March 3, 2015

Commentary on the Book of Genesis

By: Tom Lowe

 

PART III: HISTORY OF ISAAC AND JACOB. (Genesis 25:19-36:43)

Topic #C:JACOB'S RESIDENCE IN PADDAN ARAM. (Genesis 29:1-30:43)

 

 


Lesson III.C.2: He Obtains Leah and Rachel for Wives. (Gen. 29:15-30)                                                                  

 

 

 (Genesis 29:15-30; KJV)

 

15 And Laban said unto Jacob, Because thou art my brother, shouldest thou therefore serve me for nought? tell me, what shall thy wages be?

16 And Laban had two daughters: the name of the elder was Leah, and the name of the younger was Rachel.

17 Leah was tender eyed; but Rachel was beautiful and well favoured.

18 And Jacob loved Rachel; and said, I will serve thee seven years for Rachel thy younger daughter.

19 And Laban said, It is better that I give her to thee, than that I should give her to another man: abide with me.

20 And Jacob served seven years for Rachel; and they seemed unto him but a few days, for the love he had to her.

21 And Jacob said unto Laban, Give me my wife, for my days are fulfilled, that I may go in unto her.

22 And Laban gathered together all the men of the place, and made a feast.

23 And it came to pass in the evening, that he took Leah his daughter, and brought her to him; and he went in unto her.

24 And Laban gave unto his daughter Leah Zilpah his maid for an handmaid.

25 And it came to pass, that in the morning, behold, it was Leah: and he said to Laban, What is this thou hast done unto me? did not I serve with thee for Rachel? wherefore then hast thou beguiled me?

26 And Laban said, It must not be so done in our country, to give the younger before the firstborn.

27 Fulfil her week, and we will give thee this also for the service which thou shalt serve with me yet seven other years.

28 And Jacob did so, and fulfilled her week: and he gave him Rachel his daughter to wife also.

29 And Laban gave to Rachel his daughter Bilhah his handmaid to be her maid.

30 And he went in also unto Rachel, and he loved also Rachel more than Leah, and served with him yet seven other years.

 

 

 

Commentary

 

15 And Laban said unto Jacob, Because thou art my brother, shouldest thou therefore serve me for nought? tell me, what shall thy wages be?

 

Now Jacob was too clever to hang around Laban’s home idly for long.  Idleness was not one of his faults.  He began to make himself useful to his uncle, and quickly became invaluable, so much so that Laban offered him a full-time job. “Because thou art my brother, shouldest thou therefore serve me for nought? tell me, what shall thy wages be?” Within a month Laban begin to wonder how he had ever managed his farms before Jacob came.  Never had he seen such diligence, such business expertise, such cleverness in closing a deal, such an uncanny skill with cattle and sheep.  The man was worth a fortune to anyone shrewd enough to get his name on the dotted line.

 

Now, if Jacob was clever, his Uncle Laban was even more so.  Who had said anything about going to work?  Jacob hasn’t.  So Uncle Laban is very tactful and says that he doesn’t want Jacob to work for him for nothing.  Frankly, you don’t live with Laban a month without making some sort of an arrangement to pay your board.  Uncle Laban is a clever one also, he is going to deal with his nephew.  He didn’t want to lose Jacob to another farm, so he suggested that an agreement on wages be worked out.  What Jacob didn’t realize was that Laban was a master schemer who would control his life for the next 20 years. 

 

It appears from calculation that Jacob was seventy-seven years old when he worked as a shepherd for his Uncle Laban (Hosea 12:12), and shepherding wasn’t an easy job.

 

 

16 And Laban had two daughters: the name of the elder was Leah, and the name of the younger was Rachel.

 

But if Uncle Laban had been doing some figuring, so had Jacob.  He spent a month in Laban’s home and he had fallen deeply in love with Rachel.Without doubt Laban had noticed Jacob’s interest in Rachel and saw an opportunity to take advantage of him.  This daughter was not his eldest, a point which gave the father an important legal advantage.

 

 

17 Leah was tender eyed; but Rachel[1] was beautiful and well favoured.

 

Leah[2] was Rachel’s older sister, and we are not told much about her, other than she was tender eyed.  The writer of Genesis does not explain what that means, but there has been considerable speculation (no doubt, she had something wrong with her eyes, but not necessarily a visual defect):

  • Perhaps she was nearsighted or had a squint.
  • It could as well mean that she had attractive eyes—one physical trait in her favor.
  • Possibly, it means that she was not beautiful at all.  She may have been a sort of an ugly duckling.
  • Maybe it means that her eyes were a pale color rather than the dark and sparkling eyes most common.  Such paleness was viewed as a blemish.

 

Whatever it was, Jacob had nothing against Leah, but he had eyes for Rachel alone.  Leah simply did not exist so far as he was concerned.  When the Lord saw that Leah was hated (that is, loved less than Rachel) He compensated for this by giving her children.  This law of divine compensation still operates; People who lack in one area are given extra in another. 

 

It’s interesting that the wives of each of the first three patriarchs were beautiful: Sarah (12:11), Rebekah (24:15-16), and Rachel “was beautiful and well favoured.”

 

 

18 And Jacob loved Rachel; and said, I will serve thee seven years for Rachel thy younger daughter.

 

Jacob had been thinking about Rachel and his own lack of funds and assets of any kind, and he had an immediate proposition. When Laban opened the question of wages, Jacob was ready.  “Rachel!” he said, “I want Rachel.  “I’ll serve you seven years for Rachel.” Jacob was in love with his daughter and that is something that is almost impossible to conceal, so, I believe Laban was not at all surprised at Jacob’s answer.  On the other hand, Jacob was unaware of the complications behind his offer, but Laban knew and bided his time. 

 

Notice that a proposal of marriage is made to the father without the daughter being consulted, and the match is validated by the suitor either bestowing costly gifts on the family, or by giving cattle to the father equal to the value he places upon his daughter, or else by giving personal services for a specified period, as Jacob proposed.

 

Rachel was a beauty (29:17) and Jacob loved her.In the excitement of that moment of decision, which involved accepting a new job and being engaged to an appealing woman, Jacob failed to notice that Laban didn’t promise that he would give Rachel to Jacob at the end of the seven years.  He only agreed to give him Rachel for his wife.  This man Laban is driving a hard bargain.

 

 

19 And Laban said, It is better that I give her to thee, than that I should give her to another man: abide with me. 

 

In the early years of Jacob’s life, the only appearance of anything beautiful or fine or noble is his love for Rachel.

 

 

20 And Jacob served seven years for Rachel; and they seemed unto him but a few days, for the love he had to her.

 

The bargain was struck, “And Jacob served seven years for Rachel; he honestly served his seven years, though he was old, and they seemed to him as if it was only a few days, because of the love he had for her.”

 

Love makes long and hard services short and easy; hence we read about the labor of love (Hebrews 6:10).  If we know how to value the happiness of heaven, the sufferings of this present time will be like nothing to us, and in comparison to it.  A long period of work will seem like a few days to those that love God, and long for Christ’s appearing.

 

 

21 And Jacob said unto Laban, Give me my wife, for my days are fulfilled, that I may go in unto her.

 

Jacob makes what appears to be a demand of Laban (29:21-22).  “And Jacob said unto Laban, Give me my wife, for my days are fulfilled.” The agreed upon date for the wedding came and Jacob was eager for his loved one to be his very own. 

 

Laban got everything ready the customary bridle feast.

 

 

22 And Laban gathered together all the men of the place, and made a feast.

 

Jacob had agreed to marry Rachel according to the customs of the land.  “Jacob, my son,” Laban might have said, “you understand, of course, you will not be able to see your bride during the ceremony.  She will be heavily veiled.  The wedding will take place at night, Jacob, and right after the ceremony the bride will retire to your quarters, still heavily veiled.  You will linger awhile to accept the congratulations of the guests—” And thus, along those lines, it was arranged.

 

It is widely held that Laban was adopting Jacob as his heir, as part of this feast.  It may be that his own sons (31:1) had not yet been born. Much earlier, Abraham had made his servant his heir, as recorded in Genesis 15:2: But Abram said, ‘Sovereign Lord, what can you give me since I remain childless and the one who will inherit my estate is Eliezer of Damascus?’”This probably required that Abraham adopt Eliezer

 

 

23 And it came to pass in the evening, that he took Leah his daughter, and brought her to him; and he went in unto her[3].

 

The marriage took place.  That night Laban presented, not Rachel, but Leah, to Jacob as his wife.  The bridal veil and the darkness hid this switch from Jacob’s knowledge. Jacob retired to his darkened quarters and consummated his marriage.

 

The chickens are now coming home to roost.  Jacob pretended to be the elder when he was the younger.  Now he thinks he’s getting the younger and he gets the elder.  The tables are turned now, and it has become an awful thing for Jacob.

 

 

24 And Laban gave unto his daughter Leah Zilpah his maid for an handmaid.

25 And it came to pass, that in the morning, behold, it was Leah: and he said to Laban, What is this thou hast done unto me? did not I serve with thee for Rachel? wherefore then hast thou beguiled me?

 

The next morning, much to Jacob’s surprise and disappointment, he woke up to discover he was married to the wrong woman.  Imagine what that was like for Jacob. Angrily he berated Laban for his deception, but Laban was unimpressed.  He tells of Jacob that there was a little matter in the contract, a clause in the fine print that he had forgotten to mention to Jacob.  There was a law in their country which forbid giving a younger daughter in marriage while the oldest daughter was still unmarried; it was illegal (29:26), but there was a remedy (29:27). Uncle Laban, kind-hearted man that he was, is willing to be very generous in his dealings; so he will make Jacob another offer. 

 

The man who deceived his father was deceived by his father-in-law, and the man who passed himself off as the firstborn son now receives Laban’s firstborn daughter to be his wife.  An inescapable law of life is that we eventually reap what we sow (Galatians 6:7-8).  God in his grace forgives our sins when we confess them (1 John 1:9), but God in His government allows us to suffer the painful consequences of those sins.  This disappointment was just the beginning of the harvest for Jacob.

 

 

26 And Laban said, It must not be so done in our country, to give the younger before the firstborn.

 

It was Jacob’s first lesson.  To all his infuriated accusations, however, Laban blandly replied, “My dear fellow, we have a rule in this country.  We respect the rights of the firstborn.” It must have been like a punch in the face to Jacob.

 

There is a “poetic justice” in the dealings of God with men.  God sees to it that in what measure we meet[4] it is measured to us again (Matthew 7:2).  Observe that law in action here.  Laban callously palmed off Leah on Jacob, Jacob all the while thinking the bride he was receiving was Rachel.  What did Laban care that his methods were underhanded, despicable, and mean?  What did he care that he was trampling on the tenderest and most sacred feelings of Jacob’s heart?  He did not care.  But go back seven years in Jacob’s life.  See him standing there before his old, blind father pretending to be Esau.  Jacob had callously palmed himself off on Isaac, Isaac all the while thinking that the blessing he was bestowing was going to Esau.  What had Jacob cared that his methods were underhanded, despicable, and mean?  What had he cared that he was trampling on the tenderest and most sacred feelings of Isaac’s heart?  He had not cared.  Now he had to reap just what he had sowed.  The mills of God grind slowly, but they grind exceedingly fine.

 

 

27 Fulfil her week, and we will give thee this also for the service which thou shalt serve with me yet seven other years.

 

Shocked and stunned, Jacob was forced to face cold facts.  Like it or not, he was married to Leah according to the custom of the country and he had consummated that marriage.  “Fulfil her week,” Laban urged, pouring oil on the troubled waters, “then I’ll let you marry Rachel too”—for another seven years of service.  The week, you see, is another seven years.  Uncle Laban is getting his money’s worth, isn’t he?  And poor Jacob is really going to school.  But he is taking two wives which he shouldn’t have done.  He will be in trouble before it is over.  Laban would give Rachel to him the very next week, when Leah’s week of bridle festivities had been completed.

 

Eastern women were kept fairly secluded, and there was no such thing as “dating” in that culture, but surely Jacob had gotten to know Rachel and Leah fairly well during those seven years.  Why, then, was he so easily deceived?  Granted, the bridal chamber was dark and the bride was veiled (Genesis 24:65), and perhaps she didn’t speak above a whisper; but in the intimacy of the marriage bed, how could Jacob not know who the woman was?

 

Had Jacob celebrated too much?  Perhaps.  Or maybe he was intoxicated by his passionate love (Proverbs 5:19).  Was Leah a willing partner in this subterfuge or did her unprincipled father force her to obey him?  And where was Rachel during the drama?  We can imagine several possible scenarios but can be sure of none of them.

 

Had Leah desired to do so, she could easily have revealed the plot, but that would have embarrassed Laban before his guests and probably lead to Jacob being banished from the home without his beloved Rachel.  Then for the rest of her life, Leah would have had to live with a disappointed sister and an angry father, who would devise some means to get even with his elder daughter.  No, revealing the scheme just wasn’t worth it.

 

I feel that Leah was a willing accomplice, happy to get a hard-working husband like Jacob, who would inherit Isaac’s wealth and enjoy the covenant blessings of Abraham.  Certainly she knew that Rachel would also be part of the bargain, but she was willing to risk whatever problems might ensue.  Leah may have “borrowed” some of her sister’s garments and even learned to imitate some of her personal mannerisms.  If so, she was treating Jacob just the way he had treated his father when he pretended to be Esau.

 

 

28 And Jacob did so, and fulfilled her week: and he gave him Rachel his daughter to wife also.

 

Jacob finished out his week with Leah in the letter if not in the spirit of the agreement and married Rachel.  [Note that only a week (29:27) separated the two weddings. Jacob served his years for Rachel after his marriage to her.] Then his domestic difficulties began.  Was Leah and unwilling pawn in that dismal game or was she in love with Jacob herself and a willing accomplice?  We do not know, but once married to Rachel, Jacob wasted no more time on Leah.  He simply ignored the woman; his whole sun rose and set on Rachel.  In her he lived and moved and had his being.  Leah was pushed back on the shelf and treated as though she did not exist.  Leah must have suffered much from the realization that her husband did not love her.  Yet she carried on in the hope that one day Jacob’s heart would turn to her.  At a later date, no doubt partly because of such frictions as arose between Leah and Rachel, the law of Leviticus 18:18 prevented a man from marrying two sisters.

 

Among Semitic peoples, for seven days after their marriage, the bride and groom were treated like a king and queen, but Jacob must have felt more like the court jester.  Laban had made a fool of him, but there was nothing Jacob could do about it; for the father in the household was in supreme control.  His unscrupulous father-in-law had married off two daughters to a potentially wealthy man and had secured another seven years’ service from his son-in-law as a bonus! Seven years was long enough, but, believe me, fourteen years is a longtime!  This arrangement gave Jacob two wives.

 

Jacob protested the way Laban had treated him and Rachel, but in the end all he could do was to meekly accept his lot and go back to work for another seven years.  Little by little, Jacob was learning to submit to God’s loving hand of discipline and was growing in faith and character.  At the end of Leah’s marriage week, Jacob married Rachel, the woman he loved, and had another week to live like a king but from then on, he would in endure 13 years of hardship and conflict, not only because of his in-laws, but also because of his own wives and their maids.

 

You may be thinking, Well, since this is in the bible, God must approve of polygamy.  No, God does NOT approve of everything that is in the Bible—that may startle you.  For instance, God didn’t approve of the devil’s lie.  God didn’t approve of David’s sin, and He judged him for it.  But the record of both events is inspired—literally, God-breathed.  In other words, God said through the writer, Moses, exactly what He wanted to say.  The thing that is inspired is the record of the words God gave to Moses to write down in this book we call the Bible.  In Genesis 29 God gave an accurate record: Jacob did have two wives, and it tells us the way it came about.  That is where inspiration comes in.  It does not mean that God approved of everything that is recorded in the Bible.  Certainly God disapproved of Jacob having more than one wife.

 

May I say this to you, this man Jacob had plenty of trouble in his family from here on, and it all can be traced back to his own methods which he had used.  The chickens are coming home to roost.

 

 

29 And Laban gave to Rachel his daughter Bilhah his handmaid to be her maid.

 

The polygamy of the patriarchs was, in some measure, excusable, because though there was a reason not to do it as ancient as Adam’s marriage (Malachi 2:15), yet there was no express command against it; it was therefore a sin of ignorance and not the result of sinful lusts.

 

 

30 And he went in also unto Rachel, and he loved also Rachel more than Leah, and served with him yet seven other years.

 

For Laban the whole transaction appeared to be a very good deal.  He had successfully married off his unattractive eldest daughter and had a promise of seven more years of free labor from Jacob.  He made no effort to justify his failure to inform Jacob of local marriage laws when the request for Rachel was first made.  Now in accordance with local custom, he provided each of his daughters with a personal maid.

 

Laban must have congratulated himself on the success of his scheme, not realizing that the Lord was ruling and overruling in the entire event.  “There is no wisdom, no insight, no plan that can succeed against the Lord” (Proverbs 21:30).  As Jacob’s son Joseph would say many years later, “You meant evil against me, but God meant it for good” (Genesis 50:20; NKJV). Christians today would quote Romans 8:28: “And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.” 

 

Jacob, however, acted without consulting with God.  God loved Leah as much as He loved Rachel, no matter what Jacob might feel, and He took action, making it impossible for Rachel to bear children and evidently possible for Leah to do so.  A culture where sons—big, strapping, healthy sons—to support their father and boost his business and bring fat dowries, were essential to a man’s communal standing; it did not take long for the lesson to sink in.  If Jacob wanted sons, he would have to consider Leah for he was not going to get them from Rachel.  And Jacob wanted sons.

 

God’s promise of many offspring began to be realized as Jacob fathered eleven sons and a daughter by his two wives and their maids.  Even though he struggled against scheming Uncle Laban, Jacob became prosperous beyond his wildest expectations.

 

 

 

 

 


[1] Rachel means “ewe.”

[2] Leah means “wild cow.”

[3] And he went in unto her is a euphemism for consummating marriage.

[4] Meet: fulfill or satisfy (a need, requirement, or condition).

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