Jacob now had discovered two things that sent him on his way with joy and confidence. First, whereas he knew about the God of his Fathers previously through report and testimony, now he had an encounter with the Living God and had come to have that knowledge implanted in his own heart; his affections now were turned from himself toward the God of the covenant who would make a way from earth to heaven. Second, he had the promises of the covenant renewed to him personally and knew that, in spite of uncertainties concerning the human factors, God would secure the promises that he had made.
I. Providential Meeting guided by Divine Promise (Verses 1-10)
A. Jacob pursued the course within which he believed God’s providence would give him success. He went to the well for watering sheep and cattle. Someone there would know his uncle Laban. The well was covered with a large rock in order to dam its supply so that when opened the flow would be copious and immediately sufficient to water the numerous flocks that gathered. The herdsmen waited so that the large rock would need to be moved only once.
B. Jacob engaged in conversation to find out pertinent information. He was pursuing a logical and culturally acceptable means of advancing the reason for his journey. As the son of one who owned flocks, he felt immediate connections and could easily converse. In this conversation, he learned that they knew Laban and that he lived in “peace,” meaning that both his physical and his social standing were secure. A New Testament example of this kind of logical, but providential, engagement is in Acts 16 where Paul and Silas, on the Sabbath day, “went outside the gate to the riverside, where we supposed there was a place of prayer.” They sat down and “spoke to the women who had come together.” The Philippians church was founded on that occasion for the Lord opened Lydia’s heart to “pay attention to what was said by Paul” (Acts 16: 13, 14).
C. As Jacob spoke to the shepherds, learning that they knew Laban, they pointed out that Rachel, Laban’s daughter, was on her way to the well with her sheep. Laban, apparently, had no sons, and Leah, the eldest daughter, was less hardy than Rachel. The care for the sheep, therefore, fell to Rachel and she was both skillful and conscientious in her duties. Laban could not have prospered had it not been so. Upon seeing Rachel coming, Jacob suggested that they water the sheep immediately for the cattle would not be watered till later. They hesitated, for it was necessary that all the sheep be present when the water was released from the well.
D. It seems that no offense was taken, for Jacob continued his conversation with them; as soon however, as Rachel arrived, Jacob saw her and the sheep she was tending knowing this was his maternal cousin and that the sheep were the property and constituted the wealth of his uncle. Apparently, his flock was not very large (see 30:30), and it needed to be handled with care. Jacob took immediate action and rolled the stone away from the mouth of the well by himself so that the flock might be watered without hesitation. Clearly, he had in mind making a positive impression on Rachel. According to John Gill, Jewish commentaries say that Jacob did this with one of his arms and that it was as easy for him as removing the lid to a pot!
E. All of these events had happened so quickly and in such an orderly manner, that Jacob felt some degree of exhilaration in the prospect of how God was fulfilling his promises. Greater obstacles and challenges yet remained, but Jacob was now armed spiritually for the years of difficulty that lay ahead. The overarching faithfulness of God to his purpose in effecting all the events necessary for the successful execution of the eternal covenant of redemption again drives the historical narrative.
II. A Joyful Welcome (11- 14) – With such a sense of delight did Jacob see how the hand of God was giving empirical verification to the transcendent promises made, and particularly to that statement, “For I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you,” (28:15) that he could not contain his composure.
A. The events of verse 11, 12 apparently occurred in this order, given the tense of “told” which probably should be translated “had told.” Upon the completion of the watering of the herd, Jacob told Rachel who he was, and that his mother Rebekah was the sister of her father. Then in a manner of familial greeting, he kissed her. The verbalization of these facts was so moving that he could not contain himself and he expressed through weeping and groans a great deal of pent-up emotion as the pressures of past weeks and the pleasures of future prospects came upon him at once.
B. Rachel ran to tell her father, Laban, whereas Rebekah had run to tell her mother’s household (24:28). Again, Laban runs to the well to see the person of such a providence (cf 13 w/ 24:29-31). The sign of familial welcome was given, an embrace and a kiss.
C. Jacob told Laban the story of what prompted his journey, how he had met God at Bethel, and why his parents had sent him to find Laban (27:43 and 28:6). Surely, he told him of the unusual manner of meeting Rachel at the well, perhaps even indicating that he was there for a wife. This would have been eerily familiar to Laban.
D. Laban received Jacob as family, and in order to show his gratitude and his worthiness of respect, Jacob worked for Laban for a month in exchange only for the place to stay and food to eat.
III. A bargain engaged (15-20) – Laban and Jacob enter into an agreement that uncovers a deceitful and covetous spirit in Laban and renews Jacob’s talent in deceit.
A. Not wishing to take advantage of Jacob nor to betray the confidence of his sister Rebekah, Laban asked Jacob to name terms for his continued service. Since one of the reasons for his having left Canaan was to allow time for Esau to settle in his life more securely and mitigate his resentment and hatred of Jacob, Laban knew that the stay would be for some time. He therefore set before Jacob an offer for wages allowing Jacob to give a more full account of his true desire and purpose.
B. Jacob asked for the hand of Rachel in marriage at the end of seven years of labor for Laban.
- This was a generous offer on the part of Jacob. Unlike Abraham’s servant, Jacob did not come bringing great treasures and gifts, but could only offer his service. Seven years labor would be a generous compensation as the dowry for a daughter. That Jacob was conscientious and self-sacrificing in this labor may be seen from his account to Laban in 31:38-42.
- Though Leah was the older daughter, Jacob requested marriage to Rachel, emphasizing that he was aware that this might be contrary to protocol calling her “your younger daughter Rachel.” He felt that Rachel was the woman of providence for him. In addition, her physical attractiveness made him fix his attention on her for “Rachel was beautiful of form and face.” It is said of Leah only that she had weak eyes. Some say that her beauty was isolated to her eyes, and take the word translated “weak” as soft and unintimidating. Others say that it refers to an eye-problem that showed up in redness and swelling of her eyes and moisture making them bleary and detracting from her overall appearance. At any rate, it is clear from the text that Rachel’s superior beauty was a one of the factors that made Jacob willing to work seven years for her hand in marriage.
- Laban’s response seems a bit odd and condescending. Perhaps he is offended at Jacob’s boldness in asking for the hand of the younger daughter. Rather than indicating joy at Jacob’s proposal, he seemed to make a grudging concession. “It is better that I give her to you than that I give her to another man.” Even at this moment, Laban has decided what he will do when the time of seven years’ service is done. The contest between Laban and Jacob begins.
- Because of his keen anticipation of being with Rachel and because of his increasing stability in the covenant faithfulness of God, the seven years seemed as “but a few days.”
IV. A Deceit (21-27) – When the time had ended, the wedding night and week of celebration was planned.
A. Jacob, obviously having counted the years and days closely, told Laban to give him his wife. The time was complete and now he wanted to consummate his love for her through their physical union.
B. Laban began the proceedings in earnest, gathering “all the men of the place” for a feast. This was a celebrative beginning and it appeared that Laban was honoring his part of the agreement. After dark, Laban brought his eldest daughter to Jacob, veiled and without speaking and in the lightless and silent privacy of his place of sleeping. Also, as a gesture of his faithful generosity, Laban gave one of his own maid-servants, Zilpah, to be maid to his daughter.
C. By morning light, with the first night now finished, and with the veil removed, Jacob discovered the trick. It could not be taken back for the consummation was in fact the formalization of the marriage. There is an irony in the way Moses wrote the account, “Behold, it was Leah!” This obviously is not what Jacob had bargained for and he knew that Laban’s intentions , while appearing generous and transparent, were in fact dishonest, dishonorable, and deceitful. He knew from the first that Jacob had given his service for Rachel to be his wife. If the custom was as he stated, “It is not the practice in our place to marry off the younger before the firstborn,” then he should have stated it with clarity from the beginning. Now he has provoked a situation in which he has lost Jacob’s respect, has established a lifetime of jealousy and competition between his daughters, and has perpetuated a corruption of marriage begun by Lamech, a sensuous and vengeful man (Genesis 4:19, 23).
D. The competition between Leah and Rachel resulted in the birth of twelve sons who became heads of the twelve tribes of Israel. If we try to sort out the results of man’s sin from the purpose of God’s providence, we will enter into a labyrinth too circuitous to escape and a sea of raging billows too strong to escape. We must affirm that all humans are moral agents responsible for their actions, and driven by the hearts of corruption and rebellion, always subject even for every idle word to the perfect judgment of God. At the same time, we look at all these events and see that God carries forth his will, working all things in accordance with his own counsel (Ephesians 1:11). So it is with Jacob and Laban and so with Leah and Rachel.
V. The Resolution (Verses 27-30) – Laban requested that Jacob complete the week of festivities for the sake of Leah. After that, in a rather dismissive manner of speaking, Laban said that he would then “give you the other also.” That gift of his originally-desired bride, however, would come at the cost of another seven years of serving Laban.
A. Jacob did as Laban requested and completed Leah’s week. At the end of that seven days, Laban gave Rachel to be Jacob’s wife.
B. He also gave Rachel a handmaid named Bilhah. The respective handmaids became vital parts of the intensified jealousy and contest of fertility between Leah and Rachel (30:1-6, etc). From four different women Jacob sired children including a daughter from Leah named Dinah.
C. According to his original desire and his impression that God’s promises to him were to be found in union with Rachel, Jacob “loved Rachel more than Leah.”
D. Chapter 30 describes how Jacob’s family was born to him from all these women (1-24; cf. 35:23-26). It also describes how Jacob came to an agreement with Laban for a method that would give Jacob a wealth independent of that of Laban. All of this is preparatory to Jacob’s return to his own land, now fully independent, having a large household and impressive possessions. God’s promise, “I will bring you back to this land,” soon would be fulfilled.