What does Genesis 29:26 mean?On the wedding night, Laban had switched his older, less attractive daughter for the younger one whom Jacob loved (Genesis 29:16–17). Jacob had unknowingly consummated a marriage with Leah instead of Rachel. The previous verse contains Jacob's outraged but very reasonable questions to Laban on the morning after: What have to you done to me? Didn't I work with you for seven years for Rachel? Why have you tricked me?
Laban's answer certainly doesn't satisfy those questions. In fact, it's so absurd that it almost comes across as mocking. Laban brushes Jacob off with a shrug and a policy statement: our people don't marry off the younger before the older. While it's possible that was the custom, Laban could have explained that to Jacob at any point in the previous seven years. If it really were a hard rule of that culture, someone would have mentioned it to Jacob eventually. There can be no question whatsoever: this was a deliberate deception on the part of Laban.
Was his outrageous act of deception motivated, in part, by love for his older daughter Leah and a concern for her future? Laban's hurtful choices sometimes seem to be a wrong response to some compassionate impulse, but that is often the defense of abusive, controlling people.
In a particularly ironic twist, Laban's response involves an older sibling having rights over the younger. Jacob, as it turns out, is also getting a taste of his own medicine. Earlier in his life, Jacob had manipulated his older twin brother out of his birthright (Genesis 25:29–34). Then, he'd connived with his mother to fool his blind father, stealing a blessing meant for that same older brother (Genesis 27:15–19). Esau's rage from that betrayal was one reason Jacob had to flee Canaan to come live with Laban (Genesis 27:41).