Introduction: In this account, Jacob meets his uncle Laban in Haran and marries his two daughters, Leah and Rachel. Because this account spans more than 14 years and includes different subjects, it might seem like it should be broken apart into different chapters. The subjects include: (1) God’s deliverance of Jacob through the wilderness to Haran; (2) Jacob’s encounter and provision for the shepherds of three flocks who were waiting by a covered well to water their flocks; (3) the joy of Jacob, Rachel, and Laban at their meeting; (4) Jacob’s love for Rachel, and his agreement to work seven years for her marriage; (5) Laban’s deceit in sending the older sister Leah to Jacob; (6) God’s compassion upon the unloved Leah by giving her four sons; and (7) Leah’s praise for God after her fourth son. But these accounts are all related. These accounts should be read on two levels. First, the accounts reveal the origins of the 12 tribes of Israel. These accounts also foreshadow what Jesus offers you in the wilderness of life.
First, God safely guided Jacob through the wilderness to his uncle Laban’s house. Jesus also offers to guide and protect you in the wilderness. Second, Jacob rolled back a rock that produced water for the three flocks. Jesus was both the rock and the well of abundant water. The three flocks symbolized all of God’s people. From this symbolism, God reveals that He offers abundant life to all His people. Third, God brought joy to Jacob, Rachel, and Laban by bringing them together. Jesus also offers you the joy of the Spirit when you are united with Him. Fourth, Jacob loved Rachel and willingly labored seven years to marry her. Jesus also loves you and His Church. He also labored on Earth so that He could marry both you and His Church in heaven. Fifth, after his seven years of labor, Laban deceived Jacob, just as Jacob deceived Isaac. Laban tricked Jacob by sending her sister Leah into Jacob’s tent on their wedding night. After being tricked, Jacob labored for seven more years and entered into a polygamous marriage with two wives. Here, everyone sinned. Everyone was in need of salvation. Jesus so loved the Church that He came and died to give every sinner the chance to be married to Him in heaven. Sixth, Leah was the unloved wife who suffered the most. God responded with compassion by blessing her with four children. Jesus is also compassionate and blesses the humble and the meek. Finally, after her fourth child, Leah’s focus turned from herself and her unloving husband to God. She finally learned to praise God. Jesus also wants you to praise Him and give thanks.
God guides and protects Jacob through the wilderness. After God affirmed His covenant with Jacob, he showed His faithfulness by guiding and protecting Jacob through the wilderness to his uncle Laban’s home in Haran, located in modern Syria: “1 Then Jacob went on his journey, and came to the land of the sons of the east. 2 He looked, and saw a well in the field, and behold, three flocks of sheep were lying there beside it, for from that well they watered the flocks. Now the stone on the mouth of the well was large. 3 When all the flocks were gathered there, they would then roll the stone from the mouth of the well and water the sheep, and put the stone back in its place on the mouth of the well. 4 Jacob said to them, ‘My brothers, where are you from?’ And they said, ‘We are from Haran.’ 5 He said to them, ‘Do you know Laban the son of Nahor?’ And they said, ‘We know him.’ 6 And he said to them, ‘Is it well with him?’ And they said, ‘It is well, and here is Rachel his daughter coming with the sheep.’” (Gen. 29:1-6). Jacob had no guide or compass. He also had never been to Haran. It was God who miraculously guided and protected him in the wilderness.
God guided Jacob to Haran, where he met Rachel1
Where God guides, He provides. Like Jacob, you should trust God to guide your steps. Moses later reminded the Jews that they were blessed to have a God “near them” who could answer their prayers. Yet, they needed to take advantage of this by constantly searching out God’s will through prayer: “For what great nation is there that has a god so near to it as is the LORD our God whenever we call on Him?” (Dt. 4:7). By being “near” this meant that God was present to answer their prayers, direct them, protect them, and provide for them. Today, believers are similarly blessed because the Holy Spirit dwells within them (1 Cor. 3:16; 2 Tim. 1:14). The Spirit will guide you when you read God’s Word in faith: “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.” (Ps. 119:105). The Spirit will also guide you when you pray: “But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him.” (Ja. 1:5). “Behold, You desire truth in the innermost being, and in the hidden part You will make me know wisdom.” (Ps. 51:6). “For the LORD gives wisdom; from His mouth come knowledge and understanding.” (Prov. 2:6). “But it is a spirit in man, and the breath of the Almighty gives them understanding.” (Job 32:8). You also can have your prayers answered if you confess your sins and pray in faith: “Therefore, confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another so that you may be healed. The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much.” (Ja. 5:16). If you sin, God will not forsake you or leave you (Heb. 13:5). Yet, when you sin, your prayers will be “hindered” (1 Pet. 3:7; Jo. 9:31; Ps. 66:18; Prov. 28:9; Isa. 1:15). The reason for this is that sin cannot be in God’s presence. He “cannot look on wickedness.” (Hab. 1:13). Have you confessed your sins and asked for God to guide you?
Jacob rolls back the tomb and waters the flocks. While in Haran, Jacob provided for three flocks of sheep by rolling back a large rock that allowed water to flow from a well: “7 He said, ‘Behold, it is still high day; it is not time for the livestock to be gathered. Water the sheep, and go, pasture them.’ 8 But they said, ‘We cannot, until all the flocks are gathered, and they roll the stone from the mouth of the well; then we water the sheep.’ 9 While he was still speaking with them, Rachel came with her father’s sheep, for she was a shepherdess. 10 When Jacob saw Rachel the daughter of Laban his mother’s brother, and the sheep of Laban his mother’s brother, Jacob went up and rolled the stone from the mouth of the well and watered the flock of Laban his mother’s brother.” (Gen. 29:7-10). The well owner only allowed water to be drawn at a certain time of day. The shepherds followed a rule that made no sense because it caused the flocks to sit when they could be grazing and growing. Jacob came and upended this legalism. Jesus also came and upended worship that had become legalistic and without love. He removed this impediment to abundant life in Him.
Raphael 1483 – 1520 Jacob and Laban's Daughters (1517)2
Jesus offers living waters to those who are thirsty. Isaac (Gen. 24:15-21), Jacob (Gen. 29:4-10), and Moses (Ex. 2:15-16) all found their brides by a well. Jesus also twice met Hagar at a well (Gen. 16:7; 21:19). He also met the woman from Samaria at a well: “There came a woman of Samaria to draw water. Jesus said to her, ‘Give Me a drink.’” (Jo. 4:7). Jesus is the living water who quenches the thirst of those who are sorrowful. “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to Me and drink. He who believes in Me, as the Scripture said, from his innermost being will flow rivers of living water.” (Jo. 7:37-39). He is also the rock which released the living waters for God’s flocks: ‘“Behold, I will stand before you there on the rock at Horeb; and you shall strike the rock, and water will come out of it, that the people may drink.’ And Moses did so in the sight of the elders of Israel.’” (Ex. 17:6). “Then Moses lifted up his hand and struck the rock twice with his rod; and water came forth abundantly, and the congregation and their beasts drank.” (Nu. 20:11). “and all drank the same spiritual drink, for they were drinking from a spiritual rock which followed them; and the rock was Christ.” (1 Cor. 10:4). He is also the “cornerstone” of your foundation in heaven (Ps. 118:22; Is. 28:16; Matt. 21:42; Mk. 12:10; Lk. 20:17; Acts 4:11; Ro. 9:33; 1 Pet. 2:7). Jacob also could not have rolled the heavy rock away on his own. God had to intervene to help him. This foreshadowed when Jesus rolled away the rock of His tomb after His resurrection to give life all who believe in faith: “And they found the stone rolled away from the tomb,” (Lk. 24:2). It was “[a] garden locked is my sister, my bride, a rock garden locked, a spring sealed up.” (Song of Sol. 4:12). Do you direct others who are suffering to Jesus’ living waters?
The joy God gave to Jacob, Rachael, and Laban. After being brought together, God brought joy to Jacob, Rachel, and Laban: “11 Then Jacob kissed Rachel, and lifted his voice and wept. 12 Jacob told Rachel that he was a relative of her father and that he was Rebekah’s son, and she ran and told her father. 13 So when Laban heard the news of Jacob his sister’s son, he ran to meet him, and embraced him and kissed him and brought him to his house. Then he related to Laban all these things. 14 Laban said to him, ‘Surely you are my bone and my flesh.’ And he stayed with him a month.” (Gen. 29:11-14). Decades earlier, Rebekah showed her joy at meeting Abraham’s servant by running to her brother Laban. “28 Then the girl ran and told her mother’s household about these things.” (Gen. 24:28). Laban in turn ran to greet the servant (Gen. 28:29). In both accounts, the Spirit bought everyone joy.
Be filled with the joy of the Holy Spirit. Like these families, God promises you Spirit-led joy when you run to Him: “the kingdom of God is not meat and drink; but righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.” (Ro. 14:17). Paul once commanded a person who had never walked to stand up. Yet, filled with the joy of the Spirit, he did more than that. He “leaped up and began to walk (Acts 14:10). Likewise, “[w]hen Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb; and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. . . . For behold, when the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby leaped in my womb for joy.” (Lk. 1:41, 44). Peter and John also ran with joy upon hearing of Jesus’ resurrection (Jo. 20:3-4). David also writes, “in Your presence is fullness of joy;” (Ps. 16:11; 21:6). Joy is a fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22; Ro. 14:17; 15:13). Is Spirit-led joy visible in your daily life as a witness to others? Or, is your witness a life filled with bitterness and complaining?
Jacob’s 14 years of labor for the woman he loved. Out of love for Rachel, Jacob labored for seven years without complaint for her marriage: “15 Then Laban said to Jacob, ‘Because you are my relative, should you therefore serve me for nothing? Tell me, what shall your wages be?’ 16 Now Laban had two daughters; the name of the older was Leah, and the name of the younger was Rachel. 17 And Leah’s eyes were weak, but Rachel was beautiful of form and face. 18 Now Jacob loved Rachel, so he said, ‘I will serve you seven years for your younger daughter Rachel.’ 19 Laban said, ‘It is better that I give her to you than to give her to another man; stay with me.’ 20 So Jacob served seven years for Rachel and they seemed to him but a few days because of his love for her.” (Gen. 29:15-20). Laban asked Jacob to name his wages (Gen. 29:15). Jacob was supposed to be served by Esau (Gen. 25:23). God was teaching Jacob to become a servant leader. In contrast, Laban was motivated by greed when he manipulated Jacob to make him work for seven years. He would later manipulate Jacob again to obtain seven additional years of labor. He would also change his wages ten times (Gen. 31:41). Under God’s law, Jacob’s dowry debt should have been canceled after seven years (Dt. 15:1; 31:10). Jacob was blinded by Rachel’s exterior beauty. Laban manipulated Jacob’s blindness just as Jacob manipulated Isaac’s blindness.
Jacob labored for Laban to marry Rachel5
Jesus also loved and labored for you. Just as Jacob labored out of love for Rachael, Jesus labored on Earth out of love and died for His future bride, the Church. “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.” (Jo. 3:16). “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” (Ro. 5:8). Also out of love, He gave up His divine status to die a humble servant for you: “but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” (Phil. 2:7-8). He labored out of love for His future bride in heaven, His Church (Rev. 19:7).
Love and serve others just as Jesus loved you. Just as Jesus loved you and labored for you as a servant, He wants you to love others and labor for them as a servant: “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another.” (Jo. 13:34). “This is My commandment, that you love one another, just as I have loved you.” (Jo. 15:12). “and walk in love, just as Christ also loved you and gave Himself up for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God as a fragrant aroma.” (Eph. 5:2). “If anyone serves Me, he must follow Me; and where I am, there My servant will be also; if anyone serves Me, the Father will honor him.” (Jo. 12:26). He will also reward your labors of love for Him: “For God is not unjust so as to forget your work and the love which you have shown toward His name, in having ministered and in still ministering to the saints.” (Heb. 6:10). Do you show love to others the same way Christ loved and served for you?
The sins of both Laban and Jacob in Jacob’s two marriages. On Jacob’s wedding night, Laban tricked Jacob by sending the older sister Leah into Jacob’s tent. Jacob then labored seven more years to enter into an unholy polygamous marriage with Leah’s sister Rachel: “21 Then Jacob said to Laban, ‘Give me my wife, for my time is completed, that I may go in to her.’ 22 Laban gathered all the men of the place and made a feast. 23 Now in the evening he took his daughter Leah, and brought her to him; and Jacob went in to her. 24 Laban also gave his maid Zilpah to his daughter Leah as a maid. 25 So it came about in the morning that, behold, it was Leah! And he said to Laban, ‘What is this you have done to me? Was it not for Rachel that I served with you? Why then have you deceived me?’ 26 But Laban said, ‘It is not the practice in our place to marry off the younger before the firstborn. 27 Complete the week of this one, and we will give you the other also for the service which you shall serve with me for another seven years.” 28 Jacob did so and completed her week, and he gave him his daughter Rachel as his wife. 29 Laban also gave his maid Bilhah to his daughter Rachel as her maid. 30 So Jacob went in to Rachel also, and indeed he loved Rachel more than Leah, and he served with Laban for another seven years.” (Gen. 29:21-30). Here, sadly everyone sinned. Everyone showed their need for Jesus’ atoning death at the cross.
Laban deceived Jacob into marrying Leah6
Laban’s sins. Laban was guilty of the sin of deceit. He manipulated Jacob by tricking him on his wedding night. Laban saw God’s blessings in all that Jacob did. By forcing Jacob to labor for 14 years to marry Rachel, he sought to maximize his gain. By using deceit, he violated God’s law. “‘You shall not steal, nor deal falsely, nor lie to one another.’” (Lev. 19:11; Ex. 23:1-2). He also acted under Satan’s influence. “You are of your father the devil, and you want to do the desires of your father. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth because there is no truth in him. Whenever he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own nature, for he is a liar and the father of lies.” (Jo. 8:44). He also violated God’s law by mistreating his hired servant with his wages. “‘You shall not oppress your neighbor, nor rob him. The wages of a hired man are not to remain with you all night until morning.’” (Lev. 19:13). Like Laban, is there any deception in your walk with Christ?
Jacob and his family’s sins. Jacob and his family committed seven sins. First, he previously deceived his father Isaac and blasphemed God while doing so (Gen. 27:18-29). Second, he previously tricked his brother into selling his birthright in a moment of weakness (Gen. 25:29-34). He reaped what he sowed by being forced to flee from the wrath of his brother into the protection of his deceitful uncle: “Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, this he will also reap.” (Gal. 6:7). “For they sow the wind and they reap the whirlwind. The standing grain has no heads; it yields no grain. Should it yield, strangers would swallow it up.” (Hos. 8:7). “But the way of the treacherous is hard.” (Prov. 13:15(b)). Third, he committed the sin of polygamy. He would be the future father of the nation of Israel. Yet, in reference to God’s leaders, the Bible warns that the leaders “must be husbands of only one wife, and good managers of their children and their own households.” (1 Tim. 3:12). A married man and woman become “one flesh,” not three (Mk. 10:8). Jesus’ standards of sexual morality also did not change between the Old and New Testaments (Heb. 13:8). Without exception, every man who acted out of the flesh to take on a second wife suffered long-term negative consequences. Fourth, Jacob committed the additional sin of marrying two sisters: “You shall not marry a woman in addition to her sister as a rival while she is alive, to uncover her nakedness.” (Lev. 18:18). Fifth, he never prayed to God to guide him to the right spouse. Sixth, he picked his spouse based upon physical beauty alone: “17 And Leah’s eyes were weak, but Rachel was beautiful of form and face.” (Gen. 29:17). In contrast, Abraham’s servant used tests of character and service to select a spouse for Isaac. Leah’s eyes are referred to by the Hebrew word rak, which is translated as “weak” (Gen. 29:17). But that same word can also be translated as “tender.” (Gen. 18:7). Rachael’s name means “little ewe lamb” while Leah’s name means “cow.” Lambs are not known for making good decisions on their own. Rachel was beautiful. But she remained an idol worshiper through her departure from Haran (Gen. 31:34). While Rachel’s beauty was on the outside, Leah was tender and beautiful on the inside. Finally, Jacob never repented of either his sins or family’s sins. He suffered under the generational curse for the deceit of both his father Isaac and grandfather Abraham. Both deceived others in the same way that Laban deceived Jacob. The people they deceived used the exact same words that Jacob did upon discovering the deceit: “10 Abimelech said [to Isaac], ‘What is this you have done to us . . .” (Gen. 26:10). “9 Then Abimelech called Abraham and said to him, ‘What have you done to us? . . .” (Gen. 20:9). “18 Then Pharaoh called Abram and said, ‘What is this you have done to me? . . .” (Gen. 12:18). Thus, like Laban, Isaac, and Abraham, Jacob was a sinner in need of salvation.
Leah and Rachel's sin. Leah sinned by agreeing to Laban’s deceit. According to the Jewish midrash, she falsely answered Jacob's call for “Rachael” the same way that Jacob had falsely answered Isaac's call for “Esau.” (Gen. Rab. 70:19). Rachel later sinned by agreeing to enter into a polygamous marriage with Jacob and her sister. Although Leah and Rachel did not have the same responsibility, they were still sinners. Their polygamous union would later fuel jealousy between them and their future children.
All have fallen short and are in need of Jesus as Savior. Just like Laban, Jacob, Leah, and Rachel, all have fallen short and need Jesus. “Indeed, there is not a righteous man on earth who continually does good and who never sins.” (Ecc. 7:20; Ps. 14:3; Job 4:17; 25:4; Ro. 3:10, 23). But for God’s mercy and grace, Jacob would have been disqualified from being the future father of Israel: “And do not enter into judgment with Your servant, for in Your sight no man living is righteous.” (Ps. 143:2). If you are grateful for Jesus’ suffering and death for you on the cross, how are you thanking Him? (Ro. 12:1-2).
God’s blessing to the meek and unloved wife Leah. Although a sinner, Leah was also a victim of Jacob’s neglect. In her distress, God showed compassion by blessing her with children: “31 Now the Lord saw that Leah was unloved, and He opened her womb, but Rachel was barren. 32 Leah conceived and bore a son and named him Reuben, for she said, ‘Because the Lord has seen my affliction; surely now my husband will love me.’ 33 Then she conceived again and bore a son and said, ‘Because the Lord has heard that I am unloved, He has therefore given me this son also.’ So she named him Simeon. 34 She conceived again and bore a son and said, ‘Now this time my husband will become attached to me, because I have borne him three sons.’ Therefore he was named Levi.” (Gen. 29:31-34). God used the humble unloved Leah to be the mother of the two most significant tribes. Judah’s tribe would lead to first King David and later to the Messiah. The line of Levi would also become God’s priests. In her humility, God exalted Leah’s descendants. “Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth.” (Matt. 5:5 KJV). God will also bless you when you are humble.
God blessed the unloved wife Leah with a son7
God saw and heard the suffering of His people and sent Jesus to join and free them. The names that Leah prophetically selected for her sons recognized that God saw and heard the affliction of His people. The name Reuben means “See a son.” The name Simeon means “heard.” The name Levi means “joined.” God “saw” and “heard” the affliction of His people. Through Jesus, He “joined” with them to free them from their suffering. He also responds to the suffering of the gentiles. For example, He heard the cries of Hagar (Gen. 21:17). He also sees and hears the suffering of His people. For example, He offered freedom to His suffering people in Egypt before they repented (Ex. 3:7).
God shows compassion on those who humble themselves to Him. Like Leah, Hagar, and later the Jews in captivity, God is compassionate to those who humble themselves and turn to Him in their distress: “The LORD is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in lovingkindness.” (Ps. 103:8). “The righteous cry, and the LORD hears and delivers them out of all their troubles.” (Ps. 34:17). “Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?” (Ro. 8:35). Do you show compassion to others just as He is compassionate to you?
If you humble yourself and cry out, God will also hear you. If you are in need, God will also hear your cries for help if your humble yourself before Him: “and My people who are called by My name humble themselves and pray and seek My face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, will forgive their sin and will heal their land.” (2 Chr. 7:14). “Humble yourselves in the presence of the Lord, and He will exalt you.” (Jam. 4:10). “Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ's sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong.” (2 Cor. 12:10). Do you seek Jesus when you need help or when you feel sad?
Leah turns her eyes to God and praises Him. After her fourth child, Leah’s focus turned from her own sorrow to praise for God: “35 And she conceived again and bore a son and said, ‘This time I will praise the Lord.’ Therefore she named him Judah. Then she stopped bearing.” (Gen. 29:35). Her praise provides a lesson for all.
Give thanks and praise that God can use your mistakes for His glory. Jacob’s marriage to Leah and Rachel violated God’s law (Lev. 18:18). As a result, Jacob, his two wives and their descendants all suffered. Yet, God can use even the mistakes of mankind for His glory (Ro. 8:28). He would use the jealousy of the two sisters to create the 12 tribes of Israel. He would also use the lines from the two mothers of Israel for the two appearances of Jesus the Messiah. “The two sisters represent the two kingdoms of the Jewish people. Leah was the mother of the kingdom of Judah – the southern kingdom which remained loyal to the Davidic kings from the tribe of her son Judah. Rachel was the mother of the kingdom of Israel – the northern kingdom which followed king Jeroboam from the tribe of her son Joseph. Therefore the two sisters also represent two potentials for bringing forth the messianic redeemer: one from the tribe of Judah, the firstborn of Leah (after the disqualification of Reuben, Simeon, and Levi) and one from the tribe of Joseph, the firstborn of Rachel. Rabbinic literature speaks of the two potential messiahs respectively as Messiah son of David and Messiah son of Joseph. The rabbis depict the two messiahs as serving different roles. Messiah son of Joseph suffers for the sins of Israel and dies fighting for the redemption of the nation. Messiah son of David prevails over his enemies and subjugates the nation.” (First Fruits of Zion, Torah Club, Vol. 2, Shadows of the Messiah, Vayetze, (2016) p. 147). Jesus would fulfill both roles of the Messiah in two separate appearances. If the Jews had correctly read their Scripture, they should have expected the Messiah to first come and die as a humble servant before He returned to unite all believers under His holy reign.
Make your life a living sacrifice for God. Like Leah, you are also called upon to give thanks to Christ. You should avoid complaining about your problems. Instead, be thankful for His blessings. You can thank Him by making your life a living sacrifice for Him: “Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God--this is your spiritual act of worship.” (Ro. 12:1; Heb. 13:15). Is your life a living sacrifice of gratitude to Christ?
Image credit: Raphael: Jacob and Laban's Daughters (artbible.info)↩︎