We talked about the lack of family harmony displayed in this chapter and made comparisons with previous chapters in Genesis.
At the beginning of the chapter Rachel is jealous of her sister Leah because she has given birth to three sons. Hebrew women attached a great deal of importance to child-bearing as they believed in the hope of giving birth to the Messiah. Rachel feels that she may as well die if she can’t have children. Unlike Isaac and Rebekah (Genesis 25 v 21-22) who both pray to God about their childless state, neither Jacob nor Rachel ask God for guidance. Instead Rachel follows the example of Sarah and gives her maid Bilhah to Jacob and when the maid gives birth to two sons it is Rachel who names them Dan and Naphtali.
The intense rivalry which exists between the two sisters is rooted in the fact that Jacob was tricked into marrying Leah the eldest sister instead of Rachel his first love. Leah always feels second best while Rachel feels more and more desperate to have a child of her own. Her desperation is shown through her willingness to turn to superstition and take the mandrake roots from Leah in exchange for allowing Leah to have Jacob’s attentions for that night. Mandrakes were considered to be an ancient aphrodisiac with added powers of fertility. Leah needs to demonstrate her importance through the number of sons she can produce both by herself and through her maid Zilpah. She clearly believes that Jacob will care more for her because of the sons she has given him. It is interesting that she names her fifth son Issachar – meaning a reward or man for hire after she has paid for his attentions by giving her sister the mandrake roots. We noted that Rachel finally gives birth to Joseph after she prays to God and does not rely on other means.
‘And God remembered Rachel, and God hearkened to her, and opened her womb.’ (Genesis 30 v 22)
We also discussed the names of Jacob’s twelve sons and one daughter together with their meanings. From these twelve sons came the nation of the Israelites. A great and mighty people as God had promised Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.
Jacob’s twelve sons were:
- Reuben – meaning ‘see a son’
- Simeon – meaning ‘he that hears’
- Levi – meaning ‘associated with Him’
- Judah- meaning ‘praise’
- Dan – meaning ‘judge or judgment’
- Naphtali – meaning ‘my struggle’
- Gad – meaning ‘a troop or good fortune’
- Asher – meaning ‘happiness’
- Issachar – meaning ‘a reward or man for hire’
- Zebulun – meaning ‘dwelling’
- Joseph- meaning ‘fruitful or addition’
- Benjamin – meaning ‘son of my right hand’
Of these the sons of Leah were Reuben, Simeon, Levi, Judah, Issachar and Zebulun. The sons of Rachel were Joseph and Benjamin. The sons of Bilhah, Rachel’s maidservant were Dan and Naphtali, and the sons of Zilpah, Leah’s maid servant were Gad and Asher.
It is interesting to note that Dinah, the sister of the twelve brothers, is the female version of the name Dan. Both mean judge or judgment.
Jacob entered into an agreement to work for his father-in-law Laban in order to marry Rachel. Although he was tricked into working for twice as long and had to marry both Leah and Rachel Jacob was still prepared to honour the agreement until the time came when he wanted to take his wives and family back to his own land.
Laban recognizes that his own prosperity is based on Jacob’s hard work wants to keep him at any cost. Laban also realises that Jacob has been blessed because he is fulfilling God’s purpose (Genesis 30 v 27). Laban wants to continue to be part of this blessing, through Jacob, so he agrees to allow Jacob to receive payment for his services by keeping some of the flock of sheep and goats.
When Jacob suggests that Laban allows him to have all ‘the striped and spotted male goats and all the speckled and spotted female goats, everyone with white in it and all the black ones among the sheep’ (Genesis 30 v 32) then Laban is happy to agree. These unusual markings must have been quite rare so Laban quickly separates the animals and sends them with his own sons a three day’s journey away so that they cannot mate with the rest of the flock. This decision forces Jacob to take care of Laban’s animals to assure their continued blessing. But God continues to bless Jacob and he is shown how to ensure that additional healthy animals are born with the unusual markings on them. Despite his manipulative nature Laban cannot stop Jacob becoming prosperous and, through his twelve sons, fulfilling the promises made by God to Abraham.
‘And I will make thy seed as the dust of the earth: so that if a man can number the dust of the earth, then shall thy seed also be numbered.’ (Genesis 13 v 16)