Genesis (Part 127)

Welcome back to my study/review of Genesis. If you missed the previous parts of this study, you can find them HERE.

Genesis 29: 13-20

13 As soon as Laban heard the news about Jacob, his sister’s son, he ran to meet him and embraced him and kissed him and brought him to his house. Jacob told Laban all these things, 14 and Laban said to him, “Surely you are my bone and my flesh!” And he stayed with him a month.

15 Then Laban said to Jacob, “Because you are my kinsman, should you therefore serve me for nothing? Tell me, what shall your wages be?” 16 Now Laban had two daughters. The name of the older was Leah, and the name of the younger was Rachel. 17 Leah’s eyes were weak, but Rachel was beautiful in form and appearance. 18 Jacob loved Rachel. And he said, “I will serve you seven years for your younger daughter Rachel.” 19 Laban said, “It is better that I give her to you than that I should give her to any other man; stay with me.” 20 So Jacob served seven years for Rachel, and they seemed to him but a few days because of the love he had for her.


The Book of Genesis returns us to Laban’s home. Many, many decades have passed since Abraham’s servant negotiated with Laban for Rebekah. The Pulpit Commentaries tells us exactly how long it has been:

And it came to pass, when Laban heard the tidings (literally, heard the hearing, or thing heard, i.e. the report of the arrival) of Jacob his sister’s son,—he acted very much as he did ninety-seven years before, when Abraham’s servant came to woo his sister (Genesis 14:20, 30)—that (literally, and) he ran to meet him, and embraced him,—so afterwards Esau did Jacob (Genesis 33:4), and Jacob the two sons of Joseph (Genesis 48:10)—and kissed him, and brought him to his house—thus evincing the same kindness and hospitality that had characterized him on the previous occasion. And he (Jacob) told Laban all these things—what his mother bad instructed him to say to attest his kinship (Calvin); the things related in the immediate context (Keil); more likely the entire story of his life, and in particular of his exile from home, with its cause and object (Rosenmüller, Kalisch, Lange).ccccccccccccc

And Laban said unto him (giving utterance to the impression Jacob’s recital had produced upon his mind), Surely thou art my bone and my flesh—i.e. my blood relation (cf. Judges 9:22 Samuel 5:1). Laban meant that Jacob had satisfactorily proved himself Rebekah’s son. And he abode with him the space of a month—literally, a month of days (cf. Genesis 41:1Numbers 11:20), or a month as regards time, “the second substantive describing the general notion of which the first is a specification” (Kalisch).

It has been NINTETY-SEVEN YEARS. Laban is now a very old man. In verse 14, the text tells us that Laban refers to Jacob as his bone and his flesh. The commentary shares that this means he is claiming Jacob as a blood relation.

bone = עֶצֶם ʻetsem, eh’tsem; from H6105; a bone (as strong); by extension, the body; figuratively, the substance, i.e. (as pronoun) selfsame:—body, bone, × life, (self-) same, strength, × very.

flesh = בָּשָׂר bâsâr, baw-sawr’; from H1319; flesh (from its freshness); by extension, body, person; also (by euphemistically) the pudenda of a man:—body, (fat, lean) flesh(-ed), kin, (man-) kind, nakedness, self, skin.

This type of exclamation seems to be a textual callback to an earlier verse – Genesis 2:23:

Then the man said,
“This at last is bone of my bones
and flesh of my flesh;
she shall be called Woman,

Picking up in verse 15, Laban has hosted Jacob for a month and asks him what he wants his wages to be. Jacob has been helping with Laban’s labor since his visit began. Laban deems it inappropriate that a close relative should do this without being compensated adequately. From Ellicott’s Bible Commentary:

(15) What shall thy wages be?—As Jacob had given upon his arrival a full account of himself (Genesis 29:13), Laban probably expected the very answer he received; nevertheless, the proposal was fair and upright. Doubtless he had seen, during Jacob’s stay of a month, that his services would be very valuable.

It seems likely that Laban does know that Jacob wishes to marry one of his two daughters. We meet the older of his two daughters here (having already met Rachel.)

Leah = לֵאָה Lêʼâh, lay-aw’; from H3811; weary; Leah, a wife of Jacob:—Leah.; לָאָה lâʼâh, law-aw’; a primitive root; to tire; (figuratively) to be (or make) disgusted:—faint, grieve, lothe, (be, make) weary (selves).

COMMENT: Why would someone name their daughter in this manner?

A lot has actually been written about Leah. From Wiki:

The Torah introduces Leah by describing her with the phrase, “Leah had tender eyes” (Hebrew: ועיני לאה רכות‎) (Genesis 29:17). It is argued as to whether the adjective “tender” (רכות‎) should be taken to mean “delicate and soft” or “weary”.[5] Leah’s (and Rachel’s) parents were Laban and Adinah .

The commentary of Rashi cites a Rabbinic interpretation of how Leah’s eyes became weak. According to this story, Leah was destined to marry Jacob’s older twin brother, Esau. In the Rabbinic mind, the two brothers are polar opposites; Jacob being a God-fearing scholar and Esau being a hunter who also indulges in idolatry and adultery. But people were saying, “Laban has two daughters and his sister, Rebekah, has two sons. The older daughter (Leah) will marry the older son (Esau), and the younger daughter (Rachel) will marry the younger son (Jacob).”[6] Hearing this, Leah spent most of her time weeping and praying to God to change her destined mate. Thus the Torah describes her eyes as “soft” from weeping. God hearkens to Leah’s tears and prayers and allows her to marry Jacob even before Rachel does.

We might also look at instances within Leah’s family of failing eyesight as being indicative that the statement refers to her eyes in some particular way rather than her appearance generally. However, the text itself juxtaposes Leah’s “weak” eyes with Rachel’s beauty.

17 Leah’s eyes were weak, but Rachel was beautiful in form and appearance.

weak / tender = רַךְ rak, rak; from H7401; tender (literally or figuratively); by implication, weak:—faint(-hearted), soft, tender ((-hearted), one), weak.; רָכַךְ râkak, raw-kak’; a primitive root; to soften (intransitively or transitively), used figuratively:—(be) faint(-hearted), mollify, (be, make) soft(-er), be tender.

eyes = עַיִן ʻayin, ah’-yin; probably a primitive word; an eye (literally or figuratively); by analogy, a fountain (as the eye of the landscape):—affliction, outward appearance, before, think best, colour, conceit, be content, countenance, displease, eye((-brow), (-d), -sight), face, favour, fountain, furrow (from the margin), × him, humble, knowledge, look, (+ well), × me, open(-ly), + (not) please, presence, regard, resemblance, sight, × thee, × them, + think, × us, well, × you(-rselves).

Given the juxtaposition of this phrase with Rachel’s beauty, and the definition of the words above, as well as the name Leah was given at the time of her birth, I think the most likely explanation for what “eyes were weak” means is that she was hard to look upon. If it is true that she was hard to look at as a baby, perhaps she as born with a birth defect that effected her appearance.

Returning then to the text, we read that Jacob loved Rachel the younger sister. From the Pulpit Commentaries:

And Jacob loved Rachel (it is more than probable that this was an illustration of what is known as “love at first sight” on the part of Rachel as well as Jacob); and said, I will serve thee seven years for Rachel thy younger daughter. Having no property, with which to buy his wife, according to Oriental custom (Kalisch), or to give the usual dowry for her to her father (Keil),—cf. Genesis 14:1-24:53Genesis 34:121 Samuel 18:25,—Jacob’s offer was at once accepted by his grasping uncle, though he was that uncle’s “brother” (1 Samuel 18:15).

The commentary above implies “love at first sight” on the part of both Jacob and Rachel. I am not certain that we can actually take that from what is provided by the text. What we see is that Jacob prefers/loves Rachel. Rachel’s end of that bargain is unknown initially. We also know that initially, Rachel is a child. The terms of the bargain Jacob strikes with Laban are such that she will no longer be a child when the term is ended. From Ellicott:

(18) I will serve thee seven years for Rachel thy younger daughter.—Heb., thy daughter, the little one, just as Leah, in Genesis 29:16, is called the great one. (See Note on Genesis 9:24.) So in Genesis 44:20, the phrase “the little one” simply means the youngest. Wives had to be purchased in the East (Genesis 24:53), and as Jacob had brought no rich presents, such as Abraham had sent when seeking a wife for his son, he had only his personal services to offer. As the sale was usually veiled in true Oriental fashion under the specious form of freewill gifts, we shall find that both Leah and Rachel are offended at being thus openly bartered by Laban.

The text here tells us that Jacob specifically barters for Rachel. It does not turn out as planned, famously, as we will see later in the text.

Laban tells Jacob that as a relative, he is a preferred potential match for his daughter than another suitor. He agrees to the terms as set by Jacob. It is worth remembering that Jacob sets the seven year term into the bargain. Much is made of Rachel being a child when they first meet however Jacob does not propose that he actually marry Rachel until she is of age. Two things are achieved by the term: 1) he guarantees a high bride price – indicative of how much he views Rachel to be worth, and 2) he plans overtly for her to be “of age” by the time they are married. We should also keep in mind that Jacob is in no hurry to return home. He believes his brother Esau means to kill him.

The set of verses ends with a short description of Jacob’s service. From The Pulpit Commentaries:

And Jacob served—hard service (Genesis 31:40Genesis 31:41), in keeping sheep (Hosea 12:12)—seven years for Rachel. The purity and intensity of Jacob’s affection was declared not alone by the proposal of a seven years’ term of servitude,—a long period of waiting for a man of fifty-seven, if not seventy-seven, years of age,—but also by the spirit in which he served his avaricious relative. Many as the days were that required to intervene before he obtained possession of his bride, they were rendered happy by the sweet society of Rachel. And they seemed unto him but a few days, for the love he had to her. “Words breathing the purest tenderness, and expressing more emphatically than the flowery hyperboles of romantic phraseology the deep attachment of an affectionate heart” (Kalisch); words too which show the lofty appreciation Jacob had of the personal worth of his future bride.

As the note above says, the text makes clear that Jacob is so happy in his arrangement that the seven years of labor fly by “and they seemed to him but a few days because of the love he had for her.”

We’ll see how it all turns out in the next section.