Jacob’s Wives: Genesis 29
Here the intimate, holy, personal Name of God is seen in relationship to His people in a profound and literal way.
The events of this chapter follow on the heels of Yaakov’s wonderful prophetic dream at Beiyt El. Yaakov appears to arrive in Charan devoid of material wealth, which in itself is a testimony to his tenacity, character and belief in HaShem. Many focus on the ironic trickery of Laban and see these events as Yaakov getting his just deserts, however, as I have previously noted, Yaakov was the one who was dealt with unjustly regarding the birth-right and the blessing of the first-born: so too here, he is dealt with unjustly by Laban, an idolatrous and wicked man who, in a genuine case of irony, unwittingly helps to further the plan of HaShem for Yaakov’s life.
In the account of the blessing, Yitzchak is fooled for his own good and the good of his future offspring. So too, in the account of Yaakov’s marriages to Leah and Rachel, Yaakov is fooled for his own good and the good of the future tribes of Israel. Knowing this, we’re able to properly discern the present circumstances as being due to God’s planning and not as some sort of punitive punishment serving the superstitious notion that Yaakov is reaping what he’s sown. Interpretation of this kind only serves to impugn God’s character and place undue blame on Yaakov.
The familiar setting of a life-giving well acts as a symbol of God’s continued provision. We have seen this wonderful symbol of hidden water revealed in the lives of Avraham and Yitzchak, and have understood its connection to covenant, blessing and prosperity. Now we see these living waters participating again in the marital union of the Patriarchal and Matriarchal line (Gen 24). The correlation between the well and the courting practices of the Patriarchs’ is significant in Hebrew thought and culture. It was at a well that Eli-etzer (My God’s servant) met Yitzchak’s (He laughs) bride Rivkah (Captivating), and later in Israel’s history Moshe (drawn out) meets his bride Zipporah (Bird, early departure) at a well (Be’er: spring, well. From the root Ba’ar: to make plain, distinct, to make clear, to declare, letters on a tablet).
To the Hebrew, the well is considered a symbol of wisdom because the waters of a well are hidden beneath the earth and must be sought out. Wisdom in turn is linked to women and their role as home builders (Proverbs 14:1). Wisdom, as personified in the proverbs (1-9) of Shlomo (Peace), is linked to the Creation of the world and the voice/living Word of Hashem. Thus the well has great significance, physically, figuratively, metaphorically and spiritually. It is a place of clarity, union, provision, blessing, covenant, intimacy, and Divine revelation. Its living waters (Mayim chayim) are a consistent reminder of the merciful provision of God in arid places.
Gen 29:1 Then lifting his feet, Yaakov (follows at the heel) walked forth, and came to the land of the children of the east.
The lifting of Yaakov’s feet denotes lightness and freedom of purpose as he moves forward on his journey toward intimacy with HaShem. Like the Patriarchs who came before him he goes in agreement with HaShem’s purpose and comes to the land of his mother’s family with nothing more than that which has necessitated his travel.
Gen 29:2 And he looked, and v’hinei (suddenly) behold a well in the field, and, v’hinei (suddenly) behold, three flocks of sheep were lying there by it. - For out of that well they watered the flocks. And the great stone (v’ha-even g’dolah) was upon the well's mouth.
Both the presence of the three flocks and the well itself are a testimony to HaShem’s hand upon Yaakov’s journey. Yaakov has come to a place where the very sight of Hashem’s provision will renew his strength. This is because he has trusted in Hashem (Isaiah 40:31).
The great stone over the mouth of the well prevented water from being stolen and acted as a safeguard against children falling into the well. The Torah emphasises the size of the stone in order to prepare the reader for the miraculous strength that will be exhibited by Yaakov in rolling it away.
Gen 29:3 And gathered there were all the flocks; and they rolled the stone from the well's mouth, and watered the sheep, and put the stone back upon the well's mouth in its place.
This can be understood in two ways. Either this is a commentary on the customary practice of the shepherds and herdsmen, or it has taken place as Yaakov approached.
Gen 29:4 And Yaakov said to them: 'My brothers (achiym), where are you from?' And they said: 'We’re from Charan (Scorched mountain).' Gen 29:5 And he said to them: ‘Do you know Laban (white) the son of Nachor (snorting)?' And they replied: 'We know him.' Gen 29:6 And he said to them: 'Is it well with him?' And they said: 'It is well; and, behold, Rachel (Ewe) his daughter is coming with the sheep (Ha-tzon).'
The cultural etiquette of the Middle East requires Yaakov to call these men brothers (achiym), however, they are not literally his blood relatives. Additionally, it is right that he asks after his uncle’s wellbeing. He is also wanting to receive accurate directions for finding his uncle’s dwellings.
It is noteworthy that the Hebrew, “Ha-tzon” is used here to describe the sheep that Rachel is tending. This Hebrew word can refer to small herded animals in general, as well as to sheep specifically, but does not refer to standard sized cattle. Rachel’s name, which means “Ewe”, is connected to her role as a shepherdess, both physically and spiritually. She is soon to become the shepherdess of the tribes of Israel.
Gen 29:7 And he said: 'Listen, it’s mid-day, it’s not yet time to gather the livestock (Ha-mik’neh) together; so water the sheep (Ha-tzon), and go and feed them.' Gen 29:8 And they said: 'We cannot, until all the herds are gathered together, and they roll the stone from the well's mouth; then we’ll water the sheep.'
Yaakov, seeing that Rachel, Laban’s daughter was approaching, wanted to endear himself to her and to Laban by facilitating the watering of her flock. His request also takes into account that if Rachel is made to wait until the evening when the large cattle are coming in to water, her flock will become secondary to the watering of the herds of the others and she may lose some of her animals due to dehydration. Not to mention the imposition it would be to her.
The herdsmen and shepherds of the region show their lack of honour and their selfish intent by refusing to move the great stone. They know that the stone can only be moved by several men (29:8) and therefore, they’re smug in their firm position, refusing to help water Rachel’s flock. The phrase, “we can’t” should be understood to mean, “we won’t”. It’s possible that Rachel is disliked by the shepherds and herdsmen of the region because of her father’s reputation.
Gen 29:9 While he was still speaking with them, Rachel came with her father's sheep; for she was a shepherdess.
The fact that Rachel came alone may indicate that Laban has limited resources, both in people and herds. In fact, Laban did not become prosperous until after he had met Yaakov (30:30). Leah, being weak in the eyes, that is, with an eye condition that would have made the task of shepherding impossible for her, was not able to shepherd her father’s sheep. Therefore, Rachel was given the task.
Gen 29:10 And it came to pass, when Yaakov saw Rachel the daughter of Laban his mother's brother, and the sheep of Laban his mother's brother, that Yaakov went near, and rolled the stone from the well's mouth, and watered the flock of Laban his mother's brother.
The repetition of the unnecessary phrase, “Laban, his mother’s brother” connects all of Yaakov’s actions to the righteousness of his mother Rivkah, so as to make clear to the reader that Yaakov is not honouring his wicked uncle through his actions. In other words, the righteousness of Rivkah is being offerred onto Rachel and Leah and not upon Laban.
The fact that Yaakov was able to move the great stone away from the mouth of the well denotes miraculous, God given strength. He has travelled far, has not yet received water himself and has shifted a stone that usually takes several men to move. This action shows Yaakov’s righteous character, his care for women, his holy tenacity and his unrelenting pursuit of all that God has promised him. He is rightly named Yaakov (Follower/Grasper after the heel), for he continues to reach beyond his own grasp in order to take hold of the things that can only be grasped in HaShem.
When we compare the well (Be’er) meetings of Eli-etzer and Moshe (Moses) to that of Yaakov, we see some beautiful examples of the unique roles that individuals play in service to God (Gen 24, Exodus 2). Eli-etzer (My God’s servant) was a man of prayer, who through integrity, commitment and piety received a miraculous answer from Hashem during his well encounter with Rivkah, and returned to present his master’s son with his captivating bride. Eli-etzer lived his name, serving his God through right action. Moshe (Moses: drawn out), becomes a champion to Zipporah (bird) and her sisters, drawing them out from an abusive situation and thus gains a home, having previously lost everything as a former son to Pharaoh and a prince in Egypt. Finally Yaakov (Grasps after the heel), employees his tenacious spirit to reach beyond his own limitations in the strength of God and roll away the stone that had prevented Rachel from getting life giving water for her flock. Thus Yaakov follows after the heel of the Life Giving Water, The Healer, The Shepherd of Israel, the Malakh (angel, messenger) of HaShem, Yeshua, The Water of living Himself, God with us.
Gen 29:11 And Yaakov kissed Rachel, and lifted up his voice, and wept. Gen 29:12 And Yaakov told Rachel that he was her father's brother (Blood, kindred), and that he was Rivkah's (Captivating) son; and she ran and told her father.
Yaakov kissed Rachel as a relative, and not in a romantic way, because to do so prior to making a betrothal contract would have shamed Rachel. This is another reason why the phrase, “Laban, my mother’s brother” was employed by the writer of the text three times in the previous verse. He is kissing Rachel here as a cousin.
We can only conjecture as to why Yaakov wept. Perhaps he wept out of relief, having finally made it to his destination and due to coming into contact with a member of his mother’s family. He may also have wept at his lack of means and his inability to offer anything of value for a bride. After all, the purpose of his journey was to find a bride among the daughters of his mother’s brother Laban.
He lifted up his voice and proclaimed before all present that he was Rachel’s cousin and the son of her aunt Rivkah, whom she is sure to have heard stories about. Rachel may well have been familiar with the story of her aunt Rivkah’s betrothal through the servant Eli-etzer and for this reason her excitement builds at the possibility of her own betrothal. Thus she runs to fetch her father Laban.
Gen 29:13 And it came to pass, when Laban heard news of Yaakov his sister's son, that he ran to meet him, and embraced him, and kissed him, and brought him to his house (Beiyto).
Laban’s character gives cause for speculation as to his motives for running to meet Yaakov. The Sages teach that Laban ran to Yaakov because he was confident that Yaakov must be laden with wealth and gifts. He thought, “If Eli-etzer, a mere servant had come with 10 richly laden camels (24:10), then Yitzchak’s heir must be bringing great wealth with him (Rashi). Both the Midrash and Rashi suggest that Laban, seeing Yaakov had no wealth, hugged him in order to feel his garments for jewels and valuables he might be keeping on his person. Whatever the truth may be, the Scripture details Laban’s actions and his idolatry, from which we can infer a his motivations.
And he told Laban all that had happened. Gen 29:14 And Laban said to him: 'Surely you’re my bone and my flesh.' And he (Yaakov) stayed with him (Laban) for a month.
We note that once Yaakov has explained his present situation to Laban, Laban’s response is one of obligation, “You can stay because your my blood”. Yaakov is no longer someone from whom Laban can glean material wealth.
Gen 29:15 And Laban said unto Yaakov: 'Just because you’re my brother (Blood, kindred), should you serve me for nothing? Tell me, what should your wages be?'
From this we determine that Yaakov worked for his keep the entire time he was with Laban. It was no free ride. Laban offers wages, perhaps because he has prospered while Yaakov has been with him, and because he wants to benefit further from having Yaakov in his community. After all, where Yaakov is there is blessing because of the promises of God.
Gen 29:16 Now Laban had two daughters: the name of the elder was Leah (weary/impatient), and the name of the younger was Rachel (Ewe).
The text refers to the daughters of Laban in terms of birth order, to make sense of Yaakov’s request in verse 18.
Gen 29:17 And Leah's eyes were weak (tender, delicate); but Rachel was of beautiful form and fair to look upon.
Leah is said to have a condition of the eyes and the Hebrew denotes weakness, meaning that this condition was debilitating. It may also infer that she was homely looking, making the comparison to Rachel’s form and beauty all the more poignant.
As He has done so many times in the past, HaShem will lift up the weak for His glory. By the end of this chapter Leah will have become the mother of a third of Yaakov’s sons, and the Matriarch to the Priesthood (Levi), and the Davidic and Messianic Kingships (Y’hudah) of Israel.
Gen 29:18 And Yaakov loved Rachel; and he said: 'I will serve you seven years for Rachel your younger daughter.'
Yaakov’s love for Rachel is identified pursuant to the description of her looks. However, he had already noted her service as a shepherdess and there is no reason to believe that his love for her was mere physical attraction. To offer seven years of service for Rachel’s hand is extravagant and shows both his passion and commitment to loving her. He makes clear that he is offering this service for the hand of the younger daughter.
Gen 29:19 And Laban said: 'It is better that I give her to you, than that I should give her to another man; stay with me.'
Laban says nothing of his intention to marry Leah off first. Either he is hoping Leah will be wed within the next seven years or he has always planned to trick Yaakov. The seven years is spiritually symbolic of completion and prosperity and shows Yaakov to be a man of character, who, although he knows that HaShem has blessed him and promised him a great inheritance, makes no demands for special treatment.
Gen 29:20 And Yaakov served seven years for Rachel; and they seemed to him but a few days, because of his love for her.
This is more than infatuation or mere physical attraction. Yaakov, according to betrothal custom, did not cohabitate with Rachel for the period of the seven years. It is clear that he genuinely loved Rachel.
Gen 29:21 And Yaakov said unto Laban: 'Give me my wife, so that I may go in unto her, for my days are fulfilled.'
This is one of the few graphic sexual statements in the Torah. The phrase, “Go in unto her” could be translated in modern terms as, “Go into her”. While this might seem vulgar, it is an important qualifying statement concerning Rachel’s virginity and Yaakov’s righteous actions toward her over the seven year betrothal period. The traditional betrothal period was set at up to one year, thus Yaakov had waited seven times the traditional period for his bride.
Rashi notes that Yaakov was 84 years old at this point in the narrative and is concerned about producing progeny in fulfilment of the blessing of HaShem.
Gen 29:22 And Laban gathered together all the men of the place, and made a feast.
Drunkenness and debauchery were common practice at the feasts of idolaters. Thus it seems that Yaakov may well have over indulged in alcohol, making him an easy target for the deception that follows. One could say that like Yitzchak before him, he had become blind. It would be no surprise if we were to learn that Laban had encouraged him to drink excessively during the wedding feast celebrations.
Gen 29:23 And it came to pass in the evening, that he took Leah his daughter, and brought her to him; and he went in unto her. Gen 29:24 And Laban gave Zilpah (A trickling like myrrh) his maid servant to his daughter Leah for a maid servant.
Laban’s disregard for his daughters’ feelings aside, it is hard to imagine that Rachel was not complicit in this. Marriage was essential to an ancient woman’s survival and Rachel, seeing that her sister was unlikely to attract a husband, may well have acted to include her in the arrangement that Laban had made with Yaakov, with the end goal of getting both herself and her sister out of the idolatrous household of Laban in pursuit of a better future.
Rashi notes, in reference to Megillah 13b, that Zilpah was the younger of the two maid servants and thus helped to solidify the illusion that Yaakov was receiving Rachel into his tent on his wedding night.
Gen 29:25 And it came to pass in the morning that, hinei (suddenly) behold, there was Leah;
The Hebrew, “hinei” denotes a sudden revelation, a surprising discovery. Thus it seems that Yaakov must have been extremely intoxicated in order to have been fooled the night before. Add to this the deep darkness that falls over communities at night in places where city light doesn’t cause the skies to become luminous and the moon is in its later phases, and it seems more than possible for a deception like this to succeed.
and he (Yaakov) said to Laban: 'What is this you have done to me? Didn’t I serve with you for Rachel? Why have you tricked me?' Gen 29:26 And Laban said: 'It’s not our custom in this place, to give the younger daughter in marriage before the first-born. Gen 29:27 Fulfil the wedding week of this one, and we will give you the other also for another seven years’ service.' Gen 29:28 And Yaakov did so, and fulfilled her wedding week; and he gave him Rachel his daughter for a wife. Gen 29:29 And Laban gave to Rachel his daughter Bilhah (troubled) his maid servant to be her maid servant. Gen 29:30 And he (Yaakov) went in also unto Rachel, and he loved Rachel more than Leah, and served with him another seven years.
It may or may not have been the custom of Laban’s community to give the eldest daughter in marriage before the younger. Regardless, Laban has acted deceptively. To Yaakov’s credit, he agrees to honour his marriage commitment to Leah and to work an additional seven years in order to secure his marriage to Rachel. The later Torah instruction forbidding a man to marry both a woman and her sister while both are living, may well be the result of an oral tradition passed down from Yaakov as a warning against the pitfalls of such an arrangement (Leviticus 18:18).
The wedding week (Judges 14:17) was an obligatory week for the purpose of consummating the marriage and celebrating with wider family and community.
Gen 29:31 And HaShem (YHVH: Mercy) saw that Leah was hated (s’nuah), and he opened her womb; but Rachel was barren.
The term, “s’nuah” hated, is better understood as, “unloved” (v.30) in this context. It is used as the counterpoint to love, rather than to convey malice.
HaShem shows mercy to Leah, knowing that at least for a time, Rachel will be enjoying her newlywed status and the genuine affection of her husband while Leah is neglected. It is however part of the husband’s obligation to provide seed for procreation. Therefore, Leah was not neglected in the marriage bed.
Gen 29:32 And Leah conceived, and bore a son, and she called his name Reuven (See a son); for she said: 'Because HaShem (YHVH: Mercy) has looked upon my affliction; for now my husband will love me.'
Children were greatly desired in this ancient culture where a man’s name, culture, religion and identity lived on through his male descendants. Leah determined that having given birth, she would find favour and love because of her husband’s desire for progeny. Leah, although the less loved of the two wives of Yaakov, is none the less privileged with giving birth to Israel’s firstborn. In fact, as previously mentioned, she will become the Matriarch of the Priesthood (Levi) and the Davidic and Messianic Kingships of Israel (Y’hudah).
Gen 29:33 And she conceived again, and bore a son; and said: 'Because HaShem (YHVH: Mercy) has heard that I am hated, He has therefore given me this son also.' And she called his name Shim’eon (heard).
The naming of both Reuven and Shimeon emphasise the fact that God hears in mercy and acts to deliver His children from suffering: physical, emotional, mental and spiritual. These names also reflect the naming of Ishmael.
Gen 29:34 And she conceived again, and bore a son; and said: 'Now this time my husband will be joined unto me, because I have birthed him three sons.' Therefore, his name was called Leivi (joined to).
It is clear from Leah’s progression of statements regarding the births, that Yaakov has still not changed his view of her or his manner toward her. Thus, at the birth of Levi, the third son (A significant number), she hopes that not only will Yaakov love her for her children’s sake but will also spend more time with her and develop a stronger bond with her through the children they share. Of course, Levi and the priesthood born of him are to be joined to God
Gen 29:35 And she conceived again, and bore a son; and she said: 'This time I will praise HaShem (YHVH: Mercy).' Therefore she called his name Y’hudah (praise); and she left off bearing.
In the case of the first three sons, Leah has given glory to God and has then focused on how the birth of the boys might benefit her in relationship to her husband Yaakov. This time however, at the birth of Y’hudah, something changes. Here she simply says, “This time I will praise Hashem.” No mention of how the birth of Y’hudah might benefit her, only praise for Hashem. Through great turmoil of heart and emotional suffering, Leah has come to a place of trust. She now recognises that her identity is not in Yaakov but in HaShem. Therefore, she names her son Y’hudah (Praise).
The name Y’hudah has greater significance than any of the names given to the other 11 sons of Yaakov. Over 360 times, the Tanakh both directly and indirectly relates the Name of God to the Jewish people. This account gives birth to a revelation of the intimate connection between God and the Y’hudiym (Jews). Here the intimate, holy, personal Name of God is seen in relationship to His people in a profound and literal way. The Hebrew name Y’HVDaH (Y’hudah) meaning praise, has the Name of the One Who is to be praised imbedded within it, YHV(D)H. Simply by removing the character Dalet “D”, the Holy Name is revealed. Thus it is in Y’hudah that the light of the nations dwells and out of Y’hudah will come the light of God with Us, the Messiah and King, Yeshua. Therefore, the light that Y’hudah will bring to the nations is entirely reliant on YHVH. The removed character Dalet, meaning, “Door” teaches us that YHVDH (Y’hudah) will become a door through which the nations will meet HaShem (YHVH). All this is born in the womb of an unloved woman.
“Amen, amen truly I tell you P’rushiym, anyone who does not enter the sheep pen by the door, but climbs in by some other way, is a thief and a robber. The one who enters by the door is the Shepherd of the sheep. The doorkeeper opens the door for Him, and the sheep listen to His voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When He has brought out all His own, He goes on ahead of them, and His sheep follow Him because they know His voice. But they will never follow a stranger; in fact, they will run away from him because they do not recognize a stranger’s voice.”Yeshua (Jesus) used this figure of speech, but the P’rushiym did not understand what He was telling them. Therefore Yeshua said again, “Amen, amen, truly I tell you, I am the door for the sheep. All who have come before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep have not listened to them. I am the door; whoever enters through me will be saved. They will come in and go out, and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” –Yochanan/John 10:1-10
This is why Yeshua says, “Salvation (Yeshua: the door/gate) is of the Y’hudiym (Jews: YHVDH)” [Yochanan/John 4:22].
© 2017 Yaakov Brown
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Founder of the Beth Melekh International Messiah Following Jewish Community,