Here, we continue our study in Genesis.
1Then Jacob continued on his journey and came to the land of the eastern peoples. 2There he saw a well in the field, with three flocks of sheep lying near it because the flocks were watered from that well. The stone over the mouth of the well was large. 3When all the flocks were gathered there, the shepherds would roll the stone away from the well's mouth and water the sheep. Then they would return the stone to its place over the mouth of the well.
4Jacob asked the shepherds, "My brothers, where are you from?"
"We're from Haran," they replied.
5He said to them, "Do you know Laban, Nahor's grandson?"
"Yes, we know him," they answered. 6Then Jacob asked them, "Is he well?"
"Yes, he is," they said, "and here comes his daughter Rachel with the sheep."
7"Look," he said, "the sun is still high; it is not time for the flocks to be gathered. Water the sheep and take them back to pasture."
8"We can't," they replied, "until all the flocks are gathered and the stone has been rolled away from the mouth of the well. Then we will water the sheep."
9While he was still talking with them, Rachel came with her father's sheep, for she was a shepherdess. 10When Jacob saw Rachel daughter of Laban, his mother's brother, and Laban's sheep, he went over and rolled the stone away from the mouth of the well and watered his uncle's sheep. 11Then Jacob kissed Rachel and began to weep aloud. 12He had told Rachel that he was a relative of her father and a son of Rebekah. So she ran and told her father.
13As soon as Laban heard the news about Jacob, his sister's son, he hurried to meet him. He embraced him and kissed him and brought him to his home, and there Jacob told him all these things. 14Then Laban said to him, "You are my own flesh and blood."
After the great "Bethels" of our lives, the magnificent "mountain-top" experiences, we have to come back to the real world. So too Jacob: "Then Jacob continued on his journey and came to the land of the eastern peoples" (vs. 1). At the end of the previous chapter, Jacob had experienced a glorious visitation by God. The Lord spoke directly to him, confirming the promises to Abraham's offspring that He would fulfill through Jacob. This visitation from God changed Jacob's outlook on life. Before the visitation, Jacob saw only a desert; after the visitation, Jacob saw "the house of God", which is what he named the place where God had visited him. So, it was with a considerably lighter heart that Jacob had left Bethel to continue his journey, as compared to the heavy heart with which he departed home. Jacob left home running for his life; he leaves Bethel to "continue on his journey" with a new life.
However, though Jacob's inward attitude may have changed as a result of God's visitation, the outward circumstances of his life had not changed at all. The real test of a renewed profession of faith comes after we descend from the "mountain", after we leave "Bethel". Quite often in the Bible, and in our lives, great "mountain-top" experiences, renewed spiritual awakenings due to visitations from God, are followed by testings and trials in the "real" world. Recall that Abraham, right after God had promised to give him and his offspring the land in Canaan, faced a "famine in the land" (Gen. 12:7,10). Right after Peter, John and James experienced the glory of Christ on the mount of His Transfiguration, they were met by a demon-possessed boy (see Matt. 17:1-22). Even Christ experienced this pattern. Right after Christ's baptism, He "was led by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted by the devil" (Matt. 4:1). Very rarely are monumental experiences of new or renewed faith followed by immediate removal into the glorious presence of God (I can only recall this happening once, and that was to the thief on the cross). Rather, they are followed by a descent off the "mountain", back into the "real-world" circumstances of our lives. This is when the test of our renewed faith begins. "Mountain-top experiences are to be followed by service in the valley, and the real test of our life lies not in our profession [on the mountain], but in our character and conduct" when we return to the valley.[Footnote #1]
Jacob began his "new life" (so to speak) under the guidance of God, who led him straight to the well at which Rachel waters her sheep. Jacob was struck with emotion when he met Rachel: "Then Jacob kissed Rachel and began to weep aloud" (vs. 11). Jacob's emotional greeting of Rachel no doubt was due to a couple of things: the beauty of Rachel, and the realization that God was guiding and blessing his journey. Certainly, Jacob did not deserve such blessing by God on this journey, especially given that the purpose of the journey was to escape Esau's anger at Jacob's deception. Nevertheless, Jacob was the chosen one of God, and so God's grace was shed upon him.
Jacob was welcomed into the home of his uncle Laban with the joy that comes with eastern hospitality and the natural bonds of common blood: "As soon as Laban heard the news about Jacob, his sister's son, he hurried to meet him. He embraced him and kissed him and brought him to his home" (vs. 13).
Prior to being told of Jacob's meeting with Rachel, we are given in vss. 2 through 8 details about the customs of the shepherds in Haran: "There [Jacob] saw a well in the field, with three flocks of sheep lying near it because the flocks were watered from that well. The stone over the mouth of the well was large. When all the flocks were gathered there, the shepherds would roll the stone away from the well's mouth and water the sheep. Then they would return the stone to its place over the mouth of the well... `Look,' [Jacob] said, `the sun is still high; it is not time for the flocks to be gathered. Water the sheep and take them back to pasture.' `We can't,' they replied, `until all the flocks are gathered and the stone has been rolled away from the mouth of the well. Then we will water the sheep.'" (vs. 2-3, 7-8). Certainly, one reason for including these details is to emphasize the truth of the biblical narrative. Genesis is a book of historical events, and here we have a historical description of the behavior of the shepherds in Haran. In addition to this, I can't help but notice the wealth of biblical symbols in these few verses: a well (or spring) of living water, a field (often a symbol of "the world"), sheep, shepherds, a stone that is rolled away at an appointed time. My mystical side cannot help but to attempt to develop a symbolic reading of this episode. I will not here give the details of my symbolic reading of these verses because my reading is pure speculation with no firm biblical support, and so I would want to lead you astray. However, I would ask the reader to meditate on passages such as Genesis 29:2-8 that contain so many biblical symbols. Through such meditation, I have found that God many times speaks through treasures hidden in His Word.
After Jacob had stayed with him for a whole month, 15Laban said to him, "Just because you are a relative of mine, should you work for me for nothing? Tell me what your wages should be."
16Now Laban had two daughters; the name of the older was Leah, and the name of the younger was Rachel. 17Leah had weak eyes, but Rachel was lovely in form, and beautiful. 18Jacob was in love with Rachel and said, "I'll work for you seven years in return for your younger daughter Rachel."
19Laban said, "It's better that I give her to you than to some other man. Stay here with me." 20So Jacob served seven years to get Rachel, but they seemed like only a few days to him because of his love for her.
21Then Jacob said to Laban, "Give me my wife. My time is completed, and I want to lie with her."
22So Laban brought together all the people of the place and gave a feast. 23But when evening came, he took his daughter Leah and gave her to Jacob, and Jacob lay with her. 24And Laban gave his servant girl Zilpah to his daughter as her maidservant.
25When morning came, there was Leah! So Jacob said to Laban, "What is this you have done to me? I served you for Rachel, didn't I? Why have you deceived me?"
26Laban replied, "It is not our custom here to give the younger daughter in marriage before the older one. 27Finish this daughter's bridal week; then we will give you the younger one also, in return for another seven years of work."
28And Jacob did so. He finished the week with Leah, and then Laban gave him his daughter Rachel to be his wife. 29Laban gave his servant girl Bilhah to his daughter Rachel as her maidservant. 30Jacob lay with Rachel also, and he loved Rachel more than Leah. And he worked for Laban another seven years.
Laban soon found out that Jacob was not just staying for the holidays. Jacob's stay was to be a long one, longer than both of them reckoned. Jacob, to his credit, following the custom of the day, was not idle during his stay, but pulled his own weight. So much so that "after Jacob had stayed with him for a whole month, Laban said to him, `Just because you are a relative of mine, should you work for me for nothing? Tell me what your wages should be'" (vs. 14-15). From Laban's last contact with Jacob's family, when Eliezer was sent by Abraham to get a bride for Isaac (see Gen. 24), he knew that Jacob's family was wealthy. It must have been curious to Laban that Jacob displayed no signs of this wealth. Most certainly, Jacob did not tell Laban that he was fleeing his brother's anger. This would have greatly jeopardized his chances to marry Rachel.
Laban, honorably (thus far), offered to pay Jacob for his work. Jacob, in reply, because he "was in love with Rachel", said: "I'll work for you seven years in return for your younger daughter Rachel" (vs. 18). Jacob was never one who was short of clever ideas. He must have welcomed Laban's offer because, outside of it, Jacob really had no chance to obtain Laban's permission to marry Rachel. Jacob, though he was the promised heir to Isaac's riches, at this point had nothing to show for it. Laban was probably very surprised at Jacob's proposition. Again, Laban knew Isaac was rich, so why did Jacob have work like a slave to obtain a wife? Laban certainly would have inferred from this that Jacob had had a falling-out with his family. I believe that this realization was what caused Laban to begin to take advantage of Jacob. After all, up to this point, Laban had treated Jacob very honorably. So, Laban agreed: "It's better that I give her to you than to some other man. Stay here with me" (vs. 19).
No more touching statement of human love in all of literature can be found than verse 20: "So Jacob served seven years to get Rachel, but they seemed like only a few days to him because of his love for her". This statement succintly, beautifully describes the depth of Jacob's love for Rachel. How this statement shames those who profess their love and demand intimate relations as a proof of love! True love waits, and does not mind waiting. Jacob waited, and worked, seven years, and "they seemed like only a few days", why can't we wait a few years until marriage before consummating our professed love?
The seven years ended, and Jacob asked for his bride. Laban, as was the custom, threw a grand feast. Laban took this opportunity to carry out his great deceit: "But when evening came, he took his daughter Leah and gave her to Jacob, and Jacob lay with her" (vs. 23). Through a combination of the haze of the party spirits, the heavily veiled bride, and the darkness of the wilderness night, the identity of Leah was hidden from Jacob until the next morning. Jacob was furious, and rightly so: "What is this you have done to me? I served you for Rachel, didn't I? Why have you deceived me?" (vs. 25). But wait. What's this? Has the "heel catcher", the great deceiver himself, been deceived? Could this be an act of cosmic justice? "Laban replied, `It is not our custom here to give the younger daughter in marriage before the older one'" (vs. 26). Ah, yes! We now understand. "A man reaps what he sows" (Gal. 6:7). This is a fundamental moral law of the universe. Just as Jacob himself deceived his father Isaac concerning the rights of the firstborn, so he was also deceived concerning the rights of the firstborn. Just as Jacob came to Isaac in disguise as his brother Esau, so also Leah came to Jacob in disguise as her sister Leah. Jacob, through Laban's deceit, felt the pain of his own deceit. He must certainly have learned a powerful lesson.
Laban, with no sign of remorse, excuses himself: "It is not our custom here to give the younger daughter in marriage before the older one" (vs. 26). Of course, Laban could have told Jacob this at the beginning of the seven years! Laban achieved all he wanted with his deceit: he married off his eldest daughter and he got seven more years of work out of Jacob: "Finish this daughter's bridal week; then we will give you the younger one also, in return for another seven years of work" (vs. 27). The "bridal week" was the seven days of bridal feasting. So, though Jacob had to serve Laban for another seven years, he did not have to wait until the end of this seven years to marry Rachel. He wed her right after the end Leah's first seven days of marriage.
Laban's deceitfulness of course is inexcusable. His trickery causes Leah much grief, for "[Jacob] loved Rachel more than Leah" (vs. 30). Of course, Leah was not entirely innocent in the situation, as she herself carried out the deception.
Oh, Lord, keep us by Your Spirit from such deception. Give us the faith and confidence to depend upon You for everything, and not to be tempted into the practice of deceit. We praise You for Your guidance. We praise You for Your Word and the lessons we can learn by studying the lives of the prophets. And as Jacob left his inheritance to serve for his bride, we praise You that You sent Your Son to leave His to serve for His bride. In His name we pray these things, Amen.
1. W.H. Griffith Thomas, Genesis: A Devotional Commentary, pg. 272.