This is a Bible study on Genesis 29, Genesis 30 and Genesis 31.

6 pages.

Genesis 29-31 - A Less Than Perfect Christian Family

Read Genesis 29-31.


We hear a lot these days about dysfunctional families. In such homes the family is not functioning as it should because one or more of the members are not fulfilling their roles: there may be abuse, or addiction, or absence. When one member of the family fails to carry out their role it has a negative effect on the rest of the household, other roles are altered and begin to malfunction. The result is the tearing down, rather than the building up, of the family, and the whole household can be endangered.

When we meet Jacob’s family as they are presented to us in Genesis 29-31, we find ourselves in the midst of a dysfunctional family. Even in the lives of God’s redeemed there still exists much sin that can have a detrimental effect on interpersonal relationships, and hinders their relationship with the LORD. Let us meet the different members of Jacob’s family and see if we find some reflection of ourselves in them. Being aware of our own sin and its negative effect on others, let us ask the LORD to apply His transforming grace to our lives.

Like Laban, Do You Find Yourself Using People for Your Own Advantage?🔗

Laban takes advantage of the fact Jacob is a blood relative and consequently enjoys the benefits of his labors without giving him remuneration. After a month of service has gone by (Gen. 29:14b), Laban asks Jacob, "Because you are my brother, is it right that you should serve me for nothing? Tell me, what shall your wages be?" (Gen. 29:15). After having thus benefited from Jacob’s services for a full month, and finding that Jacob is a useful worker, Laban constructs a relationship with Jacob that will be most beneficial to himself.

Laban tricks Jacob by substituting Leah in the place of Rachel (Gen. 29:23-26). Not only has he deceived Jacob, but Laban has also taken advantage of the situation to marry off a daughter who was not a prime candidate for marriage. Genesis 29:17 informs us that “Leah’s eyes were poor.” The Old Testament commentators, Keil and Delitzsch, explain the meaning of this: Leah’s eyes lacked the sparkle and brightness that was regarded as the height of feminine beauty in Middle Eastern women.1

In exchange for seven more years of labor, Laban is willing to give Jacob Rachel as a second wife (Gen. 29:27). His willingness to give both his daughters to the same man shows that Laban had little concern for his daughters’ happiness and their inter-personal relationship—note Leviticus 18:18, an ordinance that will prohibit such conduct on the part of a father: “Do not take your wife’s sister as a rival wife and have sexual relations with her while your wife is living.”

Laban does not want to have Jacob depart and return home because he has enjoyed the LORD’s blessing of prosperity through Jacob’s presence (Gen. 30:25-30). Jacob is concerned to provide for his own family and return to his own home, but Laban wants to detain him for his own personal and selfish benefit.

When they agree upon another business contract, once again Laban resorts to cunning trickery to take advantage of Jacob (Gen. 30:31-36). Jacob is willing to continue working for Laban on the one condition that he be allowed to keep all the speckled sheep and speckled goats as his wages—he proposes to Laban that he be allowed to remove all such animals from Laban’s herds and flocks (vs. 31-32). But before turning the flocks and herds over to Jacob’s care, Laban himself first removes all the speckled sheep and speckled goats, giving them to his sons and having them remove them from the main flocks and herds by a space of three days (vs. 34-36). By so doing, it seems that Laban was seeking to insure a longer term of service from Jacob, since now Jacob would be starting with no sheep or goats at all and would have to wait until the animals produced more of the off-color variety in order to build up a flock and herd of his own.

When Jacob prospers with ever-increasing flocks and servants, Laban’s demeanor towards him changes (Gen. 30:43-31:2). As long as Laban could use Jacob to his own personal advantage all was well, but now he becomes cold and distant towards Jacob.

When you look at Laban, you see a man who makes a practice of using people for his own advantage, a man who places his personal interests and wealth ahead of his own family. When you honestly look at yourself, do you see the same kind of life? If so, ask the LORD for His transforming grace.

Like Rachel, Do You Find Yourself Living a Self-Centered Life?🔗

Rachel was physically beautiful in every way—in face and in figure (Gen. 29:17). No doubt, because of her physical attractiveness, she was everybody’s favorite girl—the star attraction, “the high school homecoming queen.”

But Rachel was also very self-centered and hard to live with when things did not go her way (Gen. 30:1). Instead of being grateful for all that she has and being happy for her sister, Rachel envied her sister because she could bear children and Rachel could not. Rachel demands that Jacob give her children, or she will die—her envy, her pre-occupation with what she does not have, is killing her.

Although she possessed a great deal of outward beauty, there was little inner beauty and little spiritual depth to Rachel’s life (Gen. 30:1-8). Rather than learn from the example of Isaac and Rebekah, as recorded in Genesis 25:21, “Isaac prayed to the LORD on behalf of his wife, because she was barren. And the LORD answered his prayer, and Rebekah his wife became pregnant,” Rachel demands that Jacob give her children (Gen. 30:1).

When her maidservant bears Jacob a son, Rachel exclaims, “God has vindicated me—[i.e. He has rendered a verdict on her behalf]-and has listened to my plea”—[i.e. her complaint] (Gen. 30:6). Rather than thanking God for His graciousness towards her, her attitude is: God has finally given me my rights; He has finally given me what I deserve. When her maidservant bears Jacob another son, Rachel exclaims, “I have wrestled with my sister [for Jacob’s affection] and have prevailed” (Gen. 30:8). Her jealousy expresses itself: she could not bear to endure Jacob’s undivided attention, especially if he is lured away by what she could not provide him.

Even when the LORD is gracious to Rachel and gives her the desire of her heart, she is still not satisfied (Gen. 30:22-24). When God grants Rachel a son of her own, she names him “Joseph,” from the Hebrew 9b: meaning, “to add,” and says, “May the LORD add to me another son.” 

Rachel has a hard time letting go of the idols of this world (Gen. 31:19). When the family departs for Canaan, it is Rachel who steals her father’s teraphim and takes them along. The teraphim were little household idols revered as the givers of earthly prosperity.2 Material prosperity is a high priority in Rachel’s life, something she does not want to lose, even if it means compromising her commitment to Christ.

When you look at Rachel, you see a woman who lives a self-centered life, a woman who always got everything she wanted and cannot bear life to be lived in any other way. When you honestly look at yourself, do you see the same kind of life? If so, ask the LORD for His transforming grace.

Like Leah, Do You Find Yourself Battling Resentment and Frustrated Dreams?🔗

From early on, Leah had a hard time in life, and life continued to be hard on her (Gen. 29:17,30). She lacked in physical beauty, and consequently, was passed over in favor of her younger sister. Even in marriage she was not the primary object of her husband’s attraction and affection.

For a long time, Leah seeks to win Jacob’s heart; but her hopes and dreams continue to be frustrated (Gen. 29:31-35). The LORD sees that Leah is hated—that is to say, neglected by Jacob who has no affection for her—and grants her a son, Reuben (vs. 31). The birth of the son gives Leah hope that now at last Jacob will love her and her affliction (her rejection) will be removed (vs. 32).

With the birth of a second son, her unfulfilled dreams of love are still being pursued; she names him “Simeon,” (from the Hebrew שָׁמַע meaning, “to hear,”) “because the LORD has heard that I am [still] hated” (vs. 33). With the birth of her third son, her expectations that Jacob will at last be joined to her are rekindled: “Now this time my husband will become attached to me, because I have borne him three sons. Therefore, his name was called Levi” (לָוָה) meaning, “to join” (vs. 34).

She praises the LORD for the birth of her fourth son (Judah), and perhaps she is beginning to re-focus her life. Leah declares, “this time I will praise the LORD”—she now is making praise to the LORD her priority, rather than the effort to win her husband’s favor (vs. 35). However, Leah may be expecting that this time, after bearing Jacob four sons, he will finally love her and for this she will praise the LORD. If this is her meaning, then her attitude has not changed.

Leah struggled with her frustrations and an attitude of bitterness towards her sister, Rachel (Gen. 30:9-15). When she no longer bears any more children, she does what Rachel had done: she offers Jacob her maidservant (vs. 9-13). When Rachel requests some of Reuben’s mandrakes—a fruit thought to promote fertility—Leah’s bitterness becomes evident: Leah said to Rachel, “Is it an insignificant thing that you have taken away my husband? Will you now take away my son’s mandrakes also?” (Gen. 30:15a)

Far from having her hopes fulfilled, Leah finds her relationship with Jacob has deteriorated (Gen. 30:16). Leah informs Jacob that he must sleep with her because she has hired him with her son’s mandrakes. Her relationship with her husband has become reduced to a prostitute-like transaction, far removed from the affection she so deeply desired. However, by means of this prostitute-like relationship, Leah does conceive and bears Jacob a fifth son, whom she names Issachar (30:17-18). The name Issachar is derived from the Hebrew word ,שָכַר, meaning, “to hire.”

Leah continued to hold on to the hope that she might still gain Jacob’s favor and realize the longing of her heart (Gen. 30:19-20). When she bears Jacob a sixth son (Zebulun), she expresses the hope that “now my husband will live with me, because I have borne him six sons” (vs. 20). Her expectations are reduced to the hope of having Jacob’s companionship, if not his affection—“live with me,” as opposed to “be joined to me” (Gen. 29:34)—and that for the sake of her sons, if not for her own attractiveness.

When you look at Leah, you see a woman who waged a personal battle against resentment and frustrated hopes, a woman who may never have been granted the desire of her heart—although maybe, at long last, after the death of Rachel, when she was Jacob’s only wife, she did finally realize something of that for which she so longed.

When you honestly look at yourself, do you see the same kind of life? If so, ask the LORD for His transforming grace.

Like Jacob, Do You Find Yourself Dismissing Your Own Shortcomings?🔗

Jacob is very much aware of the wrongs he has suffered (Gen. 31:7,12). Speaking to his wives, he accuses Laban of having deceived him and having altered the conditions of their contract “ten times” (vs. 7). He reports to his wives that even the Angel of God testified, “I have seen all that Laban does to you” (vs. 12).

When Laban overtakes Jacob and his family as they journey back home to Canaan, Jacob angrily confronts Laban with his wrongful conduct (Gen. 31:36-42). He protests his own innocence, and challenges Laban to point out his sin: "What is my trespass? What is my sin, that you have so hotly pursued me?" (vs. 36). He maintains that in exchange for his hard work and faithful commitment, Laban has treated him with deceit and callousness (vs. 38-42).

But Jacob is less than honest with his family or with himself: he does not face up to his own misdeeds. Jacob took advantage of Laban (Gen. 30:37-43). When the stronger animals came to the water troughs, Jacob set speckled rods before them and they conceived speckled offspring—thus, over the years his flocks became superior in quality to Laban’s and Jacob prospered. As the commentators Keil & Delitzsch point out, “a fact frequently noticed, particularly in the case of sheep, is that whatever fixes their attention in copulation is marked upon the young.”3

Jacob did not fulfill his obligation to his wife, Leah (Gen. 30:15). The fact that Leah “hires” him with her son’s mandrakes shows that he had totally disregarded her and did not fulfill his marital obligations to her. Exodus 21:10 codifies a prohibition against such treatment by a husband: “If he marries another woman, he must not deprive the first of her food, her clothing, and her duty of marriage” [i.e. his sexual obligation to her].

When you look at Jacob, you see a man who was prone to dismiss his own shortcomings, a man who recognized the wrongs done to him but was blind or tolerant of his own misdeeds.

When you honestly look at yourself, do you see the same kind of life? If so, ask the LORD for His transforming grace.


The reason Scripture contains a detailed account of Jacob’s family is to remind us of the fact that we are saved by grace, and we are in need of God’s transforming grace.

In this present life, every Christian and every Christian family is far less than perfect.

Even in the lives of God’s redeemed there still exists much sin that can have a detrimental effect on interpersonal relationships—and on our relationship with God. Being aware of our own sin and its negative effect on others, let us ask the LORD to apply His transforming grace to our lives.

Discussion Questions🔗

1. How long does Jacob work for Laban before Laban begins to pay him for his labor? See Gen. 29:14b-15 What does this tell us about Laban? Like Laban, do you tend to take advantage of people and take their service for granted? When Laban agrees to give his daughter Rachel to Jacob in marriage, what does Laban do on Jacob’s wedding night? See Gen. 29:21-25 What kind of a man was Laban? When you look at yourself, do you see the same kind of life?

14Laban said to him, Surely you are my bone and my flesh. So Jacob stayed with him for a month. 15Then Laban said to Jacob, Because you are my brother, is it right that you should serve me for nothing? Tell me, what shall your wages be? Gen. 29:14-15

21Jacob said to Laban, Give me my wife so that I may lie with her, for I have fulfilled my time of service. 22So Laban gathered together all the men of that place and made a feast. 23In the evening, Laban took Leah his older daughter and brought her to Jacob. Then Jacob went in and lay with her...25In the morning, to his surprise, Jacob discovered that it was Leah. Then he said to Laban, What is this that you have done to me? Did I not serve you for Rachel? Why then have you tricked me? Gen. 29:21-25

2. How is Rachel described in Genesis 29:17b? How do you think this caused others to treat her? How would this affect Rachel’s view of herself? When Leah bares a child, but Rachel cannot, how does Rachel react? See Gen. 30:1 When the LORD does allow Rachel to bare a son, what is her response? See Gen. 30:22-24 What kind of a woman was Rachel? When you look at yourself, do you see the same kind of life?

17b...Rachel had a beautiful face and figure. Gen. 29:17b

1...when Rachel saw that she bore Jacob no children, Rachel envied her sister; and she said to Jacob, 'Give me children, or else I will die!' Gen. 30:1

22God remembered Rachel, and God listened to her, and opened her womb. 23And she conceived and bore a son...24and she named him, 'Joseph,' [the name “Joseph” comes from the Hebrew word, “to add”] saying, 'May the LORD add to me another son.' Gen. 30:22-24

3. In comparison to Rachel, how is Leah described in Genesis 29:17a? By tricking Jacob into marrying her, what does this reveal about her own father’s attitude towards her? What do we learn about Jacob’s attitude towards Leah? See Gen. 29:31-32 What do we learn about Leah’s attitude towards Rachel? See Gen. 30:14b-15a Have you experienced the same kind of life as Leah? If so, have you allowed your experiences to embitter you against people and against the LORD? Or are you looking to the LORD for His grace, with the assurance that He rewards those who faithfully accept His will for their live?

17Leah’s eyes were poor; but Rachel had a beautiful face and figure. Gen. 29:17

31...the LORD saw that Leah was hated [i.e. rejected], and he opened her womb...32And Leah conceived and bore a my husband will love me. Gen. 29:31-32

14Then Rachel said, 'Please give me [some] of your son’s mandrakes. 15And [Leah] said to her, 'Is it a small matter that you have taken away my husband?' And would you also take away my son’s mandrakes?' Gen. 31:14b-15a

Note: Mandrakes were thought to make a woman fertile.

4. What do we learn about Jacob from Genesis 31:6-7, 11-12? Like Jacob, are you very aware of the wrongs you have suffered, and even entertain an attitude of self-pity? What does Jacob do to Laban? See Gen. 30:37-42 How has Jacob mistreated Leah? See Gen. 29:31; 30:16 What kind of a man was Jacob? When you look at yourself, do you see the same kind of life?

Jacob said to Rachel and Leah:

6And you know that with all my might I have served your father. 7Yetyour father has deceived me and changed my wages ten times... Gen. 31:6-7

11Then the Angel of God spoke to me in a dream, saying, 12...I have seen all that Laban is doing to youGen. 31:11-12

37Now Jacob took for himself rods of green poplar and of the almond and chestnut trees, peeled white stripes in them, and exposed the white which [was] in the rods...41It came to pass, whenever the stronger livestock conceived, Jacob placed the rods before the eyes of the livestock in the gutters, that they might conceive among the rods. 42But when the flocks were feeble, he did not put [them] in; so the feebler were Laban’s and the stronger Jacob’s. Gen. 30:37-42

31a...the LORD saw that Leah was hated [i.e. rejected] Gen. 29:31a

16When Jacob came out of the field in the evening, Leah went out to meet him, and said, 'You must come in to me, for I have surely hired you with my son’s mandrakes.' And he lay with her that night. Gen. 30:16

5. Why do you think Scripture gives such a detailed account of Jacob and his family? If you find a reflection of your own life in the lives of the members of Jacob’s family, what should you do? See 1 Jn. 1:9; Psl. 51:10.

9If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 1 Jn. 1:9

10Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me. Psl. 51:10


  1. ^ C.F. Keil, Franz Delitzsch, “The Pentateuch, Vol. 1,” Commentaries on the Old Testament, 285.
  2. ^ C.F. Keil, Franz Delitzsch, “The Pentateuch, Vol. 1,” Commentaries on the Old Testament, 296
  3. ^ C.F. Keil, Franz Delitzsch, “The Pentateuch, Vol. 1,” Commentaries on the Old Testament, 293

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