Jacob leaves his family to find a wife from his mother’s family, Laban her brother. As he approaches Haran, Jacob meets Rachel at the watering hole. She takes him to her father. Jacob desires to take her as his wife. So when Laban agrees to give what he desires, Jacob asks Rachel to be his wife. The negotiation involves Jacob working for seven years and then Rachel would be his wife.
While Jacob had been the deceiver with his brother, now Laban deceives Jacob. At the end of seven years Jacob discovers that Rachel’s older sister, Leah, is the one who sleeps with Jacob. The deceiver was deceived. So seven more years to “work” for Rachel.
The tension already evident between the sisters, now extends to who gets pregnant. Leah eventually has six sons and one daughter, her maid also gets pregnant. Rachel, who was barren, has her maid sleep with Jacob. Finally Rachel has two sons of her own, Joseph and Benjamin.
What to make of this?
Many times teaching materials of the Old Testament tend to focus on the human level. So, the stories become encouragement to “be like____” and you fill in the blank. The moral is that if you acted like (Abraham, Isaac, etc.) then you will be blessed by God.
The these chapters continue the trend all the way back to Genesis 3—sin pervades and influences every person. In these stories we see Jacob on the receiving end of deception, Rachel’s jealousy of her sister Leah, and Laban’s continuing plan to best Jacob. Each is struggling to get their advantage over the others.
In other words, all the characters in Genesis are sinful people. The key is not how great (or not so great) these people were in character or actions. Rather, the key is God, who made promises to these sinful people, who acts to use even the most sinful humans to fulfill what He desired and planned.
Such an understanding does not excuse the sins, but it does provide insight into how God can and will work in what seem to be horrible circumstances. And throughout history God still works in and through sinful humans. So, we focus that kind of God. And for that we can be thankful.
So now we see that with all the plotting for having children, it is Leah, the forgotten, older sister, who gives birth to the son (Judah) who will carry on the promises of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Another surprise!