I was watching the comedic movie Bedazzled the other day with Brendan Frazier and Elizabeth Hurley. If you have not seen the movie I would recommend it, it’s a pretty funny movie. But when I finished watching the movie I started to process and analyze the general theme of the movie. Brendan Frazier plays a dorky computer tech guy (named Elliot) working a dead end job for a computer company. He has no confidence and little self-esteem, no friends, and is in love with a woman (Alison) who does not even know he exists. After another night of being rejected and ditched by his co-workers, he says to himself that he would give anything for Alison to be with him. Then the devil (played by Elizabeth Hurley) appears and offers Elliot seven wishes to grant him in return for his soul.
Throughout the movie, Elliot is wishing himself to be someone that Alison would love (ranging from a Columbian drug Lord, which I thought was hilarious, overly sensitive poet writer, a famous author, and a president). But with every wish, the devil would twist Elliot’s hopes and plans. Each wish became a parody which further discouraged Elliot. It wasn’t until he had encounter with a ‘great friend’ (the movie implies this person is an angel or even God himself). Elliot’s friend pleads to him to not sell his soul. He explained that he cannot possibly sell his soul as it belongs to God. Elliot in the end says his final wish, which is for Alison to be happy, which ironically voids his contract with the devil and he then becomes free from the contract.
After summarizing the plot, I actually came to appreciate the writing for this movie. But there is something in Bedazzled that is almost a decade after this movie was made still relevant. The modern understanding of finding “the one” will fill the deep cosmic void we feel in our life. Do you ever feel that way? Perhaps you are like Elliot, lacking confidence, self-esteem, approval from people, especially from someone significant like a girlfriend, boyfriend, or a spouse? A longing you have to be accepted and loved but yet can’t never realize? We tend to look for this approval in a significant other. Specifically, romantic relationships, hook ups, marriage to make us feel significant and that we’re someone. As an individualistic western society, we put a lot of freight in finding “the one.”
But a similar story to Bedazzled is found in Bible.
I found the movie interestingly paralleled a lot with the story of Jacob, Leah, and Rachel in Genesis 29. If you are unfamiliar with this specific story, God came to the Abraham a few chapters back and promised to redeem the world through his family, through a line of his descendants. One child after another would carry on, and other, until the day when one of Abraham’s descendants would be the Messiah himself. Jacob was one of these descendants. But as you read in the previous chapters, Jacob’s life was in ruins. He had lost his family and his inheritance and he would not see his mother or father again. He was exiled to live with his uncle Laban in a distant land. Jacob served his uncle as a shepherd and he was actually he really good at his job. Laban then asks Jacob how could he pay for his services? Jacob’s answer was one word: Rachel.
Now Laban had two daughters; the name of the older was Leah, and the name of the younger was Rachel. 17 Leah had weak eyes, but Rachel had a lovely figure and was beautiful. 18 Jacob was in love with Rachel and said, “I’ll work for you seven years in return for your younger daughter Rachel.”
19 Laban said, “It’s better that I give her to you than to some other man. Stay here with me.” 20 So Jacob served seven years to get Rachel, but they seemed like only a few days to him because of his love for her. 21 Then Jacob said to Laban, “Give me my wife. My time is completed, and I want to make love to her.”
This text is absolutely fascinating since it says so much about the characters of the story in such few words. It describes in the Hebraic text that Rachel had a lovely figure which implies she was absolutely stunning (it then compares her to Leah who is easy on the eyes which implies in the hebrew she was not beautiful..we will get back to Leah). Nevertheless, Rachel was Jacob’s Alison. We know this because of the price Jacob offered to pay because it was extraordinarily high. Seven years of wages for a bride back then was like seeing a car you really liked and you wanted to buy that car for seven times the price! It wasn’t too steep of a price for Jacob since seven years only felt like a few days to him because the love her had for her (v. 20). It’s further indicated how this man was overwhelmed with emotional and sexual longing for this woman in verse 21 when he demands, “Give me my wife. My time is completed, and I want to make love to her.” The NIV commentators really sanitized this verse. It really should be translated from the original language, “give me my wife I want to have sex with her!”
This is undoubtedly Laban’s Reaction to Jacob’s sexual frustration
Rabbis and commentators alike have done backflips in trying to explain this. It was so out of the norm for the day. I would say the reason for Jacob’s response was because his life was empty and with void. He never had his father’s love, he lost his mother’s love, and he certainly did not have an understanding of God’s love. If Jacob had Rachel, the most beautiful girl he ever laid his eyes on, then something would finally be right in his miserable life. If he had her, it would fill the void and fix things. It would redeem him and give his heart the meaning he longed for.
Maybe you’re reading this and are like, “Jacob is backwards.” Perhaps your not religious and think to yourself, “we live in the modern times and the Bible is dated in it’s approach to love.”
Don’t bet on it.
Ernest Becker who won a Pultizer Prize for his book The Denial of Death, explains when society throws out God, how we are to ground and give ourselves meaning? Becker offers the apocalyptic romance solution– we look to sex and romance to give us fulfillment and meaning instead of our faith from God. Now Ernest Becker was an atheist. What he writes is astonishing:
“The self-glorification that he needed in his innermost nature he now looked for in the love partner…All spiritual and moral needs now become focused in on individual…after all, what is it that we want when we elevate the love partner to the position of God? We want to be rid of our faults. We want to be rid of our feeling of nothingness. We want redemption–nothing less.”
Becker is right in the sense when we throw out God for our as a means of identity and redemption we will default to romantic love.It’s deeply embedded in our culture. I remember hearing that song “you’re nobody until somebody loves you.” We live in a culture today that has totally taken that on literally. It is taught to us that if we find “the one” that we will find significance on a transcendent level. We have given romantic love a strange and powerful hold over our lives and have elevated it to this godlike status. That’s the problem with someone like Becker who emphasizes the Romantic solution: it’s not a solution at all.
In fact, we make someone the center of our world it leads to disillusionment. Why? Because people are not perfect. People are broken and messed up. No one has it together! Therefore, when that person does not meet the impossible standard of being God, you will implode because you’re whole identity has been taken away. Even the hookup culture were it’s purely casual sex leaves people unsatisfied. In fact, Laura Sessions Stepp, in her book Unhooked, found that hookups left most young women unsatisfied even though they are unwilling to admit this to their peers.
Romantic love has a powerful grip on us. Especially in the case of Jacob and Leah:
22 So Laban brought together all the people of the place and gave a feast. 23 But when evening came, he took his daughter Leah and brought her to Jacob, and Jacob made love to her. 24 And Laban gave his servant Zilpah to his daughter as her attendant. 25 When morning came, there was Leah! So Jacob said to Laban, “What is this you have done to me? I served you for Rachel, didn’t I? Why have you deceived me?”26 Laban replied, “It is not our custom here to give the younger daughter in marriage before the older one.27 Finish this daughter’s bridal week; then we will give you the younger one also, in return for another seven years of work.”
The sting comes when Laban plots to deceives Jacob. He responds to Jacob, “It’s better that I give her to you than to some other man.” But that is not yes! But Jacob wanted it so badly to be yes that Jacob heard a yes. Now in weddings during this time, the bride would be heavily veiled. Of course there would be excessive amounts of drinking and no electricity. So when Jacob goes to have his wedding night, he is impaired by alcohol, no lights, and does not realize it’s Leah the whole time. But in the morning he awakes with the disappointing realization that it was in fact Leah the whole time!
The exact reaction I had when I first read this story.
All kidding aside, the author of Genesis is teaching an important thing about what our heart’s desires. At night, we think we are going to bed with Rachel, but in the morning, it’s always Leah. It may seem like that ‘thing’ is going to the very thing that fulfills us and satisfies us. But in the end, our pursuits of our heart’s desires when God is not at the center of it always ends in bitter disappointment. The point is no human being can live up to these standards. This sort of pressure on someone will always end in disaster and it’s totally unrealistic. For Jacob, women are a commodity to help him find significance.
Because of Jacob’s pursuits, it led to so much destruction. Here then enters Leah. Leah her whole life has been living in the shadow of her younger and more beautiful sister. Laban tries his best to get rid of her and has to deceive a desperate man to do it. And when she is finally married to the man of her dreams, he does not love Leah like she wants him to. She is overlooked, thrown away like trash, and is unloved. Leah is the ugly duckling, Leah is the unwanted one. This is the girl that nobody loved or wanted.
Leah, like Jacob, also struggled with finding significance in romantic love:
31 When the Lord saw that Leah was not loved, he enabled her to conceive, but Rachel remained childless.32 Leah became pregnant and gave birth to a son. She named him Reuben, for she said, “It is because the Lord has seen my misery. Surely my husband will love me now.”33 She conceived again, and when she gave birth to a son she said, “Because the Lord heard that I am not loved, he gave me this one too.” So she named him Simeon.34 Again she conceived, and when she gave birth to a son she said, “Now at last my husband will become attached to me, because I have borne him three sons.” So he was named Levi.[ 35 She conceived again, and when she gave birth to a son she said, “This time I will praise the Lord.” So she named him Judah.Then she stopped having children.
She’s trying to do it through traditional values and having a family. Each child she has she cries out her hope that her husband will love her like the way she wants. After all, she’s being the perfect wife! She’s having babies. But after each child, she struggles. Her ultimate hopes are wrapped up in the love and approval of her spouse. She desperately wants her husband to love her to fill the void in her own heart.
When we fall in this trap, it’s easy to blame the things that are disappointing you and move onto the other “thing.” But that will lead to repeating the past, to more insanity, since doing the same thing over and over is by definition insanity. Or you could beat yourself up, blame yourself, believe the lie that there is something wrong with you and implode. Or lastly, you can blame the world. “Forget men or women!” Basically curse the opposite sex! Or you can looked to the one who calls you ‘Beloved’ and reorient your life around the God of the Bible. Or as C.S. Lewis puts it far better than I can, “if I find myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world.”
Leah has a breakthrough in verse 35 when she names her last child Judah. She cries out, “This time I will praise the LORD!” There’s almost a defiance in her voice. There is no mention of her son or even any reference to Jacob.The life that Laban and Jacob stole, she got back. She came back to the one who gives her significance and to someone who will always love her. When the text says God saw Leah was unloved, he loved her. God is essentially saying “I am the real bridegroom. I am the husband of the husbandless. There is only one set of arms that will give you all your heart’s desires and it’s Mine.”
More than that, her child Judah we find out in chapter 49 is the seed in which brings about the Messiah. Leah, the girl nobody loved, is the ancestral mother of Jesus Christ. It’s not simply because God roots for the underdog. No, it’s a demonstration of God’s saving grace. The moralistic and religious beliefs systems say that it’s the most beautiful, powerful, and moral people that could climb the ladder and are the closest to God. But God reaches down, loves and saves the unwanted and the weak. He is closed to the broken hearted (Psalm 34:18). He wants to relate to us as a husband does to a wife and he is absolutely crazy in love with you.
More importantly, God works through Leah because it shows an important facet of which how his salvation was to come. Jesus Christ is truly a descendant of Leah. He became the man nobody wanted. He was born in manger. He had no beauty that we would desire (Isaiah 53:2). We rejected him and abandoned him and Jesus even cried out to his Father “Why have you forsaken me?” He was crucified and crushed for us. Why did he do that? For you and me. He did it so you can have freedom and a relationship with Him. When you realized that someone as great as that loves you like that and accepts you, only then will we stop making our spouses and romantic partners into saviors because we already have a Savior.
What does Becker say? “We want to be rid of our faults. We want to be rid of our feeling of nothingness. We want redemption–nothing less.” Jesus rid us of our faults. He rids us our feeling of nothingness. Jesus has redeemed us.
This story touches me because of so many times I have tried to find love in a significant other or a girl. While I may feel unloved or unwanted I come to this marvelous realization: even though I sometimes feel like Leah and I may even look like Leah, God looks at me as if I am Rachel–ravishing and beautiful. Don’t get me wrong, relationships and romantic loves are great things. If you desire to be married, you’re after a good thing. When you come to the realization like Leah did, it will enable for you to love your spouse while maintaining healthy boundaries. The amazing thing about this story is that in the end, Jacob actually comes to love Leah for who she is. When he is on his death bed, he instructs his sons to bury him in his family tomb right beside Leah and not Rachel. When you pick Jesus, you not only get him but everything else thrown in with it as well.