30 When Rachel saw that she was not bearing Jacob any children, she became jealous of her sister. So she said to Jacob, “Give me children, or I’ll die!”
2 Jacob became angry with her and said, “Am I in the place of God, who has kept you from having children?”
3 Then she said, “Here is Bilhah, my servant. Sleep with her so that she can bear children for me and I too can build a family through her.”
4 So she gave him her servant Bilhah as a wife. Jacob slept with her,5 and she became pregnant and bore him a son. 6 Then Rachel said, “God has vindicated me; he has listened to my plea and given me a son.”Because of this she named him Dan.
7 Rachel’s servant Bilhah conceived again and bore Jacob a second son.8 Then Rachel said, “I have had a great struggle with my sister, and I have won.” So she named him Naphtali.
9 When Leah saw that she had stopped having children, she took her servant Zilpah and gave her to Jacob as a wife. 10 Leah’s servant Zilpah bore Jacob a son. 11 Then Leah said, “What good fortune!” So she named him Gad.
12 Leah’s servant Zilpah bore Jacob a second son. 13 Then Leah said, “How happy I am! The women will call me happy.” So she named him Asher.
14 During wheat harvest, Reuben went out into the fields and found some mandrake plants, which he brought to his mother Leah. Rachel said to Leah, “Please give me some of your son’s mandrakes.”
15 But she said to her, “Wasn’t it enough that you took away my husband? Will you take my son’s mandrakes too?”
“Very well,” Rachel said, “he can sleep with you tonight in return for your son’s mandrakes.”
16 So when Jacob came in from the fields that evening, Leah went out to meet him. “You must sleep with me,” she said. “I have hired you with my son’s mandrakes.” So he slept with her that night.
17 God listened to Leah, and she became pregnant and bore Jacob a fifth son. 18 Then Leah said, “God has rewarded me for giving my servant to my husband.” So she named him Issachar.
19 Leah conceived again and bore Jacob a sixth son. 20 Then Leah said, “God has presented me with a precious gift. This time my husband will treat me with honor, because I have borne him six sons.” So she named him Zebulun.
21 Some time later she gave birth to a daughter and named her Dinah.
22 Then God remembered Rachel; he listened to her and enabled her to conceive. 23 She became pregnant and gave birth to a son and said, “God has taken away my disgrace.” 24 She named him Joseph, and said, “May the Lord add to me another son.”
(Genesis 30:1-24 NIV)
As we finished Chapter 29, we saw Jacob end up with two wives, one loved and one unloved. The Lord saw how Leah was unloved, and gave her children, while Rachel, the apple of Jacob’s eye, was barren.
As we begin Chapter 30, we see sibling rivalry and jealousy kick in as Rachel has a meltdown and blames her inability to have children on Jacob. Although Jacob loved Rachel, he showed tough love to Rachel and honor to God by telling her that only God gives or withholds the ability to bear children. While Jacob did many things under his own strength, he clearly acknowledged God’s sovereignty in this matter.
While Jacob acknowledged God’s sovereignty, there is no record of Jacob praying over his wife or inquiring of the Lord as to why Rachel was barren. If you’ll remember, Isaac prayed over Rebekah when she was barren, and the Lord heard Isaac’s prayer (Genesis 25:21).
Instead of faith and seeking God, we see Rachel, Leah, and Jacob follow in Abraham and Sarah’s footsteps, using servant girls as surrogate mothers. This was a full-on contest of two sisters jealously fighting over their shared husband, for his love and time. One father, two wives, two surrogate wives/mothers, and 11 children made up this family so far.
Leah and Rachel both expressed their rivalry and claiming of victory over her sister through the naming of each son. Other than Jacob rebuking Rachel for her pity party over being barren, Jacob is silent in this section. The Lord preserves the words and actions of Rachel and Leah not to showcase the family dysfunction, but rather as a baseline for each of the sons and the heritage they will carry forward with their tribe.
Verses 14 – 17 give an interesting backstory of the relationship between the two sisters Leah and Rachel. Leah’s son Reuben finds some mandrake plants (“love apples”) in the field during the wheat harvest and gives them to his mother Leah. Mandrakes were supposedly known to have aphrodisiac qualities and were highly valued.
From the text, we can safely surmise that Jacob spent the majority of his time with Rachel, since Leah exchanges some of her mandrakes for a night with her husband Jacob. Out of that night, Leah conceives again and bears another son.
Finally, the Lord allows Rachel to bear a child. The text says that the Lord listened to Rachel. We don’t know what the Lord was listening to – we can give her the benefit of the doubt and hope that she was praying, but the text does not specifically say.
There is only one mention of a daughter among all the boys – Dinah in verse 21. Were there other daughters also? Possibly; we don’t know. The mention of Dinah here is setting the stage for the events that will unfold in Chapter 34.
Remember our discussion about how God uses our circumstances to teach us about our character (or lack thereof)? Here we see Jacob having to deal with all the sibling rivalry between his two sister wives. He was the source of the sibling rivalry during his growing-up years; now he is the recipient of the same.
May we love our families equally as the Lord loves us.
May we seek Him in all things, especially when we are tempted to work in our own strength to make something happen before we seek Him.