When Rachel saw that she was bearing no children, a position of disgrace in the ancient world, she could not stand to lose this competition to her older sister. And so she gave her maidservant Bilhah to Jacob.
The fact that he would consent to the arrangement tells us all we need to know about his character. Today we have surrogate birth mothers, but even in our post-Christian culture they do not sleep with the father. Can you imagine a wife unable to bear children, giving her maid to her husband to be a mother for her? Or the husband agreeing to this arrangement? To say nothing of what it all does to Leah.
Rachel named the first son by this adulterous union Dan because “God has judged [vindicated] me, and has also heard my voice, and has given me a son” (Genesis 30:6; “Dan” means “he has vindicated”).
Bilhah conceived a second son whom Rachel named “Naphtali” because “With mighty wrestlings have I wrestled with my sister, and have prevailed” (v. 8; the name means “my struggle”). In other words, she is winning the procreation contest with her older sister.
But the battle isn’t over. Leah had stopped having children, so she continued the competition by giving her maidservant Zilpah to Jacob. Now Jacob has two wives and two concubines. She bore a son whom Leah named “Gad” because she was “Fortunate!” (v. 11; “Gad” means “good fortune”). Zilpah bore a second son whom Leah named Asher because “daughters will call me happy” (v. 13; “Asher” means “happy”). She continued to seek significance from children, whether they were hers or not.
All this time, Jacob apparently spent each night with Rachel, his favorite wife. So Leah, his first wife, bribed Rachel with some mandrakes, a kind of root which was thought to induce pregnancy (Gen 30:15). In return she purchased a night with her own husband, and became pregnant again.
She bore Jacob a fifth son, named Issachar because “God has given me my hire, because I gave my handmaid to my husband” (v. 18; “Issachar” sounds like the Hebrew for “reward”).
She then bore a sixth son, named Zebulun because “God has endowed me with a good dowry; now will my husband dwell with me” (v. 20; “Zebulun” probably means “honor”). She bore a daughter named Dinah as well (34:1). But apparently Jacob continued to sleep with Rachel each night.
As a result, finally Rachel bore a son whom she named Joseph, “saying, Yahweh add to me another son” (v. 24; “Joseph” means “may he add”). The poor child was named not for himself but for his mother’s wish that she might have another child after him! Imagine naming your child, “Hoping for another one.” Rachel had that other child, a birth which cost her life; she named him “Ben-oni” (Genesis 35:18; “Ben-oni” means “son of my trouble”), but Jacob changed his name to “Benjamin” (meaning “son of my right hand”). And with Benjamin’s birth and his mother’s death, Jacob’s family was complete.
Let’s add up the soap opera cast: one father, two wives, two concubines, 12 sons, and one daughter. No wonder the deceit, anger, competition, and jealousy we find in our story today. The apple did not fall far from this tree.
Fortunately, there’s a hero in this tragic tale: “Joseph, being seventeen years old.” The story of Joseph equals the story of Abraham in the number of chapters in Genesis (14 each), and exceeds it in length by 25 percent. And we have more spoken words of Joseph than any other Old Testament character.
Joseph may be the most complete type or foreshadowing of Jesus to be found in the entire Old Testament.
He was innocent and beloved by his father (v. 3).
He was sent by his father to see his brothers (v. 13).
His own family “hated him” out of jealousy (v. 4).
They threw him into a pit, in effect burying him.
Judah led the brothers to sell Joseph for 20 shekels of silver (v. 28); Judas would sell Jesus for 30 (Matthew 26:15).
He was imprisoned for a crime he did not commit.
He was jailed between two criminals.
He predicted the salvation of one and the death of the other.
His family thought him dead, when he was alive.
He saved his family and the entire nation as well.
From the pit to the prison to the palace: has anyone come from a worst family to a greater position? If God could do all that with Joseph, what can he do with you?
What part of your past most troubles you today? What have you done, or what has been done to you, which seems most to exempt you from the blessing of God? Where do you most need to make peace with your past today? Where have you been limiting what God wants to do with your life?
At age 17, C. S. Lewis told a Christian friend, “I believe in no religion. There is absolutely no proof for any of them, and from a philosophical standpoint Christianity is not even the best.” When he was wounded in the trenches of World War I, he boasted that he “never sank so low as to pray.” God turned this atheist into the greatest defender of the faith in the 20th century.
John Newton was a slave trader who himself became a slave before he met Jesus. He wrote of that encounter, “Amazing grace, how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me.”
The American Red Cross was gathering supplies for the suffering people of Africa. Inside one of the box sent to them was a letter. It said, “We have recently been converted, and want to help. We won’t ever need these again. Can you use them for something?” Inside the box were Ku Klux Klan sheets. The Red Cross tore them into strips and used them to bandage the wounds of Africans.
Charlotte Elliott asked a friend how she could become a Christian. He replied, “It is very simple. You have only to come to Jesus.” She said to him, “But I am a very great sinner, will he take me just as I am?” “Yes, he will take you just as you are, and in no other way.” She said, “If he will take me just as I am, then I will come.” She went home to her room, sat down at her desk and wrote the hymn, “Just as I am without one plea, O Lamb of God, I come, I come.”