Jacob reaches his kinsmen after his long journey and finds exactly the bride he was seeking. But instead of one bride he ends up with two.
When Jacob finally arrives in the area of his relatives he happens upon a group of shepherds. This was his profession while at home. He is intimately familiar with the demands of this job. These shepherds had their sheep lying down in groups waiting for water.
Before doing anything else, Jacob established where these shepherds were from and if his uncle was doing well. He had to make sure he had come to the right place. He didn’t have GPS and he had never visited this part of the world before.
Being a shepherd himself, Joseph knew it was not time for the sheep to be bedding down. They should be in the field grazing. He “suggested” that the shepherds get them watered and back out to pasture. I’m suspicious of his motives. They had just pointed out Rachel to him who was also bringing sheep. It was their practice to wait until all the sheep were assembled before opening the well. I think maybe Jacob was trying to rush the other shepherds off so he could spend some time with Rachel alone. He could also be her “knight in shining armor” by opening the well for her. The group didn’t bite at his invitation though. So instead Jacob rushes to beat the other shepherds to the well to open it for Rachel anyway.
Jacob made sure to water Laban’s sheep himself. For once Rachel didn’t have lift a finger to care for her sheep. “How gallant of you sir.”
Jacob was also overjoyed to be at the end of his journey! We don’t know how long he had been on the road but now he saw the object of his search standing before him. He knew she was a daughter of Laban and she was beautiful. “Jacob kissed Rachel and wept aloud” (verse 11).
Jacob didn’t share the purpose of his journey with Rachel but he did share his relationship status with her. “And Jacob told Rachel that he was her father’s kinsman, and that he was Rebekah’s son” (verse 12a).
I’m sure all the family had heard the story of how Abraham’s servant came and took Rebekah away to be Isaac’s bride. I’m wondering if they heard any news about her after that. Did traveling caravans bring letters or even word of mouth about how things were going between the families? Did they know Rebekah had even had children? Rachel wasted no time after learning about this new member of the family. She RAN and told her father about Jacob.
Laban “RAN to meet him and embraced him and kissed him and brought him to his house” (verse 13b; emphasis added). Jacob didn’t have to produce any identification or swear any oath that he was being truthful in his representation of himself. I wonder if Laban noticed some of his sister’s features in the face of Jacob. He was greeted with open arms and an open home.
During that first month Jacob was more than a simple guest. He helped with the work. I’m going to guess he took over Rachel’s flock or at least helped her with them. This way they could get to know one another better. Jacob ask for nothing in return during that time.
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It was Laban who brought up the subject of pay. “It’s not right that I take advantage of your labor. You are after all my sister’s son. What do you think a fair wage would be?”
“Well, since you brought it up” says Jacob. “I would be willing to work for you for seven years for the hand of your youngest daughter in marriage. I will work hard every day and take nothing else as pay during that whole time.”
Laban was already enamored with the job Jacob had been doing with his sheep. “That sounds excellent!” And so a bargain was struck.
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We don’t know if Laban had his “trick” with Leah already in mind or if he hatched it during those seven years. Was he actively seeking a husband for Leah during that time or was he rubbing his hands together in anticipation of what was to come? Leah had “weak eyes.” I would expect this meant that she was visually challenged and couldn’t see well. Could she have been nearly blind? Was she not marriage material because of this?
Jacob was keeping close count on the calendar. I imagine he and Rachel were both watching and waiting anxiously for that day. Laban didn’t need a reminder on his calendar as Rachel and Jacob probably kept him current as to days and hours left.
The marriage feast is amazing! No expense has been spared. As is the custom, the bride doesn’t see the groom on the day of the marriage. In this ceremony the bride also wears a heavy veil that obscures her from view of all people, including her husband. It isn’t removed until they are in their tent for the night to consummate their marriage.
These traditions bolster Laban’s plan. I’m wondering what is going on with the two sisters as the day of the marriage dawns. Is it possible that they both knew what was about to take place long before it actually happened? Did their father let them in on this secret but also swear Rachel to secrecy? Did Laban tell Leah what he had planned? Or did both their jaws drop when Laban told Leah to prepare herself for the wedding instead of Rachel?
What did Rachel do at this point? Did she quietly listen to the instructions of her father? Did her brothers take her away from the area so she couldn’t let Jacob know beforehand? Did she remain in her tent in tears? Or did she help Leah prepare herself for the man that Rachel loved?
I can imagine the pain in Rachel’s heart. She wanted to be happy for her sister as it seems this was the only way she would ever have a husband. But it hurt so much! The man whom she loved with all her heart. The one who professed his love in word and deed to her alone. This man was marrying someone else. Laban probably told her that she too would marry Jacob but not until after Leah did. This might have eased the pain a bit for her but it also removed any possibility of her having “first wife” status. She would not have him to herself either. She would forever share him with her sister.
I’m going to assume that Rachel and Leah had about the same build or the wedding attire camouflaged even those differences. I’m wondering if she had any speaking parts in this ceremony. In traditional marriages in the United States we exchange vows. Leah may have able to imitate Rachel’s voice for a short time but I wouldn’t expect her to be able to carry off a lengthy speech without alerting Jacob to the differences. Maybe Jacob had had so much to drink during the feast that he didn’t notice the subtle differences.
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The next morning when he wakes to get his “good morning kiss” he rolls over and sees Leah’s face. “YOU! What are you doing here!?” He jumps up and grabs his robe to cover himself.
“What do you mean husband? Don’t you remember our wedding last night? I certainly will never forget it.” Leah stretches lazily in the bed with a smile on her face.
“But I was supposed to be marrying Rachel.” Jacob’s face is dark with anger now.
Leah’s smile fades. “I thought you knew. My father told me it had all been arranged.” Shame now covers her face and she begins to weep.
“We will see about this” growls Jacob as he hurriedly dresses and storms out to find Laban.
Leah is left in the marriage tent alone to ponder her fate. “This may be the shortest marriage in history” she thinks as she awaits the return of Jacob.
Jacob finds Laban at the breakfast table. He stands before him, red faced and pointing in the direction of his marriage tent. “What is the meaning of this?!”
Laban looks up innocently at Jacob. “What are you talking about?”
“We struck a deal! I said I would work for you for seven years for your daughter Rachel. And I wake up this morning and find instead that YOU gave me Leah instead! This is NOT what I agreed to!”
Laban stands up calmly so he can be face to face with Jacob. “Calm down. In THIS country we don’t marry the younger daughter off before the older one is married. So I had no choice but to give you Leah instead.”
Jacob is dumbfounded and can’t find any words.
Laban continues on. “Finish out this bridal week with Leah and I will give you Rachel also.”
Jacob is obviously thinking this over when Laban speaks again. “Of course you will have to pay the bride price for her too. Serve me for another seven years and we will call it even.”
“I just served you for seven years! Now I have to serve you for another seven for the wife of the original contract! I want my wife I worked for NOW!” demands Jacob.
“Calm down Jacob. You are my kinsman. I trust you so I will give you an ‘advance on your pay’ and let you have Rachel after Leah’s bridal week is over. That way you can enjoy both of your wives as you work for me to pay for my youngest daughter.”
Jacob sees no way out. He is now the husband of Leah and soon will also be the husband of Rachel. Laban would surely marry Rachel off to someone else if he doesn’t agree to his terms. His love for her is worth it to him. “Fine. But there better not be any more surprises” Jacob warns as he leaves the home to return to his bride.
In Jacob’s absence Leah dressed and straightened up the tent. She knows her father to be a shrewd negotiator but this is her life and she doesn’t like the uncertainty of it now. She hears Jacob approaching and hurriedly smooths her hair and sits down to await his answer.
Jacob enters the tent, still visibly upset but not storming around any longer. “I spoke with your father and he has agreed that both you and Rachel are to be my wives. After our ‘marriage week’ I will take Rachel as my wife too. Let’s just get through this week and go from there.”
There is no warmth in Jacob’s eyes or voice towards Leah. She easily identifies that she is NOT his chosen bride but one forced on him by her father. She determines within herself that she will make him love her somehow. “Maybe after I bear him sons he will finally love me.”
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Another possible scenario just occurred to me. What if Laban made his choice to substitute brides because Leah was in despair over her younger sister marrying before her? Could she have influenced Laban to use their ‘customs’ as an excuse for this subterfuge? Had her pleas been to find her another husband before Rachel’s wedding or did she want Jacob from the beginning? Did she think she could make him love her if he was only given the opportunity to know her better? Was this her plan of desperation or her father’s? Whose plans really brought her to Jacob’s marriage bed?
One final possibility is that Leah was as against this arrangement as Jacob was. She may have felt she had no option but to follow her father’s command. She could have revealed herself during the night but to do so would probably mean she would be thrown out of the family home. She couldn’t survive on her own, especially with a disability. Arranged marriages were the norm. A woman most often had no say over her own fate. The fact that Laban told Abraham’s servant to ask Rebekah herself if she was willing to go with him was unusual. This was the expectations Leah had been raised with.
Father God, thank You that I live in a society where arranged marriages and forced marriages are NOT the norm. Thank You for my husband Steve. I can’t imagine the pain Leah felt every day. Even to be rejected on the morning after her wedding.
Was this ‘payback’ to Jacob for his scheming ways? Sins have consequences. He was learning that it didn’t feel so good being the one on the other end of the raw deal. I had to learn some of those same kind of lessons in my life. Thank You Father that I DID learn from them and grew stronger with You because of them. I believe that was Jacob’s experience too.
Something else I noticed is that You put Laban in Jacob’s path. You knew both men’s character. They would each be used to humble the other over time. And they would each see You hand at work in Jacob’s life. As hard as it is to say, thank You for the Labans in my life. It has not been easy walking or working with them but they have affected change that no other personality type could have. I pray I’m done with those lessons and don’t have to deal with ‘Laban’ any more.