The Word Made Fresh
1Jacob continued his journey until he came to the people of the eastern lands. 2He saw a well in a pasture with three flocks of sheep lying near it, and could see that was the well where they were watered. There was a large stone covering the mouth of the well, 3and the shepherds waited to uncover it when all the flocks arrived, then they would put it back when all the sheep had been watered.
4Jacob asked them where they were from. “Haran,” they said.
5“Do you know Laban son of Nahor?” he asked. They did. “Is he well?”
“Yes,” they said, “and his daughter Rachel is coming now with the sheep.”
7Jacob said, “Look, it’s still broad daylight. It’s not time for the flocks to be rounded up. Why don’t you water them and take them to pasture?”
8They said, “We have to wait until all the flocks have arrived, and then the stone is lifted and the sheep are watered.”
9While they were carrying on this conversation Rachel arrived with her father’s sheep. 10When Jacob saw Rachel, his uncle Laban’s daughter, with Laban’s sheep, he went over and rolled the stone off the well by himself, and watered Laban’s sheep. 11Then he gave Rachel a kiss and wept. 12He told her who he was, that he was Rebekah’s son, and she ran to tell her father.
13As soon as Laban heard the news about his sister’s son, he ran to meet Jacob. He hugged him and kissed him and brought him to his house. Jacob recounted his journey to Laban, and 14Laban said, “You are my own flesh and blood for sure.” Jacob stayed with Laban a month, 15and then Laban said, “You shouldn’t work for me for nothing just because we’re related. What do you think I should pay you?”
16Laban had two daughters, Leah the eldest, and Rachel. 17Leah’s eyes were pretty, but Rachel was beautiful and had a lovely figure. 18Jacob was in love with Rachel, so he said, “I will work for you for seven years for your younger daughter, Rachel.”
19“I would rather give her to you than to anybody else, so stay with me.”
20Jacob worked for seven years for Rachel, and the time flew by because he loved her so much. 21He said to Laban, “My seven years are up. Now give me my wife so we can live together.”
22Laban invited people all around and threw a big party, 23but when darkness came he took his daughter Leah to Jacob, and he went to bed with her. 24He also gave his maid Zilpah to Leah.
25In the morning light, there was Leah. Jacob confronted Laban. “What have you done? Didn’t I serve you for Rachel? Why have you tricked me?”
26“Well,” said Laban, “Around here we don’t give away the younger daughter before the firstborn. 27Stay with this one for the week and then you can have the other one, too, provided you promise to work for me another seven years.”
28Jacob agreed. He stayed with Leah the rest of the week, and then Laban let him marry his daughter Rachel, 29and gave his maid Bilhah to her. 30So Jacob slept with Rachel also, and he loved Rachel more than he loved Leah. He agreed to work for Laban for another seven years.
31The LORD saw that Leah was being slighted, and he allowed her to become pregnant, but not Rachel. 32Leah gave birth to a son. She named him Reuben and said, “Since the LORD has rewarded me, surely my husband will love me now.” 33She conceived again and gave birth to another son. “The LORD knew that I was not loved, and gave me this son also,” she said, and named him Simeon. 34And again she was pregnant, and again gave birth to a son. “This time,” she said, “my husband will stay with me because I have given him three sons.” She named him Levi. 35And yet again she was pregnant, and again bore a son. “Praise the LORD!” she said and named the child Judah. After that she had no more children.
1-3: Jacob arrives at a well, perhaps the same well at which Abraham’s servant had met Rebekah when he had gone and brought her back to marry Isaac. Shepherds and flocks are gathered around it. The well is protected by a huge stone, perhaps to make it inaccessible to wild animals, or perhaps to prevent evaporation of the water during dry seasons.
4-8: Jacob is surely delighted and relieved to hear that the shepherds know his uncle Laban. As luck would have it, Laban’s daughter Rachel is approaching as they speak. Jacob then tries to get the shepherds to uncover the well, water their flocks and be on their way so he can meet Rachel alone, but they are a lazy bunch. They want to wait until everybody is there and they’ll have lots of help removing the stone cover.
9-12: Jacob sees Rachel and removes the stone all by himself — to impress her, no doubt. He draws water for her flock, then kisses her and cries and tells her he is her first cousin, her aunt Rebekah’s son. She runs to tell her father, probably not the reaction Jacob wanted to inspire.
13-14: Laban comes running and gets Jacob and brings him home with him, just as he had done many years earlier when his sister Rebekah ran home to say she had met the servant of Abraham at that well (see 24:28). Perhaps Laban expects to be rewarded with jewelry again, but it is not to be. Still, Jacob is his nephew, and so is offered the hospitality of Laban’s home and stays for a whole month. During that time, “Jacob told Laban his story,” (verse 13), but we are not told what story exactly. Probably not the part about Jacob cheating his brother Esau out of the birthright and then stealing his blessing and Esau swearing to murder him and that is why he is in Haran. He probably kept that part to himself. Or maybe he did tell exactly that, which is what convinced Laban that “truly you are my bone and my flesh,” because we will learn that when it comes to dirty tricks, Jacob has nearly met his match in Laban.
15-20: Laban asks Jacob to name his wages. We learn now that there are two girls, Leah and Rachel. Something is up with Leah’s eyes, we don’t know exactly how to translate here, but my guess is that Leah’s eyes are mentioned because her other attributes are not so outstanding, while Rachel is shapely and lovely and Jacob is already helplessly in love with her and offers to serve Laban seven years if he can marry her. Commentators believe this is evidence that Rachel is still a child at the time, perhaps 10 or even younger. In other words, Jacob, a grown man, falls in love with a little girl. Laban agrees, and Jacob settles down to the task and the time passes quickly.
21-30: Like uncle like nephew, goes the old saying, sort of. Jacob demands his “wages” at the end of seven years. Laban makes a great show of putting on a wedding, but sneaks his older daughter Leah into the tent instead. Jacob must have been so eager to enjoy the fruit of his labors that he isn’t paying very close attention and spends the entire night with the wrong girl. Or, maybe he knew it all along? In any case the next morning Laban makes a lame excuse, but, hey, what can Jacob do about it now? Laban says he will give Jacob the other daughter next week if he’ll stay another seven years. It seems extraordinary to us moderns, but Jacob says, okay, I’ll do it.
31-25: Leah gets pregnant, Rachel doesn’t. A baby is born, and she names him Reuben. A second one comes along, and she names him Simeon. The third one is named Levi and the fourth Judah. Each time the name of the child reflects something of her misery at being unloved by Jacob. (If you’re feeling very sorry for her you might want to read chapter 49:29-32. It will put Leah in a different light.)
What kind of people has God chosen to carry out God’s plans for humanity? The way these people live is certainly not how we think God’s people should live: one man with two women, playing them off against each other in bedroom games. (And in the next chapter two more girls take part in the game.) And God blesses this behavior, or at least puts up with it. God seems to be perfectly willing to overlook human foibles if it can move along God’s plan for the human race. In these early stories of God’s interaction with people, God seems to be more interested in where they are going than how they get there. We’ll have to see how this turns out.