Sunday, December 18, 2016

Genesis 29:15-30 comments: tender eyed

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? 16  And Laban had two daughters: the name of the elder was Leah, and the name of the younger was Rachel. 17  Leah was tender eyed; but Rachel was beautiful and well favoured. 18  And Jacob loved Rachel; and said, I will serve thee seven years for Rachel thy younger daughter. 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. 20  And Jacob served seven years for Rachel; and they seemed unto him but a few days, for the love he had to her. 21  And Jacob said unto Laban, Give me my wife, for my days are fulfilled, that I may go in unto her. 22  And Laban gathered together all the men of the place, and made a feast. 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. 24  And Laban gave unto his daughter Leah Zilpah his maid for an handmaid. 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? 26  And Laban said, It must not be so done in our country, to give the younger before the firstborn. 27  Fulfil her week, and we will give thee this also for the service which thou shalt serve with me yet seven other years. 28  And Jacob did so, and fulfilled her week: and he gave him Rachel his daughter to wife also. 29  And Laban gave to Rachel his daughter Bilhah his handmaid to be her maid. 30  And he went in also unto Rachel, and he loved also Rachel more than Leah, and served with him yet seven other years.

Laban calls Jacob his brother, which clearly in this context means a close relation, as Jacob is his nephew. Brother can easily be used to refer to someone who is a comrade or a fellow believer in Christ. It can also refer to the brotherhood of mankind as in Genesis 9:5.

Jacob, the trickster, is now going to be tricked. Laban is a very clever man. He allows Jacob to work seven years under the promise of Jacob receiving Rachel as his bride. Instead he gives Jacob Leah, her older sister. Notice that the wedding ceremony is a feast at the end of which the father just gives his daughter to the husband-to-be. Not very romantic from the point of view of today’s woman.

Laban’s excuse is that the custom of the country is for the older to be married before the younger but it seems more likely that Laban probably worried that his oldest, not so beautiful and well favoured, would not find a husband. As Leah is tender eyed, which carries with it the implication of weakness or deficiency in Early Modern English and in the Hebrew text, perhaps she was a bit cross-eyed, who can say. Jacob was drawn to the prettier daughter. This type of carnal attitude seems more worthy of Esau and marriages based on this do not have a good foundation. But, let’s give Laban the benefit of the doubt and agree it was the custom not to marry the younger before the elder. He still tricked Jacob, the clever deceiver. You have to wonder if he did not know whom he was consummating a marriage with that perhaps this feast included a liberal supply of wine as one could reasonably assume that her veil would be taken off when the marriage was completed.

It appears from a literal reading of the text that Jacob gave Leah a week of being the only wife and then received Rachel, for whom he worked an additional seven years to pay off her father. Notice the difference here between Jacob and Isaac. In the Ancient Near East a bride did not just marry a husband but joined another family, leaving the family of her birth. Rebekah was brought to Isaac. Here, Jacob is in bondage to his brides’ father. Also, while we might wonder about the dowry given by the bride’s family there was also the ancient “bridewealth” given by the groom’s family. Here, Jacob’s servitude for fourteen years serves that function and he will leave with wealth after another six years.

Jacob has worked for Laban up to this point and acquired two wives with their handmaids and his living in the process.

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