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Bible Commentaries
Genesis 29

Calvin's Commentary on the BibleCalvin's Commentary

Verse 1

1.Then Jacob went on his journey (62) Moses now relates the arrival of Jacob in Mesopotamia, and the manner in which he was received by his uncle; and although the narration may seem superfluous, it yet contains nothing but what is useful to be known; for he commends the extraordinary strength of Jacob’s faith, when he says, that he lifted up his feet to come into an unknown land. Again, he would have us to consider the providence of God, which caused Jacob to fall in with the shepherds, by whom he was conducted to the home he sought; for this did not happen accidentally, but he was guided by the hidden hand of God to that place; and the shepherds, who were to instruct and confirm him respecting all things, were brought thither at the same time. Therefore, whenever we may wander in uncertainty through intricate windings, we must contemplate, with eyes of faith, the secret providence of God which governs us and our affairs, and leads us to unexpected results.

(62) Et levavit Iahacob pedes suos And Jacob lifted up his feet. See margin of English Bible. This is a correct translation of the Hebrew ישא רגליו, (yissa reglav.) “The phrase is emphatic, and implies that he traveled on briskly and cheerfully, notwithstanding his age, being refreshed in his spirit by the recent manifestation of the Divine favor.” — Bush. — Ed

Verse 4

4.My brethren, whence be ye? The great frankness of that age appears in this manner of meeting together; for, though the fraternal name is often abused by dishonest and wicked men, it is yet not to be doubted that friendly intercourse was then more faithfully cultivated than it is now. This was the reason why Jacob salutes unknown men as brethren, undoubtedly according to received custom. Frugality also is apparent, in that Rachel sometimes pays attention to the flock; for, since Laban abounds with servants, how does it happen that he employs his own daughter in a vile and sordid service, except that it was deemed disgraceful to educate children in idleness, softness, and indulgence? Whereas, on the contrary, at this day, since ambition, pride, and refinement, have rendered manners effeminate, the care of domestic concerns is held in such contempt, that women, for the most part, are ashamed of their proper office. It followed, from the same purity of manners which has been mentioned, that Jacob ventured so unceremoniously to kiss his cousin; for much greater liberty was allowed in their chaste and modest mode of living. (63) In our times, impurity and ungovernable lusts are the cause why not only kisses are suspected, but even looks are dreaded; and not unjustly, since the world is filled with every kind of corruption, and such perfidy prevails, that the intercourse between men and women is seldom conducted with modesty: (64) wherefore, that ancient simplicity ought to cause us deeply to mourn; so that this vile corruption into which the world has fallen may be distasteful to us, and that the contagion of it may not affect us and our families. The order of events, however, is inverted in the narration of Moses; for Jacob did not kiss Rachel till he had informed her that he was her relative. Hence also his weeping; for, partly through joy, partly through the memory of his father’s house, and through natural affection, he burst into tears.

(63) Nam in vita casta et modesta multo major erat libertas. Car la liberte estoit beaucoup plus grande en leur facon de vivre, chaste et modeste. — Fr. Tr.

(64) It is scarcely to be doubted that, notwithstanding Calvin’s sweeping charge, there were many exceptions to this general dissoluteness of manners in his days, as we must thankfully acknowledge there are in our own times, however extensively the evil he reprobates may have prevailed. — Ed.

Verse 13

13.And he told Laban all these things. Since Laban had previously seen one of Abraham’s servants replenished with great wealth, an unfavourable opinion of his nephew might instantly enter into his mind: it was therefore necessary for holy Jacob to explain the causes of his own departure, and the reason why he had been sent away so contemptibly clothed. It is also probable that he had been instructed by his mother respecting the signs and marks by which he might convince them of his relationship: therefore Laban exclaims, Surely thou art my bone and my flesh; intimating that he was fully satisfied, and that he was induced by indubitable tokens to acknowledge Jacob as his nephew. This knowledge inclines him to humanity; for the sense of nature dictates that they who are united by ties of blood should endeavor to assist each other; but though the bond between relatives is closer, yet our kindness ought to extend more widely, so that it may diffuse itself through the whole human race. If, however, all the sons of Adam are thus joined together, that spiritual relationship which God produces between the faithful, and than which there is no holier bond of mutual benevolence, ought to be much more effectual.

Verse 14

14.And he abode with him the space of a month. Though Laban did not doubt that Jacob was his nephew by his sister, he nevertheless puts his character to trial during a month, and then treats with him respecting wages. Hence may be inferred the uprightness of the holy man; because he was not idle while with his uncle, but employed himself in honest labors, that he might not in idleness eat another’s bread for nothing; hence Laban is compelled to acknowledge that some reward beyond his mere food was due to him. When he says, “Because thou art my brother, shouldest thou therefore serve me for nought?” his meaning may be twofold; either that it would be excessively absurd and unjust to defraud a relation of his due reward, for whom he ought to have greater consideration than for any stranger; or that he was unwilling to exact gratuitous service under the color of relationship. This second exposition is the more suitable, and is received nearly by the consent of all. For they read in one connected sentence, “Because thou art my brother, shalt thou therefore serve me for nought?” Moreover, we must note the end for which Moses relates these things. In the first place, a great principle of equity is set before us in Laban; inasmuch as this sentiment is inherent in almost all minds, that justice ought to be mutually cultivated, till blind cupidity draws them away in another direction. And God has engraven in man’s nature a law of equity; so that whoever declines from that rule, through an immoderate desire of private advantage, is left utterly without excuse. But a little while after, when it came to a matter of practice, Laban, forgetful of this equity, thinks only of what may be profitable to himself. Such an example is certainly worthy of notice, for men seldom err in general principles, and therefore, with one mouth, confess that every man ought to receive what is his due but as soon as they descend to their own affairs, perverse self-love blinds them, or at least envelopes them in such clouds that they are carried in an opposite course. Wherefore, let us learn to restrain ourselves, that a desire of our own advantage may not prevail to the sacrifice of justice. And hence has arisen the proverb, that no one is a fit judge in his own cause, because each, being unduly favorable to himself, becomes forgetful of what is right. Wherefore, we must ask God to govern and restrain our affections by a spirit of sound judgment. Laban, in wishing to enter into a covenant, does what tends to avoid contentions and complaints. The ancient saying is known, “We should deal lawfully with our friends, that we may not afterwards be obliged to go to law with them.” For, whence arise so many legal broils, except that every one is more liberal towards himself, and more niggardly towards others than he ought to be? Therefore, for the purpose of cherishing concord, firm compacts are necessary, which may prevent injustice on one side or the other.

Verse 18

18.I will serve thee seven years. The iniquity of Laban betrays itself in a moment; for it is a shameful barbarity to give his daughter, by way of reward, in exchange for Jacob’s services, making her the subject of a kind of barter. He ought, on the other hand, not only to have assigned a portion to his daughter, but also to have acted more liberally towards his future son-in-law. But under the pretext of affinity, he defrauds him of the reward of his labor, the very thing which he had before acknowledged to be unjust. (65) We therefore perceive still more clearly what I have previously alluded to, that although from their mother’s womb men have a general notion of justice, yet as soon as their own advantage presents itself to view, they become actually unjust, unless the Lord reforms them by his Spirit. Moses does not here relate something rare or unusual, but what is of most common occurrence. For though men do not set their daughters to sale, yet the desire of gain hurries the greater part so far away, that they prostitute their honor and sell their souls. Further, it is not altogether to be deemed a fault that Jacob was rather inclined to love Rachel; whether it was that Leah, on account of her tender eyes, was less beautiful, or that she was pleasing only by the comeliness of her eyes, (66) while Rachel excelled her altogether in elegance of form. For we see how naturally a secret kind of affection produces mutual love. Only excess is to be guarded against, and so much the more diligently, because it is difficult so to restrain affections of this kind, that they do not prevail to the stifling of reason. Therefore he who shall be induced to choose a wife, because of the elegance of her form, will not necessarily sin, provided reason always maintains the ascendancy, and holds the wantonness of passion in subjection. Yet perhaps Jacob sinned in being too self-indulgent, when he desired Rachel the younger sister to be given to him, to the injury of the elder; and also, while yielding to the desire of his own eyes, he undervalued the virtues of Leah: for this is a very culpable want of self-government, when any one chooses a wife only for the sake of her beauty, whereas excellence of disposition ought to be deemed of the first importance. But the strength and ardor of his attachment manifests itself in this, that he felt no weariness in the labor of seven years: but chastity was also joined with it, so that he persevered, during this long period, with a patient and quiet mind in the midst of so many labors. And here again the integrity and continence of that age is apparent, because, though dwelling under the same roof, and accustomed to familiar intercourse, Jacob yet conducted himself with modesty, and abstained from all impropriety. Therefore, at the close of the appointed time he said, “Give me my wife, that I may go in unto her,” by which he implies that she had been hitherto a pure virgin.

(65) Perhaps undue severity of language is here used respecting Laban; for we find it not unusual for the father to demand somehting for his daughter, instead of giving a dowry with her. See the history f Shechem, who says concerning Dinah, “Ask me never so much dowry and gift, and I will give it.” Genesis 34:12. David also had to purchase Saul’s daughter by the slaughter of the Philistines. The Prophet Hosea bought his wife “for fifteen pieces of silver and a homer and a half of barley.” Still it was by no means generous on the part of Laban to make such terms with a near relative; and at all events, he ought to have given his daughters and their children any profit that he might have obtained by his hard bargain with Jacob — Ed.

(66) This latter opinion is adopted by Dr. A Clarke, who says, “The chief recommendation of Leah was her soft and beautiful eyes; but Rachel was beautiful in her shape, person, mien and gait and beautiful in her countenance.” The greater part of commentators, however, take the same view of the case as our translators. — Ed.

Verse 22

22.And Laban gathered together. Moses does not mean that a supper was prepared for the whole people, but that many guests were invited, as is customary in splendid nuptials; and there is no doubt that he applied himself with the greater earnestness to adorn that feast, for the purpose of holding Jacob bound by a sense of shame, so that he should not dare to depreciate the marriage into which he had been deceived. We hence gather what, at that time, was the religious observance connected with the marriage bed. For this was the occasion of Jacob’s deception that, out of regard for the modesty of brides, they were led veiled into the chamber; but now, the ancient discipline being rejected, men become almost brutal.

Verse 25

25.And he said to Laban. Jacob rightly expostulates respecting the fraud practiced upon him. And the answer of Laban, though it is not without a pretext, yet forms no excuse for the fraud. It was not the custom to give the younger daughters in marriage before the elder: and injustice would have been done to the firstborn by disturbing this accustomed order. But he ought not, on that account, craftily to have betrothed Rachel to Jacob, and then to have substituted Leah in her place. He should rather have cautioned Jacob himself, in time, to turn his thoughts to Leah, or else to refrain from marriage with either of them. But we may learn from this, that wicked and deceitful men, when once they have turned aside from truth, make no end of transgressing: meanwhile, they always put forward some pretext for the purpose of freeing themselves from blame. He had before acted unjustly toward his nephew in demanding seven years’ labor for his daughter; he had also unjustly set his daughter to sale, without dowry, for the sake of gain; but the most unworthy deed of all was perfidiously to deprive his nephew of his betrothed wife, to pervert the sacred laws of marriage, and to leave nothing safe or sound. Yet we see him pretending that he has an honorable defense for his conduct, because it was not the custom of the country to prefer the younger to the elder.

Verse 27

27.Fulfil her week. Laban now is become callous in wickedness, for he extorts other seven years from his nephew to allow him to marry his other daughter. If he had had ten more daughters, he would have been ready thus to dispose of them all: yea, of his own accord, he obtrudes his daughter as an object of merchandise, thinking nothing of the disgrace of this illicit sale, if only he may make it a source of gain. In this truly he grievously sins, that he not only involves his nephew in polygamy, but pollutes both him and his own daughters by incestuous nuptials. If by any means a wife is not loved by her husband, it is better to repudiate her than that she should be retained as a captive, and consumed with grief by the introduction of a second wife. Therefore the Lord, by Malachi, pronounces divorce to be more tolerable than polygamy. (Malachi 2:14.) Laban, blinded by avarice, so sets his daughters together, that they spend their whole lives in mutual hostility. He also perverts all the laws of nature by casting two sisters into one marriage-bed, (67) so that the one is the competitor of the other. Since Moses sets these crimes before the Israelites in the very commencement of their history, it is not for them to be inflated by the sense of their nobility, so that they should boast of their descent from holy fathers. For, however excellent Jacob might be, he had no other offspring than that which sprung from an impure source; since, contrary to nature, two sisters are mixed together in one bed; (68) in the mode of beasts; and two concubines are afterwards added to the mass. We have seen indeed, above, that this license was too common among oriental nations; but it was not allowable for men, at their own pleasure, to subvert, by a depraved custom, the law of marriage divinely sanctioned from the beginning. Therefore, Laban is, in every way, inexcusable. And although necessity may, in some degree, excuse the fault of Jacob, it cannot altogether absolve him from blame. For he might have dismissed Leah, because she had not been his lawful wife: because the mutual consent of the man and the woman, respecting which mistake is impossible, constitutes marriage. But Jacob reluctantly retains her as his wife, from whom he was released and free, and thus doubles his fault by polygamy, and trebles it by an incestuous marriage. Thus we see that the inordinate love of Rachel, which had been once excited in his mind, was inflamed to such a degree, that he possessed neither moderation nor judgment. With respect to the words made use of, interpreters ascribe to them different meanings. Some refer the demonstrative pronoun to the week; (69) others to Leah, as if it had been said, that he should not have Rachel until he had lived with her sister one week. But I rather explain it of Rachel, that he should purchase a marriage with her by another seven years’ service; not that Laban deferred the nuptials to the end of that time, but that Jacob was compelled to engage himself in a new servitude.

(67) It is here added, “ut altera sit alterius pellex.”

(68) Quasi belluino more.

(69) מלא שבע זאת, (Malai shebuah zot.) The demonstrative pronoun זאת, if applied to week, would require the translation to be, “Fulfil this week;” that is, the week of Leah; meaning the festive week in which the marriage was commemorated, and, as soon as that week was over, he would also give Jacob his remaining daughter to wife. This opinion is supported by eminent critics. — Ed

Verse 30

30.And he loved also Rachel more than Leah. No doubt Moses intended to exhibit the sins of Jacob, that we might learn to fear, and to conform all our actions to the sole rule of God’s word. For if the holy patriarch fell so grievously, who among us is secure from a similar fall, unless kept by the guardian care of God? At the same time, it appears how dangerous it is to imitate the fathers while we neglect the law of the Lord. And yet the foolish Papists so greatly delight themselves in this imitation, that they do not scruple to observe, as a law, whatever they find to have been practiced by the fathers. Besides which, they own as fathers those who are worthy of such sons, so that any raving monk is of more account with them than all the patriarchs. It was not without fault on Leah’s part that she was despised by her husband; and the Lord justly chastised her, because she, being aware of her father’s fraud, dishonorably obtained possession of her sister’s husband; but her fault forms no excuse for Jacob’s lust.

Verse 31

31.And when the Lord saw. Moses here shows that Jacob’s extravagant love was corrected by the Lord; as the affections of the faithful, when they become inordinate, are wont to be tamed by the rod. Rachel is loved, not without wrong to her sister, to whom due honor is not given. The Lord, therefore, interposes as her vindicator, and, by a suitable remedy, turns the mind of Jacob into that direction, to which it had been most averse. This passage teaches us, that offspring is a special gift of God; since the power of rendering one fertile, and of cursing the womb of the other with barrenness, is expressly ascribed to him. We must observe further, that the bringing forth of offspring tends to conciliate husbands to their wives. Whence also the ancients have called children by the name of pledges; because they avail, in no slight degree, to increase and to cherish mutual love. When Moses asserts that Leah was hated, his meaning is, that she was not loved so much as she ought to have been. For she was not intolerable to Jacob, neither did he pursue her with hatred; but Moses, by the use of this word, amplifies his fault, in not having discharged the duty of a husband, and in not having treated her who was his first wife with adequate kindness and honor. It is of importance carefully to notice this, because many think they fulfill their duty if they do not break out into mortal hatred. But we see that the Holy Spirit pronounces those as hated who are not sufficiently loved; and we know, that men were created for this end, that they should love one another. Therefore, none will be counted guiltless of the crime of hatred before God, but he who embraces his neighbors with love. For not only will a secret displeasure be accounted as hatred, but even that neglect of brethren, and that cold charity which ever reigns in the world. But in proportion as any one is more closely connected with another, must be the endeavor to adhere to each other in a more sacred bond of affection. Moreover, with respect to married persons, though they may not openly disagree, yet if they are cold in their affection towards each other, this disgust is not far removed from hatred.

Verse 32

32.She called his name Reuben. Moses relates that Leah was not ungrateful to God. And truly, I do not doubt, that the benefits of God were then commonly more appreciated than they are now. For a profane stupor so occupies the mind of nearly all men, that, like cattle, they swallow up whatever benefits God, in his kindness, bestows upon them. Further, Leah not only acknowledges God as the author of her fruitfulness; but also assigns as a reason, that her affliction had been looked upon by the Lord, and a son had been given her who should draw the affection of her husband to herself. Whence it appears probable, that when she saw herself despised, she had recourse to prayer, in order that she might receive more succor from heaven. For thanksgiving is a proof that persons have previously exercised themselves in prayer; since they who hope for nothing from God do, by their indolence, bury in oblivion all the favors he has conferred upon them. Therefore, Leah inscribed on the person of her son (70) a memorial whereby she might stir herself up to offer praise to God. This passage also teaches, that they who are unjustly despised by men are regarded by the Lord. Hence it affords a singularly profitable consolation to the faithful; who, as experience shows, are for the most part despised in the world. Whenever, therefore, they are treated harshly and contumeliously by men, let them take refuge in this thought, that God will be the more propitious to them. Leah followed the same course in reference to her second son; for she gave him a name which is derived from “hearing,” (71) to recall to her memory that her sighs had been heard by the Lord. Whence we conjecture (as I have just before said) that when affliction was pressing upon her, she cast her griefs into the bosom of God. Her third son she names from “joining;” (72) as if she would say, now a new link is interposed, so that she should be more loved by her husband. In her fourth son, she again declares her piety towards God, for she gives to him the name of “praise,” (73) as having been granted to her by the special kindness of God. She had, indeed, previously given thanks to the Lord; but whereas more abundant material for praise is supplied, she acknowledges not once only, nor by one single method, but frequently, that she has been assisted by the favor of God.

(70) ראובן, “See a son.”

(71) שמעון, from שמע, (shamah,) to hear.

(72) לוי, from לוה, (lavah,) to join.

(73) יהודה, from ידה, (yadah,) to praise. There is something, as Calvin intimates, in the series of names given by Leah to her children, which seems to show the pious feelings of her heart. In her first-born, Reuben, she acknowledged that God had looked upon her affliction; in Simeon, that he had heard her prayer; in Levi, that he had joined her husband to her; and in Judah, she commemorates all these mercies with gratitude and praise. — Ed

Bibliographical Information
Calvin, John. "Commentary on Genesis 29". "Calvin's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/cal/genesis-29.html. 1840-57.
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