SOMETIMES GOD’S PROVIDENCE TEACHES US PAINFUL LESSONS THROUGH THE SCHOOL OF HARD KNOCKS
You have all heard of the school of hard knocks – those painful experiences that God’s providence brings into our life to hack off our rough edges and transform our inner character.
Jacob is coming off a mountaintop spiritual experience where God has revealed Himself in a special way and reinforced the promises of the Abrahamic Covenant. God has been promised to be with Jacob and bless him and his offspring in abundant fashion. You might expect that Jacob’s life would now be a smooth path of upward spiritual growth as he lives out the faith of his spiritual fathers – Abraham and Isaac.
But instead, we find that Jacob seems to give no attention at all to seeking God’s will in prayer or depending on Him in faith. As you read through this episode the lack of mention of God should be alarming – especially in contrast with the parallel episode of Abraham’s servant seeking a bride for Isaac in chap. 24. Jacob still has not owned up to his fundamental sin issues of selfishly seeking his own agenda via deceit and lies and manipulation – both in his relationship with his older brother Esau and his aged father Isaac. He has serious character flaws that God must expose and address. As is typically the case, God works by His foundational harvest principle: whatever a man sows — that shall he also reap. It should not be surprising to see the schemer out-schemed; the deceiver caught in deception; the master manipulator finding his match when it comes to exploitation and manipulation. Jacob enters into the school of hard knocks and will spend 20 years learning some very painful lessons.
What did each person want in this scenario and what did they get?
– What did Jacob want? Rachel for his beloved bride – making decisions according to the flesh
– What did Laban want? To marry off both of his daughters into good situations – Operating as a scheming, unscrupulous scoundrel
– What did Rachel want? A husband that loved her and offspring
– What did Leah want? A husband that loved her and offspring
– What did God want to serve His kingdom purposes??? Priestly and Kingly line to fulfil promises of Abrahamic Covenant; wanted to change Jacob’s heart to live by faith
Is this story primarily about Rachel or about Leah?? Note that God takes up for the unloved wife and uses her to produce the key offspring that will lead to the priestly and kingly lines that advance God’s Kingdom Purposes.
Maybe God has you enrolled in the school of hard knocks in some fashion??
I. (:1-8) THE SCHOOL OF HARD KNOCKS IS ADMINISTERED BY GOD’S PROVIDENTIAL DIRECTION
A. (:1-3) Providence Leads to the Well of Opportunity
1. (:1) Journey Into the Unknown
“Then Jacob went on his journey, and came to the land of the sons of the east.”
“lifted up his feet” – only place that this unique idiom occurs in the OT; after the encouragement of the vision of the ladder and the reinforcement of God’s promised blessing, Jacob was able to set off on his mission with renewed enthusiasm and confidence; new bounce in his step
Someplace in the vicinity of Haran – Jacob was not exactly sure of his location;
Keith Krell: Jacob is traveling to Haran, 400 miles away from Bethel. This is a major journey for him, that didn’t happen overnight.
Look at how Jacob was sent off on his own without any camels loaded with gifts (in contrast to mission of Abraham’s servant in chap. 24)
2. (:2a) Vision of the Well of Opportunity
“And he looked, and saw a well in the field, and behold, three flocks of sheep were lying there beside it, for from that well they watered the flocks.”
Well was an important meeting place
This was a good place for Jacob to check his GPS bearings – how close was he to his intended destination?
Curious sight to him: Why weren’t the sheep grazing in the middle of the day?
3. (:2b-3) Obstacle that Gives One Pause
“Now the stone on the mouth of the well was large. When all the flocks were gathered there, they would then roll the stone from the mouth of the well, and water the sheep, and put the stone back in its place on the mouth of the well.”
Emphasis on the size of the stone covering the well – would not usually be removed by just one shepherd
Why was the well covered?
MacArthur: Perhaps due to the fact that this well of precious stored water could evaporate rapidly in the sun, or be filled with blowing dust, or used indiscriminately, it had been covered and its use regulated.
Don’t want anything to fall into the well and pollute the water;
Also makes it difficult for just one person to access the water – although Jacob did – displaying almost superhuman strength that was remarkable
Why did they wait until all the flocks had arrived before opening up the well?
Parunak: There may be a custom of fairness. If water is scarce, it might be considered selfish for one shepherd to water his flock and perhaps deplete the supply before the others have arrived.
Seems like the owner of the well controlled the distribution of the water – that was the significance of the arrival of Rachel since Laban must have owned the well
B. (:4-6a) Providence Confirms the Lord is Leading — Series of 3 Confirming Questions
1. (:4) Region – Narrowing Focus to Haran
a. Question 1
“And Jacob said to them, ‘My brothers, where are you from?’”
b. Answer 1
“And they said, ‘We are from Haran.’”
2. (:5) Relationships – Networking to Connect with Laban
a. Question 2
“And he said to them, ‘Do you know Laban the son of Nahor?’”
Actually the grandson of Nahor
b. Answer 2
“And they said, ‘We know him.’”
Pretty short answers; does not look like these shepherds are bonding with this stranger who is making so many inquiries
3. (:6a) Report – Noting his overall condition and level of well-being
a. Question 3
“And he said to them, ‘Is it well with him?’”
Not only interested in his physical health but his overall well-being and prosperity
b. Answer 3
“And they said, ‘It is well,’”
C. (:6b) Providence Creates a Divine Appointment
“and behold, Rachel his daughter is coming with the sheep.”
Now they add an important unsolicited tidbit of information
Name means “ewe lamb” – play on words – here the shepherdess is coming with her sheep
D. (:7-8) Providence Resists the Inflated Ego of Human Wisdom and Self Importance
1. (:7) Commands — to take control of the situation
“And he said, ‘Behold, it is still high day; it is not time for the livestock to be gathered. Water the sheep, and go, pasture them.’”
Very intrusive for Jacob to insert himself here and boss around these shepherds – insinuating that they are lazy and shirking their responsibilities
What was Jacob’s motivation here? Some have suggested that he wanted to be able to meet with Rachel without being observed by these other shepherds
2. (:8) Cannots – You don’t understand the situation
“But they said, ‘We cannot, until all the flocks are gathered, and they roll the stone from the mouth of the well; then we water the sheep.’”
They were not intimidated by Jacob’s aggressive, bossy behavior; they stand their ground and make a case for the legitimacy of their delay in watering their flocks
Deffinbaugh: A well was a valuable resource, much as an oil well would be today. As such, it had to belong to somebody, and that person would prescribe how and when the well was to be used, and probably at what price. The agreement between the well owner and the shepherds seems to be that the well could be used once a day. The shepherds must first be gathered at the well with their flocks. Then the owner or his hired servants (“they,” verse 8) would roll the large stone away and the sheep could be watered, perhaps in the order that the flocks arrived. This would explain why the shepherds and their flocks were there so early. In this way, what was most profitable (this is what Jacob’s question was getting at) was not practical. The owner’s stipulations must be adhered to.
II. (:9-14) THE SCHOOL OF HARD KNOCKS MIGHT PRESENT ITSELF AS A BED OF ROSES
A. (:9) Dream Situation
“While he was still speaking with them, Rachel came with her father’s sheep, for she was a shepherdess.”
Only time in Scriptures we see a female identified as a shepherdess;
She must have been pretty resourceful or she would have been taken advantage of in such an isolated responsibility
B. (:10) Opportunity to Show Off
“And it came about, when Jacob saw Rachel the daughter of Laban his mother’s brother, and the sheep of Laban his mother’s brother, that Jacob went up, and rolled the stone from the mouth of the well, and watered the flock of Laban his mother’s brother.”
Hughes: The text has made it clear that removing the stone from the well was a communal task performed by the gathered shepherds, because of the stone’s large size (vv. 2, 3). But in a burst of emotion Jacob strode up and wrenched it away single-handedly (indeed, he was from the same gene pool as Esau). Jacob was the man!
Keith Krell: Isn’t it amazing how strong a guy can be when he wants to impress a woman? This task should have taken several men but once Jacob sees Rachel coming with her flock of sheep he single-handedly rolls back the stone.5 He wants her to know how wonderful he is. What a dashing, strong, helpful man he is—when Rachel is watching! He removes the stone before he greets her, although it would have been normal to greet someone before you do anything else. But Jacob was pretending he was involved in rolling away the stone before she arrived! He then even feeds Rachel’s sheep. All I have to say is, “Jake, you’re a sly ole’ dog!” . . .
Jacob has not even introduced himself to Rachel – he first wants to show that he is the man!
C. (:11-12) Excited About the Prospects
1. (:11) Emotional Reaction
“Then Jacob kissed Rachel, and lifted his voice and wept.”
Again, a very aggressive action on the part of Jacob – followed by passionate display of emotion; he is excited about how God’s Providence has arranged such a divine appointment
2. (:12) Excitement Mounts
“And Jacob told Rachel that he was a relative of her father and that he was Rebekah’s son, and she ran and told her father.”
Looks like everything is falling into place; things could not be going better
Rachel responds with a similar level of excitement
D. (:13-14) Reception as a Valued Family Member
1. (:13a) Positive Reception
“So it came about, when Laban heard the news of Jacob his sister’s son,
that he ran to meet him,
and embraced him and kissed him,
and brought him to his house.”
Perhaps Laban was surprised to find that Jacob did not come bearing a large collection of gifts along with an expensive dowry payment; yet he graciously receives him into his house
2. (:13b) Prepared Report
“Then he related to Laban all these things.”
Laban must have been disappointed to discover that Jacob came to him impoverished rather than laden with expensive gifts. But he saw the opportunity to exploit his physical prowess and work ethic to cause him to be productive in his household. He also must have understood that Jacob was in line to inherit a great fortune.
3. (:14a) Preferential Relationship
“And Laban said to him, ‘Surely you are my bone and my flesh.’”
Laban recognizes the validity of Jacob’s family credentials after hearing the story of his background and his mission to find a bride
4. (:14b) Prolonged Repast
“And he stayed with him a month.”
It had been a long journey; Jacob was content to rest up before addressing his need for a bride and his desire to return to Canaan
Hughes: This third patriarch needed some substance. He needed some trimming. He needed a compassionate spirit. He needed to experience some pain. He needed to learn humility. He needed some added dimensions to his character. He needed to grow in faith. He needed to stop trusting in himself.
III. (:15-29) THE SCHOOL OF HARD KNOCKS CAN BITE WITH A VENGEANCE
A. (:15-20) Contracted Service for Rachel – 7 Years of Indentured Servitude
1. (:15) Initiation of the Contract — Sounds Like Fair Treatment
“Then Laban said to Jacob, ‘Because you are my relative, should you therefore serve me for nothing? Tell me, what shall your wages be?’”
But we know from later in the text that Laban is going to renege on his contracted agreement multiple times so that Jacob is going to be extremely frustrated in working for him (31:7); ironic that the cheater was now going to experience what it was like to be cheated and defrauded
What goes around comes around!
2. (:16-17) Heart of the Contract = Jacob’s Desire for Rachel
This was not primarily about just earning money – it was earning money for the purpose of providing a suitable dowry payment for a bride
a. (:16) Difference in Age Order
“Now Laban had two daughters; the name of the older was Leah, and the name of the younger was Rachel.”
Hughes: The older-younger sibling conflict introduced here is ominous, conjuring up the misery between Jacob and Esau. Jacob’s past was catching up with him, and it would do so with a vengeance.
b. (:17) Difference in Outward Beauty and Temperament
“And Leah’s eyes were weak, but Rachel was beautiful of form and face.”
Alford: dull, without brilliancy and freshness. In the East the clear expressive lustrous eye is accounted the chief feature in female beauty. It was compared to the eyes of the gazelle: see 1 Sam. xvi. 12. On the contrary, Rachel’s beauty was complete: she was beautiful in form and beautiful in look, both in figure and in face.
Deffinbaugh: If we are to take the word rak, which is rendered “weak” in 29:17, in its normal sense, then, we cannot think in terms of defect but in terms of delicacy. In contrast with Rachel, who may have had fire or a sparkle in her eyes, Leah had gentle eyes. . . In connection with the word rak, I would conclude that the disposition of Leah was one of gentleness and tenderness, while Rachel seems to have had a more fiery and aggressive temperament. Regardless of whether or not my conclusions are accepted, the idea of defect in Leah is highly suspect and without precedent in the scriptural use of these terms. [Yet look at the contrast presented in the next phrase which speaks of beauty rather than aggressive temperament.]
There seems to be, then, a significant contrast here between Rachel and Rebekah. Rebekah was selected for Isaac by Abraham’s servant on the basis of divine guidance and because of personal qualities which assured him that she would be a fine wife for Isaac. Rachel, on the other hand, was selected by Jacob for himself, but without any mention of her personal qualities, only a description of her beauty. Rebekah’s beauty was an additional plus, an unexpected fringe benefit; Rachel’s beauty was the essence of her selection. The red warning lights should already be flashing in our minds.
3. (:18-19) Terms of the Contract – Dowry Payment for Rachel as Jacob’s Bride
a. (:18) Terms Proposed
“Now Jacob loved Rachel, so he said, ‘I will serve you seven years for your younger daughter Rachel.’”
Parunak: Jacob’s proposal shows how taken he is with Rachel.
• Deut 22:29 sets the maximum bride price at 50 shekels.
• Casual labors in Babylon received between 6 and 12 shekels a year
(Driver and Miles, in Wenham).
• So Jacob’s offer is worth between 42 and 84 shekels, a very handsome offer.
b. (:19) Terms Accepted
“And Laban said, ‘It is better that I give her to you than that I should give her to another man; stay with me.’”
4. (:20) Fulfillment of the Contract
“So Jacob served seven years for Rachel and they seemed to him but a few days because of his love for her.”
B. (:21-26) Conniving Substitution of Leah
1. (:21) Demanding What is Owed
“Then Jacob said to Laban, ‘Give me my wife, for my time is completed, that I may go in to her.’”
2. (:22-24) Delivery of the Bride
a. (:22) Feast
“And Laban gathered all the men of the place, and made a feast.”
Parunak: The party is described as a “feast,” Heb. mishteh. The term is a general one for a banquet, but etymologically means “a drinking party,” and no doubt the wine Laban served helped further his deception, as he substitutes bleary-eyed Leah for beautifully Rachel.
b. (:23) Consummation
“Now it came about in the evening that he took his daughter Leah, and brought her to him; and Jacob went in to her.”
c. (:24) Maid
“Laban also gave his maid Zilpah to his daughter Leah as a maid.”
3. (:25-26) Deception Exposed in the Morning
a. (:25) Outrage
“So it came about in the morning that, behold, it was Leah! And he said to Laban, ‘What is this you have done to me? Was it not for Rachel that I served with you? Why then have you deceived me?’”
Jacob here gets a taste of his own medicine;
The deceiver finds out how it feels to be the one deceived.
b. (:26) Rationalization
“But Laban said, ‘It is not the practice in our place, to marry off the younger before the first-born.’”
C. (:27-29) Consummated Service for Rachel – Additional Burdensome 7 Years
1. (:27) Feast
“Complete the week of this one, and we will give you the other also for the service which you shall serve with me for another seven years.”
Parunak: “Leah’s week” (vv. 27, 28) refers to the week of the wedding feast. Jacob did not have to wait another seven years for Rachel; he got her a week later, and then labored for seven more years to pay off the debt.
2. (:28) Consummation
“And Jacob did so and completed her week, and he gave him his daughter Rachel as his wife.”
So Jacob got 2 brides a week apart – created quite a rivalry situation
3. (:29) Maid
“Laban also gave his maid Bilhah to his daughter Rachel as her maid.”
(:30) CLOSING SUMMARY
A. (:30a) Preferential Love
“So Jacob went in to Rachel also, and indeed he loved Rachel more than Leah,”
B. (:30b) Painful Labor
“and he served with Laban for another seven years.”
Parunak: Laban certainly has outsmarted Jacob—but what a scoundrel he is. How inconsiderate of Leah’s feelings to use her in this way. She is foisted on a husband who does not love her, and then supplanted with a rival immediately after her honeymoon. Perhaps Jacob needs to see this ugly face of the flesh in order to realize the sinfulness of his own past actions. It is all part of God’s gracious process to purge him of the flesh and make him a man of faith.