SynopsisIn this chapter Jacob goes to live with Laban, as planned, and ends up marrying his daughters, Leah and Rachel.
The first 13 verses aren’t all that interesting; Jacob simply finds Laban, and goes to live with him. He also begins working for him, apparently, and after a month, Laban decides that maybe he should start paying Jacob, for his services. Because Jacob is in love with Rachel, he tells Laban that he will work for him for seven years, in return for which he wants to marry Rachel.
Verses 16–17, though, make clear that Laban has two daughters: Leah (the oldest) and Rachel. Leah had “weak eyes”, but Rachel was “lovely in form, and beautiful”. I’m not really sure what is meant by “weak eyes”; I looked verse 17 up in a few versions, to see if that would shed any light:
- New International Version (NIV; the version I normally quote): Leah had weak eyes, but Rachel was lovely in form, and beautiful.
- New American Standard Bible (NASB): And Leah’s eyes were weak, but Rachel was beautiful of form and face.
- King James Version (KJV): Leah was tender eyed; but Rachel was beautiful and well favoured.
- New King James Version (NKVJ): Leah’s eyes were delicate, but Rachel was beautiful of form and appearance.
- Young’s Literal Translation (YLT): and the eyes of Leah [are] tender, and Rachel hath been fair of form and fair of appearance.
In any event, Laban agrees to Jacob’s terms. Jacob serves his seven years with Laban, and verse 20 says that they “seemed like only a few days to him because of his love for [Rachel]”. After the seven years is up, they have a wedding feast, but Laban gives Jacob Leah, instead of Rachel. He must have snuck her into Jacob’s room, after dark, when Jacob couldn’t tell the difference, because he didn’t notice the switch until the next morning (verse 25).
Jacob gets angry, and Laban tells him that it is not the custom, for his people, to give the younger daughter away in marriage before the older. So he tells Jacob to finish Leah’s “bridal week”, and then he will get Rachel as well—in return for another seven years of work.
So Jacob agrees—probably because he doesn’t have any choice—finishes his bridal week with Leah, and is then given Rachel as a second wife. But the seeds of discord are already sown, because it says in verse 30 that he loved Rachel more than Leah.
The LORD sees this, and opens Leah’s womb, so that she starts bearing children for Jacob. Leah recognizes that these children are a gift from God, and also hopes that she will start to win Jacob’s favour, because she has borne him children. So she names the children accordingly:
- Reuben, which means “see, a son”, and sounds like the Hebrew for “he has seen my misery”—where “He”, in this case, is the LORD
- Simeon, which probably means “one who hears”—again referring to the LORD
- Levi, which sounds like and may be derived from the Hebrew for “attached”—because she says in verse 34 “Now at last my husband will become attached to me, because I have borne him three sons.”
- Judah, which sounds like and may be derived from the Hebrew for “praise”, because at this point she gives up on Jacob, and simply decides to praise the LORD
ThoughtsJacob might have been a schemer—along with his mother, Rebekah, let’s not forget—but it definitely ran in the family, because so was Laban.
It’s fairly heart-breaking to read Leah’s story. Her husband obviously doesn’t want her—or, at the very least, wants her less than he wants his other wife—and her only hope of making him love her is to bear him children, which doesn’t work.