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Bible Commentaries

Dr. Constable's Expository Notes

Genesis 30

8. Jacob’s mishandling of God’s blessing 29:31-30:24

God formed Jacob’s family, the ancestors of the tribes of Israel, as He had promised Jacob at Bethel. Unfortunately Jacob and his wives lived in envy and friction over how God chose to bless them. The real issue of the two sisters’ conflicts in this pericope is the same as that of the brothers Esau and Jacob’s struggle. Who will take the lead and be first, and who will have to serve?

"Jacob had planned to take Rachel as his wife, but God intended him to have Leah. Thus in two major reversals in Jacob’s life, we can begin to see the writer’s theme taking shape. Jacob sought to marry Rachel, but Laban tricked him. Then Jacob sought to build a family through Rachel, but she was barren; and God opened Leah’s womb." [Note: Ibid., p. 200.]

This record of Jacob’s children, the center of the Jacob story structurally, is important for at least three reasons.

1. It shows God’s faithfulness in providing descendants as He had promised.

"Now the account centers on the fulfillment of Yahweh’s promise to be with Jacob and to bless him." [Note: Leupold, 2:800.]

2. It gives the origins and circumstances surrounding the births of the tribal heads of Israel.

"The theme of the Pentateuch is not difficult to discern. It is the story of the birth and adolescence of a nation." [Note: Whybray, p. 9.]

3. It explains much of the tribal rivalry that follows in Israel’s history.

The section culminates with the birth of Joseph (Genesis 30:24), which proved to be the cue for Jacob to return home (Genesis 30:25).

Verses 1-8

Rachel’s reaction to her barrenness and Jacob’s response contrast with how Rebekah and Isaac, and Sarah and Abraham behaved in similar circumstances. Sarah resorted to a custom acceptable in her culture, though contrary to God’s will, to secure an heir for Abraham (cf. Genesis 16:1-2). Isaac prayed that God would open Rebekah’s womb and waited (Genesis 25:21). Rachel and Jacob followed the example of Sarah and Abraham.

The conflict between Rachel and Leah focuses on love and motherhood. Rachel had Jacob’s love, but she could not become a mother. Conversely Leah was the mother of Jacob’s children, but she could not win his love. [Note: See Samuel Dresner, "Rachel and Leah: Sibling Tragedy or the Triumph of Piety and Compassion?" Bible Review 6:2 (April 1990):25.]

The account of the birth of Bilhah’s sons, Dan and Naphtali, follows (Genesis 30:5-8).

Verses 9-13

Zilpah, Leah’s maid, bore Jacob two sons: Gad and Asher.

"The terms wife and concubine are used more loosely in the patriarchal period. Three women in the patriarchal period are called both wife and concubine: Hagar (Genesis 16:3; Genesis 25:6 indirectly), Keturah (Genesis 25:1; cf. Genesis 25:6; 1 Chronicles 1:32), and Bilhah (Genesis 30:4; Genesis 35:22). Each of these concubines is an auxiliary wife to the patriarch, not a slave, but subordinate to the wife who is her mistress. After the patriarchal period, the term wife is never used as a synonym for concubine. Zilpah, though never called a concubine (cf. Genesis 30:9), has the same social position as Bilhah (cf. Genesis 37:2)." [Note: Waltke, Genesis, p. 411.]

Verses 14-20

The mandrake, a member of the potato and tomato family, is a plant that bears bluish flowers in winter and yellowish plum-size fruit in summer. The fruit has a strong, pleasant fragrance, and was thought to help barren women conceive. Some Arabs still use it as an aphrodisiac and call it "devil’s apple" (cf. Song of Solomon 7:13). [Note: von Rad, p. 295. See H. Moldenke and A. Moldenke, Plants of the Bible, pp. 137-39; M. Zoary, Plants of the Bible, pp. 188-89.]

"The outcome was ironical, the mandrakes doing nothing for Rachel, while Leah gained another son by parting with them." [Note: Kidner, p. 162.]

"Just as Jacob had purchased the birthright for a pot of stew (Genesis 25:29-34), so also Leah purchased the right to more children by Jacob with the mandrakes of her son Reuben (Genesis 30:14-16)." [Note: Sailhamer, "Genesis," p. 201.]

"’Sleep’ (skb), as a euphemism for sex, is never used for loving marital intercourse in this book, only for illicit or forced sex: Lot’s daughters with Lot (Genesis 19:32-35); the Philistines with Rebekah (Genesis 26:10); Shechem with Dinah (Genesis 34:2; Genesis 34:7); Reuben with Bilhah (Genesis 35:22); Potiphar’s wife with Joseph (Genesis 39:7; Genesis 39:10; Genesis 39:12; Genesis 39:14)." [Note: Waltke, Genesis, p. 413.]

Leah received her other children, Issachar, Zebulun, and Dinah, because "God gave heed to Leah" (Genesis 30:17), not because of some magic supposedly connected with the mandrakes.

Jacob may have had daughters besides Dinah (cf. Genesis 37:35 and Genesis 46:7). She may be the only one mentioned by name because she is the only one whose experience Moses recorded later in Genesis (ch. 34).

Verses 22-24

God eventually granted Rachel a son, Joseph. He was born at the end of Jacob’s fourteenth year in Laban’s service.

The jealousy, bickering, superstition, and weak faith demonstrated by Jacob and his wives stand out in this section. God’s gift of children was gracious; He gave them in spite of, rather than because of, the behavior of the parents. Rachel acknowledged this finally (Genesis 30:23-24) as did Jacob. The use of the names "Elohim" and "Yahweh" reflects the attitudes of the various characters to God and shows their relationships with Him.

"On the human plane the story demonstrates the craving of human beings for love and recognition, and the price of thwarting it; on the divine level it shows once again the grace of God choosing difficult and unpromising material." [Note: Kidner, p. 161.]

"Jacob’s partiality and his general handling of his family led to strife and mother groupings that were to affect the history of Israel for centuries thereafter." [Note: H. Vos, p. 113.]

Believers should not envy and strive, which leads to bitter conflicts, but should obey God trusting Him to dispense His blessings wisely, justly, and compassionately.

The actions of Jacob, Rachel, and Leah in this chapter, and those of Abraham and Sarah in chapter 16, raise questions about surrogate parenting. Today husbands and wives who cannot have children naturally sometimes choose to secure the services of a third person who can provide a needed function and thus enable them to have children. For example, if the wife cannot carry a baby in her womb for a full term pregnancy some doctors recommend that the couple use the services of another woman. If acceptable, they implant the couple’s fertilized egg in her womb that she agrees to "rent" for the nine-month gestation period. Another example is the securing of sperm from a donor if the husband is sterile. There are many ways in which childless couples can now become parents with this kind of help from a third, and sometimes fourth party. These situations are somewhat similar to what we find in Genesis 16, 30. The common tie is that in all these cases someone other than the husband and wife is essential to the conception of the child. I do not believe that adoption is similar because in adoption a husband and wife simply agree to rear a child that has been or will be born. They do not require a third party for the conception of the child as in surrogate parenting.

Verses 25-43

9. Jacob’s new contract with Laban 30:25-43

Jacob and Laban ("White") made an agreement that each man felt he could manipulate to his own advantage. However, God sovereignly overruled to bless Jacob as He had promised in spite of Laban’s deceit and Jacob’s deviousness (cf. Job 5:13; Psalms 7:15; 1 Corinthians 3:19).

As the previous pericope shows how Yahweh provided descendants for Jacob as He had promised (seed), this one demonstrates how He made Jacob wealthy (blessing). In both cases God acted in spite of and independent of the bickering, superstition, deceit, and disobedience of Jacob and his wives.

"By crossing the heterozygotes among themselves, Jacob would produce, according to the laws of heredity, twenty-five percent spotted sheep. Thus he multiplies his flock. Jacob has displayed ingenuity; he has not practiced deception.

"Jacob’s knowledge of zoology is far from primitive. But perhaps such knowledge has been given him by God, just as his son’s capacity to interpret dreams was a gift from God." [Note: Hamilton, The Book . . . Chapters 18-50, p. 284. Cf. Sarna, Understanding Genesis, p. 212; and Wenham, Genesis 16-50, p. 257.]

Jacob was evidently relying on a popular superstition, namely, that certain experiences of the mother during pregnancy influenced the condition of her offspring, to mislead Laban (Genesis 30:37-39). At least one writer thought that Jacob was mistakenly counting on this custom to ensure fertility among his flocks.

"All marking of the offspring such as that which Jacob thought he was accomplishing in Laban’s flocks, is completely impossible. . . . In the placenta and umbilical cord, which constitutes the only connection between the mother and the fetus, there are no nerves. . . . Thus, absolutely no mechanism exists whereby the mother can mark her offspring in the way that Jacob thought he was accomplishing the marking." [Note: Frank L. Marsh, Studies in Creationism, pp. 368-69.]

Whether Jacob was very smart or very superstitious, the success of Jacob’s plan was due to the grace of God ultimately (cf. Genesis 31:10-12).

"As with many of the tricks which Jacob attempts in these narratives, God blessed Jacob in spite of them, not because of or through them." [Note: Sailhamer, The Pentateuch . . ., p. 196. Cf. Mathews, Genesis 11:27-50:26, p. 502.]

The herdsmen believed the stronger members of the flock mated in the summer and the weaker in the fall (Genesis 30:41-42). [Note: See Martha A. Morrison, "The Jacob and Laban Narrative in Light of Near Eastern Sources," Biblical Archaeologist 46:3 (Summer 1983):155-64, which contains many helpful explanations of herding practices, contracts involving herding, marriage customs, and the significance of household gods.] Jacob’s ownership of camels (Genesis 30:43) shows that he was very rich since these animals were rare and costly. [Note: Mathews, Genesis 11:27-50:26, p. 503.]

Jacob’s behavior was devious in that he sought to prosper at the expense of his employer. The text records that Jacob became very wealthy (Genesis 30:43), but it does not say that his wealth was a blessing from God. Jacob made his own fortune, but the text says that God made Abraham rich. God allowed Jacob to become wealthy through his own toil and deception. God probably would have done more for Jacob than he could have done for himself if Jacob had placed himself under God’s authority. This is what God usually does.

The lesson of this section is that people who experience God’s material blessing need to acknowledge that it comes from Him rather than from their own abilities.

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Bibliographical Information
Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on Genesis 30". "Dr. Constable's Expository Notes". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/dcc/genesis-30.html. 2012.