Biblical Commentary on the Old Testament, by Carl Friedrich Keil and Franz Delitzsh, [1857-78], at sacred-texts.com
Arrival in Haran, and Reception by Laban. - Being strengthened in spirit by the nocturnal vision, Jacob proceeded on his journey into "the land of the sons of the East," by which we are to understand, not so much the Arabian desert, that reaches to the Euphrates, as Mesopotamia, which lies on the other side of that river. For there he saw the well in the field (Gen 29:2), by which three flocks were lying, waiting for the arrival of the other flocks of the place, before they could be watered. The remark in Gen 29:2, that the stone upon the well's mouth was large (גּדלה without the article is a predicate), does not mean that the united strength of all the shepherds was required to roll it away, whereas Jacob rolled it away alone (Gen 29:10); but only that it was not in the power of every shepherd, much less of a shepherdess like Rachel, to roll it away. Hence in all probability the agreement that had been formed among them, that they would water the flocks together. The scene is so thoroughly in harmony with the customs of the East, both ancient and modern, that the similarity to the one described in Gen 24:11. is by no means strange (vid., Rob. Pal. i. 301, 304, ii. 351, 357, 371). Moreover the well was very differently constructed from that at which Abraham's servant met with Rebekah. There the water was drawn at once from the (open) well and poured into troughs placed ready for the cattle, as is the case now at most of the wells in the East; whereas here the well was closed up with a stone, and there is no mention of pitchers and troughs. The well, therefore, was probably a cistern dug in the ground, which was covered up or closed with a large stone, and probably so constructed, that after the stone had been rolled away the flocks could be driven to the edge to drink.
(Note: Like the cistern Bir Beshat, described by Rosen., in the valley of Hebron, or those which Robinson found in the desert of Judah (Pal. ii. 165), hollowed out in the great mass of rock, and covered with a large, thick, flat stone, in the middle of which a round hole had been left, which formed the opening of the cistern, and in many cases was closed up with a heavy stone, which it would take two or three men to roll away.)
Jacob asked the shepherds where they lived; from which it is probable that the well was not situated, like that in Gen 24:11, in the immediate neighbourhood of the town of Haran; and when they said they were from Haran, he inquired after Laban, the son, i.e., the descendant, of Nahor, and how he was (לו השׁלום: is he well?; and received the reply, "Well; and behold Rachel, his daughter, is just coming (בּאה particip.) with the flock." When Jacob thereupon told the shepherds to water the flocks and feed them again, for the day was still "great," - i.e., it wanted a long while to the evening, and was not yet time to drive them in (to the folds to rest for the night) - he certainly only wanted to get the shepherds away from the well, that he might meet with his cousin alone. But as Rachel came up in the meantime, he was so carried away by the feelings of relationship, possibly by a certain love at first sight, that he rolled the stone away from the well, watered her flock, and after kissing her, introduced himself with tears of joyous emotion as her cousin (אביה אחי, brother, i.e., relation of her father) and Rebekah's son. What the other shepherds thought of all this, is passed over as indifferent to the purpose of the narrative, and the friendly reception of Jacob by Laban is related immediately afterwards. When Jacob had told Laban "all these things," - i.e., hardly "the cause of his journey, and the things which had happened to him in relation to the birthright" (Rosenmller), but simply the things mentioned in Gen 29:2-12 - Laban acknowledged him as his relative: "Yes, thou art my bone and my flesh" (cf. Gen 2:23 and Jdg 9:2); and thereby eo ipso ensured him an abode in his house.
Jacob's Double Marriage. - After a full month ("a month of days," Gen 41:4; Num 11:20, etc.), during which time Laban had discovered that he was a good and useful shepherd, he said to him, "Shouldst thou, because thou art my relative, serve me for nothing? fix me thy wages." Laban's selfishness comes out here under the appearance of justice and kindness. To preclude all claim on the part of his sister's son to gratitude or affection in return for his services, he proposes to pay him like an ordinary servant. Jacob offered to serve him seven years for Rachel, the younger of his two daughters, whom he loved because of her beauty; i.e., just as many years as the week has days, that he might bind himself to a complete and sufficient number of years of service. For the elder daughter, Leah, had weak eyes, and consequently was not so good-looking; since bright eyes, with fire in them, are regarded as the height of beauty in Oriental women. Laban agreed. He would rather give his daughter to him than to a stranger.
(Note: This is the case still with the Bedouins, the Druses, and other Eastern tribes (Burckhardt, Voleny, Layard, and Lane).
Jacob's proposal may be explained, partly on the ground that he was not then in a condition to give the customary dowry, or the usual presents to relations, and partly also from the fact that his situation with regard to Esau compelled him to remain some time with Laban. The assent on the part of Laban cannot be accounted for from the custom of selling daughters to husbands, for it cannot be shown that the purchase of wives was a general custom at that time; but is to be explained solely on the ground of Laban's selfishness and avarice, which came out still more plainly afterwards. To Jacob, however, the seven years seemed but "a few days, because he loved Rachel." This is to be understood, as C. a Lapide observes, "not affective, but appretiative," i.e., in comparison with the reward to be obtained for his service.
But when Jacob asked for his reward at the expiration of this period, and according to the usual custom a great marriage feast had been prepared, instead of Rachel, Laban took his elder daughter Leah into the bride-chamber, and Jacob went in unto her, without discovering in the dark the deception that had been practised. Thus the overreacher of Esau was overreached himself, and sin was punished by sin.
But when Jacob complained to Laban the next morning of his deception, he pleaded the custom of the country: כּן יעשׂה לא, "it is not accustomed to be so in our place, to give the younger before the first-born." A perfectly worthless excuse; for if this had really been the custom in Haran as in ancient India and elsewhere, he ought to have told Jacob of it before. But to satisfy Jacob, he promised him that in a week he would give him the younger also, if he would serve him seven years longer for her.
"Fulfil her week;" i.e., let Leah's marriage-week pass over. The wedding feast generally lasted a week (cf. Jdg 14:12; Job 11:19). After this week had passed, he received Rachel also: two wives in eight days. To each of these Laban gave one maid-servant to wait upon her; less, therefore, than Bethuel gave to his daughter (Gen 24:61). - This bigamy of Jacob must not be judged directly by the Mosaic law, which prohibits marriage with two sisters at the same time (Lev 18:18), or set down as incest (Calvin, etc.), since there was no positive law on the point in existence then. At the same time, it is not to be justified on the ground, that the blessing of God made it the means of the fulfilment of His promise, viz., the multiplication of the seed of Abraham into a great nation. Just as it had arisen from Laban's deception and Jacob's love, which regarded outward beauty alone, and therefore from sinful infirmities, so did it become in its results a true school of affliction to Jacob, in which God showed to him, by many a humiliation, that such conduct as his was quite unfitted to accomplish the divine counsels, and thus condemned the ungodliness of such a marriage, and prepared the way for the subsequent prohibition in the law.
Leah's First Sons. - Jacob's sinful weakness showed itself even after his marriage, in the fact that he loved Rachel more than Leah; and the chastisement of God, in the fact that the hated wife was blessed with children, whilst Rachel for a long time remained unfruitful. By this it was made apparent once more, that the origin of Israel was to be a work not of nature, but of grace. Leah had four sons in rapid succession, and gave them names which indicated her state of mind: (1) Reuben, "see, a son!" because she regarded his birth as a pledge that Jehovah had graciously looked upon her misery, for now her husband would love her; (2) Simeon, i.e., "hearing," for Jehovah had heard, i.e., observed that she was hated; (3) Levi, i.e., attachment, for she hoped that this time, at least, after she had born three sons, her husband would become attached to her, i.e., show her some affection; (4) Judah (יהוּדה, verbal, of the fut. hoph. of ידה), i.e., praise, not merely the praised one, but the one for whom Jehovah is praised. After this fourth birth there was a pause (Gen 29:31), that she might not be unduly lifted up by her good fortune, or attribute to the fruitfulness of her own womb what the faithfulness of Jehovah, the covenant God had bestowed upon her.