Sunday:       Trinity 7 A 17


Date:           30th July 2017

Location:     All Hallows

A Sermon   Preached by Tony Whatmough

Our Old Testament reading this morning could be the classic tale: a couple see each other across a crowded room, their eyes meet, and the rest, as they say, is a happy ending.

Well, reality is not always the same as the romantic novelist would like us to believe!

First of all, Jacob is not the archetypal romantic hero.

He was a twin, and he and his elder brother fought each other even in the womb.

Later in life, he cheated his brother Esau out of his birth right, and had to run away before Esau took his revenge.

His mother sent him away to stay with her brother, Laban and there it was that his eye fell on Laban’s younger daughter, Rachel.

He fancied her immediately, and wanted to marry her, but Laban made him work for him for 7 years before he would allow them to marry.

This is where we pick up the story today. To Jacob, it seemed “but a few days, for the love he had for her.” What Rachel thought about the situation, we don’t know!

But the custom of the time was that the elder daughter should be the first to marry, but Leah was not as beautiful as Rachel.

Our translation says that Leah’s eyes were beautiful, but the Hebrew work, rakot, can mean soft, weak or tired.

Perhaps that is how she viewed the world, and the way that world viewed her.

If so, it underestimated her, as we shall see.

Laban is obviously concerned about his elder daughter, and pulls a fast one on Jacob.

The night before the wedding, he gets Jacob drunk and substitutes Leah in the marriage bed.

In a sense, he was quite right, as Leah legally should have taken precedence over her younger sister.

There is some poetic justice here, as Jacob had cheated his elder brother of his birth right.

What Leah thought about it, of course, we don’t know!

So Jacob has to serve Laban for another 7 years before he can take Rachel as his wife.

So here we have two wives.

One represents the romantic ideal, but the other, Leah represents fertility, because Leah produces children for Jacob and Laban, while Rachel doesn’t.

Leah hopes that producing children will make Jacob love her, “surely now my husband will love me.’ But to no avail.

Rachel, unable to produce children herself, gives her maid Bilhah to Jacob ‘that she may bear upon my knees and that I too may have children through her.’

Leah also, possibly tired of producing endless children in the vain hope that her husband will love her, gives Jacob her maid Zilpah.

Those who have read the novel, the Handmaid’s Tale, or are watching the series on television, will see the connection.

And so the contest between the two sisters for the love of Jacob continues, and it continues until Leah gives birth to a daughter, Dinah, and Rachel finally gives birth to a son, Joseph, of the coat of many colours fame.

Of course, there is more to names than just names.

The name Dinah in Hebrew, means justice.

The non-biblical tradition took this story further.

They said that Leah seeing that she had borne all these sons for Jacob, and that Rachel was suffering, prayed to God. “You have given me all these sons, but Rachel has had no sons, and even our maids have had more than she.”

And God heard her prayer, and changed the child in her womb into a female so as to have mercy on Rachel.

It is a remarkable change in Leah.

From the weak and sorrowful victim of the game that is being played out on her by Laban and Jacob, she changes from being weak and soft into a strong and bold character who demands justice from God for her sister.

She changes God’s mind, and she calls her daughter, Dinah, justice.

Leah is a role model for God himself. As the story goes, God says, ‘You Leah are merciful, and I too will have mercy on Rachel.’

 As such, Leah is part of that great stream of strong women we find in the Bible, women who are prepared to stand outside the roles ascribed to them.

We could cite Eve, Abraham’s wife Sarah, Hagar who became the ancestor of the Islamic faith, Hannah, the forerunner of the Mary, Bathsheba, the rape victim who became the Queen Mother of Solomon and so on.

But back to Leah and Rachel.

In the end, Leah has the moral strength to rebuild her relationship with her sister.

Towards the end of the story, Laban, their father, wants to cheat Jacob again, and the sisters combine to frustrate his plans.

They plot against their deceitful father and come to the help of their weak and defeated husband.

They show themselves to be powerful moral women, united in solidarity and prayer.

We can assume that God is watching, and God is well pleased.

Trinity 7 A 17

Number of words: 856


One Response to “Sunday:       Trinity 7 A 17”

  1. Sermon by Rev Tony Whatmough 30th July 2017 | All Hallows' Church, LeedsAll Hallows' Church, Leeds Says:

    […] You can read the notes from Tony’s sermon today on his blog at […]

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