Jacob and Rachel, kissing cousins
- 1 Jacob continued traveling until he reached the land where his relatives had migrated from the East.
- 2 He saw a well in the field ahead. Three flocks of sheep rested nearby, waiting for water. A large stone covered the well like a lid.
- 3 When the shepherds finished rounding up all the strays, they would roll the stone off the well and water their sheep. Then when they were done with that, they would roll the stone back on top of the well.
- 4 Jacob walked over to the shepherds and said, “Where are you from, friends?” They said, “We’re from Haran.”
- 5 Jacob asked, “By any chance do you know Nahor’s son, Laban?” They said, “Yes, we do.”
- 6 Jacob said, “How’s he doing these days? Is he okay?” They said, “He’s doing just fine. In fact, look over there. That’s his daughter Rachel coming to water their sheep.”
- 7 Jacob said, “It’s the heat of the day—too early to gather the sheep for the night. Why aren’t you watering them so they can go out and graze some more in the pasture?”
- 8 They said, “We can’t do that until we’ve rounded up all the sheep. That’s when we’ll roll back the stone and water them.”
- 9 Jacob was still talking with the shepherds when Rachel arrived with her sheep. She, too, was a shepherd.
- 10 When Jacob saw his cousin Rachel, daughter of his mother’s brother, Laban, he walked over to the well. All by himself he rolled the stone off the top of the well and he started watering his Uncle Laban’s sheep.
- 11 Jacob kissed Rachel. Then he began to cry.
- 12 Jacob told Rachel that he was related to her father—that he was Rebekah’s son. Rachel rushed to tell her father the news.
- 13 When Laban heard that his sister’s boy, Jacob, had come, he took off running to meet him. Laban welcomed his nephew with hugs and a kiss. Then he brought Jacob home with him. Jacob told him about what had happened and why he had come.
- 14 Laban said, “We’re family. No doubt about it.” Jacob stayed with Laban for about a month.
Jacob’s sister wives
- 15 Laban told Jacob, “You shouldn’t work for me for nothing just because you’re my relative. I don’t want to take advantage of you. Tell me, what can I pay you for the work you do for me?”
- 16 Laban had two daughters. His oldest daughter was Leah. His younger daughter was Rachel.
- 17 Leah was not easy on the eyes1—at least not compared to Rachel, who was gorgeous and gracious.
- 18 Jacob had already fallen in love with Rachel. So he told Laban, “I will work for you for seven years if you’ll let me marry your younger daughter Rachel.”
- 19 Laban said, “My daughter would certainly be better off married to you than to any other man. It’s a deal. Stay and work for me.”
- 20 Jacob worked seven years for the right to marry Rachel. He loved her so much that the years seemed like days.
- 21 Jacob told Laban, “I have worked for you for seven years. It’s time for you to give me my wife.”
- 22 Laban threw a wedding party. He invited all the people in the area for the food and festivities.
- 23 But on the night he was supposed to give his daughter Rachel to Jacob, Laban pulled a switcheroo—he gave him Leah instead. The couple spent the night together and had sex.
- 24 As a wedding gift to his daughter, Laban gave Leah a slave woman: Zilpah.
- 25 The next morning, after Jacob woke up beside Leah, he had a question for his father-in-law, Laban. “What on earth have you done to me? Didn’t I work for you for the right to marry Rachel? Why have you cheated me?”
- 26 Laban simply said, “It’s not our custom here to marry off a younger daughter before the oldest daughter.
- 27 I’ll tell you what I’ll do for you. Finish this week of wedding celebration for Leah and then I’ll give you Rachel—if you agree to work for me for another seven years.”
- 28 Jacob agreed. He finished the week, and then Laban gave him Rachel as his second wife.
- 29 Laban gave Rachel a slave girl named Bilhah as a wedding gift.
- 30 Jacob had sex with Rachel. He loved her more than he loved Leah. He worked for his father-in-law another seven years.
- 31 When the LORD saw that Jacob didn’t love Leah like he loved Rachel, God did Leah a big favor: he made her fertile. Rachel, however, couldn’t have children.
- 32 Leah got pregnant and had a son. She named him Reuben.2 She said she gave him the name, “Because the LORD saw my problem. Maybe now my husband will love me, since I have given him a son.”
- 33 Leah got pregnant again and had another son. She named him Simeon.3 She said she gave him that name, “Because the Lord has heard that my husband still does not love me, so he gave me another son.”
- 34 Leah got pregnant again and had yet another son. She named him Levi.4 She said, “Now my husband will become attached to me. I’ve given him three sons.”
- 35 Leah got pregnant once more and had a son. She named him Judah.5 She said, “I want to praise the Lord.” Leah stopped having children for a time.6
It’s unclear what was going on with Leah’s eyes. Guesses range from “weak eyes” to “bright eyes.” But the contrast to Rachel’s beauty suggests that whatever it was it wasn’t something Jacob would want to wake up to every morning.
Hebrew for “See, a son.”
Sounds like the Hebrew term for “one who hears.”
Sounds like the Hebrew term for “becoming attached.”
Sounds like the Hebrew term for “praise.”
Leah would later have two more sons and a daughter: Issachar, Zebulun, Dinah. She had seven children in all—six of Jacob’s 12 sons.
When Jacob finally reaches his destination in what is now southern Turkey and he meets a young lady that he discovers is his cousin, “Jacob kissed Rachel. Then he began to cry” (29:11). The Bible doesn’t say why Jacob did either of those things. Why do you think he might have kissed Rachel and cried?
When Rachel ran to tell her father, Laban, that Isaac’s son had arrived, Laban must have had a sense of déjà vu. Years earlier he was there to see a caravan loaded with riches, led by a man on the hunt for a wife for 40-year-old bachelor Isaac (24:10). The moment he got the news that Isaac’s son had just arrived, what do you think was on his mind?
When Laban realizes Jacob came alone, without a caravan or bags of gold, he says, “We’re family. No doubt about it” (29:14). If you had to make the case that he was not being sincere, what evidence would you offer? And as a follow-up counterpoint, how would you defend the argument that he was, in fact, being sincere?
After Jacob has stayed with his uncle Laban for a month, you would think it might be time for Jacob to go back home. Instead, he tells Laban, “I will work for you for seven years if you’ll let me marry your younger daughter Rachel” (29:18). The Bible doesn’t say how Jacob arrived at seven years. Does that stretch of time sound to you like it’s coming from Jacob, Laban, or perhaps Rachel?
Rachel had an older sister, Leah. Jacob didn’t seem to feel anything hormonal toward her. And there was something going on with her eyes. Bible experts make all kinds of guesses. Some are complementary: “Leah had nice eyes” (29:17 Message). Most are not. Leah may have been “wide-eyed, bug-eyed, or maybe even cross-eyed.” Best guess, what do you think it was about Leah that failed to excite Jacob?
Explain this: how on the good Lord’s green earth could Jacob have married a woman and spent the honeymoon night with her and yet never realize until daylight that he had hitched his wagon to the wrong horse?
When you get to the part of the story with Jacob waking up beside Leah, how do you react to that? “The next morning, after Jacob woke up beside Leah, he had a question for his father-in-law, Laban. ‘What on earth have you done to me? Didn’t I work for you for the right to marry Rachel? Why have you cheated me?’” (29:25).
When Jacob confronts his father-in-law about the switcheroo, Laban defends himself by saying, “It’s not our custom here to marry off a younger daughter before the oldest daughter” (29:26). If you had been Jacob, what would you have said?
Jacob and Laban cut a deal. Jacob would work another seven years for Rachel, but he would get to take her as his wife in a week—right after Leah had her traditional weeklong wedding celebration. What choice do you think Jacob had? If he had asked Laban for a discount, maybe working just a year for Rachel, what would that have said about the value Jacob placed on Rachel? Can you think of a better deal Jacob could have worked out?
The Genesis writer says “The LORD saw that Jacob didn’t love Leah like he loved Rachel” (29:31). So God made Leah fertile enough to produce four boys in what seems to have been quick succession. Rachel, nada. Do you think the Genesis writer actually had the inside scoop on God intervening to help Leah? Or do you think it’s more likely that the Genesis writer simply presumed God did that because the writer, like many Jews of Old Testament times, believed that God was in control of everything that happened—the good, the bad, and the messy?
When you look at the names Leah gave her four sons, how do you react to those names (29:32-35)?
LIFE APPLICATION. This chapter in Genesis has four main characters: Jacob, Laban, Leah, Rachel. Without giving us names, if that would embarrass the person, tell us about someone you know who reminds you of one of these characters.