Genesis 29:1-6 The next 3 chapters of Genesis chronicle Jacobs 20 years away from the land of promise. When Jacob flees his brother, he is about 75 years old. The boys were 40 when Esau married the Canaanite women. Jacob’s son Joseph was born 18 years after he fled from Esau. By comparing a number of accounts in Genesis we know that Joseph was 39 when Jacob was 130. The Hebrew in v 1 is “Then Jacob lifted up his feet.” The picture is one of joy and bounce in Jacob’s life. He sensed a new life, beginning, and fresh start since his new commitment to God. Jacob was like a new convert, full of joy and rejoicing as he traveled along. The distance between Bethel and Haran was about 500 miles, a long and dangerous journey. But Jacob was sure of God’s protection, love, and care. He knew now that God was leading and guiding him on his journey to Haran. He arrived in the land of his relatives guided by the hand of God and was led to the very well where his families’ sheep were watered. Just as Abraham’s servant was led in his quest to find a wife for Isaac, we see the unseen hand of God directing Jacob. Three flocks had gathered at the well waiting for the appointed time when the well would be opened, and the sheep given water. When he enquired about his family, he was delighted to learn that this was the well where his family watered their livestock. He learns that his uncle, Laban was in good health and that his daughter would be arriving soon to water their flock.
Genesis 29:7-12 – Jacob was overjoyed that he would soon meet his relative Rachel, perhaps like his father’s servant he would be led to his wife. He asks them why they were not watering the sheep and then sending them out to graze. There was still plenty of grazing time left for the sheep why were they just hanging around the well. Jacob knew a great deal about shepherding and was critical of their care of the sheep. He also likely had an ulterior motive, and that was to get these shepherds out of there so he could be alone when Rachel arrived. Their excuse was that there was an established tradition regarding the watering of their flocks. While this discussion is going on, Rachel arrives at the well. The name Rachel means God’s lamb. Jacob was overwhelmed, not only with Rachel’s beauty, but also because he was now once again with family. His reaction is to immediately roll the stone away from the well. This was done by a number of the other shepherds but it’s amazing what strength will come to a man at the sight of a beautiful girl. Jacob then waters the sheep for Rachel. Rachel must have been startled by the kiss and by the sight of this big strong man weeping. This display of emotion may be a response of the leading a blessing of the Lord following his encounter with God at Bethel. He collects himself and explains that she is his cousin, and that he is the son of her father’s sister Rebekah. Rachel reacts by running in haste to her father to tell him the good news of her cousin’s arrival. It has been 100 years since his sister Rebekah left. There must have been great joy in the family over this news.
Genesis 29:13-19 – Meanwhile Jacob stayed with the sheep to finish watering them and allowing them to graze while it was still light. Laban ran out to meet Jacob and brought him home where there was a great reunion. Laban graciously insisted on Jacob staying with him in his home, rejoicing over his long lost relative. Jacob explained why he was there, but we don’t know how much was shared. No doubt he told them that he was sent by his family to come and find a wife from among his mother’s people. But did he share about the whole sordid mess back home and accept personal responsibility for his own sin and deception? Did he share that he had to flee for his life? Several factors seem to indicate that Jacob did share all with Laban. 1) He came alone, with no servant or attendants with him. Laban knew that the family was wealthy, and that Abraham had sent a whole caravan of servants to seek a bride for Isaac. How could Jacob explain his being alone with no servants? 2) Jacob had no gifts, no dowry with which to secure a bride. How could he explain this? 3) Jacob had not come for just a few days visit. He had apparently come for a long time and showed no desire to leave, even after a month (v 14) 4) Jacob had just had a deep experience with God, repented, and committed his life anew to the Lord. This alone would have stirred Jacob to share how God had saved him and strengthened him at Bethel. Jacob was hard working and wanted to make himself useful to Laban, so he began tending Laban’s flocks. This also kept him close to Rachel, where his love for her grew.
After a month Laban offered to employ him like a hired man as he realized how gifted he was at caring for livestock and was eager to have Jacob serve him. The only pay that Jacob desired was the hand of his daughter Rachel, and for that he would serve seven years. Laban found Jacob to be a hard worker who in addition would probably come into a large inheritance, who could be better than Jacob to marry his daughter? On top of all that Jacob was willing to serve as his laborer for seven years. Laban agrees to give his daughter in marriage to Jacob. It was not proper to have a younger daughter marry before the older, but Laban likely hoped that in the intervening time Leah would marry. Laban at this point should have explained to Jacob that this was the custom and would possibly delay his marriage if he couldn’t find a wife for Leah, but he does not. If he did bring this up Jacob might have prayed for Leah to be given a husband, but instead it appears that Laban does not want to risk losing Jacob as a son-in-law and as a cheap laborer.
Leah, whose name means “wild cow”, was not considered to be beautiful. The expression “weak eyes” meant that either her eyes were visually weak, or they lacked luster, which was a notable trait among people who admired sparkling eyes peering through a veil. This may have been the reason that she was not yet married. On the other hand, Rachel is described as beautiful in every way.
Genesis 29:20-24 – Some writers suggest that romance is a modern notion, that feelings of love were subordinate to the matchmaking arrangements of parents. V 18 & 20 should make it clear that the Lord knows well the desires of the heart and does not expect us to ignore those feelings. We do however get ourselves into trouble when we allow our feelings to rule our behavior so that we act contrary to the way we should according to God’s Word. Years seemed like days to Jacob because of his great love for Rachel. Jacob believed that this was God’s choice for him for a wife. When the period of service was complete, Jacob needed to remind Laban that the time of his service was complete. Laban was probably ignoring the time for two reasons; first Leah was not yet married, and secondly he did not want to lose the fine work of Jacob. Laban then hatches a scheme that is probably one of the most odious in Scripture. Laban arranges the wedding with invited guests, and it may have been that Jacob had some wine during the festivities. Jacob had no reason to be suspicious; his bride was brought to him veiled. Leah probably looked similar to her sister in size and stature. The conversations at that time may have been brief and whispered, and perhaps Jacob’s passion here was at work rather than reason. All of these factors may have made such a brazen act possible. Remember that Laban is the brother of Rebekah who came up with the plan to substitute Jacob for Esau. This is what the eastern or new age minds would describe as “karma”, which is understood Biblically as the law of sowing and reaping (Hosea 8:7). This is certainly the situation regarding Jacob and Laban. Jacob joined with his mother to deceive Esau and Isaac and now Jacob is the object of deception.
Genesis 29:25-27 – Much has not been told us. Where was Rachel while this was going on? Was she forced by her father to remain in her tent or sent away? Whatever the answer it must have been agony for her. What about Leah, she had to have been aware of Jacob’s love for Rachel, and that wedding night she knew that Jacob’s thoughts were on Rachel and not her. Later we learn of great jealousy between the sisters. Leah may have been forced to go through with this but to remain silent was a free choice she made. When Jacob realized what had happened, he must have become embittered toward Leah and Laban. Jacob’s anger had to have been somewhat tempered by the deception he participated in. Both frauds occurred at the urging of a parent, and both sought to gain something they wanted desperately. Jacob and Rebekah were both certain that the ends justified the means. This may explain why he did not berate Leah for her part in the deception. When confronted by Jacob, Laban explains his reason, and with incredible chutzpah proposes that Jacob fulfill the bridal week with Leah and then he can have Rachel, provided that he serves another 7 years. That Jacob agreed to this leads to the conclusion that he may have seen this as punishment for his deception. To his credit he does not demean or insult Leah and takes her for a wife. Polygamy was quite common in those days, his brother had many wives, and his grandfather Abraham had Hagar as well as Sarah. Polygamy always has the same result, heartache, jealousy, and family problems.
Genesis 29:28-30 – Laban wisely gives Rachel to Jacob immediately following the bridal week, not forcing Jacob to wait seven more years. In V 24 & 30 we learn where Jacob’s other two wives come from. They are the maids given to Laban’s daughters as their wedding gift; Zilpah to Leah and Bilhah to Rachel. Scripture makes it clear that while Jacob honored his marriage to Leah, he continued to love Rachel more than Leah. This polygamous arrangement was not Jacob’s idea, but he allowed himself to get into this situation because of his own sin and likely accepted this situation sensing it was the result of his own deception to his father and brother. The last five verses of chapter 29 really are linked to chapter 30. What follows is the fulfillment of God’s promise to be with Jacob and to bless him. It also demonstrates the logical result of polygamy to the internal dynamics of a family. The evils of polygamy are readily observed in the family of Jacob: (1) rivalry (vv. 30, 32), (2) hatred (V. 31), (3) envy (30:1), (4) anger (30:2), (5) fighting (30:8), and (6) virtual prostitution (30:15, 16).
Genesis 29:31-35 – We see here that God cares for Leah as much as He does for Jacob and Rachel. Like Sarah and Rebekah, Rachel will remain barren, until the Lord answered her prayers for a son. In order to bring comfort to Leah who is not loved by her husband, the Lord opens her womb and allows her to give birth to four sons. With this blessing Jacob becomes very attentive to Leah. The children’s names reflect the rivalry with Rachel as she gives birth. Reuben means “look a son” which indicates Leah’s joy in providing her husband with a greatly valued son. The second son was named Simeon, which means “hearing”, and suggests that God heard her cries for children and to be esteemed by her husband. Levi means “attachment” and demonstrates her hope that the birth of this son will cause her husband to be attached to her. Her fourth son Judah means, “praise the Lord” and shows her joy and thanksgiving to God for the birth of her sons which has caused her to gain the love and admiration of her husband.