Welcome back to my study/review of Genesis. If you missed the previous parts of this study, you can find them HERE.
Genesis 29: 1-12
29 Then Jacob went on his journey and came to the land of the people of the east. 2 As he looked, he saw a well in the field, and behold, three flocks of sheep lying beside it, for out of that well the flocks were watered. The stone on the well’s mouth was large, 3 and when all the flocks were gathered there, the shepherds would roll the stone from the mouth of the well and water the sheep, and put the stone back in its place over the mouth of the well.
4 Jacob said to them, “My brothers, where do you come from?” They said, “We are from Haran.” 5 He said to them, “Do you know Laban the son of Nahor?” They said, “We know him.” 6 He said to them, “Is it well with him?” They said, “It is well; and see, Rachel his daughter is coming with the sheep!” 7 He said, “Behold, it is still high day; it is not time for the livestock to be gathered together. Water the sheep and go, pasture them.” 8 But they said, “We cannot until all the flocks are gathered together and the stone is rolled from the mouth of the well; then we water the sheep.”
9 While he was still speaking with them, Rachel came with her father’s sheep, for she was a shepherdess. 10 Now as soon as Jacob saw Rachel the daughter of Laban his mother’s brother, and the sheep of Laban his mother’s brother, Jacob came near and rolled the stone from the well’s mouth and watered the flock of Laban his mother’s brother. 11 Then Jacob kissed Rachel and wept aloud. 12 And Jacob told Rachel that he was her father’s kinsman, and that he was Rebekah’s son, and she ran and told her father.
Jacob arrives in Haran.
From Ellicott’s Bible Commentary:
(1) Jacob went on his journey.—Heb., Jacob lifted up his feet, that is, hastened forward. Confirmed in the possession of the birthright by God as well as man, and encouraged by the promise of the Divine presence, and of a safe return home, he casts no wistful glances back, but pursues his journey under the inspiriting influence of hope.
The people of the East.—Usually the Arabians are designated by this phrase, but it here signifies the tribes who inhabited northern Mesopotamia.
We can know who the people of the East are because we know where Haran is located. It seems a little strange though that a journey which is mostly north ends with people of the East.
From The Pulpit Commentaries we get more description about pasture wells such as the one Jacob finds here :
And he looked (either to discover where he was, or in search of water), and behold a well in the field,—not the well at which Eliezer’s caravan halted, which was a well for the village maidens, situated in front of the town, and approached by steps (vide Genesis 14:1-24.), but a well in the open field for the use of flocks, and covered at the time of Jacob’s arrival with a huge stone—and, lo, there were three flocks of sheep lying by it. A frequent Oriental scene (cf. Genesis 14:11; Exodus 2:16). “Who that has traveled much in this country has not often arrived at a well in the heat of the day which was surrounded with numerous flocks of sheep waiting to be watered? I once saw such a scene in the burning plains of Northern Syria. Half-naked, fierce-looking men were drawing up water in leather buckets; flock after flock was brought up, watered, and sent away; and after all the men had ended their work, then several women and girls brought up their flocks, and drew water for them. Thus it was with Jethro’s daughters; and thus, no doubt, it would have been with Rachel if Jacob had not rolled away the stone and watered her sheep”. For out of that well they watered the flocks: and a great stone was upon the well’s mouth. “Most of the cisterns are covered with a large thick, flat stone, in the center of which a hole is cut, which forms the mouth of the cistern. This hole, in many instances, we found covered with a heavy stone, to the removal of which two or three men were requisite”.
Then we get to the section where Jacob meets Rachel. From David Guzik’s Bible Commentary:
And Jacob said to them, “My brethren, where are you from?” And they said, “We are from Haran.” Then he said to them, “Do you know Laban the son of Nahor?” And they said, “We know him.” So he said to them, “Is he well?” And they said, “He is well. And look, his daughter Rachel is coming with the sheep.” Then he said, “Look, it is still high day; it is not time for the cattle to be gathered together. Water the sheep, and go and feed them.” But they said, “We cannot until all the flocks are gathered together, and they have rolled the stone from the well’s mouth; then we water the sheep.” Now while he was still speaking with them, Rachel came with her father’s sheep, for she was a shepherdess. 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.
a. My brethren, where are you from? In an age before clearly marked roads and signs, Jacob didn’t know where he was until he asked some of the locals, and he discovered he was at his destination.
b. Water the sheep, and go and feed them: Jacob definitely seems like he is trying to get rid of the shepherd boys, probably so he can be alone with Rachel.
c. Jacob went near and rolled the stone from the well’s mouth: Jacob also knew he had come to marry one of the daughters of Laban (Genesis 28:2), so he is more than willing to show kindness (and perhaps his strength) to Laban’s daughter Rachel.
The Pulpit Commentaries makes a point regarding a potential language barrier here and how it may have been overcome:
And he said unto them (with the view of discovering his kinsmen), Know ye Laban the son of Nahor?—i.e. the grandson, Laban’s father having been Bethuel, who, however, here, as in Genesis 14:1-24; retires into the background. And they said, We know him. The language of the shepherds being Chaldaean (vide Genesis 31:47), Jacob, who spoke Hebrew, was able to converse with them either because he had learnt Chaldee from his mother (Clericus), or, as is more probable, because the dialects were not then greatly dissimilar (Gosman in Lange).
It was not clear to me initially upon reading, but the reason the shepherds did not water the sheep immediately is that they are waiting upon Rachel to arrive.
And they said, We cannot,—not because of any physical difficulty (Kalisch), since three men could easily have accomplished what Jacob by himself did, but because they had agreed not to do so (Rosenmüller, Murphy), but to wait—until all the flocks be gathered together (when the watering was done at once, instead of at so many different times), and till they roll the stone from the well’s mouth;—more correctly rendered, and (sc. then, i.e. when the flocks are assembled) they (i.e. the shepherds) roll away the stone—then (or, and) we water the sheep. The object of watering the flocks collectively may have been, as above stated, for convenience, or to prevent the well from being opened too frequently, in which case dust might rapidly accumulate within it (Kalisch), or perhaps to secure an equal distribution of the water (Murphy).
When Rachel does arrive, Ellicott’s Bible Commentary gives educated speculation as to her age:
(9) Rachel came with her father’s sheep.—Comp. Exodus 2:16; and so in modern times Mr. Malan saw “the sheik’s daughter, the beautiful and well-favoured Ladheefeh, drive her flock of fine patriarchal sheep” to a well for water in this very region (Philosophy or Truth, p. 95). As forty years at least elapsed between this meeting of Jacob and Rachel and the birth of Benjamin, she must have been a mere child at this time.
Ellicott’s Bible Commentary makes another note about their greeting:
(11) Jacob kissed Rachel . . . and wept.—Jacob first made himself, useful to Rachel, and then discloses to her who he is, claims her as a cousin, and kisses her. Then, overcome with joy at this happy termination of his long journey, and at finding himself among relatives, he can restrain his feelings no longer, but bursts into tears. In this outburst of emotion we see the commencement of his lifelong affection for the beautiful child whom he thus opportunely met.
I’m tempted to comment on her age at this point but I think the following section will be better suited for that. In any case, it is a source of some discomfort.
The Pulpit Commentary also comments on this greeting and speculates that he must have told her of their kinship.
And Jacob kissed Rachel,—in demonstration of his cousinly affection. If Jacob had not yet discovered who he was to the fair shepherdess, his behavior must have filled her with surprise, even allowing for the unaffected simplicity of the times; but the fact that she does not resent his conduct as an undue liberty perhaps suggests that he had first informed her of his relationship to the inmates of Laban’s house (Calvin). On kissing vide Genesis 27:26—and lifted up his voice, and wept—partly for joy in finding his relatives (cf. Genesis 43:30; Genesis 45:2, Genesis 45:14, Genesis 45:15); partly in grateful acknowledgment of God’s kindness in conducting him to his mother’s brother’s house.
In verse 12,though, we read that this explanation of their relationship occurs *after* this greeting.
The expression often repeated is that history doe snot echo but it does rhyme. We see that play out throughout Genesis with stories that are similar as between generations, but with differences. The PUlplit Commentaries notes one such difference in verse 12:
And Jacob told (or, had told, ut supra) Rachel that he was her father’s brother,—as Lot is called Abraham’s brother, though in reality his nephew (Genesis 13:8; Genesis 14:14, Genesis 14:16)—and that he was Rebekah’s son (this clause would explain the meaning of the term “brother in the former): and she ran and told her father. Like Rebekah, believing the stranger’s words and running to report them, though, unlike Rebekah, first relating them to her father (cf. Genesis 14:1-24:28).
Her behavior is similar to Rebekah in one respect but different in another. She goes to her father’s tent. Interestingly though, Laban primarily conducted the arrangement of Rebekah’s marriage and he also is in charge of Rachel’s marriage decades later.
The greeting with Laban will come next. There will be opportunities to compare that with the negotiation that occurred for Isaac’s wife. We do know ahead of time that there are several key differences: 1) Jacob came himself, 2) Jacob has reason to delay his return, and 3) Rachel is still a child.