A. Two sons born to Bilhah.
1. (1-4) Rachel, out of frustration, gives her maid Bilhah to Jacob to bear children through her.
Now when Rachel saw that she bore Jacob no children, Rachel envied her sister, and said to Jacob, “Give me children, or else I die!” And Jacob’s anger was aroused against Rachel, and he said, “Am I in the place of God, who has withheld from you the fruit of the womb?” So she said, “Here is my maid Bilhah; go in to her, and she will bear achild on my knees, that I also may have children by her.” Then she gave him Bilhah her maid as wife, and Jacob went in to her.
a. Give me children, or else I die: Despite Rachel’s great beauty, she also was near despair. No doubt Leah often said, “If I only had my sister’s beauty and the love of my husband, I would be happy.” No doubt Rachel often said, “If I only had sons like my sister, I would be happy.” Beautiful or plain, we all have our problems.
i. This principle shows us the need to stop looking to how God deals with others and set our eyes on Him. Jesus taught the same principle to Peter (John 21:19-22).
b. Rachel envied her sister… Give me children, or else I die… Jacob’s anger was aroused against Rachel: The tension in this family was apparent. Yet in it all, Jacob saw the hand of God in the matter, even though he stated it to Rachel so directly as to be cruel (Am I in the place of God, who has withheld from you the fruit of the womb).
i. It is likely that Rachel was vain and conceited. She knew that Jacob worked 14 years with no pay out of love for her, and also knew Jacob would not have worked one day for Leah.
c. Here is my maid Bilhah; go in to her, and she will bear a child on my knees, that I also may have children by her: Much like Sarah gave Hagar to Abraham in a surrogate-mother type arrangement (Genesis 16), Rachel gave her maid Bilhah to Jacob.
i. The phrase bear a child on my knees refers to the ancient practice of surrogate-adoption. Some believe that the phrase refers only to a symbolic placement of the child on the knees of one who adopts it. Others believe that it refers to the surrogate sitting on the lap of the adoptive mother during both insemination and birth. Referring to Genesis 30:3, the Twentieth Century Bible Commentary says: “These words are probably intended literally, and not merely as figurative adoption.”
ii. We should not regard the idea that Bilhah was inseminated and gave birth “on the knees” of Rachel as a certainty. We don’t know enough about the ancient practice, and even if it were an ancient custom, it doesn’t mean that it was followed in every case, but it certainly is a reasonable possibility.
d. She gave him Bilhah her maid as wife: This did not mean that Jacob actually married Bilhah. It means Jacob did with Bilhah what a man should only do with his wife.
2. (5-6) The birth of Dan.
And Bilhah conceived and bore Jacob a son. Then Rachel said, “God has judged my case; and He has also heard my voice and given me a son.” Therefore she called his name Dan.
a. She called his name Dan: Jacob’s fifth son, born to him through Bilhah, the maid of Rachel, was named by Rachel Dan, meaning Judgment. Because of her own envy, she viewed this child born of the flesh as a victory and a vindication for her.
b. God has judged my case; and He has also heard my voice and given me a son: Rachel felt that the birth of Dan was proof that God heard her complaint. She felt strengthened in the competition against her sister Leah.
i. “Can a woman get so low that she will hit her sister over the head with a baby? Rachel did.” (Barnhouse)
3. (7-8) The birth of Naphtali.
And Rachel’s maid Bilhah conceived again and bore Jacob a second son. Then Rachel said, “With great wrestlings I have wrestled with my sister, and indeed I have prevailed.” So she called his name Naphtali.
a. She called his name Naphtali: Jacob’s sixth son, born to him through Bilhah, the maid of Rachel, was named Naphtali. Rachel gave this name (meaning wrestle), because relationships in their home had broken down to the point where Rachel openly acknowledged the baby competition.
b. With great wrestlings I have wrestled with my sister, and indeed I have prevailed: This seems strange, because at this point Leah had four sons, and Rachel (through Bilhah) had two sons. Yet Rachel said that she had prevailed. Perhaps she meant it in the sense that now Leah seemed to have stopped having children.
B. Two sons born to Zilpah.
1. (9-11) The birth of Gad.
When Leah saw that she had stopped bearing, she took Zilpah her maid and gave her to Jacob as wife. And Leah’s maid Zilpah bore Jacob a son. Then Leah said, “A troop comes!” So she called his name Gad.
a. She took Zilpah her maid and gave her to Jacob as wife: Leah, who has stopped bearing children, figured she could use the same surrogate-mother method to increase the number of children accounted to her, so she gave her maid Zilpah to Jacob, as Rachel had given her maid Bilhah to Jacob.
b. She called his name Gad: Jacob’s seventh son, born to him through Zilpah, the maid of Leah, was named Gad, meaning Troop or Good Fortune. The wives of Jacob continued to use their children as pawns in a power struggle within the home.
i. Leah had apparently lost the peace she had when her fourth son was born; she no longer had the peace praise (Judah) brought.
2. (12-13) The birth of Asher.
And Leah’s maid Zilpah bore Jacob a second son. Then Leah said, “I am happy, for the daughters will call me blessed.” So she called his name Asher.
a. So she called his name Asher: Jacob’s eighth son, born to him through Zilpah, the maid of Leah, was named Asher, meaning Happy. Leah was more concerned about the status the child would bring her (all the daughters will call me blessed) than about the child himself.
C. Leah herself bears two more sons and a daughter.
1. (14-18) The birth of Issachar.
Now Reuben went in the days of wheat harvest and found mandrakes in the field, and brought them to his mother Leah. Then Rachel said to Leah, “Please give me some of your son’s mandrakes.” But she said to her, “Is it a small matter that you have taken away my husband? Would you take away my son’s mandrakes also?” And Rachel said, “Therefore he will lie with you tonight for your son’s mandrakes.” When Jacob came out of the field in the evening, Leah went out to meet him and said, “You must come in to me, for I have surely hired you with my son’s mandrakes.” And he lay with her that night. And God listened to Leah, and she conceived and bore Jacob a fifth son. Leah said, “God has given me my wages, because I have given my maid to my husband.” So she called his name Issachar.
a. Found mandrakes in the field: The mandrake is a root, called the love apple in Hebrew. They were thought to increase fertility in women (and still are among some peoples). Because Leah had the mandrakes, she knew Jacob would have relations with her, believing there was a greater likelihood she would become pregnant.
i. We don’t know if the effect of the mandrakes was something biological or if it worked more as a placebo. Under the guiding hand of God, the mandrakes seemed to work in the case of Leah and Jacob. Whatever strange agencies God may allow to be used (such as mandrakes), the real factor was His sovereign will (God listened to Leah).
b. You have taken away my husband: The hostility between Leah and Rachel was as obvious as it was painful. It must have been terrible living in a home where one wife believed the other had stolen her husband from her.
i. This confirms the wisdom of God’s original plan, as expressed in Genesis 2:24: one man to be joined to one woman in a one-flesh relationship. Later, Leviticus 18:18 forbade the marrying of sisters, and this shows why.
ii. “Is it any wonder that this family had a history of strife and bloodshed? Children reflect the atmosphere of the home.” (Barnhouse)
c. So she called his name Issachar: Jacob’s ninth son, born to Leah, was named Issachar, meaning Reward. Leah saw this son as a reward from God, because she was generous enough to offer her maid to Jacob.
2. (19-20) The birth of Zebulun.
Then Leah conceived again and bore Jacob a sixth son. And Leah said, “God has endowed me with a good endowment; now my husband will dwell with me, because I have borne him six sons.” So she called his name Zebulun.
a. So she called his name Zebulun: Jacob’s tenth son, born to Leah, was named Zebulun, meaning Dwelling. In the pain of her heart, she still waited for her husband to truly love her and live with her, and she hoped the sheer quantity of sons would win his heart to her.
3. (21) The birth of Dinah.
Afterward she bore a daughter, and called her name Dinah.
a. Afterward she bore a daughter: Finally, after ten children, Jacob became father to a daughter through Leah, who was named Dinah. Apparently, there was nothing symbolically significant in her name.
b. Afterward: The ungodly competition had, in one sense, ended. Leah and the two maids would have no more children from this point on.
i. The wives fought each other as if they were in a poker game:
“I bid one wife, loved and beautiful.”
“I bid one wife and four sons.”
“I’ll match your one wife and raise you a concubine and the concubine’s two sons.”
“I’ll raise you another concubine and two more sons by her; plus two more sons on my own, and I’ll throw in a daughter. I’ll stand with one wife, one concubine, six sons, and one daughter.”
Nobody was the winner at this competition.
D. Rachel herself bears a son to Jacob.
1. (22) God’s sovereignty over the womb.
Then God remembered Rachel, and God listened to her and opened her womb.
a. And opened her womb: The idea of God’s sovereignty over the womb is a repeated theme in the Bible. The purposes of God in opening one and closing the other may be completely unknowable, but God has His purpose.
· God granted twins to Rebekah (Genesis 25:21).
· He opens the womb of Leah (Genesis 29:31).
· He closed the womb of Hannah, for a time (1 Samuel 1:5).
2. (23-24) The birth of Joseph.
And she conceived and bore a son, and said, “God has taken away my reproach.” So she called his name Joseph, and said, “The LORD shall add to me another son.”
a. So she called his name Joseph: The eleventh son born to Jacob, through Rachel, was named Joseph, meaning May He Add. Rachel felt she had been vindicated by the birth of one son, but longed for more children to continue the competition with her sister Leah.
b. God has taken away my reproach: At this point, one might think this eleventh son would end up being the key son used to further God’s redemptive purpose through this family. Yet Isaiah 55:8-9 is true: “For My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways,” says the LORD. “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts.”
E. Jacob’s agreement with Laban.
1. (25-27) Jacob knows it is time to go back to Canaan.
And it came to pass, when Rachel had borne Joseph, that Jacob said to Laban, “Send me away, that I may go to my own place and to my country. Give me my wives and my children for whom I have served you, and let me go; for you know my service which I have done for you.” And Laban said to him, “Please stay, if I have found favor in your eyes, for I have learned by experience that the LORD has blessed me for your sake.”
a. Send me away, that I may go to my own place and to my country: Though Jacob was in Haran with Laban and his daughters for more than 14 years, he knew that he belonged in the land promised to him by God, through the covenant made with his grandfather Abraham and his father Isaac. After 14 years, Jacob still called the Promised Land my country.
b. Please stay, if I have found favor in your eyes, for I have learned by experience that the LORD has blessed me for your sake: Laban knew Jacob was an invaluable worker for him. Laban said this knowledge was learned by experience. Literally this means, learned by divination. It is probable that Laban practiced occult divination, and by this he knew the source of blessing.
2. (28-34) Jacob negotiates a deal with Laban to start building a flock of sheep and goats for himself.
Then he said, “Name me your wages, and I will give it.” So Jacob said to him, “You know how I have served you and how your livestock has been with me. For what you had before I camewas little, and it has increased to a great amount; the LORD has blessed you since my coming. And now, when shall I also provide for my own house?” So he said, “What shall I give you?” And Jacob said, “You shall not give me anything. If you will do this thing for me, I will again feed and keep your flocks: Let me pass through all your flock today, removing from there all the speckled and spotted sheep, and all the brown ones among the lambs, and the spotted and speckled among the goats; and these shall be my wages. So my righteousness will answer for me in time to come, when the subject of my wages comes before you: every one that is not speckled and spotted among the goats, and brown among the lambs, will be considered stolen, if it is with me.” And Laban said, “Oh, that it were according to your word!”
a. The spotted and speckled among the goats; and these shall be my wages: Jacob would take the speckled and spotted offspring, but first he had to separate the currently speckled or spotted animals from the rest of the flock. This set the probability of more speckled and spotted offspring against him.
i. Allowing the speckled and spotted sheep and goats to remain in the flock would increase the likelihood of more speckled and spotted offspring coming from the flock at large.
b. Laban said, “Oh, that it were according to your word”: This was an agreeable deal to both parties. First, it was a foolproof way to distinguish between the flocks of Laban and Jacob. As well, Laban liked the deal because the odds were set in his favor. Jacob may have proposed in this arrangement because he was willing to trust in God.
3. (35-36) The agreement is made, and the flocks are separated.
So he removed that day the male goats that were speckled and spotted, all the female goats that were speckled and spotted, every one that had some white in it, and all the brown ones among the lambs, and gave them into the hand of his sons. Then he put three days’ journey between himself and Jacob, and Jacob fed the rest of Laban’s flocks.
a. Jacob fed the rest of Laban’s flocks: Jacob would care for the large flock of his father-in-law Laban, made up of solid-colored animals. Jacob received any speckled or spotted offspring of this flock.
i. Obviously, if there was a way Jacob could encourage these solid-colored sheep to bring forth spotted and speckled offspring, it would increase his personal wealth.
b. He put three days’ journey between himself and Jacob: To prevent the mixing of the flocks, Laban’s sons took care of all the existing speckled and spotted sheep and goats, keeping them a three-day journey from the main flock.
c. Jacob fed the rest of Laban’s flocks: To make sure that the property of his employer was well taken care of, Jacob himself looked over Laban’s flock.
4. (37-43) God blesses Jacob’s method of breeding, and he greatly increases in wealth.
Now Jacob took for himself rods of green poplar and of the almond and chestnut trees, peeled white strips in them, and exposed the white which was in the rods. And the rods which he had peeled, he set before the flocks in the gutters, in the watering troughs where the flocks came to drink, so that they should conceive when they came to drink. So the flocks conceived before the rods, and the flocks brought forth streaked, speckled, and spotted. Then Jacob separated the lambs, and made the flocks face toward the streaked and all the brown in the flock of Laban; but he put his own flocks by themselves and did not put them with Laban’s flock. And it came to pass, whenever the stronger livestock conceived, that Jacob placed the rods before the eyes of the livestock in the gutters, that they might conceive among the rods. But when the flocks were feeble, he did not put them in; so the feebler were Laban’s and the stronger Jacob’s. Thus the man became exceedingly prosperous, and had large flocks, female and male servants, and camels and donkeys.
a. Jacob took for himself rods of green poplar and of the almond and chestnut trees: When Jacob put these branches in the watering troughs of the flocks, it apparently increased the number of speckled and spotted offspring from the solid-colored flock that Jacob managed on Laban’s behalf.
b. So the feebler were Laban’s and the stronger Jacob’s: Jacob also used selective breeding to increase the strength and vitality of his flock. We don’t know exactly how this method worked. It is possible Jacob knew more about animal husbandry than we do today; but it is more likely Jacob did the best he knew, and God blessed it.
i. Genesis 31:10-13 tells us that Jacob saw in a dream the blessed reproduction of speckled and spotted sheep and goats. That dream was also connected with a promise of God’s care for Jacob and a command to return to Canaan, the land of his family.
c. Thus the man became exceedingly prosperous: The ancient Hebrew says, “The man burst out exceedingly exceedingly.” God blessed Jacob, but it was not because Jacob was especially good. It was because of the promises God made to Jacob (Genesis 28:13-15) and the covenant made to Abraham.
i. In the same way, blessing comes from the LORD to us not because we are great or good, but because of the covenant God has made with us through Jesus, and promises He has given us in His word.
ii. We may note Jacob’s principles for prosperity:
· Don’t make wealth your goal (Genesis 30:25-26).
· Don’t be afraid to work for others and try to increase their wealth before or as you work to increase your own wealth (Genesis 30:27).
· Work hard, dedicating yourself to your employer’s success (Genesis 30:26, 31:38-42).
· Trust God (Genesis 30:31-33).
©2018 David Guzik – No distribution beyond personal use without permission