Genesis Chapter 29
So, Jacob set off and came back to the land of the people of the East. He saw a well in the field and 3 flocks of sheep around it, it's where they were watered from. He asked the shepherds there where they were from, and they said from Haran. He asked if they knew Laban, and they did. He asked, "Is it well with him?" and as they answered, "Yes," Laban's daughter Rachel came up (Gen. 29:6). He suggested to them to take the sheep out to the field and they basically said they couldn't, because many were drinking from the well. It appears that they didn't pick up on his wanting to be with Rachel alone. I like how Victor Hamilton describes this, "Get rid of the unwanted company - the shepherds!" (Hamilton, 253) Bruce Waltke writes similarly, "[The shepherds'] presence is the proverbial fly in the ointment. The man in quest of a bride from his relatives at Haran wants to converse alone with the girl who has already caught his attention." (Waltke, 400)
While speaking Rachel came with Laban's sheep, she was a shepherdess. Jacob rolled the stone from the well's mouth so her sheep could drink. Then he kissed her and wept aloud, and he told her who he was. She ran to tell Laban after this. When Laban heard about Jacob he ran to meet him, embraced him, kissed him, and brought him to his home. Jacob told Laban what had happened, and Laban said, "Surely you are my bone and my flesh!" so Jacob stayed with Laban a month (Gen. 29:14).
Laban told Jacob that because he is family Jacob shouldn't serve him for free and asked him what he would like to be paid. Jacob loved Rachel (the younger daughter who was beautiful in appearance) instead of Laban's older daughter Leah (who had weak eyes). Jacob said he'd serve Laban 7 years for Rachel. Laban agreed. Then we have this beautiful phrase, "So Jacob served seven years for Rachel, and they seemed to him but a few days because of the love he had for her." (Gen. 29:20)
After the 7 years Jacob told Laban to give him his wife so he could know her intimately. It appears that the conditions for the establishment of their marriage were completed (Gen. 29:21). So, Laban prepared a feast with all the people there, but in the evening he gave Leah, his older daughter, to Jacob and Jacob was intimate with her. Laban also gave his female servant Zilpah to Leah to be her servant. In the morning Jacob was surprised to see it was Leah he was with!
Jacob told Laban the wrong he had committed, because he served 7 years and 1 month for Rachel, not Leah. Laban described that it was their custom in Haran not to marry the younger before the older. He told Jacob to complete the week with this one (Leah). Laban was simply asking him to wait out the "marriage week" or "bridal week" (referred to in 29:22) before he could marry Rachel (see Kidner, 172; Waltke, 406, and Hamilton, 264). He gave Rachel in marriage to him and then he served Laban another seven years (29:27-28). Laban gave Bilhah to be Rachel’s servant, and Jacob loved Rachel more than he loved Leah.
When Yahweh saw that Jacob loved Rachel more he opened Leah’s womb, and Rachel was barren. Leah then had a son, Reuben, and said, “Because Yahweh has looked upon my affliction; for now my husband will love me.” (29:32) She then had another son, Simeon, and said, “Because Yahweh has heard that I am hated , He has given me this son also.” (29:33) She then had a third son, Levi, and said, “Now this time my husband will be attached to me, because I have borne him three sons.” (29:34) Then she bore a fourth son, Judah, and said, “This time I will praise Yahweh.” (29:35) Then she ceased bearing children.
Here is the basic meaning of each of their names:
- Reuben - "The LORD sees" or "see, a Son!"
- Simeon - "The LORD hears"
- Levi - "My husband will be attached to me"
- Judah - "I will praise the LORD" or "May God be praised"
This is an ironic chapter, because the deceiver, Jacob, is deceived himself. Laban deceptively sets him up with his older daughter, Leah. It may appear that Jacob passively becomes a polygamist here, but that is far from the truth. Yes, he's deceived into marrying Leah, but he still pursues polygamy in marrying Rachel one week after Leah. Leah is no concubine, she is fully Jacob's wife. Later, in Leviticus 18:18 clearly denounces this act both on Laban's part and Jacob's part as sinful: "And you shall not take a woman as a rival wife to her sister, uncovering her nakedness while her sister is still alive." Just because this behavior happens here does not mean that God is pleased with it.
We also see some of the further fruit of sin in the pain women experience in bearing children in this chapter. Leah is able to have children, while Rachel is not. God is in control of the womb here too. The text shows this clearly in expressing Leah's fertility, "[He] opened her womb." (29:31) It simply says of Rachel, "but Rachel was barren." We've already seen God's power over the womb in Genesis 20:18 when God closed the wombs of the house of Abimelech, and we'll see more of His sovereignty in childbirth later as well.
One of the amazing things about this chapter is that despite the fact that Leah was the "less loved" of Jacob she was chosen by Yahweh, the LORD of the universe, to be the one through whom He would continue to bless all nations in fulfillment of the promise of a Messiah in Genesis 3:15, and in fulfillment of the promise of making Abraham a blessing to all nations. In Leah's children we have the lineage through whom God would most clearly reveal His plan of redemption through the future nation of Israel's sacrificial system. Through the tribe of Levi God clearly foreshadows the need for atonement and redemption through the shedding of blood. It will be through the Levites that Yahweh would show how Christ, the husband, would be attached to the Church, the bride of Christ. Also, it's through the tribe of Judah that God would then bring about the sacrifice that would ultimately fulfill what the sacrificial system foreshadowed, namely the substitutionary death of Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ would be the perfect sacrifice making atonement for His people. This is the true fulfillment of the name Judah. Indeed, "I will praise the LORD!" And how appropriate that the LORD would bring the fulfillment of His promises for a Messiah to save His people from their sin through a woman who was least loved? God chose humble means to bring about the fulfillment of His promises.
This is encouraging to those of us who often feel useless; those of us who by all worldly perceptions appear to have no reason to hope. God is still at work in and through humble people. Despite appearances, God is at work, even in the humblest circumstances. Not unlike the Moabite woman named Ruth, God here chose a humble woman through whom He would bring a humble Savior-king. Jesus Christ is the most complete picture of humility, "Behold, your king is coming to you , humble, and mounted on a donkey , on a colt, the foal of a beast of burden," (Matt. 21:5) and, "but [Jesus] emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name." (Phil. 2:7-9) In spite of the sin of Laban in deceiving Jacob, the sin of Jacob taking a second wife, the hopelessness of Leah in her pursuit of her unloving husband, and Rachel's trial of infertility; we see that God is working to fulfill His promises in Genesis 29 to bring us a Savior in Jesus Christ.