March 26, 2015

Commentary on the Book of Genesis

By: Tom Lowe

 

PART III: HISTORY OF ISAAC AND JACOB. (Genesis 25:19-36:43)

Topic #C:JACOB'S RESIDENCE IN PADDAN ARAM. (Genesis 29:1-30:43)

 

 


Lesson III.C.4: Four Sons by the Handmaids. (Gen. 30:1-13)   

                                                              

 

 

 (Genesis 30:1-13; KJV)

 

1 And when Rachel saw that she bare Jacob no children, Rachel envied her sister; and said unto Jacob, Give me children, or else I die.

2 And Jacob's anger was kindled against Rachel: and he said, Am I in God's stead, who hath withheld from thee the fruit of the womb?

3 And she said, Behold my maid Bilhah, go in unto her; and she shall bear upon my knees, that I may also have children by her.

4 And she gave him Bilhah her handmaid to wife: and Jacob went in unto her.

5 And Bilhah conceived, and bare Jacob a son.

6 And Rachel said, God hath judged me, and hath also heard my voice, and hath given me a son: therefore called she his name Dan.

7 And Bilhah Rachel's maid conceived again, and bare Jacob a second son.

8 And Rachel said, With great wrestlings have I wrestled with my sister, and I have prevailed: and she called his name Naphtali.

9 When Leah saw that she had left bearing, she took Zilpah her maid, and gave her Jacob to wife.

10 And Zilpah Leah's maid bare Jacob a son.

11 And Leah said, A troop cometh: and she called his name Gad.

12 And Zilpah Leah's maid bare Jacob a second son.

13 And Leah said, Happy am I, for the daughters will call me blessed: and she called his name Asher.

 

 

 

Introduction

 

In this episode we see another evidence of Jacob’s spiritual growth; for not only did Laban tell him what to do, but also Jacob’s own wives made agreements that he knew nothing about until he came home weary from caring for the flocks.  Rachel and Leah treated Jacob like a servant and used him as a pawn in their family squabbles, and he patiently put up with it.

 

 

 

Commentary

 

 

1 And when Rachel saw that she bare Jacob no children, Rachel envied[1] her sister; and said unto Jacob, Give me children, or else I die.

2 And Jacob's anger was kindled against Rachel: and he said, Am I in God's stead, who hath withheld from thee the fruit of the womb?

 

Beautiful and beloved as she was, jealousy had been eating away at Rachel’s heart—the values of her day placed a high premium on children (The more children she had, better was her position in the home.)—and she had none.  She wanted what Leah had (children), and Leah wanted what she had (authority over the household).  She failed to consider that it was God who made the difference, and though her sister had the advantage over her in this one area, she had the advantage in other things.  With total unreasonableness she at last vented her temper on Jacob: “Give me children or else I die!” She said.  The intense anxiety of Hebrew women for children arose from the hope of giving birth to the Promised Seed.  Rachel’s conduct was sinful and contrasts unfavorably with that of Rebekah (25:22) and of Hannah (1 Samuel 1:11). A childless woman in ancient Near Eastern culture was no better than a dead wife and became a severe embarrassment to her husband (see 30:23).  Envy, discontent, and petulance were noticeable in her voice, her language, and her facial expression.  Jacob must have looked at her in astonishment.  “Am I God?” he asked. “He’s the one who has kept you from having children!” Jacob’s words do indicate an understanding that, ultimately, God opened and closed the womb.  It is clear enough that Rachel was never in full spiritual harmony with Jacob.  Husband and wife were on different levels.

 

It shouldn’t surprise us that Joseph would become angry with his favorite wife.  Even the most loving couples have their occasional disagreements; and, after all, she was blaming him for something over which he had no control.  But what Rachel needed wasn’t a lecture on theology or gynecology.  She needed the kind understanding of her husband and the encouragement that only his love could provide.

 

 

3 And she said, Behold my maid Bilhah, go in unto her; and she shall bear upon my knees, that I may also have children by her.

4 And she gave him Bilhah her handmaid to wife: and Jacob went in unto her.

5 And Bilhah conceived, and bare Jacob a son.

6 And Rachel said, God hath judged me, and hath also heard my voice, and hath given me a son: therefore called she his name Dan.

 

What we have here is Jacob and Rachel reverting to the practice of that day.  Remember that Abraham and Sarah had done the same thing.  God did not approve of it then, and He’s not going to approve of it now.  The Bible gives us and accurate record, but that does not mean that God approved of all that was done.  In fact, it is quite obvious that He disapproved of this.  My, the strife that we have already called to your attention in Abraham’s family.  It was also in the family of Isaac.  Now it is in Jacob’s family already—and he is in for a great deal more trouble.

 

What happened next is one of those ugly little tricks that could only lead to further unhappiness.  Rachel began to scheme.  If Jacob could not play God, then she would.  “Behold my maid Bilhah,” she said to Jacob, hinting at her willingness to take advantage of a legal technicality, which allowed a childless wife to gain children through a substitute wife.  In offering her maid Bilhah as a surrogate mother (see chapter 16) and agreeing that Bilhah would become Jacob’s wife, Rachel was exercising her rights under the law of the land.  If Bilhah, her slave girl, would have a child by Jacob, then, legally, the child would be regarded as hers.  So, when Dan was born, Rachel, with false assurance, declared, “God hath judged me, and hath also heard my voice, and hath given me a son” (30:6).  She called him Dan, meaning “judge” or “vindicator,” and Rachel promptly claimed him as her own.  It was all rather sad. 

 

The phrase, “bear upon my knees” (30:3) refers to the legal adoption of any children begotten by Jacob and borne by Bilhah his wife (50:23[2]); however it can be taken literally.  In cases of this kind the slave girl seems to have delivered the baby while setting upon the knees of her mistress, to whom the child was reckoned to belong, and it symbolized the wife providing a child for her husband.  There was also the practice by which the child of a lawful marriage was actually born on the father’s knees or laid on his knees after birth.

 

  The Hebrew word used here for “wife,” can also be translated “concubine”; but even a “concubine” had legal rights, though her status was that of a secondary wife (Genesis 25:6; 2 Samuel 5:13; 15:16; 16:21).  The Law of Moses recognized the relationship (Exodus 21:7-11; Deuteronomy 21:10-14). The children of concubines were considered legitimate, but the concubines themselves had little or nothing to say about the managing of the household.

 

This bitter and intense rivalry between Rachel and Leah was all the more fierce because they were sisters, and even though they occupied different dwellings with their children, we see that evil rested in the system itself (bigamy), which is a violation of God’s marriage ordnance (Genesis 2:24[3]), and it could not yield happiness.

 

 

7 And Bilhah Rachel's maid conceived again, and bare Jacob a second son.

8 And Rachel said, With great wrestlings have I wrestled with my sister, and I have prevailed: and she called his name Naphtali.

 

Rachel was so pleased with the success of her scheme that she made use of it again.  Thus was born Naphtali (“my struggle”) because “with great wrestlings have I wrestled with my sister, and I have prevailed.” Rachel once again claimed a child born to Bilhah as her own.  With the birth of Naphtali, Bilhah ceased conceiving.  When Dan was born, Rachel had acknowledged God.  She had acknowledged Him as Elohim, but when Naphtali was born, Rachel did not acknowledge God at all.  She simply triumphed over Leah in the flesh.  The victory Rachel imagined she had experience was a delusion, however, spiritual victories cannot be won in the flesh.

 

 

9 When Leah saw that she had left bearing, she took Zilpah her maid, and gave her Jacob to wife.

10 And Zilpah Leah's maid bare Jacob a son.

11 And Leah said, A troop cometh: and she called his name Gad.

 

All that time Leah had been watching her sister’s pathetic performance.  Then she decided two could play the same game, for she herself had not given birth to any more children.  Sinking to the carnal level on which her sister chose to fight, she married off her maid Zilpah to Jacob.  The resulting son was Gad, the child of sad defeat“A troop cometh!” exulted Leah.  It seems to be a mean taunt aimed at her sister.  Leah gave no acknowledgment to God in the birth of Gad (“luck has come”), for how can God be acknowledged when the flesh is in control?  It is sad to see Leah taking that lower ground.  Had God changed?  No.  Had any of her sons died?  No.  She came down from the spiritual plateau of praise simply to get even with her sister.  Leah, like Rachel, claimed Zilpah’s child as her own.  

 

 

12 And Zilpah Leah's maid bare Jacob a second son.

13 And Leah said, Happy am I, for the daughters will call me blessed: and she called his name Asher.

 

Then came Asher, the child of sudden delight.  When the maid Zilpah bore a second son, evening the score with Rachel, Leah cried, “Happy am I, for the daughters will call me blessed.” The name Asher means “blessed,” “happy.”The daughters to whom Leah refers would be of course, her women friends.  She was happy, or so she said.  Had she not evened the score with her rival?  But there was no acknowledgment of God in that birth, and Leah was deceiving herself.  It is a long way down the spiritual ladder from praise to mere happiness.  As someone has said, “happiness depends on what happens!” Instead of finding her joy in God, Leah was finding a fleeting happiness by winning a carnal victory. But how do you think Zilpah felt about Leah taking both of her children away from her—this is a very, very sad affair.

 

“Leah said, Happy am I,” but was she really?  Not actually.  Leah, Rachel, and Jacob were all unhappy.  Their domestic trouble and heartache lead to words and actions wholly unworthy, unnecessary, and unbecoming.  Human attempts to remedy the situation proved unsatisfactory.  The giving of Bilhah and Zilpah as secondary wives to help “build” the family only proved to be hurtful.  Sons were born, but hearts were still out of tune and unhappy.  Besides Leah’s six sons and one daughter (at least), two sons were born to Bilhah and two to Zilpah.

 

 

The complete list of Jacobs’s sons is as follows:

 

  1. The sons born to Leah:

Reuben—(see, a son) (29:32)

Simeon—(hearing) (29:33)

Levi—(joined) (29:34)

Judah—(praise) (29:34)

Issachar—(higher) (30:18)

Zebulon—(dwelling) (30:20)

 

  1. The sons born to Bilhah, the handmaid of Rachel:

Dan—(judge) (30:6)

Naphtali—(wrestling) (30:8)

 

  1. The sons born to Zilpah, handmaid of Leah:

Gad—(a troop or good fortune) (38:11)

Asher—(happy) (30:13)

 

  1. The sons born to Rachel:

Joseph—(adding) (30:24)

Benjamin—(son of the right hand) (35:18)


[1]Envied—the Hebrew word for “envied” has wrapped up within it the feeling of one who has taken about all they can stand.

[2] (Genesis 50:23; NIV) “And saw the third generation of Ephraim’s children. Also the children of Makir son of Manasseh were placed at birth on Joseph’s knees.”

[3] (Genesis 2:24; NIV) “That is why a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh.”

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