Genesis 30:1-12: Turning back the clock

“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!” Jacob became angry with her and said, “Am I in the place of God, who has kept you from having children?”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.” So she gave him her servant Bilhah as a wife. Jacob slept with her, and she became pregnant and bore him a son. 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. Rachel’s servant Bilhah conceived again and bore Jacob a second son. Then Rachel said, “I have had a great struggle with my sister, and I have won.” So she named him Naphtali. 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.” NIV

There is something of a throwback in time in these verses, to when Sarah gave Abraham her maidservant (Gen.16:1,2) in order for him to have a child by her. Rachel did the same with Jacob, offering him Billah. Then Leah followed suit, giving him Zilpah. (Again, it is instructive tim see what the names of the children they bore mean. They tell a story about how these two wives of Jacob were thinking and feeling).

I was musing that in the church, we can have our own ideas about how to ‘’build a family’’ (3), and we can get it so wrong. We need to be as prayerful as possible, to seek to know God’s mind. But even here, where people got things so wrong, God graciously overruled and built up His nation.

Looking at this passage, it is worth noting the comment made by Tom Hale in ‘The Applied Old Testament Commentary’, p.175:

‘God never approved of man having more than one wife, and He approved even less of a man keeping a concubine – an ‘’unofficial wife’’ – which was what Billah was. God’s ideal from the beginning was that a man have only one wife (Genesis 2:24). Anything more than that comes from man’s sinful desires and schemings.’