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Genesis 29:4-8 (NIV)

4 Jacob asked the shepherds, “My brothers, where are you from?”

“We’re from Harran,” they replied.

5 He said to them, “Do you know Laban, Nahor’s grandson?”

“Yes, we know him,” they answered.

6 Then Jacob asked them, “Is he well?”

“Yes, he is,” they said, “and here comes his daughter Rachel with the sheep.”

7 “Look,” he said, “the sun is still high; it is not time for the flocks to be gathered. Water the sheep and take them back to pasture.”

8 “We can’t,” they replied, “until all the flocks are gathered and the stone has been rolled away from the mouth of the well. Then we will water the sheep.”

I think that it is hard to read this dialogue, and not be struck by the contrast between the this and the dialogues that we usually see. Is the author intending to communicate a sort of curtness or rudeness?

(An interesting thing is nine says that Jacob and the shepherds are still speaking when Rebecca arrives.)

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  • All seems quite polite to me.
    – Nigel J
    Commented Apr 7, 2022 at 9:46

2 Answers 2

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I don't see the shepherds were rude to Jacob. They just told Jacob their usual practice when taking water from the well. Verse 2 & 3 explained it;

2 There he saw a well in the open country, with three flocks of sheep lying near it because the flocks were watered from that well. The stone over the mouth of the well was large.

3 When all the flocks were gathered there, the shepherds would roll the stone away from the well’s mouth and water the sheep. Then they would return the stone to its place over the mouth of the well.

So first of all, the stone over the mouth of the well was large, which meant the stone was heavy. Secondly, they would move the stone only when all the flocks were gathered, and Rachel's flock hadn't been there.

Perhaps the notable point is; when they all saw Rachel from a distant, Jacob wanted the shepherds water the sheep and be gone. After he learned their custom, he didn't wait for the shepherd involved and he alone rolled away the heavy stone! Watered her sheep and kissed her, before Rachel knew who he was. I would say Jacob was the one extremely rude!

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I think the source of the question is false dichotomy or perhaps the idea that the other interactions we see are the normal ones. The false dichotomy is that they are either being curt or being polite (and politeness is the normal things we see) whereas, I think we need to draw a spectrum instead.

The spectrum is from rudeness to the ultra-politeness. The way that the Sodomites treated Lot was rude, but what we see normally in Scripture is an ultra-politeness. It is either a subject-servant relationship or family or negotiations. And those relationships aren't the lowest form of politeness, but extremely polite. (Indeed, the negotiations can often strike us as odd.)

However, this is one of the few (only?) places where we see a poor man - having fled Esau - speak to other poor men with whom he has no real dealings. As such they give their disinterested help. Is he being treated worse than if he was their master? Obviously. Or even if he were merely a rich man, but it is going too far to say thy are actually treating him poorly. Instead, what we have is a normal interaction of a stranger and a group of strangers in the desert.

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