Jacob Finds a Wife or Two… Uh…, Four?
As we last left Jacob he was fleeing from the anger of Esau, the brother he had cheated out of an inheritance. Now Jacob arrives in Haran, the land of his kin, and immediately meets and is smitten by Rachel, his first cousin, of course. In the bible, who else does one fall in love with. After impressing her by rolling a large rock away from a well then kissing her, he bursts into tears. My notes tell me these were tears of joy, presumably he had completely fallen, head over heels, in love with the cousin he had just met. After meeting Laban, father of Rachel and brother of Rebekah, he stays and makes himself useful working with the flocks. Laban demands to know what wages Jacob wants for his work. Jacob’s lust/love for Rachel must have been very strong and he must have plotted how to get her for a while.
Since Jacob had fallen in love with Rachel, he answered Laban, “I will serve you seven years for your younger daughter Rachel.” Laban replied, “I prefer to give her to you rather than to an outsider. Stay with me.”
And so Jacob sold himself into servitude for seven years all for the love of a girl. At it’s heart this is a fairy tale much like a Brother’s Grimm story. Jacob, the prince and Rachel, the princess and the wily Laban standing in their way. It’s a little romantic, this willingness to give such a large part of yourself for the person you love. Emotionally, something in these stories attracts me as if this is the way I would like people to be, steadfast and sure, true to their heart. But intellectually I find the entire concept garbage. People don’t fall in love in a three-minute conversation at a well. If someone has, it’s simple physical attraction or that they have only fallen in love with an idea of the other person. And that idea may or may not have any basis in reality. Whether it’s lust or an attraction to some idea, the one thing it isn’t is love.
I don’t believe this is the way human beings work. Like so much in the Bible, it’s just how we would like it to work. Like so many people in all religions, instead of seeing the reality, people see what they wish to see, and they usually see what will put themselves on top.
So Jacob served seven years for Rachel, yet they seemed to him but a few days because of his love for her. Then Jacob said to Laban, “Give me my wife, that I may consummate my marriage with her, for my term is now completed.”
I would imagine that after seven years of working and waiting, Jacob was very ready to “consummate” the marriage. It seems he was too ready to even look closely. For the wedding Laban throws a feast and invites all the neighbors. It must have been a hell of a party and Jacob must have had a great time. Apparently too good of a time because after he had consummated the marriage and slept off the party’s attendant hangover he woke up next to… Leah?
You see Leah was Rachel’s older sister and Jacob was furious. Laban’s excuse was that Leah was the elder and had to be married first. It was just tough luck that Jacob thought otherwise. Now Laban just wanted to keep a good and cheap farm hand around by any means he could. And, of course, he has a deal for Jacob that just might make him stay. If he would but agree to another seven years of indenture then he may marry Rachel immediately after Leah’s bridal week is over. You can get married twice in the old testament, just not in the same week. Of course, Jacob accepts and soon takes Rachel to bed, and then toils through another seven years.
You could say that he paid for one wife with savings but had to buy the second on credit. Put her on the card, so to speak.
Ooooh! Now comes the sex, and let me tell you there was a lot of it. First, Yahweh, seeing that Leah is unloved, makes Rachel barren. Huh? That doesn’t seem right. Why punish Rachel? What did she do? We all know why. It’s because God is a meddlesome bastard! No other reason. So unloved Leah starts pumping out children right and left. Unloved, perhaps, but certainly not unsexed. Whew boy! Has she been sexed. Bang! Bang! Bang! Bang! Four boys emerge: Reuben, Simeon, Levi and Judah. Now pay attention. There will be a test later!
Rachel on seeing the sheer fecundity of her sister says to Jacob ”Give me children or I shall die!” Now Jacob knew he had done his part every single chance he got, so he angrily retorted, “Can I take the place of God, who has denied you the fruit of the womb?” Rachel then hands over maidservant for Jacob’s consort, a sort of secondary wife, saying, “Here is my maidservant Bilhah. Have intercourse with her, and let her give birth on my knees, so that I too may have offspring, at least through her.” It seems that the giving birth on the knees part was a way of adopting. She wanted this baby for herself. The maid/slave? doesn’t seem to have had a say. At least she doesn’t have a speaking role in this little drama.
Whatever else, Jacob took to this new task with gusto, and the servant had two more sons: Dan and Naphtali. Now if you’re paying attention that’s three wives he’s trying to regularly service.
At this time Leah stops having children and she’s not about to lose the “fateful struggle” with her sister, so she hands over her maid to Jacob as another consort, and this one has two more sons: Gad and Asher. That’s four wives, right? Here’s a man happily playing his part in this birthing battle between the two broads(Alliterative, I know!). But think of this for a while. While doing his best at caring for the vast numbers of Laban’s sheep and goats, he is sleeping with four different women constantly hammering away in their little workshops making babies. Four women? The guy is a friggin’ machine. Night and day, just like the Ever-ready bunny. Boom, boom, boom, boom, boom.
The readers may sense some admiration on my part. They would be right. They may also detect a tinge of jealously. Right again! We have to get a maid servant. Sigh!
So then comes the Deal. Leah has a bunch of mandrake roots and Rachel wants some of them. Leah, not very happy at playing second wife to Rachel, isn’t terribly willing to comply. So Rachel then offers to let Jacob sleep with Leah that night in exchange for a few roots. And what do you know Leah gets pregnant again. And later again. Issachar and Zeubulun, in case your interested. And as a finale, Leah has a girl:Dinah.
Also after years of pleading, God reluctantly admits that Rachel has suffered enough for her nonexistent crime, and allows her to conceive. She bears Joseph, of course, of The Amazing Technicolor Dream Coat fame. That’s a whole lot of sex with a whole lot of women producing a whole lot of babies. It’s good to watch someone who truly enjoys their work.
After studying all this, the one thing I am most fascinated by is this. In light of these biblical orgies, how in the hell did the Christian faith develop such an aversion to sex? How do you evolve from Jacob bedding every woman in camp to St Augustine viewing women as soulless sacks of sin and temptation. Where could that come from? What so twists people? The God of Jacob has so much more in common with Zeus or Odin than with the god of Oral Roberts or Pat Robertson. That old God may have killed you at the drop of a hat, but his people really knew how to party. Today’s Christianity seems to have thrown away the interesting parts but kept the murderous, genocidal, torture-sinners-for-eternity part.
I’m not really sure what they gained by that. Oh yeah, power! I guess that would do it.