February 21, 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.1: He Reaches Laban's House. (Genesis 29:1-14)                                                                  

 

 

 

 (Genesis 29:1-14; KJV)

 

1 Then Jacob went on his journey, and came into the land of the people of the east.

2 And he looked, and behold a well in the field, and, lo, there were three flocks of sheep lying by it; for out of that well they watered the flocks: and a great stone was upon the well's mouth.

3 And thither were all the flocks gathered: and they rolled the stone from the well's mouth, and watered the sheep, and put the stone again upon the well's mouth in his place.

4 And Jacob said unto them, My brethren, whence be ye? And they said, Of Haran are we.

5 And he said unto them, Know ye Laban the son of Nahor? And they said, We know him.

6 And he said unto them, Is he well? And they said, He is well: and, behold, Rachel his daughter cometh with the sheep.

7 And he said, Lo, it is yet high day, neither is it time that the cattle should be gathered together: water ye the sheep, and go and feed them.

8 And they said, We cannot, until all the flocks be gathered together, and till they roll the stone from the well's mouth; then we water the sheep.

9 And while he yet spake with them, Rachel came with her father's sheep; for she kept them.

10 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.

11 And Jacob kissed Rachel, and lifted up his voice, and wept.

12 And Jacob told Rachel that he was her father's brother, and that he was Rebekah's son: and she ran and told her father.

13 And it came to pass, when Laban heard the tidings of Jacob his sister's son, that he ran to meet him, and embraced him, and kissed him, and brought him to his house. And he told Laban all these things.

14 And Laban said to him, Surely thou art my bone and my flesh. And he abode with him the space of a month.

 

 

 

Introduction to Chapter 29

 

Life isn’t easy, I’m sure you would agree, and what life does to us depends a great deal on what life finds in us.  Jacob could have easily left his family problems behind, but he had to take along his biggest problem—himself.  During the next 20 years (31:41), Jacob would experience many painful trials in Laban’s Household, but in the end, he would become God’s man to accomplish God’s will. 

 

However, don’t read these chapters as an ancient story about one man’s family.  This is a contemporary story about all of us who are making important decisions on the road of life, decisions that determined character and destiny. 

 

 

 

Introduction to Verses 1-14

 

The structure and the content of this passage reflect the significance of the Bethel experience.  Jacob had been fleeing from Esau; now he was looking for a bride.  This change in purpose was due to God’s promise given him at Bethel.  His quest now was the fulfillment of part of that promise, namely, the seed, while Jacob was outside the land.  Moreover, Jacob’s spirit was now magnanimous and unselfish.  He had a new outlook.

 

Jesus made it clear that not everybody is supposed to get married (Matthew 19:1-12).  But with Jacob, marriage wasn’t an option; it was an obligation.  The success of the covenant promises God gave to Abraham (Genesis 12:1-3; 28:1-4) depended on Jacob’s finding a wife and with her building a family that would eventually become the people of Israel, the nation that would bring the promised Redeemer into the world. 

 

Jacob should be considered a saved man, as were his father Isaac and grandfather Abraham; however, it is one thing for a person to be saved, and it is another for him to be subdued.  The subduing process would take up the next 20 years of Jacob’s life.  How slow we are to learn even the basic elementary truths of the life of faith.

 


Commentary

 

1 Then Jacob went on his journey, and came into the land of the people of the east[1].

 

Fortified by the gracious promises that God had given him at Bethel (27:10-22), Jacob made the long journey to Paddan Aram.  This episode at the well reminds us of the experience of Abraham’s servant when he was seeking a wife for Isaac (24:10), a story that Jacob had certainly heard many times.  However, there’s no record that Jacob prayed as did his grandfather’s servant; but perhaps he had prayed for God’s guidance all during his long journey. 

 

It was indeed a long journey.  How his feet must have dragged after he had put those first few frantic miles between himself and Esau.  What heavy thoughts burdened him, shut out from home as he was, with a blank and uncertain future ahead, a vengeful brother behind.  But now he had a new spring in his step, a new song in his heart.  He marched along, head held high, whistling to himself, the miles melting away behind his joyous stride.

 

He went North East, following the Fertile Crescent on its great 450-mile ark into Mesopotamia.  Then, at last, they reached the fabled land about which he had heard so much from Grandfather Abraham, the land from which the old pilgrim had come some 150 years before.  Little of the journey from Canaan is recorded, except that “Jacob…came into the land of the people of the east.”  This is primarily the region around Haran.

 

 

2 And he looked, and behold a well in the field, and, lo, there were three flocks of sheep lying by it; for out of that well they watered the flocks: and a great stone was upon the well's mouth.

 

The scene before him was the familiar sight of a wayside well with several flocks of sheep lying around and a group of shepherds lounging in the shade.  Those were not the mild and picturesque shepherds we see on Christmas cards.  They would be fierce-looking men with daggers in their belts and weather-beaten, bearded faces, men accustomed to roughing it in the wild in all kinds of weather, men able to face wolves, lions, or thieves. 

 

“A great stone was upon the well's mouth,” perhaps due to the fact that this well of precious, stored water could evaporate rapidly in the sun, or be filled with blowing dust, or used indiscriminately, or perhaps it had been covered in order to regulate its use.  The well adjoined the town where he would obtain an easy introduction to his relatives.

 

 

3 And thither were all the flocks gathered: and they rolled the stone from the well's mouth, and watered the sheep, and put the stone again upon the well's mouth in his place.

4 And Jacob said unto them, My brethren, whence be ye? And they said, Of Haran are we.

 

They would have eyed the approaching stranger with a mixture of courtesy and hospitality as Jacob came to the well.

 

He hailed them.  He was not bashful with strangers.  He was a shepherd himself and as tough as any of them.  Jacob was never marked by embarrassment or by a sense of inferiority.  “My brethren, whence be ye?” he said.  “Of Haran,” was the short, uncommunicative reply as they gave him what we would call “the brush-off.” They were not interested in him.

 

At Bethel, Jacob had learned what God is like; at Haran he was to learn what man is like.  Up until now Jacob had always been the big man, the son of a wealthy and influential chief, the man with many servants at his beck and call.  It was different now.  Now he was the outsider, the alien, the unwanted stranger seeking to make a way for himself among men who had no use for him at all.

 

 

5 And he said unto them, Know ye Laban the son of Nahor? And they said, We know him.

 

Jacob was not thin-skinned.  “Know ye Laban?” he asked. “We know him!” was the curt reply.  What a wealth of hidden meaning lay hidden behind that bare response.  Everybody for miles around new Laban, and before long Jacob would know him too—know him to his regret.  He has a tremendous lesson to learn, and Uncle Laban is the one to teach him.  Had Charles Dickens been asked to describe Uncle Laban, he would doubtless had used the same language he used to describe Ebenezer Scrooge.  For Uncle Laban was “a squeezing, wrenching, grasping, dishonest, clutching, covetous old sinner!  Hard and sharp as flint, secret and self-contained as an oyster.  The cold within him froze his old features, nipped his pointed nose, shriveled his cheek, and stiffened his gate.” That was Scrooge and that was Laban; they were cut from the same piece of cloth.

 

The fact that Jacob came upon shepherds who knew his relatives is to be taken as a fulfillment of God’s promise to be with him—I am with you and will watch over you wherever you go, and I will bring you back to this land. I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you” (28:15). Being a shepherd himself, Jacob noticed things that were different from his own procedure for caring for a flock.  It was noon and three flocks had already gathered at the well—probably a cistern—but were not being watered.

 

The shepherds were not lazy.  They were waiting for Laban’s daughter to arrive with her flock, so all could cooperate in removing the stone and covering the well again.

 

 

6 And he said unto them, Is he well? And they said, He is well: and, behold, Rachel his daughter cometh with the sheep.

 

Undaunted by their initial curt reply, Jacob tried again.  “Is he well?” His persistent friendliness brought a slight thaw.  “He is well, and behold, Rachel his daughter, cometh with the sheep.” Probably Rachel was heavily veiled and Jacob brashly gave her a second glance.

 

Among the pastoral[2] tribes the young unmarried daughters of the greatest sheiks tended the flocks, going out and sunrise and continuing to watch their fleecy charges until sunset.  Watering them, which is done twice a day, is a work of time and labor, and Jacob rendered no small service in volunteering his aid to the young shepherdess.

 

The well was possibly the same well where Eliezer found Rebekah for the young Isaac.

 

 

7 And he said, Lo, it is yet high day, neither is it time that the cattle should be gathered together: water ye the sheep, and go and feed them.

 

Turning back to the shepherds he demanded to know why they did not water their flocks.  “Lo, it is yet high day!” he said, or as it could be rendered, “much of the day still remains.” Now, Jacob has just arrived in the land and he is telling them how to water their sheep and what they should do!  This is typical of him, by the way.  He could not understand why men would lie around when there was work to be done.  It was that burning, driving energy of his that marked him out as a man bound to succeed.

 

 

8 And they said, We cannot, until all the flocks be gathered together, and till they roll the stone from the well's mouth; then we water the sheep.

 

In response the shepherds almost grew eloquent.  They told Jacob they could not water the flocks until all the shepherds arrived.  They gave no reason.  Perhaps the arrangement protected the well from dust—better to open it once when all were gathered than to keep on opening it all day.  Perhaps the agreement was intended to ensure fair distribution of the precious water supply.  The reason is not given, but the whole scene impresses us with Jacob’s confidence. 

 

The language of Haran was Aramaic or Chaldee and evidently was known by Abraham and his sons.

 

 

9 And while he yet spake with them, Rachel came with her father's sheep; for she kept them.

 

So perfect was God’s timing that Rachel was just arriving with her flock when Jacob was talking with the shepherds.

 

 

10 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.

 

I get the impression that when Jacob saw Rachel, it was love at first sight.  If so, it explains why he tried to get the shepherds to water their flocks and leave, because he wanted Rachel all to himself at their first meeting. 

 

The site of his cousin Rachel changed Jacob into a paragon of strength.  The great stone, which demanded the combined power of a group of shepherds, now moved readily under the mighty tugging of the stranger from Canaandespite the glares of the others.  With a courtesy unknown in those rough times among such backwoods people, Jacob watered his cousin’s flock.  Jar after jar of water was hauled to the surface for the girl’s sheep.  Normally, the shepherds probably shoved in first and left the women to fend for themselves when they were through.  They must have stared at Jacob, but if they were tempted to intervene and put the presumptuous stranger in his place, there was something about the jut of his jaw and the solid muscles of his arm that gave them pause.  They let him alone.  He had conquered them!

 

 

11 And Jacob kissed[3] Rachel, and lifted up his voice, and wept.

 

Rachel must have been pleasantly surprised when she was kissed by the emotional Jacob, who identified himself as her cousin.  This seems strange to me.  Frankly, kissing that girl and then weeping is hard for me to understand!  However, I am of the opinion that this boy had had a lonely trip from the moment he had left home.  We need to remember that from Bethel he had to go up by the Sea of Galilee, then up to Syria.  He had to cross that desert.  I suppose he had many experiences along the way.  When he arrived, he was very cocky and greeted the men there in a matter-of-fact way as though he had known them all of their lives.  I suppose when he greeted this girl who was a member of his mother’s family he welled up with emotion and wept.  That is the only way I can explain it.  But I’m sure that the next time he kissed her he didn’t weep! 

 

 

12 And Jacob told Rachel that he was her father's brother[4], and that he was Rebekah's son: and she ran and told her father.

 

He had conquered the shepherds and then he conquered Rachel.  Unaccustomed to such attention and service she stood by in astonishment.  Her wonder grew when he introduced himself as her cousin in the normal, emotional way of those times.  “I am Rebekah’s son,” he said simply as he embraced her (v. 11).  With her soul on fire, Rachel, like Rebekah, left the well and ran home to tell her father that a stranger had come, that he was at the well, that it was his nephew!  It was the romantic story of Rebekah at the well in reverse. 

 

You will notice that he calls himself her father’s brother.  The Hebrew does not make a lot of the distinction we make today.  We’ve got it reduced down to whether a person is a kissing cousin or not, but in that day if you were related, you were a brother.  That is the way it is translated here and quite properly so.

 

We see the providence of God in this meeting.  Jacob could have borrowed words from Isaac’s servant: “I being in the way, the Lord led me” (24:27).  Unbelievers might call this event “a fortunate coincidence,” but believers would see in it the gracious leading of the hand of God. In the life of the trusting Christian, there are no accidents, only appointments.  

 

 

13 And it came to pass, when Laban heard the tidings of Jacob his sister's son, that he ran to meet him, and embraced him, and kissed him, and brought him to his house. And he told Laban all these things.

 

In the ancient East Family ties were very strong; and visiting relatives, including those you’d never met before, would be entertained in the house of their own flesh and blood. 

 

Whatever else may have been base alloy in Jacob’s soul, the love he had for Rachel was purest gold.  That love was kindled the moment he saw her face and it never left him until his dying day.  Hearing of Jacob’s arrival from Rachel, Laban hurried out to meet his nephew.  He did not know, of course, that Jacob was a semi fugitive.  His mind was probably filled with visions of the earrings and jewels with which his sister Rebekah had been loaded when she had come home with similar news from the well years before.  Laban knew that Jacob was from a very wealthy family—so he gave him a royal welcome; rolling out the proverbial red carpet in true oriental style, he embraced and kissed his nephew. Never had Jacob been so kissed and embraced and fussed over before.  This greeting took place ninety-seven years after Rebekah had left home.

 

I imagine that Jacob had quite a bit to talk about at the dinner table that evening.  I wouldn’t be surprised to find that he entertained them with his story of how he trick his brother to get his birthright, and how he used trickery to get the blessing, and how clever he was.  Probably he told about that night at Bethel, too.  “He told Laban all these things.”

 

We see in this event the beginning of some positive changes in the character of Jacob.  For one thing, look at his boldness as he confronted the shepherds (4-8), moved the stone (10), and introduced himself to Rachel (12).  And look at his honesty as he told his story to Laban, Rachel’s father (29:18).  How much family history was covered by the “all these things” isn’t revealed in the text, but Jacob certainly had to explain why he was there and what plans he had for the future.  Remembering the wealth his sister Rebekah received from Isaac, Laban may have hoped that Jacob would be just as generous. 

 

One item stands out clearly: Jacob’s arrival lacked the expressions of deep religious piety evident in Abraham’s servant when he arrived in the same home years before (24:32-49).

 

 

14 And Laban said to him, Surely thou art my bone and my flesh. And he abode with him the space of a month.

 

“Bone of my bone!  Flesh of my flesh!” cried Laban.  One would think he was marrying Jacob himself. Laban was convinced now that this was his nephew, and he says, “You’re my relative, so come in and make yourself at home.” The expression, Thou art my bone and my flesh” is found in ancient adoption forms and is one of the details suggesting that Laban adopted Jacob.

 

Now a month goes by, and notice what happens.  Jacob is not working.  He is a nephew from a far country, and he’s come over to visit his uncle.  I suppose he felt that he ought to have free room and board there.  During that time he’s courting this girl, Rachel.  At least he certainly has been casting his eyes in that direction.  And I think she was casting her eyes in his direction, too.

 

Tradition in that ancient area allowed a stranger to be looked after for three days.  On the fourth day, he was to tell his name and mission.  After that, he could remain if he worked in some agreed-upon way—“Laban said to him, ‘Just because you are a relative of mine, should you work for me for nothing? Tell me what your wages should be.’” (29:15).

 

Jacob would spend 20 years serving his Uncle Laban, 33 years back in Canaan, and the last 17 years of his life in Egypt.

 

 

 

 

[1] Mesopotamia and the whole region beyond the Euphrates are by the sacred writers designated “the east” (judges 6:3; 1 Kings 4:32; job 1-3).

[2] Pertaining to the country or to life in the country; rural; rustic.

[3] Kissing of relatives was a proper greeting in Jacob’s day.

[4] The term brother as used here has the sense of kinsmen; Jacob was actually the nephew of Laban.

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