I was sick or at the law library to do some
research, when I was actually going to a bar to get drunk. When I married
I was determined to be truthful, but my thought process had not changed.
I still believed it was better to lie and avoid immediate consequences
than tell the truth and trust God to help me work through the consequences
of my sin. I believe Jacob was like me, wanting to trust God with the
truth, but being afraid God could not or would not help because he disappointed
Him by lying.
Jacob’s Next Test
Twenty years after vowing to trust God, Jacob was faced with another
test presented by his father-in-law. Laban was Jacob’s match when
it came to trickery! Jacob was stuck working for Laban beyond the agreed
fourteen years, and Laban was not giving him anything for it—he
was cheating Jacob out of his wages. Hmmm . . . looks like what goes around
comes around. And around and around and around, as we witness in Jacob’s
life (see Proverbs 26:27 for God’s version of this saying). Jacob
had a decision to make. Would he allow Laban to continue to take advantage
of him, or would he use deception to even the playing field? Would he
trust God with the outcome and confront Laban, or would he revert to his
previous deceptive ways?
Jacob took what he thought was the easy way out and deceived Laban. Not
once but twice, first by secretly creating a large herd of his own goats
from Laban’s flock, and then by running away from Laban, taking
with him Leah, Rachel, and their children, without even allowing Laban
to kiss or say goodbye to his daughters and grandchildren.
Why was Jacob unable to confront Laban and tell him he was leaving? Did
he not trust Laban? More than that, he didn’t trust God to produce
a good outcome if he was truthful. Jacob failed to act in faith based
on his knowledge that God was more powerful than Laban. Laban discovered
Jacob and his family had left, so he pursued and caught up to them. There
were a few tense moments, but God was true to his promise to take care
of Jacob. He warned Laban in a dream not to say anything to Jacob that
could cause a fight. Laban chose to listen to God and let Jacob continue
his journey home.
Three times Jacob had chosen to lie rather than trust God’s promise
to take care of him. Jacob’s return to his homeland was an opportunity
to change his ways and make honesty a habit. Unfortunately, this famous
lover never found the knowledge or courage to change. In his reunion with
Esau, Jacob made statements that appeared deceptive. He also tried to
hide the rape of his daughter Dinah from his sons. Deceit had become a
life issue for Jacob.
A life issue is one that continually reappears in an individual’s
life. Typically it exists because we are not handling it in a way that
pleases God. So God, in His infinite wisdom, repeatedly presents us with
opportunities to handle the issue in a godly manner.
God gave Jacob many opportunities to be truthful and honest, but Jacob
failed to see the importance of truthfulness. The most devastating part
of not confessing, confronting, and conquering a life issue with God’s
help is that the issue may be passed on to the next generation, along
with the pain, anguish, and shame that result from sin.
After the rape of Dinah, Jacob’s sons killed all the men in the
guilty man’s city as revenge. Jacob’s sons had not shared
that plan with their father, which caused him great anguish because he
feared a reprisal from other cities in the area.
The anxiety Jacob felt because of this incident was the size of a flea’s
whisker compared to the heartache brought on by the scheming deception
of his ten oldest sons later in life. Jacob had given his favorite son
Joseph a special multi-colored robe, demonstrating his special love toward
Joseph. The other brothers were jealous, so when an opportunity developed,
they kidnapped Joseph and sold him to slave traders headed for Egypt.
Then they dipped his coat in goat blood and brought it to their father
Jacob. Scripture depicts the excruciating anguish felt by Jacob. “He
recognized it and said ‘It is my son’s robe! Some ferocious
animal has devoured him. Joseph has surely been torn to pieces.’
Then Jacob tore his clothes, put on sackcloth and mourned for his son
many days. All his sons and daughters came to comfort him, but he refused
to be comforted. ‘No,’ he said, ‘in mourning will I
go down to the grave to my son.’ So his father wept for him.”
Does Jacob’s grief tear at your heart? Perhaps God was grieving
too, not just for Jacob and not just for Joseph, but also for all the
sons who learned the art of deception from their father.
Releasing the Pain
Like Jacob and his sons, all of us run the risk of passing down to the
next generation sinful behavior that we fail to remove. When this happens
there is still hope, as seen in this next story.
A large, barrel-chested man stood up at the men’s seminar. With
voice quivering and tears dripping down his cheeks, he said, “My
name is Lou. I’m here tonight because I need to forgive my dad.
He was an alcoholic who was absent every Christmas of my life. He ruined
my childhood. I hated my dad for his drinking and I vowed as a child to
never forgive him. My dad is dead now.
“I have a son here with me tonight, Derek. Even before Derek was
born, I became an alcoholic. I missed Christmases with Derek because of
my drinking, and I hated myself for that. My son has every right to hate
me. But I don’t want to go to my grave as my father did without
getting things straight with my son.” He begged the seminar leader,
“Can you help me?”
The leader observed, “Your failure to forgive has held you in bondage.
You can be released from the hateful feelings if you forgive your father
tonight. It makes no difference whether he is here in this room or not.
Would you like to forgive your father now?”
Lou choked out the words, “Yes. I forgive you, Dad.”
The leader then questioned the son, “Derek, how do feel about your
dad and his drinking?”
Derek, a boy of about 15 years, replied, “I thought I hated my
dad for his drinking, but now I realize I just hate his drinking and not
“Would you like to forgive your father now for his drinking and
how that has impacted your life?”
Derek did not hesitate. He turned to his father, hugged him, and said,
“Dad, I forgive you.”
Overcoming a Life Issue
Like Jacob, lying for me had become a way to get what I wanted and avoid
uncomfortable confrontations. It also separated me from God, built barriers
between me and BJ, and laid a heavy burden of guilt and shame on my soul.
One day, by God’s grace, I finally decided I was willing to risk
the pain of truthfulness in exchange for releasing the pain of deception.
I was amazed to discover that the pain of truth was less and lasted a
shorter period of time. The pain of deception is long lasting and never
seems to recede. BJ appreciates my honest approach to communication—but
sometimes questions my truthfulness. That hurts, but I view it as God’s
way of holding me accountable.
Now, whenever I am tempted to tell a lie, I remember my past pain of
deception and the horror of Jacob and Lou passing down a life issue—a
sin—to the next generation. I know there will be repercussions from
any fessing-up of untruthfulness, but I know God promised to be with me
so I can trust Him with the outcome.
The secret of truthfulness is . . . Telling the truth
and trusting God with the outcome.
Jealousy and Discontentment
From BJ’s Perspective
Rachel was a girl who had a lot going for her throughout her life. The
Bible tells us she was “lovely of form and beautiful.” Since
her father Laban had two daughters, and Rachel was the younger, she was
elected to the lowly position of shepherdess. She may be the only female
sheep watcher who was mentioned in the Bible, so that told me she was
unique. When cousin Jacob from a distant land came into her life, her
future started looking brighter. He was searching for a wife, and he was
smitten by her outer beauty.
Lasting relationships do not usually depend on physical attraction alone.
The older I get, the more I realize how true this statement is. Mom warned
me, get to know the character of a prospective mate and his parents.
Getting to know someone’s family and character takes time and observation.
Having studied Rachel’s character, I suspect she was a passionate
person, but also a lamenter. Rachel may have been passionate, but her
passion was not directed toward her husband. When she married, her tune
was, “If only I had children to raise . . . then I would be content.”
She was fervent about having children. When Leah produced four sons by
Jacob, Rachel could not contain her cool. Jealousy raged because Rachel
was not able to conceive. She insisted Jacob sleep with her maidservant
Bilhah (Genesis 30:3). Jacob obediently slept with Bilhah and she became
pregnant—twice—bearing two sons. Was Rachel finally satisfied?
Nooooo. Can you hear her continued plea of discontent, “If I had
my own son . . . then I would be content.”
In the meantime, in Rachel’s self-imposed Olympic race for bearing
sons, Leah and the maidservants racked up a total of 10 points. Women
with sons in their society were honored with higher social status. I can
understand if I had a background as a lowly shepherdess, I’d probably
seek to raise my social status and gain higher esteem in my community.
Even after Bilhah bore two sons, Rachel was not satisfied and pleaded
with Jacob, “Give me children, or I’ll die!” (Genesis
“God remembered Rachel; he listened to her and opened her womb”
(Genesis 30:22). She gave birth to a son. But was she finally content
that she had gotten what she wanted? I’m afraid not. She named her
son Joseph, which means, “may he add” (Genesis 30:24). Before
the blood on the body of her newborn baby was cleansed, Rachel was bemoaning
again. This time it was something like, “If only I had another son
. . . then I would be content.”
With a blind passion for wanting sons, Rachel’s discontentment
became insatiable. Rachel had the love and devotion of a husband who was
passionate about her and who gave her great material wealth, and yet it
wasn’t enough. Aren’t we like that so often, continually wanting
whatever we don’t have? A bigger house, a better car, a higher social
status. What a sad lot we can be—wanting what we don’t have.
Later, Rachel conceived a second time. When it came time to deliver,
she had great difficulty. As she was struggling to give birth, the midwife
said to her, “Don’t be afraid, for you have another son.”
Rachel named him Ben-Oni (“son of my trouble”) and died. Ever
hear the saying, “Be careful what you pray for?” Little did
Rachel know at the time that she would die during childbirth, bearing
the last of Jacob’s sons. Rachel’s discontentment led to an
unsatisfying lifetime of competitive childbearing and discouragement.
Do you think Rachel could have lived a longer, more satisfying life instead
of continually agonizing through discontent? Not once are we told that
she thanked God for her blessings or sought His will or plan for her life.
I know as I draw closer to God and gratefully accept all He has given
me, I am much less stressed.
Our precious granddaughter Nicole taught me a lesson in acceptance when
she was five years old. I was discontent and complaining about my appearance
one day. Nicole’s childlike wisdom set me straight. “Mema,
God made you the way He wanted you. You should be happy!”
The secret of contentment is . . . Acceptance.
Questions for Discussion and Action
1. What promises did you make to your spouse and to God on your wedding
day? How well are you keeping yours?
2. Which of these three do you struggle with the most: jealousy, coveting,
or envy? How does that affect your marriage?
3. How has speaking the truth to your spouse helped or hindered your
Excerpted from Famous Lovers
in the Bible: And Marriage-Building Secrets We Learn from their Relationships,
by Doug and BJ Jensen (Published by New Hope Publishers, Birmingham, Alabama:
Doug and BJ Jensen have been ministering to married couples for many
years, leading Bible studies and marriage retreats. For more information,
visit their Web site, www.createlovingrelationships.org,
or email them at, firstname.lastname@example.org
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