Laban’s trickery – Jacob marries Leah… and Rachel (Genesis 29:14 – 29:30)
After Jacob had lived with Laban for a month, Laban offered to pay him for his work telling Jacob, “Just because you are a relative of mine does not mean you should have to work for no pay.” Laban asked Jacob what he thought a fair wage would be.
Laban had two daughters – an older daughter, Leah, who had “weak” eyes, and a younger daughter, Rachel, who was beautiful. Jacob was in love with Rachel so he told Laban, “I will work for you for seven years in return for marriage to your daughter Rachel.” Laban agreed that Rachel would be a good wife for Jacob and accepted Jacob’s proposal.
Jacob worked for Laban for seven years but his love for Rachel was so great, the time seemed to pass quickly. After Jacob completed his commitment, he approached Laban telling him that his service was complete and he wished to consummate his marriage to Rachel.
Laban brought together all the people and gave Jacob a wedding feast. When evening came, Laban took Leah (along with her servant Zipah as an attendant) to Jacob’s tent and Jacob made love to her. When morning came, Jacob realized he had been tricked.
Jacob said to Laban, “What have you done? I completed my commitment for Rachel, didn’t I? Why have you tricked me?”
Laban replied, “It is not our custom here to give the younger daughter in marriage before the older one. Finish Leah’s bridal week and then in return for seven more years of work, I will give you Rachel’s hand in marriage.”
Jacob finished the bridal week with Leah and as Laban promised, was given Rachel to be his wife (along with Bilhah, Rachel’s attendant). Jacob consummated his marriage with Rachel and his love for her was greater than his love for Leah. He worked for Laban for another seven years.
What the story means to us today
What man sows, he reaps – God’s guiding hand
Although Laban’s trickery is indeed monstrous and shameful, it is worth noting that the verb translated “tricked” in this story is the cognate (i.e. derived from) to the noun used earlier to describe Jacob’s deception of his brother, Esau. The Bible demonstrates over and over again that what a man sows, he reaps and Jacob’s story is a perfect example of this principle. Despite drawing closer to God, Jacob is learning that what goes around comes around. As modern-readers of the story, we may interpret this as irony or poetic justice but in fact, it is divine retribution, guided by a hand and according to a purposeful plan.
It will take a few biblical chapters to see Jacob’s story fully unfold but keep in mind that setbacks can serve as lessons in order to overcome tragic situations. Sometimes God serves us lessons that may be hard, hurtful, even appallingly life-altering. Lessons abound whether we recognize them as opportunities or not. In Jacob’s story, we will see a series of setbacks and accomplishments each of which shapes Jacob’s life and changes him in profound ways.
Additional thoughts and considerations
The irony of Jacob’s predicament
Laban’s trickery seems just in light of Jacob’s past deeds. The perpetrator of deceit is now the victim of a similar deception. Jacob deceived his father and brother and now the tables have been turned by the brother of Jacob’s mother (who in the past, partnered with Jacob and his schemes). Note the irony in Jacob’s situation. Jacob’s schemes were directed toward taking rights, provided in ancient Eastern culture to the older sibling, away from his brother Esau. Laban’s exchange of Leah for Rachel appears in direct contrast when Laban insists that it is not right to marry the younger before the older. In other words, it is not right to steal the rights of the older sibling from the younger – the very act Jacob is guilty of.
In yet another instance of irony, recall that Jacob tricked his father by disguising himself as his elder brother Esau. In a similar act, Laban tricked Jacob by substituting his older daughter under the guise of the younger Rachel.
Despite the interesting irony of Jacob’s predicaments, we must recognize that Jacob’s tenacity allows him to move forward despite the setbacks. We will see later how God helps Jacob develop his character, turn his setbacks into triumphs, and build the nation of Israel upon his back.
Customary service in return for a bride
A seven-year wait for marriage may seem harsh but Jacob’s service to Laban is the normally expected bridge payment price known as “mohar”. It was customary to give a dowry or offer service (if the bridegroom did not have the means to offer a dowry) in return for a wife’s hand in marriage. Even though Jacob and Rachel waited seven years before marriage, Rachel was “bethrowed” to Jacob during this time and for many purposes, was considered his “wife” during the time of bethrowal.
An insignificant price to pay for love
Jacob worked for seven years for Laban but “seemed like only a few days to him because of his love for her.” This may not necessarily mean that “time flies when you’re in love” but rather, that Jacob felt the price he paid for Rachel was insignificant compared to what he was receiving for his commitment. It is heartwarming to see Jacob put aside his cunning devices and act out of unselfish love, giving 14 years of his life for the woman he cherishes.
Note also that Jacob did *not* wait another seven years before being allowed to marry Rachel. He finished the “bridal week” and then was given permission to marry Rachel. The seven-day bridal week was a customary week-long wedding feast and celebration. This type of celebration is seen several times throughout the Bible. Once the seven-day celebration ended, Jacob was allowed to marry Rachel.
Sex in the Bible
Some may blush to see Jacob express his sexual desire for Rachel but the Bible holds nothing back. We saw this same situation earlier when the Bible tells us “Isaac brought her into his mother Sarah’s tent, and took Rebekah, and she became his wife.” In Jacob’s case, the translation actually reads “to go in” but it is clear that sexual intercourse is Jacob’s desire (although the desire may be to consummate the marriage and not necessarily carnal desire).
How Jacob was “blind” to Leah in his bed that night is not explained. His inability to tell Leah from Rachel could have been a metaphysical blinding or a physical hindrance. There are several potential reasons for his confusion. It is possible that Leah was veiled and given that during the period of bethrowal, sexual contact was not allowed, Jacob could have easily mistaken Leah for Rachel. In addition, the Bible tells us that the wedding took place in the evening so it was without question dark when Jacob took his “wife” the night they were married. Furthermore, Laban’s trick occurred after the wedding celebration and thus, it is possible that Jacob was inebriated from wine.
Jacob’s preference for Rachel over Leah
The Bible pointedly tells us that Jacob’s love for Rachel “was greater than his love for Leah”. Even given our modern-day distaste for polygamy, to hear a husband favor one wife over another is distasteful and hurtful. As we will soon see, just as parental favoritism produced a profound impact on Jacob in his earlier years of life, his favoritism of Rachel will cause him problems later, particularly with regards to his son, Joseph.
A glimpse into Jacob’s future
Ultimately, Leah will bear six sons and a daughter. Half of the tribes of Israel, including the tribe of Levi, will trace their ancestry back to Leah. Lest you doubt the marriage of Jacob to Leah bore purpose, we will discover in the New Testament that while Rachel remains barren, Leah will produce several offspring including a son named Judah, through whom the line of Jesus will run. Still, after many years Rachel will give birth to Benjamin and Joseph, both key participants in the stories to come.
The science and history behind the story
Wife and servants
The mention of slavery is upsetting and Laban’s gift of “servants” to Leah and Rachel may seem a distraction to the core story. From ancient Mesopotamian literature, we know that giving a servant to the bride was a widely accepted custom and to readers in ancient times, would have been a mere side note to the story.
Marriage to a cousin in ancient times
In ancient times, a marriage within your own tribe was customary (as was marrying the oldest daughter first) or at the very least, preferred in order to maintain the tribe’s bloodline. We saw this earlier when Abraham told his servant to ensure that Isaac did not seek a wife from the “daughters of Canaanites” but instead, find a wife from his “country” amongst his own relatives.
Change in Jewish law prohibits marriage of sisters
In later years, Jewish law forbad a man from marrying sisters while both were still alive.
Notes on Biblical translation
Leah’s “weak” eyes
Most translations call Leah’s eyes “weak” but others may describe them as “tender” or “delicate” eyes. Some believe the original text refers to blue eyes (thought to be a blemish in the ancient East). They could also be described as “dull”, possibly indicating a lack of intelligence. Or possibly Leah simply had bad eyesight (admittedly, not a likely translation). Regardless, even though it is not clear what the original text meant when describing Leah’s eyes, it is clear that Leah was not considered as beautiful as her sister, Rachel.
Interestingly, the name “Leah” means “cow” or “strong woman”.
After Jacob had stayed with him for a whole month, 15 Laban said to him, “Just because you are a relative of mine, should you work for me for nothing? Tell me what your wages should be.”
16 Now Laban had two daughters; the name of the older was Leah, and the name of the younger was Rachel. 17 Leah had weak eyes, but Rachel had a lovely figure and was beautiful. 18 Jacob was in love with Rachel and said, “I’ll work for you seven years in return for your younger daughter Rachel.”
19 Laban said, “It’s better that I give her to you than to some other man. Stay here with me.” 20 So Jacob served seven years to get Rachel, but they seemed like only a few days to him because of his love for her.
21 Then Jacob said to Laban, “Give me my wife. My time is completed, and I want to make love to her.”
22 So Laban brought together all the people of the place and gave a feast. 23 But when evening came, he took his daughter Leah and brought her to Jacob, and Jacob made love to her. 24 And Laban gave his servant Zilpah to his daughter as her attendant.
25 When morning came, there was Leah! So Jacob said to Laban, “What is this you have done to me? I served you for Rachel, didn’t I? Why have you deceived me?”
26 Laban replied, “It is not our custom here to give the younger daughter in marriage before the older one. 27 Finish this daughter’s bridal week; then we will give you the younger one also, in return for another seven years of work.”
28 And Jacob did so. He finished the week with Leah, and then Laban gave him his daughter Rachel to be his wife. 29 Laban gave his servant Bilhah to his daughter Rachel as her attendant. 30 Jacob made love to Rachel also, and his love for Rachel was greater than his love for Leah. And he worked for Laban another seven years.
When Jacob had been with him for a month, Laban said, “Just because you’re my nephew, you shouldn’t work for me for nothing. Tell me what you want to be paid. What’s a fair wage?”
16–18 Now Laban had two daughters; Leah was the older and Rachel the younger. Leah had nice eyes, but Rachel was stunningly beautiful. And it was Rachel that Jacob loved.
So Jacob answered, “I will work for you seven years for your younger daughter Rachel.”
19 “It is far better,” said Laban, “that I give her to you than marry her to some outsider. Yes. Stay here with me.”
20 So Jacob worked seven years for Rachel. But it only seemed like a few days, he loved her so much.
21–24 Then Jacob said to Laban, “Give me my wife; I’ve completed what we agreed I’d do. I’m ready to consummate my marriage.” Laban invited everyone around and threw a big feast. At evening, though, he got his daughter Leah and brought her to the marriage bed, and Jacob slept with her. (Laban gave his maid Zilpah to his daughter Leah as her maid.)
25 Morning came: There was Leah in the marriage bed!
Jacob confronted Laban, “What have you done to me? Didn’t I work all this time for the hand of Rachel? Why did you cheat me?”
26–27 “We don’t do it that way in our country,” said Laban. “We don’t marry off the younger daughter before the older. Enjoy your week of honeymoon, and then we’ll give you the other one also. But it will cost you another seven years of work.”
28–30 Jacob agreed. When he’d completed the honeymoon week, Laban gave him his daughter Rachel to be his wife. (Laban gave his maid Bilhah to his daughter Rachel as her maid.) Jacob then slept with her. And he loved Rachel more than Leah. He worked for Laban another seven years.
Peterson, Eugene H. The Message: The Bible in Contemporary Language. Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 2005. Print.
The NET Bible
So Jacob stayed with him for a month.
29:15 Then Laban said to Jacob, “Should you work for me for nothing because you are my relative? Tell me what your wages should be.” 29:16 (Now Laban had two daughters; the older one was named Leah, and the younger one Rachel. 29:17 Leah’s eyes were tender, but Rachel had a lovely figure and beautiful appearance.) 29:18 Since Jacob had fallen in love with Rachel, he said, “I’ll serve you seven years in exchange for your younger daughter Rachel.” 29:19 Laban replied, “I’d rather give her to you than to another man. Stay with me.” 29:20 So Jacob worked for seven years to acquire Rachel. But they seemed like only a few days to him because his love for her was so great.
29:21 Finally Jacob said to Laban, “Give me my wife, for my time of service is up. I want to have marital relations with her.” 29:22 So Laban invited all the people of that place and prepared a feast. 29:23 In the evening he brought his daughter Leah to Jacob, and Jacob had marital relations with her. 29:24 (Laban gave his female servant Zilpah to his daughter Leah to be her servant.)
29:25 In the morning Jacob discovered it was Leah! So Jacob said to Laban, “What in the world have you done to me! Didn’t I work for you in exchange for Rachel? Why have you tricked me?” 29:26 “It is not our custom here,” Laban replied, “to give the younger daughter in marriage before the firstborn. 29:27 Complete my older daughter’s bridal week. Then we will give you the younger one too, in exchange for seven more years of work.”
29:28 Jacob did as Laban said. When Jacob completed Leah’s bridal week, Laban gave him his daughter Rachel to be his wife. 29:29 (Laban gave his female servant Bilhah to his daughter Rachel to be her servant.) 29:30 Jacob had marital relations with Rachel as well. He loved Rachel more than Leah, so he worked for Laban for seven more years.
Biblical Studies Press. The NET Bible First Edition; Bible. English. NET Bible.; The NET Bible. Biblical Studies Press, 2006. Print.
King James Version
And he abode with him the space of a month. 15 And Laban said unto Jacob, Because thou art my brother, shouldest thou therefore serve me for nought? tell me, what shall thy wages be? 16 And Laban had two daughters: the name of the elder was Leah, and the name of the younger was Rachel. 17 Leah was tender eyed; but Rachel was beautiful and well favoured. 18 And Jacob loved Rachel; and said, I will serve thee seven years for Rachel thy younger daughter. 19 And Laban said, It is better that I give her to thee, than that I should give her to another man: abide with me. 20 And Jacob served seven years for Rachel; and they seemed unto him but a few days, for the love he had to her.
21 And Jacob said unto Laban, Give me my wife, for my days are fulfilled, that I may go in unto her. 22 And Laban gathered together all the men of the place, and made a feast. 23 And it came to pass in the evening, that he took Leah his daughter, and brought her to him; and he went in unto her. 24 And Laban gave unto his daughter Leah Zilpah his maid for an handmaid. 25 And it came to pass, that in the morning, behold, it was Leah: and he said to Laban, What is this thou hast done unto me? did not I serve with thee for Rachel? wherefore then hast thou beguiled me? 26 And Laban said, It must not be so done in our country, to give the younger before the firstborn. 27 Fulfil her week, and we will give thee this also for the service which thou shalt serve with me yet seven other years. 28 And Jacob did so, and fulfilled her week: and he gave him Rachel his daughter to wife also. 29 And Laban gave to Rachel his daughter Bilhah his handmaid to be her maid. 30 And he went in also unto Rachel, and he loved also Rachel more than Leah, and served with him yet seven other years.
The Holy Bible: King James Version. Electronic Edition of the 1900 Authorized Version. Bellingham, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 2009. Print.