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Notes on the Bible, by Albert Barnes, [1834], at

Genesis Chapter 29

- Jacob's Marriage

6. רחל rāchēl, Rachel, "a ewe."

16. לאה lê'âh, Leah, "wearied."

24. זלפה zı̂lpâh, Zilpah, "drop?"

29. בלהה bı̂lhâh, Bilhah, "timidity."

32. ראוּבן re'uvbēn, Reuben, "behold a son." A paronomasia in allusion to the phrase בעניי ראה be‛ānyı̂y rā'âh. Derivatives and compounds, being formed by the common speaker, are sometimes founded upon resemblance in sound, and not always on precise forms of the original sentence which prompted them.

33. שׁמעין shı̂m‛ôn, Shim'on, "hearing, answer."

34. לוי lêvı̂y, Levi, "junction, union."

35. יחוּדה yehûdâh, Jehudah, "praised."

In this chapter and the following, Jacob grows from a solitary fugitive with a staff in his hand Gen 32:10 to be the father of a large family and the owner of great wealth. He proves himself to be a man of patience and perseverance, and the Lord according to promise is with him.

Gen 29:1-8

Jacob arrives at the well of Haran. "The land of the sons of the east." The points of the heavens were defined by the usage of practical life, and not by the standard of a science yet unknown. Hence, the east means any quarter toward the sunrising. Haran was about four degrees east of Beer-sheba, and five and a half degrees north. The distance was about four hundred and fifty miles, and therefore it would take Jacob fifteen days to perform the journey at thirty miles a day. If he reached Bethel the first night, he must have travelled about fifty miles the first day. After this he proceeds on his journey without any memorable incident. In the neighborhood of Haran he comes upon a well, by which lay three flocks. This is not the well near Haran where Abraham's servant met Rebekah. It is in the pasture grounds at some distance from the town. On its mouth was a large stone, indicating that water was precious, and that the well was the common property of the surrounding natives. The custom was to gather the flocks, roll away the stone, which was too great to be moved by a boy or a female, water the flocks, and replace the stone. Jacob, on making inquiry, learns that Haran is at hand, that Laban is well, and that Rachel is drawing nigh with her father's flocks. Laban is called by Jacob the son of Nahor, that is, his grandson, with the usual latitude of relative names in Scripture Gen 28:13. "The day is great." A great part of it yet remains. It is not yet the time to shut up the cattle for the night; "water the sheep and go feed them." Jacob may have wished to meet with Rachel without presence of the shepherds. "We cannot." There was a rule or custom that the flocks must be all assembled before the stone was rolled away for the purpose of watering the cattle. This may have been required to insure a fair distribution of the water to all parties, and especially to those who were too weak to roll away the stone.

Gen 29:9-14

Jacob's interview with Rachel, and hospitable reception by Laban. Rachel's approach awakens all Jacob's warmth of feeling. He rolls away the stone, waters the sheep, kisses Rachel, and bursts into tears. The remembrance of home and of the relationship of his mother to Rachel overpowers him. He informs Rachel who he is, and she runs to acquaint her father. Laban hastens to welcome his relative to his house. "Surely my bone and my flesh art thou." This is a description of kinsmanship probably derived from the formation of the woman out of the man Gen 2:23. A month here means the period from new moon to new moon, and consists of twenty-nine or thirty days.

Gen 29:15-20

Jacob serves seven years for Rachel. "What shall thy wages be?" An active, industrious man like Jacob was of great value to Laban. "Two daughters." Daughters in those countries and times were also objects of value, for which their parents were accustomed to receive considerable presents Gen 24:53. Jacob at present, however, is merely worth his labor. He has apparently nothing else to offer. As he loves Rachel, he offers to serve seven years for her, and is accepted. Isaac loved Rebekah after she was sought and won as a bride for him. Jacob loves Rachel before he makes a proposal of marriage. His attachment is pure and constant, and hence the years of his service seem but days to him. The pleasure of her society both in the business and leisure of life makes the hours pass unnoticed. It is obvious that in those early days the contact of the sexes before marriage was more unrestrained than it afterward became.

Gen 29:21-30

Jacob is betrayed into marrying Leah, and on consenting to serve other seven years obtains Rachel also. He claims his expected reward when due. "Made a feast." The feast in the house of the bride's father seems to have lasted seven days, at the close of which the marriage was completed. But the custom seems to have varied according to the circumstances of the bridegroom. Jacob had no house of his own to which to conduct the bride. In the evening: when it was dark. The bride was also closely veiled, so that it was easy for Laban to practise this piece of deceit. "A handmaid." It was customary to give the bride a handmaid, who became her confidential servant Gen 24:59, Gen 24:61. In the morning Jacob discovers that Laban had overreached him. This is the first retribution Jacob experiences for the deceitful practices of his former days. He expostulates with Laban, who pleads the custom of the country.

It is still the custom not to give the younger in marriage before the older, unless the latter be deformed or in some way defective. It is also not unusual to practise the very same trick that Laban now employed, if the suitor is so simple as to be off his guard. Jacob, however, did not expect this at his relative's hands, though he had himself taken part in proceedings equally questionable. "Fulfill the week of this." If this was the second day of the feast celebrating the nuptials of Leah, Laban requests him to Complete the week, and then he will give him Rachel also. If, however, Leah was fraudulently put upon him at the close of the week of feasting, then Laban in these words proposes to give Rachel to Jacob on fulfilling another week of nuptial rejoicing. The latter is in the present instance more likely. In either case the marriage of Rachel is only a week after that of Leah. Rather than lose Rachel altogether, Jacob consents to comply with Laban's terms.

Rachel was the wife of Jacob's affections and intentions. The taking of a second wife in the lifetime of the first was contrary to the law of nature, which designed one man for one woman Gen 2:21-25. But the marrying of a sister-in-law was not yet incestuous, because no law had yet been made on the subject. Laban gives a handmaid to each of his daughters. To Rebekah his sister had been given more than one Gen 24:61. Bondslaves had been in existence long before Laban's time Gen 16:1. "And loved also Rachel more than Leah." This proves that even Leah was not unloved. At the time of his marriage Jacob was eighty-four years of age; which corresponds to half that age according to the present average of human life.

Gen 29:31-35

Leah bears four sons to Jacob. "The Lord saw." The eye of the Lord is upon the sufferer. It is remarkable that both the narrator and Leah employ the proper name of God, which makes the performance of promise a prominent feature of his character. This is appropriate in the mouth of Leah, who is the mother of the promised seed. "That Leah was hated" - less loved than Rachel. He therefore recompenses her for the lack of her husband's affections by giving her children, while Rachel was barren. "Reuben" - behold a son. "The Lord hath looked on my affliction." Leah had qualities of heart, if not of outward appearance, which commanded esteem. She had learned to acknowledge the Lord in all her ways. "Simon" - answer. She had prayed to the Lord, and this was her answer. "Levi" - union, the reconciler. Her husband could not, according to the prevailing sentiments of those days, fail to be attached to the mother of three sons. "Judah" - praised. Well may she praise the Lord; for this is the ancestor of the promised seed. It is remarkable that the wife of priority, but not of preference, is the mother of the seed in whom all nations are to be blessed. Levi the reconciler is the father of the priestly tribe. Simon is attached to Judah. Reuben retires into the background.

Reuben may have been born when Jacob was still only eighty-four, and consequently Judah was born when Jacob was eighty-seven.

Next: Genesis Chapter 30