************ Sermon on Genesis 29:31-30:24 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on October 13, 2013
"The Lord Lifts Up Those Who are Bowed Down"
There is a huge difference between the values of the Kingdom of Heaven and the kingdoms of this earth. "Blessed are the meek," says Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount (Mt 5:5). Blessed are the aggressive and the angry, says the world. "Blessed are the merciful," says Jesus (Mt 5:7). Blessed are those who kick and claw their way to the top and trample over others as they do this, says the world. "Blessed are the poor in spirit," says Jesus (Mt 5:3). Blessed are the rich in money and goods, says the world.
We have been seeing the difference between the values of God and the world as we have been going through Genesis. The Ancient World prized the rights of the first born, the strong, the mighty. But, again and again, we have seen God turn this upside down. God chose and favored Abel over Cain, and Seth over Cain, even though Cain was the older brother. God chose and favored Isaac over Ishmael, even though Ishmael was the older. God chose and favored younger Jacob over older Esau – even though Jacob was a totally disagreeable, untrustworthy, and shifty person.
Having set this pattern of the older serving the younger we would expect the same to happen with Jacob's wives. Remember, Jacob married two sisters. The older was weak-eyed Leah. The younger was beautiful Rachel. The pattern has been set. We all expect Rachel to be favored over Leah. This is what Jacob does and this is what we expect God to do. But God again turns the values of the world upside down. Why? In what way?
I The Pain of the Downtrodden
A Rachel is loved by Jacob. That much is obvious. Go back to what we read last week.
(Gen 29:20) So Jacob served seven years to get Rachel, but they seemed like only a few days to him because of his love for her.Jacob worked seven long years to get Rachel. But time was not an issue to him because of the future goal toward which he was working. And, after Laban tricked him, he willingly worked another seven years. Now that is love. Rachel put a spring in his every step, a twinkle in his eye. Thoughts of Rachel made the sky look bluer, the sun brighter, the grass greener. That's what love does. It changes one's perspective on everything. It gives meaning, direction, and purpose to one's work.
In the same way, our love for Christ and His church should be the driving force behind all that we do. It should change and shape our attitudes. If you are able to develop this attitude, your years of work and service will also seem as only a few days.
B Rachel is loved by Jacob. Not only that but when we look again at last week's Scripture reading we learn that Jacob "loved Rachel more than Leah" (Gen 29:30). Jacob learned nothing from his parents. His parents played favorites with their sons. This, of course, produced endless grief and strife in Isaac's home and marriage. And now Jacob is doing the same thing with his wives – he is playing favorites.
Sinners do not handle favoritism very well. Those who are favored often taken advantage of their favored status. Those who are not favored often resent their status. Jacob played favorites and the result was a mess. A sad mess. A sorry mess. A disgusting mess. And lots of sin with conflict and strife and deceit.
C What do we know about the marriage of Jacob and Leah? First, we know Jacob had no intention of marrying Leah. Leah is described as weak-eyed while Rachel is described as "lovely in form, and beautiful" (Gen 29:17) – which leads one to conclude Leah was the ugly sister. All her marriage she had to live with the knowledge that she was not desirable to her husband.
Second, we know that Laban (her own father) shamelessly used Leah to get seven more years of service out of Jacob. She was nothing but a pawn in her dad's schemes and trickery.
Third, we know Leah's joy in marriage lasted exactly one night. What was supposed to be a week-long wedding celebration ended up being six days of waiting for her pretty sister to marry her husband as well. Her sister became her rival.
Fourth, today's Scripture reading begins by telling us "Leah was not loved" (Gen 29:31). Jacob had no emotional attachment to her. He really couldn't care less about her and her needs and her feelings. He ignored her and neglected her. In that time and place and culture she was in constant danger of being cast off like an old coat, mistreated, or divorced.
Leah wanted one thing in life. She wanted her husband to notice her and love her and care for her. By the way, husbands, this is the number one thing your wife wants in marriage too. Forget about giving things like jewels, homes, cars, vacations; instead, give your wife your love. She wants to know she is loved and adored by you – not neglected and ignored as was Leah. Over the years I have heard this from so many unhappy women – how they wish their husband would just love and adore them. Let me be so bold as to put it this way: every happy wife is a loved wife; and, just about every unhappy wife feels unloved.
Leah was unloved and unhappy.
Isn't this whole story sad and pathetic? I don't feel sorry for Jacob; he got exactly what he deserved; as we learned last time, there is equivocal justice. I don't feel sorry for Rachel; she was not above taking advantage of her husband's love and her sister's distress. I feel sorry for Leah; in that time and place she had no recourse but to remain in a love triangle with a shameless man and a heartless sister. But don't interpret this to mean that Leah was sinless and faultless. Leah, after all, was a participant in her father's trickery; without her compliance Jacob would never have been fooled. No, Leah was not perfect either.
D Now, think back a few chapters. Didn't we see the same situation with Hagar? Another lonely and unhappy woman. Another woman beaten down by someone more beautiful. Not only did she run away, but later she was sent away.
Think ahead to Hannah, the mother of Samuel. Think of her cries and tears as she, too, had a rival for her husband's affection and love.
What did the children of Israel see in their minds as they listened to Moses tell them the story of Leah? They saw themselves. There were not a numerous people, they were not a great and awesome people, they were not more desirable than all others (Deut 7:7). Like Leah, they were downtrodden and oppressed; they were slaves in Egypt.
In Leah we see just one more example of the mess sin makes of our lives and our relationships. In Leah we are to see the pain of the sorrowful, the downtrodden, the humiliated, the hurting. We see a failure to follow the upside down values of the Kingdom of Heaven. We see our sin and our brokenness. We see our need for the Savior.
In Leah we are to see ourselves and every person broken down by the burden of sin.
II God Lifts the Humble Soul
A Have you paid attention to the words of the songs I selected this morning?
239 "Amid the Thronging Worshipers"Do you hear the message in every song? A message based upon Scripture. Scripture after Scripture tells us that God lifts up those who are bowed down.
2 The burden of the sorrowful
the Lord will not despise;
he has not turned from those who mourn,
he listens to their cries.
3 He feeds with good the humble soul
and satisfies the meek,
and they shall live and praise the Lord
who for his mercy seek.
"Praise the LORD! Sing Hallelujah!"
3 Food he daily gives the hungry,
sets the mourning prisoner free,
raises those bowed down with anguish,
makes the sightless eyes to see.
God our Savior loves the righteous,
and the stranger he befriends,
helps the orphan and the widow,
judgment on the wicked sends.
212 "Song of Mary"
1 My spirit glorifies the Lord,
in God my Savior I rejoice,
for he beheld my humble state
and in his love made me his choice.
B We see God doing this with poor, downtrodden, unloved Leah. The Lord loves Leah even though Jacob does not. Look at the opening verse of our Scripture reading.
(Gen 29:31) When the LORD saw that Leah was not loved, he opened her womb, but Rachel was barren.The Lord "saw" Leah. This is a verb Scripture often uses right before God acts on behalf of the oppressed. For instance, the Lord "saw" His people Israel just before He liberated them from the bondage of Egypt (Ex 2:25).
What did the Lord do for Leah? He opened her womb. In that time, that place, that culture, God gave her the greatest status a woman in that society could have: He made her a mother.
I earlier mentioned Hannah. Hannah, like Leah, was the third wheel in an unhappy marriage. Hannah, mother of none, was mocked by Peninnah, mother of ten. She was downhearted. She wept. She wondered why. Again and again she faced the disappointment of remaining childless. "Rejoice with those who rejoice," says Scripture (Rom 12:15). But how can she rejoice that her rival spits out children like a copier spits out paper? The covenant-keeping God of Israel is the God of great reversals. So, by the grace of God, a barren woman like Hannah bears children.
The God of great reversals also showed favor to Leah. He ordinarily chooses to exalt what men have rejected (1 Sam 16:6-13; Acts 4:11; James 4:10). God did this with David – who wasn't much to look at compared to his older brothers. God did this with Jesus – the stone rejected by the builders became the capstone. God did this with Hannah and Mary. God did this with Leah. God made Leah the mother of 6 sons and 1 daughter.
C God exalted what Jacob rejected. So Leah bears half of the sons God will make into the twelve tribes of Israel.
But, now look at the list of Leah's sons. Third in line is Levi. This is the priestly tribe of Israel. This is the tribe of Moses and Aaron (Ex 6:20).
Fourth in the line of Leah's sons is Judah. This is the royal tribe of Israel. From this tribe comes Kings David and Solomon. From this tribe comes the Messiah, even the Lord Jesus Christ – Who is Leah's greatest son. What an honor to a poor, miserable, woman.
God lifts up those who are downtrodden. God lifts up the humble soul. So Leah was given the honor of mothering the priestly and royal tribes of Israel. She is also, ultimately, the mother of the Savior Who is both priest and king (Heb 7:11-22).
Now, think about this. Someday, the God Who lifted up Leah will also lift up and exalt you and me. If you are in Christ and feel unloved and unwanted and undesirable and useless, know that God loves you and will raise you up in His good time and in His good way.
A God exalted Leah and the result was Reuben. As she put it, "It is because the Lord has seen my misery (Gen 29:32). Reuben means, "See! A son!" This name reflects Leah's desperate cry for attention from her husband. Reuben is a poster sign, a bill-board, calling Jacob to love her and adore her: "Surely my husband will love me now" (Gen 29:32). But her thick-headed husband was blind and deaf and unbelievably dumb.
She conceived again. "Because the Lord heard that I am not loved, he gave me this one too" (Gen 29:33). So she named him Simeon which means "heard." But Jacob does not hear her cries.
Again she conceived. "Now at last my husband will become attached to me, because I have borne him three sons" (Gen 29:34). So he was named Levi which means "attached" – but her husband felt no attachment to her or for her.
In her hurt and pain, Leah grasped something that even her own sister did not seem to understand: that children are a blessing from the Lord (cf Gen 30:1-2; Ps 127:3). So with her fourth son she said, "This time I will praise the Lord" (Gen 29:35). So she named him Judah which sounds like the Hebrew word for "praise."
God exalted Leah. So far so good.
B In Genesis 31 we are told the story of Rachel and the household gods of Laban (Gen 31:34). In other words, Rachel was an idolater. Rachel was guilty of idolatry. Rachel was guilty of breaking the first and second commandments.
Did you know Leah was as guilty of idolatry as was Rachel? Listen carefully to the names of Leah's sons: Reuben - see, a son; Simeon - he hears; Levi - attached; Judah - praise. These names uncover the idolatry that grips Leah's heart. Even while she took the Lord's name on her lips, it was her husband's approval that she wanted more than anything else. Yes, God gave Leah children but this was nothing but a means to win Jacob's affection. God was not the end all; Jacob was.
This is the essence of idolatry: someone or something other than the living God occupying center stage.
Leah was exalted by the Lord. We know that by the providence of God this produced ultimate good but did it do any good to Leah? When the result is idolatry, I'm afraid the answer is no.
And, then, consider how the two sisters go back and forth with their servants and the mandrakes. It was nothing but idolatry. They made an idol out of family and children and marriage and the love of their husband. God, and only God, can occupy center stage.
C Something was missing in the life of Leah and Rachel. But with Laban as their father it is completely understandable. Do you know what was missing? They failed, as we are going to be singing in moment, they failed to humble themselves in the sight of the Lord. They failed to confess their sins, to feel sorrow for sin, to repent of their sins, to have a change of heart.
I want to end with God's promise in 1 Peter 5:6. Listen to what the Spirit-inspired apostle wrote:
(1Pt 5:6) Humble yourselves, therefore, under God's mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time.
This is God's promise, in Christ, to all of His children. He will lift up all those who repent and believe.
Do you want to end up like Leah and remain in your sin and misery? Or, do you want to be lifted up? Humble yourself in the sight of the Lord and He shall lift you up.
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