Text: Genesis 29:1-35
In Genesis 29, Jacob arrives in Haran. It will be 20 years before he is able to return to the Promised Land!
God had promised to bless Jacob, and had said, “I will not leave you.” And Jacob will, indeed, be blessed with numerous descendants; Jacob will indeed have God divinely overlooking and overruling on his behalf… yet the fulfillment of these divine promises and blessings in Jacob’s life looks very different from what we might expect!
Yes, Jacob will eventually become wealthy and have a big family – but before that happens he will be cheated numerous times, experience heart-break and failure, and find himself helplessly frustrated in his own purposes and plans.
God’s presence with us, and blessing on us, does not always look like we expect it to. This is because part of the blessing of God, one of the surest promises of God, is that God will bring into our lives whatever is necessary to teach us to depend on him, look to him, love him supremely.
I. Jacob Meets Rachel & Laban (vv.1-14)
- v.1 Jacob journeys to ‘the land of the people of the east’.
- We should feel like we are coming back to familiar territory – the same land Abraham’s servant had gone to find Rebekah for Isaac.
- Yet it is worded in such a way as to remind us it is foreign territory to Jacob. He has never been to this place, with these people, before.
- vv.2-3 emphasize the size of the stone that covers the mouth of a local well.
- In vv.4-6 Jacob questions the shepherds, who are from Haran, as to whether they know his uncle Laban?(Why, yes, they do: ‘and, look, in fact here comes Laban’s daughter Rachel!’)
- In vv.7-8 the dialogue contrasts the local shepherds with Jacob: whereas they say ‘we cannot do things differently, we always do it this way’.
- By contrast, v.10 Jacob takes charge and roles the stone away by himself. Jacob shows remarkable strength in removing the large stone from the mouth of the well – and remarkable interest in Rachel as well!
- However, in doing so, does Jacob perhaps show more than just initiative, but more of his characteristic self-reliance and disregard for tradition?
- vv.11-14 Jacob tearfully introduces himself to Rachel as Rebekah’s son, and she in turn introduces Jacob to her father Laban.
- v.14 All seems well at first, as Laban warmly welcomes Jacob as a close relative: ‘surely you are my bone and my flesh!’ This of course echoes the very words Adam used welcoming Eve into his family. (And, just as with Adam & Eve, we will see how quickly sin/selfishness can rip families apart and set them at odds w/ each other.)
- Yet being so warmly greeted, Jacob stays with Laban as his guest for a month.
- One has to wonder if, just as it was the jewels that Abraham’s servant had given to Rebekah at the well that attracted Laban to him earlier – was it perhaps the work that Jacob performed for Rachel that now attracted Laban to him?
- Certainly that is the very area in which Laban will take advantage of Jacob!
II. Jacob Marries (vv.15-30)
- We quickly discover that, though Jacob is weeping with relief, his trials have actually only just begun. (And his trials take such peculiar and ironic twists that one cannot help but see the disciplining hand of divine providence in the events unfolding in Jacob’s life.)
- vv.15-18 we are told nothing of Leah’s or Rachel’s character, because apparently Jacob didn’t care much about that.
- Rather, we are told specifically that while Leah was plain and squinty-eyed, Rachel was beautiful from head to toe. (Additional hints may be in their names: Rachel meaning ‘sheep’, while Leah’s means something like ‘wild heifer’ – one is cuddly cute, the other is considered an ugly cow.)
- And so in v.18 Jacob agrees to pay a reverse-dowry to Laban for Rachel that is equivalent to 7 years worth of wages!
- In v.20, Jacob was so in love with Rachel that 7 yrs seemed only a few days to him. He considered himself to be getting a sweet bargain!
- But in v.21, when Jacob has completed his 7 yrs he demands his ‘payment’ fro Laban: Rachel’s hand in marriage. (And it seems at first as tho Laban is making good on his promise, as he hosts a great wedding feast in honor of Jacob and his new wife.)
- But then in v.23 Laban brings his daughter to Jacob at night – and probably wearing a veil – but it is Leah rather than Rachel!
- So vv.25-30 contains Jacob’s confrontation with Laban.
- Jacob is aghast when he discovers Laban’s deception the following morning! (But what hypocrisy in Jacob’s expression of outrage at being cheated.)
- So in v.27 Laban tells Jacob he will give Rachel to him after the 7 days of wedding celebration for Leah are completed, if Jacob will commit to working for him yet another 7 years. (Jacob the deal-maker finds himself on the under side of a bad business deal; yet he knows he has no choice but to accept Laban’s terms, and so he marries Rachel also and continues to labor for Laban another 7 years.)
III. Leah Bares Children & Grows in Faith (vv.31-35)
- Though we might understand why Jacob did not feel the same affection for Leah that he felt for Rachel, Jacob was wrong to treat Leah so poorly. (In v.31, God saw that Leah was despised by Jacob and so has grace upon her by giving her children first.)
- While Rachel is barren, Leah gives birth to four sons in a row. Each of their names represents Leah’s unfolding thoughts & faith.
- The firstborn is named Reuben (‘see, a son’) because God looked on her state, & in hopes that Jacob will see the son and love her.
- Leah names the 2nd son Simeon (‘hear’) because the Lord has heard of her situation & granted yet another son.
- The 3rd son is named Levi (‘attached’) because Leah hopes that thru this son her husband Jacob will finally feel attached to her.
- It is hard to imagine a more pitiful emptiness/insecurity than is expressed in the naming of these first 3 children.
- Whether you are young or old, if you are finding your identity and happiness solely in the pursuit of someone’s affection—you will never be satisfied.
- However, we see the gospel shining thru as Leah finally names the 4th child Judah (‘praise’) because, she says, ‘this time I will praise the Lord’.
- It seems Leah learns to trust God, look to the Lord for her identity and sense of fulfillment, rather than merely to her husband Jacob.
- How appropriate is Leah’s view concerning Judah! It is no accident that this very son becomes the ancestor of King David, and eventually of the Messiah himself.
Throughout this chapter we see the surprising sovereignty of God, choosing to use despicable people, wrong motives, and family tensions in order to further His own perfect plans.
This is the story of Redemption, yet again, in microcosm: God overruling sin in order to bring about salvation.