Jacob in Haran

“And Jacob kissed Rachel, and lifted up his voice, and wept. 

And Jacob told Rachel that he was her father’s brother, and that he was Rebekah’s son: and she ran and told her father. 

And it came to pass, when Laban heard the tidings of Jacob, his sister’s son, that he ran to meet him, and embraced him, and kissed him, and brought him to his house.” 

Gen. 29:11-13

With the Word of God echoing in his heart, Jacob left the open sanctuary of Bethel. God had promised to keep him in the place to which he was going, and it encouraged him as he made his way toward Haran. Little, however, did he realize the way in which this promise was to be kept. There cleaved still to Jacob the one great weakness which had troubled his life in the past and was to continue to do so for some time to come. He did not have the strength of faith to rely completely upon God. He loved the promises of God, but often he did not have the patience to wait for God to bring them to pass. Rather, he went forth in his own strength trying to realize these promises. In Padanaram, although God was to prosper him immensely, he was also to taste of the bitter results of this way of life.

Nonetheless, in spite of the promise of God, Jacob’s journey was sad and lonely. The fact that he was fleeing as a fugitive from the anger of his brother and did not know when he would be able to return to his father’s home weighed heavily upon his mind. The way which he had to travel was long, perhaps much longer than he had anticipated. Food he had not taken with him, and he had to obtain it when and where he could or go without. Finally, of the route which he was to take Jacob was often uncertain, and the fear constantly arose that he might be going astray. Thus burdened with fear and anxiety, he approached the land of Padanaram. 

But the hand of God’s providence cared for Jacob and brought him early one afternoon to a well where three shepherds were waiting to water their sheep. These shepherds were young more boys than men. Because individually they could not remove the great stone that was upon the well’s mouth, the shepherds of the locality had made an agreement to meet together at a certain time to water their sheep. Thus together they could remove the stone and no one would be left at the close of the day unable to obtain water. These three had come earlier than necessary, following the natural inclination which boys often have to loiter. 

Approaching the well, Jacob, being the oldest, opened the conversation by enquiring where the shepherds were from. When they informed him not only that they from Haran but that they were acquainted with Laban and his daughter Rachel was approaching at a distance with her father’s sheep, Jacob was overwhelmed with joy and relief. With strong feelings he awaited the approach of his cousin. But while he waited he noticed the inactivity of the young men. Being himself an experienced and efficient shepherd, such wasted time when the sheep could better be grazing in the fields displeased him. Further, he preferred that the young men should be gone before) Rachel arrived. Thus he admonished them to water their sheep and return to the field. But the lads were ready with their excuse. They had to wait until the other shepherds arrived. 

While Jacob had traveled the long and weary miles of his journey, a fugitive from his father’s home, he had looked forward with eager anticipation to his arrival in his uncle’s house where he could expect to be received with warmth and kindness. Now as his cousin Rachel stood before him his feelings were too pent up to express themselves. Speechless with emotion, he did the one thing he could. He, without assistance, rolled aside the great stone that covered the mouth of the well and watered his uncle’s sheep. This task having been completed, he turned to Rachel, kissed her, and wept. This all must have been much to the amazement of Rachel who did not know as yet who Jacob was. For ourselves we can only understand it if we bear in mind the deep emotional nature of the oriental peoples. It would be unacceptable for us to try to understand these actions of Jacob, as is often done, on the basis of “love at first sight.” This might seem more logical when compared with our modern way of life; but it would make Jacob’s actions much more presumptuous than we have any right to expect him to have been. 

Once Jacob had gained enough composure to tell Rachel who he was, she too responded with strong feeling by running immediately, without thinking of her flock, to tell her father. Laban in turn ran to meet Jacob and to greet him in typical oriental fashion, embracing him, kissing him, and with much hospitality bringing him into his home. After his many days of lonely travel, Jacob was deeply affected by this warm and hospitable welcome. Visiting with his uncle that evening, he poured out his heart to him telling him everything which had happened, telling him in fact too much, not realizing the deceptive ability which Laban had of turning everything to his own advantage. 

For one month Jacob tarried in the home of Laban during which time Laban had opportunity to make some very interesting observations about Jacob. In the first place, he saw that Jacob was in no hurry to return to his home. The fear of Esau remained and stifled any desire which Jacob might, have had to return to Canaan. In the second place, he found that Jacob was a very efficient shepherd. Not inclined to indolence,’ he immediately applied himself to helping in the care of Laban’s flocks. Inasmuch as this was his former occupation, and even more because the blessing of God rested upon his work, it soon became evident that the work which he did prospered. Jacob was a good man to have in his service. Finally, he observed that Jacob was developing a strong attachment for his daughter Rachel. Concerning this Jacob was troubled, for he desired to have Rachel as his wife but did not have anything to offer to Laban as a dowry. Nonetheless, Laban realized that such a marriage would be all to his favor. Although Jacob had no wealth at the time, he was to be the heir to great wealth of his father, a small part of which he had seen spectacularly displayed by the servant which had come many years before for Rebekah. 

Laban was unscrupulously clever. Taking these factors into consideration, he called Jacob to him and said, “Because thou art my brother, shouldest thou therefore serve me for naught? tell me, what shall thy wages be?” It was feigned generosity. Laban knew full well that there was only one thing which Jacob desired to have, the hand of Rachel in marriage. Further he was ashamed because he had no dowry. Lest his request might be denied, he was sure to make some offer which would be to Laban’s advantage. In this expectation Laban was not disappointed. Jacob offered to work for him seven years if he might have Rachel to wife. Seven years was the period of servitude for an Old Testament slave. Jacob gave himself to be a bondsman for his wife. There was not one bit of true love or generosity in the heart of Laban. To accept such an offer should have been repulsive to him. There was no real reason why he should have even expected a dowry. The purpose of a dowry was to give visible proof that the bridegroom had enough wealth to properly support a wife. Laban knew that, although Jacob had no wealth at the time, he was to receive an inheritance that would be more than ample. But Laban was concerned only with his own advantage. As though with pious words to seal the agreement, he replied, “It is better that I give her to thee, than that I should give her to another man: abide with me.” In effect he sold his daughters, as they later observed, “Are we not counted of him strangers? for he hath sold us,” Gen. 31:14

If the part that Laban played in this agreement was serious, even more serious was the part played by Jacob. Not so much because he gave himself in bondage to Laban for seven years, and later for even another seven. That was a foolish offer on his part and quite unnecessary. The error was that thereby he sought to obtain the hand of Rachel in marriage. By so doing he was once again impetuously doing things his own way when he should have waited in faith on God. 

Rachel was a beautiful woman. The Scriptures tell us that explicitly. She possessed all of the physical characteristics that combine to make a woman pleasing to the eye. In addition she had that vivacious approach to life that often seems so desirable, that evasive something which we call personality, that lively way of living which gives sparkle to the eyes and furnishes the perfecting touch to beauty. It seems that Jacob fell under her charm almost from the first moment that he saw her and continued so until her dying day. But there was another and more important side to Rachel which was not so beautiful. Rachel was spiritually very weak. This is clearly demonstrated in the record which we have of her later life. She maintained a very jealous and unspiritual attitude toward her sister, her handmaid, and their children. When they left Haran, it was she who took along her father’s images. In addition, although Jacob loved her very deeply, she did not return this love in equal measure. Much like her father, she was a very selfish, self-centered person. This is not to say that she was necessarily a total unbeliever, but, if there was within her a principle of true life, it was very weak, not strong enough to make her a good covenant wife and mother.

In contrast to Rachel, Leah, we read, was tender eyed. By this is meant that Leah lacked that sparkle of appearance and personality that makes a person pleasing to all. She was shy rather than lively, and it affected her whole appearance. But also in contrast to Rachel, Leah was spiritually much stronger. Her fear of God was evidenced in the names which she gave her sons. She maintained a deep and spiritual love, for Jacob founded principally upon her love for the covenant and its promises. It was she that God had chosen to bring forth the line of generations from which would come the Christ. 

Jacob had in mind when he came to Padanaram to obtain for himself a wife. He traveled all of that distance because he knew that his wife must be from the line of covenant generations. But when he arrived in Padanaram, he did not have the patience to wait for God to point out who that wife should be. He allowed himself to fall under the superficial charm of Rachel’s beauty and thereby neglected to take into consideration the more important spiritual condition of her heart. Having made his choice in his own strength without God, he also proceeded to consummate his plans without God. Thus it was that he made his very foolish agreement with Laban. 

If we may be allowed to speculate hypothetically, we might try to imagine what would have happened had Jacob been more spiritual in choosing his wife; then, God might have spared him from involvement with Rachel and Leah alone would have been his wife; then, he might not have made the foolish commitments that kept him for fourteen and more years in Padanaram removed from the land of promise; then, he might have been spared from the sorrows of a divided house such as always results from polygamy. But Jacob’s greatest weakness still cleaved to him. He had not the strength to trust completely in God. God was with him as He had promised to be, chastising him that he might be delivered from this sin. 

—B.W.