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Monthly Archives: September 2012

From this blog forward…

On July 24,2012, WomenfromtheBook Blog was born. Now, 44 posts later, it’s time to thank you all for your interest and encouragement–we’ve had over 1950 visits! It has been fun and challenging at the same time. There is no shortage of topics or ideas, but I invite you to share your suggestions or interests. The Bible is such a wonderful resource to mine, and the nuggets and gems we discover in the process can only be fully enjoyed when shared with friends.

I especially want to thank Mary Hendren for her contributions and insights. She is a wonderful friend and an excellent writer/researcher. I hope you will continue to see her by-line on many posts in the future.

Our blog will be inactive from now until the week of October 28 due to the annual fall Holy Days celebrated by the Church of God community. When it resumes we want WomenfromtheBook to continue as a resource for readers for learning more about some favorite or intriguing Bible women, and the world in which they lived.

Before you leave, here are some possible topics percolating on the back burner: sorting through the Marys of the New Testament; witches, wise women, and fortune-tellers; and business women of the New Testament. What about sickness and ailments–how were they treated? Were girls educated, and could they read?

There are so many questions. Will we find some answers? I sincerely hope so, but if that is not to be the case, we are sure to know more than when we started.

Keep reading and mining for those nuggets of gold, and I’ll look forward to seeing you back here in late October!

Karen Meeker

The sounds of music

In a past post, I referred to an artist’s representation of travelers in route to Jerusalem to observe a Holy Day. While pictures and the descriptions offered by various authors are helpful, there is something missing—the sounds of worship and jubilation.  I regret I can’t flip a switch, and give the reader a sight-and-sound experience, first century-style; I can, however, present examples of how music played a prominent part in the worship of God.

Some early expressions

  • To begin, let’s revisit a scene we all know well—when God delivered Israel from Egypt: “Then sang Moses and the children of Israel this song…” (Exodus 15:1); “And Miriam the prophetess, the sister of Aaron, took the timbrel in her hand; and all the women went out after her with timbrels and with dances” (verse 20).
  • Deborah’s song in Judges 5 after Israel prevailed against Jabin, the king of Canaan.
  • Hannah’s prayer in 1 Samuel 2:1-10 is also referred to as her “song,” or psalm of thanksgiving and praise, by several commentaries, including Barnes’ Notes, Keil & Delitzsch, and Adam Clarke’s.
  • When King David purposed to bring the ark of God back to Zion, he and “all the house of Israel played music before the Lord on all kinds of instruments of fir wood, on harps, and on stringed instruments, and on tambourines, and on sistrums, and on cymbals” (2 Samuel 6:5).
  • In my KJV Bible the heading for Luke 1:42 reads: “Mary’s song of thanksgiving.”

All these examples lead me to conclude music was very much a part of an individual’s act of worship. (I believe that holds true today.)

Special music

It is no wonder that psalms—whether chanted or sung—were a part of the three festival seasons. Mary Ellen Chase, in her book, The Psalms for the Common Reader (1962), writes about a group of psalms commonly referred to as “Psalms of Ascent,” “Psalms of Degrees,” or in her terms, “pilgrim songs.” These are Psalms 120 through 134. She says, “No other type of psalm, especially in terms of human significance, rivals or perhaps equals in appeal that type known as the pilgrim song. As its title suggests, it was a psalm sung by those who had journeyed from their homes, sometimes in distant places, to Jerusalem for one or more of the great festivals of the year” (page 58).

The song of Ascents appears in Hebrew and Engl...

The song of Ascents appears in Hebrew and English on the walls at the entrance to the City of David, Jerusalem, Israel. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A note in The Woman’s Study Bible regarding Psalm 120 says, “They [the songs of ascent] probably were sung by worshipers as they went up to Jerusalem to celebrate the great festivals each year.”

Anne Punton writes, “What did Jesus see as he looked around the Temple during Succot? The altar of sacrifice was decorated with willow branches. Processions of worshippers circuited the altar waving willow branches while choirs of Levites sang psalms to instrumental accompaniment” (The World Jesus Knew, 1996, page 113).

The importance of music

Musical training was a priority in some families.  “Music was played for all festivals and festivities, often as an accompaniment to singing or dancing. As a part of their education some Jewish children were taught to play one or more musical instruments, including the cymbals, flute and lyre” (Jesus and His Times, Reader’s Digest, page 154). The chapter continues, “In addition, a girl would probably have learned to sing and dance, and to play on an instrument….Music was permitted and even encouraged, provided that it was connected with religious festivities” (page 155).

One of my favorites

Psalm 122, a song of degrees by David, seems to embody the heartsong of all who traveled year after year to observe the commanded festivals in Jerusalem.  I only wish I could have heard it sung.

A Song of Ascents. Of David.

I was glad when they said to me,
“Let us go into the house of the LORD.”
2 Our feet have been standing
Within your gates, O Jerusalem!
3 Jerusalem is built
As a city that is compact together,
4 Where the tribes go up,
The tribes of the LORD,
To the Testimony of Israel,
To give thanks to the name of the LORD.
5 For thrones are set there for judgment,
The thrones of the house of David.
6 Pray for the peace of Jerusalem:
“May they prosper who love you.
7 Peace be within your walls,
Prosperity within your palaces.”
8 For the sake of my brethren and companions,
I will now say, “Peace be within you.”
9 Because of the house of the LORD our God
I will seek your good.

Food for ancient travelers

A traveler in ancient Israel had to take food on his journey—for himself, his family and his animals. No traveler would set out from home without taking food along. Most family travel occurred at the time of yearly Festivals in Jerusalem. Men and boys aged 12-13 were required to attend the Festivals (The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah, Edersheim), but women and children often went with their husbands except for special circumstances (1 Samuel 1:22).

Traveling by foot or pack animal meant women had to prepare meals in a camp setting, without refrigeration. In general the food kit would include bread, grain, dried fruit, olives and olive oil. It is thought that women prepared the main meal in the evening when it was cooler and the family could relax (Illustrated Manners and Customs of the Bible, Packer and Tenny, page 466). Commentators agree that wheat in various forms made up about half of an Israelite’s diet, either in the form of parched grain or bread.

The women baked bread daily by pouring dough over fire-heated stones. If they cooked legumes or vegetables to make a boiled stew, it would accompany the fresh bread. The parched grain, raisins and dried figs prepared ahead of time would be energy foods. Grain, wine, oil, sheep, goat and ox are the foods mentioned in connection with the instructions for keeping the Feast (Deuteronomy 14:23).

Abigail’s gift of food that she sent to David at a festive time of year included 200 loaves of bread, 2 skins of wine, 5 dressed sheep, 5 seahs of roasted grain (1 bushel), 100 clusters of raisins and 200 cakes of figs. The dressed sheep would have been eaten at the time Abigail presented the gift; they were “dressed” and ready to roast. David and his men could have eaten the bread, dried fruit, grain and wine without concern for spoilage. (See 1 Samuel 25:18.)

The only item the traveler ate that we don’t find commonly in our diet today is parched corn. Bible commentaries state that corn is a general term meaning grain and not what we think of as corn from the cob or corn nuts. It can “actually mean various kinds of grain, including barley, millet, and wheat” (Illustrated Manners, page 468). “In Bible times parched wheat or pulse was a common food, even taking the place of bread…it was a useful food for armies [travelers] as it required no further cooking.”


Wheat (Photo credit: mr.bologna)

How did Israelite women parch grain? Most of the commentaries say that the newly harvested grain was separated from the head, heated in an iron pan over a fire and stirred to keep it from burning. When the grain reached the right color, it was poured out on a cloth to cool. Older dried grain could be parched if it was soaked in water overnight. Women also parched grain by holding a bundle of sheaves over an open flame, much like roasting a marshmallow—taking care not to burn it. ♦ Mary Hendren

A quick view of the past

As many Church of God members are preparing for the fall Holy Days, I thought it might be interesting to investigate how first century Christians might have done the same. Several things are similar but others are unique with cultural differences.

Determining the dates

Most people interested in observing the Holy Days listed in Leviticus 23, and evidenced in the New Testament as well, have access to a yearly or multi-year calendar marking the various Holy Days, either in a hard copy—perhaps a wallet-size calendar—or by accessing any of several websites.

The ancients did not have it so easy. The new moon indicated the beginning of a new month, a necessary component in determining when to keep each festival. One source says this occurrence was determined when two designated witnesses agreed as to the sighting, thereby setting in motion a chain of signal fires, which spread throughout all Judea. Later the process evolved into a new system. After the confirmed sighting, messengers were dispersed throughout the land seven times, signaling the approach of the seven holy day periods. (I am unclear as to whether there were added refinements to this method by the time Jesus was born, but suffice it to say, no one had pocket calendars.)

Travel picture

As I look at an artist’s representation of worshippers approaching Jerusalem during a festival season, I see a road filled with people and animals. There is a man with a lamb across his shoulders, and a woman balancing a basket of fruit on her head, walking hand in hand with a small child. Another woman rides a donkey—is she pregnant? Perhaps. A man wearing the familiar headdress carries a basket of bread and baked goods, and a camel, laden with rider and provisions, plods ahead. Herod’s magnificent temple looms in the near distance—the obvious focal point and destination of these travelers, most of whom traveled on foot. (Jesus and His Times, Reader’s Digest, pages 118-119).

Who are they, I wonder. The accompanying text answers: “From all over Palestine they came, indeed from every corner of the Roman world, crowding the four major roads that led to Jerusalem and swelling the city’s population several times over” (page 119).

Alfred Edersheim adds, speaking specifically of the Feast of Tabernacles: “For this was pre-eminently the Feast for foreign pilgrims, coming from the farthest distance,” wearing the strange costumes of their native lands, and speaking languages and dialects which revealed their countries of origin. (The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah, Hendrickson Publishing, 1993, page 576).


Jerusalem anticipated the three annual pilgrimages. Regarding the Feast of Tabernacles, Edersheim writes, “It [Jerusalem] was indeed a scene of bustle and activity. Hospitality had to be sought and found; guests to be welcomed and entertained; all things required for the feast to be got ready. Above all, booths must be erected everywhere—in court and on housetop, in street and square, for the lodgment and entertainment of that vast multitude; leafy dwellings everywhere….” (page 577).

Carrying Branches To Make Booths (illustration...

Carrying Branches To Make Booths (illustration from the 1897 Bible Pictures and What They Teach Us by Charles Foster) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


Regarding the Passover, “the most popular and crowded of the pilgrim festivals,” Jesus and His Times mentions most of the pilgrims carried their provisions with them, stopping at caravansaries for the night, or setting up informal camps and stationing guards against brigands and highwaymen (page 120).

Luke 2:41 informs us that Joseph and Mary made this trip every year from their own city, Nazareth, in Galilee. The distance they traveled was over 60 miles, and could have taken up to four days, depending on the circumstances. (Today that same trip takes just under two hours by car.) The scripture says at age twelve Jesus went with them. It is unclear whether He had gone before, but God’s instruction was that all males would appear before Him (Exodus 23:14-17). According to one source, the injunction began as soon as a boy could walk alone. (See Manners and Customs of the Bible, James M. Freeman, 1972, page 70.)

The Feast of Tabernacles

Succoth, or the Feast of Tabernacles, was possibly the most joyous occasion of the year. Solomon’s Temple was dedicated during this feast, and every seven years saw the public reading of the Torah (Jesus and His Times, page 138). Feasting, dancing, singing, and the offering of numerous sacrifices before the Lord were hallmarks of a truly festive occasion.

A quick view

This has been a quick view of a couple of the festivals of God, particularly in the New Testament, and the local activities surrounding them. The word pictures presented by some of the sources cited were real-life experiences for Jesus and His siblings. Was it so different from what we experience today? Perhaps in technology, at least for most parts of the world, but not in the spirit which makes these festivals highlights of our year.

There are more…

We’ve finished our series on sisters, but you might like to know the names of the  ones we skipped:

Drusilla (Acts 24:24), wife of Felix, and Bernice (Acts 25:13).  Historians make this connection, but it is not stated in the Bible.

Michal and Merab (1 Samuel 14:49; 18:17, 19; 2 Samuel 21:8)

Jemima, Keziah, and KerenHappuch, Job’s daughters (Job 42:14)

Commentators speculate that Tryphena and Tryphosa, mentioned in Romans 16:12, could have been twin sisters.


Next week we’ll explore the all-important festivals in the social context of the  New Testament.

Thanks for stopping by. You make this journey more enjoyable!

Five sisters of influence

Someone once said a picture is worth a thousand words. Let’s look at this one, considering all its details.

English: The Daughters of Zelophehad, as in Nu...

English: The Daughters of Zelophehad, as in Numbers 27:1-11, illustration from The Bible and Its Story Taught by One Thousand Picture Lessons. Edited by Charles F. Horne and Julius A. Bewer. 1908. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Do you remember its story? This is a scene from the lives of our last set of sisters—all five of them. Often simply referred to as “the daughters of Zelophehad,” they do have names:  Mahlah, Noah, Hoglah, Milcah, and Tirzah. The actions represented in this picture were momentous. They forever changed Israel’s laws of inheritance.

A census

The back-story begins after Korah’s infamous rebellion as the tribes of Israel prepared to enter the Promised Land. If you recall, each was to be allotted territory according to its population, and so God instructed Moses to conduct a census. Zelophehad’s name is included among the listed clans of Manasseh, with a note of explanation:

“Now Zelophehad the son of Hepher had no sons, but daughters…” (Numbers 26:33).

Zelophehad’s death in the wilderness posed a thorny problem: As only men were counted in the census, what would happen to their father’s apportionment since he had no sons? Could these sisters assume heirship?

Presenting their case

The five brought the matter before Moses, Eleazar the priest, tribal leaders, and the whole community (Numbers 27:2), clearly stating their case: “Our father died in the wilderness; but he was not in the company of those who gathered together against the LORD, in company with Korah, but he died in his own sin; and he had no sons. Why should the name of our father be removed from among his family because he had no son? Give us a possession among our father’s brothers” (verses 3-4).

Moses delegated up and presented the matter to the Lord, Who in turn ruled in their favor. Daughters could inherit a father’s portion (verses 6-11) but with certain limitations which safeguarded against the possibility of moving of land from tribe to tribe (Numbers 36:1-9).

Sisters of influence

Of the three sets of sisters presented in this series of posts, the daughters of Zelophehad were the most influential. Their petition precipitated inheritance law reforms that at least one source feels still have relevance today.

I find the following quote somewhat subjective, and present it in that light: “The daughters of Zelophehad had filed one of the earliest reported lawsuits on record. Jurists still turn to it for opinions and have declared it the oldest decided case ‘that is still cited as an authority.’ In the American Bar Association Journal of February, 1924, there appears an article by Henry C. Clark in which this decision of the daughters of Zelophehad is quoted. It is described as an ‘early declaratory judgment in which the property rights of women marrying outside of their tribe are clearly set forth’” (All the Women of the Bible, Edith Deen, 1955, page 63).*

For more information

Now you know the story contained in this illustration of Zelophehad’s five daughters. (For a more detailed explanation of all the legal intricacies involved in this case, see Keil and Delitzsch Commentary on the Old Testament, Numbers 27.)

*Note: I attempted to access this particular issue of the Journal. At this time, I cannot verify the authenticity of the above citation. I am assuming it is correct.

Birth-Order Reasoning: Martha and Mary

Does birth order affect one’s personality? Does a first-born child develop different traits than a younger brother or sister?  Can birth-order reasoning be applied to answer the question of which sister is the oldest—Mary or Martha?

The Bible does not say which of Jesus’ three close friends in Bethany was the oldest. Jesus was a regular guest in the home shared by Lazarus, Mary and Martha. Scripture records two occasions where He ate a meal prepared for Him in their house (Luke 10:38-41, John 12:2).

Commentators suggest that Martha was the oldest of the siblings.  Martha presided as hostess in Luke’s account. She attended to serving the meal. She expressed a sense of disappointment that her sister had not been helpful enough in getting the meal together. “The narrative seems to suggest the home belonged to Martha and being older than Mary and Lazarus, she carried out the responsibility of all connected with household affairs….” (Herbert Lockyer, All the Women in the Bible, p. 87).

When Jesus came to Bethany after Lazarus died, Martha was the sister who went out to greet Him. The Expositor’s Bible Commentary states that Martha “being more aggressive went to meet Jesus before Mary. When Jesus told her that Lazarus would rise again and that those who believed in Him would live again, Martha confidently stated, “Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who was to come into the world” (John 11:27). At a later meal given in honor of Jesus, Martha did the serving (John 12:2). How do the few accounts of Martha in the Bible relate to whether she is older than Mary and Lazarus?

English: Big Sister

English: Big Sister (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Some psychologists believe a person’s personality is influenced by his/her order of birth.  Their studies suggest that first-born children tend to be more responsible and conscientious than siblings born later. First-born children tend to be socially dominant and perfectionists. Psychologists surmise that early in life, first-born children are given responsibility for younger siblings and they maintain favor with their parents by performing their duties.

Children born second, third, and onward tend to be more open to new ideas and more fun-loving. They may be less responsible and less concerned about making things run smoothly.

Studies on birth order are not conclusive. But the traits psychologists associate with birth order—responsibility, sense of duty, perfectionism, social dominance, and natural leadership—seem to describe Martha.

Why is the question even interesting? Because Martha has become a stereotype of someone who is “less spiritual” in comparison with her sister who is “more spiritual.” The remark Jesus made to Martha—that she was overly concerned about the details of serving a meal—has taken on a “life of its own.” Martha is stuck with a reputation of missing out on what’s important (Luke 10:41-42).

However, an individual’s personality changes through experience and God’s power. We don’t know the rest of the story on Martha and Mary. I like to think that because she loved Jesus, Martha considered His comment as a reality check. I like to think she accepted His words as a reminder to see things in a bigger perspective. I like to think of her smiling and saying, “Oh, yeah, You’re right.” ♦ Mary Hendren

Leah and Rachel: filling in some blanks

Before we move on to the next pair of sisters, Martha and Mary, we will revisit the story of Jacob, Leah, and Rachel by posing a few questions and considering some interesting facts.

How much time elapsed before Jacob took his family back to his homeland?

In Genesis 31:41 Jacob says to Laban, “Thus I have been in your house twenty years; I served you fourteen years for your two daughters, and six years for your flock.”  It seems likely by the time they left, Leah’s older sons were teenagers and Joseph under the age of ten.

As Jacob’s family grew in size, where did they live?

Genesis 31:33 indicates each of Jacob’s wives and handmaids had her own tent. Laban searched through each one looking for his stolen idols. I assume the children lived with their mothers.

Did other instances of jealousy trouble this family?

Genesis 31:1 opens with Laban’s sons fretting about the possibility of Jacob draining off their father’s wealth. It was enough of a concern to cause Laban’s disposition toward him to change, and the Lord instructed Jacob to return to his homeland. Even Leah and Rachel got into the mix, wondering about their inheritance. Tension filled the air.

Rachel stole her father’s idols before they left, and hid them in her camel saddle. The Woman’s Study Bible note regarding Genesis 31:19 comments these were “teraphim,” small household figurines possibly used for divination. Some ancient records of contemporary law connected ownership of the household idols with inheritance rights. It may be Rachel took matters into her own hands, trying to insure she and Leah would have rights to their father’s estate.

Did Jacob ever grow to love Leah?

The Bible does not specifically say, but the following scriptures may give some indications.

In Genesis 31:31 Jacob worried Laban would take back his daughters by force. He obviously cared for them both, but was this a matter of love, possessions, or both?

The Reunion of Jacob and Esau (1844 painting b...

The Reunion of Jacob and Esau (1844 painting by Francesco Hayez) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Later Jacob braced himself for the first meeting with Esau in twenty years. Not knowing what to expect, he developed a specific plan of approach toward his brother and his band of 400 men. The maidservants and their children would go first; Leah and her brood followed; and Jacob, Rachel and Joseph came last. In the case of co-wives, one always enjoyed most favored status, and it is obvious here that Rachel still held that rank.

For further consideration

Scripture reveals a couple of intriguing facts about this family. I find both tinged with a certain irony.

First, Leah was the wife interred in the ancestral cave at Machpelah, near the bones of Abraham and Sarah, and Isaac and Rebekah (Genesis 49:31). At death Jacob would join her. Rachel died earlier in childbirth in route to Ephrath (Bethlehem) and was buried along the way—forever separated from the man who loved her (Genesis 35:18-20).

The second concerns the descendants of these sisters. Leah’s line traces to David (and eventually to Christ) through Judah and Rachel’s to Saul through Benjamin. 1 Samuel bears witness that vestiges of their sibling rivalry endured, only this time it worked in the lives of two kings.


Leah and Rachel: Part 2

Prologue: Leah had one week alone with her new husband. Was it filled with stress and anger, tears and rejection? Did she regret her part in the subterfuge? Were there any pleasant moments at all? Here the Bible is silent, leaving readers to their own pondering of these tragic events. It does say, unequivocally, Jacob loved Rachel, and she entered his tent a week later, thereby pushing Leah aside.

Though Leah lived in the constant comparison to her beautiful sister, she was not hidden from God’s eyes. He saw her suffering and gave her the one thing Rachel did not have—a fertile womb.

Names from the heart

The declarations she made after the birth of her first four sons speak to the depth of her heartache and anguish:

  • Reuben: “The Lord has surely looked on my affliction. Now therefore, my husband will love me.”
  • Simeon: “Because the Lord has heard that I am unloved, He has therefore given me this son also.”
  • Levi: “Now this time my husband will become attached to me, because I have borne him three sons.”
  • Judah: “Now I will praise the Lord.”

Leah’s last comment indicates the point when she accepted a miserable situation for what it was, and turned her eyes to God.

Or else I die!

Meanwhile Rachel’s envy raged. Why was she barren? How can Leah be so fruitful? “Give me children, or else I die,” she cried to Jacob, to which he retorted, “Am I in the place of God, who has withheld from you the fruit of the womb?”

Desperate measures

Driven to desperate measures, Rachel seized on a remedy for her obsession. She gave her handmaid Bilhah to Jacob as a secondary wife, knowing that any child resulting from that union was legally hers. With no recorded resistance to the idea, Jacob soon fathered two sons. Her declarations after each birth give glimpses into the workings of her mind:

  • Dan: “God has judged my case, and He has also heard my voice and given me a son.”
  • Naphatali: “With great wrestlings I have wrestled with my sister, and indeed I have prevailed.”

Leah’s unrequited yearning for Jacob’s love resulted in a sort of “tit for tat”: she gave her handmaid Zilpah secondary wife status. Zilpah also bore two sons. Listen to Leah’s exaltation as she named each son:

  • Gad: “A troop comes!”
  • Asher: “I am happy, for the daughters will call me blessed.”

A precious find

The final round in the fight for status and affection began when Leah’s Reuben happened upon the ultimate weapon—mandrakes, long thought a fertility aid. Rachel learned of the precious find and proceeded to bargain in way that is difficult to fathom: Jacob would spend the night in Leah’s tent in exchange for the coveted aphrodisiac.

Jacob fulfilled his part of the negotiations and Leah produced two more sons. Her words express her undying hope for his love:

  • Issachar: “God has given me my wages, because I have given my maid to my husband.” 
  • Zebulun: “God has endowed me with a good endowment; now my husband will dwell with me, because I have borne him six sons.”

    Jacob Blesses His Sons, as in Genesis 49:1-2: ...

    Jacob Blesses His Sons, as in Genesis 49:1-2: “And Jacob called unto his sons, and said, Gather yourselves together, that I may tell you that which shall befall you in the last days. Gather yourselves together, and hear, ye sons of Jacob; and hearken unto Israel your father.”; illustration from the 1728 Figures de la Bible; illustrated by Gerard Hoet (1648-1733) and others, and published by P. de Hondt in The Hague; image courtesy Bizzell Bible Collection, University of Oklahoma Libraries (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

At long last

Scripture records, “Then God remembered Rachel, and God listened to her, and opened her womb.” She bore Jacob these sons:

  • Joseph (Finally, she could say, “God has taken away my reproach.”)
  • Benjamin (Some years later, as Rachel was dying in childbirth, she named this son BenOni, son of my sorrow. Jacob renamed him Benjamin, son of the right hand.)

(The account of Leah and Rachel is found in Genesis 28-35.)


Part 3 will tie up some loose ends.


Leah and Rachel: Two sisters–one man

It is bad enough for two sisters to love the same man, but when they end up  married to the same man at the same time, drama is sure to follow.

Seizing the day

Jacob was no ordinary man: He was a twin, his mother Rebekah’s favorite, and destined by God to become the father of the tribes of Israel. Though he is called “mild” in Genesis 25:27, he was devious—a trait that would come back to haunt him. He and his mother tricked his twin Esau out of his birthright and his blessing.  A brother’s love turned to hatred, kindling a desire for vengeance and murder.

Fleeing the wrath to come

At Rebekah’s fearful insistence, Jacob fled for his life. As a herdsman skilled in tending and breeding cattle, he had no penchant for the chase like his brother. Now he found himself in Haran seeking sanctuary from Laban, his uncle, until Esau’s anger cooled.

He surveyed the scene before him: three flocks of sheep lying in a field by a stone-covered well, their shepherds waiting for others to arrive. He stepped forward and carefully asked some questions. Where are you from? “Haran.” Do you know Laban son of Nahor? “Yes. In fact, here comes his daughter Rachel to water her sheep.”


He moved forward, pushed the rock aside, and helped Rachel perform her daily ritual, introducing himself as her relative. Scripture does not say what Rachel thought as she ran to her father with news about the stranger/relative who assisted her. However, it does record Laban’s jubilation as he welcomed his sister’s son. It also records Jacob’s reaction to this young woman who was “beautiful in form and appearance.” He loved her (Genesis 29:18), and wasted no time in offering a proposal of marriage.

Tricking the trickster

As Jacob had plotted with his mother to deceive Isaac, it is likely that Laban conspired with his elder daughter, Leah, in matters of matrimony. The custom of the land dictated she be wedded first, but Laban had a problem. His firstborn did not meet the beauty standards of the day.

Commentators offer a mix of reasons: Leah had blue eyes. She had cow eyes (her name means “cow”). She was teary-eyed from crying so much. I like Clarke’s assessment of her chief recommendation—her “soft and beautiful eyes.” Rachel, however, had the whole package—a fine face and a fine figure.

Jacob Talks with Laban (illustration from the ...

Jacob Talks with Laban (illustration from the 1897 Bible Pictures and What They Teach Us by Charles Foster) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Laban realized he could have the best of all worlds and with a little finagling, marry both Leah and Rachel to the same man. Great People of the Bible and How They Lived suggests at the time he only had daughters, and marriage to Jacob would assure a capable son-in-law to take over the family holdings (Reader’s Digest, 1974, page 54).

Paying the price

Jacob worked diligently for seven years to pay off the bride price. The night finally arrived when his beloved entered his darkened tent, her face hidden behind the traditional veil. Only the harsh glare of morning’s light revealed the cruel trickery: It was Leah, not Rachel, who occupied the marriage bed. Jacob demanded an explanation to which Laban calmly offered a practical solution: Work seven more years, and he could have them both.

What next?

A week later, Jacob had not one but two wives, and faced a long stint of labor in order to satisfy another bride price. Now his challenges really begin.

(Part 2 to follow.)

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