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GENESIS - CHAPTER THIRTY
No greater calamity could befall a Hebrew wife than to be barren. Rachel was Jacob’s beloved wife, yet she could not bear children. Leah was fruitful, and bore Jacob at least four sons. Rachel was consumed with jealousy because of this. Rachel’s outburst against Jacob reveals her petulant, impatient nature. She was quite unlike Rebekah, her aunt and Jacob’s mother. Rebekah was barren for twenty years after her marriage to Isaac. But instead of becoming impatient toward her husband, she turned to Jehovah in faith, trusting Him to provide.
Rachel resorted to a practice common in ancient times, in a similar manner as had Sarah earlier (Ge 16:2). But unlike Sarah, Rachel had no excuse beyond a selfish desire for a child aggravated by her jealousy of her sister Leah. There was no doubt that Jacob would have an heir to inherit the Promises of the Covenant, since he already had sons by Leah. Rachel’s impatience, jealousy, and pride motivated her to lead Jacob into an unwise, sinful practice. As in the case of Sarah and Hagar, the arrangement Rachel offered with Bilhah was legal and acceptable by custom. But it was neither legal nor wise according to God’s principles regarding marriage.
Rachel’s conduct and conversation reveal the shallowness of her faith. She referred to "God," Elohim, not Jehovah. This is in contrast to the stronger faith of her sister Leah (Ge 29:32-35).
The plan worked, Bilhah bore a son to Jacob. This son became legally that of Rachel. Rachel named this son "Dan," meaning "judge." This name indicates that Rachel considered him to be evidence that God had vindicated her, or had judged her worthy of this child.
Once more Bilhah conceived, and bore another son. Rachel named him "Naphtali," meaning "my wrestling." This name denotes that "with wrestlings of Elohim have I wrestled with my sister." It tells of her earnest prayer to God at the same time that she contended with Leah. ’
Leah responded to this rivalry in like kind. She "left bearing" (Ge 29:35) after the birth of Judah. This along with Rachel’s rivalry incited her to do as Rachel had done. She gave her slave-girl Zilpah to Jacob as wife, so she could legally give him yet another son. At the birth of this child, Leah exclaimed, "Good fortune comes," and gave him the name "Gad," meaning "good fortune" or "a troop."
Zilpah bore Jacob a second son. When he was born, Leah said, "Happy am I," and gave him the name "Asher" or happy. Leah did not honor God in her conduct, but rather was glad that her own devices had succeeded.
Both sisters now had borne to Jacob several children. But this did not take away their mutual jealousies, nor did it bring peace to Jacob’s household. The contrary was true. Their faith in Jehovah diminished. Leah acknowledged the grace and power of Jehovah in the birth of her first four sons. But in this affair, she appears to have thought of Gad and Asher as her own rewards for giving Zilpah to Jacob as a secondary wife.
The order in which the birth of Jacob’s sons is listed does not indicate their actual succession rights. Neither may it be assumed that Dinah was the only daughter of the family (Ge 37:35; 46:7). Her name is listed because of her role in Jacob’s later history.
At this time, Reuben was still quite young. He accompanied the reapers into the fields, and while there found mandrake plants. The mandrake was an herb of the potato family, with a root like a carrot and at times resembling a human body. It was rather mild-tasting, but it was highly prized as both a charm against evil spirits, and as an aphrodisiac. It was this latter quality that attracted Rachel. She considered it a means to cure her sterility, and begged Leah to give the plants to her.
Leah’s reply reveals the depth of her bitterness toward her sister. She accused Rachel of being the cause of Jacob’s forsaking her, and now of trying to take away her means of bringing him once more to her. Rachel’s reply implies that the two wives had worked out an arrangement by which they shared the marriage bed with Jacob. Rachel offered to give up her "turn" in exchange for the mandrakes Reuben had brought to Leah.
Leah accepted Rachel’s offer, and when Jacob came in from the harvest field that evening, she met him and informed him of the arrangement. Jacob then agreed, and spent the night with Leah. As a result, Leah became pregnant once more. Verse 17 states that "God (Elohim) hearkened unto Leah, and she conceived." Leah conceived because God heard and answered her prayer.
Leah bore to Jacob a fifth son. At his birth, she affirmed that God had given her this son as wages or reward for her self-denial, and for giving her maid Zilpah to Jacob as wife. She named this son, "Issachar," meaning "reward."
Leah once more conceived, and bore Jacob’s sixth son. At his birth, yeah said, "God (Elohim) hath endued me with a good dowry," and expressed hope that because of this dowry Jacob would choose her company over that of Rachel who was still barren. She named this son "Zebulun," meaning "dwelling."
Leah bore a daughter, whom she named Dina This is a feminine form of Dan, and indicates she considered this child a judgment upon her. Jacob had other daughters (see above), but their names are not given.
At last Rachel conceived. This was not due to the mandrakes’ which she had obtained from Leah, but in direct answer to prayer. Rachel acknowledged that "God (Elohim) had taken away her reproach." In response to this recognition, she named her son "Joseph," meaning "may God (Elohim) add." This was an expression of her faith that God would add to her another son, after this one.
Jacob’s fourteen-year servitude for his wives ended. His family now included eleven sons and at least one daughter. The listing of these sons is not in chronological order, but arranged according to the mothers who bore them. All the children were evidently born in the latter seven-year period of Jacob’s service. Thus they were all quite young, when Jacob approached Laban with the request that he be allowed to return to his ancestral home.
Laban was reluctant to let Jacob go. He realized that he had a very profitable arrangement with him. Jacob had faithfully served him for fourteen years, with the only wages being Laban’s two daughters and their handmaidens. During that time he had greatly prospered. Under Jacob’s, care his flocks of livestock had multiplied. He did not want to lose this talented and faithful employee.
The blessings that came to Laban during this time were directly related to the Covenant Promise, that Jehovah would bless those who blessed the Chosen Seed. Laban’s interest was not in the Covenant, but in the material benefits it brought to him. His religion included idol worship (Ge 31:19).
Jacob was concerned about his own material welfare. All he had was a large family. All the livestock he tended belonged to Laban. Thus he was receptive to Laban’s offer that he continue to work for him, and that his wages should be the speckled and spotted among the cattle, the brown or off-color among the sheep, and the spotted and speckled among the goats. This arrangement seemed to be weighed heavily in Laban’s favor, because among the Orientals the sheep were usually white and the goats black. The number of off-color animals is unusually small.
Jacob wanted nothing from Laban as a gift. He would depend upon Jehovah for his reward. This was the aim of his grandfather Abraham, at the offer of the King of Sodom (Ge 4:21-24). But unlike Abraham, Jacob had already begun to formulate a plan that would "help the Lord" and assure his own personal gain.
Laban then proceeded to separate his flocks, removing all the livestock that was spotted, patched, ring-marked or striped, and dark-colored. He separated them by a three-days’ journey from his main flocks, and placed them under the care of his sons. By the terms of the contract. Jacob continued to care for the main flock, being left to collect his wages the best way he could.
Jacob was as much of a schemer as was Laban. He took rods of poplar, hazel (almond), and chestnut and "pilled" or peeled strips of bark from them, leaving the white under-bark exposed. He then placed these rods in the "gutters" or channels through which the water ran to the watering troughs. When the sheep and goats came to drink, these striped rods were always before their eyes. Jacob then kept the animals there during time of mating. According to a common belief, whatever these animals saw during copulation marked their young. Jacob believed in the efficacy of his procedure.
The offspring of Laban’s flock suddenly became predominantly streaked, spotted, and dark-colored. In addition, these vari-colored animals were the hardiest of the flock. Jacob observed which were the stronger of the sires and dams, and saw that only the strongest mated before the peeled rods. Thus did Jacob’s portion of the offspring of the flock increase not only in number, but they were strong and healthy.
Jacob depended upon his own craftiness to secure his prosperity. However, his increase was not due to his conniving, but to the blessings of Jehovah in accord with His Covenant to Abraham. This prosperity consisted not only of sheep and goats, but also of men and women servants, as well as camels and donkeys. The inspired Record records only the steps leading to Jacob’s prosperity. It does not affirm Divine approval of what he did.
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Text Courtesy of Blessed Hope Foundation and the Baptist Training Center.
Garner, Albert & Howes, J.C. "Commentary on Genesis 30". Garner-Howes Baptist Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Fourth Week after Epiphany