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1M1WNot: Jacob and Leah and Rachel

Jacob, later known as Israel and the direct ancestor of the twelve tribes of Israel, was a polygamist. And that was ok both with the society he lived in and with God who bestowed his greatest blessings on Jacob after his marriages.

The story of the “courtship” and early marriage life of Jacob and his wives is told in Genesis chapters 29 and 30. Let’s start off by seeing how Jacob wound up with Leah, his first wife:

Now Laban had two daughters; the older was called Leah, the younger Rachel. Leah had lovely eyes, but Rachel was well formed and beautiful. 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.”
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.” So Laban invited all the local inhabitants and gave a feast. At nightfall he took his daughter Leah and brought her to Jacob, and Jacob consummated the marriage with her. (Laban assigned his slave girl Zilpah to his daughter Leah as her maidservant.) In the morning Jacob was amazed: it was Leah! So he cried out to Laban: “How could you do this to me! Was it not for Rachel that I served you? Why did you dupe me?”

“It is not the custom in our country,” Laban replied, “to marry off a younger daughter before an older one.”

At this point, Laban could have said, “I hope you will treat Leah well. Marriage is one man, one woman for life.” If what the so-called “defenders of marriage” say about the Bible were absolutely true, that is what should have happened.

Here’s what happened instead:

Finish the bridal week for this one, and then I will give you the other too, in return for another seven years of service with me.”

Jacob agreed. He finished the bridal week for Leah, and then Laban gave him his daughter Rachel in marriage. (Laban assigned his slave girl Bilhah to his daughter Rachel as her maidservant.) Jacob then consummated his marriage with Rachel also, and he loved her more than Leah. Thus he remained in Laban’s service another seven years.

After Jacob, Leah and Rachel set up house, a competition for children ensued, which involved both wives giving Jacob their slave girls to have sex with.

While God does express disapproval for Jacob loving Rachel more than Leah, a close reading of the entire Jacob/Leah/Rachel story fails to bring up one condemnation for Jacob having two wives. Or for that matter, sleeping with the help. If the Bible really intended “One Man, One Woman, forever”, we should have seen one.

Next week we’ll visit the Book of Deuteronomy, where we’ll find specific regulations on treating the children of multiple wives.

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