Genesis 30:1-2 – Rachel who was forced to wait to marry her husband because of her father and Laban’s conspiracy now has to deal with the humiliation of not being able to have children. It would be disappointing enough just to be barren but imagine the agony as you begin to see the love of your husband directed to the mother of his children, and it’s not his true wife! Is it any wonder that Rachel cries out “Give me children, or I’ll die!” Maybe she thought if Jacob had spent more time in her bed than Leah’s she would be more likely to conceive. For his part Jacob never seems to waver in his love for Rachel. However, Jacob angrily reacts to Rachel, with words that appear to suggest that it was God who was withholding children from Rachel and not him. This kind of family fighting is one of the many problems associated with the practice of polygamy.
Genesis 30:3-8 – Someone has said that unless we learn from history, we are doomed to repeat it. This is the case here when Rachel suggests the same plan for children that Sarah devised. It had terrible consequences then and it will cause problems now. She gives her maid to Jacob as a surrogate to have children for her. Handmaidens were given for the possibility that if barrenness did occur, there would be a ready surrogate for the wife. It would have been better if Jacob and Rachel had joined together in prayer for a child, but they like us at times lacked the faith and patience to trust God in these matters. Bilhah was immediately successful and bore Jacob a son, whom Rachel named “Dan” which means “Justice”. Rachel named the child in response to her conviction that now God had justified her in providing a son through her maid. Pleased with the good results, Rachel has Jacob lie again with Bilhah who is now referred to as his wife in V 4, though the more accurate term would be concubine. The second child that is born is named Naphtali, for the rivalry between Rachel and Leah, which is described by Rachel as “wrestling”.
Genesis 30:9-13 -Apparently after the birth of Judah, Leah stopped having children. In the light of Rachel’s actions, she too decides to use her maid for surrogate parenthood. She prevails upon Jacob to sleep with Zilpah that she might have children through her as Rachel did with Bilhah. The desire to have children was so important to Rachel and Leah that the idea of their husband sleeping with their maids doesn’t even enter the commentary. Son’s also were a security for one’s old age, perhaps a key thought in their minds was for their future. Worry about the future often clouds our thinking and causes us to make decisions based on expediency rather than God’s will. We also need to keep in mind that the Lord’s plans for Israel are key part of the equation. The 12 tribes of Israel became a key part of Israel’s history, but He would have accomplished His will in another way, if they all looked to Him. God’s will be accomplished no matter what, but we can choose to trust and abide in Him or not. If Rachel and Leah left the provision by God for the 12 tribes of Israel, He would have done it in a way that would have not been so divisive and toxic. The first son born to Zilpah, Leah’s maid, was named “Gad” which means “fortune” or “luck”. Leah sensed that the birth of this child was a sign of good fortune for her and her relationship with Jacob. This tells us a little also about the lack of faith in Leah attributing the birth to fortune or luck rather than the sovereign hand of God who opens the womb. Sadly, we too lack faith in God’s omnipotence, omniscience and care for us. The second child is named “Asher” which means “happy” and is a reflection of Leah’s feelings at the birth of her 2nd surrogate son.
Genesis 30:14-16 – Jacob is now the father of eight sons. The oldest son Reuben, while playing in the fields, happens upon some mandrakes. Mandrakes were yellow berries about the size of nutmeg. The Hebrew root word for this fruit’s name is “love” and they were deemed to have the effect of enhancing fertility as well as being an aphrodisiac. Rachel must have been present when Reuben presented the mandrakes to his mother. Rachel willing to do anything to enhance her chances of becoming pregnant asks for some of the mandrakes. Leah’s response is a bitter outburst accusing Rachel of stealing the affections of her husband and now adding to that by trying to get her son’s mandrakes to become fertile and further gain an advantage in her husband’s love. It seems that since the birth of Judah there had been little intimacy between Leah and Jacob. He was busy with Zilpah, Bilhah, and Rachel. It appears that Rachel had once again regained Jacob’s love and affection over Leah. As a concession for the mandrakes Rachel uses her husband as barter for them, insisting that he sleep with Leah in exchange for the mandrakes. When Jacob returns from his labors in the field, he is apprised by Leah that he has been hired for the night. One can only imagine what Jacob was thinking about all this. He doesn’t seem to protest in the face of Leah’s eagerness. Even if he had not been willing, he would likely have submitted if for nothing else other than to keep peace in the family.
Genesis 30:17-21 – Leah seems to have turned to the Lord in prayer since Jacob’s attention been diverted by the handmaidens who giving Jacob sons. She apparently believed that if she gave birth to another son his attention would return to her. God heard her prayers and she conceived again. She saw this as a reward from the Lord and named her fifth son Issachar, which comes from Hebrew root words “yesh” and “sakhar” which together mean “He will bring a reward”. Jacob did indeed spend more time with Leah for not long afterwards Leah becomes pregnant again. The child is named Zebulun which has a double meaning of “to present” and “to dwell”, God presented her a present and the result was her husband dwelling with her. Jacob now had ten sons, with no mention of any daughters. This may have been cultural as some commentators suggest but more likely it is the hand of God setting the stage for the twelve tribes of Israel. Now however God gives Leah a daughter, one of other daughters who are born later and mentioned in (37:35; 46:7, 15). The only daughter whose name and mother are given is Dinah whose name means “judgment”, or “vindication” and is perhaps named in a prophetic way for she will be the reason for judgment to come upon many. We will consider her in detail later.
Genesis 30:22-24 – Scripture desires us to understand that it was not mandrakes that caused Rachel to become pregnant but rather the hand of God, who “remembered” Rachel. Joseph also has a double meaning in much the same way that Zebulun did. “Asaph” means “to take away” and yasaph means “to add”. Rachel felt that God had “taken away” her shame in not bearing children, and at the same time prayed that God would add more to her. It may have been that Rachel had taken pride in her beauty and attractiveness and God may have felt that a season of barrenness was needed to humble her.
Genesis 30:25- 28 – Jacob had served Laban now more than enough in time to pay for his wives. He was with Laban a total of twenty years according to Gen. 31:38. It was time now for Jacob to build his own household and not just Laban’s. He was anxious to go home again, since there is no indication that he ever heard from his parents. He approaches Laban to inform him of his decision to go home. For his part Laban did not want Jacob to go as he likely wanted his grandchildren to be near him, and also because his wealth increased greatly with Jacob’s help and God’s blessing. Laban acknowledges that the blessing of God was on Jacob, and that he profited because of that blessing. In the past when Laban asked Jacob to name his wages he benefited greatly, so now he asks Jacob to propose a deal once again. Laban was willing to meet any price to keep Jacob in his employ. Jacob had plenty of wives, so now Laban would have to come up with money or property. Laban may have had in mind that he could make any arrangement work to his good. The expression in V 27 “I have divined” is an indication that Laban was involved in the occult or “new age” arts of his day. While professing to be a believer in God, his actions demonstrate that his faith is in things other than God.
Genesis 30:29-30 – Jacob begins his response to Laban’s request for the continued service of Jacob by reminding Laban that when he began taking over the care of his flocks, they were few in number. He made it clear to Laban that it was God who was responsible for turning Laban’s small flock into a multitude. It seems apparent by these words that Laban did not esteem Jacob or acknowledge that it was God who was the source of these blessings. Jacob is seldom given credit for his relationship with the Lord by commentators or that God loved him, but God did love him (Mal 1:12; Rom 9:11-13). Having reminded Laban of how God blessed him through his service, Jacob tells Laban that he has more than fulfilled his commitment to him. Laban clearly knows that he has prospered since Jacob came to him, so again he asks him to name his price to remain.
Genesis 30:31-34 – Jacob knows the heart of Laban, that anything he receives from him will likely have bad consequences, he responds that Laban should give him nothing. Jacob would prefer to allow God to bless him by coming to an agreement with Laban on receiving future flocks born that would be deemed less than desirable to Laban. To understand this arrangement, we need to be aware that in the Middle East sheep are normally white (Ps 147:16; Song 4:2; 6:6; Dan 7:9), and goats are normally black or brown/black. There are exceptions but the vast majority are these colors. Jacob agreed to take none of the flocks that were solid in color but only the ones born that were speckled or spotted. Although Jacob had given Laban no reason to mistrust him, it is hard for men who are themselves dishonest to trust anyone else. This is why Jacob tells him that if any future cattle found in Jacob’s possession was solid in color, Laban could consider as stolen by. In suggesting this Jacob wants Laban to know that “my honesty will answer for me later, when you come concerning my wages.” Laban understood how beneficial this arrangement would be to him and readily agrees. Once again Laban saw the wisdom in letting Jacob name his wages rather than he, in all likelihood he would have given Jacob much more.
Genesis 30:35-36 Laban then removes all the animals that were speckled and spotted from the herd so that only solid colored animals remained. This would reduce the chance of Jacob doing well by breeding the spotted and speckled to gain more of those kinds of animals. He entrusts these animals to his sons instructing them to keep a three-day journey distance between them, so that Jacob will not be able to use them for breeding.
Genesis 30:37-39 – Jacob begins to utilize his extensive skills and experience in animal husbandry to accomplish two things, first to enhance reproduction, and secondly to heighten the possibility of the solid color flocks producing spotted and speckled offspring. The typical response is to say that Jacob is acting in a deceitful manner. However, we need to remember that twice Laban pleaded with Jacob to name his wages for his work in tending his flocks. Laban thought that he had the advantage in this arrangement and did all he could to minimize Jacob’s success. Evidently Jacob believed that by placing poplar rods that were peeled with white stripes would have the effect of enhancing the animals desire to mate. These rods were placed inside the watering troughs and somehow affected the cattle to reproduce. One might question how this would affect the coloration of the sheep in the light of our knowledge of DNA today; nevertheless, the results were that there was an abundance of speckled and spotted offspring produced. Whether or not this caused the desired results, Jacob in time comes to understand completely that this was the result of the blessing and work of God.
Genesis 30:40-43 – Jacob then in V 40 separated the offspring of Laban’s flock that were speckled and spotted from the solid colored animals that would belong to Laban. He would have them face each other but not mingle. He would then place the rods in the water when the strongest of his flock was in heat but not when the weaker were. Evidently the stronger animal’s offspring were spotted and speckled. This meant that Jacob’s herd continued to grow while Laban’s did not, and what was born that were weak belonged to Laban. In the span of about 5 years Jacob’s flock had grown so large that he became quite prosperous as a result of the blessings of God on him.