The sons of Bilhah and Zilpah. — V.1. 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. Barrenness was considered a special punishment and curse of God in the Old Testament, especially in the families of the patriarchs, in whose case the longing for the Messiah intensified the desire for children. Rachel, therefore, seeing her sister Leah bearing one son after the other, was filled with envy and impatience, believing, apparently, that all her prayers for offspring were vain. That explains her outburst of temper, which caused her to state that she would die from dejection and grief unless Jacob would manage to bring her children. V.2. And 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? The stern reproof of Jacob was fully deserved by Rachel: In the place of God am I supposed to be, who has denied thee children? He was powerless so far as his own strength was concerned, and probably, together with Rachel, did not make a sufficient use of prayer as a power to storm the heart of God. V.3. And 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. This was not the manner of faith, but the expedient of the flesh: the children of Rachel’s slave would belong to her mistress, all the more so if Jacob, at Rachel’s suggestion, was the father. V.4. And she gave him Bilhah, her handmaid, to wife; and Jacob went in unto her. His own condition of mind with regard to his favorite wife’s barrenness and his advancing age, since he was now almost ninety years old, caused Jacob to agree to his wife’s plan. V.5. And Bilhah conceived, and bare Jacob a son. V.6. And Rachel said, God hath judged me, and hath also heard my voice, and hath given me a son; therefore called she his name Dan (judge). So Rachel considered the situation as a quarrel between herself and her sister, in which God had now put aside the injustice in giving her a son by proxy. V.7. And Bilhah, Rachel’s maid, conceived again, and bare Jacob a second son. V.8. And Rachel said, With great wrestlings have I wrestled with my sister, and I have prevailed; and she called his name Naphtali (one obtained by wrestling), In the struggle between herself and Leah, yea, between herself and God, Rachel had succeeded in obtaining also this son. Her words indicate her longing to share in the patriarchal blessing, although there is still a measure of self-will in her statement. V.9. When Leah saw that she had left bearing, she took Zilpah, her maid, and gave her Jacob to wife, thus following the example of her sister. The matter was now actually becoming a carnal struggle. V.10. And Zilpah, Leah’s maid, bare Jacob a son. V.11. And Leah said, A troop cometh; and she called his name Gad (good fortune). She considered the birth of this son a fortunate event to herself. V.12. And Zilpah, Leah’s maid, bare Jacob a second son. V.13. And Leah said, Happy am I, for the daughters will call me blessed; and she called his name Asher (the happy one). She believed that daughters, women, no matter where they might be, would consider her fortunate and happy in having brought her husband six sons. It seems that the Lord’s blessing did not enter into Leah’s calculations at this time. It was simply a race between herself and Rachel.
The last children of Leah. — V.14. And Reuben went in the days of wheat harvest, and found mandrakes in the field, and brought them unto his mother Leah. Little Reuben, at that time about four or five years old, found the berries of the mandrake in the field. These berries are yellow, strong, but sweet-smelling, about the size of a nutmeg, and were generally believed to promote fruitfulness and to take the place of a love-potion. Then Rachel said to Leah, Give me, I pray thee, of thy son’s mandrakes. This shows to what point the mutual jealousy of the two women had grown, in placing their trust even in such supposed remedies. V.15. And 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? Thus Leah was smarting under the sense of being unloved or merely suffered as a wife: Is a small matter thy taking of my husband? And Rachel said, Therefore he shall lie with thee to-night for thy son’s mandrakes. So these were the conditions of the trade: Rachel was to have the mandrakes, and she, in return, yielded Jacob to Leah for this one time. V.16. And 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. So Leah insisted upon her bargain. And he lay with her that night. V.17. And God hearkened unto Leah, and she conceived, and bare Jacob the fifth son. So it was not the natural remedy of the mandrakes which produced fruitfulness, but the blessing of the Lord, the God of creation. V.18. And Leah said, God hath given me my hire, because I have given my maiden to my husband; and she called his name Issachar (he who brings reward). She believed this son to be the reward of God for her having yielded her servant to her husband. V.19. And Leah conceived again, and bare Jacob the sixth son. V.20. And 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 (dwelling). Although this detailed account of the most intimate relations between Jacob and his wives shows the weakness and sinfulness of their natures, yet it was not mere carnal desire and jealousy that filled their hearts, but they always had in mind, more or less distinctly, the Messianic promise and its significance. V.21. And afterwards she bare a daughter, and called her name Dinah, mentioned here on account of her later history, chap. 34.
The birth of Joseph. — V.22. And God remembered Rachel, and God hearkened to her, and opened her womb. It seems, then, that when all her schemes and stratagems failed, she turned to God in fervent and patient prayer, and that the Lord, in answer, removed her barrenness. V.23. And she conceived, and bare a son, and said, God hath taken away my reproach; v.24. and she called his name Joseph (He shall add); and said, The Lord shall add to me another son. In taking away from Rachel the reproach of her unfruitfulness, the Lord had added to her the hope that He would add a second son. This wish was later fulfilled, chap. 35, 16–18. It is undoubtedly correct to assume, from the subsequent story, that the eleven children of Jacob, from Reuben to Joseph, were born in the seven years after his marriage, not exactly in a chronological succession as narrated, but so that Leah gave birth to her four sons during the first four years. Dan and Naphtali were probably likewise born during this period, the children of Zilpah immediately after, Leah herself again becoming a mother in the sixth and seventh years, and Joseph being born about the end of the seventh year, when Jacob was ninety-one years old. The entire story shows that the fear of the Lord makes for true happiness in the home, for believers rely upon the Lord for all good gifts and gratefully receive them, at His hands.
The contract between Laban and Jacob. — V.25. And it came to pass, when Rachel had born Joseph, that Jacob said unto Laban, Send me away, that I may go unto mine own place and to my country. The fourteen years of Jacob’s service had now come to a close, and, since he did not consider Mesopotamia his home, but a strange country, he longed to go back to his own land, to Canaan. Therefore he asked for his dismissal. V.26. Give me my wives and my children, for whom I have served thee, and let me go; for thou knowest my service which I have done thee. Laban had to concede the faithfulness of Jacob in all his work, particularly since he had, till now, had all the better of the bargain. V.27. And Laban said unto him, I pray thee, if I have found favor in thine eyes, tarry; for I have learned by experience that the Lord hath blessed me for thy sake. Laban couched his request in the most careful language, although he had only selfish motives in asking Jacob to stay. V.28. And he said, Appoint me thy wages, and I will give it. He appears to yield unconditionally to any demand which Jacob might make, but he was really calculating upon Jacob’s willingness and humility. V.29. And he said unto him, Thou knowest how I have served thee, and how thy cattle was with me. V.30. For it was little which thou hadst before I came, and it is now increased unto a multitude; and the Lord hath blessed thee since my coming, the blessing of Jehovah had, literally, followed Jacob’s feet: and now, when shall I provide for mine own house also? There was really a strong hint in these words, telling Laban that he would do well to set him up in the cattle business for himself. But Laban repeated his question. v.31. And he said, What shall I give thee? And Jacob said, Thou shalt not give me anything; if thou wilt do this thing for me, I will again feed and keep thy flock. It was now cunning against cunning, for Jacob declined to trust himself to the generosity of Laban, having learned to read the character of his uncle aright. V.32. I will pass through all thy flock today, removing from thence all the speckled and spotted cattle, and all the brown cattle among the sheep, and the spotted and speckled among the goats; and of such shall be my hire. The terms of this contract were based upon the fact that the goats in the Orient are usually black or dark-brown, seldom white or speckled with white, the sheep on the contrary usually white, seldom black or speckled. The proposition, therefore, seemed to be very one-sided in favor of Laban. V.33. So shall my righteousness answer for me in time to come, when it shall come for my hire before thy face; every one that is not speckled and spotted among the goats, and brown among the sheep, that shall be counted stolen with me. If Laban should at any time find in his flocks such animals as did not measure up to this description, he was at liberty to accuse Jacob of theft. V.34. And Laban said, Behold, I would it might be according to thy word. He was fully satisfied with a plan which promised to be all in his favor. V.35. And he removed that day the he-goats that were ring-straked (banded) and spotted, and all the she-goats that were speckled and spotted, and every one that had some white in it, and all the brown among the sheep, and gave them into the hand of his sons. Laban took every precaution that he could think of, personally supervising the elimination of all the dark and spotted among the sheep and the light and spotted among the goats. V.36. And he set three days’ journey betwixt himself and Jacob; and Jacob fed the rest of Laban’s flocks. By putting his own sons in charge of his flocks and by placing such a great distance between the two sets of flocks, Laban thought he had effectually curbed Jacob’s ambition. His entire conduct was that of a selfish, covetous man, who made use of every possible means to reduce Jacob’s wages.
Jacob’s great wealth. — V.37. And Jacob took him rods of green poplar, and of the hazel-and chestnut-tree; and pilled white strakes in them, and made the white appear which was in the rods. Since the bark of the Oriental gum, the almond or walnut, and the maple is dark, while all of them have a white, dazzling wood, they lent themselves very well for this purpose. V.38. And he set the rods which he had pilled before the flocks in the gutters in the watering-troughs when the flocks came to drink, that they should conceive when they came to drink. The impression which the animals at the time of conception were thus to receive was to be so sudden, deep, and lasting that it would affect the color of their offspring. V.39. And the flocks conceived before the rods, while they had their picture before them, and brought forth cattle ring-straked (banded) , speckled, and spotted. Jacob’s scheme worked beautifully, causing his flocks to increase very rapidly. V.40. And Jacob did separate the lambs, and set the faces of the flocks toward the ring-straked and all the brown in the flock of Laban; and he put his own flocks by themselves, and put them not unto Laban’s cattle. By this second device the black goats and the white sheep were always kept by themselves, nothing in their own herd exciting their attention, whereas the herds of spotted and speckled animals in plain view were bound to make an impression upon the animals at the time of breeding. V.41. And it came to pass, whensoever the stronger cattle did conceive, that Jacob laid the rods before the eyes of the cattle in the gutters, that they might conceive among the rods, in the very midst of the pilled staves. This was in the spring, for the lambs and kids born in the fall were considered the stronger and better. V.42. But when the cattle were feeble, in the late fall, when the pasturage was no longer so good, he put them not in; so the feebler were Laban’s, and the stronger Jacob’s. Thus Jacob, with the blessing of God, chap. 31, 12, succeeded in obtaining some of the wages which were so richly due him for his many years of faithful service. He used all his business sagacity in beating his covetous uncle at his own game, but incidentally kept his word not to appropriate so much as one animal that did not belong to him. V.43. And the man increased exceedingly, and had much cattle, and maid-servants, and men-servants, and camels, and asses. All this he acquired, with the blessing of God, in the next six years. Without the blessing of God all wealth is a curse.