Welcome back to my study/review of Genesis. If you missed the previous parts of this study, you can find them HERE.
Genesis 30: 9-13
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.
In the competition between Leah and Rachel, Leah regain the upper hand in this section of verses. She responds to Rachel’s maidservant bearing two sons for Jacob by giving Jacob her own maidservant to be his wife as well.
Zilpah = זִלְפָּה Zilpâh, zil-paw; from an unused root apparently meaning to trickle, as myrrh; fragrant dropping; Zilpah, Leah’s maid:—Zilpah.
In the Book of Genesis, Zilpah (Hebrew: זִלְפָּה meaning uncertain, Standard Hebrew Zilpa, Tiberian Hebrew Zilpāh) was Leah‘s handmaid, presumed slave, whom Leah gave to Jacob “to wife” to bear him children (Genesis 30:9). Zilpah gave birth to two sons, whom Leah claimed as her own and named Gad and Asher (Genesis 30:10–13).
Zilpah is given to Leah as a handmaid by Leah’s father, Laban, upon Leah’s marriage to Jacob (see Genesis 29:24, 46:18). According to the early rabbinical commentary Pirke De-Rabbi Eliezer, Zilpah and Bilhah, the handmaids of Leah and Rachel, respectively, were actually younger daughters of Laban.
Zilpah also figures in the competition between Jacob’s wives to bear him sons. Leah stops conceiving after the birth of her fourth son, at which point  Rachel, who had not yet borne children, offers her handmaid, Bilhah, “to wife” to Jacob so that she can have children through her. When Bilhah conceives two sons, Leah takes up the same idea and presents Zilpah “to wife” to Jacob. Leah names the two sons of Zilpah and is directly involved in their upbringing.
According to Rashi, an 11th-century commentator, Zilpah was younger than Bilhah, and Laban’s decision to give her to Leah was part of the deception he used to trick Jacob into marrying Leah, who was older than Rachel. The morning after the wedding, Laban explained to Jacob, “This is not done in our place, to give the younger before the older” (Genesis 29:26). But at night, to mask the deception, Laban gave the veiled bride the younger of the handmaids, so Jacob would think that he was really marrying Rachel, the younger of the sisters.
It’s not clear how much credence to give the much later Rabbinical commentaries here but the legend is nonetheless interesting – both in the respect that Zilpah and Bilhah are also daughters of Laban and also that Zilpah played a role in the initial deception of Jacob.
From The Pulpit Commentaries:
When Leah saw that she had left bearing (literally, stood from bearing, as in Genesis 29:35), she took Zilpah her maid, and gave her to Jacob to wife—being in this led astray by Rachel’s sinful example, both as to the spirit of unholy rivalry she cherished, and the questionable means she employed for its gratification.
And Zilpah Leah’s maid bare Jacob a son. And Leah said, A troop cometh. בָּגָד, for בְּגָד, in or with good fortune; ἐν τύχη (LXX.); feliciter, sc. this happens to me (Vulgate), a translation which has the sanction of Gesenius, Furst, Rosenmüller, Keil, Kalisch, and other content authorities—the Keri, whith is followed by Onkelos and Syriac, reading בָּא גָד, fortune cometh. The Authorised rendering, supported by the Samaritan, and supposed to accord better with Genesis 49:19, is approved by Calvin, Ainsworth, Bush, and others. And she called his name Gad—i.e. Good Fortune.
And Zilpah, Leah’s maid, bare Jacob a second son. And Leah said, Happy am I,—literally, in my happiness, so am I (‘Speaker’s Commentary’); or, for or to my happiness (Keil, Kalisch )—for the daughters will call me blessed (or, happy): and she called his name Asher—i.e. Happy.
Gad = גָּד Gâd, gawd; from H1464; Gad, a son of Jacob, including his tribe and its territory; also a prophet:—Gad.; גּוּד gûwd, goode; a primitive root (akin to H1413); to crowd upon, i.e. attack:—invade, overcome.
Gad (Hebrew: גָּד, Modern:Gad, Tiberian:Gāḏ, “luck”) was, according to the Book of Genesis, the first son of Jacob and Zilpah, the seventh of Jacob overall, and the founder of the Israelite tribe of Gad. However, some Biblical scholars view this as postdiction, an eponymousmetaphor providing an aetiology of the connectedness of the tribe to others in the Israelite confederation. The text of the Book of Genesis implies that the name of Gad means luck/fortunate, in Hebrew.
The Biblical account shows Zilpah’s status as a handmaid change to that of an actual wife of Jacob (Genesis 30:9,11). Her handmaid status is regarded by some biblical scholars as indicating that the authors saw the tribe of Gad as being not of entirely Israelite origin; many scholars believe that Gad was a late addition to the Israelite confederation, as implied by the Moabite Stone, which seemingly differentiates between the Israelites and the tribe of Gad.Gad by this theory is assumed to have originally been a northwards-migrating nomadic tribe, at a time when the other tribes were quite settled in Canaan.
According to classical rabbinical literature, Gad was born on 10 Marcheshvan, and lived 125 years. These sources go on to state that, unlike his other brothers, Joseph didn’t present Gad to the Pharaoh, since Joseph didn’t want Gad to become one of Pharaoh’s guards, an appointment that would have been likely had the Pharaoh realised that Gad had great strength.
From Ellicott’s Bible Commentary we get more commentary on the meaning of Gad’s name:
(9-13) Leah . . . took Zilpah . . . —By ceasing to bear, Leah had lost her one hold upon her husband’s affection, and to regain it she follows Rachel’s example. The struggle of these two women for the husband gives us a strange picture of manners and morals, but must not be judged by our standard. Leah herself regards the bestowal of her handmaid upon Jacob as a deserving act of self-sacrifice (Genesis 30:18). The names, moreover, which she gives to Zilpah’s children show that the happier frame of mind to which she had attained when she called her fourth son “Judah,” praise, remained unbroken. On the birth of the first, she says, “With good luck!” and calls his name “Gad,” that is, luck. The Jews read, in their synagogue, Luck cometh, whence the rendering of the Authorised Version, “A troop cometh;” but there is no justification for the change. With regard to the meaning of the word “Gad,” all the Versions render it prosperity, good fortune. Nor is the Samaritan, as has been alleged, an exception; for though the worthless Latin translation of it has “a troop cometh,” the Samaritan itself has with good luck. In Isaiah 65:11 we find Gad used as the name of an idol. Zilpah’s other son is called Asher, that is, happy, in Latin Felix, and Leah says, “With my happiness,” using just the same turn of speech as before. The first child came bringing her good luck; the second brought her happiness.
Asher = אָשֵׁר ʼÂshêr, aw-share’; from H833, happy; Asher, a son of Jacob, and the tribe descended from him, with its territory; also a place in Palestine:—Asher; אָשַׁר ʼâshar, aw-shar’; or אָשֵׁר ʼâshêr; a primitive root; to be straight (used in the widest sense, especially to be level, right, happy); figuratively, to go forward, be honest, prosper:—(call, be) bless(-ed, happy), go, guide, lead, relieve.
The text of the Torah states that the name of Asher means “happy” or “blessing”, implying a derivation from the Hebrew term osher in two variations—beoshri (meaning in my good fortune), and ishsheruni, which some textual scholars who embrace the JEDP hypothesis attribute to different sources—one to the Yahwist and the other to the Elohist. The Bible states that at his birth Leah exclaimed, “Happy am I! for the daughters will call me happy: so she called his name Asher”, meaning “happy” (Genesis 30:13). Some scholars argue that the name of Asher may have to do with a deity originally worshipped by the tribe, either Asherah, or Ashur, the chief Assyrian deity; the latter possibility is cognate with Asher.
Asher was the very one whose endeavor it had always been to reconcile the brothers, especially when they disputed as to who among them was destined to be the ancestor of the priests (Sifre, Deut. 355). In the Test. Patr., Asher, 5, Asher is regarded as the example of a virtuous man who with singlemindedness strives only for the general good. According to classical rabbinical literature, Asher had informed his brothers about Reuben‘s incest with Bilhah. As a result Asher came to be on bad terms with his brothers. Once Reuben confessed, the brothers realised they had been unjust towards Asher. Asher’s motivation is described, by classical rabbinical sources, as being entirely innocent of evil intent, and always in search of harmony between his brothers.
Asher was born on 20 Shevat 2199 (1562 BCE). According to some accounts 2 Shevat is the date of his death.
Asher married twice. His first wife was Adon, a great-granddaughter of Ishmael; his second, Hadurah, a granddaughter of Eber and a widow. By her first marriage Hadurah had a daughter Serah, whom Asher treated as affectionately as if she had been of his own flesh and blood, so that the Bible itself speaks of Serah as Asher’s daughter. According to the Book of Jubilees (34:20), Asher’s wife was named “Iyon” (probably, “dove”).
Asher’s descendants in more than one regard deserved their name (“Asher” meaning “happiness”). The tribe of Asher was the one most blessed with male children; and its women were so beautiful that priests and princes sought them in marriage. The abundance of oil in the land possessed by Asher so enriched the tribe that none of them needed to hire a habitation. The soil was so fertile that in times of scarcity, and especially in the Sabbatical year, Asher provided all Israel with olive-oil. The Asherites were also renowned for wisdom.
A number of scholars have proposed that the tribe of Asher actually originated as the Weshesh group of Sea Peoples—the name Weshesh (or rather Uashesh/Ueshesh—for easy pronunciation, this is usually transcribed into English as Weshesh) can be decomposed as men of Uash in Hebrew, and hence possibly a corruption of Asher.
We will learn more about these sons and their tribes moving forward.
In any event, in the contest between Leah and Rachel, Leah now seems once more to be winning again.