Jacob's Family

In this section of Genesis, we learn how Jacob came to have two wives who would, in addition to their female slaves, bear the 12 sons of Jacob.
Class by:
38 of 50

In the previous chapter we reviewed the story of Isaac's unintentional blessing of Jacob and the results of this.

  • Esau is ready to kill his brother.
  • Jacob is sent away for protection and with the hope of finding a wife among Rebekah's relatives.
  • Isaac is rebuked for his rebellion.

Now we get a close-up of Jacob and the twenty years of separation from his family.

The Blessing

1So Isaac called Jacob and blessed him and charged him, and said to him, "You shall not take a wife from the daughters of Canaan. 2Arise, go to Paddan-aram, to the house of Bethuel your mother's father; and from there take to yourself a wife from the daughters of Laban your mother's brother. 3May God Almighty bless you and make you fruitful and multiply you, that you may become a company of peoples. 4May He also give you the blessing of Abraham, to you and to your descendants with you, that you may possess the land of your sojournings, which God gave to Abraham." 5Then Isaac sent Jacob away, and he went to Paddan-aram to Laban, son of Bethuel the Aramean, the brother of Rebekah, the mother of Jacob and Esau.
- Genesis 28:1-5

Once Isaac realizes that he has been thwarting God with his stubbornness, he re-issues the blessing as well as an instruction.

Before, Jacob received the blessing by deceit but now the blessing is given openly, freely and using the terms much more in line with the terms originally used in giving Abraham the blessing.

Note also that Isaac instructs him to take a wife from among his mother's family (hoping to find a believing spouse).

Esau's Reaction

6Now Esau saw that Isaac had blessed Jacob and sent him away to Paddan-aram to take to himself a wife from there, and that when he blessed him he charged him, saying, "You shall not take a wife from the daughters of Canaan," 7and that Jacob had obeyed his father and his mother and had gone to Paddan-aram. 8So Esau saw that the daughters of Canaan displeased his father Isaac; 9and Esau went to Ishmael, and married, besides the wives that he had, Mahalath the daughter of Ishmael, Abraham's son, the sister of Nebaioth.

We even see some repentance on Esau's part. Seeing that his pagan wives were a concern to his parents and that the blessing was now officially and openly Jacob's, he goes and marries someone more suitable and closer in kinship to Isaac: Ishmael's daughter (his uncle's daughter/niece). Of course, this is too little and too late but it indicates that Esau was also subdued by some of the events that took place.

Jacob's Ladder

10Then Jacob departed from Beersheba and went toward Haran. 11He came to a certain place and spent the night there, because the sun had set; and he took one of the stones of the place and put it under his head, and lay down in that place. 12He had a dream, and behold, a ladder was set on the earth with its top reaching to heaven; and behold, the angels of God were ascending and descending on it. 13And behold, the Lord stood above it and said, "I am the Lord, the God of your father Abraham and the God of Isaac; the land on which you lie, I will give it to you and to your descendants. 14Your descendants will also be like the dust of the earth, and you will spread out to the west and to the east and to the north and to the south; and in you and in your descendants shall all the families of the earth be blessed. 15Behold, I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land; for I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you."

Jacob is alone, not a man of the fields, never been away from home and running from his brother. This is the first of eight appearances by God to Jacob. He had appeared to Abraham, Isaac and now to Jacob. He does so in a dream and reconfirms the blessings pronounced upon him by his father.

There would be no doubt in Jacob's mind that despite his poor method, he did have and would keep the blessing.

The imagery of the dream with a ladder (only time this word is used) with angels going up and down suggests and/or teaches several things:

  1. There is movement between the spiritual world and the physical world.
  2. Angels' tasks are to move between heaven and the world to minister to those who are part of the promise. We learn more specific details later (II Kings 6:17; Daniel 9:21-23; Mark 1:13; Luke 22:43, etc.) but this is an early indication of this phenomenon.
  3. The ladder or link between the two is Christ
And He said to him, Truly, truly, I say to you, you will see the heavens opened and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.
- John 1:51

The imagery here does not explain this to Jacob except in a very oblique way but later on in the Bible Jesus uses it to refer to Himself.

The angels minister to the saved by the power of and on behalf of Christ who is the link between heaven and earth.

Jacob awakens from his dream (verses 16-22) and does several things:

  1. He builds a pillar to commemorate the spot where God met and appeared to him in this dream. He offers a sacrifice of oil on it. Later he will return and actually build an altar (Genesis 35:3,7).
  2. He names the place Bethel which means the house of God.
  3. He makes a vow to give God a tithe of all he has as a mark of appreciation for God being his God and providing for him.

Jacob and Laban – Chapter 29

In verses 1-6, Jacob is about seventy-five years old at this time and in chapter 29 we see him arrive at his destination. In the similar way as the servant who found his mother, Jacob comes across a well where he meets Rachel, a shepherdess, who is the daughter of his uncle Laban.

Upon seeing Rachel (vs. 7-12) he is overcome by emotion in being re-united with his family. He kisses her (not romantic but family greeting) and rejoices at finding her. She runs to tell her family.

13So when Laban heard the news of Jacob his sister's son, he ran to meet him, and embraced him and kissed him and brought him to his house. Then he related to Laban all these things. 14Laban said to him, "Surely you are my bone and my flesh." And he stayed with him a month.

15Then Laban said to Jacob, "Because you are my relative, should you therefore serve me for nothing? Tell me, what shall your wages be?" 16Now Laban had two daughters; the name of the older was Leah, and the name of the younger was Rachel. 17And Leah's eyes were weak, but Rachel was beautiful of form and face. 18Now Jacob loved Rachel, so he said, "I will serve you seven years for your younger daughter Rachel." 19Laban said, "It is better that I give her to you than to give her to another man; stay with me."
- Genesis 29:13-19

Jacob is reunited with his uncle and stays with him. Laban offers him a job and Jacob offers seven years of free service in return for Rachel in marriage. This was a good deal for Laban, and Jacob was without means so this was a way of showing his true love and the value he placed on Rachel.

The Bible says Rachel was beautiful of face and form and Leah was "tender eyed" (weak eyes, homely, tender in her nature).

20So Jacob served seven years for Rachel and they seemed to him but a few days because of his love for her.
21Then Jacob said to Laban, "Give me my wife, for my time is completed, that I may go in to her." 22Laban gathered all the men of the place and made a feast. 23Now in the evening he took his daughter Leah, and brought her to him; and Jacob went in to her. 24Laban also gave his maid Zilpah to his daughter Leah as a maid. 25So it came about in the morning that, behold, it was Leah! And he said to Laban, "What is this you have done to me? Was it not for Rachel that I served with you? Why then have you deceived me?" 26But Laban said, "It is not the practice in our place to marry off the younger before the firstborn. 27Complete the week of this one, and we will give you the other also for the service which you shall serve with me for another seven years." 28Jacob did so and completed her week, and he gave him his daughter Rachel as his wife. 29Laban also gave his maid Bilhah to his daughter Rachel as her maid. 30So Jacob went in to Rachel also, and indeed he loved Rachel more than Leah, and he served with Laban for another seven years.

It is interesting to note that Laban does not make a move to fulfill his part of the bargain until Jacob insists on it (that should have been a warning). Jacob is deceived in the same way as his father was.

  • Blinded by love
  • Dress and perfume to disguise the real person (not mentioned but obvious)
  • Contact in darkness after a feast (Isaac also feasted then gave the blessing).

He confronts Laban who justifies his actions based on custom. A new agreement is made where Leah's week is fulfilled (to confirm the marriage) and then Jacob can have Rachel. He agrees to this and a week later consummates his relationship with Rachel and stays on to work for Laban another seven years. Some interesting notes:

  • He loved Rachel more than Leah but he did have love for Leah.
  • Jacob could have rejected Leah but instead he forgave and honored her. This speaks highly of his character.
  • There is no mention of it but there must have been great suffering on Rachel's part because she was deceived as well.

Jacob's Sons

The next verses describe the birth of Jacob's twelve sons by Leah, Rachel and their maids. This was not adultery because both women were his legal wives and any children he had with the maids were all legally his according to the custom of the time.

This was polygamy and not according to God's original plan given in the garden. However, in the time before Moses, God did permit it. Esau was condemned for marrying pagan women, not for having two wives. Jacob was never condemned or rebuked for his many wives. However, the unnaturalness of it becomes evident when we see the problems it causes.

31Now the Lord saw that Leah was unloved, and He opened her womb, but Rachel was barren. 32Leah conceived and bore a son and named him Reuben, for she said, "Because the Lord has seen my affliction; surely now my husband will love me." 33Then she conceived again and bore a son and said, "Because the Lord has heard that I am unloved, He has therefore given me this son also." So she named him Simeon. 34She conceived again and bore a son and said, "Now this time my husband will become attached to me, because I have borne him three sons." Therefore he was named Levi. 35And she conceived again and bore a son and said, "This time I will praise the Lord." Therefore she named him Judah. Then she stopped bearing.

Leah is hated (in the sense she is not the favorite) and so God enables her to conceive in rapid succession. Her fertility raises her worth and attraction to her husband. She names her children accordingly:

  • Reuben – behold a son
  • Simeon – hearing
  • Levi – attachment
  • Judah – praise

We see in her attitude and the names that she gives her sons that she loves Jacob, desires him to be near her and that she is a spiritual woman who has faith and trusts in the Lord.

1Now when Rachel saw that she bore Jacob no children, she became jealous of her sister; and she said to Jacob, "Give me children, or else I die." 2Then Jacob's anger burned against Rachel, and he said, "Am I in the place of God, who has withheld from you the fruit of the womb?" 3She said, "Here is my maid Bilhah, go in to her that she may bear on my knees, that through her I too may have children." 4So she gave him her maid Bilhah as a wife, and Jacob went in to her. 5Bilhah conceived and bore Jacob a son. 6Then Rachel said, "God has vindicated me, and has indeed heard my voice and has given me a son." Therefore she named him Dan. 7Rachel's maid Bilhah conceived again and bore Jacob a second son. 8So Rachel said, "With mighty wrestlings I have wrestled with my sister, and I have indeed prevailed." And she named him Naphtali.
- Genesis 30:1-8

Rachel is jealous. She had to wait for her sister in order to marry and now her sister is having four children with her original husband! Their argument leads to Jacob's statement that God is the one who is holding back her womb and not himself. She tests this by giving her maid (like Sarah had done) in order to see if God will answer her prayers for a child.

  • Dan – justice (she is justified)
  • Naphtali – wrestlings (signifying her struggle with Leah)
9When Leah saw that she had stopped bearing, she took her maid Zilpah and gave her to Jacob as a wife. 10Leah's maid Zilpah bore Jacob a son. 11Then Leah said, "How fortunate!" So she named him Gad. 12Leah's maid Zilpah bore Jacob a second son. 13Then Leah said, "Happy am I! For women will call me happy." So she named him Asher.

Leah also uses this method to continue providing children for her husband. Perhaps the need to produce children overrode Rachel's jealousy concerning Jacob's relationship with these other women. In any case it was a way of producing many children very quickly and this was a clear advantage in this day and time.

Zilpah has two sons and Leah names them Gad (fortunate) and Asher (happy) which reflect her feelings about these children and this situation.

14Now in the days of wheat harvest Reuben went and found mandrakes in the field, and brought them to his mother Leah. Then Rachel said to Leah, "Please give me some of your son's mandrakes." 15But she said to her, "Is it a small matter for you to take my husband? And would you take my son's mandrakes also?" So Rachel said, "Therefore he may lie with you tonight in return for your son's mandrakes." 16When Jacob came in from the field in the evening, then Leah went out to meet him and said, "You must come in to me, for I have surely hired you with my son's mandrakes." So he lay with her that night. 17God gave heed to Leah, and she conceived and bore Jacob a fifth son. 18Then Leah said, "God has given me my wages because I gave my maid to my husband." So she named him Issachar. 19Leah conceived again and bore a sixth son to Jacob. 20Then Leah said, "God has endowed me with a good gift; now my husband will dwell with me, because I have borne him six sons." So she named him Zebulun. 21Afterward she bore a daughter and named her Dinah.

The mandrake is a small orange colored berry-like fruit. It was prized in the ancient world as an aphrodisiac. It was also seen as a fertility inducer and some parts of it (the roots) were used as a narcotic. (Called the love apple/May apple).

Reuben, Leah's son, finds some and Rachel makes a deal with Leah to send Jacob to her in exchange for these.

  • Jacob was spending more time with Rachel and her maids than with Leah.
  • Rachel wanted the mandrakes to try to get pregnant.
  • She was willing to send Jacob to Leah now and try to get pregnant later.

Jacob agrees, Leah gets pregnant from their union and names the child Issachar which means reward. This turns Jacob's attention again to her and she conceives again and another son, Zebulun (dwelling) is born now that Jacob is with her. Soon after a daughter is also born and named Dinah (judgment).

Many years later (vs. 22-24), Rachel finally gives birth to a son and calls him Joseph (means to take away and to add). Her reproach for barrenness was finally taken away and her new son added joy to her life.This ends the account of the birth of Jacob's family at this time. One more son and other daughters to be born.

Leah Zilpah Rachel Bilhah


1. God is interested in your problem

  • Jacob was alone and unsure, God appeared to him personally to reconfirm the blessing.
  • Leah was unloved and lonely, she had children.
  • Rachel was feeling cheated and ashamed, she gave birth to Joseph.

God is interested in your problem, and no problem is too difficult, too insignificant or too human for Him to be interested, involved and invested in.

2. Giving is part of thanksgiving

Jacob's reaction to God's appearance was not only praise and prayer but he dedicated himself to giving one tenth of what he had to God as a sign of his gratitude. There was no law that said he had to do this. It was simply the natural reaction of a happy and grateful heart. There is no real thanks without giving, that is why the "offering" is part of the worship. What we put in the collection plate at worship signifies how sincere our praise really is.

3. Roll with the punches

In Jacob's story we have ordinary people facing extraordinary situations caused by their own sins or the sins of others.

  • Jacob and Rachel were robbed of their wedding night.
  • Leah endured a humiliating marriage.
  • Jacob worked an additional seven years for his father-in-law.
  • Theirs was a strange blended family which they all lived.

They did not allow a single bad or inconvenient thing to totally destroy them. They all had faith in God (note that each of them competed and were in conflict with the other but kept calling on God as individuals for help). God's people roll with the punches knowing that the objective is not to win every round but to finish the fight. Through Christ we can all roll with the punches when the going is rough and still finish as victors in the end.

Discussion Questions

  1. What is significant about Isaac redoing the blessing upon Jacob?
  2. What was significant about Esau's reaction to Isaac blessing Jacob?
  3. What is represented by the ladder in Jacob's dream (Genesis 28:12; John 1:51) and what is the significance to us?
  4. Summarize the events in Genesis 28 that speak to the covenant of God with Jacob and how we can apply this to our lives.
  5. Read the covenant God made with Jacob from Genesis 28:13-15 and answer the following questions:
    • What is significant about God not putting conditions on Jacob regarding the covenant and why is this significant to us?
    • How is God's promise to Jacob in verse 15 and I John 1:5-10 related to our relationship with God today?
  6. Summarize the events between Jacob and Laban from Genesis 29.
  7. How can you use this lesson to grow spiritually and help others come into a relationship with Jesus?
38 of 50