Rules of Engagement
You can read the story found in Genesis 29, I will take come creative freedoms as I retell the story below, please make sure to read the biblical account.
With God’s promises hidden in his heart (discussed here), Jacob continued his journey and came to the land of the people of the East. When he spotted a well he figured it would be a good place to stop, after all, it was at a well that Abraham’s servant met Rebekah (Genesis 24:10-11). Moses learned a similar lesson for he too met his wife at a well (Exodus 2:15-21). Sadly, Jacob never had a chance to meet Moses, but I’m sure he would be happy to know they shared a well experience.
When Jacob arrives, however, he finds only men at the well. A bit disappointed he had not met the love his life right away, he begins to chat with the men at the well and ask about Laban son of Nahor. The shepherds inform Jacob that they know Laban and that he is well and as a matter of fact, here comes his daughter Rachel with the sheep.
As Jacob looked in the direction those men pointed, time slowed down, the voice of the men faded into the background, Jacob became very aware of his heartbeats, it felt like his heart was going to jump out of his chest! He could hear each heartbeat, and wondered if others could see his heart beating or hear it the loud sound it was making. His mouth felt dry and he forgot to blink. This was it! Just like the story his mother told him so many times about how she came to be his mother, Rachel, she would be his wife!
After what felt like a long time, Jacob snapped out of it and told the shepherds, “It’s time to water the sheep!”
To which they replied, “No, it isn’t! …and by the way, you just got here. That’s not how we do things here. See that stone over the mouth of the well? Well, we have to wait for everyone to gather together and for the stone to be rolled out, and then we water the sheep.”
“What?! How long will that take? Why can’t we just go there and remove the stone? C’mon guys…”
While Jacob was talking with those shepherds Rachel came with her father’s sheep. She was a shepherdess! How perfect! David was a shepherd (1 Samuel 16:11; 17:15, 20, 28, 34), Moses spent 40 years taking care of sheep (Exodus 3:1; Acts 7:29-30), and Jesus often used shepherd imagery in His teachings!
“This is a great sign if I ever saw one!“ Thought Jacob, or he would have thought if he only knew what we know.
Jacob couldn’t wait any longer. He had a young woman to impress and she was not going to be impressed if he just hung out with the shepherds. He needed to do something heroic, something manly, something impressive, lift something heavy, especially since he lacked Esau’s facial, body-hair (more details here). Yes, something heavy, like the stone over the mouth of the well! Yes! That’s what Jacob would do, Rachel would totally fall in love with him once she saw his stone rolling abilities!
Well, it turned out the stone was much heavier than Jacob had expected. Now he knew why all those shepherds had been sitting around waiting for help. But he could not back down now, he needed to impress Rachel! This was his moment and he could not pass it up, especially not after he began to try to roll the stone. Keep in mind that Jacob was his mother’s favorite son, Rebekah had drawn water from the well to give to Abraham’s camels (more details here), so Jacob would follow his mom’s example and water the flock of Laban. There is a bit of a reversal here. Part of it probably due to the fact that Abraham’s servant had arrived with camels and wealth (Genesis 24:53) and Jacob has, well, nothing, except God’s promise (Genesis 28:13-15, more details here). Jacob has nothing with which to impress Rachel or her family, except his hard work. So he begins to work hard and he rolls the stone off the mouth of the well and waters Laban’s sheep.
Afterwards, Jacob was sweaty, tired, and smelly. He was not sure what to do next. So, he figured his next step should be to kiss Rachel, obviously. He kisses her, and realizes he has no idea what he is doing. He feels guilty for not acquiring her consent, realizing the possible catastrophic outcome of his most recent move he lifts his voice and cries. (I’m not making this up, read Genesis 29:11)
Rachel just had a stranger walk up to her, roll the stone away from the mouth of the well all by himself, which was impressive, and water her father’s flock, which was nice. But the kiss was way too forward. But now he was crying? Rachel was completely confused. In between tears and sobs, Jacob tells Rachel he is her cousin, hoping it would make her feel better. But Rachel takes off and runs to her father.
Jacob sits there surrounded by sheep wondering on how many levels he had botched his first encounter with the love of his life.
And you thought you had an awkward first interaction with your crush...
Upon hearing what his youngest daughter told him Laban grabs his shotgun and runs out to meet Jacob. Okay, maybe he didn’t grab his shotgun, but the Bible does say that Laban ran to meet Jacob after hearing what had happened.
Then it came to pass, when Laban heard the report about Jacob his sister’s son, that he ran to meet him,
Laban had decided to give Jacob a taste of his own medicine. “Do unto others” correct? So Laban decided to embrace and kiss Jacob (Genesis 29:13). Jacob was now at least as confused as Rachel, but he figured the worst had passed and things were now cool between him and Laban. Jacob was even wondering if he could start calling Laban Dad, but he had no idea what uncle Laban had in store for him.
Jacob was not yet aware of how greedy and deceitful uncle Laban was. No one had told Jacob how Laban had paid close attention to the gold and wealth Abraham’s servant had brought and given to Rebekah (Genesis 24:29-33)all those years ago. Jacob did not come with with camels and gold but he did show himself to be hard working, and Laban just happened to be in the market for some good free labor, emphasis on free. Laban makes it very clear that Jacob is family, and for a month Jacob stays with uncle Laban, working for free. After all, you don’t have to pay family members right? As uncle Laban told himself each night, “It’s not exploitation if you’re related.”
After a month had passed Laban was convinced he wanted Jacob to stay long term and it would be profitable to him to make some kind of arrangement with his hard working nephew.
Then Laban said to Jacob, “Because you are my relative, should you therefore serve me for nothing? Tell me, what should your wages be?”
Genesis 29:15 NKJV
Uncle Laban approaches Jacob and says
“Jacob my boy, my nephew, we consider you one of the family, one of the household. You know I don’t pay my family members to work here, we are all in this together! Don’t you want to belong and be a member of our family? Or do you want to be treated like a hired servant?”
Jacob notices what his uncle was doing and that it would be offensive, given how the question was posed, to ask for payment, so Jacob suggests an arrangement. Jacob is willing to work for a wife. Since his uncle wants Jacob to work but does not want to pay him, Jacob also wants to get married but has no funds to pay for a dowry, or bride price (Exodus 22:17; Deuteronomy 22:29).
It is important, at this point, to announce that Laban had two daughters. The elder daughter was named Leah, which literally means “cow,” maybe that was a compliment back then. The younger daughter was called Rachel which literally means “ewe,” (unrelated side note: English is my second language and I have a hard time pronouncing “ewe” it always sounds more like “ew,” a word used to express disgust at something distasteful or repellent [such as a bad odor]). Rachel’s name seems appropriate since she is a shepherdess.
There is one more thing that should be noted regarding Leah Rachel and it is found in Genesis 29:17 (click on link for comparison of several English translations).
Leah had lovely eyes, but Rachel was shapely and beautiful.
Genesis 29:17 Good News Translation.
We are not sure what the differences were between the two sisters, besides their age. One thing is clear Jacob loved Rachel and was willing to work 7 years for her, a generous offer. Laban agrees that it would be better for Jacob to marry his daughter than to another man and invites Jacob to stay.
So Jacob served seven years for Rachel, and they seemed only a few days to him because of the love he had for her.
Genesis 29:20 NKJV
The last day of the seventh year Jacob said to Laban,
"Give me my wife, for my time of service is up. I want to have marital relations with her."
Jacob (Genesis 29:21b NET Bible)
“Okay, okay,” replied Laban, “easy there eager beaver, and no need to be so direct, I know what married couples do.”
So Laban gathered together all the men of the place and made a huge feast! This was surprising since Laban had a rather greedy nature. You almost get the idea Laban needed a big even and lots of commotion in order to keep Jacob busy and distracted. When it got dark Laban took Leah and brought her to Jacob. Keep in mind that lighting at night was not the best in the ancient world, and that the bride would have worn a veil the entire duration of the ceremony. It must have been awkward for Leah to have Jacob call her Rachel all night. I also wonder what the wedding invitations would have said, perhaps “You are cordially invited to the wedding of Jacob and Laban’s Daughter.” It is unclear how willing a participant Leah was in all of this, but it is clear that Laban had planned it and Jacob fell for it. Laban even gave his maid Zilpah to his daughter Leah, uncle Laban is so generous and careful to follow the period customs.
In the morning, as the birds sang and the sun rays came in through the window, Jacob turned to kiss his wife, the love of his life, the woman for whom he had worked hard for seven long years, and behold, it was Leah!
Talk about a traumatic experience for both Jacob and Leah.
Jacob marched out of his room and found Laban.
“What is this you have done?” (Genesis 3:13; 4:10, 12:18; 20:9; 26:10; Exodus 14:11; Jonah1:10) Jacob demanded!
Was I not clear that I was serving you for Rachel? 7 years I worked for Rachel! Why have you deceived me?
Jacob had been deceived. It did not feel so good to be in the receiving end. Jacob the deceiver had met his match in his uncle. Jacob had deceived his brother and his father and now he was on the receiving end. Laban thought the whole thing had been funny, but he knew that it would not be appropriate to laugh right now. He was wondering how Jacob would react.
Laban, matter-of-factly explained to Jacob the customs of the land and how in their country he simply could not give the younger before the firstborn. Laban looked at Jacob, raised an eyebrow and added “you know how birth order works in our land right Jacob?” “Let’s do this,” Laban added, “fulfill her week and you will get me other daughter for another 7 long years of hard labor, outdoors, in the desert.”
Uncle Laban seemed so careful to follow the customs of the land, yet seemed so at ease in being dishonest and conveniently keeping such vital information from Jacob.
Sure enough a week later Jacob finally received Rachel as his wife and Laban gave Bilhah, his maid, to Rachel to be her maid.
Jacob loved Rachel more than Leah, and this is not good. But we will talk more about this on our next post.
In his hour of need, when he was alone and had nothing, the one person Jacob thought he could trust, the one man Jacob thought he could count on, his uncle, blood of his blood and bone of his bone, took advantage of him. Jacob was hurt by someone who should have been there to help him. Jacob learned that God was his helper and God would provide for him, and that the road would not be an easy one.