Jacob is kindly received by Laban. He loves Rachel, and serves seven years for her. Laban substitutes Leah, the eldest sister, in Rachel's stead, but afterwards gives Rachel in marriage to Jacob, for whom also he serves seven years. Leah bears Reuben, Simeon, Levi, and Judah.
Genesis 29:1. People of the east— Mesopotamia, and particularly Haran, lay northward of Beth-el: Babylon, however, lay eastward from both places; and therefore, Mesopotamia being part of the Babylonish dominions, the Babylonians might well be called the people of the east; and Jacob is only said to have gone into a country of which they were the lords and masters. See Bedford's Scripture Chronology.
Genesis 29:3. Thither were all the flocks gathered— Houbigant, instead of כלאּהעדרים (cal-hangadarim) all the flocks, would read after the Samaritan version כלאּהרעים (cal-haroim) all the shepherds, both here and in the eighth verse. And it must be allowed that the alteration seems very just. It is said, Genesis 29:2 that there were THREE flocks, with which all the flocks, in this verse, do not seem to agree; not to say that they rolled refers to the flocks, according to the common reading. Houbigant confirms the reading of the Samaritan version by other reasons; and, after him, we may properly translate, and thither were all the shepherds gathered, i.e.. to this well, with their flocks, at noon; and as there was a great stone laid over the well's mouth to preserve the water pure and clean, they waited for each other by joint consent, and then removed the stone. This whole event, as well as that recorded in ch. 24: affords us a fine picture of the primitive ages, and of that pastoral life which the sons and daughters of the greatest personages did not disdain. See Song of Solomon 1:6-7.
Kennicott espouses the reading above given by Houbigant. He observes further, that though the Samaritan text, and the Greek and Arabic versions, read shepherds, instead of flocks, in the eighth verse; and though the Samaritan and Arabic copies read also shepherds in verse the third, yet this passage is not clear of all its difficulties. The third verse, as translated with the correction before mentioned, tells us, that (when Jacob first came into the field and saw the well) all the shepherds were there gathered together, and watered the sheep, and replaced the stone upon the well's mouth. But the eighth verse tells us, that the shepherds were not yet assembled together; and therefore those who were present could not uncover the well, and water their own flocks separately.
The true method of reconciling these two verses is as follows:—The third verse speaks only of the custom of the shepherds assembling at that well and watering their flocks all together; a sense this which the words most naturally admit; for all the words in the third verse, though preter, have a future signification, on account of the conversive particle prefixed to every one of them; and therefore, as futures, cannot express a past assembly or action. But, being frequentative, and implying the continuance and custom of doing a thing, (the known signification of Hebrew future tenses,) they remarkably express this sense: And there (at this well) all the shepherds usually met together, and rolled the stone from the well's mouth, and watered the sheep, and put the stone again upon the well's mouth. Consequently, when Jacob would have the shepherds then present to water their sheep, they might well answer, We cannot, until all the shepherds be gathered together, and roll the stone from the well's mouth; then we water the sheep.
But then, if these shepherds, who were before supposed to be assembled at the third verse, were not assembled, and if that verse be expressive only of the custom of their assembling, shall we not be thought to destroy the whole advantage of the Samaritan reading? For, it will be said, if the third verse does not express shepherds so assembled, no preceding verse expresses the presence of any shepherds. This difficulty, however formidable at first sight, may be satisfactorily removed. We have seen that the word is הרעים shepherds, in the third and eighth verses; now, let the second verse be read in the same manner, and the beauty and propriety of the passage is complete.
1. Then Jacob went on his journey, and came into the land of the people of the east.
2. And he looked, and behold, a well in the field; and lo, three shepherds were lying by it; for out of that well they watered their flocks: and a great stone was upon the well's mouth.
3. (And there all the shepherds usually met together, and rolled the stone from the well's mouth, and watered the sheep; and put the stone again, upon the well's mouth, in its place.)
4. And Jacob said unto them, My brethren, whence are ye? And they said, We are of Haran, &c.
7. 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 feed them.
8. And they said, We cannot, until all the shepherds shall be gathered together, and roll the stone from the well's mouth; then we water the sheep.
Genesis 29:4. My brethren, whence, &c.— Jacob, himself a shepherd, addresses his brethren of the same occupation with much courtesy; and either must have learned from his mother the language of this country, or they spoke the same language with the Abrahamic family. He calls Laban the son of Nahor, i.e.. the grandson, Genesis 29:5 rather than the son of Bethuel, as the former was the founder of the family. See ch. Genesis 31:53.
Genesis 29:6. Is he well?— In the margin of our Bibles it is, Is there peace to him? which is agreeable to the Hebrew. Peace, with them, was a word comprehensive of all happiness; hence used in salutation, See Luke 10:5; Luke 24:36. John 20:19. Pax (peace) is sometimes used in the same sense by the Latins;* and very frequently ειρηνη, (peace) in the New Testament.† Rachel, in the Hebrew, signifies a sheep. It was common with the ancients, who held all rural employments in great honour, to take their names from the animals they tended: thus at Rome there were the families of the Porcii, Ovilii, Caprilii, Equitii, Tauri, &c. Rachel can scarce be supposed to have been alone in her attendance upon the flocks; some of her father's servants, no doubt, accompanied her.
*——"Tu munera supplex Trende, petens pacem." VIRG. Georg. IV. v. 534. "Thou suppliant offer gifts, and sue for peace." WARTON. † Grace and peace is the usual apostolical blessing.
Genesis 29:7. It is yet high day, &c.— Jacob inquires why these shepherds delayed to water their flocks, when much of the day yet remained for them to feed in, if now watered; when it was much too soon to gather them together, or to fold them for the night. To which they reply, Genesis 29:8 that they could not yet water them; that is, they could not in equity: (ch. Genesis 34:14. Genesis 44:26. Matthew 9:15.) not that they were unable to roll away the stone; but it was contrary to the rules of the place, as it had been agreed that no one should uncover the well and disturb the waters, till all the shepherds with their flocks were assembled together to the common place of watering.
Genesis 29:10. Rolled the stone, &c.— Out of complaisance to his relation Rachel, and to shew his officiousness in her service, Jacob assisted the shepherds to roll away the stone, when she approached with her flock; and, touched with the tenderest feelings on beholding so near and amiable a relation, the tears of sympathetic joy burst from his eyes. How pleasing and affecting a description! He did not long conceal himself from Rachel, who hasted to inform her father, and Jacob found a kind and hospitable reception.
Genesis 29:13. Told Laban all these things— i.e.. All that concerned himself and his journey to Laban's country; all that has been recorded in this and the former chapter. In Genesis 29:12 father's brother means nephew, all near relations being called brethren in the Hebrew; see Genesis 29:15, &c.
Genesis 29:15. And Laban said, &c.— During the month which Jacob passed with Laban, he shewed so much industry and diligence that Laban was desirous of retaining his services; he therefore requests to know what salary, or gratuity, he would expect. And Jacob, who admired his younger daughter Rachel, offered, by way of dowry for her, his services for seven years. Jacob was now seventy-seven years old (according to Lightfoot). It was usual, in many countries, for the husbands to purchase their wives, and to give the parents a dowry: Herodotus, as quoted by Calmet, mentions a peculiar custom of this sort among the Babylonians. See lib. i. c. 196.
Genesis 29:17. Leah was tender-eyed— Leah had tender eyes: the Hebrew word רכות (racoth) imports soft, tender, and delicate; and, in that sense, some of the ancient versions render it, Leah had soft and beautiful eyes, which were her chief or sole external grace; while Rachel was perfectly agreeable and complete in person, beautiful and well-favoured. By the first word, beautiful, is meant, say some, an exact symmetry and proportion of her body; by the latter, well-favoured, the loveliness of her face and complexion is expressed.
Genesis 29:20. They seemed unto him but a few days, &c.— The flattering prospect of possessing the lovely Rachel after the seven years, and the endearments of her pleasing company the mean while, rendered that interval of waiting apparently short and light. Some have supposed that Jacob married at the beginning of the seven years; for (they think) otherwise the time would not have appeared short to him. But the text seems quite contrary to this opinion. And we must remember that Rachel was his constant companion, which made the hours steal agreeably away. Note; 1. Virtuous love brings its own reward with it. 2. Nothing is irksome while those we love are with us, or hard which is done for them. 3. If for a mortal love we can be delighted even with toil, how little should we count every burden which brings us to the enjoyment of the perfection of beauty, in the eternal union of our souls to God.
Genesis 29:21. Give me my wife, for my days, &c.— He might call her his wife with propriety, as he had fulfilled the terms of the contract.
Genesis 29:22. Laban gathered together, &c.— Contracts of marriage were ratified anciently by the magistrates of the place: for this purpose, and to make the solemnity public, Laban invited his neighbours, &c. to the feast.
Genesis 29:23. In the evening, &c.— It was the custom to introduce the bride veiled to the bridegroom in the nuptial chamber, in which there was very little or no light. This made it easy for Laban to deceive Jacob; but as Leah herself must have been an accomplice in the fraud, one cannot wonder at Jacob's great preference of Rachel to her. Piqued and grieved as Jacob was, no doubt, at such treatment, his conscience must have represented it to him as a kind of retaliation to him for his guile in personating his brother.
Genesis 29:24. Laban gave—Zilpah, &c.— It appears to have been a very ancient custom, not only among the Hebrews, but with many other nations, and particularly the Greeks and Romans, in the marriages both of their sons and their daughters, especially the latter, for the parents to give with the bride or bridegroom a servant to abide in their power and property only, exempt from the husband or wife. Such was this Zilpah; such was Bilhah given to Rachel. The dramatic poets, both Greek and Latin, afford many instances. Thus Hagar was the exempt right of Sarah; and upon this right was founded the ejectment of her and her offspring, as being the property of her lady, and solely at her disposal. See Parker's Occasional Annot. 32.
Genesis 29:26. Laban said, It must not, &c.— This appears to have been a mere shift, as we read of no such custom; or, had the fact been true, he ought to have informed Jacob before.
Genesis 29:27. Fulfil her week— i.e.. perfect this marriage with Leah, by keeping the solemnity of seven days feasting, which seems to have been the time allowed for marriage feasts; and this done, thou shalt solemnize thy marriage with Rachel also, on condition of serving me seven years more. It appears beyond all dispute that he was married to Rachel immediately after the expiration of the seven days, which the subsequent history, the birth of the children, &c. abundantly prove. Selden's paraphrase is: "Marriages are to be celebrated, according to custom, by a seven days feast: complete this marriage which thou hast begun with Leah; and then, upon condition of another seven years service, thou shalt marry Rachel also, and keep her wedding-feast seven days."
Genesis 29:31. Leah was hated— The words in the foregoing verse explain this seemingly harsh expression, He loved Rachel more than Leah; this is agreeable to the Hebrew idiom; see Malachi 1:2-3. Luke 14:26. The word hate, in the New Testament, is frequently to be understood in this sense, of loving less. Considering the part Leah acted, nobody can wonder she was hated, that is, less beloved than Rachel; while hence we have an argument against polygamy, it bring morally impossible for a man so to divide his affections, as to preserve mutual harmony, and to prevent domestic feuds and discord.
He opened her womb, &c.— We may note in this instance the goodness of that Providence who is ever watchful over the welfare of his creatures. To sooth the affliction of Leah, for the want of her husband's love, he blesses her with children. All states in life have their comforts and their evils: it is our wisdom to be thankful for the former, and to bear the latter with all possible fortitude and resignation. The names which Leah gave her four sons are derived from the Hebrew: the interpretation of the names is given in the margin of our Bibles; and it affords a proof, as Bishop Patrick remarks, that Laban's family spake the same language with Abraham's, with some little variation; see note on Luke 14:4.
Genesis 29:35. And left bearing— Heb. stood from bearing. So the LXX u949?στη του τικτειν . She ceased from bearing for a time; not wholly left off bearing, as our version seems to express; for she had children afterwards. See ch. Genesis 30:17, &c.
REFLECTIONS.—A forced match must needs be unhappy. It is shocking to be obliged to call her "wife" who is the object of our dislike. God, however, relieved Leah's affliction in giving her four sons. Note; 1. God usually so disposes his gifts, that what is denied in one thing is made up in another—Rachel's barrenness in Jacob's love, and Jacob's dislike by Leah's fruitfulness. 2. The greatest affliction of a wife is to have her husband's love estranged from her. 3. Judah is Leah's son, and therein she hath peculiar honour.
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Coke, Thomas. "Commentary on Genesis 29". Thomas Coke Commentary on the Holy Bible. https://www.studylight.org/
Second Sunday after Epiphany