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Genesis 29: 16-30 Notes

Gen. 29:16-30 Notes

Biblical Commentary - Genesis 29:15-28


This story parallels, at least in some respects, the story of Abraham finding a bride for Isaac, Abraham's son and Jacob's father (chapter 24):

  • In the earlier story, Abraham tasked his servant with finding a bride for Isaac, saying, "Please put your hand under my thigh. I will make you swear by Yahweh, the God of heaven and the God of the earth, that you shall not take a wife for my son of the daughters of the Canaanites, among whom I live. But you shall go to my country, and to my relatives, and take a wife for my son Isaac" (24:2-4).
  • In Jacob's story, Rebekah complains to Isaac about the Hittite women whom Esau has married, so Isaac says to Jacob, "You shall not take a wife of the daughters of Canaan. Arise, go to Paddan Aram, to the house of Bethuel your mother's father. Take a wife from there from the daughters of Laban, your mother's brother. May God Almighty bless you, and make you fruitful..." (28:1-3). Both Isaac's wife and Jacob's wife come from the same family. Abraham's servant and Jacob both meet the prospective brides at the same well.

But there is a major difference between the two stories. When Abraham's servant seeks a bride for Isaac, all parties seek God's guidance (24:7, 12-14, 21, 26-27, 50). However, in Jacob's story, there is no mention of God after Abraham asks God to bless Jacob.

But God is present, nevertheless. God's promise to Jacob (28:13-15) will be fulfilled. The Good News for Jacob (and us) is that a perfect God can accomplish his purposes through imperfect people like Jacob (and us)-and God blesses imperfect people like Jacob (and us).

And God shows his favor to those who are less favored. Leah, the wife whose heart is broken because Jacob prefers Rachel, becomes the mother of Jacob's firstborn (Reuben) as well as five more sons and Jacob's one daughter. Jesus will trace his lineage to Abraham through Judah, one of Leah's sons. Leah's son, Levi, will be the father of the priesthood. Leah's handmaiden, Zilpah, will produce two more sons for Jacob. Rachel's handmaiden, Bilhah, will produce two more sons. Rachel, Jacob's beloved, will produce only two of Jacob's twelve sons (Joseph and Benjamin), and will die in childbirth with Benjamin.

The story of Jacob seeking a wife is a story of negotiations that end up favoring Laban and slighting Jacob, so when considering the context we need to look back to the earlier negotiations between Esau and Jacob that resulted in Esau selling his birthright to Jacob (25:29-34) and Jacob deceiving his father to obtain Esau's blessing (27:1-29). When Esau learned of Jacob's deceit and the loss of his blessing, he resolved to kill Jacob-and their mother, Rachel, who favored Jacob, persuaded Jacob to flee (27:30-45).

At Rebekah's instigation (27:46), Isaac sent Jacob to Paddan-aram to find a bride (28:1-5). Paddan-aram was the place where Abraham's servant found a bride (Rebekah) for Isaac (25:20). As we shall see, Rebekah's brother, Laban, still lives in that area. The geography can be confusing, because there are also references to Haran (27:43; 28:10), but Paddan-aram is the region and Haran is a city in Paddan-aram.

Then we have the account of Jacob's dream at Bethel-the ladder ascending into heaven-the angels ascending and descending-God reaffirming the earlier covenant with Abraham and Isaac, this time choosing Jacob to be the person through whom the promise will be achieved (28:13-15).

When Jacob arrived in Paddan-aram looking for Laban, he met Rachel, kissed her and wept (29:10-11). Laban embraced Jacob and welcomed him into his home (29:13-14).


LEAH, Jacob's first wife, bore Reuben (Jacob's firstborn), Simeon, Levi, Judah, Issachar, Zebulun, and Dinah.

ZILPAH, Leah's maid, bore Gad and Asher.

RACHEL, Jacob's true love, bore Joseph and Benjamin. She died in childbirth with Benjamin.

BILHAH, Rachel's maid, bore Dan and Naphtali.


15 Then Laban said to Jacob, "Because you are my kinsman, should you therefore serve me for nothing? Tell me, what shall your wages be?"

"Because you are my brother" (v. 15a). Laban begins by reminding Jacob that they are kinsmen-a disarming technique.

"should you therefore serve me for nothing?" (v. 15b). Laban offers to pay Jacob wages for his labor. While on the surface this appears to be kind and generous, Laban will turn out to be anything but a kind and generous benefactor to Jacob. His offer to pay Jacob wages changes their relationship from host-guest (a relationship that in that culture binds Laban to observe a very high standard of hospitality) to employer-employee (a relationship that demands far less of Laban and far more of Jacob).

"Tell me, what will your wages be?" (v. 15c). Laban asks Jacob to set his own wage. While this again seems generous, it places the burden on Jacob to set a reasonable wage. Today, skilled negotiators know that they are far more likely to strike a favorable agreement if they can get the other person to make the first offer. If the other person is not a skilled negotiator, he/she is likely to ask less than a reasonable price. If he/she asks too much, the skilled negotiator can use that offer as a starting point for negotiation and make a more satisfactory counter-offer. Laban, a crafty man who will turn out to be less than fully forthcoming (and somewhat ethically challenged) seems intuitively to understand the advantage that he can gain by inviting Jacob to set his own wage.


16 Now Laban had two daughters. The name of the older was Leah, and the name of the younger was Rachel.

"Laban had two daughters. The name of the elder was Leah, and the name of the younger was Rachel" (v. 16). The mention of the elder Leah and the younger Rachel reminds us of the elder Esau and the younger Jacob. 

The narrator establishes early-on that Leah is older and Rachel is younger, but we have no clue that this apparently minor detail will be important. However, Laban will later use this detail to unhinge Jacob's plan to marry Rachel and to implement Laban's plan to marry off his elder daughter, Leah.

"Leah's eyes were weak" (Hebrew: rakkot) (v. 17a). The meaning of rakkot is uncertain. It means "gentle, tender, weak, indecisive. It describes a desirable quality of meat used for food (Gen. 18:7); but indicates frailty, weakness in a person (Gen. 33:13; 2 Sam. 3:39)" (Baker and Carpenter, 1053).

In this verse rakkot can be translated "weak" (NIV) or "dull" (REB). It is possible, therefore, that the narrator is calling attention to the positive appearance of both women, in which case Leah's eyes are lovely. However, the context tends to favor a contrast between the elder but less lovely Leah and the younger but beautiful Rachel. If that is the narrator's intention, Leah's eyes are weak or dull.

Whether lovely or weak, a woman's eyes are especially important in a culture where she is veiled so that her eyes are the only part of her face that shows.

However, eyes are important in every culture. We say, "The eyes are the window of the soul," which means that we are able to see deeply into the person's character through his/her eyes. We speak of a truly vital person as "bright-eyed." Jesus said, "The lamp of the body is the eye. If therefore your eye is sound, your whole body will be full of light" (Matthew 6:22).

"but Rachel was beautiful in form and attractive" (v. 17b). There is no ambiguity here. Even a long robe cannot completely hide Rachel's lovely figure and graceful manner. It is not difficult to imagine Jacob being instantly thunderstruck by Rachel's obvious beauty and grace.


18 Jacob loved Rachel. And 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 that I should give her to any other man; stay with me."

"Jacob loved Rachel" (v. 18a). It seems certain that Laban, who will turn out to be a crafty negotiator, has noticed Jacob's desire for Rachel. The fact that Jacob loves Rachel and Laban knows that puts Jacob at a decided disadvantage in these negotiations.

"I will serve you seven years for Rachel, your younger daughter" (v. 18b). In that culture, a woman's father can expect to receive a bride-price for his daughter. In most cases, he will negotiate with the groom's father, who will pay the bride-price, but Isaac is not present. Isaac sent Jacob to obtain a wife from one of Laban's daughters (28:1-2), but apparently sent him without resources to pay the bride-price. Jacob therefore has only his labor to offer to pay the bride-price.

As would be expected of a young man in love and with no training in negotiation, Jacob sets the price high. He offers to serve Laban for seven years to pay the bride-price for Rachel. He states this quite clearly. His obligation is to work for seven years. Laban's obligation is to give Jacob his Rachel, his younger daughter, as a bride. Once again, as we read these words, "younger daughter," we have no clue that "younger" will turn out to be a serious impediment to Jacob's plans. It is the second red flag that nobody notices.

We have only a few pieces of data to tell us how much a fair bride-price might be:

  • Abraham, a wealthy man, sent his servant to the land of his birth with ten camels laden with "a variety of good things" (24:10) to serve as a bride-price for Isaac's bride. Note that Isaac's bride was Rebekah, Jacob's mother. Note further that the recipients of Abraham's largesse were Bethuel, Rebekah's father, and Laban, Rebekah's brother. This is the same Laban who is now negotiating the bride-price for his daughter, Rachel.
  • Deuteronomy 22:29 will require a man who has violated a woman to take her as his wife and to pay her father fifty shekels of silver as a bride-price. However, we can assume that this price has been set high to punish the violator. It seems likely that the average bride-price is much lower than fifty shekels.
  • A laborer might expect to be paid from one-half to one shekel per month, so seven years labor would be worth as little as 42 shekels or as much as 84 shekels (Hartley, 263; Wenham, 235). The lower amount would be a generous bride-price. The higher amount would be exorbitant. However, since Jacob has set his own wage, Laban is well within his rights to accept.

"Laban said, 'It is better that I give her to you, than that I should give her to another man'" (v. 19a). Because of Jacob's ardor, Laban holds the upper hand in these negotiations. Laban responds masterfully. He compliments Jacob by saying that he finds Jacob preferable to other potential suitors for Rachel's hand-but this also serves to remind Jacob that Laban has alternatives-that other potential suitors exist and would likely compete vigorously for the privilege of marrying such a beautiful young woman.

Laban does not mention Rachel's name. When he says, "that I give her to you," Jacob will naturally assume that he is speaking of Rachel, given the clarity of Jacob's offer. However, Laban responds to Jacob's clarity with ambiguity.

"Stay with me" (v. 19b). Laban is purposely vague. He gives Jacob the impression that he has accepted Jacob's offer, but his words leave him lots of wiggle room.


20 So Jacob served seven years for Rachel, and they seemed to him but a few days because of the love he had for her.

"Jacob served seven years for Rachel" (v. 20a). Jacob, who in his relationship with his father and brother, proved to be a schemer, plays it straight this time. He has agreed to serve seven years for Rachel's hand, and he serves seven years without complaint. He follows the terms of the agreement exactly. Perhaps he has become more honorable as he has matured. More likely, he wants Rachel badly enough that he refuses to risk losing her by cutting corners. In any event, his seven years' labor demonstrates a capacity for great self-discipline-perseverance-faithfulness. Crooked Jacob plays it absolutely straight for the sake of his beloved.

"They seemed to him but a few days, for the love he had for her" (v. 20b). During these seven years, Jacob would see Rachel frequently. We can imagine that each glimpse of her would fuel his ardor and his determination to win her. Seven years doesn't seem like an exorbitant price to him. They seem like almost nothing compared to the prize that he expects to win.


21 Then Jacob said to Laban, "Give me my wife that I may go in to her, for my time is completed."

"Jacob said to Laban, 'Give me my wife'" (v. 21a). Seven years earlier, Jacob entered into a contract that was crystal-clear (or so he thought)-seven years' labor for Rachel's hand in marriage. Now payday has arrived, and he again speaks clearly and directly, telling (not asking) Laban to pay what he owes-his daughter, Rachel, in marriage.

Jacob refers to Rachel as "my wife" rather than "your daughter." In that culture, betrothal is legally binding. In a sense, Rachel is already Jacob's wife, except that he has not yet been granted the sexual privilege associated with marriage.

"for my days are fulfilled" (v. 21b). Jacob contracted for seven years' service; he has served seven years.

"that I may go in to her" (v. 21c). This is a euphemism for having sexual relations.


22 So Laban gathered together all the people of the place and made a feast. 23 But in the evening he took his daughter Leah and brought her to Jacob, and he went in to her. 24 (Laban gave his female servant Zilpah to his daughter Leah to be her servant.)

"Laban gathered together all the men of the place, and made a feast" (v. 22). The narrator does not tell us what Jacob said in response to Jacob's demand. Instead, we are told what Laban does. He gathers the community for a feast, giving Jacob the impression that he is complying with the terms of their agreement-seven years' service for Rachel's hand in marriage. However, as we will soon see, Laban's response, like his response to Jacob in v. 19, gives the impression of complying without actually doing so.

Jacob, the deceiver, should know better than to accept Laban's actions at face value, but just as Isaac had been blinded by old age so that he was susceptible to Jacob's deception (27:1), so also is Jacob blinded by his love for Rachel. The prize is at hand. Everything points to a satisfactory outcome. Just as Isaac could not imagine that Jacob would deceive him, so also Jacob is unprepared for Laban's deception.

"It happened in the evening, that he took Leah his daughter, and brought her to him" (v. 23a). Laban complies with their earlier agreement with one exception-he substitutes Leah for Rachel. He honors his obligation to provide his daughter to be Jacob's wife, but he gives Jacob the wrong daughter.

"He went in to her" (v. 23b). This is the part of the story that is difficult to understand. How could Jacob fail to notice that Laban had given him the wrong daughter? How could he, having looked at Rachel so longingly for seven years, fail to notice that his bride lacked Rachel's lovely figure? Leah would have to disrobe to consummate the marriage. How could Jacob fail to discern the substitution before engaging in sex with her?

The answer is threefold. First, wine would have flowed freely at the marriage feast, and Jacob probably drank freely. Second, the bride was almost certainly veiled until she and Jacob entered the bedchamber. Third, the bedchamber would be dark. The combination of these three factors made it possible for Laban to deceive the deceiver.

At any rate, once Jacob goes in with Leah (engages in sex with her), he is bound to keep her as his wife.

"Laban gave Zilpah his handmaid to his daughter Leah for a handmaid" (v. 24). Just as it was customary for a bridegroom to pay a bride-price for his bride, so also it was customary for a father to give a gift to the bride. A maidservant is a generous gift.  But the real significance of this verse will be revealed in the future, when Leah offers Zilpah to Jacob as a concubine and Zilpah bears two of Jacob's twelve sons-Gad and Asher (30:9-13).


25 And in the morning, behold, it was Leah! And Jacob said to Laban, "What is this you have done to me? Did I not serve with you for Rachel? Why then have you deceived me?"

"It happened in the morning that, behold, it was Leah" (v. 25a). Imagine Jacob's surprise when he wakes up, more than likely with a hangover, to find the wrong woman in his bed.

"He said to Laban, 'What is this you have done to me? Didn't I serve with you for Rachel? Why then have you deceived me?'" (v. 25b). Jacob, who was clear and direct in establishing his wage and demanding payment, is now clear and direct in his accusation. He reminds Laban that he (Jacob) has done his part. He has served his seven years. He has neither quibbled nor complained. Then he demands to know why Laban deceived him. Of course, what he really would like is not an explanation, but a remedy. However, he surely understands that, having slept with Leah, he is stuck with her.

We are torn. In part, our hearts are broken for the brokenhearted Jacob. But we are also glad to see him get his comeuppance.

Later, Jacob will take his wives and depart without telling Laban, and Laban will say, "What have you done, that you have deceived me, and carried away my daughters like captives of the sword?" (Genesis 31:26). This is a relationship where tensions are ongoing.


26 Laban said, "It is not so done in our country, to give the younger before the firstborn. 27 Complete the week of this one, and we will give you the other also in return for serving me another seven years."

"Laban said, 'It is not done so in our place, to give the younger before the firstborn'"(v. 26). "Younger" and "firstborn" remind us of the younger Jacob and the firstborn Esau.

Laban responds to Jacob's accusation by appeal to local custom-"It is not done so in our place". An honorable man would have explained that when Jacob first agreed to work for seven years. Laban's was a sin of omission-a fact that does not diminish his guilt.

However, Laban still holds the advantage. Rachel is still his daughter to give or to withhold. Laban is also on his own home turf. Jacob, having come from afar to find a bride, is the supplicant. Jacob, who tricked his father and brother has now been tricked, and is helpless to do anything about it.

"Fulfill the week of this one" (v. 27a). The wedding festivities would last for a week. Jacob and Leah consummated their marriage on the first night of the festivities. Laban is asking Jacob to see the week through-to accept Leah as his wife-to withhold public protest.

"and we will give you the other also for the service which you will serve with me yet seven other years" (v. 27b). If Jacob will complete the week with Leah, Laban promises to give Rachel to be Jacob's bride-in return for another seven years' labor.

Laban's language fails to make it clear whether he will allow Jacob to marry Rachel at the beginning or the end of the second seven-year period of service. We would hope that Jacob clarifies the situation before complying, but the narrator doesn't make us privy to further negotiations that take place here.

In the future, Leviticus 18:18 will prohibit a man marrying two sisters like this.


28 Jacob did so, and completed her week. Then Laban gave him his daughter Rachel to be his wife.

This time, both men act honorably. Jacob completes the week with Leah, and Laban gives Jacob Rachel as a wife.


29 (Laban gave his female servant Bilhah to his daughter Rachel to be her servant.) 30 So Jacob went in to Rachel also, and he loved Rachel more than Leah, and served Laban for another seven years.

These verses are not in the lectionary reading, but the preacher needs to be aware of them. As noted above, Jacob will have children by four women-Leah, Zilpah, Rachel, and Bilhah.

Laban gives Rachel to Jacob at the beginning rather than at the end of his second seven-year service. Jacob, who will later take his wives and flee (31:1-21), stays to complete his seven years.

The fact that Jacob loves Rachel more than Leah will cause Leah a great deal of pain. She will have the compensation of bearing children while Rachel will remain childless for a long time (29:31-35).


Seven Years Till Wedding Night - (Gen. 29:13-20)

When Rachel ran home with her report of meeting Jacob, Laban was quick to respond:

So it came about, when Laban heard the news of Jacob his sister's son, that he ran to meet him, and embraced him and kissed him, and brought him to his house. Then he related to Laban all these things. And Laban said to him, "Surely you are my bone and my flesh." And he stayed with him a month (vv:13-14).

Laban's greeting suggests no more to me than the fact that he extended the normal hospitality which should have been expected, especially for a near relative.239 Jacob, we are told, "related to Laban all these things" (verse 13). We might wonder what "these things" were. We should reasonably expect that Jacob reported about his family and their health. Primarily, Laban would have wished to know about his sister Rebekah. I think that Jacob also reported the events which led to his journey to Paddan-aram, including the deception of his father. I would imagine that Jacob would also have mentioned that he came to seek a wife. This report was sufficient for Laban to be convinced that Jacob was who he claimed to be and, therefore, a near kin to him. This close proximity of relationship was not without its significance to Laban,240 but later events will suggest this more convincingly.

Jacob's month-long stay with Laban had at least two results. First, it brought Jacob and Rachel into close contact and helped to kindle a deep affection for each other. Jacob now had a reason to stay with Laban. And as for Laban, this month proved Jacob to be a most valuable worker. While Jacob possessed nothing but the promise of future wealth and blessing, he was a good worker. He would make a fine son-in-law and could stay on to work for Laban in place of the traditional dowry. This month brought both Laban and Jacob to the conclusion that a continuing relationship between them could be of mutual advantage.

At the end of that month, Laban sought to formalize the relationship between himself and Jacob:

Then Laban said to Jacob, "Because you are my relative, should you therefore serve me for nothing? Tell me, what shall your wages be?" (Genesis 29:15).

While Laban is not reported to have any sons at this point in time, he did have an older daughter, who was to play a crucial role in the events that were to follow:

Now Laban had two daughters; the name of the oldest was Leah, and the name of the younger was Rachel. And Leah's eyes were weak, but Rachel was beautiful of form and face (Genesis 29:16-17).

Few women have been so misunderstood as Leah. Even her name does her a great disservice, for it means "wild cow."241 The statement that she had "weak eyes" (verse 17) seems to many to portray Leah as a homely girl with pop-bottle glasses, who cannot see three feet in front of her. This kind of thinking is completely unjustified.

First, the word rendered "weak" (rak) is never used in a demeaning way, as is here suggested. Never is the term used with reference to any defect.242 For example, in Genesis 18:7 Moses used this word, and there it is translated "tender": "Abraham also ran to the herd, and took a tender and choice calf, and gave it to the servant; and he hurried to prepare it" (emphasis added).

Moses used the word again in chapter 33 with reference to the young children, who were too frail to be hurried: "But he said to him, 'My lord knows that the children are frail and that the flocks and herds which are nursing are a care to me. And if they are driven hard one day, all the flocks will die'" (v13).

If we are to take the word rak, which is rendered "weak" in 29:17, in its normal sense, then, we cannot think in terms of defect but in terms of delicacy. In contrast with Rachel, who may have had fire or a sparkle in her eyes, Leah had gentle eyes.

I must warn you in advance that I am inclined to go one step further than any commentator I am aware of. I think that we must also consider the meaning of the term "eyes." Strange as it may seem, this word used for the physical organs of sight often refers to much more than the physical eye. It also depicts one's character, just as the expression "kidneys" refers to human emotions and thoughts (cf. Psalm 7:9; 16:7; 26:2; Revelation 2:23). In the Old Testament, then, we find these kinds of references to the eyes:

And you shall consume all the peoples whom the LORD your God will deliver to you; your eye shall not pity them, neither shall you serve their gods, for that would be a snare to you (Deuteronomy 7:16).

Beware, lest there is a base thought in your heart, saying, "The seventh year, the year of remission, is near," and your eye is hostile toward your poor brother, and you give him nothing; then he may cry to the LORD against you, and it will be a sin in you (Deuteronomy 15:9).

Perhaps the most interesting use of the word "eye" is in two verses, both of which contain the word "eye" and the word "refined" (Hebrew, rak):

The man who is refined and very delicate among you shall be hostile toward {lit. his eye shall be evil toward, margin, NASV} his brother and toward the wife he cherishes and toward the rest of his children who remain (Deuteronomy 28:54).

The refined and delicate woman among you, who would not venture to set the sole of her foot on the ground for delicateness and refinement, shall be hostile toward {lit. her eye shall be evil toward, margin, NASV} the husband she cherishes and toward her son and daughter (Deuteronomy 28:56).

It is an established fact that the eyes are used in the Old and New Testament as "shewing mental qualities" such as arrogance, humility, mockery, and pity.243 I believe that it is in this sense that the eyes of Leah are spoken of. In connection with the word rak, I would conclude that the disposition of Leah was one of gentleness and tenderness, while Rachel seems to have had a more fiery and aggressive temperament. Regardless of whether or not my conclusions are accepted, the idea of defect in Leah is highly suspect and without precedent in the scriptural use of these terms.

Rachel is characterized only by her physical attractiveness. She was "beautiful of form and face" (verse 17). Moses may be drawing our attention to this fact because it was the major source of attraction for Jacob. There seems to be, then, a significant contrast here between Rachel and Rebekah. Rebekah was selected for Isaac by Abraham's servant on the basis of divine guidance and because of personal qualities which assured him that she would be a fine wife for Isaac. Rachel, on the other hand, was selected by Jacob for himself, but without any mention of her personal qualities, only a description of her beauty. Rebekah's beauty was an additional plus, an unexpected fringe benefit; Rachel's beauty was the essence of her selection. The red warning lights should already be flashing in our minds.

On this questionable basis Jacob chose Rachel, the younger, over Leah, the older, and proposed the terms of the payment of the dowry:

Now Jacob loved Rachel, so he said, "I will serve you seven years for your younger daughter Rachel" ( v18).

Laban's response was positive but somewhat vague:

... It is better that I give her to you than that I should give her to another man; stay with me (Genesis 29:19).

I do not know for certain that Laban had already purposed to deceive Jacob by switching wives, but his response certainly left him room for it. It was positive enough for Jacob to know that his offer had been accepted. It was, I think, a premium price but one that Jacob didn't mind paying:

So Jacob served seven years for Rachel and they seemed to him but a few days because of his love for her (Genesis 29:20).

Nevertheless, Laban did not specify that the seven years of service would immediately or necessarily bring about a marriage to Rachel. He simply implied it, and in his romantic state of ecstasy Jacob assumed what he wished to believe.

Some suppose that at 77 years of age Jacob could have cared less about waiting seven years to marry. I would be inclined to disagree. The point of verse 20 is that Rachel was well worth the high price which Jacob had agreed to pay for her-a price measured in years of service rather than dollars. Jacob's statement to Laban in the next verse strongly implies that he was eager and anxious to consummate the marriage for which he had long waited.

Shock at First Light - (Gen. 29:21-30)

Then Jacob said to Laban, "Give me my wife, for my time is completed, that I may go in to her" (Gen29:21).

It is difficult to read this verse without concluding that there was a great deal of romantic passion in that 77-year-old man. His physical desire for Rachel is certainly to be expected. Ironically, it is this physical appetite, much like Isaac's desire for wild game (25:28; 27:3-4), that caused Jacob to act too hastily and bind himself to a life-long commitment.

And Laban gathered all the men of the place, and made a feast. Now it came about in the evening that he took his daughter Leah, and brought her to him; and Jacob went in to her. Laban also gave his maid Zilpah to his daughter Leah as a maid. 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?" (Genesis 29:22-25)

It is with great discretion that Moses has described this most delicate and intimate matter. Where Hollywood would have inserted pages of elaboration Moses has given us a parenthetical statement about the maid which Laban gave his daughter. We must therefore deal with this subject in a manner which is consistent with the emphasis of the text and with standards of righteousness.

For seven years Jacob had waited for this day. His eagerness is natural and normal. At the feast he may have had sufficient wine to somewhat dull his senses. The guests would be aware of his entrance into the tent (and the matrimonial bed where Leah waited) and also of his exit, thus indicating that the marriage had been consummated by the union of the bride and groom (cf. Judges 14:10-15:2; Psalm 19:5). The same passion which dominated Jacob as he chose his bride now ruled as he entered into that tent. It is hardly a wonder that Jacob should have made the mistake that he did.

Early the next morning Jacob awoke. What a beautiful day! What a wonderful night! What an exciting future! What a shock as the sunlight burst into the tent to reveal that the woman in his arms was Leah, not Rachel! What irony that Jacob should repeat the identical words of Pharaoh to Abraham (12:18) and almost the same expression of Abimelech to Abraham (20:9) and Abimelech to Isaac (26:10): "What is this you have done to me?" While it is not recorded, it is easy to believe that Isaac also asked this of Jacob after his great deception. The shoe is now on the other foot; the deceiver has now been deceived. Those who choose to live by the sword die by it.

Laban was not taken back by Jacob's rebuke. He had probably planned his response to this question long before this confrontation took place.

But Laban said, "It is not the practice in our place, to marry off the younger before the first-born. Complete the bridal 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." And Jacob did so and completed her week, and he gave him his daughter Rachel as his wife. Laban also gave his maid Bilhah to his daughter Rachel as her maid. So Jacob went in to Rachel also, and indeed he loved Rachel more than Leah, and he served with Laban for another seven years (Genesis 29:26-30).

The end result was that Laban married off both his daughters. Also, he managed to get a premium price for both. Jacob ended up with two wives rather than one, and he worked twice as hard to get what he desired.

Conclusion:  Fewer passages contain more lessons for living than this chapter. Let me suggest some of these under several headings.

The Consequences of Sin:  Previously we have noted that one of the consequences of the sin of Jacob's deceiving Isaac was his physical and emotional separation from those he loved. A second consequence is the moral parallel to Newton's law of motion: every action has an equal and opposite reaction. In our Lord's words, "... all those who take up the sword shall perish by the sword" (Matthew 26:52). Jacob chose to get ahead in life by means of deception. Jacob learned the sad lesson that those who seek to deceive shall be deceived.

The tragedy of this chapter is that all that took place was unnecessary. All we need to do is to contrast the acquisition of Rachel with that of Rebekah. The resources of Abraham made it possible for Isaac to have a wife in a very short period of time (cf. 24:54ff.). One reason for this was the fact that the servant had the dowry from the riches of Abraham, Isaac's father. One of the consequences of Jacob's sin was that he had to leave Canaan-to flee empty-handed. Since Jacob sinned, he was separated from the wealth of his father and had only the work of his own hands. The fourteen years of Jacob's labor would have been unnecessary, I believe, had it not been for his deception of Isaac. Perhaps Isaac sent Jacob away without any of his wealth to teach him the value of hard work. Or perhaps it was to force Jacob to stay away a long time by working for a wife. This we do not know, but it does seem that this 14-year delay was unnecessary and purely the result of sin. What a price to pay!

There is one striking difference between the consequences of sin today and those of Jacob. Our sins, like his, separate us from God now and eternally (e.g. Psalm 66:18; II Thessalonians 1:9; Revelation 20:12-15). However, while the work of Jacob's hands was able to earn him a wife, the works of our hands cannot earn any of God's blessings or salvation:

For all of us have become like one who is unclean, And all our righteous deeds are like a filthy garment ... (Isaiah 64:6).

He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit (Titus 3:5).

The good news of the gospel is that we who are sinners and cannot help ourselves can be saved by trusting in the work which Jesus Christ has done on our behalf. It is by trusting in His death as our substitute and in His righteousness that we can experience the blessings of God now and in eternity.

For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, that no one should boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them (Ephesians 2:8-10).

God's Grace:  Some may view the events of this chapter as God's getting even with Jacob. Others would merely interpret them as a kind of poetic justice. I prefer to understand them as an evidence of the marvelous grace of God at work in the life of Jacob. God did not bring these events to pass to punish Jacob but to instruct him. Punishment has been born by our Savior on the cross, but discipline is the corrective training which furthers us on the path leading to godliness (cf. Hebrews 12).

Jacob learned the value of convention. The agreement which regulated the use of the well (verses 2-3, 7-8) seemed to mean little to Jacob. In the excitement of meeting Rachel he decided to use the well regardless of the rules for its use. He may also have disregarded some conventions in the way that he greeted Rachel (verses 10-12). He certainly chose to disregard the convention of marrying the first-born first. I do not believe that Laban was telling Jacob anything new but reminding him of something that could not, and should not, be taken lightly or disregarded.

In addition to all this, Jacob experienced the grace of God in the delay of 14 plus years. It was this delay which contributed to the preservation of Jacob's life by keeping him away from the anger of Esau, who had purposed to kill him.

Amazingly, the grace of God was manifested in this event by the gift of Leah as a wife to Jacob. This is probably the last thought to cross our minds, but I believe that it is a defensible position. First, we must acknowledge that, in the providence of God (and in spite of the deceptiveness of Laban), Leah was Jacob's wife. Furthermore, it was Leah, not Rachel, who became the mother of Judah, who was to be the heir through whom the Messiah would come (cf. 49:8-12). Also it was Levi, a son of Leah, who provided the priestly line in later years. It seems noteworthy that both Leah and her handmaid had at least twice the number of children as compared to Rachel and her maid (cf. 29:31-30:24; 46:15,18,22,25). The firstborn was always to have a double portion; and so it would seem Leah did, so far as children are concerned.

One final factor remains which evidences the superiority of Leah to Rachel. Rachel dies at an early age, yet she was the younger sister. When she died, she was buried on the way to Bethlehem (35:19). Yet when Leah died later, she was buried with Jacob in the cave at Machpelah (49:31). Leah was not a blight to Jacob but a blessing.

Guidance:  How different was the process by which Isaac obtained Rebekah as a wife from that means through which Jacob acquired Rachel. Isaac was subject to his father, and it was through the wisdom of his father and his servant, through the financial means of Abraham, and through prayer that she was obtained. Jacob went off on his own with none of his father's resources. He chose the woman with the greatest beauty and bargained with Laban for her.  To me there is no doubt but what Jacob was guided more by his hormones than any other factor. He did not pray about this matter, so far as we are told. He did not give any consideration to matters of character. He did not seek counsel. In fact, he sought to overturn the customs of the day and the preferences of Laban. We live in a very romantically-oriented day. We find ourselves cheering for Rachel and booing Leah. God seems to have been on the other side. What is romantic is not always right-often it is wrong. Romanticism caused Jacob to use the well when and how he saw fit, regardless of the rules set by the owner. Romanticism led Jacob to chose Rachel, not Leah. Romanticism so controlled Jacob that under its spell he spent an entire night with the wrong woman. We must beware of those decisions which are determined by romantic impressions or feelings.

Beauty:  Few things are as important to women today as beauty. Perhaps nothing is more important to men today than beauty. Rachel was a wonderfully-endowed woman. There is nothing wrong with that. Sarah was beautiful, and so was Rebekah. But outward beauty must always be considered a secondary consideration. Jacob looked at Rachel's exterior and investigated no further into her character. The writer, King Lemuel, was not in error when he gave this counsel:

Charm is deceitful and beauty is vain, But a woman who fears the LORD, she shall be praised (Prov 31:30).

Men and boys, this is a word for us. We all want to be seen with the beautiful girls. We all have dreamed of dating them. Some have made great sacrifices to marry a showpiece. Let us look first for character, and if we find it, let us look no further. If we find character with charm and beauty, let us consider ourselves fortunate.

It was not outward beauty which made that first night such a beautiful thing between Jacob and Rachel-it was Jacob's love for her, and (I am convinced) her love for him. It is love, not beauty, which makes for heaven in the bedroom. Let us not forget it.

Ladies, I realize that our society has placed a premium on glamour and beauty. I understand that much of your sense of self-worth is based upon your outward attractiveness and "sex appeal." However, that is wrong. Our ultimate worth is that estimation which comes from God. God was not impressed with Rachel's good looks. After all, He gave that to her in the first place. God looked upon the heart and blessed Leah. Her worth, while never fully realized by her husband, was great in the eyes of God. May all of us learn to be content with ourselves as God made us, and may we find our real worth in the realm of the spirit.

But the LORD said to Samuel, "Do not look at his appearance, or at the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; for God sees not as men sees, for man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart" (I Samuel 16:7).