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1.And when Rachel saw. Here Moses begins to relate that Jacob was distracted with domestic strifes. But although the Lord was punishing him, because he had been guilty of no light sin in marrying two wives, and especially sisters; yet the chastisement was paternal; and God himself, seeing that he is wont mercifully to pardon his own people, restrained in some degree his hand. Whence also it happened, that Jacob did not immediately repent, but added new offenses to the former. But first we must speak of Rachel. Whereas she rejoiced to see her sister subjected to contempt and grief, the Lord represses this sinful joy, by giving his blessing to Leah, in order to make the condition of both of them equal. She hears the grateful acknowledgment of her sister, and learns from the names given to the four sons, that God had pitied, and had sustained by his favor, her who had been unjustly despised by man. Nevertheless envy inflames her, and will not suffer anything of the dignity becoming a wife to appear in her. We see what ambition can do. For Rachel, in seeking preeminence, does not spare even her own sister; and scarcely refrains from venting her anger against God, for having honored that sister with the gift of fruitfulness. Her emulation did not proceed from any injuries that she had received, but because she could not bear to have a partner and an equal, though she herself was really the younger. What would she have done had she been provoked, seeing that she envies her sister who was contented with her lot? Now Moses, by exhibiting this evil in Rachel, would teach us that it is inherent in all; in order that each of us, tearing it up by the roots, may vigilantly purify himself from it. That we may be cured of envy, it behaves us to put away pride and selflove; as Paul prescribes this single remedy against contentions
“Let nothing be done through vainglory.” (Philippians 2:3.)
2.And Jacob’s anger was kindled. The tenderness of Jacob’s affection rendered him unwilling to offend his wife; yet her unworthy conduct compelled him to do so, when he saw her petulantly exalt herself, not only against her sister, who piously, homily, and thankfully was enjoying the gifts of God; but even against God himself, of whom it is said that the fruit of the womb is his reward. (Psalms 127:3.) On this account, therefore, Jacob is angry, because his wife ascribes nothing to the providence of God, and, by imagining that children are the offspring of chance, would deprive God of the care and government of mankind. It is probable that Jacob had been already sorrowful on account of his wife’s barrenness. He now, therefore, fears lest her folly should still farther provoke God’s anger to inflict more severe strokes. This was a holy indignation, by which Jacob maintained the honor due to God, while he corrected his wife, and taught her that it was not without sufficient cause that she had been hitherto barren. For when he affirms that the Lord had shut her womb, he obliquely intimates that she ought the more deeply to humble herself.
3.Behold my maid Bilhah. Here the vanity of the female disposition appears. For Rachel is not induced to flee unto the Lord, but strives to gain a triumph by illicit arts. Therefore she hurries Jacob into a third marriage. Whence we infer, that there is no end of sinning, when once the Divine institution is treated with neglect. And this is what I have said, that Jacob was not immediately brought back to a right state of mind by Divine chastisements. He acts, indeed, in this instance, at the instigation of his wife: but is his wife in the place of God, from whom alone the law of marriage proceeds? But to please his wife, or to yield to her importunity, he does not scruple to depart from the command of God. To bear upon the knees, is nothing more than to commit the child when born to another to be brought up. Bilhah was a maidservant; and therefore did not bear for herself but for her mistress, who, claiming the child as her own, thus procured the honor of a mother. Therefore it is added, in the way of explanation, I shall have children, or I shall be built up by her. For the word which Moses here uses, is derived from
5.And Bilhah conceived. It is wonderful that God should have deigned to honor an adulterous connection with offspring: but he does sometimes thus strive to overcome by kindness the wickedness of men, and pursues the unworthy with his favor. Moreover, he does not always make the punishment equal to the offenses of his people, nor does he always rouse them, alike quickly, from their torpor, but waits for the matured season of correction. Therefore it was his will that they who were born from this faulty connection, should yet be reckoned among the legitimate children; just as Moses shortly before called Bilhah a wife, who yet might more properly have been called a harlot. And the common rule does not hold, that what had no force from the beginning can never acquire validity by succession of time; for although the compact, into which the husband and wife sinfully entered against the Divine command and the sacred order of nature, was void; it came to pass nevertheless, by special privilege, that the conjunction, which in itself was adulterous, obtained the honor of wedlock. At length Rachel begins to ascribe to God what is his own; but this confession of hers is so mixed up with ambition, that it breathes nothing of sincerity or rectitude. She pompously announces, that her cause has been undertaken by the Lord. As if truly, she had been so injured by her sister, that she deserved to be raised by the favor of God; and as if she had not attempted to deprive herself of his help. We see, then, that under the pretext of praising God, she rather does him wrong, by rendering him subservient to her desires. Add to this, that she imitates hypocrites, who, while in adversity, rush against God with closed eyes; vet when more prosperous fortune favors them, indulge in vain boastings, as if God smiled upon all their deeds and sayings. Rachel, therefore, does not so much celebrate the goodness of God, as she applauds herself Wherefore let the faithful, instructed by her example, abstain from polluting the sacred name of God by hypocrisy.
8.With great wrestlings (74) Others translate it, “I am joined with the joinings of God;” (75) as if she exulted in having recovered what she had lost; or, certainly, in having obtained an equal degree of honor with her sister. Others render it, I am doubled with the duplications of God. But both derive the noun and the verb from the root
9.When Leah saw that she had left bearing. Moses returns to Leah, who, not content with four sons, devised a method whereby she might always retain her superior rank: and therefore she also, in turn, substitutes her maid in her place. And truly Rachel deserved such a reward of her perverse design; since she, desiring to snatch the palm from her sister, does not consider that the same contrivance to which she had resorted, might speedily be employed against herself. Yet Leah sins still more grievously, by using wicked and unjust arts in the contest. Within a short period, she had experienced the wonderful blessing of God; and now, because she ceased from bearing, for a little while, she despairs concerning the future, as if she had never participated in the Divine favor. What, if her desire was strong; why did she not resort to the fountain of blessing? In obtruding, therefore, her maid, she gave proof not only of impatience, but also of distrust; because with the remembrance of Divine mercy, faith also is extinguished in her heart. And we know that all who rely upon the Lord are so tranquil and sedate in their mind, that they patiently wait for what he is about to give. And it is the just punishment of unbelief when any one stumbles through excessive haste. So much the more ought we to beware of the assaults of the flesh, if we desire to maintain a right course.
As to the name Gad, this passage is variously expounded by commentators. In this point they agree, that
(77) “Ye are they that forsake the Lord, that forget my holy mountain, that prepare a table for that troop (margin, Meni). — English Translation. Calvin has quoted from memory, and not accurately, having put libation instead of table. — Ed.
(79) “And Leah said, Happy am I, for the daughters shall call me blessed; and she called his name Asher.” — English Translation. It may be observed that the names given to these children of the hand-maidens were far less indicative of a pious state of mind, than those which Leah had previously given to her own sons. A fact which confirms the remarks of Calvin on the impiety of the course pursued by the rival wives. Rachel seems to make no reference to God in the names of the children of her handmaid; Leah, in imitating the example of her sister, seems to lose her own previous devotional feeling; and both sink in our esteem, as they proceed in their unseemly contentions. — Ed.
14.And Reuben went in the days of wheat harvest. This narration of the fact that a boy brought home I know not what kind of fruit out of the fields, and presented it to his mother, by which she purchased of her sister one nigh with her husband, has the appearance of being light and puerile. Yet it contains a useful instruction. For we know how foolishly the Jews glory in extolling the origin of their own nation: for they scarcely deign to acknowledge that they leave sprung from Adam and Noah, with the rest of mankind. And certainly they do excel in the dignity of their ancestors, as Paul testifies, (Romans 9:5,) but they do not acknowledge this as coming from God. Wherefore the Spirit purposely aimed at beating down this arrogance, when he described their race as sprung from a beginning, so mean and abject. For he does not here erect a splendid stage on which they may exhibit themselves; but he humbles them and exalts the grace of God, seeing that he had brought forth his Church out of nothing. Respecting the kind of fruit mentioned, I leave nothing certain to adduce. (80) That it was fragrant is gathered from Song of Solomon 7:13 (81) And whereas all translate it mandrakes, I do not contend on that point.
(80) Mandrakes — Heb.
(81) “The mandrakes give a smell, and at our gates are all manner of pleasant fruits.”
15.Is it a small matter that thou hast taken my husband? Moses leaves more for his readers to reflect upon than he expresses in words; namely, that Jacob’s house had been filled with contentions and strifes. For Leah speaks haughtily, because her mind had been long so exasperated that she could not address herself mildly and courteously to her sister: Perhaps the sisters were not thus contentious by nature; but God suffered them to contend with each other, that the punishment of polygamy might be exhibited to posterity. And it is not to be doubted that this domestic private quarrel, yea, hostile dissension, brought great grief and torment to the holy man. But the reason why he found himself thus distracted by opposite parties was, that against all right, he had broken the unity of the conjugal bond.
17.And God hearkened unto Leah. Moses expressly declares this, in order that we may know how indulgently God dealt with that family. For who would have thought, that, while Leah was hatefully denying to her sister the fruits gathered by her boy, and was purchasing, by the price of those fruits, a night with her husband, there would be any place for prayers? Moses, therefore, teaches us, that pardon was granted for these faults, to prove that the Lord would not fail to complete his work notwithstanding such great infirmity. But Leah ignorantly boasts that her son was given to her as a reward of her sin; for she had violatedthe fidelity of holy wedlock, when she introduced a fresh concubine to oppose her sister. Truly, she is so far from the confession of her fault, that she proclaims her own merit. I grant there was some excuse for her conduct; for she intimates that she was not so much excited by lust, as by modest love, because she desired to increase her family and to fulfill the duty of an honorable mother of a family. But though this pretext is specious in the eyes of men, yet the profanation of holy marriage cannot be pleasing to God. She errs, therefore, in taking what was no cause for the cause. And this is the more to be observed; because it is a fault which too much prevails in the world, for men to reckon the free gifts of God as their own reward; yea, even to boast of their deserts, when they are condemned by the word of God. In her sixth son, she more purely and rightly estimates the divine goodness, when she gives thanks to God, that, by his kindness, her husband would hereafter be more closely united to her, (verse 20). For although he had lived with her before, yet, being too much attached to Rachel, he was almost entirely alienated from Leah. It has before been said, that children born in lawful wedlock are bonds to unite the minds of their parents.
21.And afterward she bare a daughter. It is not known whether Jacob had any other daughter; for it is not uncommon in Scripture, when genealogies are recorded, to omit the women, since they do not bear their own name, but lie concealed under the shadow of their husbands. Meanwhile, if anything worthy of commemoration occurs to any women, especial mention is then made of them. This was the case with Dinah, on account of the violence done to her; of which more will be said hereafter. But whereas the sons of Jacob subsequently regarded it as an indignity that their sister should marry one of another nation; and as Moses records nothing of any other daughters, either as being settled in the land of Canaan, or married in Egypt, it is probable that Dinah was the only one born to him.
22.And God remembered Rachel. Since with God nothing is either before or after, but all things are present, he is subject to no forgetfulness, so that, in the lapse of time, he should need to be reminded of what is past. But the Scripture describes the presence and memory of God from the effect produced upon ourselves, because we conceive him to be such as he appears to be by his acts. Moreover, whether Rachel’s child was born the last of all, cannot with certainty be gathered from the words of Moses. They who, in this place, affirm that the figure hysteron proteron, which puts the last first, is used, are moved by the consideration, that if Joseph had been born after the last of his brethren, the age which Moses records in Genesis 41:46, would not accord with the fact. But they are deceived in this, that they reckon the nuptials of Rachel from the end of the second seven years; whereas it is certainly proved from the context, that although Jacob agreed to give his service for Rachel, yet he obtained her immediately; because from the beginning, the strife between the two sisters broke forth. Moses clearly intimates, in this place, that the blessing of God was bestowed late, when Rachel had despaired of issue, and had long been subject to reproach because of her barrenness. On account of this prosperous omen she gave the name Joseph (82) to her son, deriving the hope of two sons from the prospect of one (83)
(83) “The Lord shall add to me another son.” This may be regarded either as a prophecy respecting Benjamin, or as a prayer which was fulfilled when Benjamin was born. — Ed.
25.Send me away, that I may go. Seeing that Jacob had been retained by a proposed reward for his services, it might appear that he was acting craftily in desiring his dismissal from his father-in-law. I cannot, however, doubt that the desire to return had already entered his mind, and that he ingenuously avowed his intention. First; having experienced, in many ways, how unjust, how perfidious, and even cruel, Laban had been, there is no wonder that he should wish to depart from him, as soon as ever the opportunity was afforded. Secondly; since, from the long space of time which had elapsed, he hoped that his brother’s mind would be appeased, he could not but earnestly wish to return to his parents; especially as he had been oppressed by so many troubles, that he could scarcely fear a worse condition in any other place. But the promise of God was the most powerful stimulant of all to excite his desire to return. For he had not rejected the benediction which was dearer to him than his own life. To this point his declaration refers, “I will go to my own place and to my country;” for he does not use this language concerning Canaan, only because he was born there, but because he knew that it had been divinely granted to him. For if he had said that he desired to return, merely because it was his native soil, he might have been exposed to ridicule; since his father had passed a wandering and unsettled life, continually changing his abode. I therefore conclude, that although he might have dwelt commodiously elsewhere, the oracle of God, by which the land of Canaan had been destined for him, was ever fresh in his memory. And although, for a time, he submits to detention, this does not alter his purpose to depart: for necessity, in part, extorted it from him, since he was unable to extricate himself from the snares of his uncle; in part also, he voluntarily gave way, in order that he might acquire something for himself and his family, lest he should return poor and naked to his own country. But here the insane wickedness of Laban is discovered. After he had almost worn out his nephew and son-in-law, by hard and constant toil for fourteen years, he yet offers him no wages for the future. The equity, of which at first he had made such pretensions, had already vanished. For the greater had been the forbearance of Jacob, the more tyrannical license did he usurp over him. So the world abuses the gentleness of the pious; and the more meekly they conduct themselves, the more ferociously does the world assail them. But though, like sheep, we are exposed, in this world, to the violence and injuries of wolves; we must not fear lest they should hurt or devour us, since the Heavenly Shepherd keeps us under his protection.
27.I pray thee, if I have found favor in thine eyes. We perceive hence, that Jacob had not been a burdensome guest, seeing that Laban soothes him with bland address, in order to procure from him a longer continuance in his service. For, sordid and grasping as he was, he would not have suffered Jacob to remain a moment in his house, unless he had found his presence to be a certain source of gain. Inasmuch therefore, as he not only did not thrust him out, but anxiously sought to retain him, we hence infer that the holy man had undergone incredible labors, which had not only sufficed for the sustenance of a large family, but had also brought great profit to his father-in-law. Wherefore, he complains afterwards, not unjustly, that he had endured the heat of the day, and the cold of the night. Nevertheless, there is no doubt, that the blessing of God availed more than any labors whatever, so that Laban perceived Jacob to be a kind of horn of plenty, as he himself confesses. For he not only commends his fidelity and diligence, but expressly declares that he himself had I been blessed by the Lord, for Jacob’s sake. It appears, then, that the wealth of Laban had so increased, from the time of Jacob’s coming, that it was as if his gains had visibly distilled from heaven. Moreover, as the word
29.Thou knowest how I have served thee. This answer of Jacob is not intended to increase the amount of his wages; but he would expostulate with Laban, and would charge him with acting unjustly and unkindly in requiring a prolongation of the time of service. There is also no doubt that he is carried forth, with every desire of his mind, towards the land of Canaan. Therefore a return thither was, in his view, preferable to any kind of riches whatever. Yet, in the mealtime, he indirectly accuses his father-in-law, both of cunning and of inhumanity, in order that he may extort something from him, if be must remain longer. For he could not hope that the perfidious old fox would, of himself, perform an act of justice; neither does Jacob simply commend his own industry, but shows that he had to deal with an unjust and cruel man. Meanwhile, it is to be observed, that although he had labored strenuously, he yet ascribes nothing to his own labor, but imputes it entirely to the blessing of God that Laban had been enriched. For though when men faithfully devote themselves to their duty, they do not lose their labor; yet their success depends entirely upon the favor of God. What Paul asserts concerning the efficacy of teaching, extends still further, that he who plants and he who waters is nothing, (1 Corinthians 3:7,) for the similitude is taken from general experience. The use of this doctrine is twofold. First, whatever I attempt, or to whatever work I apply my hands, it is my duty to desire God to bless my labor, that it may not be vain and fruitless. Then, if I have obtained anything, my second duty is to ascribe the praise to God; without whose blessing, men in vain rise up early, fatigue themselves the whole day, late take rest, eat the bread of carefulness, and taste even a little water with sorrow. With respect to the meaning of the words, when Jacob says, “It was little that thou hadst in my sight, ” (84) Jerome has well and skilfully translated them “before I came.” For Moses puts the face of Jacob for his actual coming and dwelling with Laban.
30.And now, when shall I provide for mine own house also? He reasons, that when he had so long expended his labors for another, it would be unjust that his own family should be neglected. For nature prescribes this order, that every one should take care of the family committed to him. To which point the saying of Solomon is applicable, Drink water from thy own fountains, and let rivers flow to thy neighbors. (85) Had Jacob been alone, he might have devoted himself more freely to the interests of another; but now, since he is the husband of four wives, and the father of a numerous offspring, he ought not to be forgetful of those whom he has received at the hand of God to bring up.
31.Thou shalt not give me anything. The antithesis between this and the preceding clause is to be noticed. For Jacob does not demand for himself certain and definite wages; but he treats with Laban, on this condition, that he shall receive whatever offspring may be brought forth by the sheep and goats of a pure and uniform color, which shall prove to be party-coloured and spotted. There is indeed some obscurity in the words. For, at first, Jacob seems to require for himself the spotted sheep as a present reward. But from the thirty-third verse (Genesis 30:33) another sense may be gathered: namely, that Jacob would suffer whatever was variegated in the flock to be separated and delivered to the sons of Laban to be fed; but that he himself would retain the unspotted sheep and goats. And certainly it would be absurd that Jacob should now claim part of the flock for himself, when he had just confessed, that hitherto he had made no gain. Moreover, the gain thus acquired would have been more than was just; and there was no hope that this could be obtained from Laban. A question however arises, by what hope, or by what counsel bad Jacob been induced to propose this condition? A little afterwards, Moses will relate that he had used cunning, in order that party-coloured and spotted lambs might be brought forth by the pure flock; but in the following chapter he more fully declares that Jacob had been divinely instructed thus to act (Genesis 31:1.) Therefore, although it was improbable in itself that this agreement should prove useful to the holy man, he yet obeys the celestial oracle, and wishes to be enriched in no other manner than according to the will of God. But Laban was dealt with according to his own disposition; for he eagerly caught at what seemed advantageous to himself, but God disappointed his shameful cupidity.
33.So shall my righteousness answer for me. Literally it is, “My righteousness shall answer in me.” But the particle
Every one that is not speckled and spotted. Jacob binds himself to the crime and punishment of theft, if he should take away any unspotted sheep from the flock: as if he would say, “Shouldst thou find with me anything unspotted, I am willing to be charged as a thief; because I require nothing to be given to me but the spotted lambs.” Some expound the words otherwise, “Whatsoever thou shalt find deficient in thy flock, require of me, as if I had stolen it;” but this appears to me a forced interpretation.
(86) In the Amsterdam edition the particle is
(88) That is, to see that I receive my reward or wages, at the time when the flock is divided according to our compact. — Ed.
(89) This seems to be the sense in which the English translators understood the passage. “So shall my righteousness answer for me in time to come, when it (my righteousness) shall come for my hire (or reward) before thy face.” Coramto. — Ed.
35.And he removed that day. From this verse the form of the compact is more certainly known. Laban separates the sheep and goats marked with spots from the pure flock, that is, from the white or black, and commits these to his sons to be fed; interposing a three-days’ journey between them and the rest; lest, by promiscuous intercourse, a particoloured offspring should be produced. It follows, therefore, that, in the flock which Jacob fed, nothing remained but cattle of one color: thus but faint hope of gain remained to the holy man, while every provision was made for Laban’s advantage. It also appears, from the distance of the places, in which Laban kept his flocks apart, that he was not less suspicious than covetous; for dishonest men are wont to measure others by their own standard; whence it happens that they are always distrustful and alarmed.
37.And Jacob took him rods of green poplar. The narration of Moses, at first sight, may seem absurd: for he either intends to censure holy Jacob as guilty of fraud, or to praise his industry. But from the context it will appear that this adroitness was not culpable. Let us then see how it is to be excused. Should any one contend that he was impelled to act as he did, by the numerous injuries of his father-in-law, and that he sought nothing but the reparation of former losses; the defense would perhaps be plausible: yet in the sight of God it is neither firm nor probable; for although we may be unjustly treated, we must not enter the contest with equal injustice. And were it permitted to avenge our own injuries, or to repair our own wrongs, there would be no place for legal judgments, and thence would arise horrible confusion. Therefore Jacob ought not to have resorted to this stratagem, for the purpose of producing degenerate cattle, but rather to have followed the rule which the Lord delivers by the mouth of Paul, that the faithful should study to overcome evil with good, (Romans 12:21.) This simplicity, I confess, ought to have been cultivated by Jacob, unless the Lord from heaven had commanded otherwise. But in this narrative there is a hysteron proteron, (a putting of the last first,) for Moses first relates the fact, and then subjoins that Jacob had attempted nothing but by the command of God. Wherefore, it is not for those persons to claim him as their advocate, who oppose malignant and fraudulent men with fallacies like their own; because Jacob did not, of his own will, take license craftily to circumvent his father-in-law, by whom he had been unworthily deceived; but, pursuing the course prescribed to him by the Lord, kept himself within due bounds. In vain, also, according to my judgment, do some dispute whence Jacob learnt this; whether by long practice or by the teaching of his fathers; for it is possible, that he had been suddenly instructed respecting a matter previously unknown. If any one object, the absurdity of supposing, that this act of deceit was suggested by God; the answer is easy, that God is the author of no fraud, when he stretches out his hand to protect his servant. Nothing is more appropriate to him, and more in accordance with his justice, than that he should interpose as an avenger, when any injury is inflicted. But it is not our part to prescribe to him his method of acting. He suffered Laban to retain what he unjustly possessed; but in six years he withdrew his blessing from Laban, and transferred it to his servant Jacob. If an earthly judge condemns a thief to restore twofold or fourfold, no one complains: and why should we concede less to God, than to a mortal and perishing man? He had other methods in his power; but he purposed to connect his grace with the labor and diligence of Jacob, that he might openly repay to him those wages of which he had been long defrauded. For Laban was constrained to open his eyes, which being before shut, he had been accustomed to consume the sweat and even the blood of another. Moreover, as it respects physical causes, it is well known, that the sight of objects by the female has great effect on the form of the foetus. (90) When this happens with women, takes it at least place with animals, where is no reason, but where reigns an enormous rush of carnal lusts. Now Jacob did three things. For first, he stripped the bark from twigs that he might make bare some white places by the incisions in the bark, and thus a varying and manifold color was produced. Secondly, he chose the times when the males and females were assembled. Thirdly, he put the twigs in the waters, (91) for like the drinking feeds the animal parts, it also urges on the sexual drive. By the stronger cattle Moses may be understood to speak of those who bore in spring — by the feeble, those who bore in autumn.
(90) The whole passage is this: —
43.And the man increased exceedingly. Moses added this for the purpose of showing that he was not made thus suddenly rich without a miracle. We shall see hereafter how great his wealth was. For being entirely destitute, he yet gathered out of nothing, greater riches than any man of moderate wealth could do in twenty or thirty years. And that no one may deem this fabulous, as not being in accordance with the usual method, Moses meets the objection by saying, that the holy man was enriched in an extraordinary manner.
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Calvin, John. "Commentary on Genesis 30". "Calvin's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/
the Third Week after Epiphany