Genesis 29:20 (ESV) … “So Jacob served seven years for Rachel, and they seemed to him but a few days because of the love he had for her.”
The one thing that brightens these chapters in Genesis on Jacob, is Jacob’s love for Rachel. We see his love for Rachel whom he loved from the first moments of his arrival in Haran. His was a great love. Therefore, in spite of the difficulties of these years, theirs is a great love story. It is the first real love story in the Bible. There are others—Ruth and Boaz, Solomon and the bride of the Song of Songs—but none of the earlier events in Genesis has really been presented as a love story. We have no romantic details concerning Adam and Eve, Abraham and Sarah, or even Isaac and Rebekah, though the trip by Abraham’s servant to find Rebekah contains the romance of adventure. With Jacob, it is different. Jacob loved Rachel from the start, worked hard at menial service to earn her as his wife, and continued to love her throughout his long life.
Is there love at first sight? There seems to be, and the Bible seems to recognize it in this passage. Apparently, after his vision at Bethel, Jacob went on his way with a light heart and merry step, for the Hebrew phrase translated “continued on his journey” (niv) literally reads “lifted up his feet,” meaning that he got under way joyfully with the burden of his fear of Esau lifted and his guilt in deceiving his father gone. His journey was a long one. At last he came to the area of Haran and paused at a well by which three flocks of sheep were grazing, much as Abraham’s servant had paused by a well on his long journey to find Rebekah. It was unusual to find three flocks of sheep by a well and the well still covered by a stone. But Jacob entered into conversation with the shepherds (probably shepherd boys) and learned that they were from Haran and knew Laban, and that they were waiting for Laban’s daughter Rachel to come with her sheep, since she was a shepherdess.
From the way the account is written it is not quite clear whether Jacob’s words were spoken before he saw Rachel or afterward. But they have nearly the same effect in either case. Many men will remember their courting days and recall how, when they wanted to be alone with their girl, her kid brother always seemed to be hanging around, and how it was often costly to get rid of him. “Here, Junior, why don’t you take this quarter and go get yourself some ice cream?”
“I like sundaes. They cost seventy-five cents.”
“All right, here’s a dollar. Go stuff yourself with ice cream.”
This is what Jacob seemed to be doing. He wanted to be alone with Rachel, so he said to the boys who were caring for the sheep, “Look … the sun is still high; it is not time for the flocks to be gathered. Water the sheep and take them back to pasture.” They replied that they could not do it that way. For whatever reason, they wanted to wait until all the flocks were together at the well. Then the stone was removed from the well and the sheep were watered.
By this time, Jacob was not listening to the shepherds. He had eyes only for Rachel, whom—we are told just eight verses later (v. 18)—he had already come to love.
Is it an accident that the author of Genesis says that Jacob took separate notice, first of Rachel, and then of Laban’s sheep, which she was leading? Jacob was himself a shepherd, so it would have been natural for him to have noticed the sheep. But he was first struck by Rachel. He was like young men today. First they notice the girl. Then they notice the car she is driving. He was like them in another way too. As soon as he saw her, he jumped up, ran to the well, rolled the stone away from its mouth, and watered her sheep. He wanted to do something for her. Then he kissed her and began to weep aloud at the joy of finding the very place he had been looking for throughout his long journey across the desert from Beersheba.
Some may think my account of Jacob’s meeting with Rachel and his love for her is fanciful or else, if it really was like this, that it was the result of the man’s being out in the sun too long or being alone on too long a journey. But I submit that this was true and deep love and that the proof of it is seen in something that occurs toward the end of Jacob’s life, approximately seventy years later.
Jacob is sick and dying. But before he dies, he wants to pass on the patriarchal blessing, just as his father had passed it to him years before. Joseph, his favorite son, is called, together with Joseph’s two sons—Manasseh and Ephraim. Jacob uses the little strength he has left to sit up on the bed. He begins his blessing, taking Joseph’s sons into his family as his own children—by which means they became fathers of two of the tribes of Israel. He is in the middle of this blessing when he suddenly says, “As I was returning from Paddan, to my sorrow Rachel died in the land of Canaan while we were still on the way, a little distance from Ephrath. So I buried her there beside the road to Ephrath” (Gen. 48:7).
What does that have to do with the patriarchal blessing? Nothing. It is just that Jacob’s heart was full, and seeing something in the face of Joseph that reminded him of Rachel’s pale but beautiful face as he last saw her—dying as she gave birth to Benjamin—his mind went back to Rachel and his love for her. And he related the sad experience of their earthly parting.
Does anyone dare to say that this was not a true love? Or that love like this does not survive death? The one who says so is poor for having never known a love of this magnitude.
There is something else about Jacob’s love for Rachel. It was a patient love, as all truly great loves are. When Laban asked Jacob what his wages should be if he were to stay with him and work for him, Jacob answered that he would work seven years in return for Laban’s younger daughter, Rachel. Seven years. In today’s instant-gratification society, seven days seems too long for some people. Yet we read that “Jacob served seven years to get Rachel, but they seemed like only a few days to him because of his love for her” (v. 20). Can it be that seven years seemed like only a few days to Jacob because his was true love, while days seem like years to many of our contemporaries because they do not know the meaning of a real and deep affection?
Donald Grey Barnhouse has this to say: “Here is the difference between love that has been to Bethel and love that has not been anywhere. Jacob looked upon Rachel, and he never had eyes for anyone else. She was probably very young, and the seven years allowed for her growth to maturity. But Jacob was willing to wait because his heart was fixed upon her. Marriage in the Lord is one of the most wonderful things upon earth, and Jacob’s marriage had been planned by God. True marriages are made in heaven, and the reason the world says that many of them are waylaid before reaching earth is that too few people are willing to wait seven years and know those years to be but a few days because of the depth and power of true love.”
In many ways Jacob is a poor example for Christian people today, but in his marriage he is exemplary. A marriage like his—God-ordained and lasting—is surely among the greatest blessings of this life.