Meeting at a well is the romantic meet-cute of the bible. Everyone knew a story with a well in it was romantic — or if the story didn’t get romantic well then that was a big sign that something was wrong. Perhaps back in the day there were just very few times and places where random people — insiders, outsiders, rich, poor, young, old, male, female — would mingle. So this is a classic love story. We all know that Jacob and Rachel are going to be an item — they met at a well! Of course “love” — she was young and pretty and related to a rich Uncle of Jacob’s. If some random girl had been there with her sick scraggly sheep, would Jacob had gone all strong-man and moved the heavy stone for her? There’s love here, yes. But there’s also a chance to better himself. Jacob is wily as any trickster fox. That’s why he is there — he stole his brother Esau’s birthright and his blessing and in fear for his life, he went to find his mother’s family. So Jacob has a swirl of emotions and motivations going on.
The theme for the Festival Gathering this year is “Stories of Loyal Love”. The rest of the chapter tells of how Uncle Laban is a pretty wily old fox himself, tricking Jacob into marrying Leah, Rachel’s sister, and then having to work another 7 years to earn Rachel. It’s a strange story — a lot is likely lost in translation from that culture to ours. But the point is that Jacob loved Rachel, and he spent 14 years proving that. In terms of the theme for the Festival Gathering, this is loyal love. And Jacob never wavered, right or wrong, in loving Rachel more.
So to learn the story of the Jacob and Rachel meeting by heart, to start with is the idea that this is romantic. This meeting is also momentous — it shapes the rest of their lives and other people’s lives. There is a past to Jacob that isn’t really too honest; we don’t know anything about Rachel’s past as far as I know. Yet there is also the fact that Jacob is God-touched — he had had his dream just before this meeting. He’s the son of Issac, son of Abraham, who had a covenant with the Holy One and Jacob has it too, renewed by explicit blessings (Genesis 28:3-4 for example) and by the dream (Genesis 28:10-22). One of the things about Genesis is that it is stories of family, and sort of a soap-opera in fact. One of the things I think is that people then and now have in common is the love of a good juicy story. But it is also a story about the relationship between a specific people and God and how that plays out into creating Israel.
“Then Jacob went on his journey, and came to the land of the people of the east.” Perhaps one should start this story by stretching and yawning and looking around and even pulling the stone pillow out and pouring oil over it; praying. And Jacob goes to the people of the east with confidence because God is with him; they have a deal.
Oddly recently I have learned that the word “belief” in scripture ought to be translated more as “trust” (at least sometimes). We are called on to trust in the Lord, perhaps even if it is just as little as a mustard seed. Belief has layers of meaning such as “magic” or “opinion”. Trust is more like an action. Trust is even something, to me, quiet and steady like a candle flame. Jacob has faults, but he has trust in his Lord as he walks into his unknown future in a strange place with new people.
Somehow all of that to start the story!