Study Notes: Genesis 29:31-30:24
January 9th, 2011: “The Problem with Sister Wives”
Chapter 29, Verses 31-32
When the LORD saw that Leah was not loved, he enabled her to conceive, but Rachel remained childless. 32
Leah became pregnant and gave birth to a son. She named him Reuben, for she said, “It is because the LORD
has seen my misery. Surely my husband will love me now.”
From the account in the beginning of this chapter, it is clear that Jacob’s true affection is for Rachel, not
Leah, because Leah was not loved by her husband, God had compassion on her and allowed her to
conceive a child. It is not clear that God kept Rachel from having children, while it is implied; the focus is
that God enables Leah to conceive as an act of His love.
Leah assumes that the birth of a son will cause Jacob to love her and perhaps favor her over Rachel, but is
clear from later verses (see especially 30:20) this does not happen.
The name Reuben literally means “look, a son” but because of the play on words and Leah’s statement, it
has taken on the meaning “God has seen my misery”
She conceived again, and when she gave birth to a son she said, “Because the LORD heard that I am not
loved, he gave me this one too.” So she named him Simeon.
Again she conceived, and when she gave birth to a son she said, “Now at last my husband will become
attached to me, because I have borne him three sons.” So he was named Levi.
She conceived again, and when she gave birth to a son she said, “This time I will praise the LORD.” So she
named him Judah. Then she stopped having children.
After having Reuben, Leah conceives three more children, while Rachel remains childless (see 30:1).
Each time Leah, as was customary, gives the child a name that fits with the circumstances of his birth.
Simeon means “one who hears” reflecting on the fact that God has both seen and heard Leah’s cries; Levi
sounds like “attached or joined”; and Judah sounds like “praise” and means “he will be praised”
Chapter 30, Verses 1-6
When Rachel saw that she was not bearing Jacob any children, she became jealous of her sister. So she said
to Jacob, “Give me children, or I’ll die!”
Jacob became angry with her and said, “Am I in the place of God, who has kept you from having children?”
Then she said, “Here is Bilhah, my servant. Sleep with her so that she can bear children for me and I too can
build a family through her.”
So she gave him her servant Bilhah as a wife. Jacob slept with her, 5 and she became pregnant and bore him
a son. 6 Then Rachel said, “God has vindicated me; he has listened to my plea and given me a son.” Because of
this she named him Dan.
Out of jealousy, Rachel takes matters into her own hands rather than asking God for children. She tries to
force Jacob’s hand by threatening her own life if he can’t provide children for her. Jacob rightly replies
that only God can give children. Rachel still tries to rely on her own means and gives Jacob her servant
Bilhah as a wife.
The plan works and Bilhah conceives. Rachel gives the child the name Dan which means “he vindicated.”
(While it may seem unusual that Rachel claimed this child as her own when Bilhah actually became the
wife of Jacob, we must remember that Bilhah was not afforded the same status as Leah and Rachel, she
simply was acting as a surrogate for Rachel).
Rachel’s servant Bilhah conceived again and bore Jacob a second son. 8 Then Rachel said, “I have had a
great struggle with my sister, and I have won.” So she named him Naphtali.
Through her servant, Rachel has a second son. She believes that this will end the struggle of jealousy with
Leah and so she names her second son Naphtali, which means “my struggle”
When Leah saw that she had stopped having children, she took her servant Zilpah and gave her to Jacob as
a wife. 10 Leah’s servant Zilpah bore Jacob a son. 11 Then Leah said, “What good fortune!” So she named him
Gad. 12 Leah’s servant Zilpah bore Jacob a second son. 13 Then Leah said, “How happy I am! The women will
call me happy.” So she named him Asher.
Though Rachel thought the struggle was over it was not. Leah, taking a cue from what Rachel did offers
her servant, Zilpah to Jacob. Through Zilpah, Leah has two more sons. Their names are also taken from
the circumstances/outcomes of their births.
Gad means “good fortune” and Asher means “happy or call me happy”
During wheat harvest, Reuben went out into the fields and found some mandrake plants, which he brought
to his mother Leah. Rachel said to Leah, “Please give me some of your son’s mandrakes.”
But she said to her, “Wasn’t it enough that you took away my husband? Will you take my son’s mandrakes
“Very well,” Rachel said, “he can sleep with you tonight in return for your son’s mandrakes.”
So when Jacob came in from the fields that evening, Leah went out to meet him. “You must sleep with me,”
she said. “I have hired you with my son’s mandrakes.” So he slept with her that night.
God listened to Leah, and she became pregnant and bore Jacob a fifth son. 18 Then Leah said, “God has
rewarded me for giving my servant to my husband.” So she named him Issachar.
In what seems like a strange account to us, Leah and Rachel battle over some mandrakes that Reuben
brought to his mother Leah. In ancient times, mandrakes were symbols of fertility and thought to be an
aphrodisiac (they resemble a reproductive organ, and were called “love plants”). Rachel never says it, but
it seems that she wants the mandrakes to help her bear children).
In return for the mandrakes, Rachel tells Leah she can have Jacob for the night. Jacob obliges and Leah
conceives a son, Issachar, whose name sounds like “reward”
These verses make it clear how deep the jealousy and hatred ran between the two sisters, considering the
fact that they use Jacob as a bargaining chip, hiring out his sexual services. In some verses of this section
(29:31-32, 30:23), they seem to understand and trust God, but in these verses Leah clearly has wrong
ideas of what kind of behavior God rewards.
Leah conceived again and bore Jacob a sixth son. 20 Then Leah said, “God has presented me with a
precious gift. This time my husband will treat me with honor, because I have borne him six sons.” So she
named him Zebulun. 21 Sometime later she gave birth to a daughter and named her Dinah.
After hiring her husband in a strange act, the story continues with Leah bearing even more children for
Jacob. She gives birth to Zebulun whose name means “honor.” Surely in her mind having six sons for
Jacob will be enough to win her husband’s respect.
Leah also gives birth to a daughter. Dinah is mentioned among the sons because she will play a role in a
later account (Genesis 34).
Then God remembered Rachel; he listened to her and enabled her to conceive. 23 She became pregnant and
gave birth to a son and said, “God has taken away my disgrace.” 24 She named him Joseph, and said, “May the
LORD add to me another son.”
The story of the war over children ends with God looking with kindness on Rachel (who had not yet had
children of her own yet). Evidently Rachel had been praying for children and God listened to her cry.
It is interesting to note that Rachel bore the son that would become one of the most important men in the
book of Genesis and would provide the means for his family to survive.
The name Joseph means “may he add” but it also sounds like the verb “take away” reflecting on both of