Arrival in Haran.* 1a After Jacob resumed his journey, he came to the land of the Kedemites. 2Looking about, he saw a well in the open country, with three flocks of sheep huddled near it, for flocks were watered from that well. A large stone covered the mouth of the well.b 3When all the shepherds were assembled there they would roll the stone away from the mouth of the well and water the sheep. Then they would put the stone back again in its place over the mouth of the well.
4Jacob said to them, “My brothers, where are you from?” “We are from Haran,” they replied. 5Then he asked them, “Do you know Laban, son of Nahor?” “We do,” they answered.c 6He inquired further, “Is he well?” “He is,” they answered; “and here comes his daughter Rachel with the sheep.” 7Then he said: “There is still much daylight left; it is hardly the time to bring the animals home. Water the sheep, and then continue pasturing them.” 8They replied, “We cannot until all the shepherds are here to roll the stone away from the mouth of the well; then can we water the flocks.”
9While he was still talking with them, Rachel arrived with her father’s sheep, for she was the one who tended them. 10As soon as Jacob saw Rachel, the daughter of his mother’s brother Laban, and the sheep of Laban, he went up, rolled the stone away from the mouth of the well, and watered Laban’s sheep. 11Then Jacob kissed Rachel and wept aloud. 12Jacob told Rachel that he was her father’s relative, Rebekah’s son. So she ran to tell her father. 13When Laban heard the news about Jacob, his sister’s son, he ran to meet him. After embracing and kissing him, he brought him to his house. Jacob then repeated to Laban all these things, 14and Laban said to him, “You are indeed my bone and my flesh.”*
Marriage to Leah and Rachel. After Jacob had stayed with him a full month, 15* Laban said to him: “Should you serve me for nothing just because you are a relative of mine? Tell me what your wages should be.” 16Now Laban had two daughters; the older was called Leah, the younger Rachel. 17Leah had dull eyes,* but Rachel was shapely and beautiful. 18Because Jacob loved Rachel, he answered, “I will serve you seven years for your younger daughter Rachel.”* 19Laban replied, “It is better to give her to you than to another man. Stay with me.” 20So Jacob served seven years for Rachel, yet they seemed to him like a few days because of his love for her.d
21Then Jacob said to Laban, “Give me my wife, that I may consummate my marriage with her, for my term is now completed.” 22So Laban invited all the local inhabitants and gave a banquet. 23At nightfall he took his daughter Leah and brought her to Jacob, and he consummated the marriage with her. 24Laban assigned his maidservant Zilpah to his daughter Leah as her maidservant. 25In the morning, there was Leah! So Jacob said to Laban: “How could you do this to me! Was it not for Rachel that I served you? Why did you deceive me?” 26Laban replied, “It is not the custom in our country to give the younger daughter before the firstborn. 27Finish the bridal week* for this one, and then the other will also be given to you in return for another seven years of service with me.”e
28Jacob did so. He finished the bridal week for the one, and then Laban gave him his daughter Rachel as a wife. 29Laban assigned his maidservant Bilhah to his daughter Rachel as her maidservant. 30Jacob then consummated his marriage with Rachel also, and he loved her more than Leah. Thus he served Laban another seven years.f
Jacob’s Children.* 31When the LORD saw that Leah was unloved, he made her fruitful, while Rachel was barren. 32Leah conceived and bore a son, and she named him Reuben;* for she said, “It means, ‘The LORD saw my misery; surely now my husband will love me.’”g 33She conceived again and bore a son, and said, “It means, ‘The LORD heard that I was unloved,’ and therefore he has given me this one also”; so she named him Simeon.* 34Again she conceived and bore a son, and she said, “Now at last my husband will become attached to me, since I have now borne him three sons”; that is why she named him Levi.* 35Once more she conceived and bore a son, and she said, “This time I will give thanks to the LORD”; therefore she named him Judah.* Then she stopped bearing children.h
* [29:1–14] Jacob’s arrival in Haran. The sight of Rachel inspires Jacob to the superhuman feat of rolling back the enormous stone by himself. The scene evokes the meeting of Abraham’s steward and Jacob’s mother Rebekah at a well (24:11–27).
The verse begins the story of Jacob’s time in Mesopotamia (29:1–31:54), which is framed on either side by Jacob’s time in Canaan, 25:19–28:22 and 32:1–36:43. In these chapters, Jacob suffers Laban’s duplicity as Esau had to suffer his, though eventually Jacob outwits Laban and leaves Mesopotamia a wealthy man. An elaborate chiastic (or envelope) structure shapes the diverse material: (A) Jacob’s arrival in Haran in 29:1–4; (B) contract with Laban in 29:15–20; (C) Laban’s deception of Jacob in 29:21–30; (D) the center, the birth of Jacob’s children in 29:31–30:24; (C′) Jacob’s deception of Laban in 30:25–43; (B′) dispute with Laban in 31:17–42; (A′) departure from Laban in 31:43–54. As the chiasm reverses, so do the fortunes of Laban and Jacob. Kedemites: see note on 25:6.
* [29:14] Bone and…flesh: the Hebrew idiom for English “flesh and blood” (cf. 2:23; Jgs 9:2; 2 Sm 5:1 = 1 Chr 11:1).
* [29:15–30] Laban’s deception and Jacob’s marriages. There are many ironies in the passage. Jacob’s protest to Laban, “How could you do this to me?” echoes the question put to Abraham (20:9) and Isaac (26:10) when their deceptions about their wives were discovered. The major irony is that Jacob, the deceiver of his father and brother about the blessing (chap. 27), is deceived by his uncle (standing in for the father) about his wife.
* [29:17] Dull eyes: in the language of beauty used here, “dull” probably means lacking in the luster that was the sign of beautiful eyes, as in 1 Sm 16:12 and Sg 4:1.
* [29:18] Jacob offers to render service (Jos 15:16–17; 1 Sm 17:25; 18:17) to pay off the customary bridal price (Ex 22:15–16; Dt 22:29).
* [29:27] The bridal week: an ancient wedding lasted for seven days; cf. Jgs 14:12, 17.
* [29:31–30:24] The note of strife, first sounded between Jacob and Esau in chaps. 25–27, continues between the two wives, since Jacob loved Rachel more than Leah (29:30). Jacob’s neglect of Leah moves God to make her fruitful (29:31). Leah’s fertility provokes Rachel. Leah bears Jacob four sons (Reuben, Levi, Simeon, and Judah) and her maidservant Zilpah, two (Gad and Asher). Rachel’s maidservant Bilhah bears two (Dan and Naphtali). After the mandrakes (30:14–17), Leah bears Issachar and Zebulun and a daughter Dinah. Rachel then bears Joseph and, later in the land of Canaan, Benjamin (35:18).
* [29:32] Reuben: the literal meaning of the Hebrew name is disputed. One interpretation is re’u ben, “look, a son!”, but here in Genesis (as also with the names of all the other sons of Jacob), it is given a symbolic rather than an etymological interpretation. Name and person were regarded as closely interrelated. The symbolic interpretation of Reuben’s name, according to the Yahwist source, is based on the similar-sounding ra’a be‘onyi, “he saw my misery.” In the Elohist source, the name is explained by the similar-sounding ye’ehabani, “he will love me.”
* [29:33] Simeon: in popular etymology, related to shama‘, “he heard.”
* [29:34] Levi: related to yillaweh, “he will become attached.”
* [29:35] Judah: related to ’odeh, “I will give thanks, praise.”