In Genesis 29 NJKV we see Jacob working to get Rachel as a wife:

18 Now Jacob loved Rachel; so he said, “I will serve you seven years for Rachel your younger daughter.”

Jacob ends up being deceived and given Leah as a wife:

23 Now it came to pass in the evening, that he took Leah his daughter and brought her to Jacob; and he went in to her.

Jacob then works another 7 years for Rachel:

27 Fulfill her week, and we will give you this one also for the service which you will serve with me still another seven years.”

28 Then Jacob did so and fulfilled her week. So he gave him his daughter Rachel as wife also. 29 And Laban gave his maid Bilhah to his daughter Rachel as a maid. 30 Then Jacob also went in to Rachel, and he also loved Rachel more than Leah. And he served with Laban still another seven years. 31 When the Lord saw that Leah was unloved, He opened her womb; but Rachel was barren.

Now here's the thing that makes me ask this question. It records in Leviticus 18:18 NKJV

18 Nor shall you take a woman as a rival to her sister, to uncover her nakedness while the other is alive.

There was a lot of strife between Rachel and Leah, but God hadn't given the law yet for them to avoid this type of situation. So my question is: why did God wait to give the law? I figure he could have given it to Noah or even Abraham, could he have not?

5 Answers 5


The patriarchs were dealt with by God under faith, not legal works or legal commandments. Abraham was justified by faith, without the deeds of the law.

Nor was any law required to be given to the patriarchs since they were justified by faith and walked by faith.

Only when God chose to demonstrate on earth the future establishment of the everlasting testament (through the shedding of the blood of Christ) was it necessary to gain the cooperation of a nation on earth in order to demonstrate this by ritual and artefact.

That agreement had to include law within it, for that natural nation was under law in Adam. Adam having chosen, on behalf of all humanity, to partake of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, thus that fact had to be recognised in the wildernes and law had to be included in the transactions between the Hebrew nation, as a nation, and God almighty, Jehovah.

Thus the law was given.

But there had been no need to fully express the law (under which Adam had fallen and brought his entire progeny into servitude) until that point.

For the just shall live by faith.

  • I disagree, unless you mean something I don't understand by "walking in faith". There are many examples of patriarchs fully aware of what constituted sin in God's eyes and Hittite law. One example is Judah's treatment of Tamar, God's reaction to Er and Onan's sin ("Judah said to Onan, “Sleep with your brother’s wife and fulfill your duty to her as a brother-in-law to raise up offspring for your brother.” Gen. 38:8) Onan clearly knew the law, and that what he was doing was wrong, and Judah's finally acknowledging Tamar was more righteous than he, as he did not obey the law. Commented Jan 10 at 22:50
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    @anongoodnurse By 'patriarchs' I mean those whom God appeared to, spoke with, influenced and justified. I would suggest that Judah is not necessarily included in this category, certainly according to the narrative given in the sacred writings, The bible makes no mention or allusion to what you call 'Hittite law' whatsoever. Thus it is irrelevant to the divine account.
    – Nigel J
    Commented Jan 11 at 14:41
  • Much of Levitical law is covered by Hittite law, as is the case with Judah. (Again, “Sleep with your brother’s wife and fulfill your duty to her as a brother-in-law to raise up offspring for your brother.” Is that not also a Levitical law about widows' - and their offspring's - rights?) In general, patriarchs refers to those who who preceded the Law; "Abraham, Isaac and Jacob" is the narrowest definition. Commented Jan 11 at 17:22

Jacob needed to marry within his mother's clan (Gen. 28:2). He had contracted to marry Rachel. This promise was a formal betrothal, (29:18-19) probably legally binding, as it was in later times. But Laban tricked him into consummating a marriage with Leah first. This resulted in his having either to marry both of them or to break his contract to marry Rachel.

So if the law against marrying two sisters had been given, Jacob would have to break a vow to obey it. Given the choice between marrying two sisters and swearing falsely, marrying two sisters was the lesser of two evils. As it turns out, he would be in the same situation whether or not the law had been given.

OP asks, "why did God wait to give the law?" The implication from the above that it would not solve Jacob's dilemma. Because it would not have solved the problem, it did not need to be given. Indeed the text implies that Jacob knew very well that this marriage to the two sisters was wrong. His statement to Laban - “What have you done to me?" - is not only an expression of his feeling betrayed, but of having been trapped in an intractable moral dilemma.

  • That makes sense. Thank you for your answer! I would add though that if Laban had known the law, then perhaps, he could have chosen not to trick Jacob.
    – Jason_
    Commented Jan 10 at 17:23
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    the problem with that line of reasoning is that Laban was not a party to the covenant between God and the people of Israel (Jacob). And in any case his character was such that he did not honor the law, whether of God or of conscience. Commented Jan 10 at 23:49

God waited for a nation ready to accept the full body of laws of its own free will. Until then, the patriarchs were able to understand and deduce the laws though weren't necessarily bound by them.

You are assuming that the double-marriage was a bad thing that God should have wanted to avoid by early giving of the laws, but it too was part of the divine plan: Leah yearning to be the beloved wife and Rachel yearning to be the matriarch of the future tribes. They each achieved their goal posthumously.


The law was given after the Israelites had been in bondage for 4 generations in Egypt. Think about not being free to worship freely your own God, but made to bow before the pharaoh as if he were a god. Think of being beaten for being sick one day and not being able to carry the load mandated. The Israeites were totally dependent on the Egyptions for law by the time the exodus would soon take place.

It is hard for most of us that have grown up in a free country to relate to how the hearts of the Israelites would have been hardened, or at least apathetic to a loving giving mindset. The pagan like actions with the golden calf episode while Moses was on the mountain speaks volumes as to why the Israelites needed the law. They had to be tamed so to speak because of how hard there hearts had grown.

God had a plan though, the law would become the schoolmaster that would 1450 years later make God's people realize they were sinners. They would now have a measurement to apply to there unrightousness. Hopefully then they would understand why they needed a Savior. Jesus the Christ.

  • I'm not sure that's an accurate representation of what happened in Sinai - God offered the Israelites a relationship of personal connection, and they rejected that and asked for the Law.
    – nick012000
    Commented Jan 11 at 12:50
  • @nick012000 Please see my comment under your answer.
    – Anne
    Commented Jan 11 at 15:42

God gave the Law because the Israelites asked for it.

When God gave the Law to the Israelites, it was because the Israelites rejected his offer of personal relationship and universal priesthood, and instead asked for Moses to go get laws for them to follow.

Then Moses went up to God, and the Lord called to him from the mountain and said, “This is what you are to say to the descendants of Jacob and what you are to tell the people of Israel: ‘You yourselves have seen what I did to Egypt, and how I carried you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession. Although the whole earth is mine, you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’ These are the words you are to speak to the Israelites.”

Exodus 19:3-6

When the people saw the thunder and lightning and heard the trumpet and saw the mountain in smoke, they trembled with fear. They stayed at a distance and said to Moses, “Speak to us yourself and we will listen. But do not have God speak to us or we will die.”

Exodus 20:18-19

In these two quotes we can see first the offer that God gave them in the first quote, and then their rejection of that offer in the second quote, with their denial of a personal relationship and their request for rules to follow. They didn't want a personal relationship with God, they wanted Moses to go off, talk to God, then come back and tell them what the rules were.

There was no need for a Law before this point, because the Lord was mostly worshiped by a small group of people who had a personal connection with the Lord. If the Israelites had not rejected God out of fear, there would have been no need for the Law at Mount Sinai, either.

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    The scriptures you quote nowhere say that the Hebrew people at Sinai first rejected a relationship with God then asked for laws. God took the initiative in bringing them into a relationship with himself, where they would be a special people to bear his name, and the law God gave was to set them apart from the nations. He warned of consequences if they violated the agreement he was setting before them, and they agreed to abide by the terms, but that did not constitute them asking God for laws after rejecting an 'offer'. They agreed to the law after God took that initiative.
    – Anne
    Commented Jan 11 at 15:37
  • @Anne "The scriptures you quote nowhere say that the Hebrew people at Sinai first rejected a relationship with God then asked for laws." Yes, they do. That's the second quote. The first quote is God's offer, the second is their rejection of that offer.
    – nick012000
    Commented Jan 12 at 13:53
  • Please note that the second quote was their terror at the near presence of God at Sinai. They were not rejecting anything. Neither had they asked for anything other than that Moses relay to them what God had said to him. Please also note that the OP is asking about entirely different scriptures. On Hermeneutics, it is the text in question that must be addressed.
    – Anne
    Commented Jan 12 at 16:55
  • @Anne The Scriptures don't exist in a vacuum. Other passages are relevant too.
    – nick012000
    Commented Jan 13 at 12:28

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