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, there were three flocks of sheep lying by it; for out of that well they watered the flocks: and a great stone was upon the well's mouth.
3 And thither were all the flocks gathered: and they rolled the stone from the well's mouth, and watered the sheep, and put the stone again upon the well's mouth in his place.
4 And Jacob said unto them, My brethren, whence be ye? And they said, Of Haran are we.
5 And he said unto them, Know ye Laban the son of Nahor? And they said, We know him.
6 And he said unto them, Is he well? And they said, He is well: and, behold, Rachel his daughter cometh with the sheep.
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 and feed them.
8 And they said, We cannot, until all the flocks be gathered together, and till they roll the stone from the well's mouth; then we water the sheep.
9 And while he yet spake with them, Rachel came with her father's sheep; for she kept them.
10 And it came to pass, 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.
11 And Jacob kissed Rachel, and lifted up his voice, and wept.
12 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.
13 And it came to pass, when Laban heard the tidings of Jacob his sister's son, that he ran to meet him, and embraced him, and kissed him, and brought him to his house. And he told Laban all these things.
14 And Laban said to him, Surely thou art my bone and my flesh. And he abode with him the space of a month.
15 And Laban said unto Jacob, Because thou art my brother, shouldest thou therefore serve me for nought? tell me, what shall thy wages be?
16 And Laban had two daughters: the name of the elder was Leah, and the name of the younger was Rachel.
17 Leah was tender eyed; but Rachel was beautiful and well favoured.
18 And Jacob loved Rachel; and said, I will serve thee seven years for Rachel thy younger daughter.
19 And Laban said, It is better that I give her to thee, than that I should give her to another man: abide with me.
20 And Jacob served seven years for Rachel; and they seemed unto him but a few days, for the love he had to her.
21 And Jacob said unto Laban, Give me my wife, for my days are fulfilled, that I may go in unto her.
22 And Laban gathered together all the men of the place, and made a feast.
23 And it came to pass in the evening, that he took Leah his daughter, and brought her to him; and he went in unto her.
24 And Laban gave unto his daughter Leah Zilpah his maid for an handmaid.
25 And it came to pass, that in the morning, behold, it was Leah: and he said to Laban, What is this thou hast done unto me? did not I serve with thee for Rachel? wherefore then hast thou beguiled me?
26 And Laban said, It must not be so done in our country, to give the younger before the firstborn.
27 Fulfil her week, and we will give thee this also for the service which thou shalt serve with me yet seven other years.
28 And Jacob did so, and fulfilled her week: and he gave him Rachel his daughter to wife also.
29 And Laban gave to Rachel his daughter Bilhah his handmaid to be her maid.
30 And he went in also unto Rachel, and he loved also Rachel more than Leah, and served with him yet seven other years.
31 And when the Lord saw that Leah was hated, he opened her womb: but Rachel was barren.
32 And Leah conceived, and bare a son, and she called his name Reuben: for she said, Surely the Lord hath looked upon my affliction; now therefore my husband will love me.
33 And she conceived again, and bare a son; and said, Because the Lord hath heard I was hated, he hath therefore given me this son also: and she called his name Simeon.
34 And she conceived again, and bare a son; and said, Now this time will my husband be joined unto me, because I have born him three sons: therefore was his name called Levi.
35 And she conceived again, and bare a son: and she said, Now will I praise the Lord: therefore she called his name Judah; and left bearing.
1. Jacob reaches Haran and helps Rachel water her father’s sheep at the public well.
2. Jacob works seven years for Rachel.
3. Laban gives him Leah instead of Rachel and requires him to work seven more years for Rachel.
4. Leah gives birth to four sons.
Verses 1–12. Always true to His promises, the Lord God saw to it that Jacob arrived safely in Haran. It was the town of his uncle’s residence; Laban was Rebekah’s brother.
The Fourth Commandment presumes that sons and daughters are about the business of their father’s economies, since it requires the father to give his sons and daughters a one-day-in-seven rest from work. Although these family economies are very much missing in many homes today, this sort of life is basic to God’s law-order. Rachel was feeding her father’s sheep. This is what families did for 5800 years until the Industrial Revolution. Thanks to the absence of fathers from the home, the child labor laws, and compulsory school attendance, the family economy virtually disappeared over roughly 180 years. The disappearance of the family economy adds incentive to not have children, especially when people find out that it will cost $221,000 to raise a child.
Historically, children were never considered a drain on the family economy, because they contributed to the family economy! For thousands of years, children worked with their parents, providing sustenance for the family and the advancement of its wealth. Later, we will find that Jacob’s sons took care of his flocks. In the book of Acts we meet Aquila and Priscilla who worked together as tent makers (Acts 18:3). From the immediate passage, it is clear that Laban was wealthy enough to hire servants, but even this did not exempt his daughters from the work of the family economy.
Years earlier, Abraham’s servant had come upon Rachel’s aunt, Rebekah, drawing water at the well of Nahor, and she had become a fitting bride for Isaac. Such situations are unmistakably, providentially orchestrated by God. Certainly, Jacob must have recalled the story of his own mother’s betrothal to his father, initiated by a prayer of faith and God’s sovereign hand in the events there at the well. We have to conclude that it was God who now was guiding Jacob into similar circumstances, by His providential direction over all things. The same God who brought Rebekah to the well fifty years earlier had now arranged a meeting between Jacob and his future wife in the same context.
Jacob’s behavior on meeting these strangers and distant family members was marked with kindly regard and tender brotherly love. He referred to the men near the well as “brothers,” and proceeded to water their flocks. If you are accustomed to the more stilted, cold reunions that seem to characterize modern relationships between relatives, Jacob’s tears and kisses might appear a little “over the top.” It is especially strange in light of the fact that Jacob had never seen these people prior to this meeting.
Verses 13–29. Immediately, Jacob placed himself in the context of his uncle’s household economy. From the outset, Laban offered him some reward for his labor and Jacob stated his interest in marrying Rachel.
In a day when the state did not provide welfare for single mothers, and family relationships bore great relevance in human society, every marriage involved important economic considerations. For example, what would happen to the daughter if her husband failed to provide for her or abandoned her? This was where the dowry came into play. It was an insurance of sorts, in case the husband defaulted on the covenant marriage arrangement.
Because Jacob entered Haran with nothing but the clothes on his back, there was no way he could provide the bride price. Thus, Laban’s request was not unreasonable. “He who finds a wife finds a good thing” and “her price is far above rubies” (Prov. 18:22, 31:10). Given that Jacob was seeking a very good wife, seven years of labor was clearly not out of the question for him. Truly, it is remarkable to see this man’s patience, diligence, and self-control over the seven years he waited for Rachel.
Regrettably, Uncle Laban turned out to be unreasonable when the seven years were up. This scoundrel failed to live up to his original agreement and he swapped Leah for Rachel on the wedding day. Apparently, the brides in that day were covered with full-face veils during the wedding proceedings. Although Laban had an explanation for the switch, he was still guilty of violating the clear verbal contract that he had made with Jacob at the beginning of the seven years. After one week, Laban turned Rachel’s hand over to Jacob, requiring him to work another seven years for her.
This story speaks to the old adage, “What’s good for the goose is good for the gander.” Clearly, Jacob had not been hesitant to dabble in a little deception, himself, to obtain the birthright and blessing. Now, as God’s providence would have it, Jacob received a little taste of his own medicine.
Verses 30–35. Troubles began right away in Jacob’s polygamous marriages to the two women. In the unfolding of God’s revelation to man, we find that polygamy fails to meet the intent of God’s creation mandate for families. There are Old Testament laws that regulate polygamy, and there is little explicit condemnation of it. Nevertheless, the Creation mandate laid out the standard of one man and one woman in the Garden. God did not create multiple wives for Adam and it would have been a sin for Adam to have taken one of his own daughters for a wife. Also, Jesus affirmed the Creation mandate of two becoming one (Mark 10:8), and Paul disallowed any polygamous man from the office of elder in the church (1 Tim. 3:2).
The troubles we encounter in Jacob’s family include favoritism, pride, bitterness, and envy. In sympathy for Leah’s lot, God compensated by opening her womb and closing Rachel’s. Evidently, God is vitally interested in the care that a man shows to his wife. He pitied poor Leah who was despised by her husband. Clearly He interfered in Jacob’s relationships (vs. 37). While it was contrary to God’s design for Jacob to engage in polygamous relationships in the first place, Jacob made the condition even worse by treating Leah poorly. God could not tolerate this.
This story makes little sense to the present self-oriented, existentialist world of birth implosions. Over 80 nations around the world are birth-imploding presently, because men and women do not want children. They have come to consider children a curse. From the beginning, God hard-wired a desire for children into the hearts of women. Leah and Rachel desired children, because they knew that children would bring fulfillment to their lives. But large institutional forces have successfully destroyed natural affections in the hearts of millions of women. These forces include universities, media, seminaries and churches, government funding, and technology in the form of the birth control pill. That little pill with its abortifacient qualities has produced the largest demographic shift since the worldwide flood! When the natural affection of women for their children has become as suppressed as this, you know entire civilizations are in the process of extinction. When professing believers hold the same self-centered, materialistic values as unbelievers, the church as well as society is in a state of regression.
Leah named her four sons Reuben (which means “See, a Son”), Simeon (which means “To Hear”), Levi (which means “To Join”), and Judah (which means “To Praise”). God saw her affliction, God heard her cry, God joined her husband to her, and she praised God for the sons He gave her. Such names bear prophetic meaning, and from this we know that Leah was a woman of faith.
1. Jacob was inconsistent in expressing his love for his family. How well do we express love in our families? In a world that has systematically destroyed natural affection, we have a long way to go to express faithful love. Divorce is more egregious than polygamy in God’s ethical framework (Mal. 2:16), but it is a constant reality in most churches today. Let us learn to treat each of our family members with affectionate love. Let us value the children that God gives to us, and treat them with tender affection. Children should also be affectionate with each other. When we are affectionate to others, we are telling them that we appreciate them, we enjoy being with them, and we want to encourage them.
2. It is not unreasonable for a father to request a dowry from his future son-in-law, especially if the father cares about his daughter’s future. Young men should think about preparing a dowry well before they marry. The dowry used to be an insurance policy for the woman, in case the young man defaulted on his responsibilities in the marriage. Certainly, no father who loves his daughter would want his daughter to marry a loser! At the very least, the young man should prove that he is able to provide for his own, lest he be considered worse than an infidel (1 Tim. 5:8). That is why we are raising our sons to be responsible men and diligent workers. One of the best things that ten-year-old boys can do to prepare for adulthood and marriage is to learn to work hard.
3. Troubles multiply when people refuse to do things God’s way. Laban had two daughters, and Isaac and Rebekah had two sons. If the players in this story had been more concerned about God’s will in their lives, things would have been different. Esau, for example, could have married one of Laban’s daughters, and Jacob could have married the other. Instead, both families were consumed with rebellion, polygamy, contention, deceit, and synthesis with the Canaanite culture. Sin always has consequences, and we see unsavory consequences resulting from Jacob’s polygamy.
4. A household in the Bible is an economic unit. That means the household functions together in the ways it gains wealth. Although it may be difficult to incorporate into the modern world, there are creative ways in which families can learn to function together as a team. We may not have sheep to raise, but we have dinners to cook, home businesses to run, and cars to repair. As our children grow older, they should become more helpful in supporting their household economy.
5. We must learn to keep our promises. Laban was dishonest when he offered Jacob a deal and then broke it. This was a clear violation of the Eighth Commandment and the Ninth Commandment. When we make promises, we must be prepared to keep them.
1. What are the themes of Chapters 1 through 29?
2. What did Jacob do at the well to show his affection for his extended family?
3. What was the dowry that Jacob promised to give Laban for Rachel?
4. How did Laban deal fraudulently with Jacob on his wedding day?
5. What sins were prevalent in Jacob’s family? What sort of troubles happened in Jacob’s family when he married multiple wives?
6. How does the Word of God speak of polygamy? How does the Word speak of divorce?
1. How can we create a better family economy in our household?
2. How well does our family keep our promises?
3. What reasonable expectations might we require of young men who are interested in courting our daughters?