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Bible Commentaries

Arthur Peake's Commentary on the Bible
Genesis 29

 

 

Verses 1-30

Genesis 29:1-30. Jacob Serves Seven Years for Rachel. Laban Substitutes Leah and Secures Fourteen Years' Service in Exchange for the Two.—Apart from bits of P (Genesis 29:24; Genesis 29:28 b, Genesis 29:29) the section belongs to JE. Analysis is very uncertain. Probably Genesis 29:1 is from E, Genesis 29:2-14 from J. Opinions differ as to Genesis 29:15-30; for our purpose further analysis is unnecessary.

Jacob comes in his journey to a well, and finds three flocks waiting to be watered. It was the custom when all the flocks were gathered, for the stone to be rolled from the well's mouth and replaced after watering. Jacob has discovered that the place is Haran, and that Laban is well known to the shepherds, when Laban's daughter Rachel is seen approaching with her sheep. Fretting at the waste of time, he remonstrates with the shepherds for waiting; much of the day is still before them, let them water the sheep that they may go on grazing. That, they explain, would violate their custom. Meanwhile Rachel comes up, and Jacob, single-handed, removes the immense stone and waters her flock (cf. Exodus 2:16-21), the shepherds not interfering with a stranger capable of such a feat. Then he kissed his cousin, burst into tears, and, when his emotions had calmed down, disclosed his identity. Rachel ran back (Genesis 24:28) and told her father, who with characteristic effusiveness (Genesis 24:29-31), ran to welcome his nephew, and, having heard his story, accepted him as his kinsman. After the lapse of a month, during which Jacob had made himself useful (Genesis 29:15), and Laban had detected and measured his love for Rachel, Laban offers him a situation and inquires his terms. Jacob wanted Rachel, but he had no bride-price with which to buy her. He offers accordingly seven years' service. This Laban accepts, congratulating himself on getting so strong and efficient a servant without pay, but professing that he would prefer Jacob to any other son-in-law. It was, in fact, and is still customary, for the first cousin to have the first claim; cf. "Great is the perfection of the next-of-kin marriage," quoted from the Dinkart ix. 385 by J. H. Moulton, Early Zoroastrianism, p. 337. The seven years pass, for the deeply-enamoured Jacob, like a few days, a picture of romantic love as rare in the OT as it is exquisite. At the end of the period, Jacob claims his bride. The drinking-feast was held in celebration of the wedding, the bride was brought to Jacob veiled at night; only in the morning does he learn the bitter truth that Laban had foisted on him his elder daughter, the unattractive, weak-eyed Leah, in place of the lovely Rachel with flashing eyes. The smooth swindler has his excuse ready; custom forbade the younger daughter to be wedded first, a custom studiously concealed from Jacob. He relies on the injured bridegroom to make the best of it, to create no scandal by repudiating Leah, and breaking up the feast; besides, he shall have Rachel after all when the week of Leah's festivities is over, only, of course, he must serve another seven years for her. Jacob acquiesces—what else could he do? At all costs he must have Rachel, and at the end of the week he attains his desire, and takes up once more the drudgery of service without payment. Whether he felt he had been paid in his own coin we cannot say.


Verses 31-35

Genesis 29:31 to Genesis 30:24. The Birth of Jacob's Children.—This section is from JE, with slight touches from P. Roughly Genesis 29:31-35, Genesis 30:9-13 is from J, Genesis 30:1-6; Genesis 30:8 is from E, Genesis 30:14-24 mainly from JE, the two strands here being hard to unravel. It records the origin of the tribes of Israel. It reflects conditions a good deal earlier than those known to us in the history of Israel. In the later period Reuben dwindled into insignificance, Simeon and Levi were largely exterminated, Judah was detached from the other Leah tribes, Joseph closely associated with them. The rivalry between the sisters plays an important part. The less favoured wife is compensated by the blessing of children, barrenness redresses the superiority of the more fondly loved (1 Samuel 1). It drives her to the device, chosen by Sarah (Genesis 16:1-3), of yielding her maid to her husband, and, by receiving the child on her knees as it was born, of making it her own. Apparently by this means Rachel secured two sons, while her sister had only one, for when Naphtali is born she gives him a name claiming to have beaten her sister in her mighty wrestlings with her. The names play an important part in the story, reflecting for the most part the struggle between the wives. The etymologies are not scientific, they are based on similarities of sound (see mg., which, however, does not bring out all the assonances); in several cases, two etymologies are suggested, one by E, the other by J. Some of the names in the story are those of animals; Rachel means "ewe," Leah perhaps "antelope," Reuben possibly "lion" or "wolf," Simeon "the mongrel of wolf and hyæna"; they may point to an earlier prevalence of totemism. In its original form the story of the mandrakes (Ca. Genesis 7:13*) presumably explained the fruitfulness of Rachel. They were a plum-like fruit ripening at wheat harvest in May. They are regarded as aphrodisiacs (cf. mg.) and as promoting conception. Rachel does not require the former; she has all her husband's love, but she longs for children, and offers to surrender her husband (for one night!) to the neglected Leah, in return for some of the mandrakes. Opportunity is thus given for the "hired" (Genesis 29:16) husband to become the father of Issachar. The mandrakes, the earlier form of the story probably went on to say, removed the disability from which Rachel, like Sarah (Genesis 16:1 f.) and Rebekah (Genesis 25:21), suffered, so that Joseph was born. It is to be noted that the chronology does not permit more than about three years between Judah and Joseph, so that Joseph and Issachar may well have been about the same age. This is not the general impression left by the narrative, but the whole of Genesis 29:32 to Genesis 30:24 has been crowded into the first seven years of Jacob's married life, too short an interval for the events, it is true, Leah having six sons in the period (unless Zebulun is put later), not to speak of Dinah, who seems to be interpolated to prepare for Genesis 29:34, and an interval of barrenness (Genesis 29:35), during which Zilpah has two sons.

 


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Bibliography Information
Peake, Arthur. "Commentary on Genesis 29:4". "Arthur Peake's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/pfc/genesis-29.html. 1919.

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