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Sunday, 1 December 2013

Being Second Best

Jacob, according to what I have heard in the pulpit, was a Mummy's boy. He was the son of Rebekah, wife of Isaac, who himself was the son of Abraham, making Jacob the grandson of Abraham. Jacob had a twin brother Esau who was first to be born, making him the heir of his father's estate. Isaac admired his older son Esau for his muscular body, hairy chest and manly traits, including his ability and willingness to hunt for game, therefore becoming the breadwinner of the family, including the servants.
Jacob, in turn stayed at home and helped Mother with the cooking and domestic chores. Rebekah wanted her favourite son to inherit his father's estate, so she devised a plan for the younger son to deceive his father Isaac, who chose this particular day to bless Esau, and to confirm that he and his descendants will not only inherit his father's estate, but become a God-blessed special nation to dominate the middle East. So Jacob entered Isaac's tent wearing a furry garment which felt just like Esau's neck and chest, and after eating his favourite venison prepared by his wife, the blind, elderly father blessed his younger son Jacob, believing that he was Esau, despite his sense of hearing was telling him otherwise.

Esau sells his birthright to Jacob for a mess of pottage
When the older brother returned after a successful hunt, he discovered how his sibling had stolen his blessing, and in a rage promised to slay him. When his mother found out about this, she sent her younger son off to stay with her brother Laban several days walk away, probably in what is now Iraq. She never saw her favourite son again, for she died before he had a chance to return. Such was the price for favouritism and deception.
At Laban's estate, Jacob fell in love with his uncle's younger daughter, Rachel. She was beautiful and ravishing. Jacob promised to work for his uncle for seven years before he can marry her. When the wedding day arrived and the marriage consummated, he discovered that he had married Leah, Laban's older daughter. Jacob was furious at such deception, but had promised to see out the wedding week with Leah before marrying Rachel and working for his uncle for another seven years.
Poor Leah! The NIV Bible says that although Rachel was beautiful, Leah had weak eyes, probably referring to sloping eyelids which made her look more like "Plain Jane" - which failed to turn Jacob's eye, let alone attract his attention. Throughout those first seven years, Leah was totally ignored by Jacob while courting and petting Rachel and giving her all his attention, along with all the support from her father and all who were present. I have wondered how Leah must have felt as her sister enjoyed such courtship. The crushing feeling of rejection must have got to her, and she probably sat in her tent weeping alone quietly, so nobody was aware of her grief.
Even after marriage, Leah felt that her husband did not love her at all, but used her merely for breeding, while he lavished love and attention to her sister. When her firstborn son Reuben came into the world, her first hope was that Jacob would give her more affection. He didn't. Instead he spent far more nights in Rachel's tent, with the desire for her to conceive and provide for him a male heir, while Leah spent her time tending to Reuben. Eventually, in a desperate attempt to win her husband's affection and failing, Leah became the mother of six sons, which made up half of the nation of Israel, including Levi, her third son, who became the father (ancestor) of Moses and the tribe of Levitical priests, and her fourth son Judah, who became the father of King David and of Jesus Christ himself.
It was later that Rachel eventually conceived the first of her two sons, Joseph, who became his father's favourite son and heir to his estate, symbolised by the coat of many colours which enraged his brothers. They eventually sold Joseph as a slave to a passing caravan heading for Egypt. Jacob, in turn, believed that his favourite son was killed by a wild beast. He spent the rest of his life in sheer misery, looking at mud all the time and suffering bouts of depression.
I relate the whole of this story in condensed form for those not familiar with the Bible or the importance of Israel in human history. The story looks to expose the dire consequence of favouritism and the resulting devastation such feelings of rejection or being second best can bring. Yet having a preference for one person or group of people over another is the core of human nature. And apparently God's nature, too. After all, it was God who inspired Noah to favour his son Shem above his other two sons: Ham and Japheth. Also God chose Abraham above his brothers Nahor and Haran to make a special covenant with him. Then there is the better known case of God loving Jacob but hating his brother Esau, as Paul the apostle so succinctly writes in his letter to the Romans (9:13). But this "hate" is not the human emotion of distain, or desire for revenge or vengeance, but more akin of loving someone with less intensity than another, and that is always for the benefit of others. For example, God made a covenant with Abraham above his brothers Haran and Nahor. Yet Haran was the father of Lot, who the apostle Peter called a righteous man, indicating that he was brought up in a godly way by his father and mother. And Nahor was the grandfather of Laban and Rebekah, and the great grandfather of Leah and Rachel, all or part of Nahor's house became the founding family of the nation of Israel. Yet God made the covenant only with Abraham, his son Isaac, and his son Jacob.
What I have seen and experienced in church life, it looks to me that even God seem to favour the English middle classes to fill the auditorium every Sunday. I have seen that the vast majority of church-goers in the UK are well-educated professionals who will always vote Tory during polling day, and a large number of them live within the commuter belt in the leafy-posh Southern county of Surrey. They are a vivid contrast to the inner city gang world of the uneducated, unemployed, drug-dealing, knife-carrying State benefit recipients, whose territories are no-go areas for those who are not gang members. If a rival gang member is murdered over some drug feud, then its a lost eternity in Hell and damnation. When a middle class Christian professional dies, it is Heavenly bliss for him. Indeed, it looks as though God does show favouritism, so it seems.

So we are not any different. Suppose you were a letting agency, and there is a spare apartment for rent. Who would you give the keys to? The tattooed guy with the design showing through the wide V-neck of his shirt-less jumper and his breath smelling of alcohol, tobacco or even cocaine? Or would you hand the keys to the gent dressed in a business suit and tie, who will be shortly starting work in the area? Even I must honestly admit; if I was in the same situation as that agency, I know full well who I would hand the keys over. It's simply human nature.

Yet this sort of thing had been going on for decades. During the 1950s and '60s, if you were a coloured immigrant looking for accommodation and a job, chances of having the landlord slamming the door on your face was very high, along with a failed job interview - if such an interview ever took place at all. To this day there is always something about a white man in a business suit - the greater respect offered to him, a deeper trust, even perhaps a sense of reverence. Even more extreme is the contrast between a noted celebrity about to appear at a movie premier and a homeless beggar sitting alone in the street. Yet then again, our present Tory Prime Minister is a target for harsh criticism, not so much for bad or biased leadership as for being an Old Etonian and one of the Old Boys club, along with the Chancellor George Osborne and the Benefits Secretary Ian Duncan Smith, another toff whose intent is to withdraw State handouts from the poor and needy while bowing to the high earners and profiteers who are getting richer and richer all the time.

And so the newspapers tell us. In the City, 2,700 bankers have received sky-high bonuses, each one pocketing £1,600,000 - a rise of 37% in a year, compared to a rise in income of just 0.8% for the average worker. This makes England with the highest rate of city high-earners in the whole of the European Union. Yet do we really hate these bankers as much as we say we do? Or do we harbour a secret admiration for their talents while realising this country's economy can't do without? And this is when energy and fuel bills are rising to such an extent that now there are many who cannot afford to heat their homes during the cold Winter months - while our Government ministers prattle around like headless chickens as the profits created by these energy companies continue to soar. Then there was a case of a keen swimmer who drowned as he took on a daring challenge to swim through a submerged cave tunnel while on holiday in Malta a couple of years ago. Under the online article, one commentator asked; Why such emphasis that he was a student at Cambridge University? Of course, that was the whole point of the article, wasn't it?

Cliffs at Malta, 2012

Let us be thankful for certain Scripture passages which assures us that God is not like a human after all, even when at times he appears to be. As we are all steeped in favouritism, bias and social class to one degree or another, we can be assured by Isaiah, who wrote:

The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is upon me, because the LORD has anointed me to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to bind up the broken hearted, to proclaim freedom to the captives, and release from darkness for the prisoners, to proclaim the year of the LORD'S favour, and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn, and provide for those who grieve in Zion -
to bestow on them the crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair.
They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the LORD for the display of his splendour.
Isaiah 62:1-3.

Poor Leah, rejected and unloved by her husband she adored. She was keen to be a breeding machine for him, in a vain hope of winning his love and affection. How many times had she sat alone in her tent and wept her heart out, while Jacob was courting and petting Rachel? How often had she lay alone in bed, looking up at the tent roof while the man she loved is making love with her younger sister? And the times she held baby Reuben tight in her arms as a tear rolled down her cheeks. As she told stories to her young boys, how often did she look out of her tent and glimpse her husband frolicking with her beautiful sister? Were there times when Leah gloated over Rachel's infertility? Did she smile as she overheard the two having a blazing row over her childlessness? Really, I can't help but pity this unfortunate woman whose fate was of no fault of hers. And God pitied her too.

As she was watching her husband adore Rachel's firstborn son Joseph and bestowing on him a beautiful garment; a token of heir to their estate, all this must have been a little too much for Leah, who believed that her own son Reuben was entitled to their inheritance. How did she really feel in her heart when Rachel died on route to Canaan while giving birth to her second son Benjamin? And were her tears of genuine grief when her younger sister was buried in her own tomb near Bethlehem? When the rest of the family returned to Canaan from Laban's house, Leah also died some time afterwards, but was given the privilege to be buried in the Cave of Machpelah, the fifth person to be buried together with Abraham, Sarah, Isaac and Rebekah, as Jacob was still alive at the time of Leah's death, and the last to be buried in the family tomb.

The Hebrew name for Israel is Yisrael, an acronym for Yacob, Isaac, Sarah, Rebekah, Abraham, Elohim, Leah - all six buried in the Cave of Machpelah. But in God's combined omniscience and pity for poor Leah, he had her initial as part of his own name, a sign of how much God loved her, and even rejected by her own husband, safe in the arms of God himself. This is something worthy of consideration during times when I feel low, rejected, disliked for no reason, and feeling put down, or even plain ignored. There is a God whose love and pity for the weak is beyond human understanding.


  1. Dear Frank,
    Excellent condensation of much of Old Testament history! Yes, it is man's nature to play favorites, and some passages do seem to indicate that He has His favorites too, such as loving Jacob but hating Esau, or bragging on Job to Satan!

    But I once heard a great message by Andy Stanley, Charles Stanley's son, who said that God loves each of us infinitely, so He can't love any of us any more or any less. When believers sin or drift away from God, He still loves us infinitely, so we don't have to fear losing our salvation or His love. And when we do good works in His name, He doesn't love us any more, because He already loves us infinitely. So we can have blessed assurance not only that we can't earn our salvation, but that we don't have to earn His love.
    God bless,

  2. Hi Frank,
    thank the Lord that God's thoughts are not our thoughts and neither are our ways His ways. Just because someone walks into a church building and is held in high esteem by certain people it does not mean that God prefers them to anyone else. God is no respecter of persons and the 'church' is the congregation of believers not a building. I love the way the scriptures are discerned spiritually, even the meaning of the names of the people in the old testament tell us things as we learn from God, and we must not forget that Jesus, our Lord, was born in a stable.
    God bless you and Alex.

  3. Great Post Frank, I enjoyed reading this. How great it is that God's ways are not like man's. Very encouraging post too.

  4. Leah name means weary, it's my middle name and I looked it up a while back. I think it's interesting considering her life. God speaks against partiality, in fact, He hates it. He want's us to be just like Him, not showing any favoritism. We have the same issue here in the Bahamas, I think it's a global thing. Nobody really talks about it here though, nepotism is horrible here. There are scriptures that are so encouraging truly our comfort during our afflictions, giving us hope. Like this one, "Hearken, my beloved brethren; did not God choose them that are poor as to the world to be rich in faith, and heirs of the kingdom which he promised to them that love him?" James 2:5. Very encouraging.

  5. The attitude of placing one person above another is so common in the modern church, yet scripture tells us repeatedly he is no respecter of persons, and forbids the christian doing so, even stating he hates that attitude. It is powerful reminder of how from god's intention the modern church has strayed.

  6. Blog surfing I stumbled here, thankfully, nice post! Happy and blessed New Year to you and loved ones.