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Bible Commentaries
Genesis 29

Ellicott's Commentary for English ReadersEllicott's Commentary

Verse 1

XXIX.
MARRIAGE OF JACOB WITH LEAH AND RACHEL.

(1) Jacob went on his journey.—Heb., Jacob lifted up his feet, that is, hastened forward. Confirmed in the possession of the birthright by God as well as man, and encouraged by the promise of the Divine presence, and of a safe return home, he casts no wistful glances back, but pursues his journey under the inspiriting influence of hope.

The people of the East.—Usually the Arabians are designated by this phrase, but it here signifies the tribes who inhabited northern Mesopotamia.

Verses 1-35

THE TÔLDÔTH ISAAC (Genesis 25:19 to Genesis 35:29).

THE BIRTH OF ISAAC’S SONS.

Abraham begat Isaac—The Tôldôth in its original form gave probably a complete genealogy of Isaac, tracing up his descent to Shem, and showing thereby that the right of primogeniture belonged to him; but the inspired historian uses only so much of this as is necessary for tracing the development of the Divine plan of human redemption.

The Syrian.—Really, the Aramean, or descendant of Aram. (See Genesis 10:22-23.) The name of the district also correctly is “Paddan-Ararn,” and so far from being identical with Aram-Naharaim, in Genesis 24:10, it is strictly the designation of the region immediately in the neighbourhood of Charran. The assertion of Gesenius that it meant “Mesopotamia, with the desert to the west of the Euphrates, in opposition to the mountainous district towards the Mediterranean,” is devoid of proof. (See Chwolsohn, Die Ssabier, 1, p. 304.) In Syriac, the language of Charran, padana means a plough (1 Samuel 13:20), or a yoke of oxen ( 1 Samuel 11:7); and this also suggests that it was the cultivated district close to the town. In Hosea 12:12 it is said that “Jacob fled to the field of Aram;” but this is a very general description of the country in which he found refuge, and affords no basis for the assertion that Padan-aram was the level region. Finally, the assertion that it is an ancient name used by the Jehovist is an assertion only. It is the name of a special district, and the knowledge of it was the result of Jacob’s long-continued stay there. Chwolsohn says that traces of the name still remain in Faddân and Tel Faddân, two places close to Charran, mentioned by Yacut, the Arabian geographer, who flourished in the thirteenth century.

Isaac intreated the Lord.—This barrenness lasted twenty years (Genesis 25:26), and must have greatly troubled Isaac; but it would also compel him to dwell much in thought upon the purpose for which he had been given to Abraham, and afterwards rescued from death upon the mount Jehovah-Jireh. And when offspring came, in answer to his earnest pleading of the promise, the delay would serve to impress upon both parents the religious significance of their existence as a separate race and family, and the necessity of training their children worthily. The derivation of the verb to intreat, from a noun signifying incense, is uncertain, but rendered probable by the natural connection of the idea of the ascending fragrance, and that of the prayer mounting heavenward (Revelation 5:8; Revelation 8:4).

The children struggled together.—Two dissimilar nations sprang from Abraham, but from mothers totally unlike; so, too, from the peaceful Isaac two distinct races of men were to take their origin, but from the same mother, and the contest began while they were yet unborn. And Rebekah, apparently unaware that she was pregnant with twins, but harassed with the pain of strange jostlings and thrusts, grew despondent, and exclaimed—

If it be so, why am I thus?—Literally, If so, why am I this? Some explain this as meaning “Why do I still live?” but more probably she meant, If I have thus conceived, in answer to my husband’s prayers, why do I suffer in this strange manner? It thus prepares for what follows, namely, that Rebekah wished to have her condition explained to her, and therefore went to inquire of Jehovah.

She went to enquire of the Lord.—Not to Shem, nor Melchizedek, as many think, nor even to Abraham, who was still alive, but, as Theodoret suggests, to the family altar. Isaac had several homes, but probably the altar at Bethel, erected when Abraham first took possession of the Promised Land (Genesis 12:7), and therefore especially holy, was the place signified; and if Abraham were there, he would doubtless join his prayers to those of Rebekah.

Verse 2

(2) Behold a well in the field.—This was not the well whence Rebekah drew the water; for it was in the field, the open pasture ground, whereas Rebekah’s well was just outside the city (Genesis 24:11), and she obtained the water by going down the steps which led to it (Genesis 24:16).

A great stone was upon the well’s mouth.—The region round Haran, though fertile, is very dry, and the chief use of the stone was to prevent the well from being choked with sand. As the proper translation is the stone upon the well’s mouth was great, it would also serve to prevent the well from being used, except at fixed times; for it probably required the strength of two or three men (comp. Robinson, Bibl. Res. ii. 180) to remove it; nor does the language of Genesis 29:10 necessarily imply that Jacob rolled it away without the aid of others. Besides this, the stone may have marked that the well was private property: for, as we have seen in the account of the covenants of Abraham and Isaac with Abimelech, no possession was morevalued than that of wells. And as we find the shepherds all waiting for Rachel, and that immediately on her arrival the stone is rolled away, and her sheep watered first, while the rest, though they had been there long before her, yet have to bide their time till her wants are supplied, it is probable that Laban had at least a first claim upon its enjoyment. No such courtesy was shown to the daughters of Jethro (Exodus 2:17).

Verse 5

(5) Laban the son of Nahor.—Laban was really the son of Bethuel and grandson of Nahor; but Nahor was the founder of the family, as being the original immigrant from Ur, who came to supply Abraham’s place on his departure.

Verse 7

(7) Neither is it time that the cattle should be gathered together.—Rather, neither is it time for folding the cattle. As there were still several hours of daylight, Jacob is surprised that they do not immediately upon their arrival give the sheep water, and drive them back to the pasture. But if the well belonged to Laban, their reason for waiting till Rachel came is plain.

Verse 8

(8) And till they roll the stone . . . —More correctly, then they roll the stone from the well’s mouth, and we water the sheep. As soon as the flocks were all collected round the well the stone is removed. and all in their turn give their sheep water.

Verse 9

(9) Rachel came with her father’s sheep.—Comp. Exodus 2:16; and so in modern times Mr. Malan saw “the sheik’s daughter, the beautiful and well-favoured Ladheefeh, drive her flock of fine patriarchal sheep” to a well for water in this very region (Philosophy or Truth, p. 95). As forty years at least elapsed between this meeting of Jacob and Rachel and the birth of Benjamin, she must have been a mere child at this time.

Verse 10

(10) Laban his mother’s brother.—The threefold repetition of these words has no other reason than that given in the Note on Genesis 28:5.

Verse 11

(11) Jacob kissed Rachel . . . and wept.—Jacob first made himself, useful to Rachel, and then discloses to her who he is, claims her as a cousin, and kisses her. Then, overcome with joy at this happy termination of his long journey, and at finding himself among relatives, he can restrain his feelings no longer, but bursts into tears. In this outburst of emotion we see the commencement of his lifelong affection for the beautiful child whom he thus opportunely met.

Verse 12

(12) Her father’s brother.—Really his nephew; but terms of relationship are used in a very indefinite way in Hebrew. (Comp. Genesis 29:5; Genesis 29:15, Genesis 13:8, &c.)

Verse 13

(13) Laban . . . ran to meet him, and embraced him.—Rachel told her father, because it was a matter simply of the hospitable reception of a relative, and not such news as Rebekah had run to tell those of her mother’s house. And to Laban the tidings must have been most welcome, as he called to mind now, seventy-seven years ago, he had seen his dear sister depart to marry the son of the distant sheik. It seems strange, however, that the daughters of this old man should be so young. Either they must have been the children of a wife of his old age, or his granddaughters, but regarded as his own because their father was dead. As Laban’s sons are not mentioned till Genesis 31:1, probably on account of their youth, the former is the more probable explanation.

Verse 14

(14) The space of a month.—Heb., a month of days, that is, a full month.

Verse 15

(15) What shall thy wages be?—As Jacob had given upon his arrival a full account of himself (Genesis 29:13), Laban probably expected the very answer he received; nevertheless, the proposal was fair and upright. Doubtless he had seen, during Jacob’s stay of a month, that his services would be very valuable.

Verse 17

(17) Leah was tender eyed.—Leah, whose name signifies languor, weariness, had dull bleared eyes. Probably she suffered, as so many do in that hot sandy region, from some form of ophthalmia. Rachel (Heb., the ewe) was, on the contrary, “beautiful and well favoured” (Heb., beautiful in form and beautiful in look). Leah’s bleared eyes would be regarded in the East as a great defect, just as bright eyes were much admired. (See 1 Samuel 16:12, where David is described as fair of eyes.) Yet it was not Rachel, with her fair face and well-proportioned figure, and her husband’s lasting love, that was the mother of the progenitor of the Messiah, but the weary-eyed Leah.

Verse 18

(18) I will serve thee seven years for Rachel thy younger daughter.—Heb., thy daughter, the little one, just as Leah, in Genesis 29:16, is called the great one. (See Note on Genesis 9:24.) So in Genesis 44:20, the phrase “the little one” simply means the youngest. Wives had to be purchased in the East (Genesis 24:53), and as Jacob had brought no rich presents, such as Abraham had sent when seeking a wife for his son, he had only his personal services to offer. As the sale was usually veiled in true Oriental fashion under the specious form of freewill gifts, we shall find that both Leah and Rachel are offended at being thus openly bartered by Laban.

Verse 19

(19) It is better that I give her to thee.—It is still the custom among the Arabs to prefer a relative as the husband of a daughter, and on giving a moderato dowry the elder cousins can claim the elder daughters in marriage, and the younger the younger. Thus Jacob, as the second son, had a claim upon Rachel. The Rabbins even say that Leah’s eyes were weak from weeping, because Esau had not come to marry her. This absurd idea bears witness, nevertheless, to the custom of the intermarriage of cousins being an established rule, and gives a reason for Laban’s acceptance of Jacob as the husband of his younger child. As Jacob offered seven years’ service for Rachel, and gave a second seven years’ service for her after he had been tricked into taking Leah, we may conclude that the length of time was not unreasonable.

Verse 20

(20) They seemed unto him but a few days.—Jacob was at least fifty-seven years of age, but the late marriages hitherto of the patriarchs show that they only slowly arrived at manhood. We need not be surprised, then, at the warmth of his affection, nor was it a passing emotion, but lasted all his life through. This, however, is the last of these late marriages; for Jacob’s sons married when young.

Verse 21

(21) My days are fulfilled.—That is, the appointed time of service is completed. It was undeniably at the end of the seven years that the marriage took place.

Verse 23

(23)He took Leah his daughter.—As the bride is taken to the bridegroom’s house closely veiled (see Note on Genesis 24:65), and as probably there was some similarity in voice and form between the two sisters, this deception was quite easy. But Leah must have been a party to the fraud, and therefore Jacob’s dislike of her was not altogether without reason.

Verse 24

(24) Laban gave unto his daughter Leah Zilpah . . . —Bethuel had given Rebekah not only Deborah her nurse, but also damsels (Genesis 24:61); but then she had been obtained by presents of unusual costliness. Still, Laban does not seem to have acted very liberally by his daughters, and they resented his treatment of them (Genesis 31:15).

Verse 26

(26) It must not be so done in our country.—Heb., It is not so done in our place, to give, &c. We have seen that it is still customary for the elder cousin to take the elder daughter, and the younger the younger. But Laban affirms that if the elder daughter be not claimed, it was the rule in Haran for her to take precedence over her sisters. In India the practice is such as Laban describes, but we have no proof of the existence of any such custom among the Bedaween. Apparently Leah loved Jacob (Genesis 30:15), and Laban wanted a continuance of his service, and so this unscrupulous plot was arranged between them upon a pretext which, if not false, was yet overstrained. Jacob plainly had no idea of such a custom, and would not have given seven years’ service for Leah.

Verse 27

(27) Fulfil her week.—The marriage festival seems to have lasted a week, as was the custom in later times (Judges 14:12), and. to have forsaken Leah during this period would have been to offer her an insult which her brothers must have avenged. Appeased, therefore, by the promise of Rachel as soon as the seven days are over, Jacob, rather than quarrel with the whole family, submits to the wrong. The Hebrew is remarkable, “Fulfil the week of this, and we will give to thee also the this for the service.” But in Hebrew this . . . this means the one and the other (Genesis 31:38; Genesis 31:41), and it is a mistake to suppose that the language will allow the first this to be understood of any one but Leah, and the second this of any one but Rachel.

Verse 28

(28) He gave him Rachel . . . to wife also.—After the monogamy of Abraham, and the stricter monogamy of Isaac, how came Jacob to marry two wives? Abravanel says that as Esau ought to have married Leah, and Jacob Rachel, he acted only as his brother’s substitute in taking the elder, and was still free to marry the younger sister, who was his by custom, He thinks also that Jacob, recalling the promise of a. seed numerous as the dust (Genesis 28:14), and seeing how near the family had been to total extinction in the days of his father and grandfather, desired to place it on a more secure basis. More probably, even after Leah had been forced upon him, Jacob regarded Rachel as his own, and as polygamy was not actually forbidden, considered that he was only acting justly by her and himself in marrying her. He had seen Esau blamed, not for marrying two wives, but for taking Hittites; and his love for Rachel would make him need but little argument. The only other alternative, namely, to have divorced Leah, would have been worse, and happily divorce was not a practice as yet introduced.

Verse 31

BIRTH OF JACOB’S ELEVEN SONS, AND HIS DAUGHTER.

(31) Leah was hated.—We must not soften this down too much; for plainly Leah was not the object of love at all. It was her fruitfulness which gave her value in her husband’s eyes, and when this ceased, Jacob utterly neglected her (Genesis 30:15).

Verses 32-35

(32-35) She called his name Reuben.—There is something very touching in the history of these four births. When the first child is born, Leah joyfully calls him “Reuben,” that is, See, a son! and fondly hopes that now she is a mother her husband will love her. And the mention of her “affliction” shows that, while she loved Jacob tenderly, he was to her more than unloving. Her second son she calls” Simeon,” that is hearing, and, disappointed in her first hope, regards the child as a gift of Jehovah to compensate her for the lack of the affection for which she so longed. Her third son she calls “Levi,” that is, joined, still hoping that as in her tent alone there were children to play around the father, he would be more united to her. But her hope remains unfulfilled. And when her fourth son is born, she calls him “Judah,” that is, praise. Throughout, in the midst of her melancholy, there is a tone of fervent piety, and that not merely to God, but to the covenant Jehovah. And now slowly she parts with her hope of human affection, and finds comfort in Jehovah alone. This time, she says, I will praise Jehovah. And it was this son of the despised one, whose birth called forth from her this hymn of simple thanksgiving, who was fore-ordained to be the ancestor of the promised seed.

Bibliographical Information
Ellicott, Charles John. "Commentary on Genesis 29". "Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/ebc/genesis-29.html. 1905.
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