31The Lord knew that Jacob loved Rachel more than he did Leah, and so he gave children to Leah, but not to Rachel. 32Leah gave birth to a son and named him Reuben. Then she said, “The Lord has taken away my sorrow. Now my husband will love me more than he does Rachel.” 33She had a second son and named him Simeon, because she said, “The Lord has heard that my husband doesn't love me.” 34When Leah's third son was born, she said, “Now my husband will hold me close.” So this son was named Levi. 35She had one more son and named him Judah, because she said, “I'll praise the Lord!”
Problems between Rachel
1Rachel was very jealous of Leah for having children, and she said to Jacob, “I'll die if you don't give me some children!”
2But Jacob became upset with Rachel and answered, “Don't blame me! I'm not God.”
3“Here, take my servant Bilhah,” Rachel told him. “Have children by her, and I'll let them be born on my knees to show that they are mine.”
4Then Rachel let Jacob marry Bilhah, 5and they had a son. 6Rachel named him Dan, because she said, “God has answered my prayers. He judged in my favor and has given me a son.” 7When Bilhah and Jacob had a second son, 8Rachel said, “I've struggled hard with my sister, and I've won!” So she named the boy Naphtali.
9When Leah realized she could not have any more children, she let Jacob marry her servant Zilpah, 10and they had a son. 11“I'm really lucky,” Leah said, and she named the boy Gad. 12When they had another son, 13Leah exclaimed, “I'm happy now, and all the women will say how happy I am.” So she named him Asher.
14During the time of the wheat harvest, Reuben found some love flowers and took them to his mother Leah. Rachel asked Leah for some of them, 15but Leah said, “It's bad enough that you stole my husband! Now you want my son's love flowers too.”
“All right,” Rachel answered. “Let me have the flowers, and you can sleep with Jacob tonight.”
16That evening when Jacob came in from the fields, Leah told him, “You're sleeping with me tonight. I hired you with my son's love flowers.”
They slept together that night, 17and God answered Leah's prayers by giving her a fifth son. 18Leah shouted, “God has rewarded me for letting Jacob marry my servant,” and she named the boy Issachar.
19When Leah had another son, 20she exclaimed, “God has given me a wonderful gift, and my husband will praise me for giving him six sons.” So she named the boy Zebulun. 21Later, Leah had a daughter and named her Dinah.
22-23Finally, God remembered Rachel—he answered her prayer by giving her a son. “God has taken away my disgrace,” she said. 24“I'll name the boy Joseph, and I'll pray that the Lord will give me another son.”
In the culture of the Ancient Near East at the time of Jacob, children – especially sons – brought status. Leah, “unloved” because she did not have Rachel’s beauty, was blessed by the Lord and she blessed Jacob with their first four sons. All their names speak of God recognizing her need and providing these children (29:31-35). The Lord shows how he watches over those who face partiality and rejection, just as he had done for Hagar (ch 16). In his sovereignty God has intervened in a surprising manner to have the people of promise’s primary story written through Leah, the one who was unloved. The impact of her descendants will prove to be widespread including:
- Levi – the priestly family in Israel
- Judah – the tribe from which comes King David and eventually Jesus, the “Lion of Judah” (Revelation 5:5) and
- Issachar –the tribe who “knew the right time to do what needed to be done” (1 Chronicles 12:32).
Rachel reacts in emotional agony and with envy to Jacob, “Give me sons or I will die.” Today we might read Jacob’s response of, “Am I in God’s place, who has withheld children, kept the fruit of the womb from you?” as insensitive. However, the whole story illustrates the common understanding of that day. Rachel’s response is highly pragmatic as she gives her slave Bilhah to Jacob as a wife. When Bilhah has two sons Rachel views this as vindication from God and concludes that she has won her great struggle with Leah (30:1-8).
The sibling rivalry for Jacob’s affections continues to go back and forth. Leah presents her own servant Zilpah to Jacob and two more sons are born. Leah is ecstatic believing others will celebrate with her. Later during a wheat harvest Leah’s oldest son, Reuben comes to his mother with “love plants,”(mandrakes) whose roots were thought to enhance reproduction. When Rachel seeks to acquire some of them Leah reacts dramatically, “It’s bad enough that you stole my husband! Now you want my son’s love flowers too?” Rachel as first wife and ever the schemer calmly negotiates to get some mandrakes in exchange for letting Leah spend the night with Jacob. Over the course of time Leah will have two more sons and Jacob’s only daughter, Dinah. In the end the mother of seven of Jacob’s thirteen children is Leah, the unloved one (vv 9-21).
The concluding scene sets the stage for years of future rivalry in the family of Jacob as “God remembered Rachel” and she gives birth to Joseph (v.22-23).
Lord of the despised ones, you love to take up the cause of the underdogs. Assist us to partner with you on behalf of the rejected, despised and oppressed, so that your strength can arise from the midst of human weakness, in the name of Jesus the humble servant, Amen.