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Bible Commentaries
Genesis 29

The Church Pulpit CommentaryChurch Pulpit Commentary

Verse 20


‘And Jacob served.’

Genesis 29:20

‘This twenty years have I been with thee.’

Genesis 31:38

The twenty years of his sojourn in Mesopotamia are the least interesting portion of Jacob’s life. The record of this period is spread over three chapters, and in these simple annals of his personal and domestic history we are introduced to a multitude of those little incidents which, however trifling in themselves, go to make up so large a portion of human life, and help considerably in the formation of character. Life is not all a Bethel-vision, an opening of the door, a standing at ‘the gate of heaven.’ There are long stretches of monotonous earth scenery, and myriads of experiences utterly devoid of glory or romance. After ‘heaven’s gate’ comes Laban and his household, ‘a wily, politic, deceitful set’—after enraptured gazing on troops of angel forms comes weary tendance of flocks and herds for twenty long years, of which Jacob could say with the pathos of sincerity, ‘Thus I was; in the day the drought consumed me, and the frost by night: and my sleep departed from mine eyes.’

A brief epitome of its principal points is all that is needed as the groundwork of sermonic reflection. Encouraged by the vision at Bethel, Jacob resumed his journey, and in due season reached Haran, where he was received with welcome by Laban and his household. He became the keeper of his uncle’s flocks, and under very peculiar circumstances the husband of both his daughters, for whom by an infamous trick he was required to serve fourteen years. Six years longer he remained there on new terms, terms which certainly appeared more likely to remunerate the master than the servant, but which really enriched the latter. During this period a large household grew up around him, and with his increasing family circle his cares, too, grew numerous. Jehovah’s blessing, however, did not fail him; he became possessed of vast pastoral wealth. At last, Divine intimation, coupled with the growing jealousy and envy of Laban and his sons, induced him to think of returning to the land of promise.

More in detail, let us now consider Jacob’s life in Mesopotamia.

I. Its sins. II. Its trials. III. Its blessings.

I. The errors of the years of servitude.—Perhaps the leading error of this period was allowing himself, at the end of the first seven years, to be drawn into a violation of the original law of marriage. Jacob became a polygamist, under circumstances, it is true, of an extenuating character, but yet not such as could excuse or atone for his moral blunder and crime. By and by we find him the husband of four wives, and even if we admit that such a circumstance did not in this primitive age wholly militate against the possession of true religion, yet it cannot be denied that Jacob suffered severely for his indulgence, and must frequently have had occasion in after life to reflect, that, though his conduct had not deprived him of religious hope, it had prepared for him all that series of sorrows with which he was subsequently oppressed, and had nearly ‘brought down his gray hairs with sorrow to the grave.’

Nor, in spite of the well-meant efforts of some apologists for Jacob, can it be denied that the arrangement which Jacob made with Laban at the beginning of the last six years of his stay in Haran ( Genesis 30:31-36) savoured too much of deceit, and bore too striking a resemblance to the greedy and unscrupulous conduct of Laban himself. The proposal to which Laban so very readily agreed was one which resulted, as Jacob naturally expected it would, to the latter’s advantage. The adoption by Jacob of this device showed want of faith in God. Probably he argued that it was necessary that deceit should be met by deceit; but now, as years before, he is guilty of the besetting sin of making haste. ‘He would not wait for the Lord to fulfil His promise; he would use his own means, employ his cunning and devices, to accomplish the purpose of God, instead of committing his cause unto Him.’ The same taint of evil marked his conduct in leaving his father-in-law. His stealthiness of procedure was due to a lack of trust in God’s promise and care. One who had such to rely upon had no need to say, ‘Because I was afraid’ ( Genesis 31:31), for ‘If God be for us, who can be against us?”

II. Its trials.—His life in Haran was no long Arcadian interval, but, as part of the Divine training, had in it elements of hardness and bitterness such as Abraham and Isaac had never known. During all this period Jacob was compelled to dwell in the society of those who were little else than idolaters; and this, to one who had known the purity of the monotheistic faith, must have been a constant source of trial.

Again, the unpleasant relations in which he was often compelled to stand towards his own relatives must have been a grievous trouble. His sharp-witted employer and father-in-law seemed to look upon Jacob merely in the light of a very profitable servant, to be made the most of, at the least possible expense.

These trials could only be intensified to the subject of them by the thought that many were of a retributive character. Having sowed ‘the wind,’ he reaped ‘the whirlwind.’ Jacob was forced over and over again to remember what we may take a New Testament Apostle’s words to express, ‘Be not deceived, God is not mocked: whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap.’

III. Its blessings.—The ‘few days’ of Rebekah’s intention lengthened out to twenty years. This period was a season during which Jehovah began to fulfil the promises made at Bethel. He had promised ‘to be with him and keep him in all places whither he would go,’ and at the end of this time we find Jacob grown exceedingly rich, and with a large and unbroken family circle. So manifestly did the blessing of Heaven rest upon him, that it overflowed to others; for even the selfish Laban was constrained to admit, ‘I have learned by experience that the Lord hath blessed me for thy sake.’ And the still more visible tokens of Divine favour which Jacob enjoyed during the last years of his stay in Mesopotamia excited the envy of Laban and his sons.

We do not, it is true, discern many signs of ‘growth in grace.’ Still there was growth—growth in self-knowledge, growth in self-distrust. More than the history explicitly reveals to us must be supposed to underlie these seemingly prosaic and uneventful years; discipline, personal and domestic, slowly but surely preparing the imperfect and unlovely nature for the great change which Peniel was to witness.


‘Blessed human love that softens the hardest lot, casting a halo over difficulty, as sunset glow over the hard outlines of the hills. To have this a man might well be content to forego the choicest gifts of earthly fortune. But if the love of woman could thus gladden those long dark days, surely the blessed love of Jesus would do the same and more. Life may be long and lonely, bereaved of those dearer far than light, daily tasks irksome, the hills of difficulty many, but if the heart has learnt to take all from the love of Jesus, and to do all in Him, by Him, and for Him, all is changed. The days, as they pass by, become channels down which the strong tides of eternal bliss are ever running at the flood.’

Bibliographical Information
Nisbet, James. "Commentary on Genesis 29". The Church Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/cpc/genesis-29.html. 1876.
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