corner graphic   Hi,    
ver. 2.0.20.08.05
Finding the new version too difficult to understand? Go to classic.studylight.org/

Bible Commentaries

Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible
Genesis 29

 

 


Introduction

Jacob Meets Come to His Relatives’ Family Tribe and Marries Laban’s Two Daughters (Genesis 29:1-30). Jacob’s Sons are Born (Genesis 29:31 to Genesis 30:24)

This covenant narrative reflects the fulfilment of Yahweh’s promise of fruitfulness to Jacob and is based on the covenant significance of the names given to the sons. It is not just a story. The names reflect their covenant relationship with God.

But it is noteworthy that, in remarkable contrast to Genesis 24, there is no mention of God until we come to the birth of the sons. It is as though the writer is telling us that, although God’s purposes came to fruition through it, God was not directly involved in the chicanery that took place. When Abraham’s servant sought a wife for Isaac, he went about it prayerfully and waited for God to show His will through the acts of another catering to the needs of his beasts. Here we have no prayer and Jacob pre-empts the situation. The contrast could not be more stark.

Then fourteen years pass very quickly with Jacob’s pursuits not worth a mention, the only point of importance being his two marriages that lead up to the birth of his sons. It is not so much concerned with the life of Jacob as with the heirs of the promise. Yahweh first steps in at Genesis 29:31. So the text is firmly based on covenant records.


Verse 1

Jacob Meets Come to His Relatives’ Family Tribe and Marries Laban’s Two Daughters (Genesis 29:1-30). Jacob’s Sons are Born (Genesis 29:31 to Genesis 30:24)

This covenant narrative reflects the fulfilment of Yahweh’s promise of fruitfulness to Jacob and is based on the covenant significance of the names given to the sons. It is not just a story. The names reflect their covenant relationship with God.

But it is noteworthy that, in remarkable contrast to Genesis 24, there is no mention of God until we come to the birth of the sons. It is as though the writer is telling us that, although God’s purposes came to fruition through it, God was not directly involved in the chicanery that took place. When Abraham’s servant sought a wife for Isaac, he went about it prayerfully and waited for God to show His will through the acts of another catering to the needs of his beasts. Here we have no prayer and Jacob pre-empts the situation. The contrast could not be more stark.

Then fourteen years pass very quickly with Jacob’s pursuits not worth a mention, the only point of importance being his two marriages that lead up to the birth of his sons. It is not so much concerned with the life of Jacob as with the heirs of the promise. Yahweh first steps in at Genesis 29:31. So the text is firmly based on covenant records.

Genesis 29:1

‘Then Jacob went on his way and came to the land of the children of the East.’

“The children of the East.” A general term for people who came from lands to the East of Canaan. In 1 Kings 4:30 the children of the East are, along with Egypt, looked on as a source of wisdom (compare Matthew 2:1). This suggests reference to the peoples of the Mediterranean area. Job could also be called one of ‘the children of the East’ (Job 1:3).

But the term is also used of peoples connected with the Amalekites and Midianites (Judges 6:3; Judges 7:12; Judges 8:10), with Moabites and Ammonites (Ezekiel 25:9-10), where they are probably unidentified groups of nomads banded together in an alliance (verse 4), and with Kedar (Jeremiah 49:28). It is therefore a term used to designate conglomerate peoples, without being too specific, with reference to their direction from Canaan. In this passage the reference is to the general area in which Haran is situated seen as part of the wider area of ‘Easterners’. (Compare the use of ‘Westerners’ and ‘Orientals’ today). Consider how the magi also came ‘from the East’ (Matthew 2:1).


Verse 2-3

‘And he looked, and behold, a well in the field. And lo, three flocks of sheep lying there by it. For from that well they watered the flocks, and the stone on the well’s mouth was great. And to that place all the flocks were gathered, and they rolled the stone from the well’s mouth and watered the sheep, and put the stone again on the well’s mouth in its place.’

It would appear that the stone was so large that it was not easy to move. So every day the various flocks would gather at the well (water-source), waiting until all were gathered, and then the stone guarding the well would be removed and all the flocks would water there. It was possibly a private cystern owned by a group, with restricted access.


Verses 4-6

‘And Jacob said to them, “My brothers, from where are you?” And they said, “We are from Haran.” And he said to them, “Do you know Laban, the son of Nahor?” And they said, “We know him.” And he said to them, “Is it well with him?” And they said, “It is well, and look, Rachel his daughter is coming with the sheep.”

Although it is still before evening three flocks have already gathered there. So by questioning their keepers Jacob discovers he has arrived at his destination, Haran, and asks after the man he seeks. A water-source was the natural place to find people to question, for it was a place where many would come. We note elsewhere how many meetings take place at water-sources. (One way of ensuring you met people was to wait at a water-source).

“The son of Nahor.” Nahor is the head of the family. ‘Son of” means ‘descended from’. Laban is actually the son of Bethuel, and is Nahor’s grandson.


Verse 7

"And he said, “Look, it is yet high day, neither is it time that the cattle should be gathered together. Water the sheep and go and feed them."

Jacob is puzzled why they are sitting around waiting. Sheep would normally be brought towards evening, but these have come while the sun is still high. Why do they then sit and wait, when they could water them and then take them where they can feed?


Verse 8

‘And they said, “We cannot until all the flocks are gathered together, and they roll the stone from the well’s mouth. Then we water the sheep.” ’

The answer was that it was because the stone could not be moved. This may have been because there were not enough men there to move the stone. Most of the keepers of the sheep were probably women. Alternately it may have been because it was part of the agreement in respect of the private well that the stone not be removed until all were present. But we are probably intended to get the idea of the diligence of Jacob compared with the dilatoriness of the shepherds.


Verse 9-10

‘While he yet spoke with them Rachel came with her father’s sheep, for she looked after them. And so it happened that when Jacob saw Rachel, the daughter of Laban his mother’s brother, and the sheep of Laban, his mother’s brother, that Jacob went near and rolled the stone from the well’s mouth and watered the flock of Laban, his mother’s brother.’

Rachel, who had previously been spotted some distance away (Genesis 29:6), now arrives. So Jacob gets his men to help him to move the stone so that the flocks can feed. He is not used to having to wait and ignores any custom. He does not want to have to linger. Or it may be that a brief discussion has revealed that the well is Nahor’s so that Rachel has the right to secure its opening. (Jacob would not kiss Rachel without at least some preliminary words).


Verse 11-12

‘And Jacob kissed Rachel and lifted up his voice and wept. And Jacob told Rachel that he was her father’s brother and that he was Rebekah’s son. And she ran and told her father.’

The meeting is emotional. In days when families were often out of touch for years such scenes were a regular feature of life when they came together. It must be considered certain that Jacob had said something introductory before he kissed Rachel, something like “I am your cousin’. He has after all gone to great trouble to water her sheep and this would hardly be done without saying anything. But after his rapturous welcome he then explains his relationship in more detail. Then, quite excited for she will have heard of her wider family, Rachel runs to tell her father.

“Her father”s brother’, that is, a blood relation, his ‘kinsman’. Strictly he was his nephew. The word for ‘brother’ had a variety of meanings, compare Genesis 29:4.


Verse 13-14

‘And so it was that when Laban heard the news of his sister’s son, Jacob, he ran to meet him, and embraced him and kissed him, and brought him to his house. And he told Laban all these things. And Laban said to him, “Surely you are my bone and my flesh.” And he stayed with him for the period of a month.’

Jacob is welcomed as the true born ‘prince’ that he is by a fellow ‘prince’. They are both of the same stock. Then Jacob tells him ‘all these things’, presumably the general circumstances of his journey and his purpose in coming. Laban’s stressing of the family connection indicates general agreement with the ideas.

“He stayed with him for the period of a month.” It was normal not to hurry such transactions as this. It would generally have been considered impolite to a relative to hurry the matter. But the hospitality offered indicates acceptance of the principle involved. (compare how Abraham’s servant, who had been in a hurry, emphasised his own position as only a servant as a reason for not delaying).


Verse 15

‘And Laban said to Jacob, “Should you serve me for nothing because you are my kinsman? Tell me, what shall your wages be?” ’

Once a decent time had passed Laban brings the matter up. He has now realised that Jacob has not come laden with expensive marriage gifts. These words are a delicate indication that Jacob is going to have to earn his wife by a period of service. (The question of wages would not normally arise between relatives of this standing. Those were for hired servants). He is asking how long he is prepared to serve as compensatory payment for a wife. When Abraham’s servant came he brought rich gifts which were accepted as recompense for the loss of a daughter and sister. It appears that Jacob has not brought such valuable gifts. Compensation would thus be made by service (compare Joshua 15:16; 1 Samuel 17:25), a practise well testified to elsewhere.


Verse 16-17

‘And Laban had two daughters, the name of the elder was Leah and the name of the younger was Rachel. And Leah’s eyes were tender, but Rachel was beautiful and well-favoured.’

The word for ‘tender’ can mean soft, weak, delicate. This may indicate some weakness in the eye or it may simply mean timid or gentle-eyed (compare Deuteronomy 28:56). The point was that while Leah was not unattractive she paled in comparison with Rachel.


Verse 18

‘And Jacob loved Rachel and he said, “I will serve you for seven years for Rachel your younger daughter.” ’

Jacob replies that he has made his choice as to which daughter he wants. He is prepared to offer seven years service in exchange for Rachel whom he loves. This may appear a long time but he knows that during the period he will be treated as a relative and equal (‘you are my brother’ - Genesis 29:15) and he has brought little with him. Offering service in exchange for a man’s daughter was a regular feature of the times.

In fact a period of seven years service appears to have been an accepted one in ‘Hebrew’ circles. Consider the stipulations re a Hebrew slave in Exodus 21:2; Deuteronomy 15:12, although the circumstances are not the same. (See article, "Hebrews").


Verse 19

‘And Laban said, “It is better that I give her to you than that I should give her to another man. Remain with me.”

The offer is accepted and it may be that at this stage Laban thought that Leah might be married within the seven years to someone else thus clearing the way for Jacob. The elder daughter was often more attractive status-wise. Thus it may be that at this point in time his aim was honest.


Verse 20-21

‘And Jacob served seven years for Rachel, and they seemed to him but a few days for the love he had for her. And Jacob said to Laban, “Give me my wife, for my days of service are completed.”

Jacob works out his seven years and demands his wages, the hand of Rachel in marriage. The comment about the depth of his love is touching.


Verses 22-24

‘And Laban gathered together all the men of the place and made a feast, and so it was that in the evening he took his daughter Leah and brought her to him, and he went in to her. And Laban gave Zilpah his handmaid to his daughter Leah for a handmaid.’

The wedding feast is arranged. It will last for seven days (Genesis 29:27). And it is now that we first begin to see Laban’s deceitful ways, although we must be fair and recognise that he has been put in a difficult position. He had hoped that Leah might be married off, but it had not happened, and custom forbade Rachel being married first.

As he ponders the problem he sees the solution. Instead of being open and honest he foists Leah, who would be heavily veiled for the wedding, on Jacob. When they go to bed it is dark and presumably Leah kept silent. Thus Jacob does not realise until daylight that his silent and submissive companion is Leah. And by then it is too late. He is legally committed to Leah.

The mention of Zilpah is to indicate that she no longer belongs to Laban but to Leah, and thus indirectly to Jacob. She joins those whom Jacob has brought with him as a member of his ‘household’. But noteworthy is the meagreness of the gift. There is no mention of any other dowry. Laban is getting rid of his daughters on the cheap. (Rebekah was provided with a number of young women - Genesis 24:61). Jacob has come with little in the way of gifts. Laban returns the compliment.


Verse 25

‘And it happened in the morning that behold, it was Leah. And he said to Laban, “What is this that you have done to me? Did I not serve with you for Rachel? Why then have you deceived me?”

When Jacob realises what has happened he is no doubt furious and immediately marches in to where Laban is to lay his complaint. The terms of his contract have been broken. The reader, however, knowing the story of Esau will recognise that he has received as he gave. The trickster has been tricked. He who deceived a blind man, has himself been deceived when blinded by a veil. He who supplanted an elder kin has an elder kin planted on him. What a man sows he reaps. And he learns his first lesson in dealing with Laban.

But Laban was no doubt waiting for the visit and has his excuses ready. He is a smooth-tongued liar and confident because the strength is on his side. He is master here. Jacob can do nothing.


Verse 26-27

‘And Laban said, “It is not so done in our place to give the younger before the firstborn. Fulfil the week of this one and we will give you the other also for the service which you will serve with me, yet seven more years.”

The taking of a second wife is well witnessed elsewhere, as is the later taking of slave-wives. But for the main wives there would be legal stipulations in the marriage contract, either written or oral and made in the presence of witnesses, preserving their position and relative freedom. The marrying by one man of two sisters was, however, later forbidden (Leviticus 18:18).

Laban knew that Jacob would have to recognise the strength of his argument. Custom could not be broken. Every one in the tribe would know the situation, and they were no doubt smiling behind Jacob’s back. And behind his triumphant but partly concealed smile is the implication that Jacob should have known, and that had he been smarter he would have known. It was probably not an uncommon requirement, although marriage to the elder daughter did in fact place Jacob in a more privileged position. (An argument which Laban might well have called on when placating Jacob. Marriage was not on the whole looked on as a romantic affair).

However Laban is not averse to Jacob and placates him with a further offer. Let him go through the seven-day wedding feast (see Judges 14:12) without trouble, giving Leah her full due, and then he can also marry Rachel. After which he must work another seven years for the privilege, as a now privileged member of the tribe.

It has been suggested in the light of parallels elsewhere that Laban adopts Jacob as a son, but there is nothing in the narrative to suggest this and much to demonstrate that he retained a level of independence. He was an established member of the family tribe, connected by marriage, but his services had to be retained by contract. Thus the new seven year contract.


Verse 28

‘And Jacob did so and fulfilled her week, and he gave him Rachel his daughter to wife.’

Jacob carries out his part of the bargain. He gives Leah due deference for the week of the marriage ceremony, and fulfils his responsibilities as a husband. Then he also marries Rachel. Leah’s part was not a happy one for she knows it is her sister that Jacob wants, but she was used to the fact that a woman could be married off by her menfolk, and would accept her lot. She knew she could have done a lot worse. What grieved both her and Rachel was the particular way in which it was carried out so that neither of them received any financial benefit. Only a handmaid each. They felt that Laban had withheld from them some of their rights (see for this Genesis 31:14-16).


Verse 29

‘And Laban gave Bilhah his handmaid to his daughter Rachel to be her handmaid.’

Once again Laban provides a handmaid for his daughter from his household, and another person is added to Jacob’s group. Again the suggestion is that that is all that she receives. Laban is hard-nosed. This prince has come among them bringing nothing, he will therefore receive nothing, apart from the privileged membership of the tribe due to his ancestry.


Verse 30

‘And he went in also to Rachel, and he also loved Rachel more than Leah and served with him yet seven more years.’

Jacob plants his seed in both women as custom required, but his heart was with Rachel. And it needed to be for he had to serve another seven years for her.


Verse 31

Jacob’s Wives Are Fruitful As Yahweh Had Promised (Genesis 29:31 to Genesis 30:24)

Genesis 29:31

‘And Yahweh saw that Leah was unloved and he opened her womb. But Rachel was barren.’

The bearing of a son was of vital importance in Jacob’s day for such a son or sons would inherit the family tribe and wealth and maintain the family name. A man felt he lived on in his sons. They would also eventually strengthen Jacob’s position. Thus Leah is delighted when she bears not one but four sons. But Rachel, who was barren was devastated.

The writer sees what has happened to Leah as a sign of God’s goodness to her. But it is noteworthy that he does not directly suggest that Rachel’s barrenness is God’s handywork, although others would see it that way.

“Unloved.” The word regularly means ‘hated’ but the previous verse suggests that although Jacob preferred Rachel he still had some love for Leah. Thus the translation ‘unloved’ is more likely. There is no suggestion that he treated her badly (contrast his words to his beloved Rachel in 30:2).


Verses 32-34

‘And Leah conceived and bore a son, and she called his name Reuben, for she said, “Because Yahweh has looked on my affliction (raah beonyi), for now my husband will love me.” And she conceived again and bore a son, and said, “Because Yahweh has heard (shama) that I am unloved he has therefore given me this son as well.” And she called his name Simeon (Shimeon). And she conceived again and bore a son, and said, “Now this time my husband will be joined (lavah) to me because I have borne him three sons.” Therefore his name was called Levi.’

The names given by Leah are used to express the pain in her heart by a play on words. She is afflicted, Yahweh has heard that she is unloved, and she feels that her husband is not really one with her. But now that she has borne a full complement of sons - three is the number of completeness - she is confident that he will now regard her. She knows how important sons will be to him and is aware that she has fulfilled her responsibility.

“Reuben”. As vocalised in the text it means ‘behold, a son’. But Leah also, by a play on words, reads a more bitter meaning into it. ‘Shimeon’ means ‘heard’, that is ‘God has heard.’ It initially celebrates the fact that Yahweh has heard in the giving of a son, but again Leah interprets it somewhat bitterly. The name Levi is associated with the verb ‘lavah’, to be joined. Possibly it indicated that Leah now felt joined with her husband’s God, Yahweh, but again she gives it her own bitter interpretation.

Note the reference to Yahweh. She now worships her husband’s God, for Yahweh can be worshipped anywhere.

It is possible that we are to see these three sons as triplets, born at the same time. This would explain why they are treated together and help to explain how Jacob had so many sons in seven years. But if so it is not made clear in the text. (‘Conceived and bore’ three times in succession does not exclude the possibility. Chronology was only secondary in Hebrew tenses). More probably we may see Simeon and Levi as twins. Note how they are coupled in Jacob’s blessing (Genesis 49:5).


Verse 35

‘And she conceived again and bore a son, and she said, “This time will I praise (hodah) Yahweh.” Therefore she called his name Judah (Yehudah), and she ceased bearing.’

With three sons her confidence had returned. Everyone would be congratulating her. So when a fourth is born she can express praise to Yahweh. Her husband’s God has been good to her and she acknowledges His goodness in the name of her son. The cessation of bearing is temporary (Genesis 30:17), although lasting for some fair period, so that she seeks to maintain her position by bearing children through her handmaid.

 


Copyright Statement
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.

Bibliography Information
Pett, Peter. "Commentary on Genesis 29:4". "Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/pet/genesis-29.html. 2013.

Lectionary Calendar
Wednesday, August 5th, 2020
the Week of Proper 13 / Ordinary 18
ADVERTISEMENT
Commentary Navigator
Search This Commentary
Enter query in the box below
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
To report dead links, typos, or html errors or suggestions about making these resources more useful use our convenient contact form
Powered by Lightspeed Technology