Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary
Then Jacob went on his journey, and came into the land of the people of the east.
Ge 29:1-35. The Well of Haran.
1. Then Jacob went, &c.—Hebrew, "lifted up his feet." He resumed his way next morning with a light heart and elastic step after the vision of the ladder; for tokens of the divine favor tend to quicken the discharge of duty (Ne 8:10).
and came into the land, &c.—Mesopotamia and the whole region beyond the Euphrates are by the sacred writers designated "the East" (Jud 6:3; 1Ki 4:30; Job 1:3). Between the first and the second clause of this verse is included a journey of four hundred miles.
And he looked, and behold a well in the field, and, lo, there were three flocks of sheep lying by it; for out of that well they watered the flocks: and a great stone was upon the well's mouth.
2. And he looked, &c.—As he approached the place of his destination, he, according to custom, repaired to the well adjoining the town where he would obtain an easy introduction to his relatives.
And thither were all the flocks gathered: and they rolled the stone from the well's mouth, and watered the sheep, and put the stone again upon the well's mouth in his place.
3. thither were all the flocks gathered; and a stone, &c.—In Arabia, owing to the shifting sands and in other places, owing to the strong evaporation, the mouth of a well is generally covered, especially when it is private property. Over many is laid a broad, thick, flat stone, with a round hole cut in the middle, forming the mouth of the cistern. This hole is covered with a heavy stone which it would require two or three men to roll away. Such was the description of the well at Haran.
And Jacob said unto them, My brethren, whence be ye? And they said, Of Haran are we.
4. Jacob said, My brethren—Finding from the shepherds who were reposing there with flocks and who all belonged to Haran, that his relatives in Haran were well and that one of the family was shortly expected, he enquired why they were idling the best part of the day there instead of watering their flocks and sending them back to pasture.
And he said unto them, Know ye Laban the son of Nahor? And they said, We know him.
And he said unto them, Is he well? And they said, He is well: and, behold, Rachel his daughter cometh with the sheep.
And he said, Lo, it is yet high day, neither is it time that the cattle should be gathered together: water ye the sheep, and go and feed them.
And they said, We cannot, until all the flocks be gathered together, and till they roll the stone from the well's mouth; then we water the sheep.
8. They said, We cannot, until all the flocks be gathered—In order to prevent the consequences of too frequent exposure in places where water is scarce, the well is not only covered, but it is customary to have all the flocks collected round it before the covering is removed in presence of the owner or one of his representatives; and it was for this reason that those who were reposing at the well of Haran with the three flocks were waiting the arrival of Rachel.
And while he yet spake with them, Rachel came with her father's sheep: for she kept them.
9-11. While he yet spake with them, Rachel came—Among the pastoral tribes the young unmarried daughters of the greatest sheiks tend the flocks, going out at sunrise and continuing to watch their fleecy charges till sunset. Watering them, which is done twice a day, is a work of time and labor, and Jacob rendered no small service in volunteering his aid to the young shepherdess. The interview was affecting, the reception welcome, and Jacob forgot all his toils in the society of his Mesopotamian relatives. Can we doubt that he returned thanks to God for His goodness by the way?
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.
And Jacob kissed Rachel, and lifted up his voice, and wept.
And Jacob told Rachel that he was her father's brother, and that he was Rebekah's son: and she ran and told her father.
12. Jacob told Rachel, &c.—According to the practice of the East, the term "brother" is extended to remote degrees of relationship, as uncle, cousin, or nephew.
And it came to pass, when Laban heard the tidings of Jacob his sister's son, that he ran to meet him, and embraced him, and kissed him, and brought him to his house. And he told Laban all these things.
And Laban said to him, Surely thou art my bone and my flesh. And he abode with him the space of a month.
14-20. he abode a month—Among pastoral people a stranger is freely entertained for three days; on the fourth day he is expected to tell his name and errand; and if he prolongs his stay after that time, he must set his hand to work in some way, as may be agreed upon. A similar rule obtained in Laban's establishment, and the wages for which his nephew engaged to continue in his employment was the hand of Rachel.
And Laban said unto Jacob, Because thou art my brother, shouldest thou therefore serve me for nought? tell me, what shall thy wages be?
And Laban had two daughters: the name of the elder was Leah, and the name of the younger was Rachel.
Leah was tender eyed; but Rachel was beautiful and well favoured.
17. Leah tender-eyed—that is, soft blue eyes—thought a blemish.
Rachel beautiful and well-favored—that is, comely and handsome in form. The latter was Jacob's choice.
And Jacob loved Rachel; and said, I will serve thee seven years for Rachel thy younger daughter.
18. I will serve thee seven years for Rachel thy daughter—A proposal of marriage is made to the father without the daughter being consulted, and the match is effected by the suitor either bestowing costly presents on the family, or by giving cattle to the value the father sets upon his daughter, or else by giving personal services for a specified period. The last was the course necessity imposed on Jacob; and there for seven years he submitted to the drudgery of a hired shepherd, with the view of obtaining Rachel. The time went rapidly away; for even severe and difficult duties become light when love is the spring of action.
And Laban said, It is better that I give her to thee, than that I should give her to another man: abide with me.
And Jacob served seven years for Rachel; and they seemed unto him but a few days, for the love he had to her.
And Jacob said unto Laban, Give me my wife, for my days are fulfilled, that I may go in unto her.
21. Jacob said, Give me my wife—At the expiry of the stipulated term the marriage festivities were held. But an infamous fraud was practised on Jacob, and on his showing a righteous indignation, the usage of the country was pleaded in excuse. No plea of kindred should ever be allowed to come in opposition to the claim of justice. But this is often overlooked by the selfish mind of man, and fashion or custom rules instead of the will of God. This was what Laban did, as he said, "It must not be so done in our country, to give the younger before the first-born." But, then, if that were the prevailing custom of society at Haran, he should have apprized his nephew of it at an early period in an honorable manner. This, however, is too much the way with the people of the East still. The duty of marrying an elder daughter before a younger, the tricks which parents take to get off an elder daughter that is plain or deformed and in which they are favored by the long bridal veil that entirely conceals her features all the wedding day, and the prolongation for a week of the marriage festivities among the greater sheiks, are accordant with the habits of the people in Arabia and Armenia in the present day.
And Laban gathered together all the men of the place, and made a feast.
And it came to pass in the evening, that he took Leah his daughter, and brought her to him; and he went in unto her.
And Laban gave unto his daughter Leah Zilpah his maid for an handmaid.
And it came to pass, that in the morning, behold, it was Leah: and he said to Laban, What is this thou hast done unto me? did not I serve with thee for Rachel? wherefore then hast thou beguiled me?
And Laban said, It must not be so done in our country, to give the younger before the firstborn.
Fulfil her week, and we will give thee this also for the service which thou shalt serve with me yet seven other years.
And Jacob did so, and fulfilled her week: and he gave him Rachel his daughter to wife also.
28. gave him Rachel also—It is evident that the marriage of both sisters took place nearly about the same time, and that such a connection was then allowed, though afterwards prohibited (Le 18:18).
And Laban gave to Rachel his daughter Bilhah his handmaid to be her maid.
29. gave to Rachel his daughter Bilhah to be her maid—A father in good circumstances still gives his daughter from his household a female slave, over whom the young wife, independently of her husband, has the absolute control.
And he went in also unto Rachel, and he loved also Rachel more than Leah, and served with him yet seven other years.
And when the LORD saw that Leah was hated, he opened her womb: but Rachel was barren.
31. Leah … hated—that is, not loved so much as she ought to have been. Her becoming a mother ensured her rising in the estimation both of her husband and of society.
And Leah conceived, and bare a son, and she called his name Reuben: for she said, Surely the LORD hath looked upon my affliction; now therefore my husband will love me.
32-35. son … his name Reuben—Names were also significant; and those which Leah gave to her sons were expressive of her varying feelings of thankfulness or joy, or allusive to circumstances in the history of the family. There was piety and wisdom in attaching a signification to names, as it tended to keep the bearer in remembrance of his duty and the claims of God.
And she conceived again, and bare a son; and said, Because the LORD hath heard that I was hated, he hath therefore given me this son also: and she called his name Simeon.
And she conceived again, and bare a son; and said, Now this time will my husband be joined unto me, because I have born him three sons: therefore was his name called Levi.
And she conceived again, and bare a son: and she said, Now will I praise the LORD: therefore she called his name Judah; and left bearing.