Elon, North Carolina
We are studying the Book of Genesis. We come today to a section that is very exciting. This is a lot of drama in this section. The chapter contains love, romance, disappointment, rejection and sorrow. It is a chapter that has some very interesting applications. It also has some strange parts to it. There is incest in this chapter. There is polygamy. There is a love triangle in this chapter. There is a reality show about polygamy called Sister Wives. Jacob was married to actual sister wives.
We see another sibling rivalry in this chapter. This time, it is not two brothers (Jacob and Esau) but by two sisters (Leah and Rachel). The relationship of Leah and Rachel was very much like the relationship of Jacob and Esau. One was older and one was younger. They were very different. They looked very different physically. They had very different personalities. They are rivals in every way.
Let’s review the background of the chapter. Jacob is on the run. He is fleeing for his life. He took the birthright and the blessing from his twin brother and now Esau plans to kill him, so he is not only leaving home, he is leaving the country and traveling five hundred miles to Haran in what is today Turkey.
On his way to Haran, he falls asleep and has a dream about a long staircase and a lot of angels going up and down it. God spoke to him in the dream and confirmed the Abrahamic Covenant to him. In this chapter, he finally arrives at his destination. He meets his relatives and gets married.
Jacob went in a very short period of time from having NO wives to having FOUR wives. In one week, Jacob acquired Leah and her maid Zilpah, along with Rachel and her maid Bilhah. He had two wives and two concubines (two primary wives and two secondary wives). We will not see the concubines until the next chapter.
In the last chapter, Jacob had a dream. In this chapter, he meets the woman of his dreams. In the last chapter, Jacob met God. In this chapter, he met his wife or wives. In fact, he meets his first wife at the exact same well where Abraham’s servant found a wife for Isaac about ninety years before. It was no accident.
As Steven Cole says, “He happens upon a well where there happen to be some shepherds, who happen to be from Haran and happen to know Laban. Just as Jacob is talking to them, Rachel happens to come along.”
Jacob flirts with Rachel at this well and shows off his strength by moving the large heavy stone on top of the well cover by himself. He tries to send the shepherd boys away so he can talk to Rachel alone. He waters her flocks. When the servant came with his ten camels, Rebekah did all of the work but he wants to make a good impression. In this chapter, Jacob arrives at his destination, falls in love, gets married and has kids. He has a lot of them. He actually ends up with twelve sons.
Try to picture Jacob arriving in Haran. He arrives with just the clothes on his back. We will learn that in Genesis 32:10. The last time that someone from Abraham’s family arrived, they came with ten camels and all kinds of gifts. Laban remembers that. Jacob does not have all kinds of gifts to give them. He stays with Uncle Laban. Laban is an old man in Genesis 29. He would have been a young man in Genesis 24. Uncle Laban does not treat Jacob very well.
He arrived with a sign that said “will work for food and a wife”. Laban told him that if he worked for seven years for him, he could marry his daughter Rachel. Jacob was poor. He did not have any money for a dowry, so he had to work for the pride price. At the end of the seven years, there is a wedding but Laban switches Leah for Rachel. Laban had two daughters and he gave Jacob his older daughter, rather than his younger daughter. Why did Laban do this?
Leah was not very attractive. She was older. He probably thought no one would want to marry her, so Laban tricked Jacob into marrying her. This is very interesting. What happens here is that history repeats itself? Deception takes place again, only it is not blessing by deception. It is marriage by deception. This time Jacob is not the perpetrator, he is the victim. Jacob cheated Esau and now Laban cheats Jacob. Jacob tricked his father and now his father-in-law tricks him.
The tables are now turned. Jacob pretended to be Esau. He dressed up like Esau and tricked his Isaac. Now Leah pretends to be Rachel. She dressed up like Rachel and tricks Jacob. Jacob impersonated his brother Esau and now Leah impersonates her sister. Jacob gets a taste of his own medicine. The same trick which he pulled on his father was pulled on him by his father-in-law.
It is a kind of poetic justice. Jacob took advantage of people and now they take advantage of him. Jacob took advantage of Isaac and now Laban takes advantage of Jacob. Isaac was old and he was blind. He could not see who he was blessing. Jacob could not see who he married. There was no electricity. It was a dark room. Leah wore a long veil and Jacob probably a lot of alcohol at his wedding celebration.
This trick involved a conspiracy, like the one that Jacob pulled on Esau. Jacob did not work alone when he deceived his father. Rebekah his mom helped him. Leah does not work on her own either. Rebekah’s brother Laban helps her trick Jacob. Abraham goes to school in this chapter. He has to learn some hard lessons.
We all have some character flaws. God intends to correct them. Jacob got saved in the last chapter but he has a long way to go. He is just a baby Christian. He is not a spiritual giant yet. He tries to bargain with God after he spoke to him in a dream.
He has a long way to go. When he arrives at the well, he does not break out in a prayer asking God to reveal which woman he should marry. Abraham’s servant who went to Haran uttered a prayer when he got there. Jacob does not prayer or praise God, like the servant did.
He never asks God if it is His will for him to marry Rachel. They just get married. When they do get married and Rachel is infertile, she comes to him angry and says, “Give me children or else I will die”. Jacob’s mom had a similar problem. She was infertile. Rebekah could not have kids for twenty years. What was Isaac’s response?
He prayed for her and we are told that God answered his prayers (25:21). Jacob does not have that kind of response to Rachel. In fact, the text says that he was angry that she would even say such a thing, because he had no power to create children. Only God could do that but Jacob did not have the same sensitivity to his wife that Isaac seemed to have. Jacob clearly has a long way to go. There is a lot that God still has to teach him.
The lessons begin in this chapter. God also begins to work on Jacob’s character in this chapter. He never confronted him about his deception but he teaches him a lesson that he will never forget in Haran about deception. He learns the lesson from his Uncle Laban, who was a master of deceit. Jacob has just enrolled in Laban’s Academy of Deception.
Jacob had no problem whatsoever deceiving others, even his dying father but he is shocked and outraged that anyone would dare deceive him. This was the only way that he could really learn how painful it is to do this to someone. He learns it first-hand when someone does it to him. He made Esau cry and now he knows what it is like. God makes Jacob sick of his own sin in the end.
What Jacob learns in this chapter is that you reap what you sow. This is the biblical law of the harvest. The Apostle Paul said, “Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. Whoever sows to please their flesh, from the flesh will reap destruction; whoever sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life” (Galatians 6:7-8). Jacob sowed deception and is reaping deception.
Proverbs 26:27 says, “Whoever digs a pit will fall into it”. That sounds like the old cartoon Roadrunner and Coyote. The very thing that Jacob did to other people is now being done to him. He deceived other people. He lied to them and tricked them and now people are deceiving and tricking him.
A Changed Man
Jacob had a long way to go but he looks very different from the old Jacob we are used to seeing. In Genesis 27, he was a terrible role model. He was a deceiver and a liar. He was a crook and a swindler. Here he has a good reputation. In many ways, he is a good role model for us today.
Jacob has integrity. He is a good employee. He sees a woman and falls in love with her. He waited seven years to marry her. It is one of the greatest love stories in all of literature. It is one of the greatest love stories of all time. People in the ancient world did not have romance before marriage, because marriages were arranged. Love took place after marriage, not before. In Jacob’s case, he falls in love BEFORE marriage.
“Jacob served seven years to get Rachel, but they seemed like only a few days to him because of his love for her” (29:20 NIV). That is one of the most romantic verses in the Bible. I submit to you that few men would do what Jacob does here. Few men would have this kind of patience.
Jacob does not find the woman of his dreams until he is older (possibly in his late 50, 60s or 70s) and then he is willing to wait seven years to marry her. He loved her so much that he did not mind waiting seven more years. Seven years was like seven days. It makes it easier to wait when you have something to look forward to and Jacob was in no hurry to go home because he had an angry brother waiting for him.
What is even more amazing is this. Jacob was sexually pure during this time. They didn’t sleep together until they were married and he was living with Rachel’s family all during this time. How do we know that he stayed pure? At the end of the seven years, Jacob told Laban in 29:21, “Then Jacob said to Laban, “Give me my wife. My time is completed, and I want to make love to her” (NIV).
The KJV says, “Give me my wife, for my days are fulfilled, that I may go in unto her“. This tells you that they stayed pure during that time. This is a perfect example of true love waits. The Bible says that “love is patient” (I Corinthians 13:4). How many people would do this today?
Jacob did not just WAIT seven years for Rachel; he WORKED seven years for her. The lesson here is that dreams are not just things you wait for. They are things that you work for. Laban had a deal with him and he kept his end of the deal. He worked seven years for free. He works hard. He keeps his end of the bargain. He is the one who shows integrity in this chapter but at the end of the seven years, Laban switches Leah for Rachel.
A Deceptive Marriage
He pulls the old switcheroo. “Laban gathered together all the people of the place and made a feast. But in the evening he took his daughter Leah and brought her to Jacob, and he went in to her. Laban gave his female servant Zilpah to his daughter Leah to be her servant. And in the morning, behold, it was Leah! (29:22-25).
Jacob gets cheated by his uncle. Uncle Laban tricks him. Jacob marries Leah by mistake. He had a great wedding but a terrible honeymoon. The next morning, he wakes up to a complete nightmare. He had disappointment in his marriage from day one. He is forced to marry two women. He is forced to marry a woman that he does not even love. He is forced to marry two sisters. He confronted his uncle about this injustice. And Jacob said to Laban, “What is this you have done to me? Did I not serve with you for Rachel? Why then have you deceived me?” (29:25)
What was Laban’s response? He said, “It is not so done in our country, to give the younger before the firstborn” (29:26 ESV). Laban says that Jacob needs to respect the rights of the firstborn. Leah was Laban’s firstborn daughter. He did not respect the rights of his firstborn brother but now he is forced to respect the rights of Laban’s firstborn daughter.
Notice Jacob’s response to both Laban and Leah. What happened when Jacob cheated Esau? Esau planned to kill him. He planned to kill his own twin brother. Now Jacob’s father-in-law plays a terrible trick on Jacob on his wedding day. Jacob was angry. He was upset. He protested what Laban did and confronted him but he didn’t become violent. He didn’t become resentful.
You can be critical of Jacob for not loving Leah but can you really blame him here? He did not want to marry Leah. His heart was set on Rachel. That is who he wanted to marry. That is who Laban said that he could marry. That is who he thought he married. What Jacob did here, no one would do today. If we do not like who we marry, we just get a divorce. Jacob literally married the wrong person and he still did not get a divorce.
He stayed married to her the rest of his life. He believed in keeping the marriage vows that he made before God for better or for worse, rather than breaking them. That would be unheard of today. That shows that he did not believe in divorce. He had a very different attitude about divorce than many do in the west.
Laban did eventually give Jacob Rachel but how long did he have to wait? I became a Christian when I was thirteen. When I read this for the first time, I thought that Jacob waited seven years, married Leah and then had to wait another seven years before he could marry Rachel.
That is where having a good modern bible translation of Genesis 29:27 helps you understand what is going on. The NLT reads, “Finish this daughter’s bridal week; then we will give you the younger one also, in return for another seven years of work.” The HCSB reads, “Complete this week of wedding celebration, and we will also give you this younger one in return for working yet another seven years for me.” Jacob got Rachel seven days later. Jewish weddings back then lasted a week. It was a big celebration.
An Unloved Wife
So Jacob finally gets Rachel a week later. He gets the woman of his dreams, but he is also stuck with Leah, who he does not love. That brings us to the interesting part of the chapter. As you read, Genesis 29, you feel sorry for Leah. She was married to a man who did not choose her, did not want her and did not love her. She was unattractive, unwanted and unloved.
Anyone who feels unloved can relate to Leah. Her husband did not love her. Every time Leah had a baby, she hoped that her husband would start loving her but he never did. Then God steps into the situation and intervenes. What He does is interesting and a little surprising.
Genesis 29:17 says, “Leah had weak eyes, but Rachel had a lovely figure and was beautiful” (NIV). Rachel and Leah were not equal in beauty. All women were not created equal in beauty. God did not make all women physically flawless. There is a sense in which that statement in The Declaration of Independence which says “we are all created equal” is a complete lie. We are all created very unequal. We all have different gifts and abilities.
The Bible says Rachel was hot and Leah was not. Rachel looked like a super model. She was drop dead gorgeous. Leah did not have her sister’s looks. In fact, her name means “cow”. She was not physically attractive. She wasn’t easy on the eyes. She weakened your eyes. Rachel was the one who looked like the beauty queen.
That led to favoritism, because Jacob was now married to both of them. This is the second time we have seen favoritism in Genesis. We saw favoritism on the part of Isaac and now we see favoritism on the part of his son Jacob. Jacob actually learned this behavior from both of his parents. Isaac had a favorite son and Rebekah had a favorite son (25:28). They both loved one son more than the other son. Now Jacob has two wives and he loves one more than the other (29:30).
This time it is not a favorite son but a favorite wife. Leah was not treated right. She felt inferior to Rachel. She felt unloved. She was insecure. She felt like she never measured up to her sister. She probably had some self esteem issues. She may have struggled with depression.
Leah’s Incredible Blessings
The Bible says that God saw this. It says that He “saw that Leah was hated” (29:31). He sees what goes on in a marriage. When we are not treated right, He sees it as well, even when no one else does. So what does God do about it? First note what He did NOT do.
He did not change her physical appearance. God knew that Leah did not look like her sister. He created her that way. Leah was just the way that God made her.
God did not give Leah a make-over. He just blessed her in other ways. God is the great equalizer. In fact, He actually blessed her far more than He ever blessed Rachel. Leah had no idea how much she was blessed by God. How did God bless Leah? He did it in four ways.
1. Leah had many children.
This may not be a big deal to us but it was a big deal to women in biblical days. In the Bible, this was a sign of God’s blessing. Kids in the Bible are viewed as a blessing, not a burden. In our society today, children are often viewed, not as a blessing but as a curse.
In the Bible, they are seen as a blessing. God gives Leah a lot of kids. In this chapter, Rachel does not have any kids, although she will get a few in the next chapter. Leah had seven kids and Rachel had two. Leah had three times as many sons as Rachel did. In fact, Leah had more kids than Rachel, Bilhah and Zilpah had combined.
2. Many tribes came from Leah.
She is the mother of the first four patriarchs of Israel. Six of the Twelve Tribes come from Leah. No other woman produced as many of the Twelve Tribes than Leah did and all of the important tribes came from Leah as well.
The tribes Levi and Judah came from Leah.That is very important. All of the Levitical priests came from Leah. Moses and Aaron came from Levi. All of the kings came from Judah and Judah was one of Leah’s sons. King David and Solomon came from Judah.
3. Leah became the ancestor of the Messiah.
Jesus was not a descendant of the very attractive Rachel. He was a descendant of the rather plain looking Leah. That is not who we would have picked to be the ancestor of the Messiah. We would have picked someone with good genes who was physically stunning like Rachel but God chose Leah.
God sees things very differently than we do. His ways are different than our ways and His thoughts are different than our thoughts(Isaiah 55:8). The things that we think are so important, God does not think are important. There are some things that we do not think are that important that God says is very important. The Messiah came from the unloved wife, not the favorite wife.
Think about this. Jacob never planned to marry Leah. He didn’t want to marry Leah but guess what? If Jacob never married Leah, then Jesus would never have been born two thousand years later. Why? Jesus came from the tribe of Judah and Judah was Leah’s fourth son (29:35).
If Jacob never married Leah, then Judah would not have been born and if Judah was not born, then Jesus would never have been born. This marriage was not planned by Jacob but it was planned by God.
4. Leah was blessed with longevity.
Rachel died early. She died in childbirth. They were only married for fourteen years. Jacob spent most of his life married to Leah. With her sister gone, she no longer had any competition. Leah became Jacob’s favorite wife because she was his only wife. She is buried next to Jacob at Machpelah (49:29-31).