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Bible Commentaries
Genesis 29

Dr. Constable's Expository NotesConstable's Expository Notes

Verses 1-12

"More than any other book in the OT, Genesis emphasizes the east (see Genesis 3:24; Genesis 4:16; Genesis 10:30; Genesis 11:2; Genesis 13:11; Genesis 25:6 [and Genesis 29:1]) as a direction of some significance." [Note: Hamilton, The Book . . . Chapters 18-50, p. 252.]

Jacob had travelled about 450 miles from Beersheba to Haran (Genesis 29:4). Notice the absence of prayer for divine guidance to the woman of God’s choosing, which dominates the story of Abraham’s servant’s visit to the same area for the same purpose (ch. 22). Also, Jacob arrived alone on foot whereas Abraham’s servant came with a well-laden camel train.

"True to his character, Jacob proceeds arrogantly, questioning the shepherds’ carefree behavior (Genesis 29:7). For all the criticism one might level at Jacob’s conduct, he was no slacker in his labor ethic (Genesis 31:6; Genesis 31:38-41)." [Note: Mathews, Genesis 11:27-50:26, p. 462.]

The well was probably a cistern that had a mouth with a large circumference (Genesis 29:8). A very large stone that required several men to remove it evidently covered it. After someone moved the stone, the flocks would gather around the edge of the well to drink. The well from which Rebekah drew water for Eliezer (Genesis 24:16) may have been a different kind.

The male shepherds may have been unable to roll the stone away because the well belonged to Laban; their inability may have been moral rather than physical. [Note: Bush, 2:116-17.]

Jacob wept for joy (Genesis 29:11), but he did not praise God. He had ended his journey, was now in the right place, and had met the right person, he thought. This is one of the few places in Scripture that we read of a man kissing a woman. Jacob apparently acted solely on the basis of Rachel’s physical attractiveness.

"When Abraham’s servant had discovered Rebekah’s identity, he worshiped the Lord (Genesis 24:24; Genesis 24:26), but here Jacob flexed his muscle, proving his capacity to serve Laban’s house." [Note: Mathews, Genesis 11:27-50:26, p. 463.]

"This scene [Genesis 29:1-14] is chiefly about God’s providence versus Jacob’s prayerlessness . . ." [Note: Waltke, Genesis, p. 402.]

The suggestion of some interpreters that Laban adopted Jacob as his son is questionable. [Note: See John Van Seters, "Jacob’s Marriages and Ancient Near East Customs: A Reexamination," Harvard Theological Review 62:4 (October 1969):377-95.]

Verses 1-30

7. Jacob’s marriages and Laban’s deception 29:1-30

The long account of Jacob’s relationship with Laban (chs. 29-31) is the centerpiece of the Jacob story (chs. 25-35). It is a story within a story, and it too has a chiastic structure. At its center is the account of the birth of Jacob’s sons, the forefathers of the tribes of Israel (Genesis 29:31-35).

Jacob met Rachel at the well and watered the flocks in spite of opposition against doing so. His love for her led him to serve Laban for seven years to obtain her as his wife. Laban deceived Jacob into marrying Leah, the first-born, so Jacob had to work another seven years for Rachel.

"In Laban Jacob met his match and his means of discipline." [Note: Kidner, p. 159.]

"Jacob is now in the greatest of all schools, that of experience, and there are many lessons to learn. These three chapters (xxix-xxxi.) cover forty years [sic, probably twenty years] of his life, and are the record of a large part of his training." [Note: Thomas, p. 269. Cf. Exodus 2:16-21.]

Verses 13-20

Weak eyes were dull and lacking in luster rather than bright (Genesis 29:17). Fiery eyes were, and still are, considered the height of beauty among Near Eastern people. [Note: Keil and Delitzsch, 1:285; von Rad, p. 291.]

"Regarding marriage generally, the Nuzi tablets provided that if a man worked over a period of time for the father of a girl whom he wished to marry, then he would have the right to take the girl as his wife." [Note: West, p. 70.]

"Seven years was a handsome offer: Jacob was clearly not risking a refusal-a fact which Laban would not fail to note and exploit, as Jacob had exploited Esau’s eagerness (Genesis 25:32)." [Note: Kidner, p. 160.]

Casual laborers received between one-half and one shekel a month in old Babylonia, which was a large marriage gift in exchange for Rachel’s hand. [Note: G. R. Driver and J. C. Miles, eds. and trans., The Babylonian Laws, 1:470-71.]

The chiastic structure of Genesis 29:20-30 focuses attention on the complication caused by deception.

"A Jacob’s payment for his wife (Genesis 29:20)

B Consummation of the marriage to Leah by deception (Genesis 29:21-24)

C Jacob’s accusation against Laban (Genesis 29:25)

C’ Laban’s defense (Genesis 29:26)

B’ Consummation of the marriage to Rachel by negotiation (Genesis 29:27-30 a)

A’ Jacob’s payment for his wife (Genesis 29:30 b)." [Note: Ross, Creation and . . ., p. 498.]

Verses 21-30

"This was about one of the meanest pranks ever played on a man." [Note: Leupold, 2:795.]

Jacob had pretended to be his older brother, and now Leah pretended to be her younger sister. Laban and Leah deceived Jacob as Jacob and Rebekah had deceived Isaac. Perhaps Jacob’s eating and drinking at the feast had clouded his mind (Genesis 29:22). The darkness of his tent at night may have made it hard for him to see, too. [Note: Josephus, 1:19:6-7.] Furthermore, in that culture a bride customarily entered her husband’s presence veiled. [Note: S. R. Driver, Genesis, p. 271.] Von Rad wrote "heavily veiled," and Aalders "completely veiled." [Note: Von Rad, p. 291; Aalders, p. 115.] One year an Indian student of mine told me that his father did not see his mother’s face for three days after their wedding. It is still customary among some Indians for the bride to remain veiled even after the consummation of the marriage. [Note: See also J. A. Diamond, "The Deception of Jacob: A New Perspective on an Ancient Solution to the Problem," Vetus Testamentum 34:2 (April 1984):211-13.]

It was customary for the bride’s father to give her a large present when she got married: a dowry. In the ancient world the gift normally consisted of clothing, furniture, and money, and it served as a nest egg for the wife in case her husband died or divorced her. Some dowries were exceptionally valuable, such as slave-girls (Genesis 24:61; Genesis 29:29) or a city (1 Kings 9:16). Laban was being generous. [Note: Wenham, Genesis 16-50, p. 236. Cf. West, p. 70.]

As Jacob had deceived Isaac by taking advantage of his inability to see due to poor eyesight (Genesis 27:36), so Laban deceived Jacob by taking advantage of his inability to see in the dark tent (Genesis 29:25). Earlier Jacob had deceptively pretended to be the older brother (ch. 27), and now Laban tricked him by replacing the younger with the older sister. Laban was just as deceitful as Jacob (Genesis 29:26).

"For despicability Laban takes the prize in the Old Testament." [Note: Leupold, 2:798.]

He should have told Jacob of this custom beforehand if indeed it was a custom, which seems questionable.

The "bridal week" was the week of feasting that followed a marriage (Genesis 29:27; cf. Judges 14:12; Judges 14:17). Jacob received Rachel seven days after he had consummated his marriage to Leah (cf. Genesis 29:28; Genesis 29:30). The Hebrew name "Rachel" means "ewe," and "Leah" means "cow." Ironically, Laban treated them as cattle and used them for bargaining and trading. "Zilpah" means "small nose," and "Bilhah" means "carefree." Jacob married two women in eight days. Notice that Jacob was behaving like his parents, who each favored one son above the other, by favoring one of his wives above the other. In both cases serious family problems followed. The Mosaic Law later prohibited marrying two sisters at the same time (Leviticus 18:18). Bigamy and polygamy were never God’s will, however (Genesis 2:24). [Note: See Wenham, Genesis 16-50, p. 249.]

"Jacob had planned to take Rachel as his wife, but God intended him to have Leah." [Note: Sailhamer, The Pentateuch . . ., p. 195.]

Evidence will follow that Leah was the more "spiritual" of the two sisters.

God remains faithful to His promises to bless His people, but in the process He may discipline them for their previous unresolved sins and often does so in kind (i.e., with talionic judgment; cf. Proverbs 3:12; Galatians 6:7; Hebrews 12:5-6). [Note: For a fascinating narration of this story in expanded form, see Thomas Mann, "Jacob Takes a Bride," Bible Review (Spring 1986):53-59, which is an excerpt from Mann’s Joseph and His Brothers.]

"Jacob was getting what he deserved. In this light the seven extra years that Jacob had to serve Laban appear as a repayment for his treatment of Esau. By calling such situations to the attention of the reader, the writer begins to draw an important lesson from these narratives. Jacob’s deceptive schemes for obtaining the blessing did not meet with divine approval. Through Jacob’s plans God’s will had been accomplished; but the writer is intent on pointing out, as well, that the schemes and tricks were not of God’s design." [Note: Sailhamer, "Genesis," p. 199.]

8. Jacob’s mishandling of God’s blessing 29:31-30:24

God formed Jacob’s family, the ancestors of the tribes of Israel, as He had promised Jacob at Bethel. Unfortunately Jacob and his wives lived in envy and friction over how God chose to bless them. The real issue of the two sisters’ conflicts in this pericope is the same as that of the brothers Esau and Jacob’s struggle. Who will take the lead and be first, and who will have to serve?

"Jacob had planned to take Rachel as his wife, but God intended him to have Leah. Thus in two major reversals in Jacob’s life, we can begin to see the writer’s theme taking shape. Jacob sought to marry Rachel, but Laban tricked him. Then Jacob sought to build a family through Rachel, but she was barren; and God opened Leah’s womb." [Note: Ibid., p. 200.]

This record of Jacob’s children, the center of the Jacob story structurally, is important for at least three reasons.

1. It shows God’s faithfulness in providing descendants as He had promised.

"Now the account centers on the fulfillment of Yahweh’s promise to be with Jacob and to bless him." [Note: Leupold, 2:800.]

2. It gives the origins and circumstances surrounding the births of the tribal heads of Israel.

"The theme of the Pentateuch is not difficult to discern. It is the story of the birth and adolescence of a nation." [Note: Whybray, p. 9.]

3. It explains much of the tribal rivalry that follows in Israel’s history.

The section culminates with the birth of Joseph (Genesis 30:24), which proved to be the cue for Jacob to return home (Genesis 30:25).

Verses 31-35

Moses recorded the births of Leah’s first four sons: Reuben, Simeon, Levi, and Judah. When the clause "the LORD saw" occurs (Genesis 29:31), His acting decisively, often for the weak and oppressed, follows soon (cf. Genesis 6:5; Genesis 7:1; Genesis 18:21; Genesis 31:12; Exodus 2:25; Exodus 4:31).

Bibliographical Information
Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on Genesis 29". "Dr. Constable's Expository Notes". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/dcc/genesis-29.html. 2012.
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