Understanding Genesis 29: An Unhappy Marriage
Read the entire chapter 29 of Genesis on your own. You can read a variety of versions, from contemporary English to literal translations. You can download bible apps, websites (blueletterbible.org or biblegateway.com) or buy one from your local bookstore. I will use King James Version because some of the nuances are missing from other translations. When you read the chapter, don’t just read it—study it with questions and try to make sense of it.
Jacob Falls In Love
And Jacob served seven years for Rachel; and they seemed unto him but a few days, for the love he had to her. And it came to pass in the evening, that he [Laban] took Leah his daughter, and brought her to him; and he went in unto her. Genesis 29:20,23
When Jacob came to his uncle’s town, he came with just the clothes on his back, and whatever provisions he could buy. After a month living with his uncle, his uncle offers to pay him wages, and knowing he had not enough to pay for a dowry, Jacob offers to work 7 years for Rachel.
Seven years, he courted Rachel, enjoyed each other’s company and planned their future. To Jacob, the years passed as days because he was so in love with her. It had seemed as if Jacob had been exiled to a strange land, but what a blessing it was, for he had fallen in love and was welcomed with open arms. Even though they were family, they were still strangers; yet they embraced him and allowed him to marry their daughter.
But like his mother, his mother’s brother was deceitful and Jacob discovered he had married the woman he did not love. There are many questions about his wedding night. Was he drunk that he didn’t recognize Leah? Even though they had never indulged in premarital sex, was he so lacking in knowing how Rachel sounded, smelled, felt, that he didn’t know it was Leah he was sleeping with? Was Laban’s excuse really the truth? Was it so wrong for the younger daughter to marry before the older? Was Laban a good father, by providing for his older daughter, who may not have ever married? Why did Leah marry Jacob?
The culture back than was that the sole duty of a woman was to marry and bear children. There were limited job opportunities for a woman, but from a wealthy family, she may have married someone. But being near-sighted, she was considered somehow deficient. Perhaps Laban feared there would be no match made for her.
So he schemes to marry both daughters to his nephew, who he sees as blessed by God, and from a wealthy family. “And Laban said unto him, I pray thee, if I have found favour in thine eyes, tarry: for I have learned by experience that the LORD hath blessed me for thy sake.” Genesis 30:27 He must have remembered the wealth that Abraham’s servant brought years ago, for his sister. He offers Rachel to Jacob for another 7 years of labor.
Ignoring God's Will
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. Genesis 29:27,28
Now, here is a temptation that Jacob had unforeseen. Angry at the deception Leah participated in, Jacob was unwilling to forgive her and embrace her as his wife. Having multiple wives was common practice, and what Laban suggested was not unusual. Jacob knew God wanted him to have one wife, but he was given a chance to marry the woman he loved. Did he stay true to his God or to his “heart?”
Unfortunately, Jacob chose to take a second wife, plus concubines, and his children continued the dysfunction of his forefathers. Marriage is one of the most important charges that God has given to us. The family unit was to copy the love shared by the Trinity, as well as the love God had for his creatures. As you continue to read Genesis, Jacob’s children copied the sins of adultery, favoritism, and deceitfulness.
Could God have helped Jacob’s marriage to Leah? "For with God nothing shall be impossible." Luke 1:37 "And they said, Moses suffered to write a bill of divorcement, and to put her away. And Jesus answered and said unto them, For the hardness of your heart he wrote you this precept." Mark 10:4,5 When we stop putting God in the center of the family unit, our hearts grow hard and selfish. It is our unloving heart that destroys our marriage—not sickness, finances or lust.
Leah Learns Who God Is
And when the LORD saw that Leah was hated, he opened her womb: but Rachel was barren. 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. Genesis 29:31,32
God does not curse or bless according to whim or our sacrifice. “That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust.” Matthew 5:45 "Then answered Peter and said unto him, Behold, we have forsaken all, and followed thee; what shall we have therefore?" Matthew 19:27 Do you think that if you are “good,” that you will be blessed? Do you bargain with God, listing all your “sacrifices” for the promised salvation? The ups and downs that we go through, seems so overwhelming, that we think that God is blessing or cursing us. It is our perception that clouds who God is in our hearts.
In the names of her sons, you can see the progression of Leah’s spiritual journey. Unable to see how she could have said “no” to her father, plus face an uncertain future as an unmarried woman—Leah places hope in her future with Jacob. Leah is crestfallen after her wedding night, but she has hope in the early years of her marriage and names her son Reuben. By her second pregnancy, Rachel hates Leah because she is still unable to become pregnant. Even after becoming pregnant for the third time, Jacob is still in love with Rachel and treats Leah as the unwanted, unloved wife.
Grace, Freely Given
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. Genesis 29:35
By the time she’s pregnant for the fourth time, raising her sons and watching her husband love her sister; Leah has found comfort in God’s blessings. She learns to be content and repent of her part in the deception; her spiritual maturity is evident in that she is able to praise God even though her marriage is still loveless.
For Leah, whether she willingly or unwillingly participated in her father’s deception, her frustration was in being married to a man she may or may not have even loved. But she did her duty as an obedient daughter, and married, rather than face an unmarried, uncertain future. And for her lies and years of troubled marriage, she was able to see that God loved her.
While she had no one to turn to, she did not blame God for her troubles, but instead trusted in Him to help her. Her prayers of thanks were not to her fertility goddess, but to the God of Jacob. "We love him [God], because he first loved us." 1 John 4:19 Perhaps Leah didn’t fully understand God’s love, but as she continued to pray to God, God became real to her. "Rejoice evermore. Pray without ceasing. In every thing give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you." 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18
Jacob, Leah and Rachel were faulty people, just like us. We will tell “white lies,” deceive God and others; pretend to be something we’re not. But thank God, He still loves us and will do all we allow Him to, in order to make us His children. "But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us." Romans 5:8
- Understanding Genesis 30: Dwell With Me
A Bible Study of Genesis 30.