If any man come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple.
I have heard that this verse means that Jesus intends our love for Him to be so strong, that all other loves are like hatred in comparison. While that may be a good description of what Christ said, I have a hard time finding it actionable. The nagging question I am left with is, “How do I know when I have done this?” How can we know that we hate those we love, in the way the Lord describes here?
I have found practical help in understanding this directive in an Old Testament account that uses the English word hate to describe a marriage relationship. The story of Jacob and his wives gives us a narrative that reveals how God sees our relationships with others. I think that it helps us understand our relationship with Him also.
Genesis 29:30 tells us that
“…he (Jacob) loved also Rachel more than Leah….”
That seems to be a reasonable statement describing an unreasonable marriage situation. While we may find it difficult to understand why a father would marry both of his daughters to the same man, or how the heir to the Abrahamic Covenant could entangle his lineage in such a twisting family tree, we immediately understand the sentiment. Jacob loves Rachel more than Leah. She was the original object of his affection. Marriage to Leah doesn’t change that.
Amazingly, though, Jacob and Leah seem to get on passably well. He may love Rachel more, but
he is not seen abusing Leah. They live together, have children together, travel together. Jacob seems mildly interested in making her happy (Genesis 30:16).
So it is surprising, to me at least, when God describes Jacob’s relationship with Leah as based on hatred.
…when the Lord saw that Leah was hated…
What is obvious to God becomes apparent to us when these relationships are subjected to perilous extremities. Jacob takes his family back to his family’s land and is confronted by his brother, Esau, and 400 men with him. It is hard to imagine a worse situation for Jacob and his family. Under this pressure, his response reveals his heart.
And Jacob lifted up his eyes, and looked, and, behold, Esau came, and with him four hundred men. And he divided the children unto Leah, and unto Rachel, and unto the two handmaids. And he put the handmaids and their children foremost, and Leah and her children after, and Rachel and Joseph hindermost.
The one he loves gets as far away from the vengeance of Esau as Jacob can get her. Everyone from Leah on out is serving as buffer for Rachel and Joseph.
“If I can only save one of them,” Jacob might have thought, “let it be the one I love.” Leah must have felt hated at that moment
What we couldn’t see under normal circumstances becomes evident under pressure. The same could be said of us.
The Lord wants to be in the place of Rachel in our hearts. Everyone else needs to be in Leah’s place or further out. When the swords start swinging – when time constraints bear down on us, when financial limits stretch our plans, when there is only so much of “us” to go around – our relationship with the Lord must be the one we protect the most fiercely.
The truth is (and I don’t enjoy saying this), if Jesus is not our Rachel, He is our Leah, or Bilhah, or Zilpah. Put closer to the swords of our enemies. Hated.
He knows this all the time (even though we only see it sometimes), and demands that those who follow Him enshrine Him in their hearts. Like Jacob did with Rachel.
A lot of us have Jesus in Leah’s place. We have a good relationship with Him most of the time – attending church, reading the Bible, praying at times, giving tithes and offerings – but when we are pressed, we hang on to something else. Our true love.
I can always tell when Jesus is my Rachel – the one I think about, reorder my life for, talk to others about. Jesus wants us to be disciples who make disciples that all love Him like this. Is that you? Are you a disciple, based on Luke 14:26?
You can be! I can too! We must, if we want to please Him. Let’s be disciples like this and lead others to the same relationship with our wonderful Lord.