Genesis (Part 130)

Welcome back to my study/review of Genesis. If you missed the previous parts of this study, you can find them HERE.

Genesis 30: 1-8

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!” 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?” 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.” So she gave him her servant Bilhah as a wife, and Jacob went in to her. And Bilhah conceived and bore Jacob a son. Then Rachel said, “God has judged me, and has also heard my voice and given me a son.” Therefore she called his name Dan.Rachel’s servant Bilhah conceived again and bore Jacob a second son. Then Rachel said, “With mighty wrestlings I have wrestled with my sister and have prevailed.” So she called his name Naphtali.


Rachel shows herself here to be different than Sarah or Rebekah. While Abraham and Isaac’s wife bore barrenness for many years, and with something that might seem like a quiet prayerful dignity, Rachel reacts… dramatically. From The Pulpit Commentaries:

Genesis 30:1

And when Rachel saw (apparently after, though probably before, the birth of Leah’s fourth son) that she bare Jacob no children (literally, that she bare not to Jacob), Rachel envied her sister (was jealous of her, the root referring to the redness with which the face of an angry woman is suffused); and said unto Jacob, Give me children (sons), or else I die—literally, and if not, I am a dead woman; i.e. for shame at her sterility. Rachel had three strong reasons for desiring children—that she might emulate her sister, become more dear to her husband, and above all share the hope of being a progenitrix of the promised Seed. If not warranted to infer that Rachel’s barrenness was due to lack of prayer on her part and Jacob’s (Keil), we are at least justified in asserting that her conduct in breaking forth into angry reproaches against her husband was unlike that of Jacob’s mother, Rebekah, who, in similar circumstances, sought relief in prayer and oracles (Kalisch). The brief period that had elapsed since Rachel’s marriage, in comparison with the twenty years of Rebekah’s barrenness, signally discovered Rachel’s sinful impatience.

Ellicott’s Bible Commentary relates her despair with a proverb.

(1) Give me children, or else I die.—There is an Oriental proverb that a childless person is as good as dead; and this was probably Rachel’s meaning, and not that she should die of vexation. Great as was the affliction to a Hebrew woman of being barren (1 Samuel 1:10), yet there is a painful petulance and peevishness about Rachel’s words, in strong contrast with Hannah’s patient suffering. But she was very young, and a spoiled wife; though with qualities which riveted Jacob’s love to her all life through.

Ellicott reminds us though that Rachel is both young. He also suggests that she may be “spoiled” in her role as her husband’s favorite. Going forward to verse 2 in The Pulpit Commentaries:

And Jacob’s anger was kindled against Rachel (not without just cause, since she not only evinced a want of faith and resignation, but wrongfully imputed blame to him): and he said, Am I in God’s stead,i.e. am I omnipotent like him? This you yourself will surely not presume to believe. The interrogative particle conveys the force of a spirited denial—who hath withheld from thee the fruit of the womb? Rachel herself understood that God alone could remove sterility (Genesis 30:6); but to this fact jealousy of Leah appears for the moment to have blinded her.

And we see that Jacob becomes angry with his preferred wife. Given how the following verses proceed, I’m not certain that Rachel’s peevishness ends with this chastisement from her husband. Rather than wait patiently for a son, as Rebekah did, she resorts to the tactic once used by Sarah. From Ellicott:

(3) Behold my maid Bilhàh.—Rachel had little excuse for this action; for there was no religious hope involved, as when Sarah gave Hagar to Abraham (Genesis 16:2), but solely vexation at her own barrenness, and envy of her sister. All that can be said in her defence is, that the custom existed, and, perhaps, because it was distasteful to the wife, was looked upon as meritorious (Genesis 30:18).

She shall bear upon my knees.—So in Genesis 1:23, it is said, in the Hebrew, that “the children of Machir were born upon Joseph’s knees,” not borne, as in our margin. It appears that there was a custom of placing the new-born child upon the knees, first of the father, who, by accepting it. acknowledged the infant as his own; and secondly, upon those of the mother. In this case, as Bilhah’s children were regarded as legally born of Rachel, they would be placed upon Rachel’s knees. Probably, too, the children of Machir, by being placed upon Joseph’s knees, were in some way adopted by him.

That I may also have children by her.—Heb., be built by her. (See Note on Genesis 16:2.)

As the note points out, Rachel gives Jacob a third wife so that she can take a legal claim over the sons born between Jacob and that wife (Bilhah.) The note points out that Rachel’s justification for this practice is less than the justification of Sarah who believed herself to be furthering a promise from God. Rachel is leaning only on justifications of custom and envy.

I’ll draw your attention to The Pulpit Commentary’s note at verse 4:

Genesis 30:4

And she gave him Bilhah her handmaid to wife: and Jacob went in unto her. “Whence we gather that there is no end of sin where once the Divine institution of marriage is neglected” (Calvin). Jacob began with polygamy, and is now drawn into concubinage. Though God overruled this for the development of the seed of Israel, he did not thereby condone the offense of either Jacob or Rachel.

Genesis 30:5

And Bilhah conceived, and bare Jacob a son. “Conception and birth may be granted to irregular marriages” (Hughes). “So God often strives to overcome men’s wickedness through kindness, and pursues the unworthy with his grace” (Calvin).

The note implies that God disapproves of both the polygamy and also the concubinage. Perhaps He does. However, there is nothing in the text itself to indicate that this is so.

For more on polygamy, I direct your attention to the article by Dr. Hacham Isaac S. D. Sassoon titled “The Biblical Prohibition of Polygyny?” with the following excerpts below:

The ostensible source for the law prohibiting a man from marrying two sisters is Leviticus 18:18:

Lev 18:18 Do not marry a woman as a rival (lizror) to her sister (el achotah) and uncover her nakedness in the other’s lifetime.[1]

The LXX already understands this verse, as prohibiting marrying two sisters: “You shall not take a wife in addition to her sister as a rival to uncover her nakedness in opposition to her while she is yet living.” But this understanding is not at all obvious or certain.

The first three words of the verse, constitute a formidable crux. Literally, of course, isha means woman (or wife) and ahot means sister. Hence the usual translations. However, the phrase ishah el ahotah is another matter. 

All eight examples come from Priestly or Priestly style (=Ezekiel) texts, as does Lev 18:18. In all eight instances the phrase is being used idiomatically to signify a relationship of symmetry or congruity between two objects or sets of objects; in no case does the ishah or the ahot refer to a person. In addition, it is unlikely that Hebrew would use the preposition ’el rather than the conjunction vav to express marrying a woman and her sister.

The term litzror in the verse’s second half is another crux. It typically means “to bind, constrict,” but can also denote the idea of “to cause rivalry,” as reflected in צ-ר-ר’s derivative noun צרה (pl. צרות). Like its Akkadian cognate ṣerretu,[2] צרה may refer to a “rival,” particularly a rival wife.[3]

What if instead of proscribing marriage between a man and two sisters, Lev 18:18 were reflecting the Priestly Torah’s wish to abolish polygyny – i.e., a man marrying more than one wife?[4]

An objection often raised against such a reading of the verse is the mitzvah of levirate marriage (yibbum) in Deut 25:5-10. If polygyny is forbidden, then a married man would not be able to marry his deceased brother’s widow; and yet according to the laws of yibbum he would have to. This is a serious argument for those who see the Torah as a homogenous document. But for source critics, it cannot be taken for granted that P endorses laws belonging to other law-codes. Hence, P need not have subscribed to Deuteronomy’s institution of yibbum.[5]

This interpretation of the verse has a long pedigree. The Dead Sea Scroll known as the Damascus Covenant (hereafter CD) clearly understood Lev 18:18 in this way:

The builders of the partition (bonei ha-hayis)… they are caught twice in fornication by taking two wives in their lifetimes; also the principle of creation is (Gen 1:27) male and female He created them. And the ones who went into the ark “went two by two into the ark” (Gen 7:9) And regarding the prince (=king) it is written (Deut 17:17) he shall not multiply wives to himself…” (CD 4:19-5:2).

I encourage you to read through the article in its entirety. It’s interesting. Returning ot the text in verse 6 in Ellicott:

(6) God hath judged me.—Rachel has no misgivings herself as to the rectitude of her conduct, and by the name she gives the child, she affirms that God also had given a decision in her favour; for “Dan” means judging. While, too, Leah had spoken of Jehovah, Rachel speaks of Elohim, not merely because she could not expect a child of Bilhah to be the ancestor of the Messiah, but because she was herself half an idolater (Genesis 31:19). When, however, she has a child of her own, she, too, taught by long trial, speaks of Jehovah (Genesis 30:24).

I haven’t mentioned it in several verses but the note makes the point indirectly. Elohim means “God” or “the Gods” whereas Yahweh/Jehovah is the more personal name of the God of Abraham. Elohim is used in the Old Testament to refer to God (in the way that we understand Him) but it also refers to lower celestial beings and in the section of verses when Saul visits the Witch of Endor, the verse refers to a disembodied human spirit.

Moving on to verses 7 and 8 in The Pulpit Commentaries:

And Bilhah Rachel’s maid conceived again, and bare Jacob a second son. And Rachel said, With great wrestlings have I wrestled with my sister, literally, wrestlings of God have I wrestled with my sister, meaning, by “wrestlings of Elohim;” not great wrestlings in rivalry, with Leah (A.V. Vatablus, Ainsworth, Rosenmüller, Calvin), nor wrestlings in the cause of God, as being unwilling to leave the founding of the nation to her sister alone (Knobel), but wrestlings with God in prayer (Delitzsch, Lange, Murphy, Kalisch), wrestlings regarding Elohim and his grace (Hengstenberg, Keil), in which she at the same time contended with her sister, to whom apparently that grace had been hitherto restricted—and I have prevailed (scarcely in the sense of achieving a victory over Leah, who had already borne four sons, but in the sense of drawing the Divine favor, though only indirectly, towards herself): and she called his name Naphtali—i.e. “My Wrestling.”

Ellicott adds to the “wrestlings” issue as well:

(8) With great wrestlings.—Heb., wrestlings of God, but the Authorised Version undoubtedly gives the right sense. (See Note on Genesis 23:6.) By wrestling, some commentators understand prayer, but the connection of the two ideas of wrestling and prayer is taken from Genesis 32:24, where an entirely different verb is used. Rachel’s was a discreditable victory, won by making use of a bad custom, and it consisted in weaning her husband still more completely from the unloved Leah. Now that Bilhah and children were added to the attractiveness of her tent, her sister, she boasts, will be thought of no more.

Dan = דָּן Dân, dawn; from H1777; judge; Dan, one of the sons of Jacob; also the tribe descended from him, and its territory; likewise a place in Palestine colonized by them:—Daniel

Dan, from wiki:

According to the Book of GenesisDan (Hebrew: דָּן‎, Dān, “judgment” or “he judged”) was the fifth son of Jacob and the first son of Bilhah.[2] He was the founder of the Israelite Tribe of Dan. In the biblical account, Dan’s mother is described as Rachel‘s handmaid, who becomes one of Jacob’s wives. (Book of GenesisGenesis 30:1–6)

He was the father of Hushim, according to Gen 46:23. Samson was a descendant of Dan.

Owing to the Book of Judges, in the account of Micah’s Idol, describing the tribe of Dan as having used ephod and teraphim in worship, and Samson (a member of the tribe of Dan) being described as failing to adhere to the rules of a Nazarite, classical rabbinical writers concluded that Dan was very much a black sheep.[4] In the Book of Jeremiah, the north of Canaan is associated with darkness and evil,[5] and so rabbinical sources treated Dan as the archetype of wickedness.[4]

In the apocryphal Testaments of the Patriarchs, Dan is portrayed as having hated Joseph, and having been the one that invented the idea of deceiving Jacob by the smearing of Joseph’s coat with the blood of a kid.[6][7][8] In the apocryphal Prayer of Asenath, Dan is portrayed as plotting with the Egyptian crown prince, against Joseph and Asenath.[4] In the Blessing of Jacob, Dan is described as a serpent, which seems to have been interpreted as connecting Dan to Belial,[4] a connection made, for example, in the apocryphal Testament of Dan.[9]

Early Christian writers, such as Irenaeus and Hippolytus, even believed that the Antichrist would come from the tribe of Dan[10][11] drawing the belief from a verse from the Book of Jeremiah which states “the snorting of [the enemy’s] horses was heard from Dan”.[4][12]

John the Apostle omits the tribe of Dan when mentioning the twelve tribes of the sons of Israel, in regard to the 144,000 sealed Israelites.[13] Instead of Dan, the tribe of Joseph appears twice (being also represented by Manasseh).

Naphtali = נַפְתָּלִי Naphtâlîy, naf-taw-lee’; from H6617; my wrestling; Naphtali, a son of Jacob, with the tribe descended from him, and its territory:—Naphtali.

Naphtali, from wiki:

According to the Targum Pseudo-Jonathan, Naphtali was a swift runner, though this appears to have been inferred from the Blessing of Jacob, which equates Naphtali to a hind.[citation needed] However, Biblical scholars believe this to actually be a description of the tribe of Naphtali.

Naphtali is listed in Deuteronomy 34.2 when God takes Moses up to the mountain of Nebo and shows him the extent of the land which he had promised to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. See article on Tribe of Simeon for a map of the twelve tribes of Israel.

According to Genesis 46:24, Naphtali had four sons: Jahzeel, Guni, Jezer, and Shillem. The name of his wife/wives are not given. He and his family migrated to Egypt,[2] with the rest of the clan, where they remained until the Exodus.

According to the apocryphal Testament of the Twelve Patriarchs, he died at 137 and was buried in Egypt.[3]

Testament of Naphtali[edit]

Main article: Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs

In this apocryphal material, Naphtali gave his sons no commandment except regarding the fear of God, that they should serve Him and follow after Him, also admonished them not to join themselves unto the sons of Joseph but join the sons of Levi and Judah. He also had a vision about the division of tribes of Israel and told to them that Abraham was chosen by God for his faith.[4]

At the end of this section, we now have a couple of “victories” for Rachel in her rivalry with her sister Leah. We are only halfway through the births of Jacob’s sons though so the struggle between the two women will continue on.

Put something in the back of your mind when you read through all of this. At some point, in the future, all of Jacob’s sons will be against Joseph. The implication there is that the two sons born to Bilhah eventually ally with the sons from Leah’s tent. That fact paints a picture of family dynamics that are not stated outright.