The Purchase of a Wife
Genesis 29:15-20
And Laban said to Jacob, Because you are my brother, should you therefore serve me for nothing? tell me, what shall your wages be?…

As Jacob possessed no property, and could not, therefore, buy his wife, he paid for her by seven years of service. But was this indeed so degrading as it has, by almost general consent, been denounced to be? It is alleged that, as the wife is, in the East, regarded only as a kind of slave, first subordinate to the father, and then to the husband, she was, like the slave, acquired by purchase, and for almost exactly the same price. Such certainly was and is the case among many uncivilized tribes. But does the purchase not admit of another construction? Among some nations, the marriage-price is distinctly regarded as a compensation due to the parents for the trouble and expense incurred by the education of the daughter. From this view there is but one step to the notion that the parents deserve the gratitude of the man to whom they give their child; and the Hebrews, who assigned to the women a position eminently high and honourable, who regarded the wife as an integral part of the husband, and as the indispensable condition of his happiness, and among whom it was a proverbial adage, that "an excellent wife is far more precious than riches" — the Hebrews bought their wives as a treasure and the most valuable possession. It may be seriously asked whether such a purchase was, in principle, not more dignified than the custom according to which the wife buys, as it were, a husband by her dowry, and in consequence of which the daughters of poor parents are in a very precarious position, while, in the East, daughters are at least no burden on their fathers. In practice, that custom is certainly liable to considerable abuses; heartless or avaricious parents, without consulting the inclination of their daughters, may sell them to those who bid the highest price; but scarcely any principle, however lofty, is safe against abuse; besides, it was a law among most tribes, that the daughter's consent must first be obtained; and it was a custom among some, that the money received by the parents should be applied for the benefit of the bride or the young couple. But suppose even that the manner of courting and acquiring the wife was not in every respect noble and delicate among the Hebrews, it certainly did not affect the relative position of husband and wife; the one was no master, the other no slave; the usual customs could, therefore, safely be retained, as long as they did not endanger the beautiful principles which guaranteed the dignity of the other sex.

(M. M. Kalisch, Ph. D.)

Parallel Verses
KJV: And Laban said unto Jacob, Because thou art my brother, shouldest thou therefore serve me for nought? tell me, what shall thy wages be?

WEB: Laban said to Jacob, "Because you are my brother, should you therefore serve me for nothing? Tell me, what will your wages be?"

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