Relationships –  Jacob and his Wives

After Jacob had stayed with him for a whole month, Laban said to him, “Just because you are a relative of mine, should you work for me for nothing? Tell me what your wages should be.”
Now Laban had two daughters; the name of the older was Leah, and the name of the younger was Rachel. Leah had weak eyes, but Rachel had a lovely figure and was beautiful. Jacob was in love with Rachel and said, “I’ll work for you seven years in return for your younger daughter Rachel.”
Laban said, “It’s better that I give her to you than to some other man. Stay here with me.” So Jacob served seven years to get Rachel, but they seemed like only a few days to him because of his love for her.
Then Jacob said to Laban, “Give me my wife. My time is completed, and I want to make love to her.”
So Laban brought together all the people of the place and gave a feast. But when evening came, he took his daughter Leah and brought her to Jacob, and Jacob made love to her. And Laban gave his servant Zilpah to his daughter as her attendant.
When morning came, there was Leah! So Jacob said to Laban, “What is this you have done to me? I served you for Rachel, didn’t I? Why have you deceived me?”
Laban replied, “It is not our custom here to give the younger daughter in marriage before the older one. Finish this daughter’s bridal week; then we will give you the younger one also, in return for another seven years of work.”
And Jacob did so. He finished the week with Leah, and then Laban gave him his daughter Rachel to be his wife. Laban gave his servant Bilhah to his daughter Rachel as her attendant. Jacob made love to Rachel also, and his love for Rachel was greater than his love for Leah. And he worked for Laban another seven years.
When the Lord saw that Leah was not loved, he enabled her to conceive, but Rachel remained childless. Leah became pregnant and gave birth to a son. She named him Reuben, for she said, “It is because the Lord has seen my misery. Surely my husband will love me now.”
She conceived again, and when she gave birth to a son she said, “Because the Lord heard that I am not loved, he gave me this one too.” So she named him Simeon.
Again she conceived, and when she gave birth to a son she said, “Now at last my husband will become attached to me, because I have borne him three sons.” So he was named Levi.
She conceived again, and when she gave birth to a son she said, “This time I will praise the Lord.” So she named him Judah. Then she stopped having children.

  • Genesis 29:14b-35

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. Leah’s servant Zilpah bore Jacob a son. Then Leah said, “What good fortune!” So she named him Gad.
Leah’s servant Zilpah bore Jacob a second son. Then Leah said, “How happy I am! The women will call me happy.” So she named him Asher.
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.”
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.”
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.
God listened to Leah, and she became pregnant and bore Jacob a fifth son. Then Leah said, “God has rewarded me for giving my servant to my husband.” So she named him Issachar.
Leah conceived again and bore Jacob a sixth son. 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.
Some time later she gave birth to a daughter and named her Dinah.
Then God remembered Rachel; he listened to her and enabled her to conceive. She became pregnant and gave birth to a son and said, “God has taken away my disgrace.”  She named him Joseph, and said, “May the Lord add to me another son.”

  • Genesis 30:1-24

When Laban had gone to shear his sheep, Rachel stole her father’s household gods. Moreover, Jacob deceived Laban the Aramean by not telling him he was running away. So he fled with all he had, crossed the Euphrates River, and headed for the hill country of Gilead.

So Laban went into Jacob’s tent and into Leah’s tent and into the tent of the two female servants, but he found nothing. After he came out of Leah’s tent, he entered Rachel’s tent. Now Rachel had taken the household gods and put them inside her camel’s saddle and was sitting on them. Laban searched through everything in the tent but found nothing.
Rachel said to her father, “Don’t be angry, my lord, that I cannot stand up in your presence; I’m having my period.” So he searched but could not find the household gods.

  • Genesis 31:19-21, 33-35

Jacob looked up and there was Esau, coming with his four hundred men; so he divided the children among Leah, Rachel and the two female servants. He put the female servants and their children in front, Leah and her children next, and Rachel and Joseph in the rear. He himself went on ahead and bowed down to the ground seven times as he approached his brother.
But Esau ran to meet Jacob and embraced him; he threw his arms around his neck and kissed him. And they wept. Then Esau looked up and saw the women and children. “Who are these with you?” he asked.
Jacob answered, “They are the children God has graciously given your servant.”
Then the female servants and their children approached and bowed down. Next, Leah and her children came and bowed down. Last of all came Joseph and Rachel, and they too bowed down.

  • Genesis 33:1-7

Then they moved on from Bethel. While they were still some distance from Ephrath, Rachel began to give birth and had great difficulty. And as she was having great difficulty in childbirth, the midwife said to her, “Don’t despair, for you have another son.” As she breathed her last—for she was dying—she named her son Ben-Oni. But his father named him Benjamin.
So Rachel died and was buried on the way to Ephrath (that is, Bethlehem). Over her tomb Jacob set up a pillar, and to this day that pillar marks Rachel’s tomb.

  • Genesis 35:16-20

A Quote

[Genesis 30:14-16] “Jacob had eight sons by then from three women, and about six years had elapsed since his marriages. The oldest son, Reuben, was about five. Playing in the field during wheat harvest, he found this small, orange-colored fruit and ‘brought them to his mother Leah.’ These were superstitiously viewed in the ancient world as ‘love apples,’ an aphrodisiac or fertility-inducing narcotic.
“This odd and desperate bargain by Rachel was an attempt to become pregnant with the aid of the mandrakes, a folk remedy which failed to understand that God gives children (vv. 6, 17, 20, 22).”

  • John MacArthur, John MacArthur Commentary

What Do We Know about their Relationship?

Jacob: Trickery with help from his mother got him Isaac’s blessing.  He sees Rachel in Paddan Aram and falls in love.  He works seven years to earn her hand in marriage.  He is tricked my marrying her older sister.  He agrees to work longer for Rachel.  He does not love Leah.  He loves Rachel. Consistently, even placing Leah and her children as a buffer against Esau to protect Rachel and Joseph.  Although Jacob did his share of cheating Laban, his father-in-law, it seemed that Laban was the master of cheating his son-in-law.

Leah: Not pretty, lazy eye, fertile, producing six sons and a daughter.  Faithful.

Rachel: Beautiful, but not smart.  She trades her time in bed for mandrakes.  Mandrakes are a phallic symbol, supposedly an aphrodisiac, but also a narcotic, hallucinogenic.  What was her true goal?  She stole her father’s false gods, lied about it when he came after them.  Died after giving birth to Benjamin.

What Can We Infer about their Relationship?

Rachel probably had more time with Jacob than did Leah, but Leah was fertile and Rachel was barren.  Rachel, Rebekah, and Sarah all related and all had fertility issues.  Probably something genetically wrong, but God granted childbearing in each case.

Rachel was jealous of Leah’s fertility.  Leah craved the love Rachel received.

Yet, with the mandrake situation, it seemed that the two sisters had some sort of schedule, since Rachel was supposed to sleep with Jacob and she swapped off to enjoy the mandrakes.

The case of the concubines is not as volatile in this case as it was with Hagar and Sarah.  Yet, the concubines and their sons were the “cannon fodder” in the approach to meet Esau.  Jacob respected Leah and loved Rachel, but the concubines and their children seemed to be third rate.

In What Ways Can We Fill in the Gaps about their Relationship?

Did Rachel think that the mandrakes would help?  As Rev. MacArthur wrote above, she should know that babies come from God, but even with a rudimentary faith, she should also know that sleeping with her husband is required.

In this story, although not specifically about the three spouses’ relationship, there were rough spots that seemed to “work”, but maybe not too amicably.

What Can We Learn from this Relationship?

The old American football adage is that when you have two starting quarterbacks, you do not have one, meaning probably neither quarterback is very good.

In this case, with two wives, Jacob only has one wife in total between them.  He loves Rachel.  He gets sons from Leah.  Rachel seems to be a little mental and far from having faith in God.

We can definitely learn that one wife is enough.  And getting drunk while your wife is still wearing a veil is not a smart idea either.  It said they had a feast, but there was probably some drinking.  How else would he have not known? Yet, he fooled his father under similar circumstances.

In this story even beyond the relationship, there are a lot of “do not do this” things involved.  Jacob slept with four women to produce twelve sons.  He loved one and not the other of his wives.  He cheated his father-in-law, but his father-in-law repeatedly cheated him.  The woman that he loved was not very trustworthy and did not seem to have any faith in God or very little.  Outside of physical beauty, Leah was the much better choice of a wife, and the covenant promise went through her to Judah and eventually to Jesus.

In what we can learn about our relationship with Jesus, cutting corners and cheating make for a weak relationship.  And what we want does not necessarily mean what is best for us.  We have our desires, but God knows what is best for us in achieving His perfect plan in our lives.  If we continue to be bull-headed in the wrong direction, our lives suffer.  We need to go to God in prayer and wait for His answer.

What Have We Learned thus far?

In Adam and Eve, we see the initiation of sin and the sin nature.  Adam and Eve made excuses for their sin.  They blamed someone else.  Thus, the sin nature complicates any relationship.

In Cain and Abel, we see jealousy without boundaries.  We see sullenness.  We see the first person to be cast out from a family unit.  All with the first sibling rivalry.

In Enoch and God, we see the closest thing to a perfect relationship.  Enoch wanted nothing more than to be with God.

In Abram and Sarai, we see a long-life relationship.  Like a glove perfectly fitting the hand, Abraham and Sarah loved one another, even when the warts began to show.

In Abram and Lot, we see a one-sided family relationship.  One side always giving and the other side always taking.

And now in Abram and Hagar, we see the lack of relationship due to ownership and being a surrogate.

And for Isaac and Rebekah, deception between spouses can lead to major problems in a relationship and favoritism within a family can split a family apart.

Jacob showed favoritism with his wives as his parents showed to him and Esau.  Jacob was reasonably faithful to God, but Rachel seemed to not have a clue, possibly unequally yoked with Jacob.

And in our relationship with God, we can learn little bits from each of these relationships, the good and the bad.

A Closing Prayer

We know that one spouse is the best for us, but we should know when certain things happen, they happen for a reason.  Jacob was cheated and tricked into marrying Leah, but if he had not been rash, might he have gone to You to find out that Leah was better for him in the long run.  Jacob made rash decisions and decisions of the heart too quickly.  Lord, help us to learn from this.  Help us to be patient. Help us to seek wisdom and seek Your guidance in the troubling circumstances of our lives.
In Thy Name we pray,

Soli Deo Gloria.  Only to God be the Glory.

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