Below are some preliminary questions to assist in the study of this passage. For a comprehensive study of the passage, download the Study Guide (PDF download).
Note: For more information relevant to this present passage of Genesis twenty-nine, see the accompanying Appendix (PDF download) that provides the complete Scripture text of Genesis 29:31-31:55.
1. How does Laban treat Jacob? See Genesis 29:15,23-27 (printed below) What kind of a man was Laban?
Then Laban said to Jacob, Because you are my brother, is it right that you should serve me for nothing? Tell me, what shall your wages be?…(23) In the evening, Laban took Leah his older daughter and brought her to Jacob. Then Jacob went in and lay with her. (24) And Laban gave his maidservant Zilpah to his daughter Leah to be her maidservant. (25) In the morning, to his surprise, Jacob discovered that it was Leah. Then he said to Laban, What is this that you have done to me? Did I not serve you for Rachel? Why then have you tricked me? (26) Then Laban said, It is not our custom to give the younger woman in marriage before the firstborn. (27) Fulfill the week of service for this older daughter, and we will give you the younger one also for the service which you shall render to me for another seven years. (Genesis 29:15,23-27)
Although he acknowledges Jacob to be a blood relative, Laban treats him as a hired servant (Genesis 29:15). After having benefited from Jacob’s services for a full month without any remuneration (Genesis 29:14b), and finding that Jacob is a useful worker, Laban constructs a relationship with Jacob that will be most beneficial to himself. Laban tricks Jacob by substituting Leah in the place of Rachel (Genesis 29:23-26). Not only has he deceived Jacob, but Laban has taken advantage of the situation to marry off a daughter who was not a prime candidate for marriage. In exchange for seven more years of labor, Laban is willing to give Jacob Rachel as a second wife (Genesis 29:27). His willingness to give both his daughters to the same man shows that Laban had little concern for his daughters’ happiness and their inter-personal relationship (note Leviticus 18:18). When you look at Laban you see a man who makes a practice of using people for his own advantage, a man who places his personal interests and wealth ahead of his own family.
2. What are we told about Rachel’s physical appearance in Genesis 29:17 (printed below?) What do we learn about her character? See Genesis 30:1 (printed below)
Leah’s eyes were poor; but Rachel had a beautiful face and figure. (Genesis 29:17)
When Rachel saw that she was not bearing Jacob any children, she became jealous of her sister. So she said to Jacob, Give me children, or I will die! (Genesis 30:1)
Rachel was physically beautiful in every way—in face and in figure (Genesis 29:17). No doubt, because of her physical attractiveness, she was everybody’s favorite girl—the star attraction, “the high school homecoming queen.” But Rachel was also very self-centered and hard to live with when things did not go her way (Genesis 30:1). Instead of being grateful for all that she has and being happy for her sister, Rachel envied her sister because she could bear children and Rachel could not. Rachel demands that Jacob give her children, or she will die—her envy, her pre-occupation with what she does not have, is killing her.
3. What does Rachel’s action as described in Genesis 31:19 (printed below) reveal about her? Note: The teraphim were little household idols revered as the givers of earthly prosperity.
When Laban had gone to shear his sheep, Rachel stole her father’s teraphim. (Genesis 31:19)
Rachel has a hard time letting go of the idols of this world. When the family departs for Canaan, it is Rachel who steals her father’s teraphim and takes them along. As noted, the teraphim were little household idols revered as the givers of earthly prosperity. Material prosperity is a high priority in Rachel’s life, something she does not want to lose, even if it means compromising her commitment to Christ.
4. How did Leah compare with her sister Rachel (see Genesis 29:17,30 printed below?) From Genesis 29:31-34 (printed below), how would you describe her relationship with her husband?
Leah’s eyes were poor; but Rachel had a beautiful face and figure… (30) And so Jacob also slept with Rachel. Now he loved Rachel more than Leah. After this Jacob served Laban for another seven years.(Genesis 29:17,30)
When the LORD saw that Leah was hated, he opened her womb, but Rachel was barren. (32) Leah became pregnant and gave birth to a son. She named him Reuben, for she said, It is because the LORD has seen my misery. Surely my husband will love me now. (33) She conceived again, and when she gave birth to a son she said, Because the LORD heard that I am hated, he gave me this one too. So she named him Simeon. (34) Again she conceived, and when she gave birth to a son she said, Now at last my husband will become attached to me, because I have borne him three sons. So he was named Levi. (Genesis 29:31-34)
From early on, Leah had a hard time in life, and life continued to be hard on her (Genesis 29:17,30). She lacked in physical beauty, and consequently was passed over in favor of her younger sister. Even in marriage she was not the primary object of her husband’s attraction and affection. For a long time Leah seeks to win Jacob’s heart, but her hopes and dreams continue to be frustrated (Genesis 29:31-35). The Lord sees that Leah is hated—that is to say, ignored by Jacob who has no affection for her—and grants her a son (verse 31). With the birth of each successive son Leah’s hopes of winning the affection of her husband are rekindled, only to be disappointed.
5. What do we learn about Jacob’s character when we compare Genesis 31:4-7 with Genesis 30:37-43 (printed below?)
Jacob sent word to Rachel and Leah to come out to the fields where his flocks were. (5) He said to them, …(6) You know that I have worked for your father with all my strength, (7) yet your father has cheated me by changing my wages ten times. (Genesis 31:4-7)
Jacob … took fresh-cut branches from poplar, almond and plane trees and made white stripes on them by peeling the bark and exposing the white inner wood of the branches. (38) Then he placed the peeled branches in all the watering troughs, so that they would be directly in front of the flocks when they came to drink. When the flocks were in heat and came to drink, (39) they mated in front of the branches. And they bore young that were streaked or speckled or spotted… (41) Whenever the stronger females were in heat, Jacob would place the branches in the troughs in front of the animals so they would mate near the branches, (42) but if the animals were weak, he would not place them there. So the weak animals went to Laban and the strong ones to Jacob. (43) In this way the man grew exceedingly prosperous and came to own large flocks, and maidservants and menservants, and camels and donkeys. (Genesis 30:37-43)
Jacob is very much aware of the wrongs he has suffered (Genesis 31:4-7). Speaking to his wives, he accuses Laban of having deceived him and altering the conditions of their contract “ten times” (verse 7). But Jacob is less than honest with his family or with himself: he does not face up to his own misdeeds. Jacob took advantage of Laban (Genesis 30:37-43). When the stronger animals came to the water troughs, Jacob set speckled rods before them and they conceived speckled offspring—thus, over the years his flocks became superior in quality to Laban’s and Jacob prospered. When you look at Jacob you see a man who was prone to dismiss his own shortcomings, a man who recognized the wrongs done to him but was blind or tolerant of his own misdeeds.