Read Genesis 29
In Genesis 28 we left Jacob at Bethel where he worshiped the Lord after experiencing a supernatural dream in which He saw God at the top of a ladder that ran from heaven down to earth, and angels ascending and descending the ladder. We explored what the dream meant, and specifically what or who the ladder itself, the connection between humankind on earth and God in heaven, actually is. The answer to what or who that ladder is, is, one of the most important truths you’ll ever uncover. (see Genesis 28 — You will see ‘heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending’)
In Genesis 29 we’ll read the account of Jacob’s adventures, we’ll read of God’s heart for the broken hearted, then we’ll look at Jacob’s chastisement (see Proverbs 3:11-12), and finally we’ll look at the big picture — God’s plan. We pick up Jacob’s journey in Genesis 29 after he’s traveled through the desert some 450 miles, and now finally comes upon an area known in that day as “the land of the eastern peoples.” This land was probably located between the Tigris and the Euphrates rivers.
It’s possible that a description of this area is found in the story of an Egyptian named Sinuhe. While some maintain that his story is fiction, others believe that his representation of the land of the east offers insight into the area that Jacob knew as Harran. Sinuhe was a government official in Egypt who lived around 1900 BC. He somehow found himself in trouble with his superiors and fled to the East. After surviving his long journey and arriving in the land of the east, Sinuhe offered the following description:
[It was] a good land … figs were in it, and grapes. It had more wine than water. Plentiful was its honey, abundant in olives. Every [kind of] fruit was on its trees. Barley was there, and immer [an early type of wheat]. There was no limit to any [kind of] cattle. ….. Bread was made for [Sinuhe] as daily fare, wine as daily provisions, cooked meat and roast fowl, beside the wild beasts of the desert, for they hunted for [Sinuhe] and laid it before [him], besides the catch of [his own] hand. (see Torahclass.com)
His description is consistent with the account of Jacob in the land of the eastern peoples.
So Jacob, happens upon a well in the open country at the edge of this region called the land of the eastern peoples. He sees three flocks of sheep lying nearby waiting to be watered from the well, which had a large stone over the top of it that served as a lid. Their routine was to wait until all the flocks in the area arrived there at the well, at which point they’d remove the stone and everyone would water their flocks. Then they’d return the stone lid to its place on top of the well.
Jacob engages the shepherds there at the well, he says, My brothers, where are you from?
We’re from Harran, they replied.
I’m happy when I arrive in Portland after a four and one half hour drive! After 450 miles on foot or on a camel, Jacob must have been overjoyed to learn that he’d finally arrived at his destination.
Jacob asks, Do you know Laban, the son of Nahor?
Sure, we know him, they replied.
How’s he doing? Jacob asked.
He’s well, they said. Hey, look, here comes his daughter Rachel with his sheep right now.
So Jacob says to the shepherds there, You know, there’s plenty of daylight left, it’ll be awhile before you take the flocks home. Instead of just hanging around here why don’t you go ahead and water your flocks? Then you can take them back for some more time out on the pasture before the end of the day. (I can’t help but wonder if he was trying to get rid of the other shepherds so he could score a little alone time with Rachel)
We can’t do that, they reply back to Jacob. Not until all the flocks are gathered and the stone gets rolled away from the mouth of the well.
While he’s talking with the other shepherds, Rachel comes down with her father’s sheep. As soon as Jacob sees her, he goes over and rolls the stone away from the mouth of the well and waters Laban’s flock. Then, perhaps because of all that he’d been through: the deception of his father Isaac; fleeing for his life from his older brother; the encounter with God Himself at Bethel; the 450 miles of travel through the desert; all of these things combined may have welled up in him, he was overcome with emotion. Or it could be that he was overcome with joy at the sight of Rachel. Whatever the reason, Jacob became emotional, and, he kissed Rachel and began to weep aloud. He told her who he was, a relative of her father’s, Rebekah’s son. So Rachel ran and told Laban.
As soon as Laban finds out about Jacob, he hurries out to meet him. He embraces him and kisses him and brings him home where Jacob tells Laban who he is and the story of his journey.
Then Laban says to him, You’re my own flesh and blood.
So Jacob stays with his uncle for a month and during that month he didn’t spend his time playing the video game Star Wars: The Old Republic or watching the tube. But instead he found ways to make himself useful, I’m talking about serious full time usefulness here.
Jacob had to have been serving his uncle and serving him well because at the end of a month Laban apparently recognizes Jacob’s talent and industrious inclinations, he says to him, Just because you’re my relative doesn’t mean that you should work for me for nothing. Tell me what you think your compensation package should be, do you want insurance coverage? Time and a half after forty hours? A 401K with employer matching funds of up to 4%? Tell me.
A year or so ago, one of our best employees was being wooed by a competitor. I sent the following letter to my boss:
Recently I asked Bill (the names have been changed to protect the innocent) about what it would take for him to pull out of any hiring processes he might be involved in and commit to our organization. He shared with me a few modest requests. They’re outlined for you below.
- “I want a lifetime supply of echinacea, vitamin C and Flintstones chewable vitamins.”
- “I want fresh organic fruit on my desk every morning before I show up for work – but not too soon before I show up, lest they’re no longer fresh enough when I arrive.”
- “I need an organic cheese tray featuring cave-aged Gruyere, Swiss, and sharp cheddar, along with organic berries, fresh – not canned – olives and Ferrero Rocher chocolates.”
- “And most importantly, I need a fresh bowl of M&Ms – with all the brown ones picked out.”
Chief, these few simple requests are a small price to pay to keep Bill on board – I recommend that we provide these for him.
Shall I have support staff make the necessary arrangements?
Well Laban had two daughters, one of whom was Rachel, and Jacob didn’t want a bowl of M&Ms with all the brown ones picked out. Leah was his older daughter and Rachel the younger. The scriptures say that “Leah had weak eyes…” which some maintain, is a polite way of saying she was ugly. But Rachel on the other hand was beautiful in form and features. It’s been said that the average woman would rather have beauty than brains, because the average man can see better than he can think. Well perhaps this was the case with Jacob because he was crazy about Rachel and not so keen on Leah.
He tells Laban, Tell you what, I’ll trade you seven years of my service for the hand of your younger daughter Rachel.
Laban says (I imagine with great precision, choosing his words carefully), “It’s better that I give her to you than to some other man. Stay here with me.”
So Jacob serves Laban for seven years to get Rachel. He was so enthralled with the opportunity to spend time around her that the seven years seemed like only a few days.
Then, when the seven years are up, Jacob says, OK Laban, give her to me. I’ve made good on my part of the deal, and, to be up front and honest, I want to make love to her, it’s been seven years after all.
Kudos to Jacob here who demonstrates 1 Corinthians 13, “Love is patient…” (v. 4) He didn’t pressure Rachel, he didn’t demand physical relationship before their marriage. He loved her. He waited.
So Laban throws a huge party. He invites everybody from the neighborhood and all his family. But, that evening, when it came time to deliver to Jacob his bride, Laban, under the cover of darkness, gives Leah, under the cover of what was probably an arrangement of veils, to Jacob. So Jacob takes her into his tent and consummates the marriage — they make love.
The next morning, Jacob wakes up and to his great astonishment and horror, there’s Leah! (Also, as was the custom of that culture, Laban gave his servant girl Zilpah to Leah as her servant)
So Jacob’s hot. Jacob feels betrayed. He says to Laban, What have you done to me? We had a deal! It was supposed to be Rachel! Why have you beguiled me?
Laban answered, Hey listen, it’s not the custom here to give the younger daughter away in marriage before the elder. Finish this daughter’s bridal week; then we’ll give you the younger one too.
On a side note — it’s interesting that Laban calls the additional seven years of service a week. It’s the same manner in which we’ll see seven years described in chapter 9 of the book of Daniel.
So Jacob did what Laban required. He did his additional seven years, with Leah by his side, and then Laban, finally, gave him his daughter Rachel to be his wife. Again, according to the custom of the culture Laban gave his servant girl Bilhah to 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.
God’s heart for the brokenhearted
Regarding the virtuous woman, the Lord says in Psalm 32:8, I will instruct thee and teach thee in the way which thou shalt go: I will guide thee with mine eye. So it was with Leah. the LORD was guiding her with His eye, He was watching over her life, and He saw that Leah was not loved. So He enabled her to conceive, while Rachel remained childless. The LORD said in Isaiah 61:1 that He will bind up the brokenhearted. God has a place in His heart for those who are hurting. He showed favor to Leah and He blessed her. She became pregnant and gave birth to a son whom she named Reuben. She said, The LORD has seen my anguish, living with my husband who doesn’t love me, and He has shown compassion on me. Surely my husband will love me now. The name Reuben means, “see, a son,” and sounds like the Hebrew phrase, “he has seen my misery.” But there was no change in her relationship with Jacob.
Then Leah had another son. She said, The LORD has heard that I’m not loved so He gave me this one too. So she named him Simeon which means “hearkened” or “one who hears.” But still, Jacob loved Rachel more.
A third time she conceived and gave birth to a son. Apparently Jacob was still unloving toward her because Leah says, Now at last my husband will bond with me, because I’ve given him three sons. She named him Levi which is derived from the Hebrew word for attached.
Finally she conceived again. This time she doesn’t mention her personal struggle with her husband’s lack of affection. She simply says, “This time I will praise the LORD.” And she named him Judah which means “He shall be praised.” Then she stopped having children.
Hurting? Yes. But at the same time, God’s heart went out to Leah. He saw her hurt and had compassion on her. He blessed her with four sons. And later we’ll see that there’s still more blessings to come.
Jacob reaps what he’s sown
How interesting to see that Jacob the heel snatcher, the conniver who wheeled and dealed his older brother out of his birthright, and who deceived his father to receive the blessing, now finds himself on the wrong end of a bad deal. When Jacob proposes to trade seven years of his service for Rachel, Laban only says, “It’s better that I give her to you than to some other man. Stay here with me.” He never actually agrees to give Jacob his daughter Rachel. “Give, and it will be given to you,” Jesus said. “Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you.” Jacob gave out all right. And now it’s being measured back to him. He took advantage of Esau to get the birthright and he scammed his father to get the blessing. How shocked Isaac was to learn that he had blessed Jacob instead of Esau. And how shocked was Jacob, when he learned that he had married Leah instead of Rachel. He fell victim to a manipulator that may prove to be his equal.
At the same time that Jacob finds himself on the receiving end of a con game, it’s amazing to see how God’s hand is on his life in a way that causes God’s plan to unfold. The LORD delivers Jacob to Harran, safely, and shows him one of his brides to be, right on cue. Jacob’s all a twitter then the wife swap happens. At the time it seems like the end of the world to Jacob but later, in Genesis chapter 49, we’ll see that Jacob asks to be buried with Leah, not with Rachel.
You might be married to someone right now who’s not who you thought she was. You might be married to a husband who’s not the man you thought you were getting. Maybe you feel tricked, conned, or scammed. But it could be that this is the one that the LORD has in mind for you in spite of your own feelings. It may be that later, you’ll see, as Jacob did, that this is the one with whom you belong. Hang on, pray for strength, ask the LORD to help you see her or see him as He does, with His eyes. God loved Leah even though Jacob didn’t until later in life. He used Leah to bless Jacob, almost in spite of himself. She was completely devoted to him; ultimately, she bore him six sons and at least one daughter. And it was through Leah that Judah was born, and it was from the line of Judah that Messiah came. If you were Jacob would you have traded the wife from whom the Savior of the world would come? Would you have traded the wife from whose line the Son of God would arrive? (Matthew chapter 1, Luke chapter 3)
Of course Jesus didn’t come until hundreds and hundreds of years after Jacob and Leah were gone from earth. We can’t see the big picture the way God can. We can’t know what His plan is hundreds of years into the future. But His hand is on your life. Are you seeking someone’s affection as Leah was? Are you struggling with envy? Leah was veiled on her wedding night obscuring Jacob’s perception of who she was. Then for years afterwards, Jacob’s eyes were veiled when it came to Leah, obscuring his perception of how the LORD was using her to bless him. Ask the LORD to help you see your husband or to see your wife through His eyes, as He sees him or her. Then take your eyes off of your circumstances and focus them on Him. Like Leah, you’ll find peace in your praise of Him. Solace when you spend time with Him. The answer won’t be found in your situation, but in your relationship with Christ.
Draw nigh to God, and he will draw nigh to you.
1 Then Jacob continued on his journey and came to the land of the eastern peoples. 2 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. 3 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.
4 Jacob asked the shepherds, “My brothers, where are you from?”
“We’re from Harran,” they replied.
5 He said to them, “Do you know Laban, Nahor’s grandson?”
“Yes, we know him,” they answered.
6 Then Jacob asked them, “Is he well?”
“Yes, he is,” they said, “and here comes his daughter Rachel with the sheep.”
7 “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.”
8 “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.”
9 While he was still talking with them, Rachel came with her father’s sheep, for she was a shepherd. 10 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. 11 Then Jacob kissed Rachel and began to weep aloud. 12 He had told Rachel that he was a relative of her father and a son of Rebekah. So she ran and told her father.
13 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. 14 Then Laban said to him, “You are my own flesh and blood.”
Jacob Marries Leah and Rachel
After Jacob had stayed with him for a whole month, 15 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.”
16 Now Laban had two daughters; the name of the older was Leah, and the name of the younger was Rachel. 17 Leah had weak eyes, but Rachel had a lovely figure and was beautiful. 18 Jacob was in love with Rachel and said, “I’ll work for you seven years in return for your younger daughter Rachel.”
19 Laban said, “It’s better that I give her to you than to some other man. Stay here with me.” 20 So Jacob served seven years to get Rachel, but they seemed like only a few days to him because of his love for her.
21 Then Jacob said to Laban, “Give me my wife. My time is completed, and I want to make love to her.”
22 So Laban brought together all the people of the place and gave a feast. 23 But when evening came, he took his daughter Leah and brought her to Jacob, and Jacob made love to her. 24 And Laban gave his servant Zilpah to his daughter as her attendant.
25 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?”
26 Laban replied, “It is not our custom here to give the younger daughter in marriage before the older one. 27 Finish this daughter’s bridal week; then we will give you the younger one also, in return for another seven years of work.”
28 And Jacob did so. He finished the week with Leah, and then Laban gave him his daughter Rachel to be his wife. 29Laban gave his servant Bilhah to his daughter Rachel as her attendant. 30 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.
31 When the LORD saw that Leah was not loved, he enabled her to conceive, but Rachel remained childless. 32 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.”
33 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.
34 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 borne him three sons.” So he was named Levi.
35 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.
From Torahclass.com :
More on this phrase, “the land of the eastern peoples” was disclosed in the delightful Egyptian story of “Sinuhe” (ca. 1900 B.C.). Sinuhe was a high government official, who fled Egypt for reasons of state. After a series of hardships, the story tells how he reached the country of the “East,” (Egyptian, Kedem) in Syria, which is probably the very same general area as “the land of the eastern peoples.” Thus, the “eastern lands” seemed to refer to the lands east of Egypt, covering modern Israel, Syria and northern Iraq.
Sinuhe described these lands this way:
[It was] a good land … figs were in it, and grapes. It had more wine than water. Plentiful was its honey, abundant in olives. Every [kind of] fruit was on its trees. Barley was there, and immer [an early type of wheat]. There was no limit to any [kind of] cattle. ….. Bread was made for [Sinuhe] as daily fare, wine as daily provisions, cooked meat and roast fowl, beside the wild beasts of the desert, for they hunted for [Sinuhe] and laid it before [him], besides the catch of [his own] hand.²
² Transl. John A. Wilson in J. B. Pritchard, ed. Ancient Near Eastern Texts. Princeton, N. J.: Princeton University Press, 1950, pp. 19-20.
J.B. Jackson, A Dictionary of Scripture Proper Names, Bible Student’s Press, Windber, PA, 1908