All in the family Or The Big Picture


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All in the family
The Big Picture

By Bobby Neal Winters

On one hand, having the Bible divided into verses is a good thing because it helps us find the bit of scripture that we want. On the other hand, the verses tend to atomize the Bible. What I mean by this is that we tend to look at the small pieces instead of the big picture.

Regardless of what some preachers might have you believe, you can’t get at the truth of the Bible by picking a little verse here and a little verse there and stitching them all together like a quilt or a proof in geometry class. The Bible is true just like real life is true. Consequently, we can’t guarantee the whole story with all of the pertinent facts will be set out during the life of a single individual or even several individuals. Nowhere is this more evident than in the story of Jacob as told in the Book of Genesis.

For the past several weeks, I’ve been leading a Bible Study over the book of Genesis. Part of that has been the story of Jacob. When we are children in Sunday School, we are taught how Jacob tricked his brother Esau out of his birthright. Perhaps we learn about how he was in turn tricked into marrying Leah before Rachel. And we certainly hear about how he had a dream of the Ladder going into heaven and how he wrestled with God.

But, at least when we are children, we are not equipped to learn some of the deeper, more subtle issues. Consider character, for instance.

While Jacob was one of the Patriarchs, one of the folks that were in the line of God’s chosen people, he wasn’t exactly what we’d call a goody-two-shoes. The Bible tells us when is brother Esau was born, Jacob’s hand was on his heel. The implication there is that Jacob was trying to drag Esau back in where he could be born first and thereby receive the Birthright which was passed on to the first born son.

Jacob failed in this attempt and had to wait a few years before he could succeed, and, when it happened, it was through his taking advantage of Esau’s hunger and their father Isaac’s blindness.

In the Bible Study, I entered into the story of Jacob right after that point. Jacob had been forced to flee for his life because of deceiving his brother and went to stay with his uncle Laban.

Upon greeting Jacob, Laban said to him, “Surely you are my bone and flesh.” This is a foreshadowing of Laban’s character. He too practices deceit for his own gain. Laban works Jacob for a month without paying him. Then he promises Jacob his daughter Rachel in return for seven years work at the end of which he substitutes Leah into the marriage bed on their wedding night.
Jacob responds to this by agreeing to be paid only animals of a particular coloring and then insuring that as many new animals born as possible would have that particular coloring. As a consequence, he obtains sizeable flocks of his own.

It is Deceiver versus Deceiver.

If that isn’t bad enough, the story is absolutely full of sex. As I said above, Jacob is deceived into marrying Leah in exchange for seven years work. However, he is also allowed to marry Rachael, his hearts desire, in exchange for another seven years work.

While Rachael is the one Jacob loves, Leah is the one who bares him children. Leah and Rachael are in a competition for Jacob’s heart and his bed. Rachael, who has his heart, is desperate to give him children, and Leah, who has given him children, is desperate to win his heart.
One member of the class commented that this is all quite like a soap opera, and another asked, “What in the world are we supposed to be getting out of this?”

The truth of the comment I cannot deny, and the question I will now attempt to answer.

Not everything in the Bible is prescriptive. By this I mean it isn’t given to us as and example of what to do. Some of it is descriptive in the sense it is given to us in order to explain how the world works. Those of us who have been about to any extent in the circle of the world have met deceivers like Laban and Jacob.

Most of us are honest, simple folk and are not prepared to expect trickery at the level that these two practice it. This story describes it for us, and, if we read it, we at least are a bit better prepared to understand some of the things that go on in the world. We may also come to a better understanding of the character of these two individuals. We can see what motivates them and what makes them tick.

The part of the story dealing with Rachel and Leah is more tragic than that dealing with Jacob and Laban. They are sisters and are separated by their desire for the same man. Each desires something she cannot have. For Rachael, it is children, and, for Leah, it is love.

Rachael ultimately gives birth to Joseph and Benjamin. The story of Joseph is complex, too complex to be dealt with in a satisfactory manner here. However, let me say that whatever blessings Joseph might have given his people, they must be weighed against the fact that these blessings led to the Captivity in Egypt. On the other hand, the birth of Benjamin led to Rachael’s death.

Leah gives birth to the overwhelming bulk of Jacob’s children including Judah though whose line comes David and Jesus, but she dies without receiving Jacob’s love, and, in her lifetime, she never sees the ultimate blessing she has given her people and the world.

There are lessons to be seen here, but they are not to be had at the level of a single verse. We must step back and look as it was we would a Navajo rug. While each thread in such a rug does require work and craftsmanship to put together, the pattern is to be seen in the whole. We must step back if we are to see the pattern.

This is a lesson we can take to our own lives. While the verses that we write in the course of living day to day might not seem to make much sense to us as we live them, we are part of a larger scheme. We are a part of eternity.

(Bobby Winters is a Professor of Mathematics at Pittsburg State University, a writer, and a speaker. You may contact him at or visit his website at