Genesis 29 (NRSV)
Jacob Meets Rachel
Then Jacob went on his journey, and came to the land of the people of the east. 2As he looked, he saw a well in the field and three flocks of sheep lying there beside it; for out of that well the flocks were watered. The stone on the well’s mouth was large, 3and when all the flocks were gathered there, the shepherds would roll the stone from the mouth of the well, and water the sheep, and put the stone back in its place on the mouth of the well.
4Jacob said to them, “My brothers, where do you come from?”
They said, “We are from Haran.”
5He said to them, “Do you know Laban son of Nahor?”
They said, “We do.”
6He said to them, “Is it well with him?”
“Yes,” they replied, “and here is his daughter Rachel, coming with the sheep.”
Was it “love at first sight” when Jacob saw Rachel? Yes or no, it is true that Jacob loved Rachel dearly all his life. HERE is Celine Dion singing the Elvis classic, “I Can’t Help Falling in Love with You.” This clip is from her 1993 tour, when she closed each show with this song.
7He said, “Look, it is still broad daylight; it is not time for the animals to be gathered together. Water the sheep, and go, pasture them.”
8But they said, “We cannot until all the flocks are gathered together, and the stone is rolled from the mouth of the well; then we water the sheep.”
9While he was still speaking with them, Rachel came with her father’s sheep; for she kept them. 10Now when Jacob saw Rachel, the daughter of his mother’s brother Laban, and the sheep of his mother’s brother Laban, Jacob went up and rolled the stone from the well’s mouth, and watered the flock of his mother’s brother Laban. 11Then Jacob kissed Rachel, and wept aloud.
12And Jacob told Rachel that he was her father’s kinsman, and that he was Rebekah’s son; and she ran and told her father. 13When Laban heard the news about his sister’s son Jacob, he ran to meet him; he embraced him and kissed him, and brought him to his house. Jacob told Laban all these things, 14and Laban said to him, “Surely you are my bone and my flesh!” And he stayed with him a month.
Jacob Marries Laban’s Daughters
15Then Laban said to Jacob, “Because you are my kinsman, should you therefore serve me for nothing? Tell me, what shall your wages be?”
This might sound like a nice offer, but really Laban let Jacob know if he wants to stay around, he must stay as a hired servant. Jacob was the son of a man of tremendous wealth. Certainly he was not lazy, but he wasn’t used to hard work. Servants did the hard work back home. But now Jacob is the servant.
Jacob’s reaction in this situation will reveal much of his character. This demonstrates the principle that you never know what kind of servant you are until others treat you like a servant.
16Now Laban had two daughters; the name of the elder was Leah, and the name of the younger was Rachel. 17Leah’s eyes were lovely, and Rachel was graceful and beautiful. 18Jacob loved Rachel; so he said, “I will serve you seven years for your younger daughter Rachel.”
19Laban said, “It is better that I give her to you than that I should give her to any other man; stay with me.” 20So Jacob served seven years for Rachel, and they seemed to him but a few days because of the love he had for her.
21Then Jacob said to Laban, “Give me my wife that I may go in to her, for my time is completed.”
22So Laban gathered together all the people of the place, and made a feast. 23But in the evening he took his daughter Leah and brought her to Jacob; and he went in to her.
It was possible for Jacob to be fooled because of the wedding customs of the day. According to those customs the wife was veiled until she was finally alone with her husband in the “honeymoon suite.” If it was dark by the time Jacob and his new bride were alone together (something Laban would not have difficulty arranging), it helps explain how Jacob was fooled.
24(Laban gave his maid Zilpah to his daughter Leah to be her maid.)
25When morning came, 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?”
Matthew 26:52 (English Standard Version)
For all who take the sword will perish by the sword.
Now the shoe is on the other foot. Jacob, who had deceived his father, is now deceived by his father-in-law.
“Oh! What a tangled web we weave
When first we practice to deceive!”
— Sir Walter Scott.
26Laban said, “This is not done in our country—giving the younger before the firstborn. 27Complete the week of this one, and we will give you the other also in return for serving me another seven years.”
28Jacob did so, and completed her week; then Laban gave him his daughter Rachel as a wife. 29(Laban gave his maid Bilhah to his daughter Rachel to be her maid.) 30So Jacob went in to Rachel also, and he loved Rachel more than Leah. He served Laban for another seven years.
31When the Lord saw that Leah was unloved,
“Wretched Leah sits sadly in her tent with her maid and spends her time spinning and weeping. For the rest of the household, and especially Rachel, despises her because she has been scorned by her husband, who prefers Rachel and is desperately in love with Rachel alone. She is not beautiful, not pleasing. No, she is odious and hated . . . There the poor girl sits; no one pays any attention to her. Rachel gives herself airs before; she does not deign to look at her. ‘I am the lady of the house,’ she thinks, ‘Leah is a slave.’ These are truly carnal things in the saintly fathers and mothers, like the things that usually happen in our houses.”
he opened her womb; but Rachel was barren. 32Leah conceived and bore a son, and she named him Reuben (means, See, a son); for she said, “Because the Lord has looked on my affliction; surely now my husband will love me.”
33She conceived again and bore a son, and said, “Because the Lord has heard that I am hated, he has given me this son also”; and she named him Simeon (heard).
34Again she conceived and bore a son, and said, “Now this time my husband will be joined to me, because I have borne him three sons”; therefore he was named Levi (joined).
If I squint I can see him in the field, that Jacob,
that shape that isn’t a tree or a sheep.
When my sister goes out with her lunch basket
I watch till two shapes melt and sink.
They could do anything to me, those two,
and I wouldn’t see it until it was too late.
Laban tells me I’m the one with power.
You’re the one who’s bearing sons, he says.
But there they go in the field,
my sister and our husband,
and here I sit in my tent
–Barbara D. Holender
35She conceived again and bore a son, and said, “This time I will praise the Lord”; therefore she named him Judah (praise); then she ceased bearing.
Leah, though she was neglected by Jacob and despised by Rachel, had a great purpose in God’s plan. The two greatest tribes came from Leah, not Rachel: Levi (the priestly tribe) and Judah (the royal tribe). And most importantly, the Messiah came from Leah, the uglier sister, who was neglected and despised, but who learned to look to the Lord and praise Him.
Matthew 1:1-2 (New Living Translation)
This is a record of the ancestors of Jesus the Messiah, a descendant of David and of Abraham:
Abraham was the father of Isaac.
Isaac was the father of Jacob.
Jacob was the father of Judah and his brothers.
The New Revised Standard Version, copyright 1989 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.