- Locate the passage
This passage tracks Jacob as he travels to Padan Aram in search of a wife. His instructions are to meet his mother’s brother, Laban. Jacob finds Laban to be much like himself. What follows is the story of two deceivers deceiving and being deceived. In the end, both end up getting what they deserve.
The passage is narrative. It includes conversations between Jacob and the people of Padan Aram, Jacob and Rachel, and Jacob and Laban.
- Determine the structure of the passage
29:1-8 – Jacob meets the people of Padan Aram
29:9-14 – Jacob meets Rachel and she introduces him to her father, Laban
29:9-11 – Jacob meets Rachel
29:12 – Jacob introduces himself to Rachel
29:13-14 – Jacob meets Laban
29:15-20 – Jacob asks Laban permission to marry Rachel as “wages” for working for Laban
29:21-25a – Jacob’s first marriage to a daughter of Laban (just not the one Jacob thought)
29:25b-28a – Jacob confronts Laban about his deceit and agrees to serve Laban another 7 years for Rachel
29:28b-30 – Jacob marries and loves Rachel
- Exegete the passage
Jacob meets his future wife by a well much like Abraham’s servant first met Isaac’s future with by a well.
The deception of Laban and his rationalization (It’s not appropriate for the younger to marry before the older) functions in the text as both a reminder for the reader of Jacob’s deceptive acquisition of his brother’s birthright and blessing and for Jacob of the consequences of his sin. In one sense, since his deception was the cause that led him to Laban, the wives he will marry serve as a perpetual reminder to Jacob of his sin. Laban’s comment (“It must not be done so in our country to give the younger before the older”) suggests that he might be aware of Jacob’s deception.
29:1 – Jacob went on his “journey”
- “foot” (Hb. “regel”)
- To the land of the people of the East
- 28:7 identifies this location as Padan Aram (Cf. 28:2, 5, 6; 31:18; 35:9, 26; 46:15; 48:1)
- Padan Aram was located in the upper regions of Mesopotamia
- Two views have been suggested for the identification of Padan Aram. Some have seen it as an alternate name for Aram-Naharim (near the Euphrates river). Others have suggested that it might be an Aramaic rendering of the name for Haran. Wayne T. Pitard, “Paddan-Aram (Place),” ed. David Noel Freedman, The Anchor Yale Bible Dictionary (New York: Doubleday, 1992), 55.
- Of those two options, Haran seems the most likely. First, both “padan” and “haran” can mean “road.”Yoshitaka Kobayashi, “Haran (Place),” ed. David Noel Freedman, The Anchor Yale Bible Dictionary (New York: Doubleday, 1992), 58.
- Second, the people to whom Jacob speaks in 29:4 state that they are from Haran. They fact that Jacob assumes that they would know Laban implies that they are from the same city.
- Third, Gen. 28:10 identifies the direction towards which Jacob was traveling as “Haran.”
29:2 – “Behold, a well”
- The interjection “behold” (Hb. “hine”) occurs twice in this verse.
- “behold a well … behold three flocks of sheep were there.”
- Jacob saw a well in the field. Perhaps he knew that might be a place to meet people from the city. Perhaps he remembered the story of how his parents met when Abraham’s servant found met her at a well.
29:2-3 – These verses describe the occasion that Jacob will help resolve. The well was covered by a stone. The stone kept animals out of the well and may have served to prevent others who might pass by the well from “stealing” the water.
- The implication is that this stone was so large, it required multiple people to move it. However, Jacob seems to have moved it by himself (29:10). Perhaps the feat of strength was evidence of God’s blessing on his journey.
29:4-6 – The people of Haran assist Jacob in identifying his cousin, Rachel.
29:7-8 – Jacob is perplexed that the cattle are gathered together and are not being given water. The people respond that “we cannot.” The reason that they offer seems to relate more to tradition than their inability to cooperate together to move the stone.
- The idea of the “they” who are responsible for moving the stone implies their adherence to a tradition (i.e. “we’ve never done it that way before”). This is the way we do it – “they” move the stone and then we water the sheep.
27:9-10 – Jacob doesn’t want to wait for “they” to move the stone. So, he breaks their tradition and moves it himself.
- The fact that he seems to have single-handedly moved a stone that normally would require multiple people to move suggests his physical strength and the blessing of the Lord on his journey.
- Note, Jacob is later afraid of his brother Esau (Gen. 32:11). So, however physically strong Jacob was, he perceived Jacob to be stronger.
29:11-12 – Jacob greets Rachel and introduces himself as her relative.
- Rachel’s running to her father in 29:12 is matched by Laban’s running to Jacob in 29:13.
29:13-14 – Jacob related his journey to Laban who was eager for Jacob to stay with him. So, Jacob stayed with Laban for a month before any negotiations took place.
29:15 – Laban offered Jacob a permanent job to work for him.
- “Because you are a relative” – as opposed to a hired hand or slave.
- The Hb. “wages” (“maskoreth”) only occurs in the OT in the Jacob narrative (29:15; 31:7) and in the story of Ruth (Ruth 2:12).
- Though Jacob uses the more common word for “wages” in 31:8 and elsewhere as though the two terms are synonymous.
29:17 – The “eyes” were sometimes used as descriptions of beauty (Cf. 1 Sam. 16:12)
- The use of the word “tender” is elsewhere used in the sense of feebleness (Deut. 20:8; 2 Sam. 3:39)
- The name “Leah” likely comes from the Akkadian for “wild cow” (HALOT) which would add another descriptive distinction between the two young ladies, as Rachel’s name means, “ewe.”
29:18-20 – Because Jacob loved Rachel, he offers to work for Laban for 7 years for the privilege of her hand in marriage.
- Jacob identifies her as “your younger daughter.” So, there is no confusion with Laban. If he had a problem culturally with the arrangement, this would have been the time to stipulate the provision that Leah must be married first.
- Yet, the similarity with what Laban does to Jacob to what Jacob did to his father are evident. Jacob takes what rightfully belonged to Isaac’s oldest son; and Laban will recompense Jacob with appropriate recompense.
29:21-25 – “Behold, it was Leah.”
- The shock of Jacob the next morning, suggests the occasion of darkness for their honeymoon night
- Perhaps Leah was veiled, or it is also possible that alcohol was involved
- The ruse is complete once the union is consummated. The belief was the Jacob would then have an obligation to Leah.
- Leah, who does not speak in the pericope, is clearly a willing participant in the ruse.
- Zilpah is also part of the deal and would become a key participant in the wife-swapping misadventures of Jacob and would ultimately give birth to two sons with Jacob.
29:26-28 – The excuse that “it must not be done so in our country” perhaps expresses Laban’s awareness of Jacob’s deceit of his father in his country (“We don’t favor the younger over the older here like you do in your country”). Jacob likely recognizes the poetic justice of the trick.
- Jacob doesn’t really protest beyond Laban’s explanation and accepts the renegotiated terms of another seven years to serve for Rachel.
- However, this time, Jacob after fulfilling the obligation of one week with Leah was also given Rachel as a wife before serving the second seven-year term.
29:29-30 – It is not hard to understand Jacob’s preference for Rachel over Leah. Yet, surely, he must have seen the irony of his preference for Rachel mirroring his parents’ preferences regarding their children.
- Let the structure of the text drive the sermon
Exp. One thing is clear from this story, Jacob will never be lonely again.
- God’s Providential care on the journey
- Divine assistance in finding the people who could help him
- Divine timing as Rachel was arriving as he was speaking to the people
- Divine assistance in accomplishing tasks the people thought impossible (removing the stone)
App. God’s providential care for Jacob reminds me that I can trust God to provide in my journey
- Your sins will find you out
The day always reveals the evils of the night
Exp. While Jacob was able to accomplish what the people said in 29:8 “we cannot” do; he was also confronted with the reality of his sin in 29:26, when Laban said “we must not” reminding Jacob that he did.
App. So, Jacob in the story did in one case what others could not do (29:8) and in another case, what others should not do (29:26)
Exp. When my sin begins to impact my home
- Jacob loves Rachel and is willing to work hard for her
- But his sin has brought her into a drama that will result in conflict between her and her sister as well as her father
- Jacob’s sin is met by the deception of his future father-in-law
- Jacob and Laban’s sin place Leah in an unloved marriage.
Exp. The irony of the story is thick:
- Jacob is treated by Laban in the same way he treated his father
- Jacob not only unknowingly marries the wrong woman; she is unattractive, as opposed to the attractiveness of what he wanted
- Laban’s subtle jibe that “we don’t do that in our country” seems like a lecture regarding appropriate behavior to the would be Patriarch of faith.
- The preference he has for his wives mirrors the preferences his parents had for their children.
Exp. Look how many lives are affected by the consequences of Jacob’s sin: Jacob, Esau, his parents, Laban, Rachel, Leah, Zilpah, Bilhah, etc.
Exp. What’s missing in this story that was a part of the story of Isaac gaining a wife is prayer (Abraham sought the Lord, the servant sought the Lord, Isaac sought the Lord – later both Isaac and Rebekah prayed)
References [ + ]
|1.||↑||Wayne T. Pitard, “Paddan-Aram (Place),” ed. David Noel Freedman, The Anchor Yale Bible Dictionary (New York: Doubleday, 1992), 55.|
|2.||↑||Yoshitaka Kobayashi, “Haran (Place),” ed. David Noel Freedman, The Anchor Yale Bible Dictionary (New York: Doubleday, 1992), 58.|