Genesis 30: Jacob's 20 Years of Fatherhood and Servitude
God proves He is able to bless and fulfill His Word with a family with internal conflict and under external oppression.
Do you realize that God takes note when you are unjustly hated?
Genesis 30 continues with the rivalry between Rachel and Leah, and reveals how, despite many opposing forces, God will keep His promises to Jacob.
vv. 1-8 - The previous chapter closed by accounting the four sons God gave to Jacob through his less favored wife, Leah. As each son is named, a story is told, and with each son Leah thinks they will guarantee her happiness; specifically, that Jacob will love her. It is not until Judah that she resigns to God’s providence and says, “I will praise the Lord.” Well, Genesis 30 begins with Rachel’s frustration. We learn that she is not just lamenting her barrenness, but she is envious of her sister, and blames the circumstances on Jacob. This unjust and sinful response angers Jacob, who rightly acknowledges the hand of God in Rachel’s barrenness, but lacks the tact and sense to try to comfort his wife. Unfortunately, rather than turning to God in prayer, Rachel turns to her handmaid, Bilhah. This may appear similar to Sarah turning to Hagar, but her sin is worse than Hagar because it was driven, not merely by a sense of barrenness, but by her envy. This fact is revealed in how she names the two sons, Dan and Naphtali, where she imagines God is vindicating her and causing her to prevail over Leah.
vv. 9-13 - Leah, not content to keep rejoicing after the birth of Judah, is provoked by Rachel and gives Zilpah to Jacob, who bears Gad and Asher.
vv. 14–24 - We are then given insight into the event of Reuben bringing mandrakes to his mother, a plant believed to have certain fertility-related qualities. Presumably they were relatively rare, because Rachel wants them. Leah’s response seems to indicate that by this point Jacob had given conjugal authority into Rachel’s hand. The wicked treatment of Leah results in God blessing her with son five and six, along with Dinah. This seems to drive Rachel to prayer, and she is finally blessed with Joseph, and has hope for another.
vv. 25–43 - With the birth of Joseph, the time has come for Jacob to return to Canaan. Jacob just wants to leave, but Laban, who views Jacob as the reason for his prosperity, doesn’t want him to leave and basically says in v. 28, name your price. Jacob seems to want to get out of there, but when pressed for what he wants he suggests they divide the livestock so that Laban takes the higher valued solid colored animals, while he takes the lower valued speckled and spotted livestock. Laban agrees. But remember, Laban wants to keep Jacob with him. So he sends the Jacob’s portion three days journey away to be kept by his sons. This leaves Jacob with nothing and needing to build his wages without the presence of the very livestock most likely to produce what would belong to him. Jacob’s plan has been largely viewed in two ways: either, he believed in old wives tales, or such was his desperation he employs this method and hopes for the best. Either way, the view generally is that God works despite what Jacob does, not because of it. However, there was a study done in 2008 that looked into the prenatal nutritional influence of the named trees of this passage in what is called methylation. Methylation can influence gene expression. Some of these livestock would have had the genes to be spotted, etc. With the right nutrition at conception, you can alter gene expression in the offspring. Whatever the case, Jacob needs God’s blessing to break free from his wicked father-in-law.
Good theology can be used in bad ways. Jacob is able to acknowledge the hand of God in Rachel’s barrenness, but responds angrily against her, rather than patiently. Paul counsels Timothy, “the servant of the Lord must not strive; but be gentle unto all men, apt to teach, patient…” (2 Tim. 2:24). The same is fitting counsel for husbands and fathers.
In good times or bad you can either respond in faith or frustration. It took four sons before Leah learned to rejoice in the Lord’s love for her, rather than being dependent on Jacob’s love for her. Rachel also exhibits much frustration with God’s providence in her barrenness, but by v. 22 there is an indication that she had turned to prayer. This prayerfulness not merely provided a son, but a gem of a son, and a mighty instrument in God’s hand. When struggling, ask yourself, am I responding in faith or frustration? Am I trusting God or questioning God? Am I murmuring at God’s providence? This can help keep many sins from the soul. Annoyance at man can be a dead giveaway of your unbelief towards God.
God’s people are commanded to rejoice in God’s blessing upon others. Neither Leah nor Rachel can enter into the happiness of the other. This is sinful. The Christian is not just to avoid being envious, but to delight in the blessings others enjoy. God is not content merely by your avoidance of a sin, He wants you to show His character. So children, rejoice when your siblings succeed. Be happy with them and for them.
New trials need fresh grace. Leah, who had learned to rejoice in the Lord by the time Judah was born, was taken in temptation when she went through a barren period and Rachel’s handmaid was bearing. She responds in kind to Rachel. No matter how content we have been in the past, discontentment can easily creep in. The answer? Maintain cross-centered thoughts of Christ.
God will bless His people despite sin and the best efforts of evil men. Like most men, Jacob has a weakness towards women. He listened to his mom when he ought not, and listens to his wives, taking their handmaids to wife as well. This is folly. In addition, Laban is doing his best to keep Jacob enslaved to him. This slavery is underlined by his request in v. 26, and is in line with Ex. 21:4. However, Deut. 15:14 stipulates that after six years of service, Hebrew slaves should get a generous severance package. But after 14 years of service, Laban still won’t be generous to Jacob. The whole point of this is that, despite not having the inheritance of Isaac’s wealth, and despite his own sin, and despite the injustices of Laban, God blesses Jacob according to His covenant promises, as can be seen in the final verse. Believer, you can be assured of prosperity if you trust in Christ. You might not have great material prosperity. In this new covenant era, such blessings have been overshadowed by the believer’s possession of Christ through the Spirit in a greater measure than anything the patriarch’s enjoyed. The seed of the woman has bruised the head of the serpent, and Christ will give His people victory over all of Satan’s deceiving offspring.
“Look at Jacob’s life and read his history, you are compelled to say that from the first hour that he left his father’s house, even to the last, God loved him…” — Charles Spurgeon