Jacob Meets His Match

Genesis 29:1-30

1 So Jacob went on his journey and came to the land of the people of the East. 2 And he looked, and saw a well in the field; and behold, there were three flocks of sheep lying by it; for out of that well they watered the flocks. A large stone was on the well’s mouth. 3 Now all the flocks would be gathered there; and they would roll the stone from the well’s mouth, water the sheep, and put the stone back in its place on the well’s mouth. 4 And Jacob said to them, “My brethren, where are you from?” And they said, “We are from Haran.” 5 Then he said to them, “Do you know Laban the son of Nahor?” And they said, “We know him.” 6 So he said to them, “Is he well?” And they said, “He is well. And look, his daughter Rachel is coming with the sheep.” 7 Then he said, “Look, it is still high day; it is not time for the cattle to be gathered together. Water the sheep, and go and feed them.” 8 But they said, “We cannot until all the flocks are gathered together, and they have rolled the stone from the well’s mouth; then we water the sheep.”

9 Now while he was still speaking with them, Rachel came with her father’s sheep, for she was a shepherdess. 10 And it came to pass, when Jacob saw Rachel the daughter of Laban his mother’s brother, and the sheep of Laban his mother’s brother, that Jacob went near and rolled the stone from the well’s mouth, and watered the flock of Laban his mother’s brother. 11 Then Jacob kissed Rachel, and lifted up his voice and wept. 12 And Jacob told Rachel that he was her father’s relative and that he was Rebekah’s son. So she ran and told her father. 13 Then it came to pass, when Laban heard the report about Jacob his sister’s son, that he ran to meet him, and embraced him and kissed him, and brought him to his house. So he told Laban all these things. 14 And Laban said to him, “Surely you are my bone and my flesh.” And he stayed with him for a month.

15 Then Laban said to Jacob, “Because you are my relative, should you therefore serve me for nothing? Tell me, what should your wages be?|” 16 Now Laban had two daughters: the name of the elder was Leah, and the name of the younger was Rachel. 17 Leah’s eyes were delicate, but Rachel was beautiful of form and appearance. 18 Now Jacob loved Rachel; so he said, “I will serve you seven years for Rachel your younger daughter.” 19 And Laban said, “It is better that I give her to you than that I should give her to another man. Stay with me.” 20 So Jacob served seven years for Rachel, and they seemed only a few days to him because of the love he had for her. 21 Then Jacob said to Laban, “Give me my wife, for my days are fulfilled, that I may go in to her.” 22 And Laban gathered together all the men of the place and made a feast. 23 Now it came to pass in the evening, that he took Leah his daughter and brought her to Jacob; and he went in to her. 24 And Laban gave his maid Zilpah to his daughter Leah as a maid. 25 So it came to pass 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 you? Why then have you deceived me?” 26 And Laban said, “It must not be done so in our country, to give the younger before the firstborn. 27 Fulfill her week, and we will give you this one also for the service which you will serve with me still another seven years.” 28 Then Jacob did so and fulfilled her week. So he gave him his daughter Rachel as wife also. 29 And Laban gave his maid Bilhah to his daughter Rachel as a maid. 30 Then Jacob also went in to Rachel, and he also loved Rachel more than Leah. And he served with Laban still another seven years.

In our study of Genesis we have been following the story of Jacob over the last few weeks. We have seen Jacob obtain both the birthright from his brother Esau and the blessing from his father Isaac through cunning, trickery and deceit. Isaac later confirmed God’s blessing on Jacob and sent him away to find a wife from his relatives in Haran. In Genesis 28, we saw the Lord broke into Jacob’s life, promised to bless him, conferred to him all of the covenant promises God made to Abraham and Isaac, and assured Jacob that He would be with him wherever he went (Gen. 28:13‑ 15).

Genesis 29:1 begins, “So Jacob went on his journey”—literally, “And Jacob lifted up his feet.” Steven Cole comments, “he had a new bounce in his steps as he continued his journey.”[1] Jacob now had a relationship with the LORD and a God-given destiny to fulfill. Jacob “came to the land of the people of the East,” (Gen. 29:1) but he still has a long way to go in his spiritual maturity. His years in Haran will be years of spiritual formation for Jacob. “In Haran, the Lord holds up a mirror so that Jacob might see himself. What Jacob has done to others is now done to him; he reaps what he has sowed.”[2]

The for today’s sermon is, “Jacob Meets His Match.” Jacob meets his match in two ways in this chapter. On the one hand this story is about how Jacob meets his “match”, that is to say, his wife, Rachael. But on the other hand this story is also about how Jacob meets his “match”, that is to say, Laban, who proved to be just as crafty and deceptive as Jacob.[3] This story is going to illustrate again the theme we have seen throughout Genesis: In spite of sin and its consequences, God’s promises continue.

This narrative divides into three sections: 1) Jacob meets Rachel (Gen. 29:1-12); Jacob meets Laban and makes a deal with him (Gen. 29:13-20); finally Laban tricks Jacob into marrying the wrong woman and serving longer (Gen. 29:21-30).

1. Jacob meets Rachel (Gen. 29:1-12)

This is the second “woman at the well” story that we have in Genesis. Remember in Genesis 24 Abraham’s servant met Rebekah at a well in Haran and she would become the wife of Isaac. Here, Jacob meets Rachel at a well in Haran and she will become his wife. Even a surface reading of Genesis 29 will remind you of the similarities with Genesis 24. In Genesis 24, Abraham sent his servant to find a wife for Isaac from among his relatives in Haran (Gen. 24:4). In Genesis 29, Isaac has sent Jacob to Haran to find a wife who is a daughter of his mothers’ brother Laban (Gen. 29:1; cf. 28:1-2). When Abraham’s servant arrived in Haran, he came to a well (Gen. 24:11). Jacob too comes to a well (Gen. 29:2). When Abraham’s servant was at the well, he saw Rebekah come to the well (Gen. 24:15). Jacob also sees Rachel come to the well (Gen. 29:6, 9). After Abraham’s servant met Rebekah, she waters his camels (Gen. 24:19). After Jacob meets Rachel, he waters her sheep (Gen. 29:10). After the livestock are watered in both passages, the prospective bride runs to her father to tell what happened (Gen. 24:28; 29:12). Then, in both stories the traveler is invited to the house (Gen. 24:31-32; 29:14). And in both stories, eventually the marriages take place (Gen. 24:67; 29:23, 30).

These similarities serve to highlight the differences in the two accounts and Jacob’s spiritual immaturity. One of the most obvious differences is that Abraham’s servant prayed to the Lord. He prayed, “O LORD God of my master Abraham, please give me success this day, and show kindness to my master Abraham” (Gen. 24:12). Then after Rebekah came to the well and it became clear that she is the one God has provided in answer to his prayer, Abraham’s servant bowed his head and worshiped the LORD (Gen. 24:26) and blessed the LORD who led him (Gen. 24:27, 48). So the servant had prayed a prayer of petition for God’s direction and then prayed a of praise, acknowledging the LORD’s providence.[4]

But what do we find in Jacob’s story at the well? There is no prayer. In fact, there is no acknowledgment of God whatsoever; no petition, no praise. God is not even mentioned in Genesis 29 until Genesis 29:31 when the Lord begins to give Jacob children. In Genesis 28, Jacob met the LORD and God promised He would be with Jacob. And we know that God is with Jacob behind the scenes. Instead of prayer and dependence on the God who is with him, Jacob trusted in his own wits and strength. When he saw Rachel coming (who we know from Genesis 29:17 is quite beautiful in form and appearance), Jacob starts to show off his muscles.

The well has a large stone over its mouth (Gen. 29:2) and there are three shepherds with their sheep by the well. But as Genesis 29:7 indicates, they can’t roll away the stone to water their flock until all the shepherds show up at the well. But when Rachel arrives with her father’s sheep, Jacob turns into he-man. Genesis 29:10, “And it came to pass, when Jacob saw Rachel the daughter of Laban his mother’s brother, and the sheep of Laban his mother’s brother, that Jacob went near and rolled the stone from the well’s mouth, and watered the flock of Laban his mother’s brother.” Jacob seems to be operating from the flesh rather than by the spirit. He’s relaying on his own strength to secure a wife. He’s muscling his way through.

In Genesis 24 Abraham’s servant thoroughly investigated Rebekah’s character. He was able to see Rebekah’s heart through her actions. But here, Jacob springs into action before Rachel’s character emerges. Jacob wants to impress the woman, not find out more about her. Whereas Rebekah was impressive in Genesis 24, watering the camels, Jacob, with his mighty feat, takes center stage now.

Did you notice the threefold repetition of the phrase “Laban his mother’s brother” (Gen. 29:10)? Moses invites us to look backward and forward in the story and compare Jacob’s actions with the servant’s actions. It also reminds us that although God is not mentioned, we see God at work here just as much as in Genesis 24. Even though Jacob seems to ignore God, God still has His hand on Jacob.

That bring us to the second part of the story,

2. Jacob makes a deal with Laban (Gen. 29:13-20)

Jacob’s dealings with Laban also invite us to compare Jacob with Laban. This comparison is seen through deep irony. Jacob will meet his match in Laban. Remember in Genesis 24, when Abraham’s servant came for Rebekah? That was our first encounter with Laban. What did we notice about Laban there? He was impressed by the wealth of Abraham. In fact, Laban wanted Abraham’s servant to stay longer, probably hoping for a bigger dowry. Laban is greedy.

But Jacob has come to Haran empty handed. He doesn’t have a train of camels loaded with treasure to provide a dowry for Rachel. But he has wits and muscles. And so, Laban wants Jacob to stay as well. He knows Jacob’s wits and muscles will come in handy in his livestock business. Laban treats his own daughters like livestock (Gen. 29:27) and he makes a deal to sell them to Jacob. In return for his wife, Jacob sells himself to Laban for seven years.

Jacob will end up working for 20 years for Laban and his wages are changed all the time because Laban is constantly trying to manipulate the relationship to his own benefit. But here’s the irony. This is exactly what Jacob did to Esau. He too was greedy. He wanted Esau’s birthright and so he manipulated Esau to get it.

And this is where the irony deepens. Remember, before Jacob was born, God promised that Esau would “serve” Jacob; the older would “serve” the younger. But because Jacob tricked his brother and manipulated him, he had to run from his brother—who’s supposed to “serve” him. Now Jacob is “serving” Laban. The greedy Jacob is serving the greedy Laban. Jacob and Laban are cut from the same cloth. That’s probably what the author wants us to see in Genesis 29:14 when Laban says, “Surely you are my bone and my flesh.”[5]

God will keep his promise to bless Jacob, but He’s doing this while He’s simultaneously disciplining Jacob by giving him a taste of his own medicine.

This is even more evident when,

3. Jacob deceived by Laban (Gen. 29:21-30)

The irony just keeps coming in this story. Jacob, the trickster gets tricked. The deceiver gets deceived. Laban pulls the old switch-a-roo on Jacob. After working for seven years for Rachel, years that seemed like “only a few days to him because of the love he had for her” (Gen. 29:20), Jacob gets Leah whose “eyes were delicate” (Gen. 29:17). Whatever that phrase means it is intended to communicate that Jacob desired Rachel who was “beautiful of form and appearance” rather than Leah. Look at Genesis 29:23 and 25. “Now it came to pass in the evening, that he took Leah his daughter and brought her to Jacob; and he went in to her. So it came to pass in the morning, that behold, it was Leah.”

Doesn’t your heart break for Jacob…and for Rachel…and maybe especially for Leah who is unloved. But it is obvious to any reader that this is a classic case of “what goes around comes around.” As Paul says in Galatians 6:7, “Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap.” The tables are now turned on Jacob.

Jacob had deceived his blind father and got the blessing instead of Esau; the younger instead of the older. Now Laban deceives Jacob at night when he’s effectively blind, giving his veiled daughter Leah to Jacob; the older instead of the younger. This is poetic justice at its finest. Jacob—which means “he deceives”—has been deceived. Jacob has been Jacobed. He has met his match.

“As the story comes to a close, we find Jacob married to two women, Leah and Rachel. Two knots tied. And they are tangled knots. This is the result of Jacob and Laban’s sin. And it results in lots of problems and pain for Jacob, Leah, and Rachel as the story unfolds in chapter 30.”[6] But in spite of sin and its consequences, God’s promises continue. God graciously uses circumstances, mistakes, consequences, and difficult people to shape his people over time. God’s grace shines through in these events in Jacob’s life.

Steven Cole writes, “… in spite of Jacob’s spiritual immaturity and self‑directed life, God graciously gave him the woman he loved, blessed him with 12 sons and some daughters (Gen. 46:7), blessed him financially in spite of Laban’s tricks, and returned him safely to the land of Canaan, where his brother received him without a trace of revenge. That’s God’s grace!”[7]

Grace would ultimately spread to all the families of the earth through this family. Rachel will give birth to Joseph who will save his whole family from starvation. Even though Jacob loved Rachel more than Leah, Leah will become the mother of Judah. And through Judah will come King David. And through David will come Jesus of Nazareth, the One whom another woman at the well confesses “is indeed the Christ, the Savior of the world.” (John 4:42). He is the Son of God whose death and resurrection have purchased redemption for us, the forgiveness of sins and eternal life. Thank God for His grace!

[1] Steven Cole, God’s Boot Camp, https://bible.org/seriespage/lesson-54-god-s-boot-camp-genesis-291-30

[2] Scott Grant, Boy Meets Girl, https://cdn.pbc.org/Main_Service/2004/06/20/4870.html

[3] Title borrowed from Joe Anady, Jacob Meets His Match, https://emmausrbc.org/2019/10/27/sermon-genesis-291-3024-jacob-meets-his-match/

[4] Josh Black, The Knots Tied, https://www.firstfreewichita.org/download/1168

[5] ibid

[6] Ibid (italics his)

[7] Cole, God’s Boot Camp, https://bible.org/seriespage/lesson-54-god-s-boot-camp-genesis-291-30


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