At the end of chapter 28, Isaac sends Jacob away so that he can get a wife that was not a Canaanite. This was suggested by Rebekah. The original reason for Jacob to flee his family was to escape Esau. Jacob had, through shrewd and dishonest means, usurped Esau’s birthright and blessing. Despite this, Jacob is still supported by God and is in line to receive the blessings of the Abrahamic covenant.
Verses 1-14: Jacob travels to Laban
When Jacob makes his way to the east, he sees three flocks of sheep waiting to be watered at a well. Jacob finds that the people there are from Haran and that they know of Laban. Laban is Jacob’s uncle (Rebekah’s brother) and Laban’s daughter Rachel is a shepherdess that is coming to water her sheep.
When Jacob sees Rachel, he goes and removes the well covering and waters the sheep of his kinsman. After doing this, Jacob “kissed Rachel, and lifted up his voice and wept.” Jacob had surely heard the story of how Isaac meet Rebekah and he immediately noticed the similarities with his meeting Rachel. Jacob is overcome with emotion because he recognizes that this meeting is also from God.
When Laban comes to know that his nephew Jacob has arrived, he embraces and kisses Jacob, welcoming him into his home. Time spent with Laban will not always be as uplifting as this first meeting.
Verses 15-35: Laban deceives Jacob
While at Haran, Jacob was evidently helping with the required work on Laban’s land. Laban notices and asks Jacob what his pay for the work should be. It should be mentioned here that Laban has two daughters, Leah and Rachel. Leah was the elder.
Jacob, who is falling in love with Rachel, says that he will work seven years for her to be his wife. Seven is a number in scripture that represents completeness. Jacob volunteering to work seven years shows his absolute dedication to doing everything he can to secure Rachel as a wife.
Jacob works the seven years and they go by quickly in the fog of young love. After the time has passed, he asks for Rachel and Laban throws a feast to recognize the union. After the feast, in the evening, Laban brings Leah in to Jacob instead of Rachel. With the absence of any formal marriage ceremony documented, we are left to assume that the marriage was completed through both the feast and the following consummation.
In the morning, Jacob notices that it was Leah and asks why Laban deceived him. Laban says that the firstborn daughter should be married before the younger. Laban then tells Jacob that he should spend a week with Leah, after which he will have Rachel as a wife, but he also has to work another seven years. Jacob fulfills his week of time with Leah and receives Rachel as a wife. Then Jacob works the second seven years to finalize the arrangement. Leah and Rachel were also given handmaids, Zilpah and Bilhah, respectively.
At this point we may ask, why would Laban treat Jacob, his nephew, this way? Laban may have noticed that Jacob was falling for Rachel and thus planned a way to get many years of work out of the young man. Or, Laban may have been motivated by finding a suitor for the less beautiful Leah. We really do not know exactly why, but there is a sense of poetic justice to be found: was the deception of Leah Jacob’s punishment for the way he treated Esau? It can readily be argued that Laban deals with Jacob the same way Jacob dealt with Esau, so surely a form of balance has been struck.
In the remaining verses of the chapter, Leah is blessed by God. She was not as favored as Rachel and the scripture tells us that she was “unloved.” Because God notices her situation, she bears four sons to Jacob: Reuben, Simeon, Levi and Judah. Leah recognizes God for these blessings and recognizes that Jacob will be attached to her now because of these four sons. Rachel, as we will see next chapter, is upset at her inability to become pregnant.
Rachel’s behavior has not been poor, so we wonder at her plight. Leah, on the other hand, has had a poor experience with Jacob and Rachel, so it warms the heart to see God bless her in this manner.
Reading this chapter, one can quickly sympathize with Jacob. He had what seemed like true love from God, yet he was forced by Laban to work for many years before he could have Rachel as his wife. But when we recall how he treated Esau, sympathy dampens. However, Jacob still retains Isaac’s birthright, Isaac’s blessing and the Abrahamic covenant, which calls to mind the valuable passage:
“My son, do not despise the chastening of the LORD, Nor detest His correction; For whom the LORD loves He corrects, Just as a father the son in whom he delights.” Proverbs 3:11-12
While reading this chapter tonight, I encourage you to resist judging Jacob and instead concentrate on God’s hand in the story. His ways, reasons and decisions are often a mystery but rarely are we permitted to see the perfection in His plans. There is no other place to put the totality of our hope and trust than in Him.