Genesis 29:31 – 30:24
31 When the Lord saw that Leah was hated, he opened her womb, but Rachel was barren. 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.” 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. 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. 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.
30 When Rachel saw that she bore Jacob no children, she envied her sister. She said to Jacob, “Give me children, or I shall die!” 2 Jacob’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?” 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.” 4 So she gave him her servant Bilhah as a wife, and Jacob went in to her. 5 And Bilhah conceived and bore Jacob a son. 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. 7 Rachel’s servant Bilhah conceived again and bore Jacob a second son. 8 Then Rachel said, “With mighty wrestlings I have wrestled with my sister and have prevailed.” So she called his name Naphtali.
9 When Leah saw that she had ceased bearing children, she took her servant Zilpah and gave her to Jacob as a wife. 10 Then Leah’s servant Zilpah bore Jacob a son. 11 And Leah said, “Good fortune has come!” so she called his name Gad. 12 Leah’s servant Zilpah bore Jacob a second son. 13 And Leah said, “Happy am I! For women have called me happy.” So she called his name Asher. 
Moses made it fairly clear in his opening chapters of the creation account that God’s creation mandate for marriage was that a man take only one wife, not multiple women. God only made Eve for Adam, not Eve plus four other women. His creation ordinance was quite specific: “Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh. 25 And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed.” The polygamous marriages in Genesis are always a source of strife for the parties involved.
“Lamech’s chest-thumping Sword Song before his wives Adah and Zillah exuded polygamous brutality (cf. 4: 23ff.). Next, Abraham “listened to the voice” of his wife (an echo of Adam’s listening to the voice of his wife at the fall; cf. 3:17) and took Hagar as his wife, [consenting] to the marital ethics of Mesopotamia (cf. 16:2ff.). The bitterness that followed is infamous.” What was perfectly legal and acceptable in the City of Man always reaped bitterness and brokenness in the City of God. Here in Genesis 29 and 30, the polygamy Jacob was tricked into was disastrous. Yet God would use it to build a nation.
Clearly, the ideal for Hebrew marriage was always monogamy, despite the examples of Israel’s kings (including David). So, in the Old Testament polygamy was understood to be a violation of the covenantal faithfulness that God demanded of his bride Israel. That was portrayed very personally and dramatically, for example, in the book of Hosea. God spoke the final word in his Son who called his people to the joyous, monogamous love and fidelity that was emblematic of his love for his bride, the church as Paul teaches in Ephesians 5:25-33. But Jacob was a de facto polygamist, tricked into marrying another bride besides the one for whom he had contracted. The victimizer became the victim. He was made to drink his own medicine. He deceived his father with wine. Now he is deceived with wine.
And it was not only Laban who deceived Jacob, but Leah as well. She was a willing participant in the deception, likely because she had made and idol out of marriage and an idol out of Jacob as well. She was sure Jacob would be forced to love her also once they had spent their lights-out, wine-buzzed wedding night together. But our idols of human wisdom always fail us in the end. Jacob must have been somewhat changed by his encounter at Bethel. Laban recognized him to be a man of his word and gave him Rachel at the end of his week of celebrating Leah’s deceitful wedding. Jacob could have reasoned he’d been cheated and left with his two women, but he kept his word and worked the additional seven years. He was slowly learning faithfulness to YHWH.
Jacob now owes Laban 14 years of service without wages (his wives were his wages), during which time God will “bless” him with 12 sons and a daughter he must struggle to feed along with two wives and two concubines. Jacob must learn complete dependence upon the Promised Seed who appeared to him at Bethel. Though Laban’s daughters each receive a slave, that is all the inheritance upon which the family can depend. As Dr. Luther notes:
…look at the history, and you will find that Jacob was a poor and needy man who did not have even a few cents of his own. Thus the women, too, were very poor, as Rachel and Leah complain below (31:14–15): ‘Is there any portion or inheritance left to us in our father’s house? Are we not regarded by him as foreigners? For he has sold us, and he has been using up the money given for us.’ But if the daughters were poor beggars, it is much more likely that the maidservants were in need.
In addition to their poverty, there was the family infighting, bitterness, and competition that this this ménage à trois carried with it. The sister-wives were sharp-tongued and shrill. Both women would use the births of their own and their surrogate children as opportunities to put their feelings into words, be it to celebrate or to gloat. This is messy— multiple wives, multiple births, sister hatred, brother hatred— all of which will be acted out over the years. Yet, amid all the competitive bitterness and infighting, God is building the 12 Tribes of Israel from one father and four mothers. And he will prepare one son – Joseph – rejected and cast out by his brothers and oppressed by foreigners, to be the glorified and powerful savior of Israel. All the tribes of Israel would come before him and bow down.
When this strange family began, born of deception, Jacob did not know that his children would come in three sets of four. Initially, four would be born to Leah. Next, four would be born to the slave-maids Bilhah and Zilpah. And the last four would come from the sisters, two from Leah and two from Rachel. And, of course, Jacob had not the slightest intimation of the birth wars that lay ahead. But, “imagine the interest with which this account would have been scrutinized when it was first written some five hundred years later by Moses upon the exodus from Egypt. The freshly delivered twelve tribes of Israel learned both about their origins and the ways of God. And for people of faith today there is likewise much to be learned here— about ourselves and about God.”
FIRST FOUR SONS (29:31-35)
The focus of 29:31-35 begins with Leah. When Moses writes that Leah was “hated,” he means that she was not loved. In verse 30, Moses wrote, Jacob “loved Rachel more than Leah.” She was, for Jacob, an obligation. She was someone to be endured, tolerated. She had been a willing participant in Laban’s scheme, after all. Leah had participated in a great sin against God and his chosen seed. And yet, we read YHWH was aware of the torment the consequences of her sin had brought. He had regard and compassion for her as a sinner in need of his mercy. Luther writes:
What does He do with the maiden Leah? I reply: Everyone should know that God cares for him in his calling. For God cares about little, mediocre, and big things. He is the Creator and Governor of everything. But who would believe that God cares for Leah? Surely all men should conclude firmly that God has regard for and cares for them, no matter how small, abject, and lowly they are. For this is why Moses so carefully depicts the condition of Jacob’s household affairs and sets it before our eyes.
Jacob is always close by Rachel at every opportunity. The entire neighborhood and household know that Rachel is the lady of the house. Rachel puts on heirs in front of her sister and rejects her. To Rachel, Leah is a fraud. She is “less than.” These are the truly base and sinful things that make up most of our households. Leah endured this contempt with great grief. She was created to be loved by her husband (Eph. 5:25; Col. 3:19). Nothing is more hurtful to a wife than to feel ignored, merely endured, or rejected by her husband. And husbands are mostly oblivious to it, believing that if they make a good living, put food on the table and clothes on the family’s back, then what in the world does the wife have to complain about.
Mark well that Leah chose to begin this pattern by failing to respect Jacob through her willing deception at their wedding (Eph. 5:22; Col. 3:18). But that does not excuse Jacob from his duty to love Leah. And yet, in the midst of this horrible sin cycle, God brings mercy to miserable Leah. He hears her misery and opens her womb. In the Mesopotamian culture, barrenness was not so much pitied as it was disdained. And we have some evidence that Leah is learning to trust into Jacob’s covenant God. “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.’”
Leah credits YHWH for her son. There is no doubt in her mind who is responsible for this event. Reuben means, “Look, a son!” As in the rest of her naming of children, she couples the name with an explanation. In this case, her hope to be finally loved by her husband peaked. Simeon means “the Lord has heard.” So, in verse 33 we read, “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.” In that name, we learn that her hope for Jacob’s love did not materialize when Reuben was born.
Rachel was praying to YHWH for more children. And despite her lowly estate and her sin against Jacob the patriarch of the Promised Seed, God had mercy. Luther writes:
In this way one must learn that God sees and governs all things but has regard solely and in a special manner for what is despised and cast off, just as Christ Himself was on the cross. For what the world and even saintly people like Jacob and Rachel throw away, this he gathers up, and it is altogether sacred to Him.
God is always pleased with the prayers of the humble and meek. The penitent wailings of his people are precious hymns to him. Yet, Leah was still looking to satisfy herself in childbearing rather than in God alone. Perhaps Simeon would finally melt Jacob’s heart and turn his coldness into love. YHWH had heard. Maybe Jacob would hear as well. Her third son she named Levi, “attachment.” We read in verse 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.’” No longer did Leah hope for love. She would be content if Jacob merely become more attached to her.
Judah means “praise.” Finally, she is starting to see that her relationship to her gracious covenant God is all-satisfying. “The Bible says, ‘Though my father and mother forsake me, the Lord will receive me’ (Ps. 27:10). Leah could have testified, ‘Though my husband neglects me, though he loves Rachel and only mildly tolerates me, yet the Lord will take me up.’ In this situation, Leah apparently turned to the Lord, who pitied her and blessed her with sons.”
She makes no mention at Judah’s birth of her idol of replacing Rachel as the chief object of Jacob’s affection. “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.” God gave her joy in her children. He gave her joy in him. But still she endured the painful and humiliating experience of being merely tolerated by her husband. She had a battered sense of dignity. She had love to give. But Jacob did not want it. If Leah could have seen down the generations, she would have been astonished at how blessed she was, because her last two sons, Levi, and Judah, would respectively father the priestly and kingly tribes of Israel. Leah’s blood would flow in the veins of Moses and Aaron and David and Christ the Messiah! Is that not interesting? The Lord Jesus Christ was not born of the line that came from Rachel, even though she was the one Jacob loved. He came from humble, disregarded Leah. Remember that if your marriage is similar to hers. God loves the disregarded.
FOUR BY THE SLAVES (30:1-13)
Now, Leah starts to lose ground in the baby wars. As for Rachel, her prolonged infertility became increasingly humiliating with each of Leah’s births. God humbles the proud, and he was definitely humbling Rachel (just not all at once). Rachel wanted sons and neither she nor Leah were not above trying to acquire them in the Mesopotamian way, conception through their slaves and adoption. Presumably, the two slave women were also from the blessed line of Shem since these four boys are included among the twelve princes of Israel.
The slave baby wars begin with a heated exchange between Rachel and Jacob:
When Rachel saw that she bore Jacob no children, she envied her sister. She said to Jacob, “Give me children, or I shall die!” 2 Jacob’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?” 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.”
Before Laban’s deception, Rachel had no doubt looked forward to a monogamous lifelong marriage to the man who loved her. But now with that dream shattered, she acts out of her own human wisdom to step up the baby wars. She insists Jacob spread his seed with her slave, Bilhah. And he does, with great success. Bilhah bore Rachel two sons in quick succession, Dan and Naphtali. Dan means “judged” or “vindicated,” as Rachel declared herself to be vindicated, guilt-free before God and men. Vindication at last! Naphtali means “wrestlings.” “Then Rachel said, ‘With mighty wrestlings I have wrestled with my sister and have prevailed.’ So she called his name Naphtali” (v.8). “Take that, Leah.” Rachel’s surrogate was gaining.
But Leah was not about to have her sister win the baby wars. So she ordered Jacob to spread his seed with her slave, Zilpah, resulting in the births of Gad and Asher. Gad means “good fortune’’ and Asher means “happy.” Notice in verses 9-13 that Leah is no longer crediting God for the children. Her naming’s are now self-centered. She is declaring herself to be lucky and happy because she believes her human wisdom is paying off. She leads the baby wars 6 to 2. Rachel knows she’ losing the war.
FOUR BY RACHEL AND LEAH (14-24)
What happens when jealousy replaces genuine love for others and humble submissiveness to the will of God? A sex contract over mandrakes happens. “The mandrake …is a perennial Mediterranean plant that bears bluish flowers in winter and yellowish plum-sized fruit in summer. In ancient times, mandrakes were famed for arousing sexual desire (cf. Song of Solomon 7:13) and for helping barren women to conceive.” The Hebrew word translated “mandrakes” is almost the same as the Hebrew word for “love” (Proverbs 7:18; Song 1:2; 4:10; 5:1). Many ancients called mandrakes “love apples” or “May apples.” Their power was in their placebo effect, not in science. In this case, they become currency for a desperate bargain.
It’s clear from the following that Rachel is in charge of the “who sleeps with Jacob” schedule. Family ethics have reached a new low:
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.” 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.” 16 When 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.
Leah gets her night with the family stud and Rachel gets the supposedly-valuable mandrakes. They are valuable to Rachel because she is again acting out of human wisdom rather than YHWH dependence. Leah, who gives up the mandrakes has three more children. Rachel, who has the mandrakes, remains childless for three more years. The text is explicit that Leah’s renewed fertility comes from God:
17 And God listened to Leah, and she conceived and bore Jacob a fifth son. 18 Leah said, “God has given me my wages because I gave my servant to my husband.” So she called his name Issachar.
God is sovereign over all this family sin and drama. Issachar means “wages,” a swipe at her sister for making her hire her own husband for a night. Her next son she named Zebulan which sounds like a word play on the Hebrew word “honor.” But the real meaning is debated so much “honor” is just a best guess.
As for Rachel, she had begun to implore God for another child since it had become clear her human wisdom had no solution to the problem. We know this because of the name she gives her new son, Joseph (May he add):
22 Then God remembered Rachel, and God listened to her and opened her womb. 23 She conceived and bore a son and said, “God has taken away my reproach.” 24 And she called his name Joseph, saying, “May the Lord add to me another son!”
Indeed, the Lord would add another son for Rachel with the birth of Benjamin, Jacob’s thirteenth son many years later. Rachel would die giving birth to him. For now, Jacob has twelve sons and one daughter in the span of thirteen years with two wives and two concubine-slaves (from the blessed line of Shem). And the most evident thing in this passage is that God is being faithful to his covenant even while his people are mired in pettiness, jealousy, arguments, sleeping arrangements, and total poverty. When Luther read this passage, he wondered if God had no other occupation than to have regard for the lowliness of this household.
That moved Dr. Luther to consider Mary’s song recorded in Luke 1:46-48, where she sang:
My soul magnifies the Lord, 47 and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, 48 for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant. For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed….
When the Promised Seed was born to the woman of lowly estate, the angels came down the proverbial ladder and sang the Gloria to poor, socially-outcast shepherds (Lk. 2:8-20). When Joseph and Mary brought their son, Jesus the Promised Seed, Immanuel, to the temple, a humble godly man named Simeon had been patiently waiting for the Consolation of Israel to appear. He took the baby in his arms and declared:
Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace, according to your word; 30 for my eyes have seen your salvation 31 that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, 32 a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel.
And, when Jesus began his public ministry, he read from the gospel of Isaiah, saying:
The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor. 
The Jacob family, up to this point, has lived through 14 years of an exceedingly hard life. They lived in great poverty and want. They labored hard day and night. They endured hunger, thirst, heat, and cold. They wallowed in sin and family in-fighting. But YHWH had regard for them in their wants. Jesus, the Promised Seed knows what it is like to live in poverty, to labor for low wages, to be shunned and rejected rather than to be adored and worshipped as the Son of Man. Cry out to him in your lowliness, for he promises this to all who will come:
Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light. 
 The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Ge 29:31–30:13.
 The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Ge 2:24–25.
 Hughes, 373. Kindle Edition.
 Luther, 5:331–332. Emphasis added.
 Hughes, 374. Kindle Edition.
 Luther, 5:314.
 Id., 315.
 Boice, 2:788.
 Hughes, 375-376. Kindle Edition.
 Boice, 2:789.
 Hughes (quoting G. Wenham), 377. Kindle Edition.
 The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Lk 1:46–48.
 The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Lk 2:29–32.
 The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Lk 4:18–19.
 The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Mt 11:28–30.