In our study of Genesis chapter twenty nine, we look at the fact that there are consequences in this world for the way that we choose to live and act towards others.
Then Jacob continued on his journey and came to the land of the eastern peoples.
Jacob left Bethel and continued heading east until he reached Haran which would have been in the modern country of Iraq. There is significance in the fact that he was heading east and we are reminded that biblical directions are always based on Jerusalem which is the chosen city of God. In Genesis 3, we saw that, after the fall, Adam and Eve were sent away to the east of the Garden of Eden. Throughout the Bible, east and heading in the direction of east would become a symbol of alienation from God with the hope of returning. How does this idea of alienation from God fit into the history of Jacob? As we saw in chapter 28, God had made Jacob the promise that He would be with him and that He would provide for all of his needs. Although we understand that God is everywhere at all times, Jacob probably thought that God was still in Bethel. Even so, he decided to continue his journey to the east and so made a conscious choice to roam outside of the will of God for his life. With the vision of the angels, Jacob was shown that God was going to be active in his life and that included his search for a wife. He had the opportunity to seek God's will and provision in the matter of marriage but chose to go on and find her himself. He could have rested in the promises of God and let God select the wife for him but he chose to trust in his own efforts. As we shall see, alienation from God will bring about some tough consequences in your life. That is not to say that everyone who is going through a hard time is out of the will of God but you can be sure that, if you are out of the will of God for your life, you will face tough consequences.
There he saw a well in the open country, 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.
As Jacob arrived in the area of Haran, he saw a well that was used to water the sheep that were pastured in the area. The mouth of the well was protected by a large stone so that the well could not get contaminated as when an animal fell in and died. That well was a matter of life and death for the flocks as well as the shepherds of the area. It is also a picture of the Word of God as well as the Spirit of God in the life of a believer. Just as the water was vital to sustain them, the Word of God, as delivered through the Holy Spirit, is what sustains us as Christians. We are reminded of Jesus' words when He was faced with the temptation from the devil to turn the stone to bread. His answer was that we are sustained from the words that flow from the mouth of God (see Matthew 4:4). The shepherds removing the stone is a picture of the work of Jesus Christ on the cross as He died to give us total access to the sustenance (water) of God. The fact that the shepherds would put the stone back over the well after they watered their flocks is a reminder to us that the Word and Spirit of God cannot be taken for granted. Through His death on the cross, Jesus rolled the stone away from the well so that everyone (including those who are not a part of the flock) could have access to God. But, as with the shepherds closing up the well, there is a day coming in which that access will be restricted to those that are a part of the flock of God. This time is commonly called the Judgement Day and it is closer now than ever before.
Jacob asked the shepherds, 'My brothers, where are you from?' 'We're from Haran, ' they replied. He said to them, 'Do you know Laban, Nahor's grandson?' 'Yes, we know him,' they answered. Then Jacob asked them, 'Is he well?' 'Yes, he is,' they said, 'and here comes his daughter Rachel with the sheep.'
We see that Jacob did not even know where he was until he asked the shepherds and they informed him that he was at the right place. We are also introduced to Rachel and we see that she was a shepherdess as she was bringing her father's flocks to be watered. It was common practice for a woman to tend the flocks if there were no male children in the family. As the youngest child, she would have been the one that was stuck with the job of tending the sheep. I say stuck because sheep smell and she would have been with them all day and cared for them. She would have had to be strong to protect them from predators and also patient to deal with their constant desire to wander off.
'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.' '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.'
When Jacob saw Rachel, he immediately wanted to get rid of the other shepherds and so he tried to get them to water their sheep and leave. The other shepherds answered that they could not do so until all of the sheep were there which brings up the question of why. There was more than one shepherd there so surely they had the physical strength to move the stone. The answer was that they would all gather and they would move the stone as Rachel would not have had the strength to do so on her own. We see that Jacob was not interested in the needs of anyone else and tried to change the situation for his own benefit. A shepherd would have been used to thinking of others as they were constantly looking out for what was best for the flock; Jacob, on the other hand was used to only thinking about himself and what he could get out of any situation. Many of us can relate to Jacob in the fact that, before we became disciples of Jesus Christ, we were also only looking out for ourselves. As His disciples, that is changed and we grow in our faith through the power of the Holy Spirit to become more like the shepherd than Jacob. The mark of a mature Christian is one that, like the shepherds, has the power to serve (through the Holy Spirit) and the compassion to help those who cannot help themselves (the sheep).
While he was still talking with them, Rachel came with her father's sheep, for she was a shepherd. When Jacob saw Rachel daughter of his uncle Laban, and Laban's sheep, he went over and rolled the stone away from the mouth of the well and watered his uncle's sheep.
On the surface, this might look like Jacob has changed his ways and is finally caring for someone else but the key to understanding this is the fact that he saw not only Rachel but "Laban's sheep". He immediately saw an opportunity to get something out of the deal and he also wanted to impress Rachel because he found her attractive. He wanted to impress her with the fact that he didn't need any help to roll the stone away unlike the other shepherds.
Then Jacob kissed Rachel and began to weep aloud.
The kiss mentioned here was simply the way that people (especially relatives) greeted each other. The fact that Jacob wept shows his great joy and relief in making it to his destination. It is a reminder of the fact that he was still not sure that God would keep his promises. That doubt is usually the thing that causes God's people to go outside of His will for their lives. This slight doubt lead us to think that we have to do something just in case God doesn't come through. Before we are too hard on Jacob, we must acknowledge that the same type of thing happens to us who are in Christ. We must also remember that he didn't have too much experience of walking with God and he didn't have a lot of people telling him their stories about God. We have the benefit of looking back in history and we also have the written word as well as a great cloud of witnesses willing to tell us stories of how God has kept His promises in their lives. Jacob had none of that and so we must take him as he is in this early part of his journey of faith. We should also be thankful for the fact that we live in a time and place where our faith can be built-up by studying God's word as well as by listening to the stories of those who have been where we are and faced the same struggles.
He had told Rachel that he was a relative of her father and a son of Rebekah. So she ran and told her father. 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, and there Jacob told him all these things. Then Laban said to him, 'You are my own flesh and blood.'
Jacob was accepted into the home of Laban and treated as family.
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.'
Jacob had been there for a month and then Laban hinted that he needed to pitch in and work like the rest of the family. He was just as crafty as Jacob and so he never came out and said that he needed to get to work but the hint was pretty clear. It brings up the question of why he stayed there for a month. When Abraham's servants went there to find a wife for Isaac, they did not have to stay for a month so why did Jacob have to? (see chapter 24) We are reminded of the fact that God was clearly in charge of providing the wife for Isaac but we have not seen Jacob pray about it at all.
Now Laban had two daughters; the name of the older was Leah, and the name of the younger was Rachel. Leah had weak eyes but Rachel had a lovely figure and was beautiful. Jacob was in love with Rachel and said, 'I'll work for you seven years in return for your younger daughter Rachel.'
In return for his labor, Jacob offered to work seven years for the right to marry Rachel because he had fell in love with her from the start. She was hot while Leah was more homely and he went with his eyes. Once again, we see that he did not seek God's guidance in the matter. We also see that it did not concern him in the least to be away for seven years from the land where he had built the altar to God.
Laban said, 'It is better that I give her to you than to some other man. Stay here with me.' So Jacob served seven years to get Rachel, but they seemed like only a few days to him because of his love for her.
Jacob and Laban made an agreement for Jacob to work off the bride price. Because he was so taken by her looks, the seven years flew by. The Hebrew word for the bride price is "mohar" and it was valuable things that were supposed to make up for the loss of the daughter's labor in the family. We remember that Rachel took care of the sheep and so the bride price was to make up for the fact that she would be working in Jacob's house instead of Laban's. The traditional Jewish marriage had two ceremonies and the first one was simply the betrothal. This was a simple ceremony in which the groom would state his intention to have the daughter as his bride and the groom and her father would set a price. At this time, they would be "legally married" but the daughter would remain with her father until the second ceremony. This is the ceremony that is described here as Jacob and Laban agreed that Rachel would be his wife after he worked for her for seven years. This is also the "ceremony" that is a picture of our being saved through faith in Jesus Christ. He paid for us on the cross with His life and so we are legally His but we remain in this fallen world for now.
Then Jacob said to Laban, 'Give me my wife. My time is completed, and I want to make love to her.' So Laban brought together all the people of the place and gave a feast.
After Jacob had paid the bride price, he went to Laban to collect his bride and, as we see, he was not much interested in this second ceremony. Nevertheless, Laban had a feast and the traditional wedding feast would last for seven days. After this second ceremony, the daughter would go to live with her husband for the rest of her life. This second ceremony is described by John, in Revelation 19 as the wedding supper of the Lamb.
But when evening came, he took his daughter Leah and brought her to Jacob, and Jacob made love to her. And Laban gave his servant Zilpah to his daughter as her attendant.
Jacob was a schemer but he met his match with laban. At the wedding feast, the bride would have been veiled and so Jacob thought that he was getting Rachel but Laban switched and gave him Leah. Jacob slept with her and consummated the marriage before he knew what was happening.
When 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?' Laban replied, 'It is not our custom here to give the younger daughter in marriage before the older one. Finish this daughter's bridal week; then we will give you the younger one also, in return for another seven years of work.'
When Jacob realized what had happened, he confronted Laban about the deception. Laban's answer was to use their tradition as an excuse for his lie. His solution to the problem was to give Jacob a second wife in exchange for seven more years of work. In this we see just how far Jacob has strayed from God and His ways. He must have known that God's plan was for a man to have only one wife as he had grown up in that environment and had probably heard of his grandfather's mistake with Hagar. But, Jacob was going with the flesh as he really wanted Rachel and Laban was not even going to make him wait another seven years. It was a big deal back then to be in debt to someone and especially for a long period of time. This is the way that it often goes when you step outside of God's perfect will for your life. It starts with a little compromise and, before you know it, you are feeling isolated and a long way from God. We also see the dangers of elevating the traditions of men to a position of equality with the words of God. Jacob did not give the matter a second thought when he heard that their custom would allow him to have a second wife.
And Jacob did so. He finished the week with Leah, and then Laban gave him his daughter Rachel to be his wife. Laban gave his servant Bilhah to his daughter Rachel as her attendant. Jacob made love to Rachel also, and his love for Rachel was greater than his love for Leah. And he worked for Laban another seven years.
Jacob went along with Laban's plan and, as we see, he did not have to wait the seven years to get Rachel as she was given to him immediately after the bridal week of Leah. You can almost see the trouble coming as this is against the will of God for a man and for a family. The marriage relationship between a man and a woman is a picture of the relationship between Jesus and His people. Our relationship with Him is exclusive and that is how it is supposed to be for a man and his wife. God's wisdom is demonstrated in this as we see that it is not possible for a man to love two wives equally. Imagine how Leah felt as she saw that her new husband could not wait to marry her sister. That is probably how God feels when we chase after the things of the world even as we proclaim that we love Him. We also see that Jacob went into debt for Rachel as he was obligated to work for Laban for seven years after he took her to be his wife. This is significant because when you are indebted to someone you are no longer free to listen and follow the Lord wherever He may lead.
When the Lord saw that Leah was not loved, he enabled her to conceive but Rachel remained childless. Leah became pregnant and gave birth to a son. She named him Reuben, for she said, 'It is because the Lord has seen my misery. Surely my husband will love me now.'
God saw that what Jacob had done was not right and so He allowed Leah to give Jacob his first son. This was significant as the first son was the traditional heir. This is a reminder that God sees all things and that He is in control of all things (even pregnancy).
She conceived again, and when she gave birth to a son she said, 'Because the Lord heard that I am not loved, he gave me this one too.' So she named him Simeon.
Even though Leah had given Jacob his first son, she was still not loved like Rachel. She got pregnant again and gave birth to a second son whom she named Simeon. The name Simeon comes from the Hebrew word Shim' own which means "hearing". She received no comfort from her husband but she acknowledges that the Lord has heard her and provides her with comfort. This is a reminder to us, as well, that even people who are supposed to love you the most (like a husband or wife) will let you down. As with Leah, we must look to the Lord for our comfort during these times and realize that He is the only one that is perfect and will never let us down.
Again she conceived, and when she gave birth to a son she said, 'Now at last my husband will become attached to me, because I have born him three sons.' So he was named Levi.
With the birth of her third son, Leah held out hope that Jacob's heart would be turned to embrace her. The Hebrew word is leviy and it means attached.
She conceived again, and when she gave birth to a son she said, 'This time I will praise the Lord.' So she named him Judah. Then she stopped having children.
With her fourth child, we see that Leah finally gave up on changing her husband and just decided to praise the Lord for what He had done in her life. The Hebrew word is y@huwdah and it means celebrated. We are reminded that, throughout the Bible, the number four is associated with earthly trials and we see that, after Leah's struggle with the feeling of being unloved by her husband, she just decides to praise the Lord. We also are reminded that this would have taken between three and four years for her to have these four boys. Out of this struggle, God would bring Levi who would be the ancestor of the priestly line as well as Judah who would be the ancestor of King David and the royal line leading to Jesus Christ.