Genesis 28:5–30:24 Jacob Gets a Family.
Key Notes: God loved a cheater. The cheater was cheated. The struggle of two sisters for their husband's affection. God loved Leah. A case-history of polygamy.
Jacob did not count the cost of deceiving his father and stealing from his brother. His mother and co-conspirator had to come to his rescue and send him off to safety. He was past forty years of age, as was his twin brother. (26:34; 27:46). He will be at the mercy of another schemer for the next 20 years.
27:41–45 Esau hated Jacob because he had lost the blessing and decided to kill him; then the blessing would have to be his. Rebekah knew Esau was comforting himself with the plot to kill, and told Jacob to go back to Paddan-aram until Esau’s anger cooled. But she told Isaac that the Hittite women were making her miserable and she did not want Jacob to marry a Canaanite. So she casually deceived Isaac again. Was Isaac so attached to Esau that he could not be told the truth?
28:1–5 Jacob was sent off to Paddan-Aram to find a wife with Isaac’s final blessing, the blessing of Abraham.
28:6–9 Trying to please his father, Esau married Ishmael's daughter Mahalath. He was trying to stay even with Jacob but he simply did not see the implications of his actions. He was spiritually tone-deaf.
28:10–22 Jacob made his way four-hundred miles to the north and east, as a penniless outcast, with "cheater" written all over him. On the first night out, Jacob went to sleep with his head on a rock. He saw God in a vision, above a stairway with angel-messengers going up to Him and down. The God of Abraham and Isaac spoke to him and promised him the land, north, south, east and west. He transmitted the covenant of Abraham to Jacob. And He said, "I will be with you; I will bring you back; I will not leave you until all is accomplished."
Jacob awoke and realized that leaving home was not leaving God. And God had not cast him out for his sinful ways. He responded to God as best he knew: if God would care for him and return him back in safety, he would be loyal to Him. He would make this place God's house ("Bethel" means house of God) and he would give God a tithe. [We do not know to whom the tithe would be given, humanly speaking.]
29:1–14 Near Haran, two weeks later, he came to a well where the shepherds knew Laban and Rachel. Jacob tried to get the shepherds away so he could meet Rachel privately but could not get them to move before Rachel came with her flock. Jacob single-handedly moved the well-cover for her. After an emotional greeting, Rachel ran home and her father, Laban, Jacob's uncle, came out to welcome him.
29:15–30. At Laban's invitation, Jacob agreed to work seven years for his younger daughter Rachel, a great beauty, and Laban implied that he would give her to Jacob. So Jacob worked seven years and claimed his (veiled) bride. But when the groom looked at his bride’s face in the morning, he saw that he had been given the older sister, Leah, not a great beauty. It was a serious disappointment, but the wedding party was going on and Laban agreed to give Rachel to Jacob after another week of years was over. Jacob was cheated but worked seven more years for Rachel. Jacob left no doubt about his preference for Rachel, but he had two wives and took care of both of them.
29:31–30:24. God loved Leah perhaps more than Jacob did.
•Leah birthed four sons in a row:
Reuben: "Look a son." "Now my husband will love me."
Simeon: "Hearing." "The Lord hears that I am hated."
Levi: "Attachment." "This time my husband will be joined to me."
Judah: "Praised." "This time I will praise the Lord."
Rachel was jealous, but Jacob could not help her infertility. So she donated Bilhah, her maid, to Jacob as a concubine to get children by her.
•Bilhah birthed two sons:
Dan: "Vindication; judged". "God has judged me...and given me a son".
Naphtali: "Wrestling". Named by Rachel, wrestling for Jacob's attention.
Leah had stopped bearing, but not to be outdone by her sister, she offered her maid, Zilpah, to Jacob as a concubine.
•Zilpah birthed two sons.
Gad: "Fortune; good luck."
Asher: "Happy". "The women will call me happy."
Rachel, in an angry exchange with Leah, traded Jacob to Leah for mandrakes (love-apples, an aphrodisiac or fertility aid, presumably for herself).
•Leah birthed two more sons and a daughter.
Issachar: "Reward". "God has given me my hire because I gave my maid to my husband."
Zebulun: "Dwelling" "Now my husband will dwell with me."
Dinah: "Vindication", a feminine form of Dan.
Finally, God heeded Rachel's prayers and gave her a son.
•Rachel birthed one son, Joseph: "May He add". "May the Lord add to me one more son."
Years later, she will have Benjamin. Gen.35:18
There are several small lessons from this passage.
*God went after Jacob, the lonely cheater, with words of promise, comfort and assurance. Will God do any less for you and me?
"…for He has said 'I will never leave you or forsake you.'" (Heb.13:5).
But Jacob is a very special person, an important figure in God's economy and we are not. However, He has put His seal upon us and given us His Spirit in our hearts as a guarantee. We are better off than Jacob.
"In Him you also, who have heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation and have believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, which is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of His glory." (Eph.1:13)
*Jacob saw God and angels ascending and descending from Him. This vision is a vivid example of God's communication with people. Jesus promised that in His days disciples would see what Jacob saw.
Jesus said "Truly, truly, I say to you, you will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man." (Jn.1:51). Jesus fulfilled that vision: He is God's communication with us. [I think Jesus' promise to Nathaniel was visually fulfilled at His Ascension.]
*Leah was rejected by Jacob, but not by God. Jacob would not have married her if he had not been deceived. And God loved Leah and not only gave her six sons, but the ones who would be most highly honored throughout history: Levi from whom came Moses, the great Lawgiver, Aaron, the first High Priest, and all of the priestly intermediaries for Israel. And then Judah, the one from whom David the King and David's Greater Son, Jesus Christ, would come forth.
*The beginnings of this family were scandalous and full of moral ambiguity. Marrying two sisters would be later forbidden. (Lev.18:18). Plural marriage and concubinage was against God's original order of "one flesh". (Gen.2:24). God did not condemn this polygamous mess, but demonstrated by a case-study why the Law is right. God also answered the prayers of these four desperate women all struggling for the recognition and affection of one man. And out of it come twelve tribes of Israel, and God's chosen people.
We should be encouraged to realize that God does not use perfect people [there aren't any] but those who honor Him. Our families may be messy too but God is at work in them also. Your offspring may be more important in God's economy than the pleasures of a happy marriage.