March 14, 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.3: Leah Bears Four Sons and Quits Bearing. (Gen. 29:31-35)   

                                                              

 

(Genesis 29:31-35; KJV)

 

31 And when the Lord saw that Leah was hated, he opened her womb: but Rachel was barren.

32 And Leah conceived, and bare a son, and she called his name Reuben: for she said, Surely the Lord hath looked upon my affliction; now therefore my husband will love me.

33 And she conceived again, and bare a son; and said, Because the Lord hath heard I was hated, he hath therefore given me this son also: and she called his name Simeon.

34 And she conceived again, and bare a son; and said, Now this time will my husband be joined unto me, because I have born him three sons: therefore was his name called Levi.

35 And she conceived again, and bare a son: and she said, Now will I praise the Lord: therefore she called his name Judah; and left bearing.

 

 

 

Introduction

 

This section of chapter 29 records the birth of Jacob’s children born to his first wife Leah.  It is a sad record, for Jacob’s home became a battlefield where two embittered women fought and struggled for Jacob’s affection.  Jacob, torn between his devotion to Rachel and his desire for sons, was pulled this way and that.

 

The Song of Solomon reminds us that the Jewish people never minimized the personal joys of marriage, but they also emphasized the responsibility of having children and building a God-fearing family.  “Unless the Lord builds the house, they labored in vain who build it . . . Behold, children are a heritage from the Lord, the fruit of the womb is His reward” (Psalm 127:1, 3NKJV).

 

The Jews looked upon parenthood as a stewardship before God; and this was especially true in the case of Jacob, whose descendants would multiply “as the stars of the heaven, and as the sand which is upon the seashore” (Genesis 22:17KJV).  God would honor him by making him the father of the 12 tribes of Israel, but the fact that four different women were involved in building his family would create for Jacob one problem after another.  The man who had grown up in a divided and competitive home (25:28) would himself create a divided and competitive family.

 

 

 

Commentary

 

31 And when the Lord saw that Leah was hated, he opened her womb: but Rachel was barren.

 

The Hebrew word for hated (senuah) does not always carry the strong negative connotations that the English does and it doesn’t imply active abuse on Jacob’s part.  The context of this situation favors a weaker meaning—“he loved also Rachel more than Leah (29:30) and he gave her more attention and affection (see Deuteronomy 21:15-17, and our Lord’s words in Matthew 6:24 and Luke 14:26).  Jacob showered affection on Rachel but he did not despise or reject Leah. The fact that she gave birth to children by him demonstrates that their relationship lacked no more than the warmth of true love.  The fact that Leah bore Jacob six sons and a daughter indicates that he fulfilled his marital duties toward her, but she knew his heart belonged to her sister.

 

The Lord knew of her great sadness, so He blessed Leah with conception.  No explanation is given for the favoritism which the Lord showered on Leah except for her faith in divine mercy expressed in verse 32.  It’s ironic [t1]  that while Jacob was working fourteen years to pay for two wives, only one of those wives was bearing children.  Jacob knew that children were a blessing from the Lord (Genesis 30:1-2), for it was God who gave Isaac to Abraham and Sarah and who also gave Jacob and Esau to Isaac and Rebekah (see Psalms 139:13-16).  As for Rachel, she was the third wife in succession in this family who temporarily suffered from barrenness—Sarah, Rebekah, and now Rachel.

 

Jacob loved Rachel, and yet he had two wives and two servants (or “concubines[1]”) he treated as wives: Rachel and Leah and their handmaids. Jacob lived within the framework of his time. He had polygamous relationships which didn’t seem strange to the writer of Genesis. But it did contribute to the preservation of the family and its enlargement. To you and I, I hope, the status of the wives, and of the maids who were treated as wives, seems pathetic. In the primitive societies women are the property of their husband, and that stage had not completely passed for Israel. Children, and especially male children, were needed for the strength of the family and the tribe; and so a childless woman felt disgraced, and to have children was the greatest blessing she could desire. In the record given here in Genesis it is not the women who are the most important, but rather the role of the children born to them. The genealogy of the twelve tribes is being established, with its climax being the birth of Joseph; and their origin set in accordance with the purposes of God.

 

 

32 And Leah conceived, and bare a son, and she called his name Reuben: for she said, Surely the Lord hath looked upon my affliction; now therefore my husband will love me.

 

At first neither Rachel nor Leah bore Jacob children. However, in time, Jehovah came to Leah’s rescue and healed her barrenness, and she became a mother.  One after another her sons came, until she had borne six of them.  A daughter, Dinah, was added for extra measure.  With heart rending regularity, Leah held out a son with the words: Now my husband will love me.  But no word of recognition or appreciation came from Jacob.

 

The names Leah gave to Jacob’s sons expressed her thankfulness for the children that God gave to her and the feelings of joy which were derived from motherhood. The name of the firstborn son, Reuben, was an exclamation, meaning, “Look, a son!” The word look is carried over into Leah’s testimony: She said, “Surely the Lord hath looked upon my affliction; now therefore my husband will love me.” Since every Jewish father wanted sons (127:4-5), Leah was certain that this baby would cause her husband to love her.  Her hope for true love from her husband, however, was not realized.

 

Note how Leah acknowledged the Lord (Jehovah).  Some knowledge of Him had lingered in Laban’s family since Abraham’s days.  Jacob, during his seven long years in Laban’s home, must often have spoken about Him, too. Leah, in her bitterness and loneliness, acknowledged Jehovah in the birth of her boy.  She was the first one of Jacob’s family to confess her faith in God.

 

Reuben was Jacob’s firstborn, but he is not the one who will begin the line leading to Christ.  Rather, it will be Leah’s last son, Judah.  Judah was the kingly line.  David was in this line, and later on, the Lord Jesus Himself, according to the flesh, came from the line of Judah.  Reuben lost his position as the firstborn because of his sin.  Levi, her third son, was the father of the priestly tribe. Leah was the mother of some of the outstanding sons of Jacob. 

 

 

33 And she conceived again, and bare a son; and said, Because the Lord hath heard I was hated, he hath therefore given me this son also: and she called his name Simeon.

 

Her second son’s name, Simeon, is based on the Hebrew word “shama,” which means “hath heard,” and suggests that Leah had been talking to God about her misery.  Years later, Jacob would replace Reuben and Simeon with Joseph’s two sons, Ephraim and Manasseh (Genesis 48:1-6).  They were replaced because Reuben was guilty of sexual sin (35:22; 49:3-4; 1 Chronicles 5:1-2) and Simeon Had participated in the massacre of the Shechemites (Genesis 34:24-31; 49:5-7).

 

Leah was evidently disappointed in her hope that Reuben would win her the affections of her husband.  It did nothing of the kind.  Perhaps, on the strength of her new status as a mother, she had tried to assert herself.  She seems to have been put in her place, either by Jacob or Rachel.  When Reuben was born, Leah had said, “God hath seen.” Now she said, “God hath heard.” He had heard the wordy encounters in that unhappy home where the tongues of Jacob and Rachel were sharpened on Leah, and He had heard Leah’s anguished cries to Him. 

 

 

34 And she conceived again, and bare a son; and said, Now this time will my husband be joined unto me, because I have born him three sons: therefore was his name called Levi.

 

The third son’s name, Levi (meaning “attachment”), is tied to the phrase “will my husband be joined unto me, because I have born him three sons.”  It gives a glimpse into the depths of Leah’s yearning for the human affection which Jacob constantly denied her.  Leah was still hoping that Jacob would love her for the sons she had borne him.  It must have been painful for her to have to give herself to a husband who was only doing his duty and not sharing his affection.

 

Spiritual discouragement was evident in Leah’s life.  With her first two sons she acknowledge God, but not this time.  She gave God no credit at all.  Yet, next to Judah, there was no more illustrious son born to Jacob than Levi.  Not even Leah’s spiritual discouragement could prevent God from manifesting His grace. 

 

 

35 And she conceived again, and bare a son: and she said, Now will I praise the Lord: therefore she called his name Judah; and left bearing.

 

She had one more son, and he seemed to bring a new joy to her life.  He was given the name, Judah (“praise”), which suggests a shift of her own emotions from an inner ache to outgoing thanksgiving to the Lord“Now will I praise the Lord!” she cried.  Instead of complaining to the Lord about her unresponsive husband, she was now praising the Lord for His blessings.  The names Leah gave her children were very significant because they expressed her respect and regard both for God and for her husband.  There was piety and wisdom in attaching a significance to names, since it tended to keep the bearer in remembrance of his duty and the commands of God. God honored her for that, for Israel’s kings sprang from Judah and, in the fullness of time, the Son of God Himself came into the world through Judah’s line.  Judah was the most prominent of all the tribes.

 

Leah was no longer fretting because her sister had so effectively monopolized Jacob’s heart.  Leah had found an outlet for her love in the Lord.  She no longer needed people to make her happy, her joy and praise was in God.  Having reached that high note in her spiritual life Leah ceased having sons.  What need did she have for further assurance?  The Lord was better to her than a hundred sons.

 

 

The sequence of the births is also not without significance. Leah’s first four sons are the names of the senior tribes in Israel, with Judah being the most prominent.  The tribes linked with the two slave-maids would be of lesser importance, just as Ishmael was not to be compared with Isaac.  Later on, Rachel would acknowledge Bilhah’s children as her own.  Rachel’s firstborn, Joseph, would be the most powerful of all and the father of both Ephraim and Manasseh, who would replace Ruben and Simeon as heads of tribes.

 

 

 

 


[1] Concubine(s): A concubine is a female who voluntarily enslaves and sells herself to a man primarily for his sexual pleasure. Concubines in the patriarchal age and beyond did not have equal status with a wife. A concubine could not marry her master because of her slave status, although, for her, the relationship was exclusive and ongoing. Sometimes concubines were used to bear children for men whose wives were barren. Concubines in Israel possessed many of the same rights as legitimate wives, without the same respect.

 

The Bible never explains why God allowed men to have concubines. He allowed divorce and polygamy, too, although neither was part of His original plan for marriage. Jesus said God allowed divorce because of the hardness of men’s hearts (Matthew 19:8). We can assume the same hardness of heart led to polygamy and concubinage.

 

 

 [t1]

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