Love Is A Many-Splendored Thing
Of all the great stories in the Book of Genesis, that story which to me, at any rate, seems to be the most beautiful is the story of Jacob and Rachel. I lift up for you just a few verses from the heart of that story. The twenty-ninth chapter of the Book of Genesis, beginning to read at the fifteenth verse. “Then Laban said to Jacob, ‘Because you are my kinsman, should you therefore serve me for nothing? Tell me what your wages be.’ Now, Laban had two daughters. The name of the older was Leah and the name of the younger was Rachel. Leah’s eyes were weak, but Rachel was beautiful and lovely. Jacob loved Rachel. And he said, ‘I will serve you seven years for your younger daughter, Rachel. Laban said, ‘It is better that I give her to you than that I should give her to any other man. Stay with me.’ And so Jacob served seven years for Rachel, and they seemed to him to be but a few days because of the love he had for her.”
Soli Deo gloria. To God alone be the glory. Let us pray. Now may the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in Your sight, oh, God, our rock and our Redeemer. Amen.
If you were to take the time this week to seek out a list of the best-selling paperback books of this month, you would soon discover that the vast majority of the biggest sellers are stories of love and romance. And yet, I want to suggest to you that this book, the Bible, contains as marvelous a collection of love stories as has ever been written. There is the story of Adam and Eve, who enjoyed the first romance. There is the story of Abraham and Sarah, from whose love a whole nation was born. There is the story of Rebekah and Isaac, who, well, even to this day, in the Church of England, brides and grooms are asked on the occasion of their marriage, “Will you be faithful to one another as Rebekah and Isaac?” There is the story of Ruth and Boaz. Their love began as a business deal and ended up very much like a fairytale. There is the story of Hosea and Gomer, who taught us so much about the power of forgiveness in the face of infidelity. And there is the Song of Solomon, considered by many to be the most beautiful love song ever written.
The Bible is full of love stories, but the story which touches me most deeply, I think, is the story of Jacob and Rachel, a story which shows us that love is indeed a many-splendored thing. So sit back and get comfortable and let me tell you the story.
Once upon a time, there was a man named Jacob and a woman named Rachel. They met one day at a well, at an oasis, in the middle of the desert. It was scorching hot that day. We know that it was hot because the Bible says that there was a great stone which had been placed over the top of that well. That stone covered the top of the well in order to keep the well cool and in order to keep the water pure. And we know that that was done in those days only on those occasions when the temperature soared. And the Bible tells us that that stone was so immense that it took the combined efforts of several men in order to move it.
On this particular day, the shepherds, as was their habit, came in from the outlying regions to that well to water themselves and their flocks. But on this day, the Bible notes, the shepherds did not partake of the water immediately. You see, because of the heat, they did not wish to be pulling that great stone off the well and then putting it back on repeatedly every time another shepherd arrived with his flock. So they decided that they would wait until the end of the day, when at last, all of the shepherds from the nearby region had gathered, and then they would uncover the well only one time. It was at that point that Jacob arrived at that particular well. Jacob introduced himself to the other shepherds there and asked them where they were from. When they told him that they were from the land of Haran, Jacob asked if they, by chance, knew his uncle Laban, who lived in Haran. And the shepherds said, “Yes, of course we know him. And he’s doing quite well. But do you see that young lady over there? That young lady is Rachel. That’s Laban’s daughter. Why don’t you go ask her how he’s doing?”
And at that point, the Bible says, Jacob turned and looked at Rachel. And well, there’s just no other way for me to say it. The earth moved beneath his feet. It was like fireworks on the 4th of July. It was love at first sight and second sight and third sight and fourth sight too. He was smitten. That’s one of the glories of love, isn’t it? It happened for Jacob almost instantaneously. And yet, the Bible says that from that moment on, Jacob never once forgot Rachel. Love sometimes is born in seconds, but then it lasts forever. How much was Jacob really in love with Rachel? Well, you be the judge. Do you remember that stone that I was telling you about, that great stone that required several men to move? The Bible says, at that instance, Jacob walked over to that well, picked that stone up, and moved it from the well all by himself. That boy was in love. His heart was pounding, and the adrenaline was flowing. And he picked up that huge stone, and he moved it, and he turned to Rachel, and he said, “Ma’am, let me help you water your sheep.”
And what Jacob did for Rachel in that moment stands forever, I think, as a clear demonstration of one of the many splendors of love. It’s the courtesy of love.
I had a young woman in my office say to me on one occasion, she said, “You just wouldn’t believe how my husband loves me.” And I said, “Well, okay. Try me. How does he love you?” And she said, “Every time I wash the dishes or dust the furniture or clean the floors, he kisses my hand.” And I said, “You’re right. That’s hard to believe.” But you know what? It was true. And you know what he was doing? He was simply responding to the service which she was rendering to him. And she went on to tell me then of all of the ways that he in fact gave himself in service to her. That’s the courtesy of love. It’s outdoing one another in trying to do good to one another. It’s being willing to suffer anything for the sake of the beloved. It’s enduring everything that love requires, both the large and the small, enduring it all for the sake of love. It’s longing for one another and longing to be with one another so profoundly that there is no stone too heavy, and there is no day too hot, and there is no problem too tough, and there is no challenge too great. That’s the courtesy of love. And that kind of love mirrors the kind of love God has for us.
There is a most unusual painting of the crucifixion. It pictures the great wooden cross stretched out on the ground. Nearby are two burly Roman soldiers, one holding a hammer, the other a fistful of nails. There is a third soldier in the picture, and that third soldier is holding Jesus and Jesus’ arms are pinned back, and Jesus is struggling. Now, when you look at that painting, suddenly you are stunned to realize that Jesus is struggling not to get away. He is not struggling to escape. No, He is struggling to get on to that cross. So anxious was He to give himself in love to those around Him. That is love at the highest, and the greatest lovers know it. The courtesy of love, trying to outdo one another in doing good to one another, yearning for one another so much that you want more than anything else in all the world to move the stone. That’s one of the many splendors of love, the courtesy of love.
The story continues. Jacob fell head over heels for Rachel. And when Jacob fell, he fell hard. Now, whatever else you want to say about Jacob, good or bad, and you can say a little good and a lot of bad, but whatever else you want to say about Jacob, one thing you’re going to have to admit, Jacob was a fast mover because the Bible tells us that he kissed Rachel on the first date. And not only that, but as soon as he kissed her, he said, “I want to marry you. Let’s go talk to your father about it.” And that’s what they did. And when Jacob got to Laban, Laban agreed with one condition. He said to Jacob, “You may have the hand of Rachel in marriage, but first you must work for me for seven years.” Now, if you had any question about whether or not Jacob loved Rachel before that, this ought to remove the question because Jacob said, “All right, that’s a deal.” Seven years.
It was during that time that Jacob and Rachel came to learn that sometimes the voyage of love is not always smooth. Jacob worked for seven long years. And then at last, he had completed his end of the bargain, and he was ready to marry the woman he loved. And there was a wedding. There was a big wedding. There was a big, big wedding. And it was only after the wedding that Jacob discovered as he – think about this. As he lifted the veil of his bride, he discovered that he hadn’t married Rachel after all. He had married Leah, Rachel’s older sister. Now, the Bible says about Rachel she was beautiful and lovely. The Bible says about Leah only that she was older than Rachel and that she had weak eyes. Hardly what you would want included in your resume. And besides that, it’s always seemed to me, in the light of what happened here, that Jacob was the one who had the weak eyes.
In any case, Jacob was hoodwinked by Laban. And he knew it, and he pitched a royal fit. And Laban said to him, “My boy, you need to understand that in our society, the older girl always marries first. But I tell you what. I’ll do you a favor. I’ll let you marry Rachel one week from today if you will commit to work for me for seven more years.” And that’s what happened. One week later, Jacob and Rachel were married, and Jacob worked seven more years for Laban. Those were tough times for Jacob and Rachel, but their promises held fast. Their love for one another survived the tough times.
And what happened to Jacob and Rachel is, I think, a clear demonstration of another of the many splendors of love. It’s the cost of love.
You know, Marriage is a future-oriented thing always. When a man and a woman make their commitment to one another in a marriage ceremony, they have no idea what the future is going to be. They don’t have any idea what challenges and difficulties they’re going to have to face. They don’t know how their health will be or how their financial resources will be or whether or not they’ll have children. They don’t know what problems they’re going to have to face or how their circumstances will change as time passes. They don’t know any of that. And so that’s why at that moment, what they do is they say to one another, “I commit myself to you, no matter what the future holds. Regardless of what happens out there ahead, we shall remain one. No matter how hard it is, nothing will ever be able to pull us apart.”
Making that kind of commitment is not easy to do, but we need to be remembering that in a time like ours, when we are so ill disciplined in our relationships, when we are not willing to really work hard and to make sacrifices to make our marriages work, when we are so casual in our commitments to other people that at the first little inconvenience, we feel perfectly free to just simply turn around and walk away. You’re aware of the fact that when the pilgrims landed here in 1620, that in the 17-year period that followed, more than 70,000 other pilgrims came to the Plymouth Bay Colony in Massachusetts, and over all of those 17 years and with all of those thousands of people, there were only six divorces? Now, why is that? Is it because those pilgrims were just good people to live with? No, they were no better or no worse than anyone else. Here’s what made the difference, and it’s been proven by sociologists. The pilgrims were people who took their commitments seriously. When they made a promise, they kept it. And that’s what love and marriage ought to be. It’s saying we have been brought together by God, and that means that no matter how hard it may be, no matter what problems we face, no matter how strong the temptation to greener pastures, no matter what it cost, we will stay together.
I want to tell you something. If you come to me with your marriage in trouble, I want you to know that I’m going to love you, and I’m going to support you, and I’m going to encourage you, and I’m going to stand with you. But I am not going to recommend that you get out of that marriage, certainly not at first. Before I tell you to go, I’m going to do everything I can to help you find a reason to stay. Now, you must understand me at this point. I recognize that I could be in danger of hurting individuals, and that’s the last thing that I want to do. If you are divorced, please hear me. It is not my purpose to stand here and heap guilt on your head. I love you too much to do that. I simply want you to know that divorce is what happens when a marriage just won’t work, no matter how hard you try. And there are marriages like that, and I’ve seen them. And there are divorces which occur, and it breaks my heart, but I can understand it. No. What I’m saying to you now is simply this, that the great problem in our time is that too many people decide too soon that their marriage won’t work. Frank Harrington says, “Too many people seek a way out before they seek a way through.” And that’s true. Too many people decide too soon that the marriage won’t work.
We need to learn from Jacob and Rachel that no matter how hard, no matter how difficult it may be – and their troubles carried on for 14 years, but no matter how hard it may be, if you stay together, that ultimately, like Jacob and Rachel, you may experience great joy and great happiness.
You see it so clearly. Did you notice, when I was reading the Scripture a moment ago, did you notice the twentieth verse of that chapter? This verse I think says it all. This is the cost of love. Listen. “So Jacob served seven years for Rachel, and they seemed to him to be but a few days because of the love he had for her.” Isn’t that beautiful? That’s one of the many splendors of love, the cost of love.
But there is more to the story. Jacob and Rachel longed to have children. Oh, did they ever. And they had to wait fifteen years. And you kind of sensed this from reading the Scripture. It was almost as if God wanted faith to be born in them before children could be born to them. Yes. He wanted faith to be born in them before children could be born to them. Ultimately, they had a child, a son. His name was Joseph. He was one of the greatest figures in all of the Bible, and he was a man of profound faith. And I am convinced that Joseph was introduced to that faith by his mom and dad, for children born or adopted into a marriage are the richest fruit of that relationship.
And they are a clear demonstration of one of the many splendors of love. I refer to the consequences of love. The consequences of love.
I want to say something that I believe very strongly at this point. Marriages are the building blocks of every society, not just our society, but every society on the face of this earth. Have you ever stopped to think about that? No matter what the religious or political persuasion of any society may be, marriage is the basic building block. And you break those marriages apart, and you endanger the whole structure of the society. Men and women make war on one another, and it’s the children who are wounded and scarred and crippled. And when you make a child weak to that degree, you weaken the nation. Weakened families, weakened children, weakened nation. That is the progression. It’s been the progression all the way through history, and it’s the progression now. And that’s why I’m convinced that the greatest gift that we can ever give to children is the gift of faith. I have not come to this pulpit to speak to you about some sticky-sweet, sentimental, gooey-eyed love. I’m talking about love and marriage and family and this nation and the destiny of this nation because they are all one. The greatest gift we ever give to our children is the gift of faith.
Jacob and Rachel had another child. His name was Benjamin. Rachel died as Benjamin was being born, and Jacob was plunged into a sorrow that lasted for as long as he lived. The Bible says that he built a great stone marker over the place where she was buried. And well, he should have, because she was life to him. She was everything to him. He loved her at first sight, and he loved her at last breath. And he loved her every single moment in between. That’s the story.
But do you know that that is a story which has blessed us all? The Bible says that Jacob buried Rachel at a place called Ephrath. And it was years and years later that in that same place, there was born the mightiest descendant of Jacob and Rachel. You see, the name Ephrath is the Old Testament name for a little town which we know as Bethlehem, and the mightiest descendant of Jacob and Rachel was one whose name was Jesus. I think that that is the most splendid thing of all about the love of Jacob and Rachel, that out of their love, there came One whose love would save the world and would save you and would save me. And they called His name Jesus. Jesus. Jesus.
Let us pray. Almighty God, let us love one another in life like Jacob and Rachel did. Let us learn from them how to build those relationships so that they will stand even in tough times. But more than that, let us experience the love of their mightiest descendant, the love of Jesus Christ, for that is the love above all other loves. That is the love which saves. Amen.