Summary: God delivers the promise to Jacob despite superstition, striving in the flesh, and his uncle Laban’s greed.
Jacob wanted to marry Rachel so he agreed to work for her father (his uncle Laban) seven years. On the wedding night Laban tricked Jacob and sent Rachel’s older sister, Leah, into Jacob’s tent. Jacob didn’t notice until afterwards but by then he was legally wed. He was allowed to marry Rachel as well but only in exchange for seven more years. Well, he loved Rachel because she was beautiful but he didn’t love Leah because she had “weak eyes.” His choice for love was in outward beauty but God had chosen to bring Christ through Leah. A tension, therefore, exists between the two sisters and it’s amplified after Leah delivers four sons for Jacob and Rachel delivers none.
This is where we’ll pick up now, but before we get into it I want to remind you of the main point: I am the LORD God of Abraham thy father, and the God of Isaac: the land whereon thou liest, to thee will I give it, and to thy seed; 14And thy seed shall be as the dust of the earth, and thou shalt spread abroad to the west, and to the east, and to the north, and to the south: and in thee and in thy seed shall all the families of the earth be blessed. 15And, behold, I am with thee, and will keep thee in all places whither thou goest, and will bring thee again into this land; for I will not leave thee, until I have done that which I have spoken to thee of (Gen. 28:13-15).
The challenge as we read this chapter is to avoid drawing 21st century conclusions and trying to make application too quickly. We must read this within the proper context and through the eyes of an Israelite about to enter the Promised Land. What do these verses tell us about God and how do they build on His promise to Jacob?
God Provides Many Children
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. 2And 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?
Rachel envies Leah and blames Jacob for her barren womb. She lashes out against him and we’re reminded that this promise can only be fulfilled by God. Abraham couldn’t give a son to Sarah and Isaac couldn’t give a son to Rebekah. But Rachel can’t wait:
3And 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. 4And she gave him Bilhah her handmaid to wife: and Jacob went in unto her. 5And Bilhah conceived, and bare Jacob a son. 6And Rachel said, God hath judged me, and hath also heard my voice, and hath given me a son: therefore called she his name Dan. 7And Bilhah Rachel’s maid conceived again, and bare Jacob a second son. 8And Rachel said, With great wrestlings have I wrestled with my sister, and I have prevailed: and she called his name Naphtali.
God allows Bilhah to have two children and Rachel sees this as a victory. The first child proves that God is on her side and the second proves she won the fight against Leah.
9When Leah saw that she had left bearing, she took Zilpah her maid, and gave her Jacob to wife. 10And Zilpah Leah’s maid bare Jacob a son. 11And Leah said, A troop cometh: and she called his name Gad. 12And Zilpah Leah’s maid bare Jacob a second son. 13And Leah said, Happy am I, for the daughters will call me blessed: and she called his name Asher.
Four children aren’t enough for Leah so she has two more children through Zilpah and considers herself happier for it. Now we come to the real point:
14And Reuben went in the days of wheat harvest, and found mandrakes in the field, and brought them unto his mother Leah. Then Rachel said to Leah, Give me, I pray thee, of thy son’s mandrakes. 15And she said unto her, Is it a small matter that thou hast taken my husband? and wouldest thou take away my son’s mandrakes also? And Rachel said, Therefore he shall lie with thee to night for thy son’s mandrakes. 16And Jacob came out of the field in the evening, and Leah went out to meet him, and said, Thou must come in unto me; for surely I have hired thee with my son’s mandrakes. And he lay with her that night. 17And God hearkened unto Leah, and she conceived, and bare Jacob the fifth son. 18And Leah said, God hath given me my hire, because I have given my maiden to my husband: and she called his name Issachar. 19And Leah conceived again, and bare Jacob the sixth son. 20And Leah said, God hath endued me with a good dowry; now will my husband dwell with me, because I have born him six sons: and she called his name Zebulun. 21And afterwards she bare a daughter, and called her name Dinah.