Wednesday, September 7, 2011

“Now is the winter of our discontent”

Rachel, Leah and Jacob…probably one of the saddest stories in the Bible, don’t you think?  But I just read a couple of things that helped me think of this story from a completely different direction.  Very interesting!

Typically, each person plays an extremely stereotypical role:  Jacob is the love-blinded hero, just trying to do his best with the cards he’d been dealt; Rachel is the tragic love interest who cries a lot and dies young; and Leah plays the evil step-sister (ala Cinderella) by flaunting her blessings in front of poor Rachel.

But look at the story from the perspective of a gentleman named Richard L. Strauss (not the composer).  He’s a Christian author who has written a book called, Living in Love: Secrets from Bible Marriages, that covers thirteen important couples of the Bible.  Sound familiar?  Anyway, he has an extremely interesting take on the story of Jacob, Rachel and Leah.

(You can find the complete book, along with many of his other books, as well as a bunch of other interesting stuff, for free at

To start things off, Mr. Strauss compares Rachel and Jacob’s initial relationship to that of the football hero and homecoming queen—that is, based on physical attraction and not much else.  The only salvation for the relationship at all was the enforced seven year engagement that forced them to get to know each other.  He also includes something that I’ve always felt:  that Leah really loved Jacob and that’s why she went along with Laban’s plan.  Imagine how she must have felt when she heard Jacob yelling at Laban about being tricked.  Ouch!

Now, something I’d never thought of before was that maybe God’s best will for Jacob was to be married to Leah only and that he should have accepted the trick as God’s will. But, Jacob being Jacob, he was going to get what he wanted no matter what it cost anybody.  Hm.  Something to think about.

It is under the stressful situation of a two wife household Strauss believes that Rachel’s true nature begins to show.  So, here’s Rachel who has been the favored daughter, the favored wife, the beauty of the family, wealthy and she tells Jacob, “Give me children or else I die.”  Genesis 30:1  According to Strauss, this is Rachel’s way of saying, if I can’t have what I want, when I want it, I’d rather be dead.  Never mind that Jacob was willing to work fourteen years to be allowed to marry her, she wanted what Leah had—children. 

The spirit of discontent governed Rachel’s life and, probably, made the people around her miserable as well.  Even when Rachel has a son, she names him ‘Joseph’ which means “may he add” and says “May the Lord give me another son.”  Genesis 30:24
“A beggar standing on a street corner commented to his friends, ‘“If only I had a hundred dollars, I would never complain again.’  A businessman walking by over heard his statement and interrupted the conversation.
“’Excuse me,’ the man said.  ‘Did you say if you had a hundred dollars, you would never complain again?’
“The beggar replied, ‘You heard right, mister.’
The man pulled out his wallet, handed him one hundred dollars, and said, ‘I’m glad I can have a small part in bringing happiness to the world.’
After the man walked away, the beggar turned to his friends and remarked, ‘I wish I had asked for two hundred dollars!’”  Kent Crockett, I Once Was Blind But Now I Squint
So, what does it mean to be discontent?  From the dictionary I get this definition:  “a restless desire or craving for something one does not have” and these synonyms: “uneasiness, inquietude, restlessness, and displeasure”.

At the same time, though, we have to be very careful to separate “good” discontent from “bad” discontent.  The “good” kind is what triggers motivation toward change and better things.  But the “bad” kind, well, it’s the basis for every sin, war, murder, or whatever other bad thing you can think of.  For example, why did Lucifer fight with God?  He had become discontent or dissatisfied with his place in the Heavenly hierarchy.   Why did Eve take the fruit?  Why did Cain kill Abel?  Why did Hitler invade Poland?

Guy R. Finnie classifies discontent as “carnal” and “spiritual”.  He defines “carnal discontent” as a person who is completely involve in himself (or herself).  This kind of discontent grows out of covetousness, craving what someone else has, even if what we have ourselves is actually better.

Satan has made sure that society today is built almost exclusively on creating discontentment.  What else is advertising?  If the advertiser shows us enough times that we can’t be happy if we don’t use a particular brand of some product, then we begin to believe that the advertiser is right.

Look at some of the books we read and the movies and shows we watch.  A lot of them center around beautiful men and women with lots of money falling in love, never doing housework, not needing a job, and living happily ever after.  If we look at that kind of life enough, even though it’s imaginary, it can make our lives seem pretty drab and unhappy.  We become discontented with the way we’re living.  As a consequence, we overspend, we hate our jobs, our marriages end, and we want maids to do the housework.  In fact, we become very, very unhappy with what God has given us.  We start thinking more about ourselves and how to get happier, and that’s just not the way Jesus wants us to live.  “Let your conversation be without covetousness; and be content with such things as ye have: for he hath said, I will never leave you, nor forsake you.”  Hebrews 13:5

Read this fable by Jackie McCune:
The Silver Shoes
Once, before this, in the Town of Discontent, lived a little boy named Saad.  Now Discontent was not always the name of the town; it was once known as Pleasant.  It was an unusual town because everyone who lived there always wore silver shoes.  You see, there was a shoemaker in Pleasant who made silver shoes for everyone and all he ever charged was a smile.The silver shoes were unusual because they never wore out.  Another unusual thing about them was that they were always the right size no matter how big the people’s feet were.  Whenever a new baby was born in Pleasant the parents would take the baby to the shoemaker and he would make a pair of beautiful silver shoes.  Somehow, as the baby grew, so did the shoes.But one day, another shoemaker came to Pleasant.  He opened his shop right next door to the maker of the silver shoes.“Come and try on MY beautiful shoes, he called to the people as they walked by his shop.  “They are gold and they have jewels that glisten like all the colors of the rainbow.”The people of Pleasant thought the shoes were indeed very beautiful.  Why, some pairs even had three or four jewels on each shoe!  Everyone rushed into the new shoe shop to buy shoes, but when they smiled at the new shoemaker and started to leave, he said, “That will be $10.00 please.”“The old shoemaker only charges a smile,” they said.“But his shoes all look alike,” the new shoemaker said.  “That’s true,” the people would say, and then they would pay the $10.00, take their shoes and rush home to try them on.Now when Saad was born, the town was still called the Town of Pleasant and Saad was named Happy.  True to his name, he was a happy little boy.“Lets take him to the NEW shoemaker,” said his mother.  “I like all the pretty jewels he puts on the shoes he makes; see how mine sparkle?”“Ten dollars is a lot of money,” said his father.  “But if that’s what you want, we will get them for Happy.”They took Happy to the new shoe shop and he was fitted with a beautiful pair of gold shoes with red and blue jewels.  But a few months later they were too tight and Happy began to cry because his shoes hurt his feet.“I don’t have $10.00 to buy another pair right now,” said his father.“But he must have shoes,” cried his mother.His father thought for a moment, “Well, we do have the money we saved for his new bed.  We could use some of that.”So back they went to the new shoe shop.  But when another few months had gone by, the second pair of shoes was too small, and Happy was not happy, because his feet were hurting again.“We must go back to the old shoemaker,” said his father.When they came to the place where the old shoemaker had been, the shop was empty.“Oh!” exclaimed his mother, “What will we do?”“There is nothing we can do,” answered his father.  “We have no money to buy from the new shoemaker and now the old shoemaker is gone.  Our son will have to be without shoes; and so shall we, for our shoes are wearing thin and it will not be long before we will have to throw them away.All the other families in Pleasant found themselves with the same problem for they too had been attracted by the sparkling shoes and, because no one came for the silver shoes anymore, the old shoemaker had moved on to another town.And so it was that the Town of Pleasant became the Town of Discontent and Happy became Saad.
And then there’s this to think about:
“There should be less anxiety for external appearances, but more earnest effort to secure practical comfort in every room throughout the house. … more time devoted to the training of the children, to the preparation of simple, wholesome food, and to the general economy and comfort of the household, would make happy hearts and pleasant faces in the home. … There should be less display of superficial politeness and affection toward strangers and visitors, and more of the courtesy that springs from genuine love and sympathy toward the dear ones of our own firesides.
 “…But it is so flattering to the pride of some persons to exhibit a certain extravagant and fashionable style of living for the benefit of occasional guests, that they are willing to sacrifice the peace and comfort of the household for this empty gratification. … They have no connection with the real joys of life; they interfere with domestic quiet, and unfit the mind for the homely but pleasant duties of practical life.“…Decorations of dress and houses do not make people happy; but the lowliest dwelling may be beautified, and the poorest family be made rich, by the possession of meekness, kindness and love. Pleasant voices, gentle manners, and sincere affection that finds expression in all the actions, together with industry, neatness, and economy, make even a hovel the happiest of homes. The Creator regards such a home with approbation; and the inmates, though they have not "that outward adorning of plaiting the hair, and of wearing of gold, and of putting on of apparel," have that which is far better.-- "the ornament of a meek and quiet spirit, which is in the sight of God of great price.""’Godliness with contentment is great gain.’ It is ‘profitable unto all things, having promise of the life that now is, and of that which is to come.’ We should open our hearts and houses to the Lord. …It refines the taste, sanctifies the judgment, and brings peace of mind, and in the end, everlasting life. {ST, October 2, 1884

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