Robin Richmond Mason: What's in a pronoun?

Robin Richmond Mason

I’m sure that I’ve asked this rhetorical question before but alas present circumstances of reflection incline me to ask again.

After multiple readings of the Bible, do you ever find something there that you missed in the previous six or 60 readings? I am going to, for our present consideration, coin the phrase “expanded revelation,” implying that something is revealed to our consciousness which we have previously not noticed. This definition includes the possibility that shallow, partial understandings may have occurred in previous readings but that a novel, deeper element has currently in some way presented itself.

How is it that printed words on white paper can seem to suddenly appear? How can a reader go through a story multiple times without seeing a significant feature of the narrative and then effortlessly notice those very words leap off of the page in a current reading? The point of our time together, today, is to explore a passage in which expanded revelation may encourage a deeper understanding, while recognizing that there are many such opportunities throughout the Scriptures.

Here is a quick review of the ancient script that leads to my newest expanded revelation. The present reflection is prompted by the use of the personal pronoun “I.” One of the main characters is a strapping young man named Jacob who finds himself deeply in love with a beautiful young woman named Rachel.

Rachel is described as beautiful in face and form, the eternally captivating combination. Jacob strikes an agreement with Rachel’s dad in which he promises to earn the beautiful Rachel’s hand in matrimony by working for seven years. At the end of that time, a great wedding feast is prepared and the guests join the wedding party in celebrations, which include drinking lavishly.

After the ceremony and revelry are completed, the marriage is consummated. Hum, I am working very hard not to take a tangential run with the folly of drunkenness and about respecting the discipline of purity but alas I must press toward the pronoun.

When the first light of morning filters into the bridal bedchamber the groom leaps to his feet in astonishment. The virtuous woman who has just given herself completely to him and his seven years of labor and celibacy is not the intended bride. Shakespeare couldn’t begin to describe a more heartrending moment.

Jacob must have set a speed record as he dashed toward the home of the man with which he had struck the wedding contract. As we might have guessed, the senior man was waiting with an answer. He had, in fact, orchestrated the entire bride substitution plot. Jacob loved and longed for Rachel to be his bride but instead Rachel’s father, Laban, had placed the unlovely older sister in the bridal veil and bedchamber.

Leah is not recorded as being beautiful in face or form. The only appearance feature that is noted is that she had “weak eyes.” Maybe that means that in addition to being much less beautiful than her younger sister, she also had a visual handicap. Perhaps she was partially blind and wore primitive eye wear that looked like the bottom of pop bottles, or maybe her lids drooped or her eyeballs were oriented in opposite directions.

We do not know why Leah’s father had resorted to treachery as the only course of action that would ever bring a husband into Leah’s life.

We also do not know whether Leah interjected a voice in this substitution arrangement. Perhaps she was a deceived victim, right alongside Jacob.

On the other hand, she might have willingly complied. There is nothing in the story that suggests her resistance. Perhaps Leah had secretly loved Jacob too or probably she knew very well that she was not a very physically attractive candidate for any man’s attention. It may be that after her father suggested the plot, she considered that the joy of being passionately desired and loved for one night, even through deception, was worth the cost of becoming an unwanted wife.

Now, stay with me, kind reader, the pronoun is on its way. After the trick is revealed, Jacob agrees to work another seven years for the privilege of wedding his beloved Rachel. In the revised edition of the agreement, he is stuck with poor, homely, uninvited Leah.

Now the urge to write a lengthy exposé from Leah’s perspective is just about more than I can bear. Does anyone see the tragic predicament of this poor, secondary character? The script reveals that Leah will be trapped in a lifelong polygamous marriage that includes her beautiful younger sister who is now justifiably furious with her.

Our story must fast forward a decade or else this drama is about to move from a short piece titled “What’s In a Pronoun?” to a series titled “Loving Leah.” In the following years, Leah produced seven children. (Here I am muffling a voice from the wings of the theater. The voice wants to talk about the fact that Leah had to “bribe” Jacob to participate in the conception of some of these children.)

Leah’s children included Reuben, Simeon, Levi, Judah, Issachar, Zebulun and Dinah. We will only mention that it was Levi, the son of Leah, not Rachel, who became the patriarch of the priestly line of Israel. We can also acknowledge that one of Leah’s other sons, Judah, is an ancestor to King David and eventually Christ himself.

A drum roll please, the thesis and the pronoun have finally arrived. Leah is not a minor character in the narrative. Leah is married to Jacob before Rachel, and she is the first wife to bring children into the family. She also outlives Rachel, and remains Jacob’s wife, for perhaps as long as several decades.

OK, let us skip to the last scene of this episode of the larger drama. At this point you are heartily invited to read the script for yourself. It is found in Genesis 49:29-32. The focus for our closing is verse 31. Shhh, come quietly. This is a deathbed scene and we are invited to hear the recollections that Jacob shares with his children as he dies.

“Then he charged them and said to them, 'I am about to be gathered to my people; bury me with my fathers in the cave that is in the field of Ephron the Hittite, in the cave that is in the field of Machpelah, which is before Mamre, in the land of Canaan, which Abraham brought along with the field from Ephron the Hittite for a burial site. There they buried Abraham and his wife Sarah, there they buried Isaac and his wife Rebekah, and there I buried Leah.”

There it was! Did you catch it? Look again. Who did the burying? They buried Abraham, they buried Sarah, they buried Isaac and they buried Rebekah but “I” buried Leah.

Now friends, I could be making a mountain out of a mole hill but I have spent a few hours this week reading lots of biblical death and burial records. I propose to you that the use of the first person pronoun ”I” is not accidental.

Furthermore, I want to propose the possibility that the unwanted, unlovely, unwelcome bride had grown into an intimate companion of notable value. Jacob and Leah had developed an abiding love for their family and each other. I even suggest that Jacob’s own waning eyesight might have helped him appreciate Leah’s inner beauty more than her outward appearance. When it was time for the old man to say goodbye to this old woman, he chose to participate actively. He brushed her cheek and said goodbye with a genuine sorrow. I think he thanked her for the lifetime of love that they had shared.

It is never too late for expanded revelation that leads to romantic discovery. The Bible once again speaks to the essence of the human experience in which we long for wrongs to be set right and for deeply committed relationships.

Robin Richmond Mason grew up in the Beaverdale community of Whitfield County. She resides with her husband and four children in Paint Lick, Kentucky, and teaches at Eastern Kentucky University. She can be reached via email to beaverdalecolumn@yahoo.com.

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