SSL 3 - Gen. 29:16-30
Last Week: In Gen. 28:10-22, we caught up with Jacob on his journey from Beersheba to Haran at a certain place where he encountered God. Here are two of the four main points of application: 1. God chose Jacob to be the conduit through whom the bloodline of Abraham would be transmitted to future generations and gave him four different blessings: (1) He will give Jacob and his offspring the Promised Land (as outlined to Abraham in Gen. 15:18-21); (2) Jacob's offspring will grow to be huge in number "like the dust on the earth" [note: God makes this promise while Jacob is still a bachelor!]; (3) Jacob's offspring "spread out to west, east," etc., which means they will disperse in all directions to populate the entire world; and (4) God will bless all the families of the earth through Jacob's offspring. As Christians, we know that Jesus, his descendant, did this when He came to save the world from sin. 2. Unlike God's promise to him, Jacob's vow to God was completely man-centered. From vv. 20-23, we couldn't help but notice that Jacob has not repented and fully submitted himself to God. We saw no confession, no humility in his attitude, but Instead, saw how he tried to bargain with God, saying in effect, that if You will give me everything I ask for, then You will be my LORD and my God. Jacob is what we might term an "immature" believer at this juncture of his life. Even though Jacob's response was immature, God took it, and as we will see, will begin to shape Jacob into the kind of man he needs to be.
This Week: Today's lesson parallels, in some respects, the story of Abraham finding a bride for his son Isaac, Jacob's father, but with some major differences between them: When Abraham's servant seeks a bride for Isaac, all of the parties involved asked for God's guidance (Gen. 24:7-50); In Jacob's story, however, after Isaac's blessing and injunction against taking a Canaanite wife, there's no mention of God afterward. Also, Abraham sent his servant with the bride-price in hand; Jacob arrives flat-broke. As the lesson begins, we find Jacob this week at the end of the Journey to Haran, where he is to find his mother's brother, Laban. We skip the first 15 verses, but v. 1 describes the place as the land of the "people of the east," which is actually in northwest Mesopotamia. "People of the east" is a Biblical figure of speech that refers to people either excluded or away from God's presence and implies that Jacob's relatives here are not worshipers of the one true God. In vv. 2-14, on his way to find Laban, his uncle, he sees Laban's daughter Rachel for the first time, and it's a case of love at first sight, and then he meets up with Laban. After giving him a warm welcome and confirming him as a relative, Laban informs Jacob in v. 15 that, though Jacob should be willing to work for nothing, he's willing to pay him a wage but asks how much he wants. This hints that Laban is a shrewd negotiator.
Read Gen. 29:16-17 - RACHEL WAS BEAUTIFUL
16 Now Laban had two daughters; the name of the older was Leah, and the name of the younger was Rachel. 17 And Leah's eyes were weak, but Rachel was beautiful of form and face.
v. 16: "Now Laban had two daughters; the name of the older was Leah, and the name of the younger was Rachel" - The two names meant "cow" and "ewe," which were very common girl's names in those days for the daughters of a herdsman. Note the distinction that Leah is older and Rachel is younger. The significance of this will become more apparent later in v. 26.
v. 17: "And Leah's eyes were weak, but Rachel was beautiful of form and face" - the word for "weak" (Heb. rakkot) can variously mean gentle, tender, or fragile-and is not used here as a derogatory term. The expression "eyes," in this cultural context refers not to sight but the character and demeanor of a person. Rachel's description is clear: she had a very attractive face and apparently, a dynamite figure to go with it. It's not hard to imagine why Jacob was smitten.
TRUTH 1: God, in His sovereign power, often uses people to influence the direction of our lives. God can and often does place people in our path who fundamentally change our entire perspective on the future. For Jacob in today's lesson, from the first moment he laid eyes on Rachel (29:9-12), he was thunderstruck, and everything that happened to him afterward proceeded from that event. All of us can probably name certain individuals who had a major impact on the direction of our lives-a romantic interest, a parent, grandparent, sibling, or close relative, a family friend who set a powerful example, a teacher who helped us shape a career path, just to name a few. All of us are where we are today because our relationship with certain people influenced the path we chose.
Read Gen. 29:18-20 - JACOB LOVED RACHEL
18 Now Jacob loved Rachel, so he said, "I will serve you seven years for your younger daughter Rachel." 19 Laban said, "It is better that I give her to you than to give her to another man; stay with me." 20 So Jacob served seven years for Rachel and they seemed to him but a few days because of his love for her.
v. 18: "Now Jacob loved Rachel, so he said, 'I will serve you seven years for your younger daughter Rachel"' - The fact that Laban is aware of Jacob's infatuation with Rachel, places Jacob at a definite disadvantage on the issue of the bride-price. In that culture, the bride-price-a payment to the bride's father was obligatory, but the final amount was negotiable. In Isaac's case, Abraham paid it in advance; but Jacob was sent with nothing with which he could bargain. Jacob's naïveté as a negotiator is evident when he offers Laban seven year's labor in exchange for Rachel, which, according to scholars, represented an overly-generous bride-price under the circumstance (i.e., the value of his indentured service came to about 60 shekels = $35-40K).
v. 19: "Laban said, "It is better that I give her to you than to give her to another man; stay with me"' - Notice carefully what Laban said and did not say. When he said, "I give her to you," he didn't specify a name. Laban responds to Jacob's offer with an intentionally vague answer that allows the love-struck and inexperienced Jacob to assume his offer was accepted as given.
v. 20: "So Jacob served seven years for Rachel and they seemed to him but a few days because of his love for her" - Though known to be a schemer, Jacob plays it straight this time and serves seven years without complaint. It's apparent that he wants Rachel badly enough that he refuses to risk losing her by compromising his work in any way. This experience has taught him self-discipline, perseverance, and dependability. We can imagine that Jacob saw Rachel from time to time during this interval, and each glimpse would simply fuel his determination to win her. When he says "seemed to him but a few days," it's a figure of speech meaning that he considered seven years' labor to be a small price for such a great prize.
TRUTH 2: God, in His sovereign power, can and often does use the desires of our flesh to accomplish His spiritual objectives. In Jacob's case, his infatuation with Rachel knew no bounds and caused him to focus all of his energies on the single objective of earning the bride-price from his prospective father-in-law, Laban. In a complete turn-around, we see Jacob, the schemer and trickster, become responsible, honest, and hardworking. I imagine that most of us can cite circum-stances in our past where God used our fleshy desires-romantic objectives, social objectives, occupational objectives, financial objectives, etc.-to shape the decisions we made.
Read Gen. 29:21-25 - SHOCK AT FIRST LIGHT
21 Then Jacob said to Laban, "Give me my wife, for my time is completed, that I may go in to her." 22 Laban gathered all the men of the place and made a feast. 23 Now in the evening he took his daughter Leah, and brought her to him; and Jacob went in to her. 24 Laban also gave his maid Zilpah to his daughter Leah as a maid. 25 So it came about in the morning that, behold, it was Leah! And he said to Laban, "What is this you have done to me? Was it not for Rachel that I served with you? Why then have you deceived me?"
v. 21: "Then Jacob said to Laban, 'Give me my wife, for my time is completed, that I may go in to her"' - Thinking he has a crystal clear contract on which he has completed the agreed term of service, Jacob openly and directly demands that Laban fulfill his end of the contract. Jacob refers to her as "my wife," because betrothal in that culture was legally binding, so that in a sense, Rachel is already considered to be Jacob's wife, except that he's not yet been granted the sexual privileges associated with marriage. The phrase, "that I may go in to her," is a euphemism for sexual relations.
v. 22: "Laban gathered all the men of the place and made a feast" - While the text does express exactly what Laban said in response to Jacob's demand, we are told that he organizes a wedding feast, which adds to Jacob's impression that Laban is preparing to comply with the terms of their contract. We might say that Jacob should have known better than to take Laban's actions at face value, but just as Isaac had been blinded by old age and appetite, Jacob is blinded by his love and passion for Rachel.
v. 23: "Now in the evening he took his daughter Leah, and brought her to him; and Jacob went in to her" - Here, Laban complies with their agreement with one big exception-he substitutes Leah for Rachel. And later, that Jacob "went in to her," to consummate the marriage, might seem ridiculous-how in the world could he fail to notice that Laban had given him the wrong daughter? Scholars explain it several ways: (1) that he had probably consumed a quantity of wine beforehand at the feast; (2) Leah, the substitute bride, by custom, would have been veiled when she entered the bed chamber; and (3) the bed chamber by that time was probably pitch dark. At any rate, when Jacob engaged in sex with her, he was bound-by custom-to keep her as his wife. Laban had entirely hoodwinked the deceiver.
v. 24: "Laban also gave his maid Zilpah to his daughter Leah as a maid" - This was a customary component of the bride-price for women of prosperous families. The significance of this will be realized later when Leah gives Zilpah to Jacob as a concubine, and she bears him two sons.
v. 25: "So it came about in the morning that, behold, it was Leah! And he said to Laban, "What is this you have done to me? Was it not for Rachel that I served with you? Why then have you deceived me?" - As sunlight burst into the tent, can you envision Jacob's mortification when it revealed that it was Leah in his arms, not Rachel! His words to Laban, "What is this you have done to me?," ironically, are the exact words that Pharaoh said to Abraham in Gen 12:18, when he had lied about Sarah being his sister. It is easy to imagine, though not recorded, that Isaac might have said the very same words to Jacob about his deceitful actions. Now the shoe is on the other foot, isn't it?
TRUTH 3: Although God forgives us when we repent of our sins, God does not excuse us from suffering the consequences of our sins. Jacob's all-consuming desire to win Rachel as his wife led him to carelessly ignore the potential pitfalls of his agreement with Laban. As events turned out, Laban played Jacob for a fool by concocting a "bait and switch" scheme which not only forced Jacob to marry Leah first but required him to work an additional seven years to gain his original objective-Rachel. From this, Jacob learned the sad but valuable lesson that those who seek to deceive shall, in turn, be deceived. How many times have you had to learn something the hard way which ultimately taught you a valuable lesson in life?
Read Gen. 29:26-30 - COMPLETE THE WEEK OF THIS ONE
26 But Laban said, "It is not the practice in our place to marry off the younger before the firstborn. 27 Complete the week of this one, and we will give you the other also for the service which you shall serve with me for another seven years." 28 Jacob did so and completed her week, and he gave him his daughter Rachel as his wife. 29 Laban also gave his maid Bilhah to his daughter Rachel as her maid. 30 So Jacob went in to Rachel also, and indeed he loved Rachel more than Leah, and he served with Laban for another seven years.
v. 26: "But Laban said, "It is not the practice in our place to marry off the younger before the firstborn" - Notice that in response to Jacob's angry rebuke, "Why...have you deceived me?," Laban isn't taken by surprise. He had probably planned his answer to this question long before this argument took place. In point of fact, He had never promised to give him Rachel, and calmly explains that by marrying-off Leah first, he'd had simply done the customary thing.
v. 27: "Complete the week of this one, and we will give you the other also for the service which you shall serve with me for another seven years" - Here we see Laban's subterfuge come into full view-to marry not one but both daughters to Jacob and get a premium price. He is asking Jacob to see the week through and accept Leah as his wife without protest. Yes, if Laban had been a man of integrity, he would have explained this beforehand and given Jacob the opportunity to make a choice. But like Jacob, he was a two-faced double-dealer. And here, Laban holds the advantage: Rachel is still his to give or withhold, but she will be Jacob's if he completes another seven year's labor.
vv. 28-29: "Jacob did so and completed her week, and he gave him his daughter Rachel as his wife. 29 Laban also gave his maid Bilhah to his daughter Rachel as her maid." - The text isn't totally clear on this, but it appears after Jacob "completed the week," Laban immediately gave him Rachel as his wife, and also Rachel's maid, Bilhad, who will later be another concubine.
v. 30: "So Jacob went in to Rachel also, and indeed he loved Rachel more than Leah, and he served with Laban for another seven years" - He not only loved Rachel more because she had been his preference from the very beginning, but also, no doubt, some underlying resentment of Leah because Laban had tricked him into marrying her. This will cause Leah a lot of sorrow in life, but she will have the recompense of bearing children while Rachel will remain childless for a long time.
TRUTH 4: God, in His grace, can and often does turn things we consider to be a disaster into a blessing. Jacob never wanted Leah as a wife and was unwillingly forced into it by Laban's deception. However, God's grace in Jacob's life from his marriage to Leah was manifested in several ways: (1) In God's providence and in spite of Laban's treachery, it was Leah who became the mother of Judah, the ancestor through whom the Messiah, Jesus Christ, would come; (2) Levi, also the son of Jacob by Leah, would become the priestly line of Israel in later years; and (3) Rachel, the younger sister, would die first and be buried on the way to Bethlehem during Jacob's return to Canaan, while later, when Leah dies, she was buried with Jacob at Machpelah.
OBSERVATION: This story is more of a lesson about life than theology. All of the things that happened to Jacob resulted from the consequences of his sin. Two weeks ago, one of the points of application we discussed was the Biblical truth that people who refuse to wait on God and take matters into their own hands-do it their own way-are very likely to suffer unwanted consequences. Jacob did honorably discharge his agreements here, but his previous deceptions follow him in the turn of events. The text doesn't explain why Isaac sent him away without giving him the bride-price. We can only speculate that he might have done this purposely to get Jacob away from Beersheba for an extended period of time. What we really see here is the grace of God working in Jacob's life. God did not bring these trials into Jacob's life to punish him but to instruct him. Jacob certainly learned the value of custom, which are often unwritten rules and laws, something he had little regard for previously. When he asked Laban for Rachel, he blatantly ignored the established custom of marrying the firstborn daughter first. Laban's reply to him in v. 26 suggests that Jacob's disregard of this custom amounted to negligence, and that he was simply getting what he deserved in the first place. (This certainly doesn't excuse Laban's sin of omission in the first instance.) Moreover, Jacob experienced God's grace in the 14-year delay, because it probably saved his life by keeping him away from the wrath of Esau, who certainly intended to kill him. Next week, in Gen. 31, we will see Jacob come even further up the learning curve as God' providence continues to shape his future.