Genesis 29 - Jacob’s Marriages and Children
A. Jacob meets Rachel.
1. (1-3) Jacob comes to a covered well.
So Jacob went on his journey and came to the land of the people of the East. And he looked, and saw a well in the field; and behold, there were three flocks of sheep lying by it; for out of that well they watered the flocks. A large stone was on the well’s mouth. Now all the flocks would be gathered there; and they would roll the stone from the well’s mouth, water the sheep, and put the stone back in its place on the well’s mouth.
a. And came to the land of the people of the East: Because the Lord blessed his trip, Jacob returned to the land his mother Rebekah came from, being also the land of his grandfather Abraham.
2. (4-10) Jacob meets Rachel at the well.
And Jacob said to them, “My brethren, where are you from?” And they said, “We are from Haran.” Then he said to them, “Do you know Laban the son of Nahor?” And they said, “We know him.” So he said to them, “Is he well?” And they said, “He is well. And look, his daughter Rachel is coming with the sheep.” Then he said, “Look, it is still high day; it is not time for the cattle to be gathered together. Water the sheep, and go and feed them.” But they said, “We cannot until all the flocks are gathered together, and they have rolled the stone from the well’s mouth; then we water the sheep.” Now while he was still speaking with them, Rachel came with her father’s sheep, for she was a shepherdess. And it came to pass, when Jacob saw Rachel the daughter of Laban his mother’s brother, and the sheep of Laban his mother’s brother, that Jacob went near and rolled the stone from the well’s mouth, and watered the flock of Laban his mother’s brother.
a. My brethren, where are you from? In an age before clearly marked roads and signs, Jacob didn’t know where he was until he asked some of the locals, and he discovered he was at his destination.
b. Water the sheep, and go and feed them: Jacob definitely seemed as if he was trying to get rid of the shepherd boys, probably so he could speak more directly to Rachel.
c. Jacob went near and rolled the stone from the well’s mouth: Jacob also knew he had come to marry one of the daughters of Laban (Genesis 28:2), so he was more than willing to show kindness (and perhaps his strength) to Laban’s daughter Rachel.
3. (11-14) Rachel arranges for her father Laban to meet Jacob.
Then Jacob kissed Rachel, and lifted up his voice and wept. And Jacob told Rachel that he was her father’s relative and that he was Rebekah’s son. So she ran and told her father. Then it came to pass, when Laban heard the report about Jacob his sister’s son, that he ran to meet him, and embraced him and kissed him, and brought him to his house. So he told Laban all these things. And Laban said to him, “Surely you are my bone and my flesh.” And he stayed with him for a month.
a. Jacob kissed Rachel, and lifted up his voice and wept: Initially, Rachel must have been quite surprised when a man she never met before greeted her, kissed her, then cried out and wept. Yet she had heard before of her relatives who lived in the Promised Land (Rebekah was her aunt), and she understood Jacob was from this family.
B. Laban’s deal with Jacob.
1. (15-20) Jacob offers to work for seven years as a dowry to receive Rachel in marriage.
Then Laban said to Jacob, “Because you are my relative, should you therefore serve me for nothing? Tell me, what should your wages be?” Now Laban had two daughters: the name of the elder was Leah, and the name of the younger was Rachel. Leah’s eyes were delicate, but Rachel was beautiful of form and appearance. Now Jacob loved Rachel; so he said, “I will serve you seven years for Rachel your younger daughter.” And Laban said, “It is better that I give her to you than that I should give her to another man. Stay with me.” So Jacob served seven years for Rachel, and they seemed only a few days to him because of the love he had for her.
a. What should your wages be: This might sound like a nice offer, but really Laban let Jacob know if he wanted to remain among them, 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; now Jacob was the servant.
i. Jacob’s reaction in this situation would 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.
b. Now Jacob loved Rachel: Not only was Rachel beautiful of form and appearance, but she was also the first friendly face Jacob met in the area. It is understandable why he had a love at first sight attachment to Rachel.
i. There is dispute as to exactly what the phrase “Leah’s eyes were delicate” means. Some think it means her eyes were bad and she couldn’t see well. Others think it means her eyes were dull, not beautiful and full of life like her sister Rachel’s eyes.
c. I will serve you seven years for Rachel your younger daughter:
The offer to work for seven years was essentially a dowry. Though Jacob came from a family with great wealth, he left home with no money. Before he could take a woman in marriage he had to provide a dowry to demonstrate he was fit to support a family and to compensate for the taking of the daughter.
i. Seven years was a very generous offer, far above a normal dowry. Jacob didn’t want to risk a refusal. When Laban saw how badly Jacob wanted Rachel, he knew he could take advantage of him.
d. They seemed only a few days to him because of the love he had for her: We notice the great love he had for her. The seven years of labor without pay (except for room and board) seemed to pass as quickly as a few days.
i. In this ancient culture Jacob was not allowed to spend as much time as he wanted with Rachel. There were strict social guidelines to separate unmarried men and women.
ii. This clearly demonstrates an important principle: true love waits. Jacob was willing to wait seven years for Rachel.
iii. In the 1990s there was a successful campaign among teens titled “True Love Waits.” It persuaded them to take the following pledge: Believing that true love waits, I make a commitment to God, myself, my family, those I date, my future mate and my future children to be sexually pure until the day I enter a covenant marriage relationship. One 18-year-old named Rick said he used to be one of the guys who would come into school on Monday morning and brag about his sexual exploits. His views changed when he became a Christian two years before, and now he was happy to take the pledge. “Sex is something God made to say, ‘I love you,’” he said. “If you have sex with everybody, you can’t say I’ve saved this one thing to say, ‘I love you.’ ”
2. (21-25) Laban switches Leah for Rachel on the wedding night.
Then Jacob said to Laban, “Give me my wife, for my days are fulfilled, that I may go in to her.” And Laban gathered together all the men of the place and made a feast. Now it came to pass in the evening, that he took Leah his daughter and brought her to Jacob; and he went in to her. And Laban gave his maid Zilpah to his daughter Leah as a maid. So it came to pass in the morning, that behold, it was Leah. And he said to Laban, “What is this you have done to me? Was it not for Rachel that I served you? Why then have you deceived me?”
a. Give me my wife, for my days are fulfilled, that I may go in to her: These words are clear enough. Even though Jacob waited and the time went quickly because of love, when the time was done he was done waiting.
b. He took Leah his daughter 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.
c. He took Leah his daughter and brought her to Jacob: We assume that Leah was in agreement with this. “She may have loved Jacob secretly. She may have considered this her one chance to get a husband. She may have thought this an unsought, and therefore justifiable, opportunity to steal a march on her sister.” (Leupold) Yet even it she was not in agreement, she was under the absolute authority of her father.
i. The absolute authority of the father in the home in that culture also explains why Rachel allowed this to happen.
d. So it came to pass in the morning, that behold, it was Leah: We can Imagine how Jacob felt - and how Leah felt, and of course how poor Rachel felt. All this was because of Laban’s sin. Or, perhaps one should say it was because of Jacob’s sin - now the deceiver was deceived.
e. Why then have you deceived me? Significantly, Laban’s deception towards Jacob was similar to the deception Jacob put upon his father Isaac and his brother Esau. This is an example of Jacob reaping what he had sown. Jacob exchanged the younger for the older; Laban exchanged the older for the younger.
i. When Jacob deceived his father and cheated his brother, God did not change His plan to choose Jacob to receive the birthright. Instead, God took Jacob to the school of difficult experience to discipline him. This shows that our disobedience may not derail God’s plan for our life, but it will greatly affect how we end up experiencing it. One might spend 20 years working for someone like Laban while God teaches a few things.
ii. Though we can see this was God’s correction upon Jacob, it in no way justified Laban’s deception. The fact that God does work all things together for good never excuses the evil things man does.
3. (26-30) Laban agrees to give Rachel to Jacob in return for another seven years worth of work.
And Laban said, “It must not be done so in our country, to give the younger before the firstborn. Fulfill her week, and we will give you this one also for the service which you will serve with me still another seven years.” Then Jacob did so and fulfilled her week. So he gave him his daughter Rachel as wife also. And Laban gave his maid Bilhah to his daughter Rachel as a maid. Then Jacob also went in to Rachel, and he also loved Rachel more than Leah. And he served with Laban still another seven years.
a. It must not be done so in our country: This excuse by Laban basically said, “Well, didn’t we tell you? We don’t do it this way around here. Thought you knew.” The only reason Jacob accepted this clever trick from Laban was because he had no other option. But Laban’s supposed reason was really nothing more than an excuse.
b. Serve with me still another seven years: The second seven years made up Jacob’s post-graduate work in the school of difficult experience. Jacob’s main subject in the school of difficult experience was “You Reap What You Sow.”
c. And he served with Laban still another seven years: Laban was a perfect picture of a deceptive manipulator. He ended up getting exactly what he wanted (both his daughters married). Yet, this would turn out badly for both himself and his daughters. Oftentimes, God judges manipulators by giving them what they in their sinful desires and methods wanted, yet allowing it to be loss for them.
i. The problems in this family can be seen immediately. Not only had Jacob married two sisters, but he also allowed everyone to know that one was favored and loved more than the other. Ultimately all these problems came from Laban’s manipulative deception, and the prior sin of Jacob that brought it upon himself.
ii. What should Jacob have done? Some say Jacob should have gone to Laban and told him to correct the whole mess, and simply be married to Rachel and let Leah be Laban’s problem. Others believe that according to the standards of the culture, he could not have put Leah aside, because she was unable to marry another after having been given to Jacob. Perhaps, he should have done the best he could in the situation, which would have been to love his two wives equally. What a mess!
d. He gave him his daughter Rachel as wife also: Polygamy is not widely practiced in western culture, but we do practice serial marriage. We can think of polygamy as mass marriage in the sense we speak about mass murder: someone who marries more than one at the same time. There is also serial murder: where a murderer kills many, but one at a time. In our modern culture we multiply wives to ourselves; we just do it one at a time.
i. We can’t do anything about our marriages that have broken up in the past, but each of us can do all that we can before God to make sure that from now on, it is one partner for all time.
C. Jacob’s first four sons born through Leah.
1. (31) God’s gracious love for Leah.
When the Lord saw that Leah was unloved, He opened her womb; but Rachel was barren.
a. When the Lord saw that Leah was unloved: God’s compassion on Leah is touching. She was truly the innocent party in all of this mess. God can bring comfort and blessing to a wife and meet her needs even when the husband acts in an ungodly manner.
i. “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.” (Luther, cited in Boice)
b. When the Lord saw that Leah was unloved, He opened her womb: Isaiah 54:5 says, For your Maker is your husband, the Lord of hosts is His name. God can meet the needs of a hurting wife, needs that may be neglected by the husband.
2. (32) The birth of Reuben.
So Leah conceived and bore a son, and she called his name Reuben; for she said, “The Lord has surely looked on my affliction. Now therefore, my husband will love me.”
a. She called his name Rueben: The first child born to Jacob, through Leah, was named Reuben by Leah, meaning, Behold, a son. This was her statement to Jacob and all others that the Lord had looked upon my affliction.
i. Reuben was the firstborn son of Jacob; he was the logical one to inherit the promise God had made to Abraham and passed on to Isaac and then to Jacob.
b. Now therefore, my husband will love me: Jacob, even though he did not love Leah, still was willing to have sex with her. This demonstrates a principle that is still true, that a man will often be willing to have sex completely apart from love, and only a foolish woman regards the willingness to have sex as proof of love. Leah was not the first nor the last to live under this problem of male nature.
3. (33) The birth of Simeon.
Then she conceived again and bore a son, and said, “Because the Lord has heard that I am unloved, He has therefore given me this son also.” And she called his name Simeon.
a. She called his name Simeon: The second child born to Jacob, through Leah was named (by Leah) Simeon, meaning Hearing. Leah hoped all would notice that the Lord has heard her.
b. Because the Lord has heard that I am unloved: Apparently, the birth of Reuben did not turn the heart of Jacob towards Leah. She was still aware he did not love her, though he still was willing to have sex with her.
i. Of course, Jacob and Leah were married, so there was nothing sinful in sexual relationship. But this plainly shows that Jacob, like most any man in the flesh, was able and willing to have sex with someone he did not love.
ii. Women should never think a man loves them just because they have sex. A 1993 Los Angeles Times article interviewed young men to find out their views on sex. One man named Christian (17 years old) explained how things work between men and women: “We’re just not sentimental. That’s why we’re men…We like girls, we don’t love them…You see a girl and you just think, yeah, she’s really pretty and the first thing that comes to mind is you want to have sex.” He then explained how he seduced a girl: “You start kissing her and hugging her and little by little you start touching her.” After sex, he explained many boys dump the girls. “Girls get mad, but they don’t take it hard. They get over it.”
iii. This is the kind of man a woman might have sex with in the misguided effort to keep him as her boyfriend, because he has deceived her into thinking he loves her. How dangerous can this be? Consider the words of a woman who caught AIDS from a Ventura man who knew he was infected but never told her: “All I wanted is someone to love me, and now I’m going to die for that. I don’t think I should have to die for that.”
iv. A 1995 survey asked the following question: “Have you ever had sex with a woman you have actively disliked?” 58% of men answered “yes.”
4. (34) The birth of Levi.
She conceived again and bore a son, and said, “Now this time my husband will become attached to me, because I have borne him three sons.” Therefore his name was called Levi.
a. Therefore his name was called Levi: The third child born to Jacob, again through Leah, was named Levi, meaning Attachment. Leah still lives in the hope her husband Jacob would love her and become attached to her through the birth of these sons.
b. Now this time my husband will become attached to me: The pain in the heart of Leah was just as evident as the hardness of Jacob’s heart, and as evident as his attitude towards his wife Leah.
5. (35) The birth of Judah.
And she conceived again and bore a son, and said, “Now I will praise the Lord.” Therefore she called his name Judah. Then she stopped bearing.
a. She called his name Judah: The fourth son born to Jacob, again through Leah, was named Judah meaning, Praise. Apparently, Leah stopped naming her children to reflect the pain and longing in her heart. At this point she focused on God and could praise Him.
b. Now I will praise the Lord: To some extent, and for some period of time, Leah allowed the Lord to meet her need, and she could now praise God. Leah knew the Lord better, driven to Him by the neglect of her husband.
i. 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 less-attractive sister who was neglected and despised but learned to look to the Lord and praise Him.
Genesis 30 - The Children Born to Jacob
A. Two sons born to Bilhah.
1. (1-4) Rachel, out of frustration, gives her maid Bilhah to Jacob in a “surrogate mother” arrangement.
Now when Rachel saw that she bore Jacob no children, Rachel envied her sister, and said to Jacob, “Give me children, or else I die!” And Jacob’s anger was aroused against Rachel, and he said, “Am I in the place of God, who has withheld from you the fruit of the womb?” So she said, “Here is my maid Bilhah; go in to her, and she will bear a child on my knees, that I also may have children by her.” Then she gave him Bilhah her maid as wife, and Jacob went in to her.
a. Give me children, or else I die! Despite Rachel’s great beauty, she also was near despair. No doubt, Leah often said, “If I only had my sister’s beauty and the love of my husband, I would be happy.” No doubt, Rachel often said, “If I only had sons like my sister.” Beautiful or plain, we all have our problems.
i. This principle shows us the need to stop looking to how God deals with others and set our eyes on Him.
b. Rachel envied her sister…Give me children, or else I die…Jacob’s anger was aroused against Rachel: The tension in this family was apparent. At least Jacob saw the hand of God in the matter, even though he stated it to Rachel so directly as to be cruel (Am I in the place of God, who has withheld from you the fruit of the womb?).
i. It’s likely that Rachel was vain and conceited. She knew that Jacob worked 14 years with no pay out of love for her, and also knew Jacob would not have worked one day for Leah.
c. Here is my maid Bilhah; go in to her, and she will bear a child on my knees, that I also may have children by her: Much like Sarah gave Hagar to Abraham in a surrogate-mother type arrangement (Genesis 16), Rachel gave her maid Bilhah to Jacob.
i. On my knees refers to the custom where the husband impregnated the surrogate while the surrogate reclined on the lap of the wife, and how she might even recline on the wife as she gave birth. The symbolism clearly showed the child was legally the child of the mother, not the surrogate, who was merely in the place of the wife in both conception and birth.
d. She gave him Bilhah her maid as wife: This did not mean that Jacob actually married Bilhah. It means Jacob did with Bilhah what a man should only do with his wife.
2. (5-6) The birth of Dan.
And Bilhah conceived and bore Jacob a son. Then Rachel said, “God has judged my case; and He has also heard my voice and given me a son.” Therefore she called his name Dan.
a. She called his name Dan: Jacob’s fifth son, born to him through Bilhah the maid of Rachel, was named by Rachel Dan meaning, Judgment. Because of her own envy she viewed this child born of the flesh as a victory and a vindication for her.
b. God has judged my case; and He has also heard my voice and given me a son: “Can a woman get so low that she will hit her sister over the head with a baby? Rachel did.” (Barnhouse)
3. (7-8) The birth of Naphtali.
And Rachel’s maid Bilhah conceived again and bore Jacob a second son. Then Rachel said, “With great wrestlings I have wrestled with my sister, and indeed I have prevailed.” So she called his name Naphtali.
a. She called his name Naphtali: Jacob’s sixth son, born to him through Bilhah the maid of Rachel, was named Naphtali by Rachel meaning, Wrestle. Relationships in this home had broken down to the point where Rachel openly acknowledged the baby competition between her and her sister by naming the new baby wrestle.
b. With great wrestlings I have wrestled with my sister, and indeed I have prevailed: This seems strange. How did two sons prevail over four? Perhaps she meant it in the sense that now Leah seemed to have stopped having children.
B. Two sons born to Zilpah.
1. (9-11) The birth of Gad.
When Leah saw that she had stopped bearing, she took Zilpah her maid and gave her to Jacob as wife. And Leah’s maid Zilpah bore Jacob a son. Then Leah said, “A troop comes!” So she called his name Gad.
a. She took Zilpah her maid and gave her to Jacob as wife: Leah, who has stopped bearing children, figured she could use the same surrogate mother method to increase the number of children accounted to her, so she gave her maid Zilpah to Jacob as Rachel had given her maid Bilhah to Jacob.
b. She called his name Gad: Jacob’s seventh son, born to him through Zilpah the maid of Leah, was named Gad, meaning Troop or Good Fortune. The wives of Jacob continued to use their children as pawns in a power struggle within the home.
i. Leah had apparently lost the peace she had when her fourth son was born; she no longer has the peace praise (Judah) brought.
2. (12-13) The birth of Asher.
And Leah’s maid Zilpah bore Jacob a second son. Then Leah said, “I am happy, for the daughters will call me blessed.” So she called his name Asher.
a. So she called his name Asher: Jacob’s eighth son, born to him through Zilpah the maid of Leah, was named Asher, meaning Happy. Leah was more concerned about the status the child would bring her (all the daughters will call me blessed) than about the child himself.
C. Leah herself bears two more sons and a daughter.
1. (14-18) The birth of Issachar.
Now Reuben went in the days of wheat harvest and found mandrakes in the field, and brought them to his mother Leah. Then Rachel said to Leah, “Please give me some of your son’s mandrakes.” But she said to her, “Is it a small matter that you have taken away my husband? Would you take away my son’s mandrakes also?” And Rachel said, “Therefore he will lie with you tonight for your son’s mandrakes.” When Jacob came out of the field in the evening, Leah went out to meet him and said, “You must come in to me, for I have surely hired you with my son’s mandrakes.” And he lay with her that night. And God listened to Leah, and she conceived and bore Jacob a fifth son. Leah said, “God has given me my wages, because I have given my maid to my husband.” So she called his name Issachar.
a. Found mandrakes in the field: The mandrake is a root, called the love-apple in Hebrew. They were thought to increase fertility in women (and still are among some peoples). Because Leah had the mandrakes, she knew Jacob would have relations with her, believing there was a greater likelihood she would become pregnant.
i. We don’t know if the effect of the mandrakes was something biological or if it functioned more as a placebo. Under the guiding hand of God, the mandrakes seemed to work in the case of Leah and Jacob. Whatever strange agencies God may allow to be used (such as mandrakes), the real factor was His sovereign will (God listened to Leah).
b. You have taken away my husband: The hostility between Leah and Rachel was as obvious as it was painful. It must have been terrible living in a home where one wife believed the other had stolen her husband from her.
i. This confirms the wisdom of God’s original plan, as expressed in Genesis 2:24: one man to be joined to one woman in a one-flesh relationship. Later, Leviticus 18:18 forbade the marrying of sisters, and this shows why.
ii. “Is it any wonder that this family had a history of strife and bloodshed? Children reflect the atmosphere of the home.” (Barnhouse)
c. So she called his name Issachar: Jacob’s ninth son, born to Leah, was named Issachar, meaning Reward. Leah saw this son as a reward from God because she was generous enough to offer her maid to Jacob.
2. (19-20) The birth of Zebulun.
Then Leah conceived again and bore Jacob a sixth son. And Leah said, “God has endowed me with a good endowment; now my husband will dwell with me, because I have borne him six sons.” So she called his name Zebulun.
a. So she called his name Zebulun: Jacob’s tenth son, born to Leah, was named Zebulun, meaning Dwelling. In the pain of her heart, she still waited for her husband to truly love her and live with her, and she hoped the sheer quantity of sons would win his heart to her.
3. (21) The birth of Dinah.
Afterward she bore a daughter, and called her name Dinah.
a. Afterward she bore a daughter: Finally, after ten children, Jacob became father to a daughter through Leah, who was named Dinah. Apparently, there was nothing symbolically significant in her name.
b. Afterward: The ungodly competition had, in one sense, ended. Leah and the two maids would have no more children from this point on.
i. The wives fought each other as in a poker game:
“I bid one wife, loved and beautiful.”
“I bid one wife and four sons.”
“I’ll match your one wife and raise you a concubine and the concubine’s two sons.”
“I’ll raise you another concubine and two more sons by her; plus two more sons on my own, and I’ll throw in a daughter. I’ll stand with one wife, one concubine, six sons, and one daughter.”
Nobody was the winner at this competition.
D. Rachel herself bears a son to Jacob.
1. (22) God’s sovereignty over the womb.
Then God remembered Rachel, and God listened to her and opened her womb.
a. And opened her womb: The idea of God’s sovereignty over the womb is a repeated theme in the Bible. The purposes of God in opening one and closing the other may be completely unknowable, but God has His purpose.
· God granted twins to Rebekah (Genesis 25:21)
· He opens the womb of Leah (Genesis 29:31
· He closed the womb of Hannah, for a time (1 Samuel 1:5)
2. (23-24) The birth of Joseph.
And she conceived and bore a son, and said, “God has taken away my reproach.” So she called his name Joseph, and said, “The Lord shall add to me another son.”
a. So she called his name Joseph: The eleventh son born to Jacob through Rachel was named Joseph, meaning May He Add. Rachel felt she had been vindicated by the birth of one son, but longed for more children to continue the competition with her sister Leah.
b. God has taken away my reproach: At this point, one might think this eleventh son would end up being the key son used to further God’s redemptive purpose through this family. Yet Isaiah 55:8-9 is true: “For My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways,” says the Lord. “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts.”
E. Jacob’s agreement with Laban.
1. (25-27) Jacob knows it is time to go back to Canaan.
And it came to pass, when Rachel had borne Joseph, that Jacob said to Laban, “Send me away, that I may go to my own place and to my country. Give me my wives and my children for whom I have served you, and let me go; for you know my service which I have done for you.” And Laban said to him, “Please stay, if I have found favor in your eyes, for I have learned by experience that the Lord has blessed me for your sake.”
a. Send me away, that I may go to my own place and to my country: Though Jacob was in Haran with Laban and his daughters for more than 14 years, he knew that he belonged in the land promised to him by God, through the covenant made with his grandfather Abraham and his father Isaac. After 14 years, Jacob still called the Promised Land my country.
b. Please stay, if I have found favor in your eyes, for I have learned by experience that the Lord has blessed me for your sake: Laban knew Jacob was an invaluable worker for him. Laban said this knowledge was learned by experience. Literally this means, learned by divination. It is probable that Laban practiced occult divination and by this he knew the source of blessing.
2. (28-34) Jacob negotiates a deal with Laban to start building a flock of sheep and goats for himself.
Then he said, “Name me your wages, and I will give it.” So Jacob said to him, “You know how I have served you and how your livestock has been with me. For what you had before I came was little, and it has increased to a great amount; the Lord has blessed you since my coming. And now, when shall I also provide for my own house?” So he said, “What shall I give you?” And Jacob said, “You shall not give me anything. If you will do this thing for me, I will again feed and keep your flocks: Let me pass through all your flock today, removing from there all the speckled and spotted sheep, and all the brown ones among the lambs, and the spotted and speckled among the goats; and these shall be my wages. So my righteousness will answer for me in time to come, when the subject of my wages comes before you: every one that is not speckled and spotted among the goats, and brown among the lambs, will be considered stolen, if it is with me.” And Laban said, “Oh, that it were according to your word!”
a. The spotted and speckled among the goats; and these shall be my wages: Jacob would take the speckled and spotted offspring, but first had to separate the currently speckled or spotted animals from the rest of the flock, so the probability was set against him.
i. Allowing the speckled and spotted sheep and goats to remain in the flock would increase the likelihood of more speckled and spotted offspring coming from the flock at large.
b. Laban said, “Oh, that it were according to your word!” This was an agreeable deal to both parties. First, it was a foolproof way to distinguish between the flocks of Laban and Jacob. As well, Laban liked the deal because the odds were stacked in his favor. Jacob may have proposed in this arrangement because he was willing to trust in God.
3. (35-36) The agreement is made, and the flocks are separated.
So he removed that day the male goats that were speckled and spotted, all the female goats that were speckled and spotted, every one that had some white in it, and all the brown ones among the lambs, and gave them into the hand of his sons. Then he put three days’ journey between himself and Jacob, and Jacob fed the rest of Laban’s flocks.
a. Jacob fed the rest of Laban’s flocks: Jacob would will care for the large flock of his father-in-law Laban, made up of solid-colored animals, and Jacob received any speckled or spotted offspring of this flock.
i. Obviously, if there was a way Jacob could encourage these solid-colored sheep to bring forth spotted and speckled offspring, it would greatly increase his personal wealth.
b. He put three days’ journey between himself and Jacob: To prevent the mixing of the flocks, Laban’s sons took care of all the existing speckled and spotted sheep and goats, keeping them a three-day journey from the main flock.
c. Jacob fed the rest of Laban’s flocks: To make sure that the property of his employer was well taken care of, Jacob himself looked over Laban’s flock.
4. (37-43) God blesses Jacob’s method of breeding, and he greatly increases in wealth.
Now Jacob took for himself rods of green poplar and of the almond and chestnut trees, peeled white strips in them, and exposed the white which was in the rods. And the rods which he had peeled, he set before the flocks in the gutters, in the watering troughs where the flocks came to drink, so that they should conceive when they came to drink. So the flocks conceived before the rods, and the flocks brought forth streaked, speckled, and spotted. Then Jacob separated the lambs, and made the flocks face toward the streaked and all the brown in the flock of Laban; but he put his own flocks by themselves and did not put them with Laban’s flock. And it came to pass, whenever the stronger livestock conceived, that Jacob placed the rods before the eyes of the livestock in the gutters, that they might conceive among the rods. But when the flocks were feeble, he did not put them in; so the feebler were Laban’s and the stronger Jacob’s. Thus the man became exceedingly prosperous, and had large flocks, female and male servants, and camels and donkeys.
a. Jacob took for himself rods of green poplar and of the almond and chestnut trees: When Jacob put these branches in the watering troughs of the flocks it apparently increased the number of speckled and spotted offspring from the solid-colored flock Jacob managed on Laban’s behalf.
b. So the feebler were Laban’s and the stronger Jacob’s: Jacob also used selective breeding to increase the strength and vitality of his flock. We don’t know exactly how this method worked. It is possible Jacob knew more about animal husbandry than we do today; but it is more likely Jacob did the best he knew, and God blessed it.
c. Thus the man became exceedingly prosperous: The ancient Hebrew says, “The man burst out exceedingly exceedingly.” God blessed Jacob, but it was not because Jacob was especially good. It was because of the promises God made to Jacob (Genesis 28:13-15) and the covenant made to Abraham.
i. In the same way, blessing comes from the Lord to us not because we are great or good, but because of the covenant God has made with us through Jesus, and promises He has given us in His word.
ii. We may note Jacob’s principles for prosperity:
· Don’t make wealth your goal (Genesis 30:25-26)
· Don’t be afraid to work for others and try to increase their wealth before or as you work to increase your own wealth (Genesis 30:27)
· Work hard, dedicating yourself to your employer’s success (Genesis 30:26, 31:38-42)
· Trust God (Genesis 30:31-33)
Genesis 31 - Jacob Flees From Laban to Canaan
A. Jacob’s disputes with Laban and his sons.
1. (1-2) Contention with Laban’s sons causes Laban to look differently at Jacob.
Now Jacob heard the words of Laban’s sons, saying, “Jacob has taken away all that was our father’s, and from what was our father’s he has acquired all this wealth.” And Jacob saw the countenance of Laban, and indeed it was not favorable toward him as before.
a. Jacob has taken away all that was our father’s: It wasn’t that Jacob had taken anything belonging to Laban. Rather, it was that his wealth was increasing in proportion to Laban’s wealth. The problem wasn’t that Jacob stole; it was that Laban’s sons were filled with envy.
i. Envy will distort the truth. Jacob had not taken anything of Laban’s, but envy will lie.
b. The countenance of Laban…was not favorable toward him: The envy of Laban’s sons poisoned Laban’s heart against Jacob. Before, he was entirely pleased with the agreement.
i. Envy is bad not only on its own, but also for the company it keeps: For you are still carnal. For where there are envy, strife, and divisions among you, are you not carnal and behaving like mere men? (1 Corinthians 3:3). For where envy and self-seeking exist, confusion and every evil thing are there (James 3:16).
ii. Instead, Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy (1 Corinthians 13:4).
iii. God wants to deliver us from envy: For we ourselves were also once foolish, disobedient, deceived, serving various lusts and pleasures, living in malice and envy, hateful and hating one another (Titus 3:3).
iv. Envy is no small sin. It put Jesus on the cross: For he knew that they had handed Him over because of envy (Matthew 27:18).
2. (3) God tells Jacob to go back home.
Then the Lord said to Jacob, “Return to the land of your fathers and to your family, and I will be with you.”
a. Return to the land of your fathers: Even if Jacob never knew it, God prepared him for this time. First, God gave him the desire to go back home (Genesis 30:25). Then his present circumstances became unbearable. Finally, the Lord gave personal direction to Jacob. God may lead one today in the same pattern.
b. And I will be with you: This was the most important aspect. If God were with Jacob, he could be at peace and confident in any difficulty – or at least had to the opportunity for peace and confidence.
3. (4-13) Jacob explains the situation and his plan to his wives.
So Jacob sent and called Rachel and Leah to the field, to his flock, and said to them, “I see your father’s countenance, that it is not favorable toward me as before; but the God of my father has been with me. And you know that with all my might I have served your father. Yet your father has deceived me and changed my wages ten times, but God did not allow him to hurt me. If he said thus: ‘The speckled shall be your wages,’ then all the flocks bore speckled. And if he said thus: ‘The streaked shall be your wages,’ then all the flocks bore streaked. So God has taken away the livestock of your father and given them to me. And it happened, at the time when the flocks conceived, that I lifted my eyes and saw in a dream, and behold, the rams which leaped upon the flocks were streaked, speckled, and gray-spotted. Then the Angel of God spoke to me in a dream, saying, ‘Jacob.’ And I said, ‘Here I am.’ And He said, ‘Lift your eyes now and see, all the rams which leap on the flocks are streaked, speckled, and gray-spotted; for I have seen all that Laban is doing to you. I am the God of Bethel, where you anointed the pillar and where you made a vow to Me. Now arise, get out of this land, and return to the land of your family.’ “
a. But the God of my father has been with me: Even though Laban tried to cheat Jacob, God protected him all the time. God showed Jacob that He was greater and able to overcome what any man might do to Jacob.
i. This attitude was later expressed in a Psalm: The Lord is on my side; I will not fear. What can man do to me? (Psalm 118:6)
b. You know that with all my might I have served your father: This shows Jacob knew his wives were aware of his righteous conduct and Laban’s unfair treatment of him.
c. The Angel of God spoke to me in a dream: Significantly, there was much more to what the Lord said to Jacob than what was reported in Genesis 31:3. Genesis 31:3 was completely true, but there was more to it than this simple brief word from the Lord.
d. I am the God of Bethel: God told Jacob to go back to Bethel, back to the place where he first encountered the Lord in a personal way. This was Jacob’s way of returning to his first love and first works (as later described in Revelation 2:4-5).
i. I am the God of Bethel: It is good to remember times and places where the Lord did great works for us, and met us in wonderful ways. As we remember them, God reminds us He is still the same God Who met our needs then and wants to meet our needs now.
4. (14-16) Leah and Rachel support Jacob in his desire to move back to Canaan.
Then Rachel and Leah answered and said to him, “Is there still any portion or inheritance for us in our father’s house? Are we not considered strangers by him? For he has sold us, and also completely consumed our money. For all these riches which God has taken from our father are really ours and our children’s; now then, whatever God has said to you, do it.”
a. Is there still any portion or inheritance for us in our father’s house? Rachel and Leah noted that their father Jacob had already used any potential inheritance they may have once received (also completely consumed our money). This meant they were more willing to leave their homeland with Jacob and return to Bethel and the land promised to Jacob.
b. Whatever God has said to you, do it: Their support of Jacob in a costly and perhaps dangerous move was significant. It was a huge undertaking to move such a large family so far. If not for the support of his wives, Jacob perhaps would not have done what the Lord had told him to do.
i. This may be the first time in quite a while when the sisters Leah and Rachel agreed on anything. They could agree in uniting against a common foe - their father Laban.
B. Jacob’s flight from Laban.
1. (17-21) Jacob leaves without saying goodbye.
Then Jacob rose and set his sons and his wives on camels. And he carried away all his livestock and all his possessions which he had gained, his acquired livestock which he had gained in Padan Aram, to go to his father Isaac in the land of Canaan. Now Laban had gone to shear his sheep, and Rachel had stolen the household idols that were her father’s. And Jacob stole away, unknown to Laban the Syrian, in that he did not tell him that he intended to flee. So he fled with all that he had. He arose and crossed the river, and headed toward the mountains of Gilead.
a. Jacob rose and set his sons and wives on camels: Jacob intended a quick departure, traveling as fast as possible. It also demonstrates his great wealth, that his entire family could travel on camels.
b. Jacob stole away, unknown to Laban the Syrian: God already told Jacob to go and promised him safe passage. Jacob’s fear and deception departure shows he lacked confidence in God and His promise, and relied more on his own wisdom and ability.
i. “He could have announced his departure and gone in the glory of an army with banners. But fear made it impossible to reap the full measure of blessing. He sneaked away into the will of God instead of departing in triumph.” (Barnhouse)
c. Rachel had stolen the household idols that were her father’s:
Rachel took her father’s household idols (teraphim). There are many potential reasons why Rachel did this.
· Perhaps she worshipped these idols and did not want to be without them. Perhaps she did not want her father to inquire of them, using them as tools of divination to catch them (as he may have previously done, Genesis 30:27).
· Perhaps it was because such idols were often used as deeds to property and she thought this she was taking whatever inheritance might be left to Laban’s children.
· Perhaps Rachel stole the teraphim simply to get back at her father, whom she felt had mistreated her, her husband, and her whole family.
· According to some Jewish traditions, Rachel took the teraphim because she wanted to keep her father Laban from idolatry.
d. Headed toward the mountains of Gilead: It was nearly 300 miles (482 kilometers) from Haran to the mountains of Gilead, but the journey was longer and tougher psychologically than physically for Jacob. He left the place of safety, where he lived in a comfortable servitude, to go to a place where God has called him, but dangerous enemies abounded (such as his brother Esau, who swore to kill him).
2. (22-24) Laban pursues and catches Jacob.
And Laban was told on the third day that Jacob had fled. Then he took his brethren with him and pursued him for seven days’ journey, and he overtook him in the mountains of Gilead. But God had come to Laban the Syrian in a dream by night, and said to him, “Be careful that you speak to Jacob neither good nor bad.”
a. Laban was told on the third day that Jacob had fled: This shows that Jacob and his family lived some distance from Laban. He didn’t notice their departure for three days.
b. God had come to Laban the Syrian in a dream by night: The need for God’s message to Laban shows that Laban did have evil intention towards Jacob, and God protected Jacob through this dream by night.
3. (25-29) Laban meets and confronts Jacob.
So Laban overtook Jacob. Now Jacob had pitched his tent in the mountains, and Laban with his brethren pitched in the mountains of Gilead. And Laban said to Jacob: “What have you done, that you have stolen away unknown to me, and carried away my daughters like captives taken with the sword? Why did you flee away secretly, and steal away from me, and not tell me; for I might have sent you away with joy and songs, with timbrel and harp? And you did not allow me to kiss my sons and my daughters. Now you have done foolishly in so doing. It is in my power to do you harm, but the God of your father spoke to me last night, saying, ‘Be careful that you speak to Jacob neither good nor bad.’ “
a. In the mountains of Gilead: At this point, Jacob was not far from the Jordan River and the promised land. This shows that he traveled quickly and that Laban was determined to pursue him this far.
b. Why did you flee away secretly: Laban first tried to shame Jacob with kindness, suggesting that they would have had a celebration at his departure. Apparently, that idea was met with an unsympathetic response, so Laban threatened Jacob (it is in my power to do you harm).
4. (30-35) Laban accuses Jacob of stealing his teraphim and searches for them.
“And now you have surely gone because you greatly long for your father’s house, but why did you steal my gods?” Then Jacob answered and said to Laban, “Because I was afraid, for I said, ‘Perhaps you would take your daughters from me by force.’ With whomever you find your gods, do not let him live. In the presence of our brethren, identify what I have of yours and take it with you.” For Jacob did not know that Rachel had stolen them. And Laban went into Jacob’s tent, into Leah’s tent, and into the two maids’ tents, but he did not find them. Then he went out of Leah’s tent and entered Rachel’s tent. Now Rachel had taken the household idols, put them in the camel’s saddle, and sat on them. And Laban searched all about the tent but did not find them. And she said to her father, “Let it not displease my lord that I cannot rise before you, for the manner of women is with me.” And he searched but did not find the household idols.
a. Why did you steal my gods? Jacob, not knowing his beloved wife Rachel stole the household idols, proclaimed his innocence and pronounced a harsh curse on the thief, not knowing that he actually put a curse on his own wife.
b. Rachel had taken the household idols, put them in the camel’s saddle, and sat on them: Rachel learned the ways of deception well from her father – and perhaps also from her husband. She succeeded in deceiving her father about the idols.
i. “Amid much that is sad and even sordid in this story…amid craft, deceit, and lying on almost every side, we cannot fail to see the hand of God overruling and making even the wrath of man to praise Him.” (Griffith Thomas, cited in Barnhouse)
5. (36-42) Jacob rebukes his father-in-law Laban.
Then Jacob was angry and rebuked Laban, and Jacob answered and said to Laban: “What is my trespass? What is my sin, that you have so hotly pursued me? Although you have searched all my things, what part of your household things have you found? Set it here before my brethren and your brethren, that they may judge between us both! These twenty years I have been with you; your ewes and your female goats have not miscarried their young, and I have not eaten the rams of your flock. That which was torn by beasts I did not bring to you; I bore the loss of it. You required it from my hand, whether stolen by day or stolen by night. There I was! In the day the drought consumed me, and the frost by night, and my sleep departed from my eyes. Thus I have been in your house twenty years; I served you fourteen years for your two daughters, and six years for your flock, and you have changed my wages ten times. Unless the God of my father, the God of Abraham and the Fear of Isaac, had been with me, surely now you would have sent me away empty-handed. God has seen my affliction and the labor of my hands, and rebuked you last night.”
a. Then Jacob was angry and rebuked Laban: It is likely that this anger built up in Jacob for a long time – perhaps 20 years. Perhaps in his mind he practiced this speech over and over again.
b. What is my trespass? Jacob rebuked Laban and made the case for his own innocence with several examples.
· What part of your household things have you found? After searching, Laban found no evidence of the stolen gods he accused Jacob of taking.
· These twenty years I have been with you: Jacob’s twenty years of faithful service proved his integrity.
· Your ewes and your female goats have not miscarried: This demonstrated the care Jacob showed for the success of Laban’s herds.
· I have not eaten the rams of your flock: Jacob didn’t feed or enrich himself at the expense of what belonged to Laban.
· That which was torn by beasts I did not bring to you: It was an ancient custom that a shepherd could bring the torn carcass of a sheep to his owner, as evidence that he was brave enough to not let the wolf devour it or take it away, and thus the shepherd would be excused. Jacob explained he didn’t follow this custom, and every animal that was attacked or stolen, he replaced out of his own herd.
· Drought consumed me, and the frost by night, and my sleep departed: Jacob worked hard and sacrificed for the success of Laban’s enterprise.
· You have changed my wages ten times: Jacob endured repeated unfairness from Laban as his employer.
c. Unless the God of my father, the God of Abraham and the Fear of Isaac, had been with me, surely now you would have sent me away empty handed: Jacob claimed that it was God’s protection that sent him away in a way that prevented Laban from taking what belonged to Jacob.
i. It was good that Jacob saw God’s place in all this. Unfortunately, nowhere does Jacob claim God as his own; he referred to God as the God of his father Isaac and grandfather Abraham.
C. Laban and Jacob make a covenant.
1. (43-50) Jacob and Laban make a covenant.
And Laban answered and said to Jacob, “These daughters are my daughters, and these children are my children, and this flock is my flock; all that you see is mine. But what can I do this day to these my daughters or to their children whom they have borne? Now therefore, come, let us make a covenant, you and I, and let it be a witness between you and me.” So Jacob took a stone and set it up as a pillar. Then Jacob said to his brethren, “Gather stones.” And they took stones and made a heap, and they ate there on the heap. Laban called it Jegar Sahadutha, but Jacob called it Galeed. And Laban said, “This heap is a witness between you and me this day.” Therefore its name was called Galeed, also Mizpah, because he said, “May the Lord watch between you and me when we are absent one from another. If you afflict my daughters, or if you take other wives besides my daughters, although no man is with us; see, God is witness between you and me!”
a. All that you see is mine: Laban boldly said that everything Jacob had actually belonged to him. Yet, in a supposed gesture of generosity, he said to Jacob: “It is mine, but Jacob, out of the generosity of my heart, I’ll let you have it.”
b. May the Lord watch between you and me when we are absent one from another: In this covenant, Laban expressed how suspicious he was of Jacob. The idea of Mizpah (watch) is “If you do wrong, God will see it and may He punish.”
i. “In effect, the pillar of Mizpah meant, ‘If you come over on my side of this line, the pact is void and I will kill you.’ The covenant breaker would need God to take care of him, because the other would shoot to kill.” (Barnhouse) Mizpah was never meant to be a nice sentiment - despite what a Mizpah coin shared between two people might say.
2. (51-55) A pillar of separation and a parting of their ways.
Then Laban said to Jacob, “Here is this heap and here is this pillar, which I have placed between you and me. This heap is a witness, and this pillar is a witness, that I will not pass beyond this heap to you, and you will not pass beyond this heap and this pillar to me, for harm. The God of Abraham, the God of Nahor, and the God of their father judge between us.” And Jacob swore by the Fear of his father Isaac. Then Jacob offered a sacrifice on the mountain, and called his brethren to eat bread. And they ate bread and stayed all night on the mountain. And early in the morning Laban arose, and kissed his sons and daughters and blessed them. Then Laban departed and returned to his place.
a. I will not pass beyond this heap to you: The best solution for Jacob’s in-law problems was for him to separate from Laban. Therefore they set up a pillar to be a barrier between them.
i. There is wisdom in having some separation from in-laws. The Bible says, therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife (Genesis 2:24). Laban and Jacob seemed to have more problems than many, so their separation was extreme.
b. Then Laban departed and returned to his place: After a proper good-bye, Laban saw his daughters and grandchildren for the last time. “This is the last we hear of Laban in the Bible, and it is good that this is the end of him. Laban is of the world, and Jacob needed to be freed from this world in order to live wholeheartedly for the God of his fathers.” (Boice)
i. Morris on Laban: “Rather than seeking to follow the truth of God’s plan as witnessed by Jacob, he merely resented and coveted the blessing of God on Jacob. He finally ended up with neither. His life constitutes a sober warning to a great host of semireligious but fundamentally self-worshipping and self-seeking men and women today.”
ii. So, Rachel and Leah were wrong to look to their father Laban for their portion or inheritance (Genesis 31:14) once they were married to Jacob. He now was their portion and inheritance. “Since you are saved and joined to Christ, appraise the world and ask, ‘Is there yet any portion for me?’ If you think there is, you are mistaken.” (Barnhouse)
of , which is