Good morning. Today we are in Genesis 29 which includes the story of Jacob, Rachel, and Leah. The events described in this chapter cover a period of about 14 years, during which Jacob marries and starts his own family. It is a tale that includes attraction, love, and devoted service… not to mention an ironic twist. Open your Bibles and let’s begin.
I. MEETING RACHEL (v1-12)
After encountering God at Bethel, Jacob continued northward through Canaan and finally crossed into the region of Paddan-Aram. He noticed a well surrounded by 3 flocks of sheep that were lying beside it in the field. Jacob approached the well and found that it was covered by a large stone. These 3 flocks were waiting on others that were coming, but had not yet arrived. When all of the sheep were gathered, the stone would be rolled away from the well’s opening, and they would all drink. Afterwards, the stone would be put back in place so as to protect and preserve the water source.
Jacob asked the shepherds that were already at the well where they were from. They answered, “Haran”. He then followed up by asking if they knew a man named Laban... and they did! The shepherds told him that Rachel, one of Laban’s daughters, would be arriving at the well shortly to water her father’s flocks. Jacob wanted them to go ahead and begin, but they explained that their custom was to wait until everyone had arrived.
About that time, Rachel came with her father’s sheep. Most likely trying to impress her, Jacob immediately and personally rolled the large stone away from the mouth of the well and watered her flocks. He greeted her with a kiss and explained who he was (her cousin) and why he’d come. Jacob cried out to the LORD, with weeping, because God had led him directly to his destination.
II. SERVING LABAN (v13-20)
Rachel ran home to tell her father about Jacob’s arrival, and Laban excitedly hurried out to meet him. Laban warmly invited Jacob to stay with them in their home, and he readily agreed. Over time, they got to know one another. After a month had passed, Laban asked Jacob to work for him as a shepherd.
Now Laban had 2 daughters - Leah and Rachel. Leah, the older sister, was less attractive than her younger sibling Rachel. Jacob had fallen head-over-heels in love with Rachel, and agreed to serve Laban 7 years in exchange for her hand in marriage. So Jacob remained in Haran, working diligently for his uncle, and - from his perspective - the years passed by quickly.
Can we speak honestly? Men are attracted to beautiful women. To be fair, women are attracted to handsome men. This is a fact, whether we like it or not - physical appearance matters. It isn’t and shouldn’t be the main thing, but it is undeniably something. Physical attraction by itself can’t sustain a healthy marriage, but it can definitely destroy one. Spouses need to be aware of this. They shouldn’t just “let themselves go”, but rather should take reasonable steps to remain physically attractive to one another, as an act of love and a safeguard for their marriage.
III. TRICKING JACOB (v21-30)
When the day of the long-anticipated marriage finally arrived, Laban held a grand marriage feast. Little did Jacob realize that his uncle had a devious scheme in mind. Many commentators believe that Jacob got excessively drunk during the party, perhaps at Laban’s prompting. When night fell, Laban brought his older daughter Leah to Jacob. Heavily inebriated, Jacob consummated the marriage by sleeping with her - all the while believing her to be Rachel. When he sobered up the next morning, he realized that he’d married the wrong sister!
In dismay, Jacob asked his uncle why he’d given Leah to him as his bride rather than Rachel. Laban explained that it was customary for the older sister to marry prior to the younger. Why hadn’t Laban mentioned this detail earlier? Taking advantage of the situation, Laban agreed to let Jacob marry Rachel also on the condition that he serve him for another 7 years. So after honoring his marriage week with Leah, Jacob then married his beloved Rachel. However, they couldn’t return immediately to Canaan because he’d committed to serve Laban 7 more years. As a wedding gift, Laban had given Leah a handmaiden named Zillpah and Rachel a handmaiden named Bilhah.
There is a principle in the Bible that goes like this… “you reap what you sow”. Some people call it karma. Jacob had a history of taking advantage of others through deception, trickery, and outright lying. He had fooled his brother Esau and his father Isaac on past occasions pertaining to the birthright and blessing. But now the tables had turned. Jacob had been tricked into marrying the wrong woman, and was now obligated to serve his uncle twice as long as he’d originally planned to. As they say, “What goes around comes around.”
IV. DISREGARDING LEAH (v31-35)
It was no secret - Jacob loved Rachel much more than Leah. Seeing this disparity, God made Leah fruitful while Rachel was barren. Thus, Rachel was like Rebekah and Sarah before her. Nevertheless, in the years that followed Leah bore 4 sons to her husband Jacob. With each of the first 3 births - Reuben, Simeon, and Levi - Leah hoped that Jacob’s love for her would increase, but it didn’t. By the time the 4th son was born - Judah - Leah had given up trying to win Jacob’s affection and instead chose to delight in her children.
While Rachel was the love of Jacob’s life, Leah was at least as important and arguably more important to both Jewish and Christian history than her younger sister. Leah’s son Judah would eventually become the father of the Judahites. Centuries later Joshua would give the tribe of Judah a large portion of the Promised Land. The land of Judah would eventually become the southern kingdom of Israel, and later the Roman province of Judea. It’s citizens became known as the Jews. Most significantly, Jesus Christ was born in the ancestral line of Judah. He was therefore a descendant of Leah, not of Rachel. What’s more, as we will see later in this series, Leah was buried with Jacob in the cave of the Patriarchs.
As the chapter comes to an end, Jacob is still living in Haran working for his uncle Laban. He had initially been sent there from Beersheba to find a bride among his relatives, to stay temporarily if necessary, and then to return home. But instead he found himself stuck in his mother’s homeland, bound by his own promise, while his aging parents Isaac and Rebekah remained waiting in Canaan.
In closing, I wish to make a parting observation. In the early part of the chapter, Jacob wanted to go ahead and water the flocks already at the well without waiting on the others. He was told that such an act would be a violation of their custom. Later in the chapter, Jacob wanted to marry Laban’s younger daughter Rachel first, but was forbidden from doing so. Again, he was told that this wasn’t customary. Twice Jacob sought to defy conventional methods.
In a similar way, Jesus had a knack for challenging the Jewish customs and traditions of His day. For this reason, some thought of Him as a revolutionary and felt needlessly threatened by His teachings. The religious elites had become so pious and rigid that they mistook their personal procedures and practices for God’s law. Jesus came to break through this legalism, orthodoxy, and religiosity, by showing us God’s unconditional, unfiltered mercy and grace.