Then Laban said to Jacob, “Because you are my relative, should you therefore serve me for nothing? Tell me, what shall your wages be?” Now Laban had two daughters; the older was Leah, and her younger sister was Rachel. There was no brightness to Leah’s eyes, but Rachel was stunningly beautiful. Jacob loved Rachel, so he said, “I’ll serve you for seven years in exchange for the hand of your younger daughter Rachel in marriage.” Laban said, “Agreed. I’d rather you have her than any other man I know. You may stay here and work.” So Jacob served Laban for seven years in exchange for Rachel. The years went by quickly and seemed to him to be only a few days because of the immense love he had for her. When the time came, Jacob approached Laban and said, “I have now completed seven years of work for you. I ask you now to give me my wife so that I may consummate my marriage.” Laban gathered together all of the people in the area and prepared a great feast to celebrate the marriage. But in the evening, he took his daughter Leah and brought her to Jacob, and Jacob slept with her, thinking she was Rachel. Laban gave his servant Zilpah to his daughter Leah to be her servant. When morning came, Jacob realized it was Leah and said to Laban, “What have you done to me? Did we not have a deal—seven years of labor in exchange for your daughter Rachel? Why have you deceived me?” Laban said, “This is not done in our country—giving the younger in marriage before the firstborn. If you complete this wedding week with Leah, then I will also give you Rachel. But in return, you must serve me another seven years.” Jacob agreed and completed his week with Leah. And then Laban gave him his daughter Rachel in marriage. Laban gave his servant Bilhah to his daughter Rachel to be her servant. Genesis 29:15-29
Franciscan priest Richard Rohr powerfully summarizes our propensity for delusion with the statement, “The only thing that separates us from God is the belief that we are.” And since imitation is the highest form of flattery, I would simply add, “The only thing that separates us from each other is the belief that we are.”
That is the delusion.
That is the lie that enables and empowers all of the deception and dehumanization that inevitably follows. That delusion is literally where this story in Genesis 29 begins. And here’s the thing: It’s really easy to miss.
A good delusion usually is.
It’s not as if the lies we tell ourselves are presented as outright lies. We dress them up quite nicely, even presenting them as honorable and considerate. Like an uncle who asks his nephew who has been working for him for a month, “What should I pay you?” That seems considerate, doesn’t it? Verse 15 quotes Laban as saying, “Because you are my kinsman, should you therefore serve me for nothing? Tell me, what shall your wages be?” Now, it’s extremely subtle, especially to a modern, Western audience like us who like to get paid for work, but this is it.
This is the moment of pivot away from the connected reality and into a delusion of detachment.
Although Laban starts his question by acknowledging that Jacob is his relative, by the time he finishes his question, Jacob is no longer a relative but a servant. As biblical scholar Nahum Sarna states, “A member of the household does not receive payment for their services.” Family members are heirs…and heirs are not paid as though they are servants. Heirs freely work toward and freely share in the benefits of the household and family. Laban and Jacob are related. They should be covenanted as family—which Rabbi Jonathan Sacks describes as “a mutual act of commitment in which people honor their differences, respect the dignity of the other, come together in a bond of love to join their destinies, and chart a future together.” Does that sound like the relationship between Laban and Jacob? Not at all. But if Laban wants to dehumanize Jacob, if he wants to deceive him for his own gain, he must first believe that Jacob is somehow “other” and detach from him.
He must follow the delusion that they are not one.
And when he does, just as Jacob had done before him, I, the reader, the listener, the audience to these horrible stories, enjoy a posture of ironic distance—watching from the sidelines as the destruction mounts and the bodies of destroyed lives pile up. I feel sorry for Leah. I’m sad for Rachel. I am outraged for Zilpah and Bilhah. But the truth is, I’m not really watching from the sidelines. I’m not really detached from all of this. These stories aren’t here just to provide me a lens through which to examine, judge, and delusionally detach myself from Jacob and Laban.
We, too, are one.
These layered and connected stories are also my mirror. They are here to confront me with questions I might not otherwise ask of myself:
Who have I decided is “other”?
What deceit am I dressing up nicely and presenting as honorable and considerate?
When am I convincing myself that it’s okay to treat someone else as though we are not connected…as though we are not one?
Where have I chosen the delusion?
And why don’t I recognize that it will only end in my enslavement?
In his Letter from a Birmingham Jail, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. wrote,
“In a real sense all life is interrelated. All people are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”
How did we end up as slaves in Egypt? How do G-d wrestlers end up enslaved in the narrow place? Jacob and Esau know. Laban and Rachel and Leah and Zilpah and Bilhah know. Theirs are horrible stories—stories of delusion, deceit, and dehumanization.
Our world—right here, right now—is full of horrible stories.
If I’m honest, I find the stories of Genesis rather tame in comparison to the horrors we unleash. More human beings are enslaved now than have ever been. Billions of our sisters and brothers have been and are being crushed under the weight of our delusion of detachment. Surely every single one of us has experienced some form of dehumanization in our lives—being treated as “other,” as though our experiences or our feelings are irrelevant or less than, as though we are detached, isolated, and alone. Dehumanizing each other—dressing up our reasons to dismiss, discount, and disregard people—has become so common that it is difficult to even recognize it as a choice we make anymore. But here’s the inescapable reality. That’s not who we really are. We’re not detached. And the reality is, we never have been. We are one. I end up on both sides of a horrible story; as Jacob and Esau; as Laban and Jacob; both Pharaoh and slave. Every time I make that choice, I’m not only chipping away at the true identity of another beloved child of God, I’m also actively chipping away at my own identity. My delusion deforms both of us. We are connected in and with the loving God of the Exodus—the God of Jacob and Laban and Esau and Rachel and Leah—the God who calls, pushes, pulls, leads, and loves oppressed people away from slavery and toward freedom.
We are all connected under the covenant of family.
And our divine parent invites all of us into “a mutual act of commitment in which people honor their differences, respect the dignity of the other, come together in a bond of love to join their destinies, and chart a future together.” We are not meant to be enslaved.
We are family, every single one of us, together.
In the name of the Source with which we wrestle,
through the humility of the Christ who prayed we would be one,
and by the Spirit-breath that we all share,
may we come out of the narrow place and believe it!
Get the next installment in real time & receive Darrell's blog directly to your email by subscribing below:
Great Gift for Friends & Family
Consider buying Faith Lies as gift this year for family and friends in your life who are asking questions about their faith or deserving of the hope that comes from a liberated faith.
Fresh Bible Study for the New Year Grab in bulk and build community around finding freedom in our faith apart from the fear that traps us.
Faith Lies: 7 Incomplete Ideas That Hijack Faith and How to See Beyond Them is for people noticing the cracks in the foundation of their faith as well as those who feel they have been hurt or discarded by a God or a faith that just does not make sense. See what it's all about. Let's dive in together.