Genesis 29 – Jacob’s Marriages and Children
A. Jacob meets Rachel.
1. (1-3) Jacob comes to a covered well.
So Jacob went on his journey and came to the land of the people of the East. And he looked, and saw a well in the field; and behold, there were three flocks of sheep lying by it; for out of that well they watered the flocks. A large stone was on the well’s mouth. Now all the flocks would be gathered there; and they would roll the stone from the well’s mouth, water the sheep, and put the stone back in its place on the well’s mouth.
a. And came to the land of the people of the East: Because the LORD blessed his trip, Jacob returned to the land his mother Rebekah came from, being also the land of his grandfather Abraham.
b. He looked, and saw a well in the field: As Jacob came near to the home of his mother’s family, he noticed a well that was used to water the sheep. The well was covered and protected by a large stone.
2. (4-10) Jacob meets Rachel at the well.
And Jacob said to them, “My brethren, where are you from?” And they said, “We are from Haran.” Then he said to them, “Do you know Laban the son of Nahor?” And they said, “We know him.” So he said to them, “Is he well?” And they said, “He is well. And look, his daughter Rachel is coming with the sheep.” Then he said, “Look, it is still high day; it is not time for the cattle to be gathered together. Water the sheep, and go and feed them.” But they said, “We cannot until all the flocks are gathered together, and they have rolled the stone from the well’s mouth; then we water the sheep.” Now while he was still speaking with them, Rachel came with her father’s sheep, for she was a shepherdess. And it came to pass, when Jacob saw Rachel the daughter of Laban his mother’s brother, and the sheep of Laban his mother’s brother, that Jacob went near and rolled the stone from the well’s mouth, and watered the flock of Laban his mother’s brother.
a. My brethren, where are you from: In an age before clearly marked roads and signs, Jacob didn’t know where he was until he asked some of the locals. Jacob then discovered he was at his destination.
b. Do you know Laban the son of Nahor: Jacob knew to make contact with his uncle Laban, the brother of his mother. The shepherds not only knew Laban, they also told Jacob that Laban’s daughter Rachel was approaching.
c. Water the sheep, and go and feed them: Perhaps Jacob wanted the shepherd boys to leave, probably so he could speak more directly to Rachel.
d. Jacob went near and rolled the stone from the well’s mouth: Jacob also knew he had come to marry one of the daughters of Laban (Genesis 28:2), so he was more than willing to show kindness (and perhaps his strength) to Laban’s daughter Rachel. The shepherd boys waited for someone to remove the stone, and Jacob did it in the presence of Rachel.
3. (11-14) Rachel arranges for her father Laban to meet Jacob.
Then Jacob kissed Rachel, and lifted up his voice and wept. And Jacob told Rachel that he was her father’s relative and that he was Rebekah’s son. So she ran and told her father. Then it came to pass, when Laban heard the report about Jacob his sister’s son, that he ran to meet him, and embraced him and kissed him, and brought him to his house. So he told Laban all these things. And Laban said to him, “Surely you are my bone and my flesh.” And he stayed with him for a month.
a. Jacob kissed Rachel, and lifted up his voice and wept: Initially, Rachel must have been quite surprised when a man she never met before greeted her, kissed her, then cried out and wept.
b. Jacob told Rachel that he was her father’s relative: Rachel had been told about her aunt Rebekah, who married a wealthy and distant relative to the family.
c. He stayed with him for a month: Laban showed this great hospitality, not only because of custom, and not only because Jacob was his nephew; Laban also knew that Jacob would inherit a significant fortune from his father Isaac.
B. Laban’s deal with Jacob.
1. (15-20) Jacob offers to work for seven years as a dowry to receive Rachel in marriage.
Then Laban said to Jacob, “Because you are my relative, should you therefore serve me for nothing? Tell me, what should your wages be?” Now Laban had two daughters: the name of the elder was Leah, and the name of the younger was Rachel. Leah’s eyes were delicate, but Rachel was beautiful of form and appearance. Now Jacob loved Rachel; so he said, “I will serve you seven years for Rachel your younger daughter.” And Laban said, “It is better that I give her to you than that I should give her to another man. Stay with me.” So Jacob served seven years for Rachel, and they seemed only a few days to him because of the love he had for her.
a. What should your wages be: This might sound like a nice offer, but really Laban let Jacob know if he wanted to remain among them, he must stay as a hired servant. Jacob was the son of a man of tremendous wealth. Certainly he was not lazy, but he wasn’t used to hard work. Servants did the hard work back home; now Jacob was the servant.
i. Jacob’s reaction in this situation would reveal much of his character. This demonstrates the principle that you never know what kind of servant you are until others treat you like a servant.
b. Now Jacob loved Rachel: Not only was Rachel beautiful of form and appearance, but she was also the first friendly face Jacob met in the area. It is understandable why he had a love at first sight attachment to Rachel.
c. Leah’s eyes were delicate: There is some dispute as to exactly what this phrase means. Some think it means her eyes were bad and she couldn’t see well. Others think it means her eyes were dull, not beautiful and full of life like her sister Rachel’s eyes.
i. The comparison of Rachel and Leah and their respective beauty is a small clue into what was probably a complicated, conflict-filled, and competitive family life.
d. I will serve you seven years for Rachel your younger daughter: The offer to work for seven years was essentially a dowry. Though Jacob came from a family with great wealth, he left home with no money. Before he could take a woman in marriage he had to provide a dowry to demonstrate he was fit to support a family and to compensate for the taking of the daughter.
i. Seven years was a very generous offer, far above a normal dowry. Jacob didn’t want to risk a refusal. When Laban saw how badly Jacob wanted Rachel, he knew he could take advantage of him.
e. They seemed only a few days to him because of the love he had for her: We notice the great love he had for her. The seven years of labor without pay (except for room and board) seemed to pass as quickly as a few days.
i. In this ancient culture, Jacob was not allowed to spend as much time as he wanted with Rachel. There were strict social guidelines to separate unmarried men and women.
ii. This clearly demonstrates an important principle: true love waits. Jacob was willing to wait seven years for Rachel.
iii. In the 1990s, there was a successful campaign among teens titled “True Love Waits.” It persuaded them to take the following pledge: Believing that true love waits, I make a commitment to God, myself, my family, those I date, my future mate and my future children to be sexually pure until the day I enter a covenant marriage relationship. One may debate the success of the campaign, but the principle remains. Jacob was willing to wait for Rachel because of the love he had for her.
2. (21-25) Laban switches Leah for Rachel on the wedding night.
Then Jacob said to Laban, “Give me my wife, for my days are fulfilled, that I may go in to her.” And Laban gathered together all the men of the place and made a feast. Now it came to pass in the evening, that he took Leah his daughter and brought her to Jacob; and he went in to her. And Laban gave his maid Zilpah to his daughter Leah as a maid. So it came to pass in the morning, that behold, it was Leah. And he said to Laban, “What is this you have done to me? Was it not for Rachel that I served you? Why then have you deceived me?”
a. Give me my wife, for my days are fulfilled, that I may go in to her: These words are clear enough. Even though Jacob waited and the time went quickly because of love, when the time was done, he was done waiting. He wanted to take Rachel as his wife. Laban responded by inviting guests and making a wedding (gathered together all the men of the place and made a feast).
b. He took Leah his daughter and brought her to Jacob; and he went in to her: It was possible for Jacob to be fooled because of the wedding customs of the day. According to those customs, the wife was veiled until she was finally alone with her husband in the honeymoon suite. If it was dark by the time Jacob and his new bride were alone together (something Laban would not have difficulty arranging), it helps explain how Jacob was fooled.
c. He took Leah his daughter and brought her to Jacob: We assume that Leah was in agreement with this. Yet even if she was not in agreement, she was under the absolute authority of her father.
i. “She may have loved Jacob secretly. She may have considered this her one chance to get a husband. She may have thought this an unsought, and therefore justifiable, opportunity to steal a march on her sister.” (Leupold)
ii. The absolute authority of the father in the home of that culture also explains why Rachel allowed this to happen.
d. So it came to pass in the morning, that behold, it was Leah: We can imagine how Jacob felt, and how Leah felt, and of course how poor Rachel felt. All this was because of Laban’s sin; or, perhaps one should say it was because of Jacob’s sin – now the deceiver was deceived.
e. Why then have you deceived me: Significantly, Laban’s deception towards Jacob was similar to the deception Jacob put upon his father Isaac and his brother Esau. This is an example of Jacob reaping what he had sown. Jacob exchanged the younger for the older; Laban exchanged the older for the younger.
i. When Jacob deceived his father and cheated his brother, God did not change His plan to choose Jacob to receive the birthright. Instead, God took Jacob to the school of difficult experience to discipline him. This shows that our disobedience may not derail God’s plan for our life, but it will greatly affect how we end up experiencing it. One might spend 20 years working for someone like Laban while God teaches a few things.
ii. Though we can see this was God’s correction upon Jacob, it in no way justified Laban’s deception. The fact that God does work all things together for good never excuses the evil things man does.
3. (26-30) Laban agrees to give Rachel to Jacob in return for another seven years of work.
And Laban said, “It must not be done so in our country, to give the younger before the firstborn. Fulfill her week, and we will give you this one also for the service which you will serve with me still another seven years.” Then Jacob did so and fulfilled her week. So he gave him his daughter Rachel as wife also. And Laban gave his maid Bilhah to his daughter Rachel as a maid. Then Jacob also went in to Rachel, and he also loved Rachel more than Leah. And he served with Laban still another seven years.
a. It must not be done so in our country: This excuse by Laban basically said, “Well, didn’t we tell you? We don’t do it this way around here. I thought you knew.” The only reason Jacob accepted this clever trick from Laban was because he had no other option. But Laban’s supposed reason was really nothing more than an excuse.
b. Serve with me still another seven years: The second seven years made up Jacob’s post-graduate work in the school of difficult experience. Jacob’s main subject in the school of difficult experience was, “You Reap What You Sow.”
c. And he served with Laban still another seven years: Laban was a perfect picture of a deceptive manipulator. He ended up getting exactly what he wanted (both his daughters married). Yet this would turn out badly for both himself and his daughters. Oftentimes, God will judge manipulators by giving them what they in their sinful desires and methods want, yet allowing it to be loss for them.
i. The problems in this family can be seen immediately. Not only had Jacob married two sisters, but he also allowed everyone to know that one was favored and loved more than the other. Ultimately, all these problems came from Laban’s manipulative deception, and the prior sin of Jacob that brought it upon himself.
ii. What should Jacob have done? Some say Jacob should have gone to Laban and told him to correct the whole mess, and simply be married to Rachel and let Leah be Laban’s problem. Others believe that according to the standards of the culture, he could not have put Leah aside, because she was unable to marry another after having been given to Jacob. Perhaps he should have done the best he could have in the situation, which would have been to love his two wives equally. What a mess!
d. He gave him his daughter Rachel as wife also: Polygamy is not widely practiced in western culture, but we do practice serial marriage. When it comes to terminology, we can think of polygamy as mass marriage in the sense we speak about mass murder: someone who marries more than one at the same time. There is also serial murder: where a murderer kills many, but one at a time. In our modern culture, we also multiply wives to ourselves; we just do it one at a time.
i. We can’t do anything about our marriages that have broken up in the past, but each of us can do all that we can before God to make sure that from now on, it is one partner for all time.
C. Jacob’s first four sons born through Leah.
1. (31) God’s gracious love for Leah.
When the LORD saw that Leah was unloved, He opened her womb; but Rachel was barren.
a. When the LORD saw that Leah was unloved: God’s compassion on Leah is touching. She was truly the innocent party in all of this mess. God can bring comfort and blessing to a wife and meet her needs even when the husband acts in an ungodly manner.
i. “Wretched Leah sits sadly in her tent with her maid and spends her time spinning and weeping. For the rest of the household, and especially Rachel, despises her because she has been scorned by her husband, who prefers Rachel and is desperately in love with Rachel alone. She is not beautiful, not pleasing. No, she is odious and hated… There the poor girl sits; no one pays any attention to her. Rachel gives herself airs before; she does not deign to look at her. ‘I am the lady of the house,’ she thinks, ‘Leah is a slave.’ These are truly carnal things in the saintly fathers and mothers, like the things that usually happen in our houses.” (Luther, cited in Boice)
b. When the LORD saw that Leah was unloved, He opened her womb: God was good to Leah, even when her husband wasn’t, and her sister wasn’t.
i. Isaiah 54:5 says, For your Maker is your husband, the LORD of hosts is His name. Husbands are responsible to care for their wives. Yet when they do not, God can meet the needs of a hurting wife, needs that may be neglected by the husband.
2. (32) The birth of Reuben.
So Leah conceived and bore a son, and she called his name Reuben; for she said, “The LORD has surely looked on my affliction. Now therefore, my husband will love me.”
a. She called his name Rueben: The first child born to Jacob, through Leah, was named Reuben by Leah, meaning Behold, a son. This was her statement to Jacob and all others that the LORD had looked upon my affliction.
i. Reuben was the firstborn son of Jacob; he was the logical one to inherit the promise God had made to Abraham and passed on to Isaac and then to Jacob.
b. Now therefore, my husband will love me: Jacob, even though he did not love Leah, still was willing to have sex with her. This demonstrates a principle that is still true, that a man will often be willing to have sex completely apart from love, and only a foolish woman regards the willingness to have sex as proof of love. Leah was not the first, nor the last, to live under this problem of male nature.
3. (33) The birth of Simeon.
Then she conceived again and bore a son, and said, “Because the LORD has heard that I am unloved, He has therefore given me this son also.” And she called his name Simeon.
a. She called his name Simeon: The second child born to Jacob, through Leah, was named (by Leah) Simeon, meaning Hearing. Leah hoped all would notice that the LORD had heard her.
b. Because the LORD has heard that I am unloved: Apparently, the birth of Reuben did not turn the heart of Jacob towards Leah. She was still aware he did not love her, though he still was willing to have sex with her.
i. Of course, Jacob and Leah were married, so there was nothing sinful in sexual relationship. But this plainly shows that Jacob, like most any man in the flesh, was able and willing to have sex with someone he did not love.
ii. A 1995 survey asked the following question: “Have you ever had sex with a woman you have actively disliked?” 58% of men answered “yes.”
4. (34) The birth of Levi.
She conceived again and bore a son, and said, “Now this time my husband will become attached to me, because I have borne him three sons.” Therefore his name was called Levi.
a. Therefore his name was called Levi: The third child born to Jacob, again through Leah, was named Levi, meaning Attachment. Leah still lived in the hope her husband Jacob would love her and become attached to her through the birth of these sons.
b. Now this time my husband will become attached to me: The pain in the heart of Leah was just as evident as the hardness of Jacob’s heart, and as evident as his attitude towards his wife Leah.
5. (35) The birth of Judah.
And she conceived again and bore a son, and said, “Now I will praise the LORD.” Therefore she called his name Judah. Then she stopped bearing.
a. She called his name Judah: The fourth son born to Jacob, again through Leah, was named Judah, meaning Praise. Apparently, Leah stopped naming her children to reflect the pain and longing in her heart. At this point, she focused on God and could praise Him.
b. Now I will praise the LORD: To some extent, and for some period of time, Leah allowed the LORD to meet her need, and she could now praise God. Leah knew the LORD better, driven to Him by the neglect of her husband.
i. Leah, though she was neglected by Jacob and despised by Rachel, had a great purpose in God’s plan. The two greatest tribes came from Leah, not Rachel: Levi (the priestly tribe) and Judah (the royal tribe). And most importantly, the Messiah came from Leah, the less-attractive sister who was neglected and despised but learned to look to the LORD and praise Him.
©2018 David Guzik – No distribution beyond personal use without permission