1 Then Jacob went on his journey and came to the land of the people of the east. 2 As he looked, he saw a well in the field, and behold, three flocks of sheep lying beside it, for out of that well the flocks were watered. The stone on the well’s mouth was large, 3 and when all the flocks were gathered there, the shepherds would roll the stone from the mouth of the well and water the sheep, and put the stone back in its place over the mouth of the well.
4 Jacob said to them, “My brothers, where do you come from?” They said, “We are from Haran.” 5 He said to them, “Do you know Laban the son of Nahor?” They said, “We know him.” 6 He said to them, “Is it well with him?” They said, “It is well; and see, Rachel his daughter is coming with the sheep!” 7 He said, “Behold, it is still high day; it is not time for the livestock to be gathered together. Water the sheep and go, pasture them.” 8 But they said, “We cannot until all the flocks are gathered together and the stone is rolled from the mouth of the well; then we water the sheep.”
9 While he was still speaking with them, Rachel came with her father’s sheep, for she was a shepherdess. 10 Now as soon as Jacob saw Rachel the daughter of Laban his mother’s brother, and the sheep of Laban his mother’s brother, Jacob came 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 wept aloud. 12 And Jacob told Rachel that he was her father’s kinsman, and that he was Rebekah’s son, and she ran and told her father.
13 As soon as Laban heard the news about Jacob, his sister’s son, he ran to meet him and embraced him and kissed him and brought him to his house. Jacob told Laban all these things, 14 and Laban said to him, “Surely you are my bone and my flesh!” And he stayed with him a month. – Genesis 29:1-14 ESV
In his quest to find a bride, Jacob had traveled nearly 450 miles from Beersheba to Haran, his mother’s hometown in Mesopotamia. Upon his arrival, Jacob made his way to the local “watering hole” or a well, which would have been a natural gathering spot for the citizens of that region. In a sense, Jacob was following the example of Abraham’s servant who, years earlier, had made the same journey in search of Isaac’s wife. It had been at a well that the servant had discovered Rebekah, who would later become Abraham’s wife and Jacob’s mother (Genesis 24). And it seems likely that Jacob had heard this story many times over his lifetime. So, in an attempt to locate his mother’s kin, Jacob began his search at a local well. And he would not be disappointed.
But before proceeding to the rest of the story, it is important to compare the Genesis 24 and Genesis 29 stories. In both cases, there is a man in search of a woman who might serve as a bride for one of Abraham’s descendants. In the case of Abraham, he had commanded his servant, “go to my country and to my kindred, and take a wife for my son Isaac” (Genesis 24:4 ESV). Abraham was sending his servant to Haran to seek a suitable wife from among the household of his brother, Nahor. It was important to Abraham that his future daughter-in-law be a member of his own clan and so he warned his servant, “you will not take a wife for my son from the daughters of the Canaanites” (Genesis 24:3 ESV). Notice that Isaac gave his son similar warnings and instructions.
“You must not take a wife from the Canaanite women. Arise, go to Paddan-aram to the house of Bethuel your mother’s father, and take as your wife from there one of the daughters of Laban your mother’s brother.” – Genesis 28:1-2 ESV
Both men carefully followed the instructions they had been given and made the difficult journey to Haran. And while both began their search at a well, only Abraham’s servant invoked the aid of Yahweh.
“O Lord, God of my master Abraham, please grant me success today and show steadfast love to my master Abraham.” – Genesis 24:12 ESV
Recognizing the importance of his task, this faithful servant of Abraham sought divine assistance from his master’s God. Yet, the first words out of Jacob’s mouth were to shepherds, not Yahweh. It might be argued that Jacob had prayed his prayer all the way back in Bethel.
“If God will indeed be with me and protect me on this journey, and if he will provide me with food and clothing, and if I return safely to my father’s home, then the Lord will certainly be my God.” – Genesis 28:20-21 NLT
It could be that Jacob was operating under the assumption that he already had God’s assurance of success. After all, Jacob had received a hard-and-fast commitment from the Almighty.
“I am with you, and I will protect you wherever you go. One day I will bring you back to this land. I will not leave you until I have finished giving you everything I have promised you.” – Genesis 28:15 NLT
And as the story unfolds, it becomes clear that God was guiding and directing Jacob’s steps. Yet, one can’t help but notice the glaring absence of any vertical communication on Jacob’s part. And this will become a pattern in Jacob’s life. This self-willed and sometimes conniving individual will show a marked propensity for self-reliance. In fact, it will be more than 14 years before any communication takes place between Jacob and the God of his grandfather Abraham, and it will be Yahweh who instigates the conversation.
“Return to the land of your fathers and to your kindred, and I will be with you.” – Genesis 31:3 ESV
But as Jacob stood at the well, he seemed to harbor no thoughts of God and expressed no need of His assistance. Instead, he struck up a conversation with some local shepherds, asking if they were familiar with Laban, his mother’s brother. Much to Jacob’s surprise, the shepherds not only confessed their knowledge of Laban but also announced that his daughter Rachel was on her way to the well with a flock of sheep.
Once again, a quick comparison to the Genesis 24 account is necessary. When Abraham’s servant met Rebekah for the first time, he eagerly waited to see if she was the one for whom he had prayed.
“Silently the man watched her with interest to determine if the Lord had made his journey successful or not.” – Genesis 24:21 NLT
And when he discovered her to be the answer to his prayer, the servant “bowed his head and worshiped the Lord” (Genesis 24:26 NLT). He gave all the credit to God.
“Praised be the Lord, the God of my master Abraham, who has not abandoned his faithful love for my master! The Lord has led me to the house of my master’s relatives!” – Genesis 24:27 NLT
Yet, Jacob, the grandson of Abraham, seemed to be oblivious to God’s presence and provision. The fact seems to have escaped him that his long journey had ended at a well where there just happened to be men who knew his wife’s brother. And he shows no recognition of God’s involvement even at the serendipitous appearance of Laban’s young, unmarried daughter. No prayers of thanksgiving are expressed. No praise to God flows from his lips.
In fact, the entire narrative seems to focus on Jacob’s self-reliant and fiercely independent nature, a recurring theme in his young life. Jacob had repeatedly proven his penchant for obsessive-compulsive behavior. When he saw something he wanted, he showed a powerful and unrelenting determination to do whatever it took to get it. And this occasion was no different.
As soon as Jacob learned that Rachel was Laban’s daughter, he determined to get rid of the other shepherds. He hurriedly ordered them to water their sheep and be on their way but the men insisted that were forbidden from doing so.
“We can’t water the animals until all the flocks have arrived,” they replied. “Then the shepherds move the stone from the mouth of the well, and we water all the sheep and goats.” – Genesis 29:8 NLT
Jacob was a guest in their land and unfamiliar with their local customs and laws. Yet, he had no qualms ordering these men around. And when had refused to remove the stone covering the mouth of the well, he had arrogantly taken matters into his own hands.
Jacob went over to the well and moved the stone from its mouth and watered his uncle’s flock. – Genesis 29:10 NLT
Having discovered that Rachel was his cousin, Jacob displays a self-righteous determination to seal the deal. He wants this woman to be his wife and is prepared to do whatever it takes to make it happen, even if it means disobeying local customs and violating social protocols. Overcome with joy at discovering Rachel was his cousin, Jacob kissed her. There is nothing in the text that suggests this act had sexual connotations, but it would have broken with established social etiquette. The shepherds who stood by watching this scene unfold would have had no idea who Jacob was. He was a stranger in their land. So, when they saw him kiss the young virgin daughter of one of their neighbors, they were likely appalled. This would have been unexpected and unacceptable behavior. But Jacob seems to have lived his life according to his own set of moral standards. He was a non-conformist and a rule-breaker.
As far as Jacob was concerned, he had met his future bride. But little did he know that he was also about to meet the man who would give him a run for his money when it came to deception and manipulation. In Laban, Jacob would meet his match. He would soon discover that his future father-in-law was more than a worthy challenger when it came to treachery and trickery. Jacob, the consummate deceiver, would soon find himself in the uncomfortable role of the deceived. The master manipulator would become the disgruntled and helpless victim.
Jacob was about to discover the truth behind the well-worn adage, “your sin will find you out” (Numbers 32:23). Yes, he was the descendant of Abraham and the heir to God’s covenant promises. But the sins he had committed against his brother would have consequences. He had received the blessing of God but that does not mean he had received absolution for his crimes. The next 20 years of his life would be marked by a strange mixture of blessing and curses, joy and sorrow. Slowly, but surely, God would lovingly whittle away the unhealthy aspects of Jacob’s life. This self-willed and self-reliant man would find himself in God’s remedial school for slow learners. And, in time, Jacob would learn the timeless truth concerning God’s loving and life-altering use of discipline.
And have you forgotten the exhortation addressed to you as sons?
“My son, do not scorn the Lord’s discipline
or give up when he corrects you.
“For the Lord disciplines the one he loves and chastises every son he accepts.”
Endure your suffering as discipline; God is treating you as sons. For what son is there that a father does not discipline? But if you do not experience discipline, something all sons have shared in, then you are illegitimate and are not sons. – Hebrews 12:5-8 NLT
English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.