1 So Jacob went on his journey and came to the land of the people of the East.
2 And he looked, and saw a well in the field; and behold, there were three flocks of sheep lying by it; for out of that well they watered the flocks. A large stone was on the well’s mouth.
3 Now all the flocks would be gathered there; and they would roll the stone from the well’s mouth, water the sheep, and put the stone back in its place on the well’s mouth.
4 And Jacob said to them, “My brethren, where are you from?” And they said, “We are from Haran.”
5 Then he said to them, “Do you know Laban the son of Nahor?” And they said, “We know him.”
6 So he said to them, “Is he well?” And they said, “He is well. And look, his daughter Rachel is coming with the sheep.”
7 Then he said, “Look, it is still high day; it is not time for the cattle to be gathered together. Water the sheep, and go and feed them.”
8 But they said, “We cannot until all the flocks are gathered together, and they have rolled the stone from the well’s mouth; then we water the sheep.”
9 Now while he was still speaking with them, Rachel came with her father’s sheep, for she was a shepherdess.
10 And it came to pass, when Jacob saw Rachel the daughter of Laban his mother’s brother, and the sheep of Laban his mother’s brother, that Jacob went near and rolled the stone from the well’s mouth, and watered the flock of Laban his mother’s brother.
11 Then Jacob kissed Rachel, and lifted up his voice and wept.
12 And Jacob told Rachel that he was her father’s relative and that he was Rebekah’s son. So she ran and told her father.
13 Then it came to pass, when Laban heard the report about Jacob his sister’s son, that he ran to meet him, and embraced him and kissed him, and brought him to his house. So he told Laban all these things.
14 And Laban said to him, “Surely you are my bone and my flesh.” And he stayed with him for a month.
Many writers on Genesis treat this period of Jacob’s life as though it were a punishment for his treatment of his brother. Actually, however, they were for the most part very happy and prosperous years … he did receive some rather shabby treatment at the hand of his Uncle Laban. On the other hand, Laban did give him a job, permitted him to marry his daughters, and made it possible for Jacob to build up extensive holdings of his own. — Morris, page 455.
Jacob spotted the well through the rather unusual circumstances that, although it was still fairly early in the afternoon, there were already three flocks of sheep lying near the well waiting to be watered. There seems to have been a local regulation regarding the well stipulating that its stone covering only be removed at a certain time in the evening, at which time all the flocks of the vicinity were to be watered in turn, in order of arrival. Those that arrived first would get through first; hence, there were some that would come to “get in line” quite early. The shepherds tending the flocks were apparently either women or young lads, the latter being the case with the three flocks Jacob first saw. The stone on the well was too large for any one or two of them to move; it was easier therefore to have the well opened by several helping each other once a day. This type of well was apparently not a well of flowing water, but rather of stored water.
It is interesting to note that both Jacob and the young shepherds still spoke the same language. The language of Haran was Aramaic, or Chaldee, and was evidently a language well known to Abraham, and therefore also to Isaac and Jacob.— Morris, pages 456-457.
When Jacob saw Rachel, there is no doubt that he was thrilled beyond words. She was a beautiful woman (Genesis 29:17), in addition to being industrious and strong enough to care for her father’s sheep. …
One receives the impression in reading the narrative here that with Jacob it was a case of love at first sight. Before even introducing himself, Jacob went up to Rachel, after watering the sheep, and proceeded to kiss he, so overcome by emotion was he. This was not intended as a kiss of personal love, of course, but rather simply a kiss of greeting; but even this was practiced only by relatives or close friends, so it must surely have startled Rachel. She was even more shocked when she saw this strong man begin to weep and cry in a loud voice!
Then, however, he managed to control his emotions long enough to tell her who he was. He was her cousin, the son of her father’s beloved sister, No doubt Rachel had heard much from Laban about the beautiful Rebekah, who had left home so long ago under such remarkable circumstances. …
When she learned who Jacob was, she immediately ran as fast as she could to tell her father the glad news. Rebekah had left her brother almost one hundred years before, on almost a moment’s notice; and so far as the record goes, he had never seen her since. — Morris, pages 458-459.
As an example of the “Jacob was wrong” view, here’s what Mackintosh says:
In chapter 28, Jacob utterly fails in the apprehension of God’s real character, and meets all the rich grace of Bethel with an “if,’ and a miserable bargain about food and raiment. We now follow him into a scene of thorough bargain-making. “Whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap.” There is no possibility of escaping from this. Jacob had not yet found his true level in the presence of God, and therefore God uses circumstances to chasten and break him down. …
How often do we find, as in Jacob’s case, that even although the Lord may come near to us and speak in our ears, yet we do not understand His voice or take our true place in His presence. “… Jacob learnt nothing by all this, and it therefore needed twenty years of terrible schooling, an that, to in a school marvelously adapted to his flesh; and even that, as we shall see, was not sufficient to break him down. … The bargain-making Jacob meets with the bargain-making Laban, and they are both seen, as it were, straining every nerve to outwit each other. Nor can we wonder at Laban, for he had never been at Bethel—he had seen no open heaven, with a ladder reaching from thence to earth—he had heard no magnificent promises from the lips of Jehovah, securing to him all the land of Canaan, with a countless seed: no marvel, therefore, that he should exhibit a grasping groveling spirit; he had no other resource … But to find Jacob, after all he had seen and heard at Bethel, struggling with a man of the world, and endeavoring, but such means, to accumulate property, is peculiarly humbling. — Mackintosh, pages 289-290
I am more inclined to agree with Morris’ view that Jacob wasn’t the evil schemer that most people enjoy making him out to be. Of course he wasn’t perfect, but nobody is, and I don’t see any evidence that Jacob’s sins were greater than those of the ordinary follower of God who has faith but fails in action often. If Jacob wasn’t right to go to Haran to find a wife, where was he to get one?