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Bible Commentaries

Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible
Genesis 29

 

 


Introduction

It is interesting that the multiple documents theorists have radically changed their minds about this chapter, as pointed out by Skinner, now assigning it differently than formerly, indicating the total lack of any stability in the theories. Peake commented on this with the conclusion that, "further analysis is unnecessary!"[1] He nevertheless pointed out what he considered to be the advantages of the documentary theories, thus:

"If Genesis is a unity, Jacob is sent off to marry at age 77, when Rebekah had put up with her unwelcome daughters-in-law 37 years. He is actually 84 when he marries! The documentary analysis saves us from such absurdities."[2]

For the moment, it is conceded that the ages of the persons involved in these events may appear absurd to some people, but it should be noted that the documentary theories do absolutely nothing to change that situation. If there ever had been any documents (which is not supported by any evidence at all); and, even if there had been an editor or redactor who put it all together just as it appears in Genesis (again an unproved and unprovable proposition), it is undeniable that such an imaginary person (whoever he was) gave it to us as we have it. How does that get rid of any alleged absurdities? Of course, it does nothing of the kind. The Genesis text is all there is, and the solution of whatever problems may exist must be sought in the true interpretation of that text.

In the matter of those ages of the participants mentioned above, Morris has this:

In terms of normal aging and life spans today, these figures could be cut almost in half to correspond to the equivalent situations in our own time.[3] So where is any problem with the ages? The ancients had no problem with them, and only unbelievers have any problem with them now. And even if there should be thought to be a problem, the imaginative, changing, and undependable guesses of modern critics can afford no viable solution.


Verses 1-6

"Then Jacob went on his journey, and came to the land of the children of the east. And he looked, and, behold, a well in the field, and, lo, three flocks of sheep lying there by it; for out of that well they watered the flocks: and the stone upon the wells mouth was great. And thither were all the flocks gathered; and they rolled the stone from the wells mouth, and watered the sheep, and put the stone again upon the wells mouth in its place. And Jacob said unto them, My brethren, whence are ye? And they said, Of Haran are we. And he said unto them, Know ye Laban the son of Nahor? And they said, We know him. And he said unto them, Is it well with him? And they said, It is well: and, behold, Rachel his daughter cometh with the sheep."

"Land of the children of the east ..." "This is northern Mesopotamia where Haran is located."[4]

"The well ..." Willis and other scholars suppose that this could have been the same well where the servant of Abrahm met Rebekah years earlier.[5] If it was, then some changes had evidently taken place in it, which, of course, was by no means impossible. At least, it was in the same vicinity.

"Laban the son of Nahor ..." Nahor was the father of Bethuel, the father of Laban, as repeatedly mentioned earlier. Therefore, "son" as used here actually means grandson.[6] A similar use of "son" was observed in our comments on Genesis 9:24.

It should be noted that the conversation reported here is quite different from the way a similar conversation would run today. This was due to the fact that the Hebrews did not have a word that simply meant "yes."

Note that, "The words from the middle of Genesis 29:2 and including Genesis 29:3 are parenthetical, the watering of the flocks not taking place until the arrival of Rachel, and after Jacob had removed the stone."[7]

That this conversation took place so easily indicates that these diverse branches of Terah's family spoke Aramaic, the language of Ur of the Chaldees, from which place Terah and Abraham had migrated.

The situation that appeared here was that of a common watering hole used by a number of shepherds, the entrance to it being kept by the placement of a heavy stone. In the evenings, the stone was removed; the flocks were watered in order as they had arrived; and this had led to some coming early in order to "get in line" first. It is not necessary to suppose that the "brethren" addressed by Jacob were grown men, boys having been frequently used for the task of shepherding, as well as, in rare cases women, as evidenced by Rachel's being called a shepherdess. Morris agreed to this, saying, "The shepherds tending the flocks were apparently either women or young lads."[8]

Jacob's personal reaction to what he found at the well must have been one of deep gratitude to God for having speeded him to the very place where he would soon be in touch with his mother's brother's family. It is well to keep in mind, throughout this narrative, that God promised to be "with Jacob," and to bless him, for only this can account for some of the things that he successfully did.


Verses 7-12

"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. And they said, We cannot, until all the flocks be gathered together, and they roll the stone from the well's mouth; then we water the sheep. While he was speaking with them, Rachel came with her father's sheep; for she kept them. And it came to pass, when Jacob saw Rachel the daughter 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. Jacob kissed Rachel, and lifted up his voice and wept. And he told Rachel that he was her father's brother, and that he was Rebekah's son: and she ran and told her father."

It is absolutely untenable to suppose that the shepherds thus admonished by Jacob could have been grown men. The language here would never have been addressed to grown men, being clearly beyond what any stranger would have uttered. Their being juveniles prompted Jacob to rebuke them, in essence, for not getting on with feeding the flock, especially since it was about high noon, or at least a long while still until nightfall. Also, the admitted inability of these boys to remove the stone indicates the same thing.

"Jacob rolled away the stone ..." It is preposterous the way some interpreters refer to this as a "superhuman" task, inspired by "love at first sight," etc. Nothing here even suggests that this feat was anything that was very difficult for Jacob. Of course, some critics would like to make this event some kind of a "miraculous event" imagined in the folklore of the Hebrews.

Certainly, there is no problem here that is not solved completely by the fact that Jacob was indeed a very strong man. But there have been strong men in all ages and all countries. In New England, there is the story of Ethan Allen Crawford, seven-foot giant son of old Abel Crawford, for whom Crawford Notch, New Hampshire, is named, his family having received the Notch as a grant from the state because he fulfilled the conditions for its acquisitions by being the first one to ride a horse to the area. This he did by hoisting a horse over a 12-foot ledge, saddle and all! He also carried a 400-pound kettle over a mile, crossing the Ammonoosuc River on a log. He also carried a 300-pound bear two miles to place it in his private zoo! He carried an injured woman down Mount Washington, and rode a horse up that peak when he was 75 years old! (He was a veteran of The War of 1812).

Besides, the text makes nothing special about this act. Peake's allegation that, "Jacob, single-handed, removes the immense stone,"[9] is nothing but an "addition to the word of God." Nothing in the Bible forbids the conclusion, that, if Jacob needed help, he would have procured it from the lads he had just addressed. We agree with Adam Clarke that, "It is not likely that he did it by himself."[10] No matter which way one understands the text here, there is absolutely no problem with it. It is a characteristic of language in all ages and countries that men are said to DO whatever they initiate and take the lead in accomplishing.

"Kissed Rachel ... lifted up his voice and wept ..." These were tears of joy, for the realization that at last Jacob had reached his destination and that God had blessed him all the way. Rachel, of course, made haste to tell her father of the arrival of this kinsman. Jacob seems to have been left in charge of the sheep.

"Jacob told Rachel that he was her father's brother ..." Here again we have an example of the Hebrew usage of the word "brother" in the extended sense of relative. The New English Bible renders "friend" here, and "kinsman" in Genesis 29:12 and Genesis 29:15.[11] The words "son," "brother," and "seed" in Genesis are all used with multiple denotations.


Verses 13-20

"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. And Laban said to him, Surely thou art my bone and my flesh. And he abode with him the space of a month. And Laban said unto Jacob, Because thou art my brother, shouldest thou therefore serve me for naught? tell me what shall thy wages be? And Laban had two daughters: the name of the elder was Leah, and the name of the younger was Rachel. And Leah's eyes were tender; but Rachel was beautiful and well-favored. And Jacob loved Rachel; and he said, I will serve thee seven years for Rachel thy younger daughter. And Laban said, It is better that I give her to thee, than I should give her to another man: abide with me. And Jacob served seven years for Rachel; and they seemed to him but a few days, for the love he had to her."

"Embraced him and kissed him ..." This was the customary greeting among Hebrew families in those days and even down until the present time. It is a mistake to view Jacob's kiss of Rachel as the type of osculation seen in romantic movies. The early church itself manifested the same type of greeting seen here in the actions of Jacob and Laban.

"He told Laban all these things ..." probably refers to the meeting between Rachel and Jacob at the well. It is not necessary to suppose that Jacob rehearsed the events regarding his deception of Isaac and Esau and the facts of his being, at the time, a fugitive from the murderous wrath of Esau.

"What shall thy wages be ... ?" The crafty Laban, having no doubt observed the infatuation that Jacob had for Rachel, might have anticipated that he would make some kind of bold and extravagant offer. This may therefore be supposed on the basis of what Laban later did as the beginning of his unscrupulous deception and exploitation of Jacob. By any consideration, it would appear that "seven years" was a long period of servitude.


CONCERNING LEAH AND RACHEL

This is an appropriate place to consider the character of these two mothers of the Twelve Tribes. Without doubt, Leah was the stronger and more suitable wife for Jacob, and that must be allowed as the reason God permitted the deception and greed of Laban to succeed, thus making Leah the principal wife of the patriarchal family. (See under Genesis 29:26 for the comment on the custom of marrying the firstborn daughter before giving the younger ones in marriage, as claimed by Laban as an excuse). Her pre-eminence consisted of the following:

  1. She was the actual mother of six sons (Genesis 30:19), half of the twelve patriarchs, and one daughter (Dinah).

  2. Her son Judah succeeded to the headship of the Chosen Nation, through whom the Messiah was born.

  3. Her posterity became the principal element in the true Israel, following the defection and loss of the Northern Israel.

  4. David the king who gave his name and title to Christ himself ("the son of David") was her descendant.

  5. She was the first, and therefore the lawful, wife of Jacob.

  6. Her son Judah gave his name and title to Christ, "The Lion of the Tribe of Judah."

  7. She is here mentioned first and was at last buried by Jacob's side in the cave of Machpelah at Hebron, "presumably before Jacob's descent to Egypt."[12]

Rachel, being more beautiful than Leah, was the special object of Jacob's love, that being the principal element in her place in Scripture, and in the history of the Chosen People. It is possible that she consented to the fraud and deception committed against Jacob in the matter of Leah. Her honor in the history of Israel was inferior to that of Leah in the following:

  1. She was the second, not the first, wife of Jacob.

  2. She was impatient and demanding (in the matter of her barrenness).

  3. Through her posterity, homosexuality found its beginnings in Israel (See Hosea 9:9; Judges 19:10).

  4. Her descendant, Ephraim, led the rebellion that divided Israel, usurped the very name of the Chosen Nation as his own, and led the majority of Jacob's descendants into apostasy and destruction.

  5. Her body was not placed beside that of Jacob's in Machpelah.

  6. Apparently, she sponsored and kept alive pagan idolatry among the Israelites (Genesis 31:32-35).

  7. Although having full knowledge of Abraham's introduction of concubinage into his family and of the terrible consequences of it, Rachel, nevertheless, fell into the same error, re-introducing concubinage into the families of the covenant people.

The names of Leah and Rachel were said to have the following meanings:

  1. Leah was defined by Beeching as meaning "wild cow."[13] However, we prefer the meaning of "gazelle,"[14] as affirmed by Dummelow.

  2. Rachel means "ewe."[15]

"And Leah's eye's were tender ..." Scholars and translators have had no end of trouble with this word rendered here as "tender." A hundred and fifty years ago, Clarke was of the definite opinion that, "The word means just the reverse of the signification usually given to it";[16] and Speiser and Willis, along with many other modern scholars, agree with this. It is likely that what is meant is that her principal beauty lay in the luster and softness of her beautiful eyes. Therefore, the contrast with Rachel in which it is stated that she "was beautiful and well-favored" should be applied as a description of her excellent figure and exquisite delicacy of her features. Her appearance was more sensational than that of Leah.


Verses 21-30

"And Jacob said unto Laban, Give me my wife, for my days are fulfilled, that I may go in unto her. And Laban gathered together all the men of the place, and made a feast. 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. And Laban gave Zilpah his handmaid unto his daughter Leah for a handmaid. And it came to pass in the morning that, behold, it was Leah: and he said to Laban, What is this that thou hast done unto me? did I not serve thee for Rachel? wherefore then hast thou beguiled me? And Laban said, It is not so done in our place, to give the younger before the firstborn. Fulfill the week of this one, and we will give thee the other also for the service that thou shalt serve with me yet seven other years. And Jacob did so, and fulfilled her week: and he gave him Rachel his daughter to wife. And Laban gave to Rachel his daughter Bilhah his handmaid to be her handmaid. And he went in also to Rachel, and he loved also Rachel more than Leah, and served with him yet seven other years."

"It is not so done in our place ..." There was indeed such a custom "among the Indians, the Egyptians, and other Oriental countries,"[17] and it could have been possible that Laban had heard of such customs, but there is no evidence whatever that any such customs prevailed in the vicinity of Haran. We agree with Keil that, "This was a perfectly worthless excuse, for, if this had really been the custom in Haran, as in ancient India and elsewhere, he ought to have told Jacob of it before."[18]

The marvelous story of the love Jacob had for Rachel, the deceit and avarice of Laban, the helplessness of Jacob during this period of his humiliation, and the mockery of a wedding feast in which the bride was denied to her husband and another substituted in her stead - all this is here related in a compact and beautiful style to give one of the most intriguing narratives ever given as a record of actual events. Many comments on this are suggested, and many have been made, but, actually, this stark tragedy presents itself. Nobody could misunderstand it.

As suggested earlier, one may wonder what part Rachel played in this, if any. Francisco thought that:

"The trick of Laban when he substituted Leah for Rachel could not have been possible without Rachel's consent. Evidently she did not fear any competition from her less-favored sister, and welcomed the thought of her company back to Canaan."[19]

The possibility of such a thing has led to all kinds of suppositions about how Rachel was deceived, persuaded to join the deceit, or physically restrained on the wedding night, etc., but the brief, powerful story stands unadorned with many of the details that would have satisfied our curiosity, and would have contributed nothing to all to what God revealed here.

What happened to Jacob here was as mean and despicable a fraud as was ever perpetrated by one human being against another. One may only wonder if Jacob remembered the fraud that he and his mother had committed against Isaac. Did the remembrance of it lead to his rather meek acceptance of what Laban did to him? This time, "the heel-catcher" (the meaning of the name Jacob) was himself taken by the heel, the deceiver was deceived. Laban also, in turn, would learn the solemn truth that "as men sow, so shall they reap." Something else - it appears that for seven years, Jacob had lived above the devices of fraud and deception, but in the action here, Laban aroused the passion in Jacob's heart to return to the old ways, and would eventually find out that he had more than met his match in Jacob! Laban might have been doing fairly well, until he tricked Jacob! Within the span of two decades, Jacob would move out of Laban's territory, taking with him both of Laban's daughters as his wives, and all their children, who were doubtless dear to Laban, and the vast wealth which he had taken away from Laban. In this, Laban might have been able to read his "just recompense of reward."


Verses 31-35

"And Jehovah saw that Leah was hated, and he opened her womb: but Rachel was barren. And Leah conceived and bare a son, and she called his name Reuben: for she said, Because Jehovah hath looked upon my affliction; for now my husband will love me. And she conceived again and bare a son: and said, Because Jehovah hath heard that I am hated, he hath therefore given me this son also: and she called his name Simeon. And she conceived again, and bare a son; Now this time will my husband be joined unto me, because I have borne him three sons: therefore was his name called Levi. And she conceived again, and bare a son: and she said, This time will I praise Jehovah; therefore she called his name Judah; and she left off bearing."

"And Jehovah saw that Leah was hated ..." The word "hate" in its various tenses has in this usage of it, a meaning of "to love less." So, similarly, Jesus commanded those who would follow him to "hate" father and mother (Luke 14:26). Nothing of the usual meaning of the word clings to what is meant in such usage. It simply means that Jacob continued to love Rachel MORE THAN he loved Leah. "The word hated indicates less affection or less devotion; it does not indicate positive hatred."[20] One is left to wonder about the reason for Leah's distress. Did she not consent to the deception that placed her in the bed that by right of seven years of slavery had been won for Rachel by Jacob? Could she have been unaware that the wrong done to her sister was a very unlikely aid in winning the affections of Jacob? Was that deception, in which Leah was certainly an accomplice, the thing which provoked the resentment and hatred of Jacob? The fact is that the various evils which inherently belonged to that which Laban and his family did to Jacob set up and established an environment for Jacob's home in which happiness, in any ultimate sense, would forever be a stranger.

Aside from the human interest that attaches to this paragraph, the big thing in it is the birth of four of the patriarchs - Reuben, Simeon, Levi and Judah. Also, significantly, the names of Zilpah and Bilhah appear here. They were the handmaids presented to Leah and Rachel as wedding gifts. The system of concubinage later introduced into this family by Rachel would make them also co-mothers of the Twelve Tribes.

The names of the sons whose birth is given here will be discussed in the next chapter.

 


Copyright Statement
James Burton Coffman Commentaries reproduced by permission of Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. All other rights reserved.

Bibliography Information
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on Genesis 29:4". "Coffman Commentaries on the Old and New Testament". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/bcc/genesis-29.html. Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.

Lectionary Calendar
Wednesday, October 21st, 2020
the Week of Proper 24 / Ordinary 29
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