Jacob, as we begin to follow him in his journey from his father’s house to Padan-Aram, is on the way to his mother’s family. He needed no passport or visa, and could easily cross the borders of the lands through which he had to go. Born in the land of Canaan he learned to speak the language of its inhabitants and seems to have encountered no problem with speaking to those along the way, all the way to Haran itself. For he speaks to complete strangers at the well and is clearly understood by them.
His journey was a long one for that day. As the crow flies it was about four hundred miles from Hebron to Haran. And in that day this was quite a distance to walk. Figuring a steady three-mile-an-hour walk and being able to do so for ten hours a day, it will take him over thirteen days. And considering the fact that he must stop to eat, and even find food to eat, we may believe that it took him well over two weeks. For he could not walk as the crow flies but had to go around hills and ravines; and it was rather rugged country that lay between Hebron and Haran.
He is going to his uncle Laban for his life’s sake, because he is the object of his brother’s fierce hatred that had issued forth the threat to kill Jacob as soon as the days of mourning for their father’s death were past. But he also went there, as sent by his father, to get a God-fearing wife. On his mother’s part this was no mere guise to cover up the first purpose of fleeing for his safety’s sake. She and Isaac had been deeply grieved by the fact that Esau had married heathen wives of the Canaanites. And Jacob knew both his father’s reason, namely, to get a God-fearing wife? and his mother’s two reasons, which were to flee for his life and meanwhile get that God-fearing wife.
Without a road map or compass, and in a land where there were no highway markings, or for that matter numbered houses on marked off streets, he found his uncle Laban without any trouble. He had never been there before. A picture of Laban’s home had not been sent him—and did not all the tents of that day look alike, fashioned out of the same material and being of the same design? Yet Scripture silently slips over the journey from Bethel where God had appeared to him in a dream and his arrival in the very vicinity of Laban’s home, and where his daughter watered his sheep.
The providence, and the grace of God are here, and we must not, as is so often the case today, rule these out or ignore them. The psalmist declares in Psalm 73, “Thou shalt guide, me with Thy counsel and afterward receive me to glory.” And David sang,” The steps of a good man are ordered by the Lord.” Psalm 37:23. Indeed, Jacob was a good man. In himself he was a conniving man with an evil nature, for he came from the corrupt stock of fallen Adam and Eve. But in Christ he was a good man, a man to whom Christ’s goodness was imputed, a saint clothed with Christ’s holiness, a born-again child of God who was in Christ a new creature. Such God guides by His counsel so that they will be received up unto glory. Their steps are ordered by the Lord for the sake of His covenant and in faithfulness to all the covenant promises. And therefore it is not simply a case of divine providence that Jacob arrives where God ordered his steps to take him, but a matter of His grace.
He had spent some very lonely days and had a great deal of time to do a great deal of thinking. It cannot be doubted that his thoughts did run ahead to Haran, and that he gave much time to the matter of thinking about his errand to get a wife. He who had shown little if any interest in women and in getting a wife, even though his brother already had three, suddenly, in that providence of God, takes quite an interest; and one can almost feel a bit of eager anticipation in Jacob, revealed in his actions and words.
Consider that upon hearing that Laban’s daughter was coming with a flock of sheep, and thus as an eligible candidate to be his bride, Jacob wants these men at the well to leave and to take their sheep away. He had not yet seen Rachel’s beauty, for she is somewhat in the distance yet. And when Jacob says to the men, “Lo, it is yet high day, neither is it time that cattle should be gathered together; water yet the sheep, and go and feed them” he revealed how much he wanted them out of the way when this damsel in the distance would come to the well. His heart that was cold and unmoved before at the sight of a woman begins to beat rapidly and he is extremely eager to have a talk with this candidate for partnership for life with him as his wife. Suddenly he becomes quite interested in having a wife. Was he lonesome? Living so close to his mother and basking in her love before this, and now having been alone and without her love, did he long for a woman’s companionship? One thing is very clear. He wanted to be with this young damsel alone, and not simply because she was his cousin. He is not thinking of a cousin but of a wife.
And when she came near and he saw her beauty and that she was well favored, he fell in love at first sight! There can be no doubt about that. To him she was no more a candidate but the elected one. Note how eager he was to make a good impression upon her and gain favor in her eyes. To get those men away and on to their feeding grounds with their sheep, but also to show his prowess before this beautiful damsel, he single-handedly removes that huge stone that covered the well. He asked for no helping hand. He wanted no helping hand. Those eyes! That facial beauty! That well formed body! Jacob was overwhelmed; and this gave him that extra strength which enabled him to remove that stone, whereas no man ever thought of doing so by himself. They waited till all the sheep were there. It was too big a chore to be doing that every now and then. Let it be done jointly.
Then, too, look how he tries in every way to serve this beautiful woman with her sheep. He watered them for her. He will be of service to her, and, once again, not because she was a woman and was his cousin, but because he is smitten with love at first sight. He will not need to look any further for a wife. She is it! Nor can he restrain himself, but he kisses this woman whom he had just seen for the first time a few moments ago. No cousinly kiss was this, although he quickly told her that he was her cousin before she flares up—as she was quite capable of doing—for this liberty which he took in payment for watering her sheep. He wept, for such was the custom of the day. A little later on in that same day Laban also kisses Jacob and embraces him, for that also was the custom of the day.
But love at first sight is not what the Word of God demands of us. We are reminded of what Paul wrote in I Corinthians 15:46, “Howbeit that was not first which is spiritual, but that which is natural; and afterward that which is spiritual.” Now Paul is speaking about the body we shall receive in the day of Christ. We receive a natural body first; and then at the resurrection a spiritual body like to that of Christ’s. But the love of that natural body is first as well, and it so often rules one so powerfully that he never comes to the spiritual love of God in Christ. A pretty face, natural beauty will so take hold of a young man that he wants it so badly and will seek to get it even after he finds that there is no spiritual beauty in the soul of the possessor of a fair countenance and well-favored body. Is that not exactly what spelled the ruin of the first world in such a short time, so that the flood was necessary for the preservation of the church? The sons of God married the daughters of men because they saw that they were fair. Genesis 6:2. That they did not believe in God, that they worshipped idols, that there was no fear .of God in them made no difference. Love at first sight is always a love .because of the flesh. And that was the case with Jacob. O, indeed, this was a daughter from a family of believers. But one must look at the spiritual qualifications of the individual. David had a very evil son in Absalom; and Hezekiah had a wicked one in Manasseh who did evil in God’s sight until late in life. But for a long time he manifested himself to be anything but a child of God and revealed during this time that believers do not always bring forth children who will become believers. God’s grace changed him in later life. Never, however, may we marry on the assumption that because one is born in the covenant sphere, that this one will in time become a believer. Let one be sure that this future husband or wife is a believer before marriage.
Let the truth be faced once again that apart from God’s grace Jacob is like Esau, and Esau is like Jacob. Esau married unbelieving Canaanitish women—and no doubt because of their beauty—and then later on an unbelieving daughter of Ishmael. As far as Jacob’s love is concerned he is marrying an unbeliever. Rachel in fact reveals anything but a life of faith. And, the Lord willing, we will come to these evidences such as stealing her father’s idols and speaking anything but the language of faith when her second and last son was born. That is not the point here. The point is that Jacob loved Rachel for her beauty of face and well-favored body. Indeed, he knew that she was Laban’s daughter, and thus the daughter of a believer. He knew she was in the sphere of the covenant. But this is not the reason for his love for her. Nowhere in the book of Genesis, or elsewhere in Scripture, do we find one word that would even suggest that he loved her for her faith in God and love for Him. What we read is this, “Rachel was beautiful and well favored. And Jacob loved Rachel.” Genesis 29:17, 18. Not one word appears between these two statements; they must be connected together to teach us the reason for Jacob’s love for Rachel.
There is even more emphatic and definite evidence when we take the first statement quoted above together with what God connected it. The full verse ofGenesis 29:17 reads, “Leah was tender eyed; but Rachel was beautiful and well favored.” Note that “but” in between. Two sisters are presented as far as their outward appearances are concerned. One is not homely but has a tender, kind look in her eye that revealed her to be a woman who could love deeply and be amazingly loyal and faithful to her husband. The other had black eyes that flashed with life and beauty in a well-molded face. Jacob fell in love with the latter because of that physical, outward beauty. Later on he will find what that flashy beauty means as far as Rachel’s disposition and inner spiritual condition of heart and mind are concerned. That, too, the Lord willing, we shall see.
But does not the love of God for His own from eternity shine forth here in Jacob’s love at first sight? Before the children were born it was said of Jacob that God loved Him. He did. He loved him from eternity as one given to Christ, and as one for whom Christ would come to die. And Jacob’s carnality cannot change God’s love. At first sight God cannot love us, but catching sight of us as belonging to Christ He does nothing but love us. Jacob emulated Esau here and chose a wife for carnal, earthly reasons. The two brothers are alike in fallen Adam. But sovereign, eternal, unchangeable love of God in Christ makes the difference that one is blessed and serves as a father in Israel, and that the other remains outside the covenant sphere.