Beloved I find that I really enjoy writing on the subject of marriage, and I also feel like you can’t say too much about it. It’s a subject that I feel we all can learn a few things about. I have found it to be very helpful to God’s people to have an understanding of what is no doubt the most critical relationship that they will ever have, aside from that of the Kingdom Church. And this time I would like do something a little bit different. I would like to try to look at some of the problems that are found in “difficult marriages.” And I would like to try to look at it from the woman’s or the wives point of view. But that doesn’t mean that men shouldn’t take out time to read this. No, on the contrary, all of us, yes, even Primitive Baptist often find that our marriages take a whole lot of work in order for us to have a happy marriage.
It's not easy to be a Godly woman in our world today. It seems like woman of today have more opportunities than their mothers had in days gone by. There are people who, for what ever reason, that seem like they go out of their way to try to get mothers, especially young mothers to abandon their families. It seems like some people just go out of their way to encourage them to abandon all of the responsibility that they have toward their husbands and their children. Its not too hard to see that there are what are claimed to be new and wonderful freedoms that all of their mothers never knew. Women are told today that they have choices that were not options for women in other times in the past.
As husbands and wives our lives we find that life is full of choices that must be made. And you dear sisters to understand that there are some extremely hard one that you must make! But do find yourselves asking, “but how do I know what the right choice is?” You see all of us; because we are the people of God, must learn to trust God’s Word for help in wise decision-making. The decisions that you make are for life and the well being of your entire family. And I believe that it is in the scriptures that you find good examples that you, by God’s grace will learn by precept and by example. In the next two articles that follow, we will look at two women in the Bible who had to wrestle with problems in their marriage relationship, problems without a doubt in many ways different from our own, and yet surprisingly similar to what you sisters face today.
When we talk about marriage, it's always best for us to go back to the very beginning where it all started: “And the LORD God said, It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him an help meet for him” (Gen. 2:18). Once that was done, the writer of Genesis tells us, “Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh” (v.24).
You all know the story. Adam was created, and he was all-alone, and God said that “It is not good.” That he should be left alone. And in order that Adam would have some understanding of the fullness his aloneness, God brought every animal in front of the only human being on earth “to see what he would call them” (Gen. 2:19). And having named them
all, Adam found that “there was not (one among them that was) “found” (as) an (a suitable) “help meet for him.” He saw that he had no real counterpart in all of the universe. Adam needed someone to share life with him. God had created him to be in a very special relationship, a relationship called marriage. And in this relationship Adam and his wife would mirror that very vital relationship that God had between Himself and the
And we see that within only six generations starting with Adam and Eve, the perfect relationship between one man and one woman had given way to the sin of polygamy. One man having more than one wife. In Genesis 4:19 we see for the first time that “Lamech took unto him two wives: the name of the one was Adah, and the name of the other Zillah.” The one-flesh relationship, created by an all-wise Creator God, with a oneness that is not only physical but mental, emotional, and spiritual--was no longer possible for a man who acquires wives the way he acquires cattle, sheep, or gold.
In Genesis 29, we meet two women, Leah and her sister Rachel, who because of polygamy became rival’s one with the other, they were co-wives locked in a polygamous relationship. Rachel, the younger sister, is seen as the apple of her husband Jacob's eye, while Leah is not loved by him. How does a woman live with a man who doesn't love her? Do you want to talk about a difficult marriage? Lets take a look at Leah's life for just a little while, and with God’s help perhaps we learn things that will help to give us some insight into the answer of the question that is before us.
When we first meet Leah we find her being a pawn in someone else's deception. Jacob had cheated his brother Esau out of his birthright, and then he fled from his home in Canaan back to the land of his ancestors. He came to the household of his Uncle Laban, who was his mother's brother. Laban invited him to stay with him and work for him. Let's look at the story as it develops in Genesis 29:16-30,
“And Laban had two daughters: the name of the elder was Leah, and the name of the younger was Rachel. And we find that Leah was tender eyed; but Rachel was beautiful and well favoured. And Jacob took one look at Rachel and feel head over heals in love with her; and he said to Laban, “I will serve thee seven years for Rachel thy younger daughter.” And Laban said, “it is better that I give her to thee, than that I should give her to another man: abide with me. And Jacob served seven years for Rachel; and they seemed unto him but a few days, for the love he had to her. And Jacob said unto Laban, give me my wife, for my days are fulfilled, that I may go in unto her. And Laban gathered together all the men of the place, and made a feast.
And it came to pass in the evening, that he took Leah his daughter, and brought her to him; and he went in unto her. And Laban gave unto his daughter Leah Zilpah his maid for an handmaid. When morning came, there was Leah! So Jacob said to Laban, "What is this you have done to me? I served you for Rachel, didn't I? Why have you deceived me?”
To which Laban replied, “It must not be so done in our country, to give the younger before the firstborn. Fulfil her week, and we will give thee this also for the service which thou shalt serve with me yet seven other years.
And Jacob did so, and fulfilled her week: and he gave him Rachel his daughter to wife also. And Laban gave to Rachel his daughter Bilhah his handmaid to be her maid. And he went in also unto Rachel, and he loved also Rachel more than Leah, and served with him yet seven other years. Your first sympathy probably goes to Jacob. After all, a bargain is a bargain. He bargained for
Rachel, not Leah. His crafty uncle pulled a fast one and stuck him with Leah.”
It's easy to get so caught up in feeling sorry for Jacob in this matter. But have you ever stopped to think about what it must have been like to be Leah the next morning. Most of us probably haven’t ever given it a thought. It’s my opinion that Leah had also been in love with Jacob during those seven years that he was working for Rachel, and because of her love for him she became a willing accomplice to her father's scheme. I will admit that there’s nothing in the passage to confirm my opinion, but I still believe it’s true just the same. But whether she went to Jacob's tent that night as a willing accomplice or as a dutiful daughter merely obeying her father, she couldn’t have been very thrilled the next morning when Jacob made a scene with his father-in-law Laban, making it known how angry he was to have been deceived.
If Leah had ever hoped for Jacob's love- if she had ever dared think that she could possibly have it, the one question is, how could she ever hope to compete with her beautiful younger sister? Well its certain that all of her illusions were dashed when Jacob hit the tent roof about the deception. She was faced with the fact that she was unloved, undesired, and unsought after. And in probably less that one week she found herself as the displaced wife of Jacob, as he took Rachel to himself. Is there any woman today who would remain married under the same circumstances as Leah? Probably not! Right?
But beloved how many times has there been some sort of deception found in many courtships? If you are married now and you really stop and think back to your own wedding, do you believe that you got what you bargained for? Or do you sometimes feel cheated by your partner in some way?
How would our lives feel to us if the most important relationship in our life turned out to be marred from the very beginning by deception or disappointment? We live in this old sinful world, and we build relationships with sinful people. And we bring our own sinfulness into those relationships. No wonder deception and disappointment can creep in.
In verse 31, we read how that this sad story of unloved Leah begins to turn a corner: “And when the LORD saw that Leah was hated, he opened her womb: but Rachel was barren.” God did not close His eyes to Leah’s plight. God through His providence and loving mercy saw the ache in her heart and did something about her situation. (We could talk about time salvation at this point, but that’s another subject.) We know this to be true because “Leah conceived,” and she bore Jacob “a son, and she called his name Reuben: for she said, surely the LORD hath looked upon my affliction; now therefore my husband will love me.” Her Sovereign God saw her need, and He moved to meet it. Sisters, I know that you often feel like you have problems that it seems like there is simply no way that there could ever be any solution.
It seems to me to be very obvious that part of Leah's problem was that she was not as pretty as her younger sister. Rachel no doubt was very beautiful. And when we first see her in Genesis 29:6-12, she dances off the page, full of vitality and energy! And she simply has everything going for herself. Are we surprised that Jacob took one look at her and fell head over heals in love with her? No wonder the Bible tells us that working for her for those seven years “seemed unto him but a few days, for the love he had to her.” (v.20).
Look at Rachel-and then there's poor, poor Leah. The only thing that the scriptures tell us about Leah is that she was “tender eyed” (v.17).
Commentators and translators have had a field day with the Hebrew word here translated “tender eyed.” We don't really know what Leah's eyes were like. Some say she had weak eyes and was going blind, and that Laban wanted to get rid of her quickly before that happened. But one thing is certain to me; Leah’s eyes were “soft and lovely.” Maybe her soft lovely and beautiful eyes were
Leah’s only one good feature. The important thing is that whatever she looked like, she grew up in the shadow of a beautiful sister.
When we continue to look at Leah, we ask ourselves why did God wait all of that time until Leah became the unloved wife of Jacob to do something nice for her? And the answer to that question comes to us from the prophet Isaiah who reminds us that God says, “for as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts” (Isa. 55:9). The Apostle Paul tells us that the Lord told him, that His “grace is sufficient for thee: for” He says, “My strength is made perfect in weakness’ (2 Cor. 12:9). Beloved it is not when we feel to be strong. No, when we feel strong we often forget that we need God. But more often than not, it’s when we are in our weakness that we see Him in His strength.
When we take out time to look more closely at Leah, can we not see that if God had made Leah just as beautiful as her sister Rachel, there’s a good chance she would not have had to be pawned off on Jacob. God often works in our lives by not giving us a perfect situation. He works in such a way so that we are often not able to see things with our natural eyes. And it’s in this way that He reveals His power and love in our many imperfect situations. He works for our good by allowing us to struggle in our less than perfect relationships.
Yes, Leah was unloved. But God saw her in that condition. And He blessed her by opening her womb. Not just once, but at least seven times. Each time that Leah held that tiny new life in her arms and when she named her child, we get a glimpse into her mind, and heart, and into her needs as a woman.
In Genesis 29:32, listen to Leah as she is found still cradling her firstborn son, “and she called his name Reuben: for she said, Surely the LORD hath looked upon my affliction; now therefore my husband will love me.” Reuben’s name means “look at me, I have a son!” Soon after that, “she conceived again, and bare” another son, and she said, “because the LORD hath heard that I was hated, he hath therefore given me this son also: and she called his name Simeon” (v.33). And Simon’s name means ‘hearing’ because the Lord heard her crying.
As if two sons were not enough, “she conceived again, and bare a son; and said, now this time will my husband be joined unto me, because I have born him three sons: therefore was his name called Levi” And Levi’s name means ‘attached, or joined’ (v.34).
Three sons. Is that enough? Look at her now; can we see where her focus is? Leah is thinking about herself and placing all of her desire on Jacob. She’s saying, “okay now my husband will at last love me. Because I have given him all of these sons. Keep in mind where her focus is.
Jesus said, “seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you” (Matt. 6:33). And apparently he did, because we see in verse 35, “And she conceived again, and bare a son: and she said, Now will I praise the LORD: therefore she called his name Judah; and left bearing.” Now listen to what she is saying. Judah’s name means ‘may God be praised.’ Did you catch that? Something has just now changed. Now she is no longer only thinking about herself, now she was thanking God for the blessing of her new little son, and also for His giving her the four sons that she already has. Can you see that her focus has changed? Yes dear little Child of God, she’s seeing something that she wasn’t seeing before.
Look now and see that there are four little boys all in a row. Can you see and listen and hear Leah as she is setting outside her tent on a hot Mesopotamian summer day calling out for her little boys? Reuben! Simeon! Levi! Judah! Listen to the progression in Leah's understanding and her faith as you hear those names.
Reuben - whose name means, ‘behold, I have a son.” Leah now understood that God had seen her in her misery, and that it was He who opened her womb, and had given her a son. At first she believed that God had done so only so that she would have the love of her husband. But did it work out the way that she thought that it should? Apparently not. It was probably less than a year
later that Simeon was born.
Levi – whose name means, “attached or joined.” She said, surely “now this time will my husband be joined unto me, because I have born him three sons.” Hope springs from the heart of God’s people. Leah hoped that each new little son would make a difference in her marriage. And that somehow Jacob would begin to love her just like he loved Rachel. She still hoped for, at the very least to have an equal place with Rachel, if not to have the first place in her husband’s heart. We see that with the passage of time, and after the birth of each little boy, hope was pushed back, and then thrown to the ground. All of her efforts to win Jacob's love by her efforts were fruitless. In the end he still only had eyes for Rachel.
How many times do we see wives who go to extraordinary lengths to win, or to keep the love of husbands who do not respond to them in love? And beloved just as often, as in the case Leah, that hope through our own efforts, seems to us to be springing eternal, but becomes hope pushed back, or hope thrown to the ground?
It is so very difficult to live in a relationship without any deep, mutual, or committed love! As Children of God everything in our hearts cries out to have it. After all, that was God's original design for marriage when He created the man Adam, and his wife Eve and brought them together in the Garden of Eden.
And even in Eden marriage was more than sex. It was more than pro-creation. Marriage is a union of hearts, minds, goals, interests, and spirits. Marriage is a joining together of two bodies as one to symbolize all the oneness a man and a woman should experience in every other dimension of their lives together. To picture the oneness of Jesus Christ together with His Bride. For Adam and Eve, it was a total unity that was only possible in that Eden. While in their perfection, Adam and Eve had that relationship. But sin entered in by the “disobedience of one man,” and destroyed that perfect union for themselves as well as for us today.
And to this very day as a flawed woman is married to a flawed man, we cannot have that total and unblemished union with our husbands or wives, that we would like. More often than not, our own personal needs get in the way of their needs! Our wishes collide with theirs! Do we not see how easy it is to become disillusioned about our relationship, and to see that it can’t ever be perfect? So what does a wife do in such a case?
They can continue to try by their own efforts, trying harder and harder, longing, and wishing for something better. Or they can put their trust in God’s providence. Knowing that He can and will “do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that worketh in us” (Eph. 3:20).
In today's world, when both men and woman despair of achieving it with Mr. or Mrs. Wonderful#1. And if that doesn’t work out, they may decide to try it with Mr. or Mrs. Wonderful #2 or Mr. or Mrs. Wonderful #3. And there seems to be no end to it. And we can’t seem to find the thing that we seek.
Today we are surrounded with many in the media who keep telling us that “romantic” love is the basis of strong marriages, it's so hard for us to hang on to the fact that a magnificent marriage is built on something other than human love. It has to be! It seems like in our disappointment of feeling less loved than we’d like, that it might be possible to find the resources for happiness in a less-than-perfect marriage? But what is that resource? It’s the grace of God.
Let's continue on now and take another look at Leah's attitude when her fourth son was born. She named him Judah, which means, “praising.” She explained, “now will I praise the LORD.” Look at her now, for the first time in naming her sons, Leah turned from expressing her yearning for Jacob's love to accepting and basking in God's love!
It seems like the most important step toward joy in our lives, in a loveless marriage is to change our focus from what we do not have, to that which the Lord has given us. What did Leah have? She had four sons in a day when having sons meant everything. And when she woke up to this very important understanding, she was able to see the real richness that God had placed in her, and she was able to say, “now will I praise the LORD.”
In Genesis 30:1-3, we see the spotlight on Rachel: “And when Rachel saw that she bare Jacob no children, Rachel envied her sister; and said unto Jacob, Give me children, or else I die.” And that Jacob's “anger was kindled against Rachel: and he said, am I in God's stead, who hath withheld from thee the fruit of the womb? And she said, Behold my maid Bilhah, go in unto her; and she shall bear upon my knees, that I may also have children by her.”
And so Rachel, after crying not to God, but to her husband Jacob, in turn gives him her handmaid Bilhah, whose name incidentally means ‘foolish,’ in an effort to try and give birth to son by Jacob, and so that she could legally, that is under the law, have a child, but do it through another woman. We know this is true because it was Rachel who named the little boy. She called him Dan, saying, “God hath judged me, and hath also heard my voice, and hath given me a son: therefore called she his name Dan.” (v.6). And Dan’s name means ‘He Judges me.’
And so she reasoned within herself, “maybe I can have a son through my handmaid. And she reasoned “well, if it worked once for me, then why not do again?” So Rachel sent her handmaid (‘foolish’) Bilhah to Jacob again. And you guessed it, she conceived and bore Jacob another son, and Rachel named the baby Naphtali, which means “wrestlings.” Rachel explained her choice of names by saying, “with great wrestlings have I wrestled with my sister, and I have prevailed.” (v.8). It is very easy to see her anguish of heart; because Jacob was living in a polygamous relationship, she felt forced to have a relationship in which she is wrestling with her sister. Remember that by God’s original design it was one man and one woman? Look at the results of trying to outdo God’s pattern.
So she no doubt thought, now everything would be set right. But was it? Take a look at the score now. Rachel, four and Leah two in favor. And Leah seemed like she was a little bit nervous that her sister was closing in on her, jumped into the same game, and she gave her maidservant Zilpah, whose name means ‘short’ unto Jacob too. (v.9). And yes you guessed it again, as soon as Zilpah gave birth to a son, Leah called the child Gad, which means “fortune.” Yes, in her view her riches were increasing! And now the score was five to two, still in Leah's favor.
Leah must have thought to herself, if it had worked twice for Rachel, maybe it would work twice for me too. So Leah turns again sends Zilpah to sleep with her husband Jacob. Zilpah became pregnant again and bore another son. Leah named him Asher, which means “happy.” She says, “Happy am I, for the daughters will call me blessed: and she called his name Asher.” (v.13).
What a switch! The loved and favored Rachel was left desolate. The miserable, unloved Leah exclaimed, “Happy am I!” Now the tables were turned. Rachel, the woman who had it all at the beginning was eaten up with jealousy and frustration. Leah was the substitute wife, who wanted so desperately to know her husband's love, now she had learned to focus on what she had, not on what she lacked. She could say with all confidence, “Happy am I ?"
Elder Thomas McDonald