Jacob's Wives

Read: Genesis 29-30

  1. Why do you suppose Jacob wanted the shepherds to hurry up and water their sheep?
  2. How long did Jacob live with Laban before Laban offered him a job? What were the terms of employment?
  3. How did Laban cheat Jacob on his payment? What was Laban's excuse?
  4. In order to marry Rachel, what did Jacob have to do?
  5. What caused the two sisters to be jealous?
  6. Since Rachel was unable to have children, what did she do?
  7. When Leah thought she was past the childbearing age, what did she do? How did Leah find out that she was still able to have children?
  8. Look up "mandrake" in a dictionary or encyclopedia. What was mandrake used for?
  9. When Jacob was ready to leave, what did Laban agree to give him so that Jacob would stay?

Jacob's Wives

Jacob leaves Bethel and continues his journey on foot to Haran. When he reaches the area of Haran, he sees three flocks of sheep gathered by a well in the early afternoon. The situation draws Jacob's attention because the shepherds are not doing anything at the well. Jacob approaches the men and in his conversation with them, he learns that the well is covered by a rock that is removed when everyone gathers in the early evening. Perhaps the rule for watering was first-come-first-served and these shepherds had arrived early for a good position. Of course, this assumes that the shepherds were too young to move the stone on their own, so they had to wait for an older person to arrive to open the well. We can also assume that these shepherds were somewhat lazy or careless in their duties. They gathered early in the afternoon for the evening watering instead of letting their sheep graze in the pastures longer.

While speaking to the shepherds, Jacob inquires after his uncle, Laban. He learns that Laban is in good health and that Laban's daughter was expected to arrive soon to water her sheep. Jacob encourages the shepherds to water their sheep and move on. Perhaps he wanted a chance to meet his cousin without spectators. Whatever his intent, Rachel arrives before he could get the shepherds to leave.

As Rachel and her flock approached, Jacob removes the stone from the well and waters her sheep. He was probably excited to meet a relative and was eager to make a good impression. This is not a case of love a first sight. Throughout, the emphasis is on Laban and Rachel's relationship to Laban. Rachael will introduce Jacob to Laban and he wants a good report to be brought. After watering the sheep, Jacob gives her a kiss in greeting (a common practice) and then begins to weep. He explains to Rachel that he is overjoyed to meet his relative after all this time. When Rachel finds out who Jacob is, she runs to tell her father.

Laban doesn't waste any time but rushes out to greet Jacob and invites him to stay with his family. He is eager to learn what has happened to Rebekah. After all, it has been about 90 years since his sister had left home. (Jacob would be in his seventies at this time.) There are many things that needed to be discussed.

Jacob stays with Laban for a month, helping with the many chores around the home. In that time he becomes acquainted with Rachel and falls in love with her. Eventually, Laban offers to hire Jacob and for wages, they agree that Jacob will be able to marry Rachel after seven years of labor. The seven years of service would serve as the dowry price for Rachel. I'm sure Laban thought he was getting the best of this deal.

For Jacob, the seven years flew by quickly because of his love for Rachel. Meanwhile, Rachel's older sister remained unmarried. The Scriptures tell us that she was not found to be a desirable wife because she had weak eyes. It is possible that this meant she had difficulty seeing and the squinting marred her appearance. Or it could mean that her eyes were light in color, making her unattractive. Or it is possible that her eyes watered excessively as if she was crying continually. Whatever the case, it looked like Leah would die an unmarried maiden.

At the end of the seven years, a marriage feast was held for Jacob and Rachel. Unbeknownst to Jacob, Laban substitutes Leah as the bride. It is possible that Laban had this planned from the time he struck his deal with Jacob. Or, it is possible that Laban thought that in seven years, Leah was sure to be married to someone. What we do know is that Laban claims it is the custom of that area for the older sister to marry before the younger sisters. It was a suspiciously convenient custom that was not mentioned during the previous seven years. Most likely, Laban was simply looking for a way to keep Jacob working for him since he was prospering well.

Laban gives his daughter a maid as a wedding gift. Since the maid, Zilpah, would care for the bride, Laban's gift conveniently helped to keep his secret. During the marriage feast, the bride was kept completely covered and Jacob was not allowed to approach her until that night. It is easy to imagine that it was arranged so that Jacob and his bride entered their bedchamber in the dark. If Leah kept silent and kept Jacob busy, we can understand that Jacob did not realize that his bride was not Rachel. Hence, Jacob did not discover that he was deceived until the morning came. It is ironic that the man who deceived his father is in turned deceived at another great moment in his life.

Of course, Jacob confronts Laban, but it is too late to switch the brides. The marriage has taken place and it was consummated during the previous night. However, Laban offers a solution. If Jacob will finish the week-long honeymoon with Leah and promise to give Laban an additional seven years of "free" labor, Laban would give Rachel to be his wife along with her sister. Jacob agrees to the terms and at the end of the week, Laban gives Rachel to Jacob as his wife and gives Bilhah as her personal maid. Hence, Jacob becomes a polygamist like his brother Esau. Remember that Jacob did not have to accept Laban's terms. He could have left Laban's house with Leah as his wife, but Jacob chose to stay and marry Rachel.

While Jacob never berates Leah for her part in the deception, the Scriptures are plain that Jacob preferred Rachel over Leah. Over time, he does learn to care for Leah. God had a hand in this. Seeing that Leah was unloved, God grants her children while Rachel remains barren.

Jacob and Leah's first son was named Reuben, which means "Behold, a son!" Soon after, Leah has a second son whom she names Simeon, or "Hearing," for she realized that God was hearing her prayers. Her third son she named Levi, or "Attachment," since she figured Jacob's heart was bound to be attracted to her now that she had given him three sons. Her fourth son was named Judah, or "Praise," in honor of the Lord blessing her with so many children. Due to the quick description of her four sons, it is assumed that they were born in quick succession, perhaps in as little as four years.

Rachel becomes jealous of her sister. Even though she has Jacob's heart, Leah is the one having all the children. Rachel accuses Jacob of withholding children from her. In turn, Jacob responds in anger, pointing out that he has done his part. He does not sit in the place of God and control conception.

In desperation, Rachel decides to use the same method Sara used to gain a child. She gives her maid, Bilhah, to Jacob as a concubine. When Bilhah goes into labor, Rachel will help her to deliver the child and so through Bilhah she would feel like she has given Jacob children. This seems to have been a social custom of that time to guard against a wife being barren. Perhaps it is the reason that a maid was given to the bride at her wedding.

Shortly, Bilhah gives birth to two sons in quick succession. Rachel named the first son Dan, or "Justice," since she now feels justified in giving her maid to Jacob in order to have children. The second son was named Naphtali, which means "Wrestling." Rachel felt she had wrestled the heart of Jacob away from her sister and back to herself. Obviously, the two sisters were not getting along with each other.

It has now been two or more years since Leah had born a child. Perhaps she thought she was past her time for bearing children, but she wasn't going to let Rachel get the upper hand. To Leah, children were the way to win Jacob's heart, so she, too, gives her maid to Jacob to bear children on her behalf. Zilpah bears two sons to Jacob - Gad, which means "Fortunate" and Asher, which means "Happy."

One day, Reuben, who by this time would be about 8 years old, found some mandrake plants growing in the field. Mandrake was an herb believed to promote conception. It is also called a "love apple" or "mayapple." Rachel sees the herb and wants them. Perhaps she thought they could help her overcome her barrenness. She asks Leah for the mandrakes, but Leah decides she wants something in return. By this time, Jacob has been spending more time in other beds than her own, so the bargain is she would exchange the mandrakes for a night with Jacob.

Leah soon finds out that she was not through with having children. From that night with Jacob, she bore another son whom she named Issachar, or "Reward." Shortly thereafter, she gave birth to a sixth son, whom she named Zebulun, or "Dwelling," for she thought Jacob would now live with her instead of her sister. Her seventh child was a girl, whom she named Dinah, or "Judgment." Dinah was the first of many daughters, but the only daughter whose name we are told (Genesis 37:35; 46:7, 15).

We are told that God remembered Rachel and granted her a child. Rachael named her son Joseph, which can be translated either "Taken away" or "May he add." The former would indicate that Rachel's shame of being barren was taken away. The later would indicate that Rachel hoped Joseph would be the first of many children.

By this time, it has been more than seven years since Jacob married Leah and Rachel. Given the number of children born, it is likely that it has been close to ten years. Jacob informs Laban that he is ready to leave, but Laban is reluctant to let his best laborer leave. Both he and Jacob know that Laban has prospered since Jacob began working for him. God had blessed all of Jacob's efforts. Therefore, Laban asks Jacob to name his price to stay and continue working for him.

Jacob asks to take, as wages, all the brown speckled animals that are born in Laban's herds in the future while Jacob cares for them. Animals with brown speckled fur were less desirable in a flock since the wool and skins from these animals were not easily dyed. The solid colored animals would remain with Laban. In order to assure whose animals were whose, Laban takes all the speckled animals in the flock and gives them to his sons. These animals were kept apart by a distance of a three-day journey. Not only did this keep the old animals from the new, but it also kept the speckled animals from breeding with the solid-colored animals in Jacob's care. Since like tends to breed like, Laban must have thought he was getting a fantastic deal.

As Jacob cares for the sheep, he places hazel and chestnut branches -- stripped of their bark --in the animals' water troughs. The purpose appears to promote conception so that the size of the herd would increase rapidly. Not only were a large number of animals born in the flock, but most of the children were speckled. These animals Jacob separated for his own herd. Further, Jacob used his stripped rods to encourage the strong animals to bred frequently, but he kept the weaker animals in a separate herd. In a very short time, probably less than five years, Jacob's herds were so large, he had to employ servants to care for his flocks.

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