Genesis 29
Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges
Chs. 29, 30 Jacob in Haran, from J and E

Genesis 29:1-14.  Jacob at the well.

15–30.  Jacob’s marriage with Leah and Rachel.

31–30:24.  Birth of Jacob’s children.

25–43.  Jacob serves Laban for a wage in flocks and herds.

Then Jacob went on his journey, and came into the land of the people of the east.
1. went on his journey] Heb. lifted up his feet.

the children of the east] A phrase generally used of the nomad Arab tribes to the east of Palestine: see note on Genesis 25:6. Cf. Numbers 23:7; Jdg 6:3. Here it is used for the Aramaeans of Haran, N.E. of Palestine.

In Hosea 12:12 Jacob is said to have “fled into the field of Aram.”

And he looked, and behold a well in the field, and, lo, there were three flocks of sheep lying by it; for out of that well they watered the flocks: and a great stone was upon the well's mouth.
2. in the field] There is no exact description of the place where this well was. It was not, apparently, the same as “the well of water,” “without the city,” in Genesis 24:11.

for out of that well] This clause and Genesis 29:3 are parenthetical, describing the custom of the country, i.e. “they were wont to water”: “were wont to roll and put the stone again.”

the stone upon the well’s mouth] A well was a cistern or tank, often covered with a large stone requiring two or three men to remove it. This stone protected the water from the rays of the sun and from mischief or pollution. In the present instance the well seems to have belonged to the community, and was not opened for use, until all the herdsmen and shepherds had come.

And thither were all the flocks gathered: and they rolled the stone from the well's mouth, and watered the sheep, and put the stone again upon the well's mouth in his place.
And Jacob said unto them, My brethren, whence be ye? And they said, Of Haran are we.
4. unto them] i.e. the shepherds of the three flocks mentioned in Genesis 29:2.

Of Haran] See Genesis 27:43. There is nothing to shew whether Haran, the town, was near or far off.

And he said unto them, Know ye Laban the son of Nahor? And they said, We know him.
5. Laban … of Nahor] See note on Genesis 24:15. In Genesis 24:24 Rebekah is daughter of Bethuel, the son of Nahor. In Genesis 24:29 ff. Laban is Rebekah’s brother. Here he is son of Nahor. It is possible that the tradition, followed here and in chap. 24, differs from that of the genealogy in Genesis 22:20-23; or that Nahor is mentioned as more famous than Bethuel his son. Cf. Jehu who is called “son of Nimshi” (2 Kings 9:20), though, in reality, his grandson (2 Kings 9:2; 2 Kings 9:14).

And he said unto them, Is he well? And they said, He is well: and, behold, Rachel his daughter cometh with the sheep.
6. Rachel] The name means “Ewe,” a personal name, though, possibly, also tribal. In very early times, the designation of an animal seems often to have been transferred to a family or clan in connexion with the “totem,” or animal associated in worship with the spirit-god of the community.

And he said, Lo, it is yet high day, neither is it time that the cattle should be gathered together: water ye the sheep, and go and feed them.
7. it is yet high day] Lit. “the day is great”; like the Fr. “il fait grand jour.” Lat. adhuc multum diei super est. Jacob is a practical shepherd; he says “there is still the whole afternoon: what is the good of wasting time, and delaying to water the sheep?” It was not yet time to gather together the animals to bring them back for the night.

And they said, We cannot, until all the flocks be gathered together, and till they roll the stone from the well's mouth; then we water the sheep.
8. We cannot] The local custom was not to be broken. All the flocks were to be collected, before any were to be watered; and then those who had come first had the privilege of watering their flocks first.

And while he yet spake with them, Rachel came with her father's sheep: for she kept them.
And it came to pass, when Jacob saw Rachel the daughter of Laban his mother's brother, and the sheep of Laban his mother's brother, that Jacob went near, and rolled the stone from the well's mouth, and watered the flock of Laban his mother's brother.
10. went near, and rolled] Jacob disregards the rule of the well; and at the risk of incurring the wrath of the local herdsmen and shepherds, by a feat of great personal strength, removes unaided the stone covering, and renders Rachel the service of watering Laban’s flock. The shepherds were apparently kept quiet by the appearance of the stranger’s energy and strength. For the whole scene, cf. the story of Moses, Exodus 2:16-21.

And Jacob kissed Rachel, and lifted up his voice, and wept.
11. Jacob kissed … wept] This demonstrative display of feeling is Homeric in its simplicity. The suddenness of Jacob’s opportune meeting with his relatives, the removal of doubt and anxiety from his mind on entering a strange country, and the apparition of his young and fair cousin, had all deeply stirred his emotional nature. Cf. the tears of Joseph, Genesis 45:2; Genesis 45:14.

And Jacob told Rachel that he was her father's brother, and that he was Rebekah's son: and she ran and told her father.
12. her father’s brother] In the sense of “relative”; strictly speaking, her father’s sister’s son. Cf. Genesis 29:15 and Genesis 13:8.

ran and told] We are reminded of Rebekah’s action in Genesis 24:28-29.

And it came to pass, when Laban heard the tidings of Jacob his sister's son, that he ran to meet him, and embraced him, and kissed him, and brought him to his house. And he told Laban all these things.
13. Laban] According to the P narrative, Genesis 26:34, it was over forty years since Laban had said farewell to his sister Rebekah. He now effusively greets and welcomes her son. Perhaps he recollects the gifts of Rebekah’s dowry (Genesis 24:30), and also perceives in Jacob a strong and capable worker.

the tidings] LXX τὸ ὄνομα = “the name,” with the omission of one letter in the original (shêm for shêma‘).

kissed] The Hebrew verb expresses the warmth of the salutation.

And Laban said to him, Surely thou art my bone and my flesh. And he abode with him the space of a month.
14. my bone and my flesh] See note on Genesis 2:23, and cf. Genesis 37:27. Laban readily acknowledges the relationship which Jacob claims.

the space of a month] Lit. “a month of days.” See on Genesis 24:55, “a few days.”

And Laban said unto Jacob, Because thou art my brother, shouldest thou therefore serve me for nought? tell me, what shall thy wages be?
15–30. Jacob’s Marriage with Leah and Rachel

15. Because … brother] Lit. “art thou a brother, and shouldest thou serve me for nothing?” For “brother,” see note on Genesis 29:12. Laban asks Jacob to state on what terms he would serve.

And Laban had two daughters: the name of the elder was Leah, and the name of the younger was Rachel.
16. Leah] The meaning of “Leah” is uncertain. According to some scholars, who see in it a totem name, it should be compared with an Arabic word meaning “a wild cow”; according to others, with an Assyrian word meaning “a lady.”

Leah was tender eyed; but Rachel was beautiful and well favoured.
17. Leah’s eyes were tender] i.e. weak or soft, wanting in clearness and brilliancy. The eye was the chief feature of Oriental beauty. The versions rather exaggerate the sense. LXX ἀσθενεῖς = “weak,” Lat. lippis oculis, Aq. Sym. ἁπαλοί = “tender.”

beautiful and well favoured] Lit. “fair of form and fair of looks.” The Old English “favoured” has reference to personal appearance; cf. Genesis 41:2; Genesis 41:4.

And Jacob loved Rachel; and said, I will serve thee seven years for Rachel thy younger daughter.
18. I will serve … Rachel] He has no money to offer; he is ready to give seven years’ service without wages, in order to win Rachel as his bride. He cannot as bridegroom, or suitor, offer the usual gifts, or mohar (see note on Genesis 24:53). So he offers the equivalent in work. See the reference to this incident in Hosea 12:12.

And Laban said, It is better that I give her to thee, than that I should give her to another man: abide with me.
19. It is better] Laban means that it is in the interests of the family his daughter should be married to one of their own kindred. The marriage of first cousins is considered especially desirable among the Bedouin.

And Jacob served seven years for Rachel; and they seemed unto him but a few days, for the love he had to her.
20. for the love] These simple and touching words are noticeable for their beauty in a narrative which in many of its details is repulsive to our notions of delicacy.

And Jacob said unto Laban, Give me my wife, for my days are fulfilled, that I may go in unto her.
And Laban gathered together all the men of the place, and made a feast.
22. made a feast] The marriage feast was a great affair. The ceremonial lasted for seven days. Cf. Jdg 14:10; Jdg 14:12; Tob 11:18. “All the men of the place,” not only “brethren,” i.e. “relations,” are invited. “The place” is the residence of a large community, cf. Genesis 29:26.

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.
23. he took Leah] The bride was brought to the bridegroom enveloped in a veil; cf. Genesis 24:65. “The bridegroom can scarcely ever obtain even a surreptitious glance at the features of his bride until he finds her in his absolute possession.” Lane, Manners and Customs of the Modern Egyptians.

24 (P). Zilpah his handmaid] For the custom of the bride being attended by her own servant to her new home, cf. Genesis 24:59.

And Laban gave unto his daughter Leah Zilpah his maid for an handmaid.
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?
25. beguiled] i.e. “deceived,” as Joshua 9:22; but a different word in the Hebrew from that in Genesis 3:13. Laban had succeeded in astutely bestowing his less attractive daughter in marriage.

And Laban said, It must not be so done in our country, to give the younger before the firstborn.
26. It is not so done] Cf. Genesis 20:9, Genesis 34:7; 2 Samuel 13:12. Laban’s excuse was specious, that it was necessary to conform to local customs, and that Jacob, as a stranger, did not know them. But, if so, he should in decency and honour have explained the custom to Jacob before consenting to the marriage with the younger sister. In this disgraceful deception Laban’s character is revealed; while Jacob, who deceived his father and his brother, is made to suffer himself from deception.

Fulfil her week, and we will give thee this also for the service which thou shalt serve with me yet seven other years.
27. Fulfil the week] Laban’s proposal is that when the week’s marriage festivities for Leah are over, Jacob shall take Rachel as his second wife, on condition that he gives his services for another period of seven years. Nothing would justify the interruption of the seven days’ marriage ceremonial.

Marriage with two sisters was evidently free from objection in the primitive days of the Israelites; and, perhaps for that reason, it is introduced into the prophetical symbolism of Jeremiah 3:6 ff. and Ezekiel 23. But, in the Levitical law, marriage with two sisters simultaneously is forbidden; Leviticus 18:18.

And Jacob did so, and fulfilled her week: and he gave him Rachel his daughter to wife also.
And Laban gave to Rachel his daughter Bilhah his handmaid to be her maid.
And he went in also unto Rachel, and he loved also Rachel more than Leah, and served with him yet seven other years.
And when the LORD saw that Leah was hated, he opened her womb: but Rachel was barren.
31. hated] By this is meant that Jacob had less affection for Leah than for Rachel. Cf. Deuteronomy 21:15, “if a man have two wives, the one beloved and the other hated.” In order to prevent the evil effects of jealousy, the marriage by one man of two sisters is forbidden in Leviticus 18:18. See, also, Malachi 1:2-3, “I loved Jacob, but Esau I hated.”

Genesis 29:31 to Genesis 30:24. Birth of Jacob’s Children

31–35 (J); Genesis 30:1-24 (J, E and P)

In this section is narrated the account of the birth of eleven sons and one daughter. Six of the sons, viz. Reuben, Simeon, Levi, Judah, Issachar and Zebulun, and the daughter Dinah, are the children of Leah; Gad and Asher are the sons of Zilpah, Leah’s handmaid; Dan and Naphtali are the sons of Bilhah, Rachel’s handmaid; and Joseph is the son of Rachel. These are all born to Jacob in Haran. The only son born in Canaan is Benjamin (see Genesis 35:16-19).

It has been conjectured that this account not only furnishes the popular etymology of the names of the tribes of Israel, but may also symbolize, under the terms of family life, the growth of Israelite clans into a united, though composite, people in the land of Mesopotamia, before the migration into Canaan.

The explanation of the meaning of the names is of the usual popular kind, based upon resemblances of sound. The fact that in some cases more than one etymology is given reflects the composite nature of the narrative (cf. Genesis 30:16; Genesis 30:18; Genesis 30:20; Genesis 30:23-24).

And Leah conceived, and bare a son, and she called his name Reuben: for she said, Surely the LORD hath looked upon my affliction; now therefore my husband will love me.
32. Reuben] The name is evidently here assumed to consist of two words, re’û = “behold ye,” ben = “a son.”

hath … affliction] Heb. râ’ah be‘onyi. The sound of these two words forms some kind of a play on the name Reuben, and represents a popular and unscientific etymology. In some MSS. of LXX and the Syriac, and in Josephus, the name appears as “Reubel,” which has been compared with the Arabic Ri’bal, meaning “a lion”; or it may be compounded with the name of the god Bel or Baal. The tribe Reuben settled between the Jabbok and the Arnon. See Jdg 5:15-16.

“My affliction.” LXX τὴν ταπείνωσιν = “low estate”; cf. 1 Samuel 1:11; Luke 1:48.

And she conceived again, and bare a son; and said, Because the LORD hath heard that I was hated, he hath therefore given me this son also: and she called his name Simeon.
33. heard] Heb. shama; cf. Genesis 16:11.

Simeon] Heb. Shimeon. The meaning of this name is very likely that of an animal, “the hyaena”; cf. the Arabic sim‘, the hybrid offspring of the hyaena and the female wolf.

And she conceived again, and bare a son; and said, Now this time will my husband be joined unto me, because I have born him three sons: therefore was his name called Levi.
34. joined] From the root lavah, “to join.” In Numbers 18:2; Numbers 18:4, this word lavah is especially used of the attachment of the sons of Levi to the service of Jehovah, as the priestly tribe. According to many scholars, the name denotes the tribe par excellence of the Leah group; which, owing to some great disaster, was broken up, and the name survived only in the guild of Priests and their assistants. See on chap. 34 and Genesis 49:5-7. On the meaning of Leah, see note on Genesis 29:16.

And she conceived again, and bare a son: and she said, Now will I praise the LORD: therefore she called his name Judah; and left bearing.
35. praise] From the Heb. hôdah.

Judah] Heb. Jehudah. This is the regular form of the name in the O.T. The origin of the name is uncertain; but its sound resembles that of the word for “praise.” On Judah, see notes on chap. 38 and Genesis 49:8-12.

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