Commentary on Genesis 29:31-30:24

Last updated: October 3, 2009

English Translation (ESV)

29:31When the LORD saw that Leah was hated, he opened her womb, but Rachel was barren. 32And Leah conceived and bore a son, and she called his name Reuben, for she said, “Because the LORD has looked upon my affliction; for now my husband will love me.” 33She conceived again and bore a son, and said, “Because the LORD has heard that I am hated, he has given me this son also.” And she called his name Simeon. 34Again she conceived and bore a son, and said, “Now this time my husband will be attached to me, because I have borne him three sons.” Therefore his name was called Levi. 35And she conceived again and bore a son, and said, “This time I will praise the LORD.” Therefore she called his name Judah. Then she ceased bearing.

30:1When Rachel saw that she bore Jacob no children, she envied her sister. She said to Jacob, “Give me children, or I shall die!” 2Jacob’s anger was kindled against Rachel, and he said, “Am I in the place of God, who has withheld from you the fruit of the womb?” 3Then she said, “Here is my servant Bilhah; go in to her, so that she may give birth on my behalf, that even I may have children through her.” 4So she gave him her servant Bilhah as a wife, and Jacob went in to her. 5And Bilhah conceived and bore Jacob a son. 6Then Rachel said, “God has judged me, and has also heard my voice and given me a son.” Therefore she called his name Dan. 7Rachel’s servant Bilhah conceived again and bore Jacob a second son. 8Then Rachel said, “With mighty wrestlings I have wrestled with my sister and have prevailed.” So she called his name Naphtali.

9When Leah saw that she had ceased bearing children, she took her servant Zilpah and gave her to Jacob as a wife. 10Then Leah’s servant Zilpah bore Jacob a son. 11And Leah said, “Good fortune has come!” so she called his name Gad. 12Leah’s servant Zilpah bore Jacob a second son. 13And Leah said, “Happy am I! For women have called me happy.” So she called his name Asher.

14In the days of wheat harvest Reuben went and found mandrakes in the field and brought them to his mother Leah. Then Rachel said to Leah, “Please give me some of your son’s mandrakes.” 15But she said to her, “Is it a small matter that you have taken away my husband? Would you take away my son’s mandrakes also?” Rachel said, “Then he may lie with you tonight in exchange for your son’s mandrakes.” 16When Jacob came from the field in the evening, Leah went out to meet him and said, “You must come in to me, for I have hired you with my son’s mandrakes.” So he lay with her that night. 17And God listened to Leah, and she conceived and bore Jacob a fifth son. 18Leah said, “God has given me my wages because I gave my servant to my husband.” So she called his name Issachar.

19And Leah conceived again, and she bore Jacob a sixth son. 20Then Leah said, “God has endowed me with a good endowment; now my husband will honor me, because I have borne him six sons.” So she called his name Zebulun. 21Afterward she bore a daughter and called her name Dinah.

22Then God remembered Rachel, and God listened to her and opened her womb. 23She conceived and bore a son and said, “God has taken away my reproach.” 24And she called his name Joseph, saying, “May the LORD add to me another son!”

Notes

29:31 When the LORD saw that Leah was hated, he opened her womb, but Rachel was barren.

In the Hebrew, the phrase “Leah was hated” means she was loved less than Rachel (v 30; Deuteronomy 21:15, 17). It need not mean that Jacob detested her.1 Like Sarah (11:31) and Rebekah (25:21), Rachel was barren.

29:32 And Leah conceived and bore a son, and she called his name Reuben, for she said, “Because the LORD has looked upon my affliction; for now my husband will love me.”

Reuben means “see, a son.”2 In the Hebrew, the phrases “the LORD has looked upon my affliction” and “my husband will love me” play on the consonants in the name Reuben.3

29:33 She conceived again and bore a son, and said, “Because the LORD has heard that I am hated, he has given me this son also.” And she called his name Simeon.

The name Simeon may derive from “to hear.” The phrase “I am hated” plays on the consonants in the name Simeon.4

29:34 Again she conceived and bore a son, and said, “Now this time my husband will be attached to me, because I have borne him three sons.” Therefore his name was called Levi.

The name Levi may mean “attached, joined.”5

29:35 And she conceived again and bore a son, and said, “This time I will praise the LORD.” Therefore she called his name Judah. Then she ceased bearing.

Judah may mean “praise” or be taken in a verbal form, “He (God) shall be praised.”6 The text does not explicitly say why Leah ceased bearing children, but verses 14-16 suggest she and Jacob stopped having intercourse. There is no mention here of a hope of improved relations with Jacob.

30:1 When Rachel saw that she bore Jacob no children, she envied her sister. She said to Jacob, “Give me children, or I shall die!”

Rachel’s request of Jacob recalls Jacob’s request of Laban in 29:21. But Jacob’s request for his wife was legitimate while Rachel’s is not. Ironically Rachel will die when she gives birth to her second child (35:16-19).

30:3 Then she said, “Here is my servant Bilhah; go in to her, so that she may give birth on my behalf, that even I may have children through her.”

The Hebrew uses the phrase “she may give birth over my knees” to describe the servant giving birth on Rachel’s behalf. It is a picturesque way of saying the child will be adopted.7

30:6 Then Rachel said, “God has judged me, and has also heard my voice and given me a son.” Therefore she called his name Dan.

The name Dan means “he has judged, vindicated.” The word “given” also plays on the name.8 The phrase “heard my voice” means Rachel had prayed about children and saw Dan’s birth as an answer to her prayers. However, it is not until verse 22 that the narrator says God listened to Rachel.

30:8 Then Rachel said, “With mighty wrestlings I have wrestled with my sister and have prevailed.” So she called his name Naphtali.

The phrase “mighty wrestlings” is taken from Hebrew which literally means “divine wrestlings/struggles.”9 It may mean that Rachel viewed her struggle with her sister as a struggle for God’s favor. The phrase may also merely indicate the exceptional nature of the struggle.

30:11 And Leah said, “Good fortune has come!” so she called his name Gad.

Gad means “good luck, fortune.”10

30:13 And Leah said, “Happy am I! For women have called me happy.” So she called his name Asher.

Asher means “happy, blessed.”11

30:14 In the days of wheat harvest Reuben went and found mandrakes in the field and brought them to his mother Leah. Then Rachel said to Leah, “Please give me some of your son’s mandrakes.”

It is not certain that the Hebrew duda’im refers to mandrakes, but this has been the translation since the time of the LXX in the third century BC. The important point is that “mandrakes” were famous for arousing sexual desire (Song of Songs 7:13) and helping barren women conceive.12 This is why the barren Rachel asks for some of the mandrakes.

30:15 But she said to her, “Is it a small matter that you have taken away my husband? Would you take away my son’s mandrakes also?” Rachel said, “Then he may lie with you tonight in exchange for your son’s mandrakes.”

In some way left unexplained in the story, Rachel must have at least temporary control over the conjugal life of Jacob, for she permits a one-night rendezvous in exchange for some of Leah’s mandrakes.”13 “This one remark is an eye-opener. We are shown just how much Jacob is favoring Rachel over Leah, that she is prepared for just one night to give away her mandrakes. But it also shows how desperate Rachel is for children; though Bilhah has borne her children and she has adopted them giving them names that express her sense of triumph, she still really wants a child of her own.”14

30:17 And God listened to Leah, and she conceived and bore Jacob a fifth son.

God, not the mandrakes, is responsible for the conception.

30:18 Leah said, “God has given me my wages because I gave my servant to my husband.” So she called his name Issachar.

Issachar means “May El (God) be gracious.” She sees Issachar’s birth as a reward for her giving Zilpah to Jacob.15

30:20 Then Leah said, “God has endowed me with a good endowment; now my husband will honor me, because I have borne him six sons.” So she called his name Zebulun.

The meaning of Zebulun is obscure but may mean “exalt/elevate.”16 The name plays on endowed/endowment.17

30:21 Afterward she bore a daughter and called her name Dinah.

Dinah means “judgment, vindication.”18 She is one of the main actors in chapter 34.

30:22 Then God remembered Rachel, and God listened to her and opened her womb.

God, not the mandrakes, opened Rachel’s womb.

30:23 She conceived and bore a son and said, “God has taken away my reproach.”

The name Joseph is a play on “taken away.”19

30:24 And she called his name Joseph, saying, “May the LORD add to me another son!”

Joseph means “May God (El) add (another child).”20 Later, Rachel dies giving birth to Benjamin (35:16-19).

Bibliography

Hamilton, Victor P. The Book of Genesis, Chapters 18-50. The New International Commentary on the Old Testament 1B. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1995.

Mathews, Kenneth A. Genesis 11:27-50:26. The New American Commentary Volume 1B. Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2005.

Sarna, Nahum M. JPS Torah Commentary: Genesis. 1st ed. Jewish Publication Society of America, 1989.

Wenham, Gordon J. Genesis 16-50. Word Biblical Commentary 2. Thomas Nelson, 1994.

1Wenham, Genesis 16-50, 243; Mathews, Genesis 11:27-50:26, 479; Sarna, JPS Torah Commentary: Genesis, 206.

2Mathews, Genesis 11:27-50:26, 480.

3Wenham, Genesis 16-50, 243; Hamilton, The Book of Genesis, Chapters 18-50, 266-267.

4Wenham, Genesis 16-50, 243.

5Ibid.

6Ibid., 244.

7Wenham, Genesis 16-50, 244; Sarna, JPS Torah Commentary: Genesis, 207-208.

8Wenham, Genesis 16-50, 245.

9Ibid.

10Ibid., 246.

11Mathews, Genesis 11:27-50:26, 485.

12Ibid., 486.

13Ibid., 487.

14Wenham, Genesis 16-50, 247.

15Ibid., 247-248.

16Hamilton, The Book of Genesis, Chapters 18-50, 276.

17Wenham, Genesis 16-50, 248.

18Ibid.

19Sarna, JPS Torah Commentary: Genesis, 210.

20Wenham, Genesis 16-50, 249.

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