Last week we saw how Jacob got tricked by his uncle to marry both of his daughters even though he only wanted to marry one. And right away there were problems in the marriage because Leah wasn’t loved by her husband Jacob while Rachel was. This is what moved Leah to have kids by Jacob hoping that once she gave him some sons then he would love her. Now she did have 4 sons by Jacob, but it didn’t change his feelings for her. He only loved Rachel even though she still couldn’t have kids.
But this was starting to really trouble Rachel. I’m sure she knew Jacob loved her, but it seems she’s getting a little nervous about her worth as a woman. For a woman to not be able to bear children back then sometimes meant she was useless as a wife. So she takes matters into her own hands and starts this back and forth cycle between herself and Leah in a child-bearing competition to gain Jacob’s love and attention. Before its all done Jacob has 4 wives, 12 sons, and many daughters. One big happy family, right? Wrong!
A little boy was attending his first wedding. After the service, his sister asked him, "How many women can a man marry?" "Sixteen," the boy responded. His sister was amazed that he had an answer so quickly. "How do you know that?" "Easy," the little boy said. "All you have to do is add it up, like the Pastor said: 4 better, 4 worse, 4 richer, 4 poorer. Sixteen."
God never intended for man to marry more than one wife. But before we get into where and why He intended marriage to be monogamous, let’s look at what happened in Jacob’s polygamous marriage.
Wife #1, Leah, (Reuben, Simeon, Levi, Judah)
Wife #2, Rachel, (barren)
Wife #3, Bilhah
[Read Genesis 30:1-3.]
Rachel is getting desperate here. She’s jealous of her sister, the ugly one, since she’s having all the kids. And probably Jacob is sleeping with her a lot more than he is with Rachel, even though he loved her. So jealousy is burning within Rachel.
She’s also feeling useless as a woman. So she gives her handmaid to Jacob as a wife. By the way, when she said, “that she may bear upon my knees”, the given wife or concubine would actually give birth while sitting on the other wife’s knees to signify that she was giving birth on her behalf.
[Read Genesis 30:4-8.]
Dan – “justice”, Naphtali – “wrestling”
But now guess who gets jealous? Leah. Even though she already has 4 kids, she saw the attention she was getting from Jacob slipping away.
Somehow that contentment she had achieved when she gave birth to Judah was now masked in jealousy for her husband’s other wives. So instead of trusting God to meet her emotional needs, she gives her husband another wife! Like throwing gas on a fire!
Wife #4, Zilpah
[Read Genesis 30:9-13.]
Gad – “fortune”, Asher – “happy”
But even though her handmaid bore sons to Jacob in her stead, it wasn’t enough. She still wanted to be loved by Jacob.
Wife #1, Leah
[Read Genesis 30:14-16.]
Now here’s what’s going on here. Leah’s son Reuben is probably 5 years old at this time. He’s out playing in the fields and comes across a Mandrake bush and brings some of the fruit home to his mother. These Mandrakes were also called “love apples” back then and were used as an aphrodisiac and fertility enhancer. So Rachel wants those “love apples” to give to Jacob so he’ll start sleeping with her again and maybe, just maybe have a child with her.
But Rachel strikes a deal with her to give her the fruit in exchange for the opportunity to start sleeping with Jacob again herself. Obviously Jacob was spending a lot of time with his two new wives.
[Read Genesis 30:17-21.]
Issachar – “reward”, Zebulum – “dwelling”, Dinah
Now it doesn’t say if Rachel got Jacob to eat the Mandrakes. Probably she did as they obviously started sleeping together again. But the next few verses make it clear that God, not the fruit, made it possible for Rachel to finally have a child with her husband.
Wife #2, Rachel
[Read Genesis 30:22-24.]
Joseph – “may He add”, (Benjamin comes later)
Jacob has 4 wives, 12 sons, and many daughters. One big unhappy family. But that’s how polygamy always ends. It’s just not meant to be this way. God always intended for only one man to be married to only one woman at a time.
But it seems that God was often silent concerning this matter. How come God didn’t intervene or expressly forbid this practice that never seems to turn out right?
A Mormon acquaintance once pushed Mark Twain into an argument on the issue of polygamy. After long and tedious expositions justifying the practice, the Mormon demanded that Twain cite any passage of scripture expressly forbidding polygamy. "Nothing easier," Twain replied. "No man can serve two masters."