Jacob’s family continues to grow through the pushing and pulling of his two wives. He goes from two wives to four in the baby wars.
Leah has one thing Rachel doesn’t; the ability to give Jacob children. We have already met Jacob’s first four sons that were born by her. Rachel is green with envy by now. She wants a baby so bad she can taste it! “Give me children, or I shall die!” (verse 1b).
It is pretty obvious here who the one is that is infertile in this couple. Jacob is quite capable of fathering children, as evidence around the camp plainly shows. I don’t blame him one bit for become angry with Rachel. “What do you think I have been doing all these years? We have tried everything. I’m not God. I can’t fix this for you. HE is the one who closed your womb, not me!”
Rachel can’t be outdone by her sister. There has to be something else she can do. She resorts to the same customs that Sarah did; giving Jacob her servant to stand in her place. This was apparently an acceptable custom in this region. But there were a few restrictions to this arrangement. First was that the servant had to be a personal servant of the rightful wife. Second, the servant had to be given “as a wife” before legitimate children could be conceived. The children born by the servant then became the children of the original wife.
As I mentioned earlier, Sarah tried this with her servant but things went sideways. I believe this may be because Sarah servant was from a different culture. Sarah’s servant was an Egyptian where Leah and Rachel’s servants were from their “hometown” and knew the expectations of such an arrangement. Surrogate mothers in the making. Rachel was successful in having two sons for Jacob through this plan. Because Leah wasn’t giving him any more children during this time she felt vindicated.
With the first son, Dan whose name means “judgement”, Rachel gave glory to God. She focused on the gift and the Giver. The second son, Naphtali whose name means “the struggler of fights”, she focused on herself and her rival. “With mighty wrestlings I have wrestled with my sister and have prevailed” (verse 8a). SHE took credit for this “victory” over her sister. She didn’t give God praise for what HE had done.
Rachel’s attitude induced Leah to throw her hat back in the ring. Rachel had taken away the one area of her loveless marriage where she felt successful; bearing children. I’m pretty sure Jacob had been servicing all three women in his efforts to increase his family but Leah wasn’t producing children any more. So to take her place back as the supreme mother of the camp, she gave Jacob her servant as a wife for him also. God is still the one who ultimately allowed more children to be added to Jacob’s camp but Leah focuses on her “good fortune” when naming Gad. This son added to her count and his name reflects it meaning “a troop.” Leah’s servant bears Jacob one more son and again Leah focuses on herself. She also focuses on how others will look at her. “Happy am I! For women have called me happy” (verse 13a). Asher is the name of this latest addition and his name means “happiness.” Leah FINALLY felt happy with her lot in life, or so she wants us to think.
All was quiet in the camp for a little bit, until Reuben brought his mother a treat. I Googled mandrakes and found that they are a root plant that look VERY much like a person. I’m thinking that this was a fertility symbol in this culture. Rachel wanted that fertility and was willing to trade Jacob’s favors for them.
When Leah confronts Jacob in the field she tells him she has “hired” his services for the night. I don’t know how he felt about that statement but he acquiesced none the less. From the verbiage of the sister’s exchange it appears that after it was proven that Leah wasn’t bearing any more children her “time with Jacob” came to a halt. She was a tool for him and when her usefulness ended so did her use. I wonder if Jacob thought this was going to be a one and done thing with her. But she became pregnant from that one night. She named this son Issachar, meaning “reward.” She equated this reward with her giving her servant to Jacob to bear him more children.
Since Leah was once again producing children Jacob returned to using her for this task. She gave him another son whom she named Zebulun. This name doesn’t have a meaning in the reference I found. She praised God for all her sons but still looked to them to make her husband tender towards her. “Now my husband will honor me, because I have borne him six sons” (verse 20b).
One more child is recorded for Leah and this time it is a daughter. I have a feeling that this is not the only daughter Jacob has fathered between the three fertile women as girls aren’t mentioned unless there is a specific reason to. Dinah’s story will become important later on. So we don’t know for certain how many children were born to him by now.
FINALLY Rachel becomes pregnant. As the one Jacob loved, she got the most of his time. She wasn’t cast aside when she couldn’t produce so this surprise baby was not the result of a “one night hire” but of enduring love. She names this son Joseph, meaning “increase.” Joseph not only increased the number of children borne to Jacob but increased Rachel’s heart. She was finally a mother!
Jacob’s camp is brimming with his children. He has truly been blessed by the Lord. This great number of children was a blessing from God and a manipulative mastery of his two original wives. But their presence didn’t change the relationships with the sisters. Rachel was still the favored one and Leah was still the tool.
Father God, thank You for my children. They are truly a blessing from You. I feel for Rachel and Leah though who thought the only way to be loved was through bearing children. But that wasn’t Rachel’s only worth. She truly was loved. It was Leah’s lot though and You showed her GREAT favor in this area.
There were a LOT of tears shed in that camp and You collected every one of them. Thank You that You hear our heart’s cry and for Your answers to those cries.