Biblical Literature

“What a happy and holy fashion it is that those who love one another should rest on the same pillow.” ~Nathaniel Hawthorne

There is a myth that romantic love never occurred till the Romantic Age and that before then couples related and mated as spouses but not as lovers. People who hold such opinions should read the Bible. The Bible is filled with real-life drama, making shambles of most persons’ short-sighted views.


“There is no such cozy combination as man and wife.” ~Menander

Adam and Eve did not choose each other; they fell naturally into a relationship created and sanctioned by God. God created “male and female” (Genesis 1:27). Adam had been naming the animals, and perhaps observed that the animals had mates and he did not. God Himself said, “It is not good for the man to be alone” (2:18) and so put Adam into a deep sleep, excised a rib, and from it fashioned a female. When Adam saw her, he said, “One like me” or “One for me.” He knew her: he made love to her.

The Bible never says Adam loved Eve, but we can be sure he did because God chose her for him. As he had been naming all the animals, Adam named her too: “Woman [wife], because she was taken out of Man [husband]” (2:23). Later, he renamed her: “Eve [giver of life], because she was the mother of all living” (3:20). This first couple were the parents of the whole human race. Together they experienced paradise in the Garden of Eden, judgement and expulsion after they had sinned, the loss of one son, and the giving of another.


“Newlyweds become oldyweds, and oldyweds are the reasons that families work.” ~Anonymous

Sarah was 90 years old when Isaac was born, and 127 when she died. So, Isaac was 37 when he became a half-orphan. His dad, Abraham, decided it was time he had a wife. The son could not marry any of the local girls because they were Canaanites (24:3). And, near 140, Abraham was too old to go running around the country himself, making inquiries. So, Abraham sent his trusted servant (24:2, 10), perhaps his steward Eliezer of Damascus (15:2, 3), a Syrian, back to Mesopotamia, to Abraham’s kinfolk, to find a bride for Isaac. This servant was more than a slave: more like a member of the family. If Abraham had died childless, this man would have been his heir (15:1-3). He was a true friend and brother; and, as we shall see, one who believed in the God of Abraham.

Being Abraham’s go-fer in this matter was an awesome responsibility, but Abraham promised the steward that God would go with him (24:7). “The Lord, before whom I walk, will send His angel with you and prosper your way, and you shall take a wife for my son of my father’s house” (24:40).

When he arrived in Nahor, Eliezer prayed that God would give him a sign that this was the right girl, by her offering to water the camels (24:10-14), which she did (24:19). The girl was pretty, a virgin, and a relative of Abraham; and besides looking after his camels, she offered him lodging for the night. Grateful and relieved, Eliezer “bowed his head and worshiped the Lord” (24:26).

Eliezer presented the situation to the family, who left the decision up to Rebekah. “Will you go with this man?” (24:58). She consented—a decision that can only be seen as Providential since Eliezer was a stranger, and all the family had was his word that he was who he said he was. But they agreed: “The thing proceeds from the Lord” (24:50).

Eliezer took Rebekah, and her maids, and returned to Abraham and Isaac. “And Isaac went out to meditate in the field at eventide, and he lifted up his eyes, and looked, and, behold, the camels were coming” (24:63). When Rebekah saw Isaac, she lighted off a camel and took a vail to cover herself.

Was there a wedding ceremony? Probably not. Isaac “brought her into his mother’s tent, and she became his wife; and he loved her” (24:67).

Isaac was 40 years old when he married (25:20). What kind of marriage did they have? A playful one at first. They were nomads and moved about, following the watering holes and green fields. On one occasion, Abimelech, king of the Philistines, looked out a window and saw Isaac sporting with Rebekah, his wife (26:8). They were married twenty years before they had their first child. Isaac prayed for Rebekah, and she conceived twins. A believer, she herself inquired of the Lord, and it was to Rebekah that the Lord said, “Two nations are in your womb, and two manner of people … and the elder shall serve the younger” (25:23).

What happened with the twins, Esau and Jacob, is a story of its own. Esau married first, to local girls, which grieved the parents in their old age. Rebekah told Isaac, “I am weary of life because of the daughters-in-law. If Jacob marries a local girl, what good shall my life do me?” (27:46).

Isaac agreed. He called Jacob and charged him not to marry a Canaanite, but to go to his mother’s people back in Padan-aram and find a wife there (28:1-5). When Esau realized his parents didn’t like his wives, he married two daughters of Ishmael, his dad’s brother (28:8, 9).


“An object in possession seldom retains the same charm that it had in pursuit.” ~Pliny the Younger

Jacob was about 60 or 70 years old when he left home. If that sounds old, then you read the story and do the math. His first night out—his first night away from home—God gave him the vision of Jacob’s Ladder (28:10-22). He was so poor, all he had was his knapsack and for his pillow, a stone (28:11). He went to his mother’s people, back where Eliezer, Abraham’s steward, had found Rebekah. And there, like Eliezer, Jacob happened on a “beautiful” girl (29:17), Rachel, who was herding sheep (29:1-14). It must have been love at first sight, because shortly afterward he made a deal with Laban, the girl’s dad (and Rebekah’s brother), that he would serve him seven years for her. “Jacob loved Rachel. And Jacob served seven years for Rachel, and they seemed to him but a few days for the love he had to her” (29:18, 20).

Of course, you probably know the story of how Laban tricked him and gave him the wrong girl. The strange thing was that Jacob didn’t realize himself until after the wedding night: “in the morning, behold, it was Leah” (29:25). So Jacob wound up with two sister-wives, Leah and Rachel, and eventually two maids, Bilhah and Zilpah—four women—by whom he had twelve sons and one named daughter. He served Laban 20 years: seven years for each wife and six years for the livestock. When he left the place, Jacob was rich. He returned to the land of his birth and lived out much of his old age in the land of Abraham and Isaac.

What kind of marriage did Jacob and Rachel have? Stormy. Though Jacob “loved Rachel more than Leah” (29:30), she was not a believer as his mother, Rebekah, had been—she worshiped idols—and she was not as fertile as Leah. “When the Lord saw that Leah was hated [loved less], He opened her womb, but Rachel was barren” (29:31).

While Leah was having babies, Rachel was whining. She envied her sister and said to Jacob, “Give me children or else I die” (30:1).

Jacob was angry. “Am I God, who has withheld from you the fruit of the womb?” (30:2).

And this was how the maids got into it. The two sisters were giving Jacob their maids as surrogates, so they could have children by the maids (30:3-13). At one point Leah even hired Jacob for the night with her son’s mandrakes (30:14-16)—he must have commonly slept with Rachel. When Rachel did have a son, Joseph, he was golden, the fair child, whom Jacob “loved more than all his children” (37:3), and rightly so, since the others were unbelievers and did bad things, and Joseph was the believing one, whom God blessed.

Rachel died in childbirth, with her second son, Benjamin, and was buried along the trail, in Bethlehem-Ephrath (35:16-20), the place of the slaughter of the innocents (Matthew 2:16-18). Her tombstone was there, so we read of “Rachel weeping for her children” (2:18; cf Jeremiah 31:15) meaning the stone memorial was crying over the slaughter. After the death of Rachel, Jacob had no more sons and perhaps no more daughters.

Jacob outlived his women. He died in Egypt, and was carried back to Canaan and laid to rest beside Leah, in the Cave of Machpelah, where were also buried Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebekah (Genesis 49:30, 31).


“We have the greatest prenuptial agreement in the world. It’s called love.” ~Gene Perret

Dinah was Jacob’s only named daughter, though he may have had more. Females were not always named. We know Adam and Eve had daughters as well as sons because Eve was the mother of all living, but Scripture never names one daughter of Adam and Eve. Genealogies sometimes give the name of a mother, or a female, but not always.

Jacob and family were living about thirty miles north of Jerusalem when Dinah, the daughter of Leah, made her debut among the locals. When Shechem, a prince, saw her, he took her and lay with her. This was probably not rape, because “his soul clave to Dinah, and he loved her, spoke kindly to her” (Genesis 34:3, 4), and wanted to marry her.

However, when Jacob and family heard about it, they were upset. In their eyes, Shechem “had wrought folly in Israel in lying with Jacob’s daughter, which thing ought not to be done” (34:7), which tells us something about the mores of the times.

Shechem’s dad, Hamor, who had already sold some land to Jacob (33:19), came by, with Shechem, and asked Jacob for Dinah’s hand in marrage. Hamor went even further: he suggested all Jacob’s sons and daughters should intermarry with the locals, and they could co-exist. Shechem was willing to pay any dowry or do whatever the family required to marry the girl.

Jacob’s sons were bent on revenge (34:13). They said all Hamor’s household, even the whole place, would have to be circumcised before they could allow intermarriage. Hamor went back, called a town meeting, and got the whole town to agree to it. “Shall not their cattle and their substance and every beast of theirs be ours?” (34:23). (This would hardly have happened unless Jacob had more daughters, since the males here were the local inhabitants.)

So all the local males were circumscribed. And while the men were still incapacitated from the surgery, Simeon and Levi, Dinah’s brothers, seized the advantage and killed Hamor and Shechem with the sword. They drug Dinah out of Shechem’s house (34:26)—she was living with him—then killed the rest of the local males. Afterward, they spoiled the city, looted the place, and carried away their livestock, their produce, their wealth, their women, and their children as captives.

When Jacob heard of the massacre, he was shocked. “You have made me to stink among the inhabitants of the land, among the Canaanites and the Perizzites, and they will gather together and kill me. I shall be destroyed. I and my house” (34:30).

Simeon and Levi talked back. “Should he deal with our sister as with a harlot?” (34:31).

God, knowing the situation he was in, told Jacob to go to Bethel (35:1). It was at this point that Jacob told his family to get rid of their idols (35:1-4).

There is no record that Dinah ever married or that Shechem had laid her without her consent.

“In the opinion of the world, marriage ends all … The truth is precisely the opposite: it begins all.” ~Anne Sophie Swetchine

Copyright © 2014 Alexandra Lee

Photo Credit: The Land of the Bible