Welcome back to my study/review of Genesis. If you missed the previous parts of this study, you can find them HERE.
Genesis 29: 31-35
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.
I have always found this section of verses to be really interesting and deep – both from the perspective of God’s feelings for Leah and from her evolving feelings as she continues to be blessed with sons.
From The Pulpit Commentaries, verse 31:
And when the Lord saw—literally, and Jehovah saw. As Eve’s son was obtained from Jehovah (Genesis 4:1), and Jehovah visited Sarah (Genesis 21:1), and was entreated for Rebekah (Genesis 25:21), so here he again interposes in connection with the onward development of the holy seed by giving children to Jacob’s wives. The present section (Genesis 29:31-35) is by Davidson, Kalisch, and others assigned to the Jehovist, by Tuch left undetermined, and by Colenso in several parts ascribed to the Elohist. Kalisch thinks the contents of this section must have found a place in the earlier of the two documents—that Leah was hated,—i.e. less loved (cf. Malachi 1:3)—he opened her womb (cf. 1 Samuel 1:5, 1 Samuel 1:6; Psalms 127:3): but Rachel was barren—as Sarai (Genesis 11:30) and Rebekah (Genesis 25:21) had been. The fruitfulness of Leah and the sterility of Rachel were designed not so much to equalize the conditions of the sisters, the one having beauty and the other children (Lange), or to punish Jacob for his partiality (Keil), or to discourage the admiration of mere beauty (Kalisch), but to prove that “the origin of Israel was to be a work not of nature, but of grace” (Keil).
We see the Commentary note that Jehovah intervened in the pregnancies of Eve, Sarah, Rebekah, and here again with Leah. Interestingly, the extent of this intervention seems to be continuously less direct and less personal.
The note above speculates that Leah’s fruitfulness was not designed to equalize conditions for the two sisters or to punish Jacob for his partiality, but to prove “the orgigin of Israel was to be a work not of nature, but of grace.”
Ellicott’s Bible Commentary advises, correctly I think, to allow the Bible to say what it actually says. There are some who try to soften the language regarding Jacob’s feelings for Leah. However, that softening seems not to be born out of what the text says. From Ellicott:
(31) Leah was hated.—We must not soften this down too much; for plainly Leah was not the object of love at all. It was her fruitfulness which gave her value in her husband’s eyes, and when this ceased, Jacob utterly neglected her (Genesis 30:15).
This interpretation does not paint Jacob in the best light, however, it is important to remember that Jacob is an imperfect human being and the Bible does not really attempt to argue otherwise.
hated = שָׂנֵא sânêʼ, saw-nay’; a primitive root; to hate (personally):—enemy, foe, (be) hate(-ful, -r), odious, × utterly.
The word for hated there is not easily interpreted – by me at least – as also meaning the much softer “less loved.”
In verse 32, Leah begins having children. From The Pulpit Commentaries:
And Leah conceived, and bare a son, and she called his name Reuben (literally, reuben, Behold a Son! an expression of joyful surprise at the Divine compassion): for she said, Surely the Lord hath looked upon my affliction. Though not directly contained in the term Reuben, the sense of these words is implied (Kalisch). As Leah’s child was an intimation that she had been an object of Jehovah’s compassion, so did she expect it to be a means of drawing towards herself Jacob’s affection. Now therefore (literally, for now) my husband will love me. She was confident in the first flush of maternal joy that Jacob’s heart would turn towards her; she believed that God had sent her child to effect this conversion of her husband’s affections; and she regarded the birth of Reuben as a signal proof of the Divine pity.
Reuben = רְאוּבֵן Rᵉʼûwbên, reh-oo-bane’; from the imperative of H7200 and H1121; see ye a son; Reuben, a son of Jacob:—Reuben.; רָאָה râʼâh, raw-aw’; a primitive root; to see, literally or figuratively (in numerous applications, direct and implied, transitive, intransitive and causative):—advise self, appear, approve, behold, × certainly, consider, discern, (make to) enjoy, have experience, gaze, take heed, × indeed, × joyfully, lo, look (on, one another, one on another, one upon another, out, up, upon), mark, meet, × be near, perceive, present, provide, regard, (have) respect, (fore-, cause to, let) see(-r, -m, one another), shew (self), × sight of others, (e-) spy, stare, × surely, × think, view, visions.
Additionally, from Wiki:
The text of the Torah gives two different etymologies for the name of Reuben, which textual scholars attribute to different sources: one to the Yahwist and the other to the Elohist; the first explanation given by the Torah is that the name refers to God having witnessed Leah’s misery, in regard to her status as the less-favourite of Jacob’s wives, implying that the etymology of Reuben derives from raa beonyi, meaning he has seen my misery; the second explanation is that the name refers to Leah’s hope that Reuben’s birth will make Jacob love her, implying a derivation from yeehabani, meaning he will love me. Another Hebrew phrase to which Reuben is particularly close is ra’a ben, meaning behold, a son, which is how classical rabbinical literature interpreted it, although some of these sources argue that Leah was using the term to make an implied distinction between Reuben and Esau, his uncle. Some scholars suspect that the final consonant may originally have been an l (similar to an n in the early Hebrew alphabet), and Josephus rendered the name as Reubel; it is thus possible that Reuben’s name is cognate with the Arabic term Ra’abil, meaning wolves.
Leah has three additional sons. Ellicott summarizes this section with this note:
(32-35) She called his name Reuben.—There is something very touching in the history of these four births. When the first child is born, Leah joyfully calls him “Reuben,” that is, See, a son! and fondly hopes that now she is a mother her husband will love her. And the mention of her “affliction” shows that, while she loved Jacob tenderly, he was to her more than unloving. Her second son she calls” Simeon,” that is hearing, and, disappointed in her first hope, regards the child as a gift of Jehovah to compensate her for the lack of the affection for which she so longed. Her third son she calls “Levi,” that is, joined, still hoping that as in her tent alone there were children to play around the father, he would be more united to her. But her hope remains unfulfilled. And when her fourth son is born, she calls him “Judah,” that is, praise. Throughout, in the midst of her melancholy, there is a tone of fervent piety, and that not merely to God, but to the covenant Jehovah. And now slowly she parts with her hope of human affection, and finds comfort in Jehovah alone. This time, she says, I will praise Jehovah. And it was this son of the despised one, whose birth called forth from her this hymn of simple thanksgiving, who was fore-ordained to be the ancestor of the promised seed.
Simeon = שִׁמְעוֹן Shimʻôwn, shim-one’; from H8085; hearing; Shimon, one of Jacob’s sons, also the tribe descended from him:—Simeon.
From The Pulpit Commentaries on Simeon:
And she conceived again, and bare a son (probably the following year); and said, Because the Lord hath heard that I was hated (the birth of Reuben had obviously not answered Leah’s expectations in increasing Jacob’s love), he hath therefore given me this son also (She faith and piety of Leah are as conspicuous as her affection for Jacob): and she called his name Simeon—i.e. Hearing, because God had heard that she was hated (ut supra).
From Wiki (Simeon son of Jacob):
According to the Book of Genesis, Simeon (Hebrew: שִׁמְעוֹן, Modern:Šīmʾōn, Tiberian:Šīməʾōn) was the second son of Jacob and Leah, and the founder of the Israelite Tribe of Simeon. However, some Biblical scholars view this as postdiction, an eponymousmetaphor providing an etiology of the connectedness of the tribe to others in the Israelite confederation. With Leah as a matriarch, Biblical scholars regard the tribe as having been believed by the text’s authors to have been part of the original Israelite confederation. However, the tribe is absent from the parts of the Bible which textual scholars regard as the oldest (for example, the ancient Song of Deborah). Some scholars think that Simeon was not originally regarded as a distinct tribe.
The text of the Torah says that the name of Simeon refers to Leah’s belief that God had heard that Jacob preferred her sister, Rachel, implying a derivation from the Hebrew term shama on, meaning he has heard of my suffering; this is a similar etymology as the Torah gives for the theophoric name Ishmael (God has heard), implying that the names are cognate. The name is sometimes interpreted as meaning he who listens to the words of God, and at other times thought to derive from sham ‘in, meaning there is sin, which is argued to be a prophetic reference to Zimri‘s sexual miscegenation with a Midianite woman, a type of relationship which rabbinical sources regard as sinful.
Alternatively, Hitzig, W. R. Smith, Stade, and Kerber compared שִׁמְעוֹן Šīmə‘ōn to Arabic سِمع simˤ “the offspring of the hyena and the female wolf”; as supports, Smith points to Arabic tribal names Simˤ “a subdivision of the defenders (the Medinites)” and Samˤān “a subdivision of Tamim“.
The name of Leah’s third son is Levi.
Levi = לֵוִי Lêvîy, lay-vee’; from H3867; attached; Levi, a son of Jacob:—Levi. See also H3879, H3881.; לָוָה lâvâh, law-vaw’; a primitive root; properly, to twine, i.e. (by implication) to unite, to remain; also to borrow (as a form of obligation) or (causatively) to lend:—abide with, borrow(-er), cleave, join (self), lend(-er).
From The Pulpit Commentaries on Levi:
And she conceived again, and bare a son; and said, Now this time will my husband be joined unto me,—לָוָה, to join, is the root from which comes לֵוִי. (Levi), her son’s name—because I have borne him three sons: therefore was his name called Levi—Associated, or Joined.
Levi (/ˈliːvaɪ/; Hebrew: לֵוִי, Modern:Levī, Tiberian:Lēwī) was, according to the Book of Genesis, the third son of Jacob and Leah, and the founder of the IsraeliteTribe of Levi (the Levites, including the Kohanim) and the great-grandfather of Aaron, Moses and Miriam. Certain religious and political functions were reserved for the Levites.
The Torah suggests that the name Levi refers to Leah’s hope for Jacob to join with her, implying a derivation from yillaweh, meaning he will join, but scholars suspect that it may simply mean priest, either as a loan word from the Minaeanlawi’u, meaning priest, or by referring to those people who were joined to the ark of the covenant. Another possibility is that the Levites originated as migrants and that the name Levites indicates their joining with either the Israelites in general or the earlier Israelite priesthood in particular. In the Book of Jubilees 28:14-15 it says that Levi was born “in the new moon of the first month”, which means that he was born on 1 Nissan.
In the Book of Genesis, Levi and his brother, Simeon, exterminate the city of Shechem in revenge for the rape of Dinah, seizing the wealth of the city and killing the men. The brothers had earlier misled the inhabitants by consenting to Dinah’s rapist marrying her in exchange for the men of the city to be circumcised, and when Jacob hears about their destruction of Shechem, he castigates them for it. In the Blessing of Jacob, Jacob is described as imposing a curse on the Levites, by which they would be scattered, in punishment for Levi’s actions in Shechem. Some textual scholars date the Blessing of Jacob to a period between just one and two centuries prior to the Babylonian captivity, and some Biblical scholars regard this curse, and Dinah herself as an aetiological postdiction to explain the fates of the tribe of Simeon and the Levites, with one possible explanation of the Levites’ scattered nature being that the priesthood was originally open to any tribe, but gradually became seen as a distinct tribe itself. Nevertheless, Isaac, Levi’s grandfather, gives a special blessing about the lineage of priests of God.
I note here that Reuben has a name that seems to relate to sight, Simeon has a name that relates to hearing, and Levi’s name relates to attachment (touching.)
The fourth son is Judah.
Judah = יְהוּדָה Yᵉhûwdâh, yeh-hoo-daw’; from H3034; celebrated; Jehudah (or Judah), the name of five Israelites; also of the tribe descended from the first, and of its territory:—Judah.
From The Pulpit Commentaries:
And she conceived again, and bare a son: and she said, Now will I praise the Lord. Well she might; for this was the ancestor of the promised seed (Murphy). There cannot be a doubt that her excellence of character as well as eminence of piety eventually wrought a change upon her husband (vide Genesis 31:4, Genesis 31:14; Genesis 49:31). Therefore she called his name Judah (i.e. Praise); and left bearing. Literally, stood still, i.e. ceased, from bearing. Not altogether (Genesis 30:16); only for a time, “that she might not be unduly lifted up by her good fortune, or attribute to the fruitfulness of her own womb what the faithfulness of Jehovah, the covenant God, had bestowed upon her” (Keil.).
Judah (Hebrew: יְהוּדָה, Modern: Yəhūda, Tiberian: Yehūḏā) was, according to the Book of Genesis, the fourth son of Jacob and Leah, the founder of the Israelite Tribe of Judah. By extension, he is indirectly eponymous of the Kingdom of Judah, the land of Judea and the word Jew.
According to the narrative in Genesis, Judah with Tamar is the patrilinear ancestor of the Davidic line. The Tribe of Judah figures prominently in the Deuteronomistic history, which most scholars agree was reduced to written form, although subject to exilic and post-exilic alterations and emendations, during the reign of the Judahist reformer Josiah from 641 to 609 BC.
The Hebrew name for Judah, Yehudah (יהודה), literally “thanksgiving” or “praise,” is the noun form of the root Y-D-H (ידה), “to thank” or “to praise.” His birth is recorded at Gen. 29:35; upon his birth, Leah exclaims, “This time I will praise the LORD/YHWH,” with the Hebrew word for “I will praise,” odeh (אודה) sharing the same root as Yehudah. Alternatively, Edward Lipiński connected Hebrew yĕhūdā with Arabic whd / wahda “cleft, ravine”.
Judah – as the commentary notes – ends up being of particular import among his brothers as the southern Kingdom is named after this tribe. The term “Jew” derives from this tribe. And it is the belief of both Jews and Christians that the Messiah comes from the line of Judah (though Christians believe that this event has already taken place.)
Chabad.org has an interesting article on this topic of messiah from the Jewish perspective.
“What is the Jewish Belief About Moshiach (Messiah)?” by Nissan Dovid Dubov. I’ve included a snippet from the article below.
What is the belief in Moshiach?
One of the principles of Jewish faith enumerated by Maimonides is that one day there will arise a dynamic Jewish leader, a direct descendant of the Davidic dynasty, who will rebuild the Temple in Jerusalem, and gather Jews from all over the world and bring them back to the Land of Israel.
All the nations of the world will recognize Moshiach to be a world leader, and will accept his dominion. In the messianic era there will be world peace, no more wars nor famine, and, in general, a high standard of living.
All mankind will worship one G‑d, and live a more spiritual and moral way of life. The Jewish nation will be preoccupied with learning Torah and fathoming its secrets.
The coming of Moshiach will complete G‑d’s purpose in creation: for man to make an abode for G‑d in the lower worlds—that is, to reveal the inherent spirituality in the material world.
That completes the introduction to the first four tribes of Israel. We will meet the other 8 tribes soon.