What does Genesis 29 mean?
Chapter Commentary:
After his journey east, Jacob arrives at the home of Laban, his mother's brother. Laban lives in Haran in Mesopotamia, outside of the land God has promised to Abraham, Isaac and, in the previous chapter, to Jacob. Jacob had left his homeland in Canaan, both to find a wife among his father's people (Genesis 28:1–2) and to escape the murderous rage of his older twin brother, Esau (Genesis 27:41). Jacob's plan is to seek out the former household of his mother, Rebekah, and her brother, Laban.

First, though, Jacob comes across a well in a field. He asks some shepherds gathered near the well with their flocks if they know Laban and if he is thriving. They do know him and point to Laban's daughter Rachel arriving with a flock of her own. Jacob immediately rolls the heavy stone away from the well and waters the sheep that belong to Rachel's father (Genesis 29:1–10). This might have been an effort to impress her, as later verses will show that Jacob comes to love Rachel very much.

Jacob becomes emotional about finding these relatives he has never met before. He kisses Rachel and weeps loudly. Finally, he tells her who he is, and she runs to tell Laban. Laban quickly arrives. He hugs and kisses Jacob and welcomes him into his home. Jacob tells Laban some version of his story and how he came to be there, and Laban acknowledges that Jacob is truly his relative (Genesis 29:11–14).

After Jacob has been with the family for a month and working for Laban, the uncle asks the nephew what wages he would ask to continue working for him. The implication is that Jacob is a good worker and very helpful to Laban. Jacob, who has come in part to find a wife, offers to work for seven years in exchange for marrying Laban's younger daughter Rachel, whom Jacob loves (Genesis 29:15–18). This intense love for Rachel will be an important contrast to Jacob's feelings for her older sister, Leah, later in this chapter.

Laban quickly agrees to this generous offer and the years fly by for Jacob. When the time has passed, Laban throws a wedding feast. On the wedding night, however, Laban manages to switch out Rachel with her older, less attractive sister Leah. Jacob sleeps with Leah without realizing she is not Rachel; apparently in that time and place, this was enough to constitute a legal marriage (Genesis 29:19–25).

When Jacob realizes the next morning what has happened, he demands to know why Laban has committed this outrageous deception. Laban calmly tells Jacob that their custom does not allow the younger daughter to marry first (Genesis 29:26). Obviously, even if this were true, it is information Laban had seven years to pass along to Jacob. The entire arrangement was an obvious ploy on Laban's part. Here, then, is Jacob "getting a taste of his own medicine:" the lying manipulator (Genesis 27:34–36) feeling the sting of deception and fraud.

As if in generosity, Laban offers to allow Jacob to marry Rachel the next week in exchange for another seven years of work. In spite of Laban's manipulation, Jacob agrees (Genesis 29:27–30). Looking back on this passage after reading about Jacob's remaining life, it turns out he has gained four wives (two of whom are really servants or concubines) in the span of a week! Both of the servants given to Laban's daughters, at their weddings, will wind up bearing children to Jacob, as well (Genesis 30:2–3; 30:9–10).

Now married twice over, and with seven more years of unpaid work ahead of him, Jacob settles in. Leah, though, is deeply wounded by the fact that Jacob loves Rachel more than her. In fact, Jacob is said to hate Leah, at least by comparison. Given the circumstances of their marriage, this is hardly a surprise. The Lord, who is always with Jacob, takes notice of Leah's heartbreak and allows her to begin having children while her younger, better-loved sister remains barren (Genesis 29:31).

Jacob's first three sons from his unloved wife are named as a result of her faith. Leah trusts in the God who notices her pain and for her hope, or lack of it, that Jacob will now turn his heart toward her. In spite of Leah bearing Reuben, Simeon, and Levi, however, Jacob apparently remains unloving toward Leah (Genesis 29:32–34).

Leah seems to give up hoping that bearing sons will increase Jacob's love for her. She names her fourth boy Judah, which means "praise" or "may God be praised." Leah's faith in God's goodness remains intact, even while her hope that her husband will love her appears to slip away (Genesis 29:35).

The last verse of this chapter specifically indicates that Leah stopped conceiving children after Judah. This might be due to a temporary time of infertility. However, the next chapter speaks of Rachel's anger that Leah has had children while Rachel has not. This jealousy from his favored wife might have inspired Jacob to withhold himself from Leah in an effort to give Rachel a child to call her own.
Verse Context:
Genesis 29:1–30 describes Jacob's arrival at his uncle's household. Laban is happy to see his nephew, likely for the first time. Jacob falls in love with Laban's more attractive daughter, Rachel, and agrees to work for Laban seven years to marry her. On the wedding night, however, Laban treacherously switches Rachel for her older sister Leah. Jacob agrees to marry Rachel the next week, but now must work another seven years.
Genesis 29:31–35 describes Leah's joy and heartbreak. Tricked into marrying Leah, Jacob's heart is never with her. He loves Rachel more; in fact, it would be fair to say he never loved Leah at all. The Lord, who is ever with Jacob, notices Leah's heartbreak and allows her to begin bearing children while Rachel remains childless. Leah's four sons are named in celebration of the Lord and His noticing her, as well as for her hope, or lack of it, that Jacob will come to love her.
Chapter Summary:
Jacob's journey from his home brings him to his uncle's household in Haran. He falls in love with Laban's younger daughter Rachel and agrees to work for Laban for seven years to marry her. When the time comes, Laban switches out Rachel for her older, less attractive sister Leah. Jacob is surprised to find he has consummated the marriage with the wrong sister. Manipulative Laban assures Jacob he can still marry Rachel the next week, as long as he will work another seven years. Jacob loves Rachel more than Leah, but with the Lord's help, unloved Leah bears Jacob his first four sons.
Chapter Context:
The previous chapter described Jacob fleeing from home to seek his uncle in Mesopotamia. This was both to escape the rage of his brother, Esau, and to look for a suitable wife. Now Jacob arrives and falls in love with his uncle's daughter Rachel. After working seven years to marry her, Jacob is tricked by his uncle into marrying the older daughter, Leah, instead. Laban allows Jacob to marry Rachel, as well, in exchange for another seven years' work. Though she is unloved by Jacob, the Lord notices Leah's heartbreak and allows her to bear four sons. In the next chapter, Rachel's jealousy sets off something of a birth war, as she and Leah compete to obtain children.
Book Summary:
The book of Genesis establishes fundamental truths about God. Among these are His role as the Creator, His holiness, His hatred of sin, His love for mankind, and His willingness to provide for our redemption. We learn not only where mankind has come from, but why the world is in its present form. The book also presents the establishment of Israel, God's chosen people. Many of the principles given in other parts of Scripture depend on the basic ideas presented here in the book of Genesis. Within the framework of the Bible, Genesis explains the bare-bones history of the universe leading up to the captivity of Israel in Egypt, setting the stage for the book of Exodus.
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