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Bible Commentaries
Genesis 30

Coffman's Commentaries on the BibleCoffman's Commentaries

Verses 1-42

The last paragraph of the preceding chapter and most of this one relate the birth of the Twelve Patriarchs. The last section of this chapter (Genesis 30:24-43) relates Jacob’s preparations to leave Laban and return to Canaan. As the birth of the antediluvian patriarchs was discussed earlier and presented by means of a chart, the Twelve Patriarchs of Israel will now be presented in much the same manner. It is not necessary to read over and over again that Jacob went in unto her … and she conceived … and she bare a son … and she called his name, etc. The prayer of Rachel, the incident with the mandrakes, and other materials of interest will be discussed separately. In order to present all the patriarchs, we shall also include the four whose births were recorded in the previous chapter.


(Presented in the order that their births were related)

The Sons of Leah

REUBEN (meaning “LOOKSON”) so named because Leah said, “God has looked upon my affliction,” referring to Jacob’s not loving her as he did Rachel. She said, “Now my husband will love me.”

SIMEON (meaning “HEARD”). God had heard her prayers.

LEVI (meaning “ATTACHED”). Leah believed Jacob would then be attached to her.

JUDAH (meaning “PRAISE”). She said, “I will praise Jehovah.”

The Sons of Bilhah

DAN (meaning “DECISION”, i.e., a judicial decision). So named because Rachel said, “God has judged me.”

NAPHTALI (meaning “BOUT”). Rachel said, “I have wrestled with my sister and have prevailed.”

The Sons of Zilpah

GAD (meaning “FORTUNATE” or “LUCK”). So named by Leah who was glad to be gaining more ground on her sister.

ASHER (meaning “HAPPY”). Leah said, “Happy am I.”

More Sons of Leah

ISSACHAR (meaning “HIRED MAN”). She had purchased a night’s sleep with her husband for her son’s mandrakes.

ZEBULUN (meaning “DWELLING”). Leah then believed that, “Now my husband will dwell with me.”

The Sons of Rachel

JOSEPH (meaning “ADD”). This name amounted to a prayer by Rachel that she might have another son.

BENJAMIN (This name means “SON OF THE RIGHT HAND”, a name given by Jacob. Rachel called him BENONI, meaning “SON OF MY SORROW,” for she died in giving birth to the baby). This is related in Genesis 35:16-20.

Just the names of these sons of Jacob constitute as eloquent and convincing a commentary on his polygamous household as any that could be written. The bitter, unending rivalry between Rachel and Leah; Rachel was sitting like a queen in the middle and doling out to the other women WHEN they might lie with Jacob; her bitterness that she had no children; her desperate prayer, “Give me children, or I die”; Leah’s frustration that Jacob never took her into his heart (Note how Jacob gave Benjamin a name that actually made him pre-eminent) … What a tragic household that was!

We now turn attention to some specific expressions in this chapter:

“Give me children, or I die” (Genesis 30:1) This is called Rachel’s rash prayer, for God indeed gave her children, and she died! (Genesis 35:16-20).

“Am I in God’s stead … ?” In anger Jacob said this (Genesis 30:2) to Rachel when she demanded children of him. In all the sorrows and jealousies that clouded Jacob’s house, the Old Israel did indeed believe in God, a fact increasingly clear as the story of Jacob unfolds.

“Bilhah, go in unto her” (Genesis 30:3) Thus, Rachel introduced concubinage into the patriarchal family of Israel with consequences of unmitigated sorrow. Leah at once gave her handmaid to Jacob as wife.

The incident of the mandrakes (Genesis 30:14-17). When Rachel saw Reuben with the mandrakes, she evidently supposed that, at last, she had found out Leah’s secret for bearing children, so she traded one night with Jacob to Leah for the mandrakes.

Mandrake (Mandragora officinarum), called “The Love Apple,” is a stemless perennial of the night shade family, having emetic, purgative, and narcotic qualities. The forked, torso-like shape of the tap-root gave rise to many superstitions. Aphrodisiac properties were ascribed it. The plant grew widely in Palestine.(F1)

The use of mandrakes as an aid to women who wish to bear children is, of course, not approved by anything in the Bible. The superstitions connected with this plant were in no sense reliable, but Rachel, who was by no means free from pagan ideas, was in a desperate mood and willing to try anything. She later took personal charge of Laban’s household gods (Genesis 31:34). And the impression through Genesis is that she was more than a little contaminated by pagan beliefs.

“A daughter named DINAH” (Genesis 30:21). There might have been other daughters born to Jacob, but if so, none others are mentioned. It would appear that the incident of Dinah’s unhappy involvement with Shechem (Genesis 34) might lie behind her introduction here. She was the daughter of Leah.

“Send me away” (Genesis 30:25) Here Jacob parted company with Laban; at least he began to do so. Laban, however, contracted to hire Jacob for a further period of service, offering to pay anything Jacob might ask. Jacob requested that he be paid from the flocks and herds, all of the ring-streaked, speckled, spotted, and black sheep and cattle, to which Laban gladly agreed, saying, “Behold, I would it might be according to thy word” (Genesis 30:34). This proves that Laban believed such cattle would be greatly outnumbered by the others, thinking no doubt that Jacob had again made a deal very favorable to Laban. What Laban did not know was the fact that God had already revealed to Jacob in a dream that the class of cattle he would receive would be proliferated exceedingly. To this day, in some places, cattle with markings described here are called “Jacob’s cattle.”

“And Jacob took him rods of fresh poplar … almond … planetree, and peeled white streaks in them” More nonsense has been written about this than about nearly anything else. This device of Jacob was one of two things: (1) It was either a semi-pagan superstition, just like the mandrakes, or (2) it was an order from God Himself delivered to Jacob as a test of his faith, nor can that possibility be discounted. Certainly, it was a supreme act of faith in God that Jacob agreed to continue working for Laban for that class of cattle. Why did Jacob propose this? The answer comes out in the next chapter, where Jacob explained what he was doing to his wives. God appeared to him in a dream, revealing that the livestock thus marked would proliferate in Laban’s herds. How did this come about? God caused it to be that way. Although nothing is said in the text about God’s telling Jacob to peal the rods, it might very well have been done. As noted in (1), it could have been merely a superstitious action by Jacob, just like Rachel and Leah’s use of the mandrakes.

Another factor often overlooked by commentators on this passage is that Jacob “controlled the breeding” of the herds (Genesis 30:41-42). The conclusion is absolutely imperative that the peeled rods either (1) did nothing at all, or (2) were a fulfillment of what God had commanded Jacob to do. The two great factors that produced the transfer of Laban’s flocks and herds, in large measure, to Jacob were: (1) God foretold Jacob of this and providentially brought it to pass; and (2) Jacob aided in every possible way by (a) controlling the breeding, and (b) manifesting his faith in God by the placement of the peeled rods. We cannot rule out the possibility that Jacob might have initiated the latter action himself, following some ancient superstition, supposing that such a thing might also help his purpose. One thing which we emphatically deny is that those peeled rods in any manner produced the black sheep and the ring-streaked, speckled, and spotted cattle.

Verse 43

“And the man increased exceedingly, and had large flocks, and maid-servants and men-servants, and camels and asses.”

Thus, as God had promised, he was indeed “with Jacob,” and blessed him abundantly. Several other interesting things appear in the chapter:

(1) Jacob’s sons were now grown up sufficiently to enable Jacob’s employment of them as shepherds.

(2) The ringstreaked, speckled, spotted and black sheep and cattle were separated from the main flock by a three days’ journey, some fifty miles away. Jacob clearly did not trust Laban at all.

(3) The semi-pagan beliefs of Laban appear in Genesis 30:27, where he said, “I have divined that Jehovah hath blessed me for thy sake.” The Pharaohs of Egypt used sacred cups by which they divined, a thing mentioned by Joseph in Egypt when Jacob’s posterity went to buy grain. We are not told here HOW Laban did it.

This exceedingly important section of Genesis presents the Twelve Patriarchs, fathers of the Twelve Tribes, from whom Christ himself named his holy church, calling it “The Twelve Tribes of Israel” (Matthew 19:28). Along with the Twelve Apostles of the New Dispensation, these are also symbolically presented in Revelation as “The Four and Twenty Elders on Their Thrones before God” (Revelation 11:16).


The providence of God is evident everywhere in the Bible, but especially in this narrative concerning Jacob and the beginnings of Israel. We noted that it was God’s providence that caused the ring-streaked, spotted, and speckled cattle, along with the black sheep, having as its purpose the enrichment of Jacob. At the same time, the hardships of Jacob were designed to harden and temper his character for the responsibility incumbent upon him. But God also over-ruled the fertility of Jacob’s wives, giving the greater number of children to Leah, who was actually more suitable to be the mother of patriarchs. We appreciate what Willis said about this:

“The statement here (Genesis 30:22) that God opened Rachel’s womb again affirms the inspired Biblical faith that God is personally and actively involved in human conception and birth, and that this process is not merely a natural phenomenon.”(F2)

The divine force that shaped the destiny of the Chosen People was exercised without regard to human preference, using and overruling the most obstinate wickedness to achieve God’s purpose. How wonderful it would have been if the chief actors in that historical drama had been able fully to trust God and to believe in their hearts that “all things work together for good to them that love God, to them that are called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:25). But we fear that, like ourselves, Jacob and his family were often resentful and fretful from the things they endured. Long after these events, while standing before Pharaoh, Jacob complained, “The days of the years of my pilgrimage are a hundred and thirty years: few and evil have been the days of the years of my life” (Genesis 47:9). Our hearts reach out in sympathy and understanding in this poignant record of the tribulations of Israel in its beginnings.

Bibliographical Information
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on Genesis 30". "Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/bcc/genesis-30.html. Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.
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