A Valentine’s Day Love Story
This past Thursday, I scanned down the USA Today list of best-selling books. I noticed that the vast majority of the titles on that list are novels of love and romance. How ironic, then, that the Bible, the biggest selling book of them all, actually contains, among other things, as marvelous a collection of love stories as you would ever want to read. There is the story of Adam and Eve, who had the first romance. There is the story of Abraham and Sarah, from whose love there arose a whole nation. There is the story of Rebekah and Isaac, who… well, even today in the Church of England brides and grooms are asked: “Will you be faithful to one another as Rebekah and Isaac?” There is the story of Ruth and Boaz whose love began as a business deal and ended like a fairy tale. There is the story of Hosea and Gomer, whose love was adorned with both grace and forgiveness. But of all the love stories in the Bible, I think the one I love best is the story of Jacob and Rachel. On this Valentine’s Day, when we are celebrating stories of enduring love, I want us to focus on the love story of Jacob and Rachel.
Once upon a time…
There was a man named Jacob and a woman named Rachel. They met at a well in an oasis in the desert. The sun was scorching hot that day. We know that is true because the Bible notes that a large stone had been placed over the well to keep the water cool and pure- and that was done only when the temperature soared. The stone was so large that it required the combined efforts of several men to move it. That day we are told that the shepherds who had arrived at the well with their flocks had not moved the stone. They did not want to expend the effort of pulling the stone off and putting it back on every time another shepherd arrived. It was too hot for that kind of work. And so they were waiting until all the nearby shepherds arrived, and then they would have to move that heavy stone only once.
It was at that point that Jacob arrived at the well. He was new to that area and so he struck up a conversation with the shepherds. He asked if any of them knew a kinsmen of his named Laban. The shepherds answered: “Sure we know him. Not only that, but here comes his daughter, Rachel.” Jacob turned and looked at Rachel- and the earth moved beneath his feet. It was like Disney fireworks on the Fourth of July! It was love at first sight. But it endured long beyond that first glance. It happened instantaneously, but it is worth remembering that for all the years that Jacob lived, Rachel remained first in his heart. Theirs was a love which took only seconds to be born, but then it lived on forever.
How much did Jacob love Rachel? Well, you remember that I told you about that stone covering the well, that it was so heavy that it took several men to move it? Well, the Bible says that the minute that Jacob saw Rachel he went over to the well and picked up that heavy stone all by himself! That boy was in love! Head-over-heels, flat out in love! His heart was pounding, his adrenaline was flowing, and he grabbed up that stone, moved it aside and said: “Ma’am, let me water those sheep for you.” Yes, Jacob fell in love instantly, but that love endured for the rest of his life.
True story shared with me by Richard LaRue: On a cold day in 1942, inside a Nazi concentration camp, a lone, young boy looks out from the barbed wire and sees a young girl pass by. She, too, notices him, and is moved by his plight. To somehow express her feelings, she takes the apple she has in her hand and tosses it over the fence. As the young boy picks up the apple, a ray of light pierces his darkness. The following day, hoping upon hope that he might see her again, he goes to the fence, looks out and sure enough she appears again prepared with an apple in her hand. Despite another day of wintry blizzards and chilly air, two hearts are moved again as the apple passes over the fence. The scene is repeated for several days- two young spirits reaching out to each other in spite of all that separates them. Then one day the boy says to the young girl: “You don’t need to bring me an apple anymore. Tomorrow they are sending me to another camp.” The young boy then turned and walked away, too heartbroken to look back. Through all the horrors of the next years when the young boy lost everything but his life, the memory of that girl with the apple remained alive and gave him hope. In 1957, in the United States, two adults, both immigrants, are set up on a blind date. “And what were you doing during the war?” inquires the woman. The man replies: “I was in a concentration camp in Germany.” She says: “Well, for a short while, I used to throw apples over the fence to a boy in a concentration camp.” Stunned, the man speaks: “And did that boy say to you one day that you didn’t need to bring the apples anymore?” She cannot respond. He then says: “I was that young boy. I was separated from you then, but I don’t ever want to be without you again. Will you marry me?” Awash in tears they embrace each other and she says “yes!” On Valentine’s Day, 1996, on the Oprah Winfrey show, that same man affirmed his enduring love to his wife of forty years by saying: “You fed me in the concentration camp and you fed me through all of the years since. Now, I remain hungry only for your love.”
That’s the lesson we learn from the love story of Jacob and Rachel- it’s not so important how love starts; what really matters is how long love lasts! A word to those of you who are young: Don’t give yourself away to just anyone. Invest your love only in a relationship that will last.
The story continues…
Jacob fell for Rachel and he fell hard. Whatever else you may say about Jacob, both good and bad, you’ve got to admit that he was a fast mover. As a matter of fact, he kissed Rachel on the very first date and then he said to her: “Let’s go talk to your father. I want to marry you.” Well, Rachel’s father, Laban, granted approval provided that Jacob first worked for him for seven years. It was then that Jacob and Rachel learned that the voyage of enduring love is not always smooth sailing.
After seven years, Jacob was ready to marry Rachel. There was a big wedding, but it was only after the wedding that Jacob removed the veil from his bride and discovered that he hadn’t married Rachel at all. He had married Rachel’s sister, Leah. Now the Bible says of Rachel that she “was beautiful and lovely.” But the Bible has only two things to say about Leah- that she was older than Rachel and that she had weak eyes- not exactly a glamorous portrayal. But you know, in light of what happened, it always seemed to me that Jacob was the one with the weak eyes! In any case, the deed was done. Laban reminded Jacob that in their country, the older daughter always had to marry first. But then he told Jacob that if he committed to work another seven years, then he could have the hand of Rachel. It was tough, but the love between Jacob and Rachel survived the tough times.
That’s another mark of enduring love. It not only endures for a long time, it endures through the tough times. When a man and a woman make their promises, their commitments to one another in love, they do not know the challenges and difficulties they will have to face. They have no way of knowing what their health will be, what their financial resources will be, whether or not they will have children. They don’t know how long they will live or what problems they will confront or how their circumstances may change. But enduring love is just that—it is meant to endure regardless.
A quick sidebar. If you are divorced, I want you to know that I love you too much to heap guilt upon you. Divorce is what happens to marriages that just don’t work no matter how hard you try- and there are some marriages like that. All I am saying here is that some people decide way too soon that their marriage won’t work, that their love won’t endure. I am simply encouraging us all to learn from Jacob and Rachel that loving your way through the tough times, while it may be costly, sometimes can lead to great joy and happiness.
Right here in the midst of this great love story there is a perfectly wonderful sentence. It reads: “Jacob served all those years for Rachel but they seemed to him but a few days because of the love he had for her.” Isn’t that beautiful? Of course, there were other challenges and difficulties they had to face along the way. Many of them involved their children. And then there was the toughest challenge of them all. When Rachel was giving birth to the last of their sons- his name was Benjamin- the child survived, but Rachel died. The Bible says that Jacob was plunged into a sorrow which would last for as long as he lived. He built a great stone marker over her grave, and well he should have. She was his life. He loved her at first sight. He loved her at last breath. And he loved her every moment in between.
That’s the great lesson we learn from the love story of Jacob and Rachel. Their love not only lasted a long time, but their love lasted through the tough times. Yes, enduring love is meant to be just that- enduring love.
Today is St. Valentine’s Day. It is a day for hearts and flowers and cards and calls and happiness and joy. Of course, you know that that’s not the way it began. Valentine was a Roman Catholic priest who was martyred on February 14, 270 A.D., during the persecution of Emperor Claudius II. Claudius was determined to eradicate Christianity from his empire and so he began putting to death highly visible and important Christian leaders. One such leader was Father Valentine. The emperor had him seized, severely beaten, and thrown in jail. He declared to Valentine: “Either renounce the Lord Jesus in front of all the people or be executed.” Valentine refused to deny his faith. And so on February 14th, the soldiers came to take him to be put to death by beheading. Apparently, as he left his cell, he gave the jailer’s daughter a piece of paper torn into the shape of a heart bearing his name. Years later, the Roman Catholic Church made Valentine a saint and dedicated February 14th as a time to remember this Christian who was willing to die for his love of Jesus Christ. Though the meaning may have been watered down through the years, it began as a day when Christians put special messages on hearts and shared them with other Christians to encourage them in the faith, proving that love can be put to death but never stopped or defeated.
That’s why I wanted to look at the love story of Jacob and Rachel on this St. Valentine’s Day. You see, the Bible tells us that when Rachel died Jacob buried her in a place called Ephrath. Years later, there was born in that same place, the mightiest descendant of Jacob and Rachel. What you need to know is that Ephroth is the Old Testament name for Bethlehem. And the mightiest descendant of Jacob and Rachel was named Jesus. I think maybe that’s the most beautiful thing of all about the enduring love of Jacob and Rachel-that out of their love came the One Whose love would save the world. That’s a love story worth remembering on this St. Valentine’s Day.