Genesis Segment 20 (29:1-31:3)

Genesis 29:1 “Then Jacob went on his journey, and came into the land of the people of the east.”

Remember that Jacob is journeying from Beersheba, where his father Isaac dwelt, to Haran where his father’s uncle Laban lived in order to find a wife for himself. He has just left Bethel where he saw the stairway to heaven in a dream. Here he finds himself in Haran.

Genesis 29:2-6 “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. {3} 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. {4} And Jacob said unto them, My brethren, whence be ye? And they said, Of Haran are we. {5} And he said unto them, Know ye Laban the son of Nahor? And they said, We know him. {6} And he said unto them, Is he well? And they said, He is well: and, behold, Rachel his daughter cometh with the sheep.”

These shepherds informed Jacob he had reached his destination. They told Jacob that Laban was well and pointed out Laban’s daughter Rachel to Jacob. A stone that could be rolled to close the entrance protected this well. The stone may have been difficult to move and that is perhaps why all the shepherds agreed to water their flocks at the same time (v.8)—so they would only have to move the stone that one time.

Genesis 29:7-8 “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. {8} 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.”

It was not the time of day that it was good to water the flocks. After their drink, being that it was so early in the day, they would get hungry again before dark. Jacob essentially said, “What are you waiting for? It is still early, too early to gather the flocks back to their pen. Water the flocks and go feed them!” They said they had to wait (obviously by mutual agreement) for all the flocks to be gathered before removing the stone. This explains why they waited for Rachel, who was a shepherdess.

Genesis 29:9 “And while he yet spake with them, Rachel came with her father’s sheep: for she kept them.”

The mother of Joseph and Benjamin is introduced.

Genesis 29:10 “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.”

Having been told that Rachel was Laban’s daughter, Jacob rolled away the stone and watered the flock as a gesture of good will to Laban.

Genesis 29:11 “And Jacob kissed Rachel, and lifted up his voice, and wept.”

This kiss was just a gentlemanly greeting and nothing else. He wept for he was glad to be at his journey’s end and he was happy he had met some of his mother’s family after such a long journey.

Genesis 29:12-14 “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. {13} 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. {14} And Laban said to him, Surely thou art my bone and my flesh. And he abode with him the space of a month.”

Jacob’s meaning when he told Racel he was her father’s brother was that they were kin, not that he was the son of Laban’s mother. He was actually Laban’s nephew. Laban welcomed Jacob just as he had welcomed Eliezer, Isaac’s servant. He invited Jacob to stay. Apparently he also worked for Laban as we see from the next verse.

Genesis 29:15 “And Laban said unto Jacob, Because thou art my brother, shouldest thou therefore serve me for nought? tell me, what shall thy wages be?”

It is possible that Laban was hinting that Jacob should take one of his daughters in marriage. It is likely that Jacob had told Laban of his mission to secure a wife. However, the main thrust was that Laban wanted Joseph to know that if he stayed, he would have to work for Laban.

Genesis 29:16-17 “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.”

Jacob was attracted to the younger, but the older should be the first to be married. Tender eyed is the rendering of two words that mean “weak” and “eye.” The word rendered “eye” a can also mean outward appearance, face, and humble among other things. It could be said of Leah that she had a weak outward appearance. Most translations say she had lovely eyes, but the context places her in opposition to the beautiful Rachel. It better fits the context to say that Leah was not an outwardly beautiful person, but that her appearance was weak or average. That is not to say that she was unattractive, but Jacob was attracted to Rachel and not to Leah.

Genesis 29:18-19 “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.”

The elder daughter should have had the first opportunity to wed. I am sure Laban agreed with Jacob to get him to work, but that he had no intention of giving Rachel to him before Leah. Laban said “OK, work for me,” not mentioning the fact that Leah should wed first. He deceived the deceiver.

Genesis 29:20 “And Jacob served seven years for Rachel; and they seemed unto him but a few days, for the love he had to her.”

Jacob served for seven years in good faith. Laban should have kept that faith, but did not.

Genesis 29:21-25 “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?”

Leah would have worn a veil to the feast. Jacob would not have been able to see the face. The sisters probably were somewhat similar in appearance as sisters will be, and the feast was probably held at night so the light was not good. This fooled Jacob into believing this was Rachel. They may also have gotten a bit intoxicated so that when Jacob “went in” to Leah, he did not notice that she was Leah. Now Leah must have been in on this deception as well in order for it to work. Well it did work. The marriage was consummated (this was all that was necessary to make the marriage legal), and in the morning, when it was light, when no one was intoxicated, and after the veil was gone, Jacob learned what had happened to him. He, Jacob, the usurper, had been deceived. The marriage had been consummated and was legally binding. Note that Zilpah had been given to Leah as a handmaiden. Zilpah later became a concubine of Jacob and the mother of Gad and Asher.

Genesis 29:26-28 “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.”

It appears that it was expected that a man with a new bride had to spend at least a week with her before marrying an additional wife.

Genesis 29:29-30 “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.”

Jacob loved Leah but less than he did Rachel. He knew them both very well because he had served Laban for seven years. He did not hate Leah in the way we modern English speakers hate. See the next verse for further clarification.

Bilhah became a concubine of Jacob and bore him Dan and Naphtali. Jacob married Rachel a week after he married Leah. He had to work another seven years in exchange for Rachel, which he subsequently did.

Genesis 29:31 “And when the LORD saw that Leah was hated, he opened her womb: but Rachel was barren.”

Leah was not hated in the sense that we view hatred in English today. Today hatred means loathing or an extreme dislike or antipathy toward another. The context suggests that Jacob did not loathe her but that he just did not love her; at least not as much as Rachel. He preferred Rachel to Leah. If he loathed Leah, would he even go in unto her? He very much did go in unto her to the tune of six sons and perhaps several daughters. Verse 29 actually says that he did not love Leah as much as Rachel.

God is the helper of the underdog. He hears the affliction of His people and delivers them from it. See Ex 3:7, Ps 22:24, 34:4-6, and 106:44.

Here is a quick list of the sons of Jacob:







Judah and Benjamin made up the Southern Kingdom; the remainder made up the Northern Kingdom.

The twelve sons in the order of their birth: Reuben, Simeon, Levi, Judah, Dan, Napthali, Gad, Asher, Issachar, Zebulun, Joseph, Benjamin.

Genesis 29:32-35 “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. {33} 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. {34} 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. {35} 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.”

Reuben = See, a son; Simeon = Hearing; Levi = Attached; Judah=Praised. The time period is not mentioned here but these were born before any other sons were, however it was at least several years. She had at least one daughter, Dinah. It is probable that there were others.

Genesis 30:1 “And when Rachel saw that she bare Jacob no children, Rachel envied her sister; and said unto Jacob, Give me children, or else I die.”

It was never considered the man’s fault when his wife was barren. Of course we now know that it is sometimes the husband that is infertile. Jacob, however, was not infertile because he had already fathered four sons. Perhaps Rachel thought he was not being as attentive as he should be and she wanted him to be more so. Jacob reacted angrily.

Genesis 30:2 “And Jacob’s anger was kindled against Rachel: and he said, Am I in God’s stead, who hath withheld from thee the fruit of the womb?”

It is certainly possible that Rachel was right and Jacob had not been attentive enough. If that was true, perhaps he knew it and did not want to admit it. More than likely, though, he was stating the prevailing belief that if a woman was barren it was her fault. He believed that God had kept her barren for some reason, perhaps a sin she had committed in the past.

Genesis 30:3 “And she said, Behold my maid Bilhah, go in unto her; and she shall bear upon my knees, that I may also have children by her.”

Hammurabi’s code allowed for this. Abraham went in unto his wife’s handmaid Hagar. It was legal by the prevailing law.

Hammurabi’s Code # 146: “If a man take a wife and she give this man a maid-servant as wife and she bear him children, and then this maid assume equality with the wife: because she has borne him children her master shall not sell her for money, but he may keep her as a slave, reckoning her among the maid-servants.” 1

The phrase, “and she shall bear upon my knees” may refer to the fact that a father took a newborn son and placed the child upon his knees to show that he has accepted that the son is his own. Wanting to have a child of her own, perhaps Rachel would show the child to be hers by taking the child on her knees when he was born. It may also mean the position of the midwife before the delivery. The child would be upon the knees of the midwife because she would be sitting before the birth canal and the delivery would land the child on her knees. It seems more probable that Rachel used the term euphemistically and that she was just stating that the child would be considered hers because Bilhah belonged to her. She would not actually take him upon her knees at that time.

Genesis 30:4-8 “And she gave him Bilhah her handmaid to wife: and Jacob went in unto her. {5} And Bilhah conceived, and bare Jacob a son. {6} And Rachel said, God hath judged me, and hath also heard my voice, and hath given me a son: therefore called she his name Dan. {7} And Bilhah Rachel’s maid conceived again, and bare Jacob a second son. {8} And Rachel said, With great wrestlings have I wrestled with my sister, and I have prevailed: and she called his name Naphtali.”

Dan = Judged; Naphtali = My Wrestling. Note that Rachel claimed these children as her own. But according to Hammurabi’s code, the Bilhah now had equal footing with Rachel and Leah.

Verse 7 proves that there was great rivalry between Rachel and Leah. She speaks of wrestling with her sister. This wrestling was not physical, but mental. They constantly jockeyed for position in the marriage. I am sure that Jacob was not unaware of this rivalry, but it seems that he stayed out of it.

Genesis 30:9 “When Leah saw that she had left bearing, she took Zilpah her maid, and gave her Jacob to wife.”

This is further proof of the great rivalry between them. When Leah saw what Rachel had done, she did the same thing. They “kept up with the Joneses” so to speak. It was tit for tat with both of them.

Genesis 30:10-13 “And Zilpah Leah’s maid bare Jacob a son. {11} And Leah said, A troop cometh: and she called his name Gad. {12} And Zilpah Leah’s maid bare Jacob a second son. {13} And Leah said, Happy am I, for the daughters will call me blessed: and she called his name Asher.”

The phrase “a troop cometh” can also mean “a fortune is coming,” or, “how fortunate I am.” So Gad most likely means fortune, which seems to fit the context better. Asher means blessed or happy.

Genesis 30:14 “And Reuben went in the days of wheat harvest, and found mandrakes in the field, and brought them unto his mother Leah. Then Rachel said to Leah, Give me, I pray thee, of thy son’s mandrakes.”

The mandrake is a plant thought by some to have aphrodisiac properties and is also thought to promote fertility. The mandrake (mandragora officinarum) is of the nightshade family. Nightshade is very poisonous and will cause the skin to break out in a rash if touched. The tomato is also of the nightshade family and its stems, leaves, and roots are poisonous. The mandrake somewhat resembles a man. The forked roots look like the legs giving the plant a human like quality. Thus it was superstitiously credited with human attributes.

Today it is used on the street as a hallucinative narcotic. It is also a soporific (sleep inducer), and a cathartic, or purgative (laxative) drug. I have searched many natural health sites and have found no medicinal, homeopathic, or allopathic uses listed. While soporifics and cathartics are medicinal terms, no site recommends the mandrake. It is definitely not listed as a fertility enhancer at any health site.

You can purchase it, however. It can be found at occult stores and websites as a potion. It is sold as a legal narcotic. It is also known as Man Dragon and Satan’s Apple. Some medical sites call it a poison and recommend never ingesting it.

It is obvious that it was thought to improve fertility in Jacob’s day. That is why Rachel wanted some. She though it would help her not to be barren. She must have had to pluck up her courage to ask Leah for some.

There are other possible translations than mandrake. Scholars have proposed such plants as citron, ginseng, opium poppy, and others.

Genesis 30:15 “And she said unto her, Is it a small matter that thou hast taken my husband? and wouldest thou take away my son’s mandrakes also? And Rachel said, Therefore he shall lie with thee to night for thy son’s mandrakes.”

Rachel had to bargain for these mandrakes. The quid pro quo was that Leah would have Jacob stay with her that night. It seems obvious that the sisters had a schedule worked out for who would stay with Jacob and when. It must have been Rachel’s turn and she had to give it up for the mandrakes. And it also seems that Jacob had little say in this arrangement. If he controlled it Rachel would not have been able to make such a bargain with Leah.

Genesis 30:16-17 “And Jacob came out of the field in the evening, and Leah went out to meet him, and said, Thou must come in unto me; for surely I have hired thee with my son’s mandrakes. And he lay with her that night. {17} And God hearkened unto Leah, and she conceived, and bare Jacob the fifth son.”

This is additional evidence that Jacob had little say in when one of his wives would stay with him. He accepted this arrangement without comment.

It almost seems like poetic justice. Leah gave Rachel a fertility drug in exchange for Rachel’s night to lay with her husband. Rachel did this in order to become pregnant. Instead, Leah became pregnant.

Genesis 30:18-21 “And Leah said, God hath given me my hire, because I have given my maiden to my husband: and she called his name Issachar. {19} And Leah conceived again, and bare Jacob the sixth son. {20} And Leah said, God hath endued me with a good dowry; now will my husband dwell with me, because I have born him six sons: and she called his name Zebulun. {21} And afterwards she bare a daughter, and called her name Dinah.”

Issachar = Reward (or hire or wage); Zebulun = Dwelling; Dinah = Justice (or, perhaps strife).

Genesis 30:22 “And God remembered Rachel, and God hearkened to her, and opened her womb.”

Note that this had nothing to do with the mandrakes. God opened her womb, not some silly superstition. God heard Rachel’s cry in her affliction and came to her rescue.

Genesis 30:23-24 “And she conceived, and bare a son; and said, God hath taken away my reproach: {24} And she called his name Joseph; and said, The LORD shall add to me another son.”

She gave credit to God for her fortune. Joseph means “Yah Will Add”. Rachel claimed Bilhah’s sons for her own so she said here that the LORD gave her an additional son, adding to Bilhah’s sons. This was somewhat prophetic since she would have one more son, Benjamin, and would die giving birth to him.

Genesis 30:25-26 “And it came to pass, when Rachel had born Joseph, that Jacob said unto Laban, Send me away, that I may go unto mine own place, and to my country. {26} Give me my wives and my children, for whom I have served thee, and let me go: for thou knowest my service which I have done thee.”

The story takes a turn here. Now we get to the time when Jacob was ready to return home. He has worked his fourteen years. But Laban the trickster had something else up his sleeve. But with God’s help, Jacob turned it around against him. After this, Jacob spent six more years with Laban.

Genesis 30:27-28 “And Laban said unto him, I pray thee, if I have found favour in thine eyes, tarry: for I have learned by experience that the LORD hath blessed me for thy sake. {28} And he said, Appoint me thy wages, and I will give it.”

Laban said, “Stay here a little longer so I can be blessed even more. I’ll pay whatever you ask.” Of course he really did not mean that; it was just the start of negotiations.

Genesis 30:29-30 “And he said unto him, Thou knowest how I have served thee, and how thy cattle was with me. {30} For it was little which thou hadst before I came, and it is now increased unto a multitude; and the LORD hath blessed thee since my coming: and now when shall I provide for mine own house also?”

Jacob was making himself as valuable as possible in Laban’s sight. He was working up to his price. Jacob’s presence had blessed Laban, but Jacob rhetorically asked him when he should be able to provide for himself and his own family.

Genesis 30:31-32 “And he said, What shall I give thee? And Jacob said, Thou shalt not give me any thing: if thou wilt do this thing for me, I will again feed and keep thy flock. {32} I will pass through all thy flock to day, removing from thence all the speckled and spotted cattle, and all the brown cattle among the sheep, and the spotted and speckled among the goats: and of such shall be my hire.”

Even though Jacob built himself up, he knew that Laban was shrewd, so he seemingly settled for a small wage.

Genesis 30:33 “So shall my righteousness answer for me in time to come, when it shall come for my hire before thy face: every one that is not speckled and spotted among the goats, and brown among the sheep, that shall be counted stolen with me.”

Jacob gave his word that he would take none but those worth the least. He was sure that Laban would agree with this arrangement and he was correct.

Genesis 30:34 “And Laban said, Behold, I would it might be according to thy word.”

The bargain was struck. But Laban had a surprise in store for him. Jacob would turn the blemished animals into perfect ones by using good breeding techniques.

Genesis 30:35-36 “And he removed that day the he goats that were ringstreaked and spotted, and all the she goats that were speckled and spotted, and every one that had some white in it, and all the brown among the sheep, and gave them into the hand of his sons. {36} And he set three days’ journey betwixt himself and Jacob: and Jacob fed the rest of Laban’s flocks.”

Laban removed the all of the animals that would have been Jacob’s and took them three days away so Jacob could not get to them. He left no animals for Jacob’s wages. In order to maintain integrity, Jacob still performed his part of the bargain. He still fed Laban’s flocks.

Genesis 30:37-43 “And Jacob took him rods of green poplar, and of the hazel and chestnut tree; and pilled white streaks in them, and made the white appear which was in the rods. {38} And he set the rods which he had pilled before the flocks in the gutters in the watering troughs when the flocks came to drink, that they should conceive when they came to drink. {39} And the flocks conceived before the rods, and brought forth cattle ringstreaked, speckled, and spotted. {40} And Jacob did separate the lambs, and set the faces of the flocks toward the ringstreaked, and all the brown in the flock of Laban; and he put his own flocks by themselves, and put them not unto Laban’s cattle. {41} And it came to pass, whensoever the stronger cattle did conceive, that Jacob laid the rods before the eyes of the cattle in the gutters, that they might conceive among the rods. {42} But when the cattle were feeble, he put them not in: so the feebler were Laban’s, and the stronger Jacob’s. {43} And the man increased exceedingly, and had much cattle, and maidservants, and menservants, and camels, and asses.”

Jacob used superstitious beliefs to breed these animals. He believed that the white striped sticks would traumatize the animals. And the thought back then was that animals that conceived in a traumatic situation would produce only blemished young. He separated lambs from their flock and then placed them where they could see their old flock but not have access to them thus traumatizing them. He believed this would cause them to produce inferior lambs. Though the tricks Jacob used were not really responsible for it, all of the flocks produced spotted, speckled and striped young and these were Jacob’s wages. So Jacob became wealthy with these animals. Though he did not break the letter of his agreement with Laban, it bordered on the less than ethical. God was really responsible for this successful breeding. Jacob’s superstitious practices had nothing to do with it. Jacob gives credit to God for this in Genesis 31:9.

Genesis 31:1-2 “And he heard the words of Laban’s sons, saying, Jacob hath taken away all that was our father’s; and of that which was our father’s hath he gotten all this glory. {2} And Jacob beheld the countenance of Laban, and, behold, it was not toward him as before.”

This was not precisely true for Jacob kept the agreement he made with Laban. Laban had defrauded him and it had been turned back around on Laban. Laban was not happy and it showed on his face, so much so, that it was obvious to Jacob. The phrase, “it was not toward him as before” indicates that the look on Laban’s face was no longer favorable to Jacob. Laban was through with Jacob and Jacob knew it. So he did the only possible thing.

Genesis 31:3 “And the LORD said unto Jacob, Return unto the land of thy fathers, and to thy kindred; and I will be with thee.”

It is safe to assume that Jacob prayed and asked God what to do. Remember that he had made a vow to worship God at Bethel. God answered and told him to leave.

This study accounts for twenty years of Jacob’s life. He had two wives, two concubines, eleven sons, at least one daughter, and was very wealthy when he left Laban.

  1. The Code of Hammurabi Translated by L. W. King, An Electronic Publication of the Avalon Project. William C. Fray and Lisa A. Spar, Co-Directors. Copyright 1996 The Avalon Project
Series Navigation

<< Genesis Segment 19 (27:1-5-28:22)Genesis Segment 21 (31:3-32:23) >>

This entry was posted in Bible Studies. Bookmark the permalink.