Twelve Sons, Less One (Genesis 30-31), part 1

Scripture reading – Genesis 30

Today’s devotional will be published in two parts. The first will focus solely on Genesis 30. A second devotional will be published for Genesis 31.

Our study in Genesis 29 concluded with God blessing Leah, the least favored wife of Jacob, and she conceived sons by her husband (29:31-35). The LORD, ever compassionate, “saw that Leah was hated (despised or shamefully treated)”, and “opened [Leah’s] womb: but Rachel was barren” (29:31).

Twelve sons were born of Jacob, and they would become the fathers of the Twelve Tribes of Israel. Leah, Laban’s oldest daughter, became the mother of Jacob’s first four sons: Reuben (29:32), Simeon (29:33), Levi(29:34), and Judah (29:35).

Genesis 30 – Jacob’s Family: Twelve Sons, Less One

Rachel, the beloved wife of Jacob, was barren (a cultural stigma in those days), and jealous of her sister who had borne her husband four sons (30:1a). Provoked by jealousy, Rachel had demanded that Jacob, “Give me children, or else I die” (30:1b). Betraying his frustration of living in a home with two unhappy wives, Jacob answered Rachel in anger and said, “Am I in God’s stead, who hath withheld from thee the fruit of the womb?” (30:2).

Rather than trusting the LORD to bless her with a son, Rachel followed the cultural norms of her time, and demanded that Jacob give her children through her maid Bilhah. Rather than honor God, and the sanctity of marriage (2:23-24), he complied with Rachel’s insistence, and further complicated the spiritual, and emotional dynamics of his home.  Bilhah, Rachel’s maid, conceived and gave birth to the fifth and sixth sons of Jacob, Dan(30:1-6) and Naphtali (30:7-8).

Fearing she might no longer conceive sons by Jacob (30:9), Leah insisted that he would raise up children by her maid Zilpah. Zilpah, conceived and gave birth to Jacob’s seventh and eighth sons, Gad and Asher (30:9-13).

God once again blessed Leah, and she conceived Jacob’s ninth and tenth sons, Issachar and Zebulun (30:17-20), and a daughter she named Dinah (30:21). Although she was mother of six sons, Leah longed for something she would never have: to be first in her husband’s affections (30:20).

What were the dynamics in a home that had disregarded God’s plan for marriage to be the union of “one flesh” (Genesis 2:24, one man, and one woman)?

There was a perpetual spirit of jealousy, disappointment, bitterness, and sorrow. Rachel, rather than calling upon, and waiting on the LORD to hear and answer her longing for a son, turned to bartering for mandrakes (a fruit that purportedly contained fertility properties, 30:14-16). She continued to be barren, until we read, “God remembered Rachel, and God hearkened to her, and opened her womb. 23And she conceived, and bare a son; and said, God hath taken away my reproach: 24And she called his name Joseph [Jacob’s eleventh son]; and said, The Lord shall add to me another son” (30:22-24). In a later study, Rachel will die giving birth to Jacob’s twelfth son, whom he will name Benjamin (35:16-19).

With the birth of Joseph, his eleventh son, Jacob’s obligation of servitude to uncle Laban was fulfilled (fourteen years, for his marriage to Laban’s daughters; 29:20, 30), and he made known his intention to return to his family in Canaan (30:25-26).

Laban, ever the sly one, had become a wealthy man, and realized God’s special blessing rested on Jacob. He was determined to bind Jacob to himself, and continue to profit from his presence and labor (30:27-30a). Jacob, now the father of eleven sons, reasoned, “the Lord hath blessed [Laban] since [his] coming: and now when shall I provide for mine own house also?” (30:30)

Nonetheless, Laban constrained Jacob to remain in his household, and asked, “What shall I give thee?” (30:31) Jacob, wise to the ways of a deceiver, was unwilling to be indebted to Laban, and said, “Thou shalt not give me any thing” (30:31b).

Evidencing wisdom and discernment into husbandry and genetics, Jacob suggested that distinctive physical markings on the sheep, goats, and cattle, would providentially mark them as his personal property, and serve as his wages (30:31-32).

Laban agreed, and Jacob continued to care for his flocks, even as God blessed, and made him rich man. We read, he “increased exceedingly, and had much cattle, and maidservants, and menservants, and camels, and asses” (30:43).

In six years, God took Jacob from Laban’s poor hireling shepherd, to a man of great wealth.

This concludes our study in Genesis 30. A second devotional will be published for Genesis 31.

Copyright 2021 – Travis D. Smith