Friday July 6
Genesis Chapter 29
Just as Isaac got a wife in the old country so Jacob gets his. But – this time it’s not the slave Eliezer fetching as agent for Abraham to arrange a marriage for Isaac. This time it’s not a purchase with a ring in the nose – but a fugitive accepting indentured service for his rewards.
These still are not moral models of incestuous inbreeding with cousins, but crucial narratives of the toledot. The first 11 chapters of Genesis nailed our universal common humanity and shared identity. Chapters 12-25 with the toledot of Abraham gave us a people chosen, set apart, by a conditional promise. Abraham had to get up and go, and leave his father, his home, his familiar. Isaac is a bridge, as son of one, father of another. –
Here is a guy acting as his own agent, not waiting for permission or help to roll the stone away and enjoy water for Rachel’s flocks. She runs to tell her father, who is Jacob’s uncle. Again, I read something less than individual incest, and more like ethnic preferences in domestic partnerships, for loyalty and security, and to resist assimilation.
Laban haggles terms with Jacob, using the four women as collateral. Laban tricks the trickster, and we delight in the poetic justice. Does it help more to consider Laban as representing the sharp-dealing of Syrian allies, and a warning to stay on one’s toes in trade with them?
Here in Aram, Jacob becomes patriarch with 12 sons from four mothers. His new name Israel fits a nation claiming territory in the names of 12 tribes. Good land and bad land, near to Jerusalem heartland or out at the frontiers, is implicitly ranking the tribes. It’s like that T-shirt: ‘Jesus loves you, but I’m his favorite!’
The most beloved Rachel is mother to Joseph and Benjamin. Steady, faithful Leah bears the solid set of ‘home counties’. The outlier tribes and territories are attributed to the ‘maids’ – take a look at the maps, and think about Newfie jokes, western alienation, or northern hinterlands. Or enjoy the romantic tale of a man loving sisters, if you must!
Here in chapter 29 are Leah’s first four sons. Less beloved, she is most fertile: Reuben, then Simeon, Levi, and Judah. Later, we will find justification to demote the eldest: Reuben slept with his father’s maid, mother of his half-brothers. Simeon and Levi led the excessive genocide of Schechem in the name of vengeance for Dinah, their sister, and her honour. Judah will stand for centuries, along with Joseph’s tribal representatives.
Then Jacob went on his journey, and came to the land of the people of the east. 2As he looked, he saw a well in the field and three flocks of sheep lying there beside it; for out of that well the flocks were watered.
The stone on the well’s mouth was large, 3and 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 on the mouth of the well.
4 Jacob said to them, ‘My brothers, where do you come from?’ They said, ‘We are from Haran.’ 5He said to them, ‘Do you know Laban son of Nahor?’ They said, ‘We do.’ 6He said to them, ‘Is it well with him?’ ‘Yes,’ they replied, ‘and here is his daughter Rachel, coming with the sheep.’
7He said, ‘Look, it is still broad daylight; it is not time for the animals to be gathered together. Water the sheep, and go, pasture them.’ 8But 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 kept them. 10Now when Jacob saw Rachel, the daughter of his mother’s brother Laban, and the sheep of his mother’s brother Laban, Jacob went up and rolled the stone from the well’s mouth, and watered the flock of his mother’s brother Laban.
11Then Jacob kissed Rachel, and wept aloud. 12And Jacob told Rachel that he was her father’s kinsman, and that he was Rebekah’s son; and she ran and told her father.
13 When Laban heard the news about his sister’s son Jacob, he ran to meet him; he embraced him and kissed him, and brought him to his house. Jacob told Laban all these things, 14and Laban said to him, ‘Surely you are my bone and my flesh!’ And he stayed with him for 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?’
16Now Laban had two daughters; the name of the elder was Leah, and the name of the younger was Rachel. 17Leah’s eyes were lovely, and Rachel was graceful and beautiful.
18Jacob loved Rachel; so he said, ‘I will serve you seven years for your younger daughter Rachel.’ 19Laban said, ‘It is better that I give her to you than that I should give her to any other man; stay with me.’
20So Jacob served seven years for Rachel, and they seemed to him but a few days because of the love he had for her.
21 Then Jacob said to Laban, ‘Give me my wife that I may go in to her, for my time is completed.’
22So Laban gathered together all the people of the place, and made a feast. 23But in the evening he took his daughter Leah and brought her to Jacob; and he went in to her. 24(Laban gave his maid Zilpah to his daughter Leah to be her maid.)
25When morning came, it was Leah! And Jacob said to Laban, ‘What is this you have done to me? Did I not serve with you for Rachel? Why then have you deceived me?’26Laban said, ‘This is not done in our country—giving the younger before the firstborn.
27Complete the week of this one, and we will give you the other also in return for serving me for another seven years.’
28Jacob did so, and completed her week; then Laban gave him his daughter Rachel as a wife. 29(Laban gave his maid Bilhah to his daughter Rachel to be her maid.)
30So Jacob went in to Rachel also, and he loved Rachel more than Leah. He served Laban for another seven years.
31 When the Lord saw that Leah was unloved, he opened her womb; but Rachel was barren.
32Leah conceived and bore a son, and she named him Reuben; for she said, ‘Because the Lord has looked on my affliction; surely now my husband will love me.’
33She conceived again and bore a son, and said, ‘Because the Lord has heard that I am hated, he has given me this son also’; and she named him Simeon.
34Again she conceived and bore a son, and said, ‘Now this time my husband will be joined to me, because I have borne him three sons’; therefore he was named Levi.
35She conceived again and bore a son, and said, ‘This time I will praise the Lord’; therefore she named him Judah; then she ceased bearing.