Jacob and Rachel
After participating in this lesson, each student will be able to:
1. Describe Jacob’s family life.
2. Compare and contrast marriage customs of Jacob’s time with those of today.
3. Write a prayer committing some disappointing circumstance in life into God’s hand and seeking guidance for dealing with the situation in a positive manner.
How to Say It
Daily Bible Readings
Monday, Oct. 15—Assurance of God’s Protection (Psalm 91)
Tuesday, Oct. 16—The Kiss That Brought Tears (Genesis 29:1–12)
Wednesday, Oct. 17—Seven Years of Labor (Genesis 29:13–20)
Thursday, Oct. 18—The Trickster Is Tricked (Genesis 29:21–25a)
Friday, Oct. 19—Seven More Years (Genesis 29:25b–30)
Saturday, Oct. 20—Four Sons Born to Leah (Genesis 29:31–35)
Sunday, Oct. 21—Rachel’s Sons (Genesis 30:22–24; 35:16–21)
So Jacob served seven years to get Rachel, but they seemed like only a few days to him because of his love for her.
Why Teach This Lesson?
Think about this saying: “We must learn from others’ mistakes. We don’t have time to make all the mistakes on our own.” Now try this one: “There are two ways to learn things: by wisdom and by experience. Wisdom is when you learn from the mistakes of others; experience is when you learn from your own.” Despite these truths, we often fail to learn from the mistakes of others. So we blunder along, to our own hurt. One of those hurts occurs when we we try to bend and manipulate God to our will rather than allowing him to bend us to his.
Your learners need that lesson for their entire lives. In that light, today’s lesson offers us a snippet of the agony of one whose “do it my way” lifestyle boomeranged on him. Many of your learners will relate to this. The best news from this lesson is that God doesn’t give up on us. He disciplines us to shape us.
A. Actions and Consequences
If you want to spark an interesting discussion among Christians, ask people to share testimonies of discipline that may have been divine in origin. I have done this in various settings, and the results are both amusing and instructive.
The essential storyline often goes something like this: “When my coworkers, neighbors, or schoolmates engage in various ‘low-profile’ sins, whether speeding, shoplifting, or cheating on their taxes, they seldom get caught and often appear to benefit from their choices. For the most part, I resist such practices due to my faith and convictions. But the one time I decided to join their iniquity, I was caught red-handed and had to bear the shame.”
I know this to be true in my own life. The one time I lied to my boss, I was exposed. The one time I joined my friends in an act of theft, we all got busted. The one time I drag-raced my buddies, the radar gun nailed me. It is not like I engaged in these activities all the time only to have my actions finally catch up with me. No, these were flukes. They were one-time acts of rebellion, and, without fail, I never got away with them—and it’s a good thing too!
Scripture teaches that God disciplines those whom he loves (Hebrews 12:5-6). God loves us so much that he will not allow us to avoid consequences (immediately or eventually) when we tread sinful paths. We should not be alarmed when we do not escape cleanly from sinful endeavors. We should be deeply concerned, however, if we do continue to get away easily.
If discipline is a sign of divine love (and it often is), then God certainly loved Jacob. In today’s lesson, God allows Jacob to suffer twice in order to straighten his crooked path.
B. Lesson Background
Last week we saw God shower his grace on Jacob by meeting him at Bethel. There God extended the promise he had made to Jacob’s grandfather Abraham. Despite Jacob’s legacy of deception, God gave him the honor of being the father of the chosen people through whom God would bless all nations. Jacob accepted this offer. Then he continued his northward journey to escape Esau and to acquire a wife from his mother’s household.
In Genesis 29 we learn that Jacob arrived safely in Haran and was graciously welcomed into the household of his uncle Laban. Since Jacob would be staying for a while, working arrangements had to be made. Jacob had fallen for Rachel, the younger and more attractive of Laban’s two daughters. So he offered to work seven years in exchange for Rachel’s hand in marriage. Typically, the groom was obligated to offer some kind of “bride price” to the bride’s family. This would offset the work production the family would be losing by giving their daughter in marriage. In this case, seven years of labor was an agreeable arrangement to both parties, so a deal was made.
Jacob was so enamored with Rachel that the years seemed to fly by (Genesis 29:20). Jacob was then ready to claim his bride, pack his bags, and head back home to the promised land. Things could not have been going better for Jacob, but God was not finished with him. Jacob’s character was about to be forged in the fire of divine discipline.
I. Jacob’s Deception Returned (Genesis 29:21–27)
A. Jacob’s Intent (vv. 21, 22)
21. Then Jacob said to Laban, “Give me my wife. My time is completed, and I want to lie with her.”
After Jacob’s years of service pass, he seems to demand that his wife be given to him. There are at least three ways this abruptness may be understood. First, the author may be summarizing concisely what was actually a much more pleasant exchange. Second, Jacob may be showing his eagerness to finally consummate his long-awaited marriage. Third, Jacob’s tone may reflect tension that has somehow arisen between him and Laban. Perhaps the two of them do not have a healthy working relationship. Whatever the case, the ruse that Laban is about to pull on Jacob certainly indicates that the relationship between the two is about to get worse!
Jacob calls Rachel his wife not simply because they are about to be married. In Jacob’s day, a woman has the legal status of “wife” during the betrothal period.
22. So Laban brought together all the people of the place and gave a feast.
Ancient Near Eastern weddings are not one-day events. They often involve a week of feasting, attended by the families being brought together in the marriage.
There is no evidence to indicate that Jacob’s family back in Canaan is able to attend the wedding or that they even know of the event. This is important. Were Isaac and Rebekah present, Jacob would not be as vulnerable to the deception that Laban is plotting. Thus far, however, Jacob is oblivious to Laban’s scheme.
B. Laban’s Deception (vv. 23–25)
23. But when evening came, he took his daughter Leah and gave her to Jacob, and Jacob lay with her.
How, we may wonder, is Laban able to pass off Leah for Rachel? Would not Jacob know the truth simply by looking at her?
Two factors may account for Jacob’s oversight. The first factor is lighting—or lack thereof. We are told that Laban brought Leah to Jacob in the evening. In an age before electricity, the darkness of evening is much more pronounced than what we experience today.
The dim lighting is only compounded by the fact that women often wear veils on their wedding day. In Genesis 24:65 we see Rebekah (Laban’s sister) veiling herself lest she be seen prematurely by her groom-to-be, Isaac.
24. And Laban gave his servant girl Zilpah to his daughter as her maidservant.
It is customary for parents, especially those who are wealthy, to give wedding gifts to their daughters. A maidservant is certainly a generous gift! This indicates that whatever tension may exist between Laban and Jacob, Laban still loves his daughter and seeks to bless her. Our introduction to Zilpah is important because Leah later gives her to Jacob for the purposes of bearing additional children (Genesis 30:9–13). Leah’s handmaid thus becomes mother to two of the twelve tribes of Israel—no small role for a servant.
25. When morning came, there was Leah! So Jacob said to Laban, “What is this you have done to me? I served you for Rachel, didn’t I? Why have you deceived me?”
The next morning Jacob discovers that he has been tricked. Naturally, he is appalled. But the reader has a hard time feeling sorry for him. We remember from Genesis 27 that it was Jacob who took advantage of his father’s inability to see clearly in pretending to be Esau. The one who had deceived his own father is the one who is now deceived himself. Although we cannot approve of the deception practiced by Laban, and we rightly recognize that two wrongs don’t make a right, perhaps we see the divine hand at work: God allows Jacob to be deceived. This brings consequences on Jacob in a “what goes around comes around” kind of way. Is this divine payback for Jacob’s past behavior?
What Do You Think?
What was a time when an old sin came back to haunt you? How did God’s love and grace see you through that situation?
“It Served Him Right”
“What goes around comes around.” “He had it coming to him.” “It served him right.” People have various ways of acknowledging the repayment of evil when they think they see it.
But what if you wish to help out with the revenge? Lucky you! A psychic web site offers a “Get Even Voodoo & Revenge Spell” to pay back someone who has done you wrong—all for a mere $39 (plus $7.25 for shipping). Of course, for those times when someone is trying to do the same to you, there is a “Self-Protection Voodoo & Revenge Spell” for the same price.
All of this is based on the faulty assumptions that life is subject to the various whims of forces ruling the universe and that all one needs is a little cash to employ or survive their onslaught. That’s quite a stretch from the biblical view of God! It is he who works (or allows) what will ultimately be the best for us. Laban’s deception may have “served Jacob right,” but it wasn’t fictitious karma at work. —C. R. B.
C. Laban’s Justification (v. 26)
26. Laban replied, “It is not our custom here to give the younger daughter in marriage before the older one.
The irony continues! Jacob, who disrespected the significance of birth order by manipulating Esau into handing over his birthright (Genesis 25:27–33), is now manipulated by Laban into honoring the order of birthright. We are not told that Laban knows about Jacob’s earlier misdeeds, but here Laban attempts to justify his own actions.
Laban informs Jacob that birth order must not be violated in his land. He is almost saying to Jacob, “Maybe you do that kind of thing down in your country, but up here we keep to our principles.” If that’s the case, then Laban is tacitly admitting that birth order takes precedence over honesty. In any case, we cannot resist thinking that Jacob recognizes that he is “reaping what he sowed” for deceiving his father and taking advantage of his brother.
What Do You Think?
Were you ever guilty of manipulating circumstances or people to achieve selfish desires? How did God enable you to put this kind of sinful practice behind you in the past?
Bound by Tradition?
One of the vices of each younger generation is the compulsion to try everything that is new. However, one of the vices of each older generation is the refusal to try anything new! Someone has said that the seven last words of the church are, “We’ve never done it that way before.” Many congregations shrivel up and die because they refuse to consider any new way of doing things.
Tradition can be a good thing. It can keep us from hastily jumping on the bandwagon of every new idea that comes along. But tradition becomes the deadly weight of traditionalism when we allow it to anchor us in the past. That can prevent us from following God in new paths where he may want us to walk. For example, traditionalism can keep us from singing new music. On the other hand, always doing something different just because it is different results in a kind of traditionalism in and of itself!
Unfortunately for Jacob (and Leah!), Laban allowed a cultural tradition to sacrifice the principle of honesty. Couldn’t Laban have mentioned to Jacob the birth-order tradition up front, before Jacob’s seven years of service started? Whether we keep traditions or break them, God expects us to base our actions on principles of integrity and holiness. —C. R. B.
D. Laban’s Concession (v. 27)
27. “Finish this daughter’s bridal week; then we will give you the younger one also, in return for another seven years of work.”
Laban now makes a slight concession to Jacob. He could demand that Jacob serve him an additional seven years first and be allowed to have Rachel only afterward. Instead, he allows Jacob to marry Rachel immediately after Leah’s weeklong marital celebration is concluded, with the seven additional years of work to follow. (See Judges 14:12, 17 for an example of another weeklong wedding feast.) This plan may satisfy Jacob’s longing for Rachel, but it severely strains Jacob’s marital relationships, as future events will demonstrate.
II. Jacob’s Favoritism Backfires (Genesis 29:28–35)
A. Laban’s Action (vv. 28, 29)
28, 29. And Jacob did so. He finished the week with Leah, and then Laban gave him his daughter Rachel to be his wife. Laban gave his servant girl Bilhah to his daughter Rachel as her maidservant.
Laban’s deception reveals a flaw in his character, regardless of how he justifies his decision. He does not have to choose between honoring birthright priorities and being forthright with Jacob up front. He could have both (1) informed Jacob of the birthright principle and (2) required him to honor them. Be that as it may, Laban does honor this second agreement with Jacob.
As with Leah, Laban gives a maidservant to Rachel. Bilhah, like Zilpah, is more than a generous wedding gift. She will also become mother of two tribes of Israel, namely Dan and Naphtali (Genesis 30:1–8).
B. God’s Intervention (vv. 30, 31)
30. Jacob lay with Rachel also, and he loved Rachel more than Leah. And he worked for Laban another seven years.
What Do You Think?
Seven more years! In what areas has love for Christ driven you to go the second mile (or the second year)? What was a time when someone else went the second mile with you or for you?
Jacob keeps his part of the bargain by serving seven more years. Jacob’s marriage to Rachel becomes official with both the arrangement by Laban and the act of sexual intercourse (he lay with Rachel also). Jacob knows that sexual intercourse is the event chosen by God for the two to become one flesh (Genesis 2:24; Matthew 19:4–6).
This means that ideally there is no such thing as premarital or extramarital sex for our forefathers of the faith. All sex is intended to be marital. This is why Paul insisted that the young men in Corinth not sleep with prostitutes. Such men thought they were simply meeting physical needs or desires. But Paul reminded them of the issue of becoming one flesh (1 Corinthians 6:15-16).
Visual for Lesson 8
Ask for volunteers to explain why the statement on this visual is true. Follow their response by asking for examples.
We also see in this verse that Jacob clearly favors Rachel above Leah. On the one hand, we cannot blame him for this. He did not choose Leah, but was tricked into marrying her.
On the other hand, however, we recall that the favoritism of his parents contributed to the feuding between Jacob and his brother, Esau (Genesis 25:28). Had Isaac not favored Esau and had Rebekah not favored Jacob—had the two parents loved both children equally—then perhaps Jacob would not be exiled from his homeland while Esau’s temper cools. So Jacob continues the unhealthy pattern of favoritism set by his parents. That poor choice warrants divine attention.
31. When the Lord saw that Leah was not loved, he opened her womb, but Rachel was barren.
Leah may be the firstborn daughter, but she is second place in Jacob’s eyes. She is not loved by her husband, and her physical appearance is somehow inferior to that of her sister (Genesis 29:17). Yet God sometimes chooses to exalt those of whom little is expected. In the case at hand, his intervention favors Leah.
We see this pattern of intervention on God’s part again later in Moses, the man who could not speak very well. We also see intervention with Gideon, the least in his family. God does not need “great” people to do his work, and that gives hope to ordinary folks like us.
God’s method of blessing in the case at hand is simple: He ensures that Leah is fertile and Rachel is barren. Jacob may prefer Rachel as a companion, but he also needs a wife who will give him sons. His future livelihood depends on it, as does the promise that God gave him.
What Do You Think?
How does God continue to show his concern for those the world looks down on? What is your part in meeting the needs of those considered to be “the downtrodden”?
C. Leah’s Sons (vv. 32–35)
32. Leah became pregnant and gave birth to a son. She named him Reuben, for she said, “It is because the Lord has seen my misery. Surely my husband will love me now.”
Reuben is the first of six sons that God will give Leah. This is all that a woman in her time and situation can ask for. When God’s blessings rain down, they pour!
Notice, however, that the first three sons are given names that reflect her husband’s continued neglect. The name Reuben is made from two words that mean, “to see” and “a son.” With this name she highlights how God has seen her affliction and how she hopes that her husband will begin to appreciate her because of this son.
What Do You Think?
What was a time when God blessed you in a time of affliction? What has his blessing meant to you since that time?
33. She conceived again, and when she gave birth to a son she said, “Because the Lord heard that I am not loved, he gave me this one too.” So she named him Simeon.
Apparently Jacob does not show Leah his appreciation, because she names her next son Simeon. This name is built from the word meaning “to hear.” This name thus reflects her acknowledgment that God has heard about how her husband continues to disregard her.
34. Again she conceived, and when she gave birth to a son she said, “Now at last my husband will become attached to me, because I have borne him three sons.” So he was named Levi.
The second son, Simeon, also is not enough to gain Jacob’s favor. So Leah names her third son Levi, meaning “joined.” By this she expects that her husband will now become attached more fully to her emotionally.
35. She conceived again, and when she gave birth to a son she said, “This time I will praise the Lord.” So she named him Judah. Then she stopped having children.
With Leah’s fourth son comes an important shift in tone. Leah feels no longer compelled to name her sons with reference to Jacob’s disfavor. Instead, she turns her attention to God’s favor. She realizes that although she may never receive her husband’s emotional affection, she is clearly loved by God. For this reason, she names her fourth son Judah, meaning “praise.”
Leah’s childbearing days do not end at this point (see Genesis 30:17–21). But this particular phase, marked by the words then she stopped having children, ends on a high note. God is praised, and the tribe that descends from Judah will become Israel’s royal line from which will come David and Jesus. In retrospect we now see that Jesus descended from a fourth-born son of a neglected wife of a swindling man (Jacob) of a second-born son (Isaac) of a wandering pilgrim (Abraham). Praise God for his marvelous deeds!
One may assume—based on the dream at Bethel, the warm reception at Haran, and the immediate identification of a worthy spouse—that Jacob had the world by the tail. All he had to do was wait a few years for Esau to drop his grudge. Meanwhile Jacob would marry the woman of his dreams and return home to claim Abraham’s promise.
But just when it seemed that Jacob was free and clear, God allowed events to take an unexpected course. With a level of deception equal only to Jacob’s own, Laban taught Jacob a lesson in integrity (although lesson-teaching probably was not Laban’s intent). Jacob eventually had to reckon also with the legacy of his parents: the favoritism he inherited from them, which he assimilated into his own marital relationships.
We wish we could say that Jacob “learned his lesson” fully. We wish we could say that he never again deceived or stooped to divisive favoritism. But he did. He later tricked Laban out of livestock (Genesis 30:37–43) and played favorites with Rachel’s oldest son (37:3, 4).
But God still refused to abandon Jacob. Instead, he allowed Jacob’s bad decisions to blow up in his face (sometimes called natural consequences today). Jacob and Laban parted company after a dangerous encounter (Genesis 31). Jacob was forced to bow before the brother who was supposed to serve him (33:3). Jacob’s favorite wife died in childbirth (35:16–20). Eleven of his sons deceived him into thinking that his favorite son, Joseph, was dead (37:12–35). Indeed, Jacob lived a long, hard life of wrestling with God and people—thus God’s new name Israel for him, meaning, “he struggles with God” (32:22–28).
To struggle with God is a gift of grace to us. It means that God has not abandoned us; he is still there for us to struggle with. It means that despite our imperfections God continues to guide and shape us. Divine discipline may not be our preferred means of relating to God, but at least it means the relationship is active.
We should not, however, intentionally provoke divine discipline. Our God is still a consuming fire (Hebrews 12:29); he will not be toyed with. Furthermore, Jacob would not wish his struggles on anyone else. I suspect he would much rather we learn from his mistakes, submit to God, and enjoy more of the blessings that God showers on those who seek to please him.
Thought to Remember
Receive the Lord’s discipline as a gift.
God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, we come to you humbly and thank you for your discipline. It can be terribly uncomfortable to be on the receiving end of that discipline, yet there is no place more valuable to be. Thank you for not abandoning us. May we submit to your discipline when you bring it, lest in resisting it we find ourselves resisting you. In Jesus’ name, amen.
Nickelson, Ronald L. ; Underwood, Jonathan: New International Version Standard Lesson Commentary : 2007-2008. Cincinnati : Standard Publishing, 2007, S. 71