GENESIS - CHAPTER 29
A Bible Study - Commentary by Jim Melough
Copyright 2000 James Melough
29:1. “Then Jacob went on his journey, and came into the land of the people of the east.”
As has been noted already, Jacob in Haran represents (1) a sinner being brought to a saving knowledge of Christ, and (2) the nation of Israel today.
The steps by which Jacob was led to walk worthy of his foreknown high calling, even though he was not yet a believer, are little different from those by which every believer is taught in the school of God, nor are they different from those by which the nation of Israel will be led to repentance and brought into the millennial kingdom.
In the interests of simplicity therefore, we will confine our present study to a consideration of Jacob as a believer in the school of God, digressing only as seems necessary to trace God’s dealings with sinners, and with the nation of Israel.
As Jacob, because of sin, was out of the land for twenty years, so has the nation of Israel, for the same reason, been out of the land for almost twenty centuries. From the days of Abraham the land of Canaan has been the place designated by God as the dwelling place of His people. Their departure from it has always been associated with sin and chastisement.
If further proof were needed that Jacob was walking in disobedience, it is found in the direction he went. He was travelling north-east, and as has been noted in previous studies, the east always speaks of sin and departure from God, while the north speaks of intellect or reason rather than faith. He was walking away from God, and it was human reason, not faith, that had chosen his path. Two thousand years ago Israel chose to walk that same path; and the natural man, born on that same road, walks on it until he trusts Christ as Savior, or until he comes to the end of it to find that it leads to destruction.
Jacob’s destination was Haran which we have seen to be symbolic of pride; and he was to become servant to Laban whom we have seen to represent religious self-righteousness. The spiritual picture then, is of his disobedience taking him away from God to live in bondage to pride and self-righteousness.
“... the land of the people of the east,” also has an evil connotation. It represents any place where people live away from God. It is the spiritual picture of disobedience.
29:2. “And he looked, and behold a well in the field, and, lo, there were three flocks of sheep lying by it; for out of that well they watered the flocks: and a great stone was upon the well’s mouth.”
Consistent exegesis requires us to accept the well as a type of the Word, and the field as a type of the world. It requires us also to take the sheep as being typical both of lost sinners, and also of God’s people. The sheep represent them both before and after conversion. In our unsaved state we were sheep that had gone astray, but by conversion we are sheep that have been found and brought back by the good Shepherd, “For ye were as sheep going astray; but are now returned unto the Shepherd and Bishop of your souls” (1 Pe 2:25).
It remains then, for us to determine what the great stone represents so that we may read the spiritual lesson God has for us in this portion of His Word.
While a stone is frequently used as a type of Christ, we can’t view it as such in the present context, for it is clearly representative of something that restricts the use of the water, the Word. It had to be removed before the sheep could drink, and it is difficult to see any way in which this could be true of Christ. He doesn’t restrict the water of the Word, but rather leads His sheep by the still waters where they may drink without restriction.
This great stone therefore, represents something evil, controlling and restricting the use of the Word. It points to the great harlot church. It is surely not without significance that she also is called great, and is presented symbolically also in connection with water, Re 17:1-18 “... I will show unto thee the judgment of the great whore that sitteth upon many waters.... The waters which thou sawest, where the whore sitteth, are peoples, and multitudes, and nations, and tongues.... The woman which thou sawest is that great city, which reigneth over the kings of the earth.”
We have noted in past studies that this great harlot system has always been guilty of restricting the Word, see e.g., notes on Ge 26:15. The spiritual lesson then, isn’t difficult to read. Whether it is a sinner needing salvation; a backslidden saint needing to be restored; or the nation of Israel needing to have her blinded eyes opened, the great harlot church’s control, not only of its use, but also of its interpretation, lies like a great stone upon the Scriptures, the “well” of the Word.
The three flocks lying by the well represent the three groups into which God has divided humanity, “the Jews ... the Gentiles ... and the church of God” (1 Co 10:32). The great harlot church has sought to keep the water of the Word from all three.
Both the location of the well, and the identity of those who dispersed the water confirm this interpretation. The well was at Haran, Haran was in Babylon, and Babylon in Scripture is always synonymous with the false church, Re 17:5 “Mystery, Babylon the great, the mother of harlots and abominations of the earth.”
It was the shepherds who removed and replaced the great stone, and their being shepherds marks them as those who controlled the sheep. But they were Haranites, and therefore really Babylonians. They represent the “shepherds” or priests of the great harlot church, dispensing the water of the Word only at their discretion, and according to their own interpretation of its meaning.
29:3. “And thither were all the flocks gathered: and they rolled the stone from the well’s mouth, and watered the sheep, and put the stone again upon the well’s mouth in his place.”
This reference to several flocks recalls the Lord’s words in Jn 10:16 “And other sheep I have, which are not of this fold: them also I must bring, and they shall hear my voice; and there shall be one fold (flock), and one Shepherd.”
That day when Christ spoke those words there was only the “flock” of the believing remnant of Israel. Today there is the flock, the Church, made up mainly of Gentiles, but in the Millennium all the flocks will be gathered together, and there will be one flock and one Shepherd.
But in these flocks gathered around the well we have also a picture of believers living in the world where the great false church rules. In many cases the water of the Word is available to them only as the “Haranite shepherds” (the priests of the harlot system) permit.
29:4. “And Jacob said unto them, My brethren, whence be ye? And they said, Of Haran are we.”
In Jacob’s addressing these shepherds as “my brethren” we learn the spiritual lesson that when we walk in disobedience we may find ourselves accepting as friends those who are the enemies of Christ.
”... of Haran are we.” We have noted already that as a personal name Haran means their mountain; and as a place name, their burning, and that it appears to represent religious pride. There is little doubt therefore, that these shepherds represent those religious leaders who walk in the proud conceit of self-righteousness, and who lord it over God’s “sheep.”
Jacob would spend twenty years of bitter servitude amongst those Haranites before being brought into a right relationship with God. In that servitude, God would show us the state of the unbeliever; of the unsubmissive saint; and of the nation of Israel experiencing chastisement under His hand today.
In all the events of those twenty years, God was working to bring Jacob to the submission which alone could bring him blessing. Had men but the wisdom to realize it, God orders all the circumstances of their lives for the same purpose, and He abandons them to destruction only when they have refused His correction.
29:5. “And he said unto them, Know ye Laban the son of Nahor? And they said, We know him.”
Laban white represents the proud self-righteousness of the moral, but unconverted man.
Nahor means snorter: piercer: slayer, and in Jer 8:16 snorting is connected with the horses of Israel’s enemies, those enemies being but the agents of Satan, the inveterate enemy of God, and of all who belong to Him. In Job chapter forty-one leviathan is a figure of Satan, and in verse 18 his sneezings are described, but those sneezings are little different from the snorting of horses. The meaning of Nahor’s name therefore, marks him as a type of Satan, the enemy, the piercer, the slayer, not only of Israel, but of the whole human race. His being the father of Laban, who represents pride, confirms this view, for Satan is the father of pride.
“... we know him.” The evil shepherds who lord it over God’s sheep in the place where the great false church rules, are indeed well acquainted with “Laban.” They themselves are no strangers to the self-righteous pride which he represents.
29:6. “And he said unto them, Is he well? And they said, He is well: and, behold, Rachel his daughter cometh with the sheep.”
“He is well.” The self-righteousness which Laban represents flourishes in the land of the people of the east, i.e., in the realm of unbelief.
Rachel means a ewe (female sheep). Since the ewe is the representative of the meek submission of the will (as the ram is of the activity of the will), and since she is presented here as Laban’s daughter, she represents the submission of his will. That raises the question, however, Submission to what? We should not forget that the natural man also has a spiritual life. For example, he worships, even though that worship is according to ignorance. And in his submission to man-made ordinances he is often more punctilious than is the believer to those which are divine. Rachel therefore, as Laban’s daughter, represents his submission to all the things that nurture self-righteous pride. And she is brought before us here as the shepherdess of a flock of sheep. She represents the principle of submission to human ordinances governing the lives of those who walk in the pride of religious self-righteousness.
29:7. “And he said, Lo, it is yet high day, neither is it time that the cattle should be gathered together: water ye the sheep, and go and feed them.”
The day was being wasted. There were yet hours of daylight during which the flocks should have been feeding. All of this is in harmony with the spiritual picture we have been examining. Religious self- righteousness is also a waste, for it occupies its votaries with human ordinances, when they should be devoting the time to feeding on the Word of God. But the wasted time during which the flocks had to lie around the sealed well waiting the time when the shepherds would see fit to roll away the stone and permit them to drink, is a type which is fulfilled today in the realm of religious self-righteousness where the Lordship of Christ has been replaced by the tyranny of men and human ordinances.
”... water ye the sheep, and go and feed them.” Watering (cleansing and refreshing) must precede feeding. The sinner must be washed by drinking the living Word presented in the Gospel before he can take in that Word as spiritual food. The saint likewise must keep his way clean by obedience to the Word before that Word can nurture his spiritual life, as it written, “Wherewithal shall a young man cleanse his way? by taking heed thereto according to thy word” (Ps 119:9). Sin in the believer’s life grieves and quenches the Holy Spirit and cuts off His ministry of enlightenment.
29:8. “And they said, We cannot, until all the flocks be gathered together, and till they roll the stone from the well’s mouth; then we water the sheep.”
These shepherds were obviously subject to others, for until those others came to roll away the stone, no water could be drawn. This simply points up another characteristic of the harlot system that calls itself the true church: its under shepherds can act only by the authority of the man who has arrogated the power that belongs only to the Lord Jesus Christ.
But there was a further condition governing distribution of the water. All the flocks must be gathered together. The harlot church declares that all who refuse to bow to her tyrannous rule are lost. For centuries she has kept the water of life from perishing millions, and seeks to withhold it today by claiming that she alone has the right to interpret it.
29:9. “And while he yet spake with them, Rachel came with her father’s sheep: for she kept them.”
In the meaning of Rachel’s name a ewe, God is emphasizing how completely she is identified with the sheep which she leads, and the spiritual lesson isn’t difficult to read. Since Laban represents self- righteous pride, and since these were his sheep, being led by his daughter (who, as his daughter, represents the submission of his will), the spiritual picture is of moral, but unconverted men living under the principle of righteousness by works and submission to human ordinances.
The gathering point of all these flocks was the well in the field, and the lesson God would teach is that there isn’t a denomination in Christendom that doesn’t purport to be governed by Scripture, even though many of them reject as Savior and Lord the Christ presented in those same Scriptures.
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.”
Three times over it is emphasized that Laban was the brother of Rebekah, Jacob’s mother, and certainly God must have something to teach us in this.
As the wife of Jacob’s father Isaac, Rebekah represents the expression of Isaac’s new spiritual life, and Scripture leaves no doubt that righteousness is to mark the new life. However, it is not as Isaac’s wife, but as Laban’s sister that Rebekah is being brought before us here, and in this God is teaching us that there is an affinity between true righteousness and mere morality that makes it difficult sometimes to distinguish the one from the other.
Whatever other reasons there may be for this emphasis upon the relationship between the two families, one is that it enables us to discern more clearly the spiritual import of this section. The submission to mere morality, which Rachel, as Laban’s daughter, here portrays, may easily be mistaken for the submission of true faith. Those who are religious, but unconverted (portrayed in Laban’s sheep) may easily be mistaken for true believers. Many an unbeliever, as well as many a carnal believer (and here Jacob represents both) has been deceived into mistaking obedience to human ordinances for the obedience of true faith. The practical lesson for each of us is to be sure beyond the shadow of a doubt that our morality is that of faith, and not of mere moral reformation apart from faith in Christ.
Several factors indicate that Laban was the owner of this well. He was a man of considerable wealth, as is implied in his being able to accommodate the entourage that accompanied Abraham’s servant in chapter twenty-four. Jacob didn’t attempt to open the well until the arrival of Rachel, and it is unlikely that he would have dared to do so unless her father were indeed the owner.
What lesson, then, are we to learn from Jacob’s removing the stone and watering the sheep? Since consistent interpretation of the types requires us to view his marriage to Rachel as the beginning of Jacob’s true spiritual life, then he must be viewed here as one who is still an unbeliever. It is, however, as an unbeliever with some knowledge of God that he comes and is now brought into the fellowship of other unbelievers. He did typically what many another self-deluded, moral, but unconverted man has done: he undertook to minister the Word to those who, like himself, were unbelievers.
29:11. “And Jacob kissed Rachel, and lifted up his voice and wept.”
Jacob’s emotion is easily understood. The long journey from his father’s house in Canaan had ended, and he found himself now safe in the home of his mother’s brother. Well might his anxiety mingle with relief to produce tears. Many a sinner, and many a backslidden saint has had the same experience spiritually upon coming into a company of those thought to be true believers, even though their only claim to that title has been self-righteous morality.
Jacob was to learn, however, that there is a vast difference between Laban’s house in Haran, and his father Isaac’s house in Canaan. Self-righteous morality and faith may appear to be the same thing, but they aren’t. He is a fortunate man who learns that lesson while there is still time to trust in Christ. It is to be feared that millions discover their mistake too late.
29:12. “And Jacob told Rachel that he was her father’s brother, and that he was Rebekah’s son: and she ran and told her father.”
In Jacob’s anxiety to emphasize his kinship with Laban we have a picture of all who would be saved by works instead of faith. Every claim that can be advanced as a ground of acceptance is put forward. It is significant, however, that Jacob makes no mention of his being the grandson of Abraham (faith). In the household of faith the only ground of acceptance is not our link with morality, but with the Lord Jesus Christ. At this point in his career Jacob couldn’t submit that claim: he wasn’t yet a believer.
29:13. “And it came to pass, when Laban heard the tidings of Jacob his sister’s son, that he ran to meet him, and embraced him, and kissed him, and brought him to his house. And he told Laban all these things.”
Laban’s warm welcome of Jacob portrays the attitude of self-righteous pride towards all who claim affinity with itself. This was the attitude that marked the Jews in Christ’s day, and that drew forth His rebuke, “Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye compass sea and land to make one proselyte, and when he is made, ye make him twofold more the child of hell than yourselves” (Mt 23:15). Paul likewise declared the evil of this system in his letter to the Colossians, “Wherefore if ye be dead with Christ from the rudiments of the world, why, as though living in the world, are ye subject to ordinances, (touch not; taste not; handle not; which all are to perish with the using;) after the commandments and doctrines of men? which things have indeed a shew of wisdom in will worship, and humility, and neglecting of the body; not in any honor to the satisfying of the flesh” (Col 2:20-23). It is submission to human ordinances that is the very foundation of the self-righteous man’s spiritual pride. He is proud of his humility.
The firstborn son in Scripture always stands connected with the old nature, and the firstborn daughter is to be similarly viewed, the only difference being that the one emphasizes the activity of the old nature, and the other, its passivity. Leah, Laban’s firstborn daughter, therefore, meaning “weary,” represents the truth that submission to any form of morality is weariness to the old nature, for it delights only in sin, and is wearied by submission to even a human standard of morality.
The secondborn son in Scripture is always connected with the new nature, and it seems that the same truth connects itself with the secondborn daughter; and as with the firstborn, the only difference is that the one speaks of activity, the other of passivity. As has been noted already therefore, Rachel, meaning a ewe (female sheep), in her role as Laban’s daughter, represents the submission of the old nature to human ordinances, which finds in that submission a reason for pride. (As Jacob’s wife, however, she represents the expression of his spiritual life as a regenerated man).
29:14. “And Laban said to him, Surely thou art my bone and my flesh. And he abode with him the space of a month.”
Though Jacob is not yet a believer, God in his foreknowledge knew that he would become one. Laban, on the other hand, knew nothing of faith, and thought that in Jacob he had found one who was as he himself. The moral religionist fails to see any difference between himself and a true believer.
What began with Laban’s warm welcome and acknowledgement of kinship, quickly changed, however. In the natural realm Laban and Jacob might be kin, but in the realm of the spirit no such link existed. Jacob was foreknown as a child of God, while Laban, clinging to the pride of self-righteousness, gave no indication that he was anything but a child of hell, and his true character manifested itself in his later treatment of Jacob.
It took only a month for the relationship to change. A month is one-twelfth of a year, and in Scripture is always connected with the display of divine government. The twelve tribes of Israel, for example, were used to display to the nations what it meant for a nation to be under the government of God. Obedience brought blessing; disobedience, chastisement. That divine government was used here to disclose that he who would be justified by works places himself under the dominion of a master who can never be satisfied. Such a man is under the necessity to do what he cannot do, i.e., keep the whole law, “For I testify again to every man that is circumcised, that he is a debtor to do the whole law. Christ is become of no effect unto you, whosoever of you are justified by the law” (Ga 5:3-4).
29:15. “And Laban said unto Jacob, Because thou art my brother, shouldest thou therefore serve me for nought? tell me, what shall thy wages be?”
With his lips Laban might say, “Thou art my brother,” but the truth was that he was the master, and Jacob, the servant. And Jacob soon began to learn the true character of the man into whose service he had entered. He was a tyrant who would never be satisfied. He who would be justified by works has placed himself under the same tyranny, for no amount of works can every justify a man before God.
Laban’s question discloses that he was but the agent of Satan, for it is he who asks each man, What shall thy wages be? He can afford to pay the worthless baubles men prize, for with them he gains what is priceless - men’s souls. In the end, those wages prove to be but the wages of sin: death! Satan’s dupes work in the hope of obtaining blessing. The believer works because he has already received blessing, and his work is the expression of his love and gratitude to the God Who has given His Son to make that blessing available to men.
29:16. “And Laban had two daughters: the name of the elder was Leah, and the name of the younger was Rachel.”
Since daughters in Scripture represent the passivity or yieldedness of a man’s will; and sons, the activity of the will, these two daughters of Laban speak of the yieldedness of what Laban represents, the pride of self-righteousness. But to what does self-righteous pride yield itself? The one thing that seems to stand out above all others in this connection is what is described as “the commandments of men,” see above, Col 2:20-23.
The firstborn son in Scripture always stands connected with the old nature, and the firstborn daughter is to be similarly viewed, the only difference being that the one emphasizes the activity of the old nature; the other, its passivity. Leah therefore, meaning weary, as already noted, represents the truth that submission to any form of morality is weariness to the old nature, for it delights only in sin, and is wearied by submission to even a human standard of morality.
The secondborn son in Scripture is always connected with the new nature, as is also the secondborn daughter, the only difference being that the one speaks of activity of the believer’s will, the other, of passivity. As has been noted already therefore, Rachel a ewe, in her role as Laban’s daughter, represents the submission of the old nature to human ordinances, which finds in that submission a reason for pride. As Jacob’s wife, however, she represents the expression of his spiritual life as a regenerated man.
29:17. “Leah was tender eyed; but Rachel was beautiful and well favored.”
The Amplified Old Testament rendering of “tender eyed” is “Leah’s eyes were weak and dull looking,” and the New English translation is “dull-eyed.” Most translations, in fact, indicate that the thought of dullness is to be understood in connection with Leah’s eyes. In Mt 6:22 it is written “The light of the body is the eye...” and someone has aptly commented that “the eye is the window of the soul.” Leah’s dull eyes simply mirrored the inward state. The old nature which she represents, lacks spiritual light.
Rachel, on the other hand, was “beautiful and well favored.” Though not yet a believer (her marriage to Jacob would portray that change) she was foreknown by God as such, and her physical beauty simply foreshadowed the spiritual beauty of what she was to become.
29:18. “And Jacob loved Rachel; and said, I will serve thee seven years for Rachel thy younger daughter.”
Jacob is still only a natural man, but even the natural man can appreciate the beauty of the life that is submissive to God. He reasons also as a natural man. He will pay for Rachel with seven years of service to Laban. The natural man fails to understand that the new life can’t be bought, that it is God’s gift, and must be received as such through faith in Christ. He makes the mistake of thinking that eternal life can be bought in exchange for a sufficient amount of service to what Laban represents - mere morality, which in turn produces self-righteous pride.
29:19. “And Laban said, It is better that I give her to thee, than that I should give her to another man: abide with me.”
Self-righteous morality will always undertake to promise eternal life to the man who renders enough service; but Laban had no intention of giving Rachel to Jacob. In fact, by the laws of his country he couldn’t: the firstborn must be married off first. Satan will pretend to give eternal life to the man who renders sufficient service to morality, but he too, has neither the intention nor the power to give what he promises. The prospect of obtaining Rachel, however, induced Jacob to bind himself to the service of Laban for seven years. The prospect of winning eternal life has similarly induced multitudes of deluded men to bind themselves to a life-long (seven is the number of completeness) service to morality. The tragedy is that most of them don’t discover the deceit until it is eternally too late.
29:20. “And Jacob served seven years for Rachel; and they seemed unto him but a few days, for the love he had to her.”
And so it is in the spiritual realm. Satan’s deluded dupes consider a lifetime of service to morality a small price to pay for the promised prize of eternal life.
29:21. “And Jacob said unto Laban, Give me my wife, for my days are fulfilled, that I may go in unto her.”
While many live and die in bondage to morality, there are a few who begin to look for some satisfaction out of their service. They begin to chafe under a servitude that takes everything and yields nothing. Somewhere they have learned that joy and peace are to be the servant’s portion even here on earth, and they rightly begin to question a service that yields neither. Jacob here is the portrait of such a man.
29:22. “And Laban gathered together all the men of the place, and made a feast.”
As there is “joy in heaven over one sinner that repenteth” (Lk 15:7), so is there joy in the camp of the moralist when he has persuaded one sinner to believe that submission to a moral code is the way to heaven. There is rejoicing also in the ranks of Satan, for that deadly doctrine is the means by which he lulls millions of deluded men along the road that leads to hell.
29:23. “And it came to pass in the evening, that he took Leah his daughter, and brought her to him; and he went in unto her.”
In Laban’s determination to marry off (even by trickery) his elder daughter Leah, we have the symbolic declaration of the truth that the moralist is concerned only with improving the state of the old nature, because he has no awareness of the truth that what men need to fit them for heaven is not improvement of the old nature, but a new birth. The old nature can’t be improved. It must be put to death, and replaced with an entirely new nature. The declaration of God is “Ye must be born again.”
It is significant that this deceit was practiced “in the evening” when it was dark. The spiritual counterpart of this fraud can also be practiced only when there is spiritual darkness. Where the light of God’s Word shines, the moralist cannot deceive.
Leah is spoken of as though she were his only daughter, and indeed the moralist has only one “daughter.” He sees submission to human ordinances as the only way to heaven.
Jacob’s embracing Leah because the darkness prevented him from knowing that she wasn’t Rachel, is a picture of the man, who in the darkness of spiritual ignorance, embraces morality under the delusion that it is the same as faith.
29:24. “And Laban gave unto his daughter Leah Zilpah his maid for an handmaid.”
Zilpah means flippant-mouth: to drop, trickle, and she represents one aspect of law. The moralist will flippantly talk of his obedience to the law, failing to realize that it is impossible for man to keep that holy law. This attitude marked the religious hypocrites whom the Lord denounced. They rendered lip service to God, but in heart were far from Him.
The second meaning of Zilpah’s name also points to a characteristic of legalism, which was exemplified by the Jewish leaders of Christ’s day. In regard to the water of life, the Lord declared, “The water that I shall give him shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life” (Jn 4:14). It was God’s intention that Israel should have been the channel through which that water would flow out like a river to the nations, but legalism had choked the channel so that the river had become a mere drop, a trickle. So is it with the legalist. His testimony to God is a drop, a trickle, which ignores the abundance of divine grace, and preaches only that salvation, instead of being received as a gift, must be earned by a lifelong bondage to law-keeping.
What Zilpah represents (the feeble testimony of mere lip service to God) is always handmaid to what Leah represents (the natural man’s submission to legalistic ordinances).
29:25. “And it came to pass, that in the morning, behold, it was Leah: and he said to Laban, What is this thou hast done unto me? did not I serve with thee for Rachel? wherefore then hast thou beguiled me?”
As the light of morning revealed the deception, so does the light of God’s Word reveal the deception of Satan’s lie. Law-keeping is not the way to heaven. We might note also incidentally, that this is a demonstration of the principle that a man reaps what he sows. Jacob had used deceit to procure his father’s blessing, and now he finds himself in the place of the deceived.
His disappointment simply illustrates the disappointment that must always attend the discovery that law-keeping, as a means of being made righteous, is a futile thing. He is a fortunate man who makes that discovery while there is still time to remedy the situation. Millions make it only when it is eternally too late.
29:26. “And Laban said, It must not be so done in our country, to give the younger before the firstborn.”
In the “country” where self-righteous pride reigns, God’s order is ignored. The firstborn, which God rejects because it represents the natural man, is promoted; and the secondborn, which God accepts because it represents the new man, is relegated to a place of insignificance. The moralist is concerned with improving that which is of nature. What God requires is a new creation, a new man, born, not by nature, but by the Holy Spirit.
29:27. “Fulfill her week, and we will give thee this also for the service which thou shalt serve with me yet seven other years.”
This week seems to have been a week of festivities during which the wedding was celebrated. In exchange for his being willing to go along with the celebration, and also for his rendering another seven year’s service, Jacob will be given Rachel also as his wife.
All of this points to the value which self-righteous morality sets upon mere outward form, and also to the truth that it demands a service which has no end.
Through faith the believer enters into a rest that requires no effort, “For he that is entered into His (God’s) rest, he also hath ceased from his own works, as God did from His” (Heb 4:10), but the man seeking to be justified by works knows no rest. Jacob must render another seven year’s service, and even when those years were completed Laban sought to prolong the bondage, see Ge 30:26-27.
29:28. “And Jacob did so, and fulfilled her week: and he gave him Rachel his daughter to wife also.”
As has been noted already, Jacob’s marriage to Rachel portrays, not only his own conversion, but that of any sinner. But Jacob is still in Haran he is still married to Leah, and he is still in bondage to Laban. All of this pictures the experience of many a believer: true faith in Christ is not always immediately accompanied by the joy of freedom from the mistaken idea that there must still be servitude to legalistic observances. Sometimes it takes years before the believer grasps the full truth of just how complete is the deliverance brought by faith. Jacob’s experiences up until the time of his return to Canaan, portray that struggle.
29:29. “And Laban gave to Rachel his daughter Bilhah his handmaid to be her maid.”
Bilhah means in languishing: decrepitude, and like Zilpah, represents a characteristic of law. Languish means “to be or become weak or feeble: droop: fade: to lose vigor and vitality.” Decrepit means “weakened by old age: feeble: infirm: worn out by long use.” In Heb 8:13 it is written of the law that it is “that which decayeth and waxeth old and is ready to vanish away.” It is easy therefore, to see in the meaning of Bilhah’s name an apt description of the ceremonial law, which in the time of Christ was about to be set aside, and which, in fact, was brought to an end in A.D.70 when Titus destroyed both temple and city.
Jacob therefore, married to Rachel, pictures a believer, but a believer still entangled also with legal ordinances, and requiring many years in God’s school before those shackles are broken.
29:30. “And he went in also unto Rachel, and he loved also Rachel more than Leah, and served with him yet seven other years.”
Jacob’s greater love for Rachel than for Leah declares that symbolically he had at last come to a proper comprehension of the truth regarding salvation. Rachel, portrait of the expression of the new life of faith, is the wife he really loved. His having also Leah as a wife points to the spiritual truth that he represents a believer not yet come to a knowledge of the truth that it is faith, apart from law-keeping, which brings eternal life. The continuation of that spiritual bondage is portrayed in the additional seven years of Jacob’s literal bondage to Laban.
It is significant, however, that Jacob received Rachel before serving the additional seven years. This portrays the true spiritual order. The believer receives eternal life, and then, in an obedient life, renders service to God as the expression of his gratitude for that priceless gift.
29:31. “And when the Lord saw that Leah was hated, he opened her womb: but Rachel was barren.”
It is generally recognized that the word “hated” as used here is relative and not literal. It indicates rather a lesser degree of affection.
The spiritual significance of Leah’s being hated, but also fruitful, isn’t readily apparent, but since her loveless relationship with Jacob represents the nature of the relationship that must always exist between faith and mere legalistic morality, her fruitfulness is meant to teach us that the believer, through mere legalistic obedience, may seem to be producing true spiritual fruit, but all the while his spiritual life as represented by Rachel, is barren. This, however, doesn’t answer the question, Why did God permit Leah, but not Rachel, to bear children? One reason suggests itself: it is sometimes only by being allowed to produce legalistic good works, that the believer can best learn their worthlessness. And Rachel’s barrenness at the time of Leah’s greatest fruitfulness, may be intended to teach the truth that there can be no true spiritual fruit while we are busy producing works of mere cold legalistic morality. Love alone must be the motive for our obedience, as it is written, “Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge: and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains ... and though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not charity (love), it profiteth me nothing” (1 Co 13:1-3).
29:32. “And Leah conceived, and bare a son, and she called his name Reuben; for she said, Surely the Lord hath looked upon my affliction; now therefore my husband will love me.”
Many believers tend to measure spirituality in terms of service, prayer, Bible reading, etc., the general idea being that the more of these things one does, the more spiritual he is. The truth is that all of these things may be done, and for a lifetime, without there being any spirituality at all in the doer. True spirituality reflects the degree to which the life of the believer is conformed to the image of the Lord Jesus Christ. This is God’s ideal for every believer, “For whom He did foreknow, He also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren” (Ro 8:29). Paul, rebuking the Galatians for having turned again to the keeping of legal ordinances, pleaded with them, “My little children, of whom I travail in birth again until Christ be formed in you” (Ga 4:19). It is not by spending all our time in service, prayer or study that we become spiritual: it is by becoming Christlike. We are spiritual, when in our thoughts, words, and deeds, men discern the thoughts, words and deeds of Christ. Spirituality is “putting on” Christ.
The believer’s attempt to produce Christ through legalistic morality is pictured in the birth of Reuben. His name means see ye, a son. The believer’s union with obedience to a moral code may produce what looks like Christlikeness, but it isn’t. It is only a spiritual “Reuben,” and since Reuben was a firstborn he represents what is of the flesh.
His being a firstborn marks him immediately as being typical of what God must reject, for the firstborn represents what is of Adam, the flesh, the old nature. It required only time to reveal Reuben’s true character. By sin he forfeited his right to the blessing of the firstborn. His place was taken by Joseph. Faith and cold loveless morality cannot produce Christ in the believer’s life.
”... Surely the Lord hath looked upon my affliction....” Leah herself was a firstborn daughter, and in God’s answering her prayer, we are being taught a truth that needs to be emphasized. God’s rejection of the firstborn as to a specific place in the natural order of things (and for typological purposes), should not be construed as spiritual rejection also. Reuben’s having disqualified himself from inheriting the blessings of the firstborn in Jacob’s family, does not necessarily imply that he had also lost his soul. It is clear that many of the firstborn, e.g., Cain, did indeed also forfeit eternal blessing, but forfeiture of temporal blessing is not necessarily synonymous with forfeiture of spiritual blessing. Where it is not clearly indicated that the firstborn lost both temporal and spiritual blessings, we may not make such an inference.
A word of explanation may be necessary here in regard to Christ. As to natural order, He was the secondborn; and Israel, the firstborn; but as to the new order, the new creation that has been brought into existence by His resurrection, He is the firstborn, “For whom He did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he (Christ) might be the firstborn among many brethren” (Ro 8:29). “And he is the head of the body, the church: who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead” (Col 1:18).
“... now therefore my husband will love me.” There is no indication that Jacob did in fact love Leah more, even though she had borne him his firstborn son. The spiritual lesson is that there can never be a love relationship between faith and mere legalistic morality.
29:33. “And she conceived again, and bare a son; and said, Because the Lord hath heard that I was hated, he hath therefore given me this son also: and she called his name Simeon.”
This second son speaks of a believer’s continuing attempt to produce spiritual fruit through law-keeping rather than love for God. Simeon means “hearkening,” and he represents the attempt of the legalist to be even more diligent in hearing and obeying the commands of the law, under the wrong impression that in doing this he is becoming more spiritual.
His being the second son associates him with witness or testimony. It is sadly true that often the only testimony borne by the legalistic, moral, but unloving believer, is that men see in him simply a man who lives by a strict set of rules. The only testimony that pleases God is that which enables men to see Christ living His life in us. The love that Leah craved didn’t come with the birth of Simeon. Moral rectitude can never take the place of a testimony that is expressed in love to man because it is impelled by a genuine devotion to God.
29:34. “And she conceived again, and bare a son; and said, Now this time will my husband be joined unto me, because I have born him three sons: therefore was his name called Levi.”
Levi means joined, and his being Leah’s third son links him with the thought of resurrection, or full manifestation. His birth therefore, is the symbolic annunciation of the spiritual truth that when the legalist has produced what he thinks is Christlikeness (Reuben), and when he has rendered what he deems perfect obedience (Simeon), then he thinks the goal has been achieved: he thinks he has fulfilled every obligation necessary to guarantee his salvation (Levi). But neither did Levi’s birth bring what Leah sought. Jacob still loved Rachel. Only what springs from a genuine love for God can bring satisfaction.
29:35. “And she conceived again, and bare a son: and she said, Now will I praise the Lord: therefore she called his name Judah; and left bearing.”
Judah means he shall be praised, and as the fourth son, he speaks here of the earth and of testing. All that is produced by the legalistic believer’s loveless relationship with works is of the earth because it springs from the activity of the old nature which is itself earthy, the “praise” it produces bearing but scant resemblance to the genuine praise that flows to God from the heart of the man who knows that all he is and all he ever hopes to be are because of God’s love and grace. Leah promises to praise the Lord, but it isn’t recorded that she did. Her desire for children was not that God might be glorified (compare Hannah’s response in 1 Samuel ch. 1), but that she might take Rachel’s place in Jacob’s affections. This is always the characteristic of religious legalism. It is concerned, not about God’s glory, but about itself. And, a loveless thing itself, it never ceases in its attempt to destroy love. Where a legalistic spirit rules, love dies.
”... and left bearing.” This was not cessation, but rather interruption of Leah’s child bearing, and during the course of the interruption we are presented with Rachel’s reaction in chapter thirty.
In concluding our study of this chapter we should note that the emphasis has been upon these children as being the sons of Leah, and as such, they represent the results of faith’s occupation with legalistic formality. It should not be overlooked, however, that they were also Jacob’s sons, and as such, they represent characteristics of the life of faith.
In Reuben see ye a son we are reminded that faith sets believers before God as sons who are heirs and joint heirs with THE SON.
In Simeon hearkening we are reminded that we are God’s sons only because of the perfect obedience of the Lord Jesus Christ in obeying His Father’s will, even though that will was that He die for us on Calvary’s cross. As He “hearkened” to His Father’s voice, and yielded a perfect obedience, so should we. As the second son, Simeon speaks of witness or testimony, and reminds us that the Lord Jesus Christ was the faithful witness to God’s love for ruined men. It is our privilege also to be God’s witnesses here on earth.
As the third son, Levi speaks of resurrection, reminding us that we stand on resurrection ground, and in the meaning of his name joined we are reminded that we enjoy an unbreakable union with a resurrected and eternally living Savior.
The fourth son Judah he shall be praised, reminds us that of all the people on earth, believers are those who have most cause to praise God for all that His love, grace, wisdom and mercy have made available to us through the death of the Lord Jesus Christ.