Jacob and his four women
Surrogates, when the wife can’t get pregnant1 Rachel couldn’t get pregnant. But she could get jealous. She got more and more jealous of her sister. One day her frustrations exploded all over her husband, Jacob. She said “Give me some babies before I die of humiliation!” 2 By then Jacob had run out of patience with her. He lost his temper and said, “Who do you think I am? God? He’s the one keeping you from getting pregnant! Not me!” 3 Rachel said, “Take my slave, Bilhah. Use her as a surrogate mother. Get her pregnant so I can have children through her.” 4 So Rachel gave Bilhah to Jacob as another wife. Jacob had sex with her. 5 Bilhah got pregnant and gave birth to Jacob’s son. 6 Rachel said, “God has listened to the case I made. He rendered the judgment that I am a fit parent, since he has given me a son. I will name the boy Dan. 7 Rachel’s slave Bilhah got pregnant again. She had another son. 8 Rachel said, “I’ve competed with my sister for so long. I fought hard, too. Now, I’ve finally won.” She named the boy Naphtali. 9 When Leah realized she couldn’t get pregnant anymore, she gave Jacob her slave Zilpah, as a surrogate mother and wife. 10 Leah’s slave Zilpah had a son with Jacob. 11 Leah said, “I’m so lucky!” She named the boy Gad. 12 Leah’s slave Zilpah gave birth to a second son with Jacob. 13 Leah said, “I’m so happy! Women everywhere will call me happy!” She named the boy Asher. 14 During the time of wheat harvest, in the spring, Reuben found some mandrake roots in a field. He brought them to his mother, Leah. Rachel found out about it and asked Leah to share: “Would you give me some of your son’s mandrakes?” 15 Leah said, “Are you crazy? First you take my husband from me, and now you want to take my son’s mandrake plants, too?” Rachel offered her sister a deal: “If you give me some of your son’s mandrakes, you can take my turn sleeping with Jacob tonight.” 16 When Jacob came home from working in the field that evening, Leah walked out to meet him. She said, “Sleep with me tonight. I bought you with my son’s mandrakes.” Jacob slept with Leah that night and had sex with her. 17 God answered Leah’s prayer for another son. She got pregnant. She and Jacob had a fifth son together. 18 Leah said, “God was happy about me giving my slave to Jacob, so he gave me a reward.” She named her son Issachar. 19 Leah got pregnant again. She and Jacob had a sixth son together. 20 Leah said, “God has given me such a wonderful gift. Surely my husband will respect me now, since I have given him six sons.” She named her boy Zebulun. 21 Later, Leah gave birth to a daughter she named Dinah. 22 God remembered Rachel’s desire, and he made her fertile again. 23 She gave birth to a son. She said, “God has cleared my name. I don’t have to live in shame anymore.” 24 She named her son Joseph. And she said, “I’m asking the LORD to do it again, and give me another son.”
Jacob gets rich off father-in-law25 After Rachel gave birth to Joseph, Jacob went to his father-in-law, Laban, and said, “It’s time for me to go home, back to my own country. I’d like to leave on good terms with you. 26 Let me take my wives and children. You owe me that much for all the work I’ve done for you.” 27 Laban said, “I’ve consulted the spirit world and I’ve discovered that I owe my success to you, because the Lord is taking good care of you. 28 Stay with me. Name your price. I’ll pay it.” 29 Jacob said, “You know how hard I worked for you and what a difference it made with your cattle. 30 You didn’t have much livestock when I got here. Now your herds and flocks fill the grazing pastures. God has taken good care of you because of everything I’ve done for you. But now, how can I provide for my own family?” 31 Laban said, “Just tell me what you want me to give you.” Jacob said, “I don’t want you to give me anything. Just do me one favor and I will stay and manage your livestock. 32 Let me go through your flock today and take every sheep that is either spotted or black along with every spotted goat. That’s all I ask. Everything else is yours. 33 That way you’ll be able to tell later that I’m not stealing anything from you. You’ll know that every sheep that is spotted or black along with every spotted goat belongs to me. Everything else belongs to you.” 34 “You’ve got a deal,” Laban said. “We’ll do just what you said.” 35 Instead, Laban rushed out to the pasture and had his sons cut out of the flock all the spotted and black sheep, along with all the spotted goats. 36 Then he had his sons walk those sheep and goats three days away from the main flock. Jacob stayed and took care of that main flock. 37 Jacob decided to try a technique he had heard about—a way to get Laban’s livestock to give birth to striped and spotted lambs and goats. He took branches from poplar, almond, and plane trees. He peeled away part of the bark so the branches look striped. 38 Then Jacob stuck the branches beside the watering trough, which is where the animals often mated. 39 Just as Jacob had hoped, animals that mated in front of the striped branches gave birth to lambs and goats that were striped, speckled, or spotted—the kind of animals Laban had agreed to give to Jacob. 40 When Laban’s animals mated, Jacob had them face his animals that were striped, spotted, or black. And then when Laban’s livestock gave birth to animals that were striped, spotted, or black, Jacob took them. That’s how he managed to make his flock bigger at the expense of his father-in-law. 41 Jacob used the same technique to build an even stronger flock. He made sure the heartiest female animals mated in front of the peeled branches staked beside the watering trough. 42 He didn’t do this for Laban’s weaker sheep and goats. So the solid-color sheep and goats that belonged to Laban were weaker than Jacob’s striped, spotted, or black livestock. 43 This is how Jacob got rich. His assets included huge flocks, lots of male and female slaves, along with herds of camels and donkeys.
Hebrew for “he judged.”
Hebrew for “competition,” or “struggle.”
Hebrew for “lucky.”
Hebrew for “happy.”
Some said mandrake plants could cure infertility. Mandrake roots sometimes vaguely resembled a human body, with a torso, arms, and legs.
Hebrew for “reward.”
Sounds like the Hebrew word for “honor” or “respect.”
Sounds like Hebrew word for “more.”
Here are some of the reasons women in Bible times wanted children. What do you think would have been one of the most important reasons for them?
- “More hands to help grow the family business.”
- “More protection when threatened by outsiders.”
- “More security for Ma and Pa in old age.”
Leah has several children right away. Rachel will not have children for many years. Do you think God was working a plan with that? Or do you think the reality was physiological, and that Leah’s baby-making apparatus was in great shape, while Rachel may have had a tipped uterus or something else that made it hard to get pregnant? Also, would it matter which one of these theories is correct?
Many of us know of some woman who has been infertile and who desperately wanted to have a baby. We have methods to help couples today. But in Bible times, the only alternative was to get up close and personal with a surrogate mother. If we didn’t have the techniques available today to help infertile couples, could you understand someone wanting a baby so much that she asks her husband to use a surrogate in the way Jacob used the two female slaves of Leah and Rachel?
The Genesis writer tells a story of Rachel trading her night with Jacob for a supposedly baby-making aphrodisiac root that Leah had. Rachel gets the root. Leah gets the sex. Guess who gets pregnant. How does this story strike you? And what do you think the point of the story is?
Each of the names of Jacob’s sons mean something, especially to the mothers. Which name moves you most?
- Reuben: Hebrew for “See, a son.” “Maybe now my husband will love me, since I have given him a son” (29:32).
- Simeon: Sounds like the Hebrew term for “one who hears.” “…Because the Lord has heard that my husband still does not love me, so he gave me another son” (29:33).
- Levi: Sounds like the Hebrew term for “becoming attached.” “Now my husband and I will develop a deep bond” (29:34).
- Judah: Sounds like the Hebrew term for “praise.” “Now my husband and I will develop a deep bond” (29:35).
- Dan: Hebrew for “he judged.” “God has listened to the case I made. He rendered the judgment that I am a fit parent, since he has given me a son” (30:6).
- Naphtali: Hebrew for “competition,” or “struggle.” “I’ve competed with my sister for so long. I fought hard, too. Now, I’ve finally won” (30:8).
- Hebrew for “lucky.” “I’m so lucky!” (30:11).
- Hebrew for “happy.” “I’m so happy! Women everywhere will call me happy!” (30:13).
- Issachar: Hebrew for “reward.” “God was happy about me giving my slave to Jacob, so he gave me a reward” (30:18).
- Zebulun: Sounds like the Hebrew word for “honor” or “respect.” “God has given me such a wonderful gift. Surely my husband will respect me now, since I have given him six sons” (30:20).
- Joseph: Sounds like Hebrew word for “more.” “I’m asking the LORD to do it again, and give me another son” (30:24).
When you read the story of how Jacob got rich and how his uncle Laban tried to cheat him, what part of that story do you find most interesting?
The Genesis writer said Jacob managed to breed speckled and spotted sheep and goats by having them mate “in front of the peeled branches staked beside the watering trough” (30:41). Really? Although that could help explain where different skin colors came from in humans. Caucasians came from an African lady who got the munchies after sex, and snacked on crackers. That’s how odd this Bible story sounds to some readers. How do we justify this story that to some people sounds like an old wives’ tale?
LIFE APPLICATION. Infertile women who show up in the Bible seem miserable. Often, they plead with God and with their husband to give them a child. Do you think those women wanted or needed children any more than women do today?
LIFE APPLICATION. Some people in Jacob’s time measured their wealth in terms of the number of wives and children they had, along with the size of their flocks and their herds. It was easy to tell who was rich and who wasn’t. How do we measure wealth today? And how can we tell who is rich based on what we can see with our own eyes?
LIFE APPLICATION. Jacob’s greatest prize was his wife Rachel and her son Joseph. Who or what do you prize most? We’re not talking spiritual stuff here at the moment. So “Jesus” is not an option. We’re talking about the physical stuff here on the planet.