We’re in to week #4 of our New Church Journey Program called, Shift: Small Changes. Big Difference. This program follows the story of Jacob from the Old Testament. This week’s topic is “Shift of Expectations”.
Genesis 29:21-35 & 30:1-24: This week’s story involves Jacob working seven years for Rachel, only to be tricked into marrying Leah first! Even after Jacob marries Rachel as well, Rachel is barren for many years. On the surface this seems like such an unfair story with many challenging twists and turns. But on a deeper level this story relates an inescapable truth about how we experience life. I’m going to start with some fairly abstract concepts, but if you can understand what is represented in this story it can change your outlook on life in a very powerful and practical way.
Rachel is the one that Jacob falls in love with and she is, “Beautiful of form and appearance.” Rachel represents our love for the interior truths in the Lord’s Word. Falling in love with Rachel is like developing a deep affection for the many ideals that the Lord’s Word places before us. These ideals (or interior truths) inspire us to want to be a more loving person, a more courageous person, a more humble and useful person. They help us to understand more clearly what it means to be human and to follow the Lord. So if “Rachel” represents such high/interior ideals, why in the world was Leah given to Jacob first?
Ideals cannot be achieved overnight. Even though we may see them and desire them, there are a lot of things within our own hearts and minds that prevent us from making them a reality. Selfishness and an unwillingness to change often make ideals things that we both want and don’t want. On one level ideals seem so nice, but on another level we are unwilling to give up the things that stand in their way. I would love to be in more ideal physical shape….buuuuuut, I don’t want to get up early and go to the gym, or stop eating so many delicious snacks. I would love to live in a less judgmental world….buuuuut, I don’t want to give up my own need to always be right and more important than others. It may seem unfair, but Jacob being forced to marry Leah before Rachel represents this unavoidable reality that there are gaps between the ideal and where we are right now.
As impolite as it is to point this out, Leah was the uglier sister! Her eye sight wasn’t very good and while it doesn’t come right out and say that Leah was ugly, Rachel’s beauty is emphasized. This seemingly rude commentary on Leah is very important to what she represents.
More often than not, the steps we need to take in order to eventually achieve our ideals, are much less attractive than the ideals themselves. Because we are not perfect and we do have a lot of selfishness inside of us, the Lord knows that we will not be able to make any progress in life without some less elevated and less attractive goals to work on along the way. Leah was said to be “weak sighted” because when we are in this state of life we don’t see as clearly what the ideal is or how to achieve it. In many ways, I think that you can tie this in to the fact that Jesus healed many blind people in the New Testament. Early on in our spiritual development we are “blind” to the more interior truths of the Lord’s Word and how these truths lead us to be truly human – created in the image and likeness of God . The Lord works with us in our blindness, but He is always leading us to see things more clearly.
You take something like marriage. I may want to have a wonderfully ideal marriage, but the reality of the situation is that I have a lot of things within me that are standing in the way of this: Arrogance, a need to always be right, a love of dominion, lust, anger, and more. Because I’m a long way off from being an “ideal husband” (Rachel), the Lord allows less attractive and more external goals and truths (Leah) to lead me for a time. For example, sometimes I might work on being a good husband simply because I want to look good to others. At other times I might not yell at my wife because I want to set a good example for my kids. Sometimes I might choose to stick it out simply because I know the Lord tells me to, and I want to obey His Word. These may be some pretty external reasons for working on my marriage, but the Lord knows that they will allow me to eventually have an ideal marriage that is much more internal. The same thing can be said about developing an ideal faith in the Lord, and anything else that has to do with our spiritual growth and eternal happiness. “Leah” represents our affection for more external truths and ideas that may be “weak sighted” and “less attractive”, but are still an important step towards more internal things. You may gaze upon the mountaintop, but you must walk up a sometimes challenging path to get there.
I hope this helps you to understand what is represented in this story by Leah being given to Jacob before Rachel. It’s a pretty big concept and hard to explain well in a short Blog post. So do feel free to ask any questions and I’ll do my best to answer them. Also, feel free to give your own thoughts on this representation. Tomorrow I’m going to write Part Two for this topic where I’ll offer some thoughts on how this story can teach us to have more patience with life, ourselves, and each other.
“With a person who feels an affection for internal truth, that is, has a desire to know the more internal arcana of the Lord’s kingdom, those arcana are not in the beginning joined to him even though he knows them and sometimes even though he acknowledges and seemingly believes them. For worldly and bodily affections are still present, and these cause him to take them in and seemingly believe them. But insofar as those worldly and bodily affections are present those truths cannot be joined to him.”
(Swedenborg – Secrets of Heaven 3834)