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Gen 29:15-28

Genesis 29:15-28
Background to the Book of Genesis

Literary Features:
Genesis is a fascinating book which begins with two creation accounts of the world in Gen 1-3, continues with stories about humanity in general through to the end of Gen 11 before we come to the specific journeys of Abraham. Gen 1-11 is often referred to as universal history or primeval history and is applicable to all of humanity. The genealogies enable Abraham to be descended from Adam and Eve. Indeed, another purpose of the genealogies is to divide these eleven chapters as follows into a 5-fold division:

  • Gen 2:4a heaven and earth - these are the generations of the heavens and the earth ...
  • Gen 5:1 ff Adam - This is the book of the generations of Adam.
  • Gen 6:9 Noah - And Noah had three sons, Shem, Ham, and Japheth
  • Gen 10:1 Noah’s 3 sons - These are the generations of the sons of Noah. ...
  • Gen 11:10 Shem - These are the descendants of Shem ...

Besides the suggested division above, scholars have proposed different recurring literary patterns such as sin, speech, punishment - Gen 1-3, 4, 6-9,11 (Westermann) in Gen 1-11: von Rad includes forgiveness: sin, speech, forgiveness, punishment. Whether one wants to go along with any of the above suggestions about the literary divisions or patterns in Gen 1-11, there is almost unanimous agreement that there is a tightly formed literary pattern and we are meant read it as a unity. Creation of the world and humans is torn apart when the relationship between God and humans is told in Gen 3 and between humans and humans in Gen 4. One of the literary patterns which may be considered to not only be present in Gen 1-11, but also extend through into the remainder of the book of Genesis is that connected with the command in Gen 1:28 - ‘be fruitful and multiply’. Not only does the phrase occur in a number of places, but the lists of genealogies show that indeed the people have been fruitful and multiplied - Gen 5, 10, 11. The genealogies continue in Gen 12-50 at particular points: Gen 25:12 (These are the generations of Ishmael), Gen 25:19 (These are the generations of Isaac), Gen 36:1, (These are the generations of Esau), Gen 37:2 (These are the generations of Jacob). The genealogies not only show that God's command in Gen 1:28 has been followed, but the promises to Abraham in Gen 12:1-3, Gen 15:5 have come true. That is, Abram will have many descendants and become a great nation. At the point where each of the genealogies are listed we have the story of that person in the following chapters. Abraham in Gen 11:27-25:18: Jacob in Gen 25:19-36:43: Joseph, Judah and Jacob's family in Gen 37:1-50:26. There are a number of covenants mentioned in the Book of Genesis all of which come into the category of unconditional or promissory. Unlike the condition covenant in Exod 19 in which God seeks a response of obedience from the people, the covenants in Genesis are based on first person pronouncements by God. In Gen 9 it is an universal covenant with all living creatures, but once we move into Gen 12 the covenants are specific to Abraham and his descendants. The relationship has been set up from creation when humans were created to be in special relationship with God (Gen 1:26-27).

Attempts have been made since the 18th century to explain such things as: a different word used for God -Yahwist or Elohim: multiple versions of the same story = Abraham’s pretence, Gen 12:10-20, 20:1-18, 26:6-16: repetition within the same story = Gen 6:5-7, 11-12: contradictions - for example, Exod 20:24 gives permission to offer sacrifices at numerous altars v Deut 12:13-14 which forbids this and restricts sacrifice to one place only or Gen 7:17 in which the flood remains for 40 days v Gen 7:24 in which the flood remains for 150 days and other examples. The classic theory suggests that the Pentateuch has a number of written sources as well as the early oral traditions which account for the sort of differences mentioned above. In Gen 1-11 there is the Priestly source which can be seen in Gen1:1-2:4a, 6:9-22, some verses in Gen 7-8, 9:1-17, 10:1-7, 11:10-27 and the remaining texts come from the Yahwistic source. Some characteristics of what is know as the 'P' source are: the use of the Hebrew term toledoth/generations, the writing is sophisticated and often in a liturgical style (Gen1:1-2:4a), in the creation account God speaks and it happens, humans are made in the image of God, the covenant is unconditional and can be made with the animals, and an abiding concern to state numbers and years. The Yahwistic source uses myths and sagas to tell the story, God and animals speak (anthropomorphic), the world is very small (Gen 2:10-14) compared with the universal world of the 'P' source (Gen 1:1-2:4a).

Historical: (History within the text). Gen 12-50 tells the stories about Abram and his descendants as they move from Haran into the land of Canaan and begin wandering around the land and then into Egypt. These stories began as oral traditions passed down within the tribes long before they became part of the written tradition. It is the way many cultures remember their history, but in the Western world we became influenced by the enlightened definition of 'history' which understood 'history' as written facts from an objective viewpoint. This has caused many scholars to debate whether the Patriarchs can be proven to be true people through archaeological means. Other scholars say that this is not possible and therefore they cannot be historical people. If this argument was applied to Bedouin tribes or Australian Aboriginal people we deny them any history. History as oral tradition passed down is the history of a people, and does not need to be justified by Western values. The people are portrayed as very human with all their faults and strengths - they lie, deceive, steal, test God, they have courage, journey into the unknown, seek God, question God and are obedient. These traits apply to men and women, and many of the women (Sarah, Rebecca, Tamar) play a significant role in the working out of the promises of God. I encourage people to read these stories for themselves. After the story of Abram in Gen 11:27-25:18 the next block, Gen 11:19-36:43, tells us about Jacob and finally about Joseph in Gen 37:1-50:26. At the end of the book we are placed ready to begin the story of Moses, the release of the Hebrews from Egypt and their wanderings in the wilderness.

We know something of this period from the discoveries of the Mari Tablets - 20,000 tablets in old Akkadian of which 5,000 were official correspondence (J.Bright. A History of Israel. London: SCM Press, 57). Mari was a great city with highly sophisticated living conditions and the centre of trade. Terah and his family would have travelled through Mari to get to Haran. Mesopotamia was a centre of civilisation in the Far East in the same way that Egypt was in the Near East.

It is a period in which some people lived in cities and others lived a semi nomadic life travelling with their herds and stopping for periods, but rarely settling to an agrarian life style. We seem to have examples of both these life styles within the story of Abraham.

Context of Genesis 29:15-28
We continue the saga of Jacob who has been sent off by Rebekah and Isaac to prevent him marrying a Canaanite woman. The odd feature is that Isaac calls Jacob and blesses him before charging him to go and marry one of his cousins. The promise from Gen 1:28 is repeated by Isaac (Gen 28:3). After the description of Jacob's encounter with God in last week's lectionary reading the story continues with Jacob's arrival at Haran where like his father he met one of his future wives, Rachel, at the well. He then gets to meet his uncle Laban and stays with him a month before the subject of wages arises. This week's lectionary reading covers a fourteen year period including the deception of Jacob by Laban. When Jacob finally gets to marry Rachel he finds that she is barren and Leah her sister continues to produce offspring for Jacob - four in all. Because Rachel was unable to bear children she gave her maid, Bilhah to Jacob who bore him a son named Dan. More sons are born to Jacob through the maids of Leah and Rachel, and two more sons by Leah after the curious story of the mandrakes (Gen 30:14-20). The final child by Leah is a daughter called Dinah. After all this God suddenly remembers Rachel and she finally bears a son to Jacob named Joseph . These children born from Rachel, Leah and their maids become the patriarchs of eleven of the tribes of Israel. Benjamin is born later. The focus of the story moves back to the further deceptions of Jacob and Laban. Laban insists that Jacob continue to work for him and we have the curious story of how Jacob manages to get increased flocks and wealth from Laban.

Insights/Message of Genesis 29:15-28
Literary: I have copied out the literary outline again to show in which section this week's reading comes from.

Conflict with Esau (25:19-34; 27:1-45; 27:46-28:9)

Meeting at Bethel (28:10-22)

Conflict with Laban (29:1-30)

Births (29:31 -30:24)

Conflict & Covenant (30:25-31:55)

Meeting at Penu'el (32:22-32)

Reconciliation with Esau (32 -33:17 xxx(Brueggemann:213)

Gen 29-31 is the story of Jacob's stay in Haran with its conflicts between Jacob and his uncle Laban, and the births of eleven of the future Patriarchs of the tribes of Israel. Jacob is established in v.8 as a person who has strength and this initial family harmony in Gen 29:13-14 is in contrast to what happens in the following chapters. The dialogue which occurs in vv.15-30 centre's around the word "serve". Jacob chooses to serve Laban for seven years in exchange for Rachel as his wife. This is in contrast to the relationship between Jacob and Esau. The latter will serve Jacob and indeed part of the blessing from Isaac declares that nations and relatives will serve him. Of course when the seven years are finished Laban deceives the deceiver by substituting Leah in the wedding tent. The phrase, "complete the week of this one" appears to reflect a custom called the bridal week in which to break off the festivities would be a breach of manners (Westermann. 12-36:468). However, immediately after this week is completed Jacob is allowed to have Rachel and her bridal week after his commitment to serve Laban another seven years. Laban must have trusted that Jacob would keep his side of the agreement. At the point when Leah and Rachel are given to Jacob a comment is made in brackets that Laban gives them each a maid who is named: Zilpah for Leah and Bilhah for Rachel. Since these maids are the mothers of the tribes of Gad, Asher, Dan, and Naphtali it is probably important that we know the names of the mothers who were the progenitors of these tribes. Leah is the progenitor to six tribes - Reuben, Simeon, Levi, Judah, Issachar and Zebulun. Rachel is progenitor to Joseph and Benjamin, while the daughter of Leah, Dinah gets raped and discounted from the hereditary line. The use of veils to deceive a man into having sexual relations is used by Tamar in Gen 38 in order to gain status and repay her father-in-law for his refusal to keep the law. This law dictates that when an elder son has died the younger sons are obliged to marry the widow and provide heirs, and Judah has refused to comply. Therefore, Tamar has to act to get justice in the situation. In Laban's case the use of veils is in the cause of injustice to Jacob who believed he was serving seven years to gain Rachel until Laban changed the goal posts.

Message:  We note how Jacob arrives almost as a fugitive compared with Abraham's servant who had gifts to give in return for Rebekah (Scullion:213). Not so Jacob who has only himself to give. The conflict which occurs between Jacob and Laban will be reflected also between Leah and Rachel. How could one expect anything else when Jacob declares that he loved Rachel more that Leah (Gen 29:30). However, God's response to this statement is to give Leah children and keep Rachel barren which means that Rachel is the innocent person who, because she is loved, suffers and God is the instigator of her suffering. Now, some people would say that it comes right in the end with the births of Joseph and Benjamin and who are we to question God's actions. But God's behaviour as understood by the author is not one that attracts me. Neither of the women have a voice in this chapter nor do the maidservants. There is a novel called, The Red Tent, by Anita Diamant (Australia: St Martin's Press, 1998) in which the novel gives all these characters voices and it is quite fascinating as a piece of literature. It would be nice to think that God took the side of all those who suffer, but this is simply not the case. In Gen 30, God remembers Rachel and hears her desire to have a child which results in the birth of Joseph. This chapter is very important to the nation of Israel because it gives the origins of the tribes. Indeed, it is the women who are named and play the crucial roles with Jacob in the background (Fretheim: 559). Rachel and Leah punish their father Laban in a later chapter by stealing his household gods, because he sold them and stole their inheritance (Gen31:14-16) . God works in among this family with all its conflicts, jealousies, loves and hates. It is ironic that Jacob as the younger has stolen the elder's inheritance and yet when it comes to Leah, Laban ensures that the elder sister has her proper due and is married first. It must have been an interesting point on which Jacob could meditate for the next seven years, when he wasn't busy creating sons. In Lev 18:18 this practice of marrying sisters is prohibited (von Rad: 292).

OT images/motifs used in the New Testament reading: Mth 13:31-33,44-52: there are no direct allusions or quotes in these sections from the Old Testament.
Resources/Worship for Genesis 29:15-28

It would be interesting to preach this giving a voice to each of the characters and imagining how they each feel as the play out the roles described in Gen 29:15-30.


The Old Testament Guides (OTG) by Sheffield Academic Press are an excellent small resource which give many suggestions for readings on particular aspects in the Book of Genesis, the author is R.W.L.Moberly, 1992. (Genesis 12-50)

Brenner, Athalya, ed. A Feminist companion to Genesis. Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1993.
---. ed. Genesis. Feminist companion to the Bible (Second Series), 1. Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1998.
*Brueggemann, Walter. Genesis. Int. Atlanta, Ga.: John Knox 1982.
Coats, George W. Genesis, with an Introduction to Narrative Literature. FOTL. Grand Rapids, Mich.: W. B. Eerdmans, 1983.
Davies, Philip R., and David J. A. Clines, eds. The world of Genesis: Persons, Places, Perspectives. Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1998.
*Fretheim,Terrence E. "The Book of Genesis: Introduction, Commentary, and Reflections." In The New Interpreter's Bible. Vol 1. Abingdon: Nashville, 1994.
Hamilton,Victor P. The Book of Genesis: Chapters 1-17. NICOT. Grand Rapids, Mich.: W. B. Eerdmans, 1990.
---. The Book of Genesis: Chapters 18-50. NICOT, Grand Rapids, Mich.: W. B. Eerdmans, 1995.
Hess, Richard S., and David Toshio Tsumura, eds. I Studied Inscriptions from before the Flood: Ancient Near Eastern, Literary, and Linguistic Approaches to Genesis 1-11. Winona Lake, Ind.: Eisenbrauns, 1994.
*Moberly, R. W. L. Genesis 12-50. OTG. Sheffield: JSOT Press, 1992.
*Rogerson, J. W. Genesis 1-11, OTG. Sheffield: JSOT Press, 1996.
Scullion, John J. Genesis: A Commentary for Students, Teachers, and Preachers. Collegeville, Minn.: Liturgical Press, 1992.
Waltke, Bruce K., and Cathi J. Fredricks. Genesis: A Commentary. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, c2001. Call Number: 222.11077 W237g
Wenham,Gordon J. Genesis 1-15. WBC. Waco, Tex.: Word Books, 1987.
---. Genesis 16-50. WBC. Dallas, Tex.: Word Books, 1994.
Westermann, Claus. Genesis: A Practical Commentary. Grand Rapids, Mich.: W. B. Eerdmans, 1987.

The Dramatised Bible: ed. Michael Perry. London: Marshall Pickering: Bible Society, 1989

Web sites with helpful lectionary resources: These links were updated 30/12/11

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