This sermon is part of the sermon series "A Messy, Blessed Life". See series.
"Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way." So reads the first line of Leo Tolstoy's famous novel, Anna Karenina. I suspect there are a lot of people here who know something about the unique heartaches of an unhappy family.
Today we look through the window of the Bible into a very unhappy family—unhappy in its own way, yet also in ways that almost everyone can relate to. Last week we saw how Jacob was tricked by Laban, his uncle, into marrying two sisters—Rachel, whom he loved, and Leah, whom he didn't. In today's text the rivalry and subsequent hatred between these two sisters plays out before us. This is the sordid stuff you see unfold on The Jerry Springer Show—"Today: Battling Brides and Babies." The drama is set up by two statements: Genesis 29:30 says, "Jacob … loved Rachel more than Leah," and Genesis 29:31 says, "When the Lord saw that Leah was not loved, he opened her womb, but Rachel was barren." One wife loved, but childless; the other bearing sons, but unloved.
God: able to bless despite the mess
Notice the words Leah uses in Genesis 29:32-34 to describe her life: misery, unloved, unattached. She had three sons: Reuben ("Surely my husband will love me now"), Simeon ("The Lord heard that I am not loved"), and Levi ("Now at last my husband will become attached to me"). But not even the three sons could win Jacob's love. Babies, but no affection. No concern. No interest. No sharing. She was always on the outside. But then a remarkable change comes with the fourth son, Judah. Verse 35: "[Leah] said, 'This time I will praise the Lord.'" That's the highpoint of this story.
The scene then shifts to the beautiful, self-absorbed Rachel. I'll warn you: ...
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Lee Eclov recently retired after 40 years of local pastoral ministry and now focuses on ministry among pastors. He is the author of Feels Like Home: How Rediscovering the Church as Family Changes Everything and Pastoral Graces: Reflections on the Care of Souls (Moody Publishers), as well as being a frequent contributor to Preaching Today and CT Pastors. To learn more about his Pastors' Gatherings visit www.leeeclov.com.