Jacob has fled home so his brother Esau can’t catch him and kill him. Jacob has packed his suitcase with his toothbrush, a clean pair of underwear, his birthright and his blessing, and the confirmation from God himself. He arrives with all of this to Harran, the land of his mother’s relatives. His stopping place is a well where he meets his cousin Rachel and immediately he’s in love. He goes and stays with her family, which is his extended family. Rachel is the daughter of Laban, who is the brother of Jacob’s own mother Rebekah. So the woman Jacob is in love with is his cousin, the daughter of his uncle. Kissing cousins!
After a month of staying at Uncle Laban’s home and working for him Jacob says that he wants to marry Rachel. He says he’ll work 7 years for her. At the end of the 7 years Laban pulls a trick on Jacob and swaps out Rachel and swaps in her older sister Leah. Jacob blows up and his Uncle Laban says that if he works another 7 years he will give him Rachel right now as another wife. Jacob agrees and in all works 14 years for 2 wives.
We’re going to split our sermon up into 2 parts: Jacob Meets Rachel and Jacob Marries Rachel. Nice little division there isn’t it?
JACOB MEETS RACHEL (1-14)
Jacob arrives at Harran. There are several features to note right away here: Harran, a well and flocks.
Harran you may remember is the place that Abraham was called out of in chapter 12. He left Harran to go to Canaan as God instructed him to. In leaving Harran he left behind his brother Nahor. His brother Nahor ended up having 2 grandchildren: Rebekah and Laban. Rebekah married Abraham’s son Isaac. Laban had a daughter named Rachel. All of them were still living in Harran since Abraham left.
Also we note the well. There are many famous wells in the Bible. Isaac finally found a well after leaving Gerar and named it Rehoboth. Then there is Jacob’s well, which is mentioned in John chapter 4 when Jesus meets the woman at the well. Proverbs symbolically about avoiding adultery and “drinking water from your own well” (5:15).
Wells were critical assets that did two things: first they provided water, obviously. But secondly they were markers of property.
We also note the flocks here. Several shepherds were there milling about and waiting for other shepherds with their flocks to arrive. Apparently there was some arrangement between the shepherds that they would wait for each other to all gather and then drink together. Maybe the owners of the flocks had an agreement and so they instructed their shepherds. Who knows. I’m not sure what that is all about.
Jacob finds out the shepherds are from Harran and so Jacob plays the “Do you know?” Game. Do you know Laban? “Yes!” they say. Jacob had to be greatly encouraged to hear this. But it was about to get even better for him. They said, “Yeah we know Laban, and as a matter of fact here comes his daughter. Then Jacob turned around and his heart his whole life was changed. Verse 17 said Rachel was lovely in figure and beautiful. Translation: she was hot. She came walking up, and I’m sure her hair and makeup were perfect, a gentle wind blowing some strands across her face, somewhere Cutting Crews famous song “I Just Died In Your Arms Tonight” started playing….Jacob’s jaw drops, and he starts stuttering and stammering. It’s very similar to when Adam first saw Eve, and when Isaac first saw Rebekah.
Jacob greets Rachel by kissing her. This is not a romantic kiss but a common kiss of greeting among friends. Laban will greet Jacob with a kiss in a few verses. Remember in the NT that Judas betrayed Jesus with a kiss and Paul says to greet each other with a holy kiss (that’s why we had to get rid of our greeting time in the middle of the service!).
It also says Jacob began to weep aloud. Apparently his emotions are all stirred up. A woman will do that to you! Then without any concern for the other shepherds and their pact he runs over and puts his muscles on display for Rachel and moves the stone all by himself. I’m sure they were all thinking “What a showoff.”
Rachel runs back to tell her dad Laban and he comes running out to meet Jacob. He kisses Jacob, gives him a huge bear hug, takes him into his home immediately, and declares “You are my own flesh and blood.” Which is true, remember.
JACOB MARRIES RACHEL (15-30)
Okay, now we get to the good part: Jacob Marries Rachel. By good part, I mean the real drama. The part of the story that beats reality TV shows. Seriously, if so far in Genesis you haven’t cancelled your streaming subscription to read Genesis more you’re not paying attention. There’s way better entertainment in here. For instance, Jacob is about to get swindled big time by his own uncle-cousin. Oh yeah, Laban is Jacob’s 2nd cousin AND his uncle. Anyway, Laban is about to pull one over on Jacob and it’s hilarious – but only because it’s not me. Follow along with me in verse 15 down to 30.
So recap: Jacob says that he will work for 7 years for Laban in order to earn Rachel as his wife. After 7 years the wedding happens and at night Laban swaps out Rachel and swaps in Leah. Jacob wakes up the next morning furious. Right away they make another arrangement where Jacob will work another 7 years for Leah. But he gets Rachel right now. So now Jacob has two wives: Leah and Rachel. And now his relationship with Laban gets even more complicated: Laban is now his uncle, second-cousin and father-in-law! Holidays were interesting I’m sure.
Okay, my questions:
First of all, Jacob has no negotiating skills anymore. What in the world is he doing starting with an offer of 7 years of work?! Don’t get me wrong, I’m sure she was worth all 7 years. But this is a negotiation – you don’t lead with that! This is the same guy that persuaded his brother to give up his birthright for a bowl of soup. Clearly he has lost his negotiating “edge.” Love will do that to you!
Second, why did Laban trick Jacob? Yes he explained to Jacob that it was their custom that the older daughter was supposed to marry first. But that’s not an explanation. He had 7 years to have that talk. Here’s my proposed answer: Laban knew that Jacob’s parents were well off and Jacob would be able to provide for 2 wives, both of his daughters. Remember that one of the concerns in that time was finding a good husband who could materially support them. Laban saw an opportunity to downsize and give 4 women away: both daughters and a servant for each.
I have to say, Laban is definitely of the same stock as his sister Rebekah, who is Jacob’s mom. We have seen Rebekah deceiving and scheming first, and now her brother Laban as well. You can’t trust those two siblings if they were sitting on a stack of Bibles.
Third, Why didn’t Laban inform Jacob about this custom at any time in those 7 years? Probably because he was afraid Jacob would have refused to marry Leah. Not to be insensitive, but Laban may have felt Leah didn’t have as good a chance as Rachel in finding a husband because Rachel was more beautiful. And he needed to find Leah a husband. Here was his chance.
Fourth, How did Jacob NOT know about this custom?! Jacob surely would have heard about it around the water coolers (aka the wells) with the other shepherds. They certainly knew how love-sick Jacob was for her. He probably talked non-stop about her eyes and her hair and her smile. At some point in 7 years they had to have said “Hey buddy, you know Laban’s never gonna let you marry Rachel so long as Leah’s still single, right? We have a rule around here that the older sister has to marry first. Did Laban tell you that?” I’ve got to believe when family friends came over or Jacob was out in the fields working that Laban’s servants and shepherds and friends would have told him about this very important custom. And if so Jacob no doubt would’ve gone straight to Laban to make sure the deal was still on. Rachel. NOT Leah!
But he doesn’t. And it seems no one ever told him. Maybe Laban told everyone to keep it hush hush.
Fifthly, how could the marriage to Leah be legitimate? If it was deceptively done and was essentially breaking their agreement to marry Rachel?
Here I would propose an answer that factors in God’s discipline. As Jacob deceived so now Jacob has been deceived. Its that whole “eye for an eye and tooth for a tooth” rule. We might say, “lie for a lie.” I think God is in this for sure. Notice theres even more symmetry to the situation: Jacob was the younger brother who pretended to be his older brother with Isaac. Now Leah the older sister is pretending to be the younger sister with Jacob on his wedding night. In a divinely ordered way we see the “older” sibling getting payback on the younger sibling, lie for lie, deception for deception.
APPLICATION: When we do wrong, God in His grace may prevent certain punishments, as he so chooses, while also administering other consequences in our lives.
- King David committed adultery and murder. He was not stoned to death. He did not lose salvation. He did not lose the kingdom (permanently). But you can read what his son Absolom did to him and see that God did not let David off scott-free for his heinous sins.
- When Israel sinned against God he refrained from certain punishments while bringing others on them. He didn’t revoke his covenant with them. He didn’t destroy them completely. He didn’t cast them away and abandon them. But he did bring other nations against them to punish them. He did send diseases and famines and other trouble.
- When Jacob tricked Esau God did not revoke the Abrahamic covenant from Jacob. He did not even make Jacob “give it back” to Esau. He didn’t change his mind about “being with Jacob wherever he went and watching over him and blessing him.” But God did know ahead of time what Laban was going to do and God not only didn’t prevent it, but like Laban never told Jacob about it. No dream or vision or communication from God that he was going to be tricked by his uncle-second cousin Laban.
- God will punish sin in Christians. I don’t believe Christians can lose their salvation for sins, but we can’t think for a moment that our Holy Savior will be mocked with sin in the Church. “Judgment starts first in the house of God” Peter said (1 Pet 4:17). First Corinthians 11 and James 5 say that God will cause sickness and physical ailments in Christians for their unrepentant sin. “That is why some of you are sick and weak” Paul said. James said the sick person who calls the elders for prayer and oil for healing was to confess if they had sinned. Their healing was contingent upon their confession (v15).
First Corinthians 11 even says that God will sometimes kill Christians for their sins. This may be what John meant in 1 John 5:16-17 when he said, “There is sin that leads to death.” Or maybe this is also connected with what Jesus was referring to in Revelation 2:20-23. Turn there with me and follow along………
Jesus is talking about what he’s going to do to Christians. He says, “my servants” and “then all the churches will know” and “I will repay each of you” which was a reference to the Christians at the churches he was writing to. They were sinning by following this Jezebel and committing idolatry and sexual immorality. “I will strike her children dead.” That’s her “Christian” followers who listen to what she says and practice her godless teachings. Jesus doesn’t say he will take their salvation away, or cause their businesses to fail, or whatever. But he does say he’ll kill them. Notice very carefully his last words: “I will repay each of you according to your deeds.”
That is true justice. Your punishment matches your sin. That was the same rule of justice at play with Jacob on his wedding night: “You lied, Jacob, so now you’re being lied to.” You have been repaid according to your deeds.
The chapter ends with a perfect picture of domestic tranquility: Jacob is married to two sists and loves one more than the other (30).