Genesis 29:31-30:24 “Jacob’s Children- A Nation Is Born” part 2

Posted on October 16, 2011. Filed under: Genesis: Answers to Life's Crucial Questions |

Sunday, October 16, 2011 Bryan E. Walker

 Read Gen. 29:31-30:24         30:1 When Rachel saw that she bore Jacob no children, she envied her sister. She said to Jacob, “Give me children, or I shall die!” Jacob’s anger was kindled against Rachel, and he said, “Am I in the place of God, who has withheld from you the fruit of the womb?” Then she said, “Here is my servant Bilhah; go in to her, so that she may give birth on my behalf, that even I may have children through her.” So she gave him her servant Bilhah as a wife, and Jacob went in to her. And Bilhah conceived and bore Jacob a son. Then Rachel said, “God has judged me, and has also heard my voice and given me a son.” Therefore she called his name Dan. Rachel’s servant Bilhah conceived again and bore Jacob a second son. Then Rachel said, “With mighty wrestlings I have wrestled with my sister and have prevailed.” So she called his name Naphtali.

            When Leah saw that she had ceased bearing children, she took her servant Zilpah and gave her to Jacob as a wife. Then Leah’s servant Zilpah bore Jacob a son. And Leah said, “Good fortune has come!” so she called his name Gad. Leah’s servant Zilpah bore Jacob a second son. And Leah said, “Happy am I! For women have called me happy.” So she called his name Asher.

(Genesis 30:1-13 ESV)



Introduction: Last week we began this central portion of Moses’ book that is so essential for the task of forming the nation ofIsrael in the wilderness. They had been enslaved in Egypt for four generations (Gen.15:16), and although they certainly had an excellent oral record (and perhaps even some written records) of their patriarchal history, they needed to know who they were, where they had come from, and what God had done for them in the past in order to become the kind of people God was calling them to be around Mt. Sinai. The passage we are studying in Genesis gives the account of the births of Jacob’s children, who would be the founders of the tribes ofIsrael. This section of scripture then, is all about God keeping his covenant which he had made with Abraham, Isaac, and now Jacob. This story of the births of Jacob’s children proclaims the sovereignty, grace, and faithfulness of God.


We cannot, however, simply look at this story from the eye of a theologian. We must realize that the people in this story were real; they had real dreams and desires and very real hurts. So, as we study, we seek to understand what was happening in their lives, what it meant for Moses andIsraellater, and what it means for the Church today. We find in this story what operating according to the flesh can do to damage family relations, and yet how a sovereign God can use our sinfulness to accomplish his will and bring about blessings anyway. We should gain from this study the insight about trusting in God and not our own flesh and our faith should grow as we learn how God acts for his own glory and our good in everything.

Last week we did not quite finish with the first point of our outline so we will begin where w left off with 29:34 and the birth of Levi.


  1. I.                   Leah’s Faith, 29:31-35
    1. A.        Leah Was Hated, Yet Loved, 29:31
    2. B.        And Leah Conceived, 29:32-35


  1. II.                Leah and Rachel Struggle Using Their Handmaidens, 30:1-13
    1. A.        Rachel’s Envy vs.1
      1. 1.        The tendency for us is to read this story like it all happened sequentially which would not make sense of the timeline that Moses gives us of 13 yrs. of married life prior to his leaving Laban and returning home. Rachel’s barrenness and envy of her sister is occurring while the events of 29:31-35 are happening.
      2. 2.        When Rachel saw- this could be the key word of Moses’ outline for this text occurring in 29:31”When the LORD saw…”; here; 30:9 “When Leah saw…”; and 30:22 “Then God remembered Rachel, and God listened…”
      3. 3.        she bore Jacob no children- this is a personal tragedy to almost any woman, but in that day and time, it would be a source of shame, embarrassment, and would attack Rachel’s self-worth. Knowing the cruelty of young women at times, she would be the object of cruel jokes and rumors. There is an obvious competition between the two sisters which may stretch back to before they were married. This is the common obstacle in the matriarchs of the covenant. You have the promise of God to the men, but infertile women.
      4. 4.        Apply- Our church seems to be filled with couples who believe in having large families, which is definitely counter to our culture. We always have our expectant mothers on our prayer lists and we have baby showers for the moms as their due date approaches. When the baby arrives the care groups try to minister by bringing meals to the family. And once a year at least, we have a baby dedication event as part of our worship. One of our Elders, Dale, is on the Board of Directors for a pregnancy help center and others in our church have participated in the cultural fight for the pro-life position, some even adopting babies or providing foster care. We are about as pro-life of a church as can be. But what about our young ladies, our couples, who cannot have children? We have a few. Are we careful to encourage them? Are we open to listening to them and comforting them? We have numerous young single ladies in our church who have not been given a husband. Their grief could be double! Do we minister effectively to the single ladies who long for both a husband and children but for whom God has withheld those blessings for now?
      5. 5.        she envied her sister- Rachel’s response to the LORD’s “seeing” Leah and opening her womb was envy. Envy, Heb. qana– Strong’s 7065- used in Gen.26:14 of the Philistines and 37:11 of Joseph’s brothers in regards to Joseph- means zealous in a bad way, jealous or envious. In this usage it would be zeal for another’s blessing, envy. Notice that she is envious of that which the LORD was doing in her sister’s life- blessing the unloved wife with children. Instead of rejoicing with her sister and praising the Giver of life, she was angry, resentful, and envious. This is a self-centered reaction that is clearly not rooted in faith; it is sin.
      6. 6.        Calvin, p.141, vol.2, “Now Moses, by exhibiting this evil in Rachel, would teach us that it is inherent in all; in order that each of us, tearing it up by the roots, may vigilantly purify himself from it. That we may be cured of envy, it behooves us to put away pride and self-love; as Paul prescribes this single remedy against contentions, ‘Let nothing be done through vain-glory’ (Phil. ii.3).”
      7. 7.        Apply- do we rejoice when we see the Lord blessing others with that which we desire but do not have? Or do we allow envy to implant a seed of bitterness and resentment in our hearts whereby we act with anger or allow our envy to boil within while we struggle to appear godly on the outside?
      8. 8.        Apply- have we ever intentionally flaunted the blessings we enjoy before someone with the intent of making them envious?
      9. 9.        She said to Jacob, ‘Give me children or I die’- just having her husband’s love is not enough. Leah, on the other hand, has the children but not her husband’s love. They each want what the other has. The deeper irony is that we know that the woman who said, “Give me children or I die” will actually die in childbirth in 35:19. Keep in mind that it was Rachel who also stole the household gods of Laban in 31:19. Rachel, the beautiful wife, the loved wife, struggled with God.
      10. 10.    Wenham writes, p.244, “Sarah’s and Rebekah’s reactions in similar situations are mild by comparison (cf. 16:2; 25:21).”
      11. 11.    Compare with the story of Hannah and Peninnah in 1Sam.1.
      12. 12.    Waltke writes, p.411, “Reduced to a stud in the rivalry between Rachel and Leah, Jacob suffers the consequences of the favoritism Laban has imposed on him….”
    2. B.        Jacob’s Prayerlessness, vs.2
      1. 1.        When compared with Abraham in 20:17 and with Isaac’s in 25:21 Jacob’s response to his beautiful and beloved wife is angry, and though theologically correct, not prayerful and compassionate. Perhaps, some of Rachel’s hurt comes from knowing that her husband is not praying for her.
      2. 2.        Apply- men, are we quick to be angry with our wives but slow to pray for them?
      3. 3.        Calvin, vol.2, p.140,- “Here Moses begins to relate that Jacob was distracted with domestic strifes. But although the Lord was punishing him, because he had been guilty of no light sin in marrying two wives, and especially sisters…also it happened, that Jacob did not immediately repent, but added new offences to the former.”
      4. 4.        “Am I in the place of God, who has withheld from you the fruit of the womb?”- This question assumes a negative answer. Waltke writes, p.411, “This is a theological certitude but also an abdication of his role as godly leader….”
      5. 5.        Mathews writes, p.482, “Jacob’s response is indignation at her demand….Jacob’s rhetorical question expresses his frustration with Rachel, and it assumes that children come from the Lord alone.”
      6. 6.        Read Calvin, p.141.
      7. 7.        fruit of the womb- see Deut.7:13; 28:11; Psalm 127:3 “Behold, children are a heritage from the Lord, the fruit of the womb a reward.”
    3. C.        The Sarah Option, vss.3-4
      1. 1.        Here is my servant Bilha; go in to her- Rachel acts without faith and takes things into her own hands using a cultural practice that is ungodly and unwise. This is what Sarai did in ch.16, which led to many problems. Mathews writes, p.482, “Her plan recalls Sarah-Hagar in 16:2, using the same, sometimes exact, verbiage.”
      2. 2.        The character of Bilha is not developed but she is involved in an affair with Reuben in 35:22 which was most likely rape and carries on the struggle between Leah and Rachel, passed down to the children, even after Rachel’s death. The name Bilha is unclear but may mean “carefree”.
      3. 3.        God still uses and blesses this sinful effort by Rachel in that the two sons borne by Bilha will be the fathers of two tribes ofIsrael. This should not be misinterpreted by us to continue in sin, trusting that God will still bless us.
      4. 4.        Jacob went in to her- like his grandfather, he does not hesitate to go in to his wife’s handmaid. Moses does not use condemnatory language of Jacob like he did in 16:2.
      5. 5.        as a wife- Bilha moves up from a slave to a wife, but she is still underneath the authority of Rachel. Concubine and wife are almost interchangeable. Waltke, however, on p.411, “After the patriarchal period, the term wife is never used as a synonym for concubine.”
    4. D.        The Sons of Rachel Through Bilha, vss. 5-8
      1. 1.        And Bilha conceived…she (Rachel) called his name Dan.- the name Dan means God has vindicated me. Rachel has the privilege of naming the son as Dan is hers through adoption. Bilha is a surrogate mother.
      2. 2.        Apply- can you imagine Bilha’s two sons being raised by her yet also considering Rachel to be their mother?
      3. 3.        God has judged me, and has also heard my voice- this seems to indicate a prayer by Rachel, and a slight turning of her heart towards God. Dan is an answered prayer…but see what Calvin says:
      4. 4.        Calvin, p.142-3 “It is wonderful that God should have deigned to honour an adulterous connexion with offspring: but he does sometimes thus strive to overcome by kindness the wickedness of men, and pursues the unworthy with his favour. …it was his will that they who were born from this faulty connexion, should yet be reckoned among the legitimate children; just as Moses shortly before called Bilha a wife, who yet might more properly have been called a harlot….At length Rachel begins to ascribe to God what is his own; but this confession is so mixed up with ambition, that it breathes nothing of sincerity or rectitude. She pompously announces that her cause has been undertaken by the Lord. As if truly, she had been so injured by her sister, that she deserved to be raised by the favour of God; and as if she had not attempted to deprive herself of his help.”
      5. 5.        Apply-How often do we praise God for our own works of the flesh, assuming that God is rewarding us? But then again, in this story, God is blessing Jacob with children and fulfilling the covenant promise even though he is using unworthy means. The danger for us is to assume that God’s blessings are tied to our works when our works may be sinful through and through. It is good and proper to give praise God for his many blessings but with a heavy dose of humility, recognizing that sin touches everything we do, and that God gives blessings, not based upon our merit, but upon his desire to glorify himself and sanctify us.
      6. 6.        While Sarai was upset after the birth of Ishmael, and rejected him, Rachel is rejoicing with the birth of Dan.
      7. 7.        Bilha conceived again….Naphtali- the name means “struggle” and goes with Rachel’s explanation “With mighty wrestlings I have wrestled with my sister…”
      8. 8.        This wrestling may parallel her husband’s wrestling the Lord in ch.32:22ff. Waltke, p.412, “The Hebrew literally reads ‘struggles with God’ and is better translated, ‘in struggling with God [I have struggled with my sister]’.
    5. E.         The Sons of Leah Through Zilpah, vss.9-13
      1. 1.        When Leah saw- this may be one of Moses’ outline points in his story (see II.A.2. above).
      2. 2.        she had ceased bearing children- she had borne 4 children in rapid succession, she perhaps was not sleeping with Jacob now that he had Bilha or perhaps her body just needed a break.
      3. 3.        she took Zilpah and gave her to Jacob as a wife- again, the competitive nature of these two sisters leads them to follow the culture instead of the Lord, and Jacob willingly allows this. But also notice the lack of disapproval by God or Moses here, it is very subtle with the ongoing controversy, the eventual discord between the children, and the passivity of Jacob.
      4. 4.        We discussed the problem of polygamy in this class last year. The Old Testament definitely allows for it but Paul speaks against it in regards to elders in 1Tim.3:2. In my discussions with homosexuals about same sex marriage rights in our day I have found that many seek to prove it is ok with scripture, but my response is that there is WAY MORE scriptural support for polygamy, having up to 4 wives, than there is for same sex marriage. Every single reference to homosexuality in the Bible is negative, but polygamy gets a pass. Muslims and Christians fromAfrica still practice polygamy and they have brought it here to theUS. They are not being prosecuted for it, however, and that is a political decision that is weak. We Christians should take note of this and urge our politicians to enforce the law of the land. But sharia law is gaining ground rapidly. The mormons and muslims will be fighting for the rights to polygamy, based upon the tactics and techniques used by the homosexual community. Yet when I argue with the homosexuals that this is where their plea for rights will lead, they disagree vigorously in a decidedly illogical manner. Once you remove the biblical definition of marriage being one man and one woman, for life, anything goes.
      5. 5.        Zilpah bore Jacob a son…Gad- Heb. bagad-good fortune– is Leah’s faith faltering here, ascribing this new son to luck/fortune instead of to God? Don’t we use the term luck a lot as well? Or chance? Waltke writes, p.412, “She is not represented  as in prayer or praise, unlike the case of her own children…”
      6. 6.        Zilpah bore Jacob a second son…Asher– the name comes from “women will call me happy”. This is close to saying women will envy me, which seems to rub Rachel’s nose in it. But Wenham notes (p.246) that the name could be from the Canaanite pantheon where Asherah is the consort of El, head of the gods.
      7. 7.        The births to Zilpah is Leah’s answer to Rachel’s success through Bilha in kind of a tit-for-tat, in your face way.


  1. III.             Leah and Rachel Struggle Using Mandrakes, 30:14-21


  1. IV.              Rachel Turns to Prayer and God Blesses, 30:22-24


Boice, James Montomery. Genesis: An Expositional Commentary, Volume 2, Genesis 12:1-36:43. Zondervan:Grand Rapids, MI. 1985 (pp.306-311).

Calvin, John. Genesis, in the Geneva Series of Commentaries, translated and edited by John King, two volumes in one. Banner of Truth Trust:Carlisle,PA 1847 (originally published in Latin 1554). Vol.2, pages 134-137.

Hamilton, Victor P. The New International Commentary on the Old Testament, The Book of Genesis Chapters 18-50. William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company:Grand Rapids,MI 1995 (pp.269-273).

Luther, Martin. Lectures on Genesis, Chapters 26-30,Luther’s Works, Volume 5, translated by George V. Schick and Paul D. Pahl, edited by Jaroslav Pelikan and Walter A. Hansen. Concordia Publishing House:St. Louis,MO 1968. (These lectures were given by Luther in 1541-1542.)

Mathews, Kenneth A. The New American Commentary, Volume 1B, Genesis 11:27-50:26. Broadman & Holman Publishers:Nashville, TN. 2005. (pp.472-481).

Ross, Allen P. Creation & Blessing: A Guide to the Study and Exposition of Genesis. Baker Academic:Grand Rapids,MI 1998 (pp.505-511.)

Waltke, Bruce K. Genesis: A Commentary. Zondervan:Grand Rapids,MI 2001 (pp.407-416.)

Wenham, Gordon J. Word Biblical Commentary Volume 2, Genesis 16-50. Word Books, Publisher:Dallas,TX 1994 (pp.238-246.)


Make a Comment

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s


    This blog exists to study the bi-vocational ministry, explore the Bible & Theology, and look at current events, history and other world religions through scripture, and have fun doing it!


    Subscribe Via RSS

    • Subscribe with Bloglines
    • Add your feed to Newsburst from CNET
    • Subscribe in Google Reader
    • Add to My Yahoo!
    • Subscribe in NewsGator Online
    • The latest comments to all posts in RSS


Liked it here?
Why not try sites on the blogroll...

%d bloggers like this: