Part nine of Genesis begins right where eight left off, Jacob flees from his household because he stole his brother’s blessing and his brother is in a murderous rage. That may sound like an exaggeration but Rebekah had just told him that his brother comforted himself by planning to kill him, so maybe not so much an exaggeration. The timeframe of his absence from his family turns into twenty years and takes three chapters, so we will be going over chapters 28-31.
An overview: Jacob leaves under the guise of getting a wife from his mother’s people. He sees Rachel, wants to marry her, and decides to work for her father in order to “earn” her for seven years. At the end of seven years, the father gives him the older sister instead and makes him work another seven years for Rachel. Then he works six more years to earn himself some livestock and such. When he decides it’s time to go home, the father-in-law pursues him because he thinks he stole some stuff. They make amends and Jacob goes back home to his own parents.
Yes, there’s a lot of deception and intrigue here in the Bible. We just take a lot of it for granted because a lot of us have heard the stories tons of times. Worse, we get the watered down versions as children and never go back and think about all the lying and cheating of each other that is really going on here at this point. Jacob has tricked his brother into giving up his birthright and then tricked his father into giving him the blessing that was meant for his brother. Esau, the brother, is understandably upset.
Rebekah, their mother, has orchestrated the blessing debacle and now wants to keep Jacob safe from Esau and lies to Isaac that Jacob can’t take a wife from among the locals because they make her crazy. Okay that’s not a lie, but it was a set up for Jacob getting out when he does. Up until now, the family hasn’t mingled with the locals, possibly because they were subject to Noah’s curse back in chapter nine or were pagans or didn’t worship the same God as suggested by the Life Application Study Bible I found in the house. It is when Isaac tells Jacob to go back to Rebekah’s home and marry one of his cousins that 28 begins. It is also when Esau overhears this conversation that it occurs to him how unhappy his parents are with his two Hittite wives and he decides to marry one of Ishmael’s daughters, who wouldn’t have any of the problems suggested above.
When Jacob leaves he has a dream about a ladder, hence the term Jacob’s ladder. The ladder has angels going up and down it and God is standing at the top, talking to Jacob. He makes a similar promise as the one to Abraham and Isaac, but this one is slightly different. It begins the same as the others, but this time God adds this:
Behold, I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land. For I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you
So, basically, don’t doubt me and lie to people because you think they’ll kill you, not until I’ve done what I’ve promised to you. Jacob wakes up, feeling pretty awesome and does something many of us are guilty of, even though he had a direct promise from God. I’ll give him a pass on it being in a dream and possibly thinking it was all in his head, but he wakes up and says “If” some stuff and then “then the Lord shall be my God” and finishes by offering to give God a tenth for living up to a promise He’d made freely. God wasn’t making a deal with him, though. He made a promise and it would be carried out either way.
He gets to his mother’s hometown and starts looking for his uncle by the well, possibly the same one that his mother had been spotted at. The guys at the well point out Rachel who is coming with the sheep. In my ESV Bible, it even includes “for she was a shepherdess.” Some other versions just say she tended them. For me, the point here is that she was not sitting around the house. Is housework necessary? Absolutely. It’s also not the only thing women are capable of or needed for us so sometimes we do other stuff. I had never known Rachel was a shepherdess, I found it incredibly interesting.
Jacob kisses her when he sees her and weeps (because that’s okay for men to do too!) and let’s her know that he was her cousin. She runs off and gets her father. So, the kiss seemed a little forward until I read the note in my study Bible that it was probably on the cheek. It would have been very forward to kiss her on the mouth, but common for a cheek among family. Laban, the father, comes out and greets him and welcomes him into his home.
After staying with him a month, and apparently working while he was there, Laban asks Jacob to tell him what he can pay him for the work. He doesn’t want to take advantage of his nephew. Instead of a negotiation, there’s a pretty straightforward offer. Jacob simply says:
I will serve you seven years for your younger daughter Rachel.
Now, I want to take a moment to truly express my dislike of this old practice of “paying” for a bride. I know it was the thing and that it still is in some places, but that doesn’t mean that I or any other woman has to like it. Come to think of it, men don’t have to like it either. But I know that these were times when people regularly had slaves and concubines too and that’s not acceptable anymore either. I get it. And if you’re going to buy a wife, I guess it helps that the exchange seems to be happening out of love rather than greed or a desire for dominance, even though it could easily be lust, but none of our feelings about it are going to make it any better, any worse or not happen. But, of course, you can’t just buy yourself a wife when she has a single older sister. Marrying the younger first, that’s inappropriate. So Laban puts Leah, his other daughter, in the bridal robes instead and Jacob unwittingly marries Leah. But he worked for Rachel and still wanted her as his wife, so he agrees to another seven years for Rachel, but he gets her upfront after the seven day marriage ritual is done for Leah.
Oh, yes, a seven day ritual for Leah and Rachel each while no ritual or ceremony whatsoever is noted for Rebekah back in part eight/chapter 24.
It’s a little more cruel for Leah to know what it’s like to be treated with love all day on her wedding because he thinks she’s her sister and then experience the contrast in his affections later, which is totally what happens. She becomes acutely aware that he doesn’t love her, it even says he hates her and that God saw that he hated her. She then turns out to be quite the baby maker and wishes with each child that perhaps now her husband will love her. And this should be a testimony to every woman who has ever assumed that a kid will solve things. She “gives” him SIX sons and then a daughter and none of them appear to give her more favor than she had, let alone over Rachel, which was the wife he loved and worked for in the first place. Some servants/concubines give him some other sons at the behest of the wives and then Rachel finally gives him one son.
In the middle of all this son having, there is an interesting passage where Rachel basically pimps out Jacob for the night to Leah over some mandrakes. To me the scene seems a little strange. Between Lot’s daughters raping their father, Rebekah orchestrating her favorite to get the blessing and now Rachel pimping out Jacob to the other wife, this first book is not full of just hapless female victims. There’s a little more going on here. Nevertheless, it is after Rachel has her son that Jacob decides it’s time to leave Laban’s house. Do you think you’d stick around your father-in-law’s house for this long?
They make a deal for his departure that over time the profit of their joined labor will be split starting then, but of course, Laban has to try to screw him over and there are some details on that from verses thirty-five to the end of the chapter.
Jacob overhears some unsettling stuff and just decides to go. In this part of the story, there’s an interesting bit on Rachel stealing some household gods. I couldn’t find a great explanation on what exactly these were, but I was mostly because it was my understanding that part of the reason for going back to this town and this house was keeping the God of Abraham in the house and now Laban has household gods. But she steals them and he comes after them but can’t find his gods because she feigns her period and is sitting on them while he searches. Is she mad at her father or does she want the gods for herself? Does she worship them? The other strange thing is that there is no further mention of them after that.
Laban doesn’t find them, kind of apologizes to Jacob and they make a covenant not to cross this pillar of stones to do harm. There’s also a bit in the covenant about not to oppress his daughters or take more wives. While it shouldn’t be necessary to tell someone that, I appreciate this attempt at looking out for them even when he is not around. It also makes it clear that while women weren’t highly valued at this time, not everyone felt like their only worth was making sons.
So there are my feelings and impressions on the Chs 28-31 of Genesis. Have you read them? What do you think?
*amended for formatting purposes