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Genesis 30-31 Listen
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.
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?
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.
4 And she gave him Bilhah her handmaid to wife: and Jacob went in unto her.
5 And Bilhah conceived, and bare Jacob a son.
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.
7 And Bilhah Rachel’s maid conceived again, and bare Jacob a second son.
8 And Rachel said, With great wrestlings have I wrestled with my sister, and I have prevailed: and she called his name Naphtali.
9 When Leah saw that she had left bearing, she took Zilpah her maid, and gave her Jacob to wife.
10 And Zilpah Leah’s maid bare Jacob a son.
11 And Leah said, A troop cometh: and she called his name Gad.
12 And Zilpah Leah’s maid bare Jacob a second son.
13 And Leah said, Happy am I, for the daughters will call me blessed: and she called his name Asher.
14 And Reuben went in the days of wheat harvest, and found mandrakes in the field, and brought them unto his mother Leah. Then Rachel said to Leah, Give me, I pray thee, of thy son’s mandrakes.
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? And Rachel said, Therefore he shall lie with thee to night for thy son’s mandrakes.
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. And he lay with her that night.
17 And God hearkened unto Leah, and she conceived, and bare Jacob the fifth son.
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.
19 And Leah conceived again, and bare Jacob the sixth son.
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.
21 And afterwards she bare a daughter, and called her name Dinah.
22 And God remembered Rachel, and God hearkened to her, and opened her womb.
23 And she conceived, and bare a son; and said, God hath taken away my reproach:
24 And she called his name Joseph; and said, The LORD shall add to me another son.
Living up in Haran with two wives along with their handmaids, Jacob starts his family. In a culture where multiple wives is prevalent, a woman's retirement fund consisted of having strong sons to provide - especially in her later years when a husband may get distracted with a younger wife. All of the names of the sons came from existing Hebrew words that, in some way, described the circumstances at the time of birth. Some of these circumstantial namings are somewhat comical or even sarcastic. Look at the following list of the 12 sons of Jacob and the meanings of the names. An associated event caused each son to receive the name that he did.
Leah (Genesis 29:32-35)
Reuben - who sees the son; the vision of the son
Simeon - that hears or obeys; that is heard
Levi - associated with him
Judah - the praise of the Lord; confession
Rachel's handmaid, Bilhah (Genesis 30:3-8)
Dan - judgment; he that judges
Naphtali - that struggles or fights
Leah's handmaid, Zilpah (Genesis 30:9-13)
Gad - a band; a troop
Asher - happiness
Leah (Genesis 30:14-20)
Issachar - reward; recompense
Zebulun or Zebulon - dwelling; habitation
Rachel (Genesis 30:21-24)
Joseph - increase; addition
Rachel (Genesis 35:16-18)
Benoni - son of my sorrow, or pain (Rachel died, so Jacob changed to Benjamin)
Benjamin - son of the right hand
There's no dispute; Leah and Rachel are in a child-bearing competition. Jacob's not complaining. The circumstances around Issachar's birth are amusing, and his name reflects the deal made between Rachel and Leah over an afternoon snack (verses 14-18). When Jacob returns from the field that day, he is told the reason he's rooming at a different location this night (with Leah instead of Rachel), but he seems to just take it all in stride and goes where he's told.
It is commonly believed that these mandrakes are the Atropa Mandragora whose leaves are like lettuce, but dark green with purple flowers, a forked root and fruit about the size of an apple. These are reddish in color and have a sweet smell; they are gathered usually in May. We are told that the ancients used this as an aphrodisiac, as seems to be the case in Song of Solomon 7:13 (see notes). It was commonly believed in that region that these mandrakes could cure infertility. Oh...and if you wonder...current-day botanists have managed to create a narcotic substance from these mandrakes. So...maybe Rachel was thinking of these mandrakes as more than just an afternoon snack.
There's another child in the mix of boys here - Dinah (verse 21). She's the only girl in this group of boys, and she's about the same age as Joseph - born to Leah after Zebulon. The births of Joseph and Dinah take place just prior to the beginning of Jacob's voluntary six-year tour of duty under Laban - at the end of the 14 years of obligated duty as compensation for his two wives.
Things you never knew about breeding livestock (Genesis 30:25-43)
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.
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.
27 And Laban said unto him, I pray thee, if I have found favour in thine eyes, tarry: for I have learned by experience that the LORD hath blessed me for thy sake.
28 And he said, Appoint me thy wages, and I will give it.
29 And he said unto him, Thou knowest how I have served thee, and how thy cattle was with me.
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: and now when shall I provide for mine own house also?
31 And he said, What shall I give thee? And Jacob said, Thou shalt not give me any thing: if thou wilt do this thing for me, I will again feed and keep thy flock:
32 I will pass through all thy flock to day, 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.
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.
34 And Laban said, Behold, I would it might be according to thy word.
35 And he removed that day the he goats that were ringstraked 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.
36 And he set three days’ journey betwixt himself and Jacob: and Jacob fed the rest of Laban’s flocks.
37 And Jacob took him rods of green poplar, and of the hazel and chesnut tree; and pilled white strakes in them, and made the white appear which was in the rods.
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.
39 And the flocks conceived before the rods, and brought forth cattle ringstraked, speckled, and spotted.
40 And Jacob did separate the lambs, and set the faces of the flocks toward the ringstraked, 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.
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.
42 But when the cattle were feeble, he put them not in: so the feebler were Laban’s, and the stronger Jacob’s.
43 And the man increased exceedingly, and had much cattle, and maidservants, and menservants, and camels, and asses.
Laban wants Jacob to stay on after his 14-year commitment is complete. He even offers to compensate him. Jacob is convinced that Laban's prosperity is as as a result of Jacob's presence as he states in verse 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: and now when shall I provide for mine own house also?"
All right, here's the deal. Jacob proposes that he'll continue to watch Laban's sheep and goats, but the goats that are born brown or multicolored and the sheep that are born speckled or spotted will become his property as his wages. Since these are more rare, Laban thinks he's made an exceptionally-shrewd deal with Jacob. To make certain he doesn't take a hit on the deal, Laban goes ahead and separates out those existing rare goats and sheep from his flock and puts them under the charge of his sons, moving them a distance of three days' journey away (verse 36). Jacob is left with only white goats and sheep to pull off the deal. Now...understand the up-hill task here: Jacob's wages for serving Laban will be the goats and sheep that are born that look nothing like their progenitors. Practically speaking, that could yield some pretty meager compensation for Jacob.
Look at the unusual breeding techniques that Jacob uses (verses 37-42). Come on! That really can't work, can it? Apparently folklore has it that goats and sheep bear offspring with light or dark colors mixed in depending on what they were viewing at the time of conception, so Jacob provided rooms with a view...for the livestock. Whatever...Jacob tried it. The bottom line is that God blessed Jacob to the point that he ended up with his own huge herd of sheep and goats while Laban's diminished. We'll see in the next chapter that God actually changed the mating habits of the cattle in order to prosper Jacob. We also see in the next chapter (verses 31:7-8) that Laban changes this commission arrangement with Jacob (10 times) over this period, but it didn't help; still Jacob's new offspring far outnumbered that of Laban by the end of the next six years (31:41).
1 And he heard the words of Laban’s sons, saying, Jacob hath taken away all that was our father’s; and of that which was our father’s hath he gotten all this glory.
2 And Jacob beheld the countenance of Laban, and, behold, it was not toward him as before.
3 And the LORD said unto Jacob, Return unto the land of thy fathers, and to thy kindred; and I will be with thee.
4 And Jacob sent and called Rachel and Leah to the field unto his flock,
5 And said unto them, I see your father’s countenance, that it is not toward me as before; but the God of my father hath been with me.
6 And ye know that with all my power I have served your father.
7 And your father hath deceived me, and changed my wages ten times; but God suffered him not to hurt me.
8 If he said thus, The speckled shall be thy wages; then all the cattle bare speckled: and if he said thus, The ringstraked shall be thy hire; then bare all the cattle ringstraked.
9 Thus God hath taken away the cattle of your father, and given them to me.
10 And it came to pass at the time that the cattle conceived, that I lifted up mine eyes, and saw in a dream, and, behold, the rams which leaped upon the cattle were ringstraked, speckled, and grisled.
11 And the angel of God spake unto me in a dream, saying, Jacob: And I said, Here am I.
12 And he said, Lift up now thine eyes, and see, all the rams which leap upon the cattle are ringstraked, speckled, and grisled: for I have seen all that Laban doeth unto thee.
13 I am the God of Bethel, where thou anointedst the pillar, and where thou vowedst a vow unto me: now arise, get thee out from this land, and return unto the land of thy kindred.
14 And Rachel and Leah answered and said unto him, Is there yet any portion or inheritance for us in our father’s house?
15 Are we not counted of him strangers? for he hath sold us, and hath quite devoured also our money.
16 For all the riches which God hath taken from our father, that is ours, and our children’s: now then, whatsoever God hath said unto thee, do.
Well, Jacob is not as popular in Laban's family as he once was, as Laban's sons watch their inheritance diminish. In verse 3 Jacob gets the call from the Lord that it's time to go home. He calls for a family meeting with Leah and Rachel. As I mentioned, it would appear from this passage that the sheep and goat breeding techniques used by Jacob had resulted in a significantly diminished flock for Laban and an extremely large flock for Jacob, even though Laban had not honored the original deal (verses 7-8). According to Jacob, the original deal outlining which cattle born would go to Jacob had been modified ten times to make it more palatable for Laban. However, each new specification backfired on Laban; Jacob's number of cattle grew while Laban's diminished. The technical specification for how that had happened is given to Jacob by an "angel of God" (verse 11) that only the male cattle meeting the new specification seemed to show any interest in mating (verse 12). Let's face it: Definitely a God-orchestrated thing.
Leah and Rachel quickly decide that their father had not dealt honorably with them either (verses 14-16) and tell Jacob that whatever he sees fit to do, they're in. Jacob and the family pack up and go while Laban is out on a sheep-shearing mission.
Jacob and his family make their escape (Genesis 31:17-43)
17 Then Jacob rose up, and set his sons and his wives upon camels;
18 And he carried away all his cattle, and all his goods which he had gotten, the cattle of his getting, which he had gotten in Padanaram, for to go to Isaac his father in the land of Canaan.
19 And Laban went to shear his sheep: and Rachel had stolen the images that were her father’s.
20 And Jacob stole away unawares to Laban the Syrian, in that he told him not that he fled.
21 So he fled with all that he had; and he rose up, and passed over the river, and set his face toward the mount Gilead.
22 And it was told Laban on the third day that Jacob was fled.
23 And he took his brethren with him, and pursued after him seven days’ journey; and they overtook him in the mount Gilead.
24 And God came to Laban the Syrian in a dream by night, and said unto him, Take heed that thou speak not to Jacob either good or bad.
25 Then Laban overtook Jacob. Now Jacob had pitched his tent in the mount: and Laban with his brethren pitched in the mount of Gilead.
26 And Laban said to Jacob, What hast thou done, that thou hast stolen away unawares to me, and carried away my daughters, as captives taken with the sword?
27 Wherefore didst thou flee away secretly, and steal away from me; and didst not tell me, that I might have sent thee away with mirth, and with songs, with tabret, and with harp?
28 And hast not suffered me to kiss my sons and my daughters? thou hast now done foolishly in so doing.
29 It is in the power of my hand to do you hurt: but the God of your father spake unto me yesternight, saying, Take thou heed that thou speak not to Jacob either good or bad.
30 And now, though thou wouldest needs be gone, because thou sore longedst after thy father’s house, yet wherefore hast thou stolen my gods?
31 And Jacob answered and said to Laban, Because I was afraid: for I said, Peradventure thou wouldest take by force thy daughters from me.
32 With whomsoever thou findest thy gods, let him not live: before our brethren discern thou what is thine with me, and take it to thee. For Jacob knew not that Rachel had stolen them.
33 And Laban went into Jacob’s tent, and into Leah’s tent, and into the two maidservants’ tents; but he found them not. Then went he out of Leah’s tent, and entered into Rachel’s tent.
34 Now Rachel had taken the images, and put them in the camel’s furniture, and sat upon them. And Laban searched all the tent, but found them not.
35 And she said to her father, Let it not displease my lord that I cannot rise up before thee; for the custom of women is upon me. And he searched, but found not the images.
36 And Jacob was wroth, and chode with Laban: and Jacob answered and said to Laban, What is my trespass? what is my sin, that thou hast so hotly pursued after me?
37 Whereas thou hast searched all my stuff, what hast thou found of all thy household stuff? set it here before my brethren and thy brethren, that they may judge betwixt us both.
38 This twenty years have I been with thee; thy ewes and thy she goats have not cast their young, and the rams of thy flock have I not eaten.
39 That which was torn of beasts I brought not unto thee; I bare the loss of it; of my hand didst thou require it, whether stolen by day, or stolen by night.
40 Thus I was; in the day the drought consumed me, and the frost by night; and my sleep departed from mine eyes.
41 Thus have I been twenty years in thy house; I served thee fourteen years for thy two daughters, and six years for thy cattle: and thou hast changed my wages ten times.
42 Except the God of my father, the God of Abraham, and the fear of Isaac, had been with me, surely thou hadst sent me away now empty. God hath seen mine affliction and the labour of my hands, and rebuked thee yesternight.
43 And Laban answered and said unto Jacob, These daughters are my daughters, and these children are my children, and these cattle are my cattle, and all that thou seest is mine: and what can I do this day unto these my daughters, or unto their children which they have born?
Knowing Laban's tendency to renege on deals, Jacob and his wives (along with their possessions) get a three-day head start before Laban even knows they're missing. Oh, by the way, Rachel lifts Laban's idols before she leaves. You see, Laban was still a polytheist, and why do you suppose Rachel wanted them? It took seven days for Laban and his men to catch up with them, but God had spoken to Laban (verse 24) and given him a warning regarding his treatment of Jacob before they arrive.
When Laban confronts Jacob, he obviously has a different view regarding what has just taken place - even accuses Jacob of kidnapping his daughters (verse 26). All I can say about verse 27 is, "Yeah! Right!" A going-away party? Who really believes that? We see in verse 29 another indication that Laban was still a polytheist when he says, "...but the God of your father spake unto me yesternight..." Then Laban queries, "Oh! Yeah! And where are my gods?" Jacob doesn't know that Rachel took them, but makes an offer that has the potential to turn out very, very bad in verse 32 - the death penalty to the thief! But that Rachel is a little sneak. Look how she manages to flimflam her Dad as he looks (and does not find) the idols in verse 35. She declines to get up from the camel's saddle because she says she is experiencing her menstrual cycle; the idols are hidden underneath her in the saddle. Laban falls for that ploy and leaves without his idols.
Incidentally, Jacob is now 97 years old after his 20-year stay with Laban; Joseph is six years old. (See "Calculating Isaac's Age in Genesis 27.) Since Jacob worked for seven years before he was married to Leah and Rachel, the ages Jacob's children are between 6 and 13. At this point, Benjamin has not yet been born; his birth takes place in Genesis 35:16-18 (see notes).
Jacob goes into an outraged monologue in verse 36 down through verse 42. He points out that Laban would have provided nothing for Jacob. Had it not been for God's provisions to Jacob, he would have no possessions to take back to Canaan. We notice in verse 41 that Jacob accumulated his wealth from the cattle over the last six years. Jacob points out that he is rich now because of God's blessings and NO thanks to Laban. Laban replies in verse 43 and indicates that he sees it differently; everything Jacob has really belongs to Laban instead.
Laban and Jacob make a covenant between them (Genesis 31:44-55)
44 Now therefore come thou, let us make a covenant, I and thou; and let it be for a witness between me and thee.
45 And Jacob took a stone, and set it up for a pillar.
46 And Jacob said unto his brethren, Gather stones; and they took stones, and made an heap: and they did eat there upon the heap.
47 And Laban called it Jegarsahadutha: but Jacob called it Galeed.
48 And Laban said, This heap is a witness between me and thee this day. Therefore was the name of it called Galeed;
49 And Mizpah; for he said, The LORD watch between me and thee, when we are absent one from another.
50 If thou shalt afflict my daughters, or if thou shalt take other wives beside my daughters, no man is with us; see, God is witness betwixt me and thee.
51 And Laban said to Jacob, Behold this heap, and behold this pillar, which I have cast betwixt me and thee;
52 This heap be witness, and this pillar be witness, that I will not pass over this heap to thee, and that thou shalt not pass over this heap and this pillar unto me, for harm.
53 The God of Abraham, and the God of Nahor, the God of their father, judge betwixt us. And Jacob sware by the fear of his father Isaac.
54 Then Jacob offered sacrifice upon the mount, and called his brethren to eat bread: and they did eat bread, and tarried all night in the mount.
55 And early in the morning Laban rose up, and kissed his sons and his daughters, and blessed them: and Laban departed, and returned unto his place.
Jacob prevails in the negotiations with Laban. Then Laban proposes a covenant between himself and Jacob. They seal the covenant with a sacrifice followed by a covenant meal and a heap of stones. In verse 52 they each pledge not to pass over the stones toward the other for the purpose of harm. Laban also places a condition on Jacob in verse 50 not to take any new wives. By the way, Nahor in verse 53 was Abraham's grandfather. The covenant stipulations were that neither would ever harm the other, and Jacob could go in peace. God had prepared Laban for that outcome when he appeared to him in the dream in verse 24. Well, that's one obstacle down and one to go - facing Esau.