From the start, Jacob in his youth was portrayed as a deceiver, which actually is what his name means. His twin Esau was a man of the land, a hunter, and the favorite of their father Isaac. Jacob, who preferred to remain at home, was the favorite of their mother Rebecca. Eventually, his mother helped him steal Esau’s birthright and blessing, and Jacob fled his brother’s wrath to a place called Haran, where his uncle Laban (his mother Rebecca's brother) lived.
This is where we meet Rachel, the beautiful second daughter of Laban. Jacob, who was by now humbled after his treachery and desperate for family ties and a place to call home, fell madly in love with Rachel. Rachel’s older sister Leah was also unmarried, but their father, Laban, agreed to let Jacob work seven years for Rachel’s hand in marriage (Genesis 29:18-20).
Jacob’s work for Laban wasn’t easy—it was hard, grueling labor, even though he was his nephew. Jacob worked with Laban’s large flock of sheep for the entirety of those seven years. But he was more than willing to do this in order to marry his beloved Rachel. Indeed, the Bible tells us those seven years of labor “seemed like only a few days to him because of his love for her” (Genesis 29:20).
Then, after seven years, Jacob was ready to receive his wife, Rachel—only to be tricked by his father-in-law. After the bridal feast, Jacob thought he would wake up with Rachel, but when morning came he realized he’d been fooled. Laban had sent Leah in to bed with him (Genesis 29:23). Jacob, the deceiver, had become the deceived.
When Jacob confronted Laban, Laban was resolute—in their culture, the younger daughter never marries before the older daughter. Jacob, as he had already lain with Leah, was stuck. But Laban told Jacob he’d give Rachel, too, as his wife if Jacob agreed to seven more years of labor. His love for Rachel being so great, Jacob agreed and was given Rachel at last. Now Jacob had two wives. Leah and Rachel, both of them sisters, one loved by her husband and the other not.
What ensued was a love triangle that expanded to include the sisters’ maidservants and many years of bitter jealousy and competition. Jacob continued to prefer Rachel. God, as a consolation to the unloved Leah, enabled Leah to become pregnant with four sons in quick succession—Reuben, Simeon, Levi, and Judah. But He prevented Rachel from conceiving.
In desperation over her barrenness, Rachel begged Jacob to lie with her servant, Bilhah, and thereby give her sons through this union (Genesis 30). Jacob agreed, and Bilhah went on to have two sons, Dan and Naphtali.
Leah, not to be outdone, realized she had stopped bearing children, so she gave over her servant, Zilpah, to Jacob, and Zilpah bore two sons: Gad and Asher (v. 11-13). Then Leah became pregnant again and bore Issachar, Zebulun, and a daughter, Dinah. Finally, the Bible tells us “God remembered Rachel” (Genesis 30:22) and allowed her to conceive. She gave birth to Joseph.
After these 11 sons and a daughter, Jacob took his family and returned to his homeland. Ultimately, Jacob made peace with his older brother, Esau. En route to resettle with his father, Isaac, Rachel died giving birth to Jacob’s 12th son, Benjamin. Jacob buried her in a tomb near Bethlehem and set up a pillar that reportedly still remains (Genesis 35:16-20).
Those 12 sons went on to become the 12 tribes of Israel. God had a plan that He would fulfill despite our all-too-human orchestrations, manipulations, and petty jealousies. Despite Rachel and Leah’s sisterly squabbles and the addition of two more wives into their already crowded marriage, God produced God’s people through what looked like a mess. Even though he loved Rachel in life, Jacob chose to be buried with his other wife Leah when he died. The complicated union of these three parents ultimately produced 12 sons who went on to be the 12 tribes of Israel, who God claimed as His own people. God’s purpose and plan prevailed and His original promise to Abraham was fulfilled.
What do you think of the people in this story?
Which person do you sympathize with in this story and why?
In your opinion, did Jacob deserve this kind of deception from his uncle?