Review of Last Week and How it Connects to This Week:
Last week’s lesson dealt with Jacob’s dream at Bethel. He had an encounter with God that changed his life. Jacob dreams of a ladder (or stairway) reaching to heaven with angels ascending and descending on it. In the same way that God spoke to Abraham and Isaac, God now speaks to Jacob and tells him “I am the Lord, the God of Abraham your Father and the God of Isaac; the land on which you lie I will give to you and to your offspring”. God reassures Jacob with the same promises he had given to his father and grandfather. God continues to reassure Jacob telling him “I am with you and will keep you wherever you go”. When Jacob awakens from sleep he declares “Surely the Lord is in the place – and I did not know it”! He takes the stone he used for a pillow and sets it up as a pillar and called the place Beth el (the house of God). Jacob then makes a vow. “If God will be with me, and will keep me in this way that I go, and will give me bread to eat and clothing to wear, so that I come again to my father’s house in peace, then the Lord shall be my God,”. Last week’s lesson is a direct connection to this week as Jacob’s story continues to unfold. This week we learn of Jacob’s marriages and the beginning of what will become the twelve tribes of Israel. Boyd’s and Townsend Title this week’s lesson “God Blesses Jacob and Rachel”. Standard titles the lesson “God’s Blessing”. The Scripture text is Genesis 30:22-32, 43.
In between last week’s lesson and this week a lot has transpired. Jacob finally arrives Haran and meets Rachel at a well. This is the same way his father Isaac met Rebekah. Rachel’s father is Laban and Laban is Jacob’s uncle. After staying with Laban for a month, Laban asks Jacob “what shall your wages be”? One of the reasons Jacob fled Canaan was to find a wife. He loved Rachel and agreed to work seven years to marry her. But of course, that’s not how this story will go. In summary, Jacob the trickster will be tricked by Laban. After working seven years for Rachel, Laban gives Jacob Leah the eldest daughter instead. It is ironic that Jacob the younger brother supplanted Esau and now Leah the older sister supplants Rachel the younger sister. This seems to be an excellent example of “what goes around comes around”.
Since Jacob loves Rachel he agrees to work an additional seven years to marry her. In the interim, Jacob begins a family that will grow to twelve sons and one daughter (Dinah). Leah births four sons. Rachel who is barren but determined to have a family gives Jacob Bilhah (her servant) who births two sons. Leah’s servant Zilpah births two sons. Then Leah births two more sons and Dinah the only daughter. Finally, Rachel births Joseph. Benjamin the twelfth son would be born later.
What takes place in this passage:
The text begins with God “remembering” or blessing Rachel through conceiving her first child, Joseph. This seems to be a turning point for Jacob. Now that Rachel has borne Joseph, Jacob asks Laban to let him leave. Laban responds by telling him “I have learned by divination that the Lord has blessed me because of you”. Laban tells Jacob to “name his price” (wages). Jacob finally changes his mind and agrees to stay if Laban will give him all the spotted and speckled sheep, goats and cattle. This ordinarily would seem like a great deal for Laban since only a small number of sheep, goats, and cattle would have spots. But that’s not how this story goes. Jacob’s herds would grow so much that he became “exceedingly rich and had large flocks, and male and female slaves, and camels and donkeys”.
After Rachel conceives, the text describes how Jacob grows wealthy. The NISB explains that wealth is equivalent to well-being. For the ancient patriarchs wealth and well-being meant possessing land, family, animals, and respect. Having these things was part of the divine blessing granted by God (NISB). In the larger picture of what transpires between last week’s lesson, is the use of divination by Laban to retain Jacob’s service. Jacob uses divination to obtain sheep, goats, and cattle. While divination is condemned in Deuteronomy 18 the NISB explains that “Certain religious practices were regarded differently at different times and places in the biblical period”. So just because it’s acceptable in Genesis 30 does not mean it is acceptable at a later date in history. Additionally, we see both Rachel and Leah giving their maids to Jacob to bear children. This was the case with Sarah and Hagar also. While that was acceptable conduct in the ancient Hebrew people’s day, it is certainly not acceptable today. However, the popular television show The Handmaid’s Tale would have us imagine how forcing women into sexual servitude could become a possibility.
Key Characters in the text:
Jacob – He is the sly, deceptive, selfish, and cunning second born son of Isaac and Rebekah. In this text the trickster has already been tricked. He serves Laban (his uncle) 14 years to marry Rachel.
Leah – She is the elder daughter of Laban. She becomes Jacob’s first wife (by Laban’s deception). She does not share her sister’s beauty. She is described as tender-eyed but gives Jacob six sons (two from her maid Zilpah).
Rachel – She is Laban’s younger daughter. She is described as beautiful and is also a shepherdess. “In the entire Bible there is only one scene of a man kissing a woman” and Rachel and Jacob are the actors (Gen 29:11). Song of Solomon is a description of what she wants, this is a description of what happens. Jacob works 14 years to earn her in marriage.
Laban – He is Jacob’s uncle (Rebekah’s brother). Also known for tricking his nephew Jacob into servitude for 14 years to marry his daughter Rachel. Laban substituted Leah on Jacob’s wedding night for Rachel. He seems to always try to get an advantage over other people for selfish purposes.
Key Words (notnecessarily in the text, but good for discussion):
- Divination – the determination of Divine intentions by some kind of ritual procedure. Both Laban and Jacob practice it but divination is condemned in other places in the Bible. The KJV uses the word “experience” in all other places the Hebrew word used here means some form of “enchantment”.
- Manipulate – to manage or influence skillfully, especially in an unfair manner. Both Laban and Jacob manipulate each other.
Themes in this Lesson:
- What goes around comes around
- When the trickster gets tricked.
- Reaping what you sow.
1. Jacob left Canaan fleeing from his brother with instructions from his mother to find a wife in her homeland. He ended up staying 14 years just for Rachel and then even longer. Was this long timeframe part of God’s plan?
2. Before fleeing Canaan Jacob receives the patriarchal blessing from his father that included “Blessed be he that blesseth thee”. Was it Laban’s deception that caused Laban to become rich or Jacob’s patriarchal blessing?
Luke 12:3 therefore whatever you have said in the dark will be heard in the light,
Preview of Next Week’s Lesson:
Next week is the first lesson in the winter quarter. The winter quarter will focus on our love for God, Gods love for us, and close with love songs that glorify God. The first lesson is taken from Deuteronomy 6 and deals with the ideas of love and devotion to God and obeying God.