Gen.29:31-30:24 “Jacob’s Children-A Nation Is Born, Part 3”

Posted on October 23, 2011. Filed under: Genesis: Answers to Life's Crucial Questions |

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Bryan E. Walker

Read Genesis 29:31-30:24

            In the days of wheat harvest Reuben went and found mandrakes in the field and brought them to his mother Leah. Then Rachel said to Leah, “Please give me some of your son’s mandrakes.” But she said to her, “Is it a small matter that you have taken away my husband? Would you take away my son’s mandrakes also?” Rachel said, “Then he may lie with you tonight in exchange for your son’s mandrakes.” When Jacob came from the field in the evening, Leah went out to meet him and said, “You must come in to me, for I have hired you with my son’s mandrakes.” So he lay with her that night. And God listened to Leah, and she conceived and bore Jacob a fifth son. Leah said, “God has given me my wages because I gave my servant to my husband.” So she called his name Issachar.

            And Leah conceived again, and she bore Jacob a sixth son. Then Leah said, “God has endowed me with a good endowment; now my husband will honor me, because I have borne him six sons.” So she called his name Zebulun. Afterward she bore a daughter and called her name Dinah.

            Then God remembered Rachel, and God listened to her and opened her womb. She conceived and bore a son and said, “God has taken away my reproach.” And she called his name Joseph, saying, “May the LORD add to me another son!”

          (Genesis 30:14-24 ESV)


Review/Introduction: In our studies in Genesis, begun almost 4 years ago, we have finally reached the central point of Moses’ book (thematically at least), that provides the freed slaves of Egypt and the new nation of Israel with the answers to the questions: Who are we? And, Where did we come from? The answer is that we are people who were founded by humble, sinful people, chosen by God’s grace to enter into a covenant with Him. The only person in this lineage given by Moses who rises to hero status is Abraham, the man of faith. His son, Isaac, was wealthy but a weak leader. And now we are looking at Jacob and see a sinner and weak man who deceived others and is himself deceived and then managed by his 2 wives. So if the theme in studying Abraham was Faith, the themes we are clearly seeing now are God’s undeserved Grace and his divineProvidence.

One of the internal proofs of the veracity of Scripture is the very weakness of the characters in this book. Think about the founding myths of the ancient Greeks where the gods father or mother some of the heroes and they go off to war with ancientTroy. Think aboutRomulusand Remus or Aeneas founding ancientRome. Think of our own history as Americans and our founding fathers. Now compare with this story of Jacob, Laban, Leah and Rachel and the children born inHaranand all their sordid history we shall study over the next year or two.

The idea is NOT how great these people were; the idea IS How Great God Is!

This morning, as we pick up where we left off last week, we shall study the details of this text but the main lesson I want us to remember is that God pours out his Grace on sinners like you and me. Our only hope for salvation is in Christ alone and in this story we know that unloved Leah is the ancestor mother of the Saviour of the world. We know the rest of the story that Moses andIsraelonly had an inkling about.


  1. I.                   Leah’s Faith, 29:31-35
  2. II.                Leah and Rachel Struggle Using Their Handmaidens, 30:1-13
  3. III.             Leah and Rachel Struggle Using Mandrakes, 30:14-21
    1. A.        Rachel Resorting to Plan C, vss. 14-16
      1. 1.        Reuben …found mandrakes, vs.14- Reuben, Jacob and Leah’s firstborn, could be anywhere between 6 and 8 years old at this time; old enough to be working in the fields. A mandrake is a type of plant with a flower and a tuber similar to a potato underneath the ground. The plant is in the nightshade, potato and tomato family. The Greeks called it the “love apple” and Arabs called it the ‘devil’s apples’. The word is duda’im in Heb. and means literally, love fruits. It sounds like the word for love, dodim. See Song of Solomon 7:13. While the plant is actually somewhat poisonous, it has a narcotic/hallucinogenic quality that the ancients used for a variety of purposes, including as an aphrodisiac and for infertility. There is some disagreement between scholars on whether the mandrake was actually able to grow in that part of the world as it is normally associated with being found around theMediterranean, not as far inland asHaran inMesopotamia.
      2. 2.        Is this a problem text? Is the Bible agreeing with a folk custom that uses a drug that is also used by pagans in their drug potions? This is a case of the Bible accurately reporting some folk practices that it does not teach or recommend. This may also be the case with the next section where Jacob relates his method of breeding the flocks and herds by placing striped sticks at the watering trough (30:37-39). The text may subtly expose the failure of the mandrakes as Leah is the one who gets pregnant, not Rachel.
      3. 3.        Please give me some of your son’s mandrakes, vs.14- Rachel is being very polite and diplomatic here.
      4. 4.        you have taken away my husband, vs.15- Leah, on the other hand, responds rudely and with bitterness. Notice how wrong her perspective is: Jacob had proposed to Rachel and dealt with Laban for Rachel, not Leah. Yet Leah, who likely freely participated in her father’s deception of Jacob on his wedding night, claims it is Rachel who stole her husband! A typical sinful defense mechanism is to blame others for that which we know we are guilty. While we have seen her character develop more towards faith than Rachel, she remains a sinner, and so do we.
      5. 5.        Would you take away my…mandrakes?, vs.15- Some commentators try to make a case for Leah responding with faith and Rachel relying on an aphrodisiac, but from all appearances Leah was planning on using the mandrakes as well.
      6. 6.        he may lie with you tonight in exchange for your son’s mandrakes- Apparently, Rachel, as the head wife, makes the decisions about who sleeps with whom in the household. This seems like a business agreement, a compromise; the competitive sisters are at least working together here. Wenham writes, p.247, “This scene portrays at least a degree of reconciliation between Leah and Jacob, even if it was initially secured by the unusual deal with her sister.”
      7. 7.        Leah went out to meet him, vs.16- Mathews writes, p.487, “The passage describes the aggressiveness of Leah (v.16). who like her father has made a deal for Jacob’s services. She did not wait for his arrival at the house but went out to meet him. Jacob is a pawn in the hands of these two scheming women. Progressively, the Laban-Jacob account demonstrates Jacob’s growing passiveness. Laban previously had abused his trust through deception, and now Jacob is put to use for Leah’s purposes. His quiescence recalls the vulnerability Esau experienced at the hands of a once-cocky Jacob.
      8. 8.        You must come in to me, for I have hired you- How romantic. The “you must’ is not an imperative, but it is followed by and infinitive absolute, “for I have really hired you” which expresses Leah’s intensity. “come in” is a euphemism for sexual relations.
      9. 9.        hired- this is a key word in the broader passage 29:15-31:41. Instead of being treated like family by Laban he becomes just a hired man working for wages. Now, his first wife, the unloved wife, has hired him for a night of sex from the main wife, the second wife, Rachel. Where’s the love? Wenham writes, p.247, “The word ‘hire’ is a key term in the Jacob story (29:15; 30:18, 28, 32, 33, 31:7, 8, 41). The whole of his relationship with Laban seems to be reduced to a commercial level; now even his relationship with his wives is up for rent!”
      10. 10.    Waltke writes, p.413, “This is actually the fourth ‘commercial’ exchange in the Jacob cycle (cf. exchange of birthright, exchange of blessing, exchange of wives, exchange of husband for sex-by-hire). In the first two Jacob is the victimizer; in the last two, the victim.”
      11. 11.    So he lay with her that night- it gives the appearance that Jacob has no say in the matter. “lay” is another euphemism for sex, but, according to Waltke (p.413), “is never used for loving marital intercourse in this book, only for illicit or forced sex: Lot’s daughters with Lot (19:32-35); the Philistines with Rebekah (26:10); Shechem with Dinah (34:2,7); Reuben with Bilha (35:22); Potiphar’s wife with Joseph (39:7,10,12,14).” In other words, by Moses’ choice of words, he is making a comment on what Leah has done.
      12. 12.    Apply- what we see here is both women resorting to ungodly methods to get what they want. Leah the unloved craves her husband’s true affection, but resorts to buying him like a prostitute. Rachel resorts to drugs that have no real value. Jacob allows his wives to carry on in this despicable manner and shows zero leadership. Remember how passive Isaac seemed at times? This passivity is passed down to Jacob and will show time and time again. When we have something that we really, really want, but God in hisProvidence withholds, do we submit to the Lord’s will or do we engage in ungodly means to get what we want?
      13. 13.    Apply- all this is not to say that Christian couples who are infertile should not seek medical means to remedy the situation. However, there are some medical means to solve this problem that may be unethical for the Christian. Would it be wise for a Christian to use a surrogate mother? Would it be wise to use a sperm donor? Is it wise for a single woman, or man, to deliberately get pregnant or adopt a child? There are legal and medical means today that are just as reprehensible as anything that Rachel and Leah did.
      14. 14.    What are some reproductive issues that are coming in our future or are already here but being contested? Should we sit by and allow homosexual couples to adopt children without contesting that in the political arena? While in-vitro fertilization may be OK for the Christian, what about science completely raising a baby outside the womb? While gene therapy for infants inside their mothers is a good thing to fight diseases and birth defects, what about gene therapy that will make a child blond, or smart, or tall?
    2. B.        Leah Has More Children, vss.17-21
      1. 1.        And God listened to Leah, v.17- After all that, and we find that Leah was still praying to God and He was listening, and blessed her with more children. This is a very surprising twist in the story, full of irony. It clearly shows that God is charge of bringing children into the world, not superstitions like mandrakes.
      2. 2.        God has given me my wages because I gave my servant to my husband- she feels that God is rewarding her for the unselfish act of giving Zilpah to Jacob. Again, human efforts, based in a cultural practice, that are mistakenly thought to be the source of God’s blessings. How many times do we do that?
      3. 3.        Issachar- there is a wordplay between this fifth son’s name, which means “God has rewarded me”, and her hiring her husband with the mandrakes. Mathews believes that she thinks the mandrakes were effective (p.488). But notice that Moses provided the idea that “God listened to Leah” thus informing us that she had prayed for this son as well. Is it any surprise that a person would mix works with dependence upon God in prayer? And certainly we should act in accordance with our prayers…just not with mandrakes.
      4. 4.        a sixth son…Zebulun- God has endowed me with a good endowment-my husband will honor me for bearing 6 sons.
      5. 5.        Afterward she bore a daughter…Dinah– she is the only named daughter of Jacob and is the victim in the events of ch.34. 46:7 indicates Jacob had other daughters. No etymology of Dinah’s name is given.
      6. 6.        Notice that Leah, the unloved wife, has borne 6 sons and 1 daughter, giving her 7 children, representing a perfect number. She has more children than the other three wives of Jacob combined.


  1. IV.              Rachel Turns to Prayer and God Blesses, 30:22-24
    1. A.        God Remembers Rachel
      1. 1.        God remembered- this is the closing bookend to the section that matches “Rachel was barren” in 29:31. This phrase hearkens back to Noah and 8:1 “God remembered Noah”. Here we see God’s grace and mercy poured out on Rachel. None of the characters in this story are stellar in their behaviour or beliefs, not one deserves God’s grace. And neither do we. Grace by its definition is undeserved.
      2. 2.        God listened to her- indicating she has turned to God in prayer. Waltke writes, p.414, “God remembers Rachel’s prayer to remove her disgrace. The verb assumes that she is a daughter of the covenant. This is the climax of 29:31-30:24 and occurs after Rachel gives up her husband. Both the narrator and Rachel attribute the birth of Joseph to God, not the aphrodisiac.”
      3. 3.        God has taken away my reproach- the shame of being childless, even though she has two adopted sons through Bilhah.
      4. 4.        Joseph- the name means “may God add another son” and may be a play on words “taken” and “add” which would be prophetic because Joseph will be taken away from his father but later added back. It points forward to the birth of Benjamin as does her bitter, angry plea to Jacob in 30:1.

Conclusion: The point of tension, the obstacle in the entire story from11:27 til now, is the barrenness of the wives of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. This tension is finally resolved in this text. The main obstacle to the fulfillment of the covenant made with Abraham in 12:1-3 has been the lack of offspring. The promise of God included three main things: 1) offspring, 2) land, 3) blessings. The patriarchs have been living as nomads in a land not their own, not having many offspring. Abraham and Isaac have material prosperity and the respect or fear of the Canaanites around them, but Jacob fled home with apparently the clothes on his back- no wealth, no land, but now…he has the offspring.

We have seen that Lean and Rachel have some faith but are plagued with the same sin that Jacob and Esau had- strife, jealousy, competition in the home. Leah is the unloved, hated wife but God shows her mercy making her the mother of the priestly and royal tribes. Rachel is the beloved wife but her faith has more struggles.

God’s grace is demonstrated to these two women and the lesson for us is that God loves the unloved, the barren. We come to God from a variety of different situation but we share this: not one of us deserves the love, mercy and grace of God given to us in the life and death of Jesus Christ, God’s unique Son.

As Moses was trying to show his peopleIsraelwhere they came from, so too should we stop and ask about our origins as families, as a church, as a nation, but most of all, as Christians. We need to know the founder of our faith, the Lord Jesus Christ.


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 134-149.

Duguid, Iain M. Living In The Grip Of Relentless Grace: The Gospel In The Lives Of Isaac & Jacob. P&R Publishing:Phillipsburg, NJ 2002 (pp.77-91).

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.269-278).

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 (pp.313-363). 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.472-490).

Ross, Allen P. Creation & Blessing: A Guide to the Study and Exposition of Genesis. Baker Academic: Grand Rapids, MI 1998 (pp.505-516.)

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.238-250.)



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