Chapter 30

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Rachel remained barren, began to envy her sister for having given birth to four sons, and said to Jacob, “Give me sons [children (LXX)] or I shall die.” This angered Jacob, prompting him to say, “Am I in the place of God who has withheld fruit from your womb?” (30:1, 2) Targum Jonathan represents Jacob as indicating that, instead of asking him, Rachel should be making her request to God.

As a barren woman, Rachel resorted to the only option available to her to have children, and that was by having her maid Bilhah bear children for her. She gave Bilhah as a concubine to Jacob, and Bilhah became pregnant. Upon thus coming to have a son by her maid, Rachel said, “God has judged [or vindicated] me and has also heard my voice and has given me a son.” She called his name Dan, meaning “judge.” This name is linked to the verb dannani (“has judged” [“God has judged (or vindicated) me”]). (30:3-6) Josephus (Antiquities, I, xix, 8) wrote that Rachel gave Bilhah to Jakob because she feared that the “fruitfulness of her sister” would lead to her enjoying a “lesser share of Jacob’s affections.”

Bilhah gave birth to yet another son. This prompted Rachel to say that she had “wrestled with mighty wrestlings” [literally, “wrestlings of God”] with her sister and had prevailed. Josephus (Antiquities, I, xix, 8) appears to have understood this to mean that, by means of Bilhah, she conquered the “fruitfulness of her sister.” Rachel named the son Naphtali, meaning “wrestling,” “struggle,” or “contest.” This name is linked to the words naphtuley (“wrestlings”) and naphtalti (“I have wrestled”). The Septuagint rendering conveys a somewhat different meaning of the Hebrew text. “God has helped [or stood by] me. And I have had social contact [in the form of rivalry] with my sister, and I have prevailed.” (30:7, 8)

Once Leah did not become pregnant after the passage of more than the usual time between the birth of her sons, she imitated her sister and gave Jacob her maid Zilpah as a concubine. When Zilpah gave birth to a son, Leah was moved to say, “by [good] fortune” (or, according to another reading of the Hebrew text, “[good] fortune has come”), and she named the baby boy Gad (“Fortune” [good fortune]). (30:9-11)

Zilpah gave birth to another son by Jacob, and Leah was overjoyed at his birth. This prompted her to say, “In my happiness” or, according to the Septuagint, “Happy I [am].” Leah continued, “for daughters [women] will call me happy.” The name she gave to the baby boy was Asher, meaning “happy” or “fortunate.” According to Josephus (Antiquities, I, xix, 8), the name Asher could mean “bringer of happiness,” for the boy added esteem to Leah. This name is associated with the Hebrew expression be’oshri (“in my happiness”). (30:12, 13)

The wheat harvest takes place during the month of Sivan (mid-May to mid-June). At this time, mandrakes bear mature yellow or orange berries that are the size of a plumb. Leah’s firsborn son Reuben found these berries in the field and brought them to her. The Septuagint is specific in indicating that he brought the fruit of the mandrakes (“apples of mandrake [plant]”), not the entire plant or its root. It appears that Leah and Rachel believed that the berries helped a woman to become pregnant. When Rachel asked her for some mandrakes her son had brought to her, Leah objected with a question that indicated Rachel had taken away her husband (or deprived her of his love) and then also wanted to take away her son’s mandrakes. In exchange for the mandrakes, Rachel expressed her willingness for Leah to have sexual intimacy with Jacob during that night. (30:14, 15)

Upon Jacob’s arrival from his activity in the field that evening, Leah met him, telling him that he had to be with her because she had hired him with her son’s mandrakes. She shared the marriage bed with him and became pregnant. Her conception is attributed to God as the One who had listened to her. This may be regarded as indicating that God permitted Leah to conceive rather than as signifying that he intervened directly for her. Leah personally felt that she had received her “hire” from God, for she had previously given her maid Zilpah to Jacob. Although she considered the two sons that Zilpah bore as her own, Leah seemingly regarded the baby boy (her fifth son) as her very own hire or wages, for she had obtained the opportunity to have marital intimacy with Jacob in exchange for the mandrakes Reuben had brought to her. Leah named the baby Issachar, meaning “hire” or “wages.” The name Issachar is associated with the Hebrew expression sakor sekartika (“I have hired you”). (30:16-18) In his Antiquities, (I, xix, 8), Josephus identified Issachar as “one born by hire.”

Leah again became pregnant and gave birth to a sixth son to Jacob. She was moved with appreciation for what she perceived God had done for her, granting her a “good gift” in the form of a baby boy. Leah felt that, because she had borne six sons to Jacob, he would “honor” or “exalt” (but, according to another meaning of the Hebrew word, “tolerate”) her, suggesting that she would have a larger share in his kindly feelings for her. She named the baby boy Zebulun (“exalted dwelling” or “toleration”). The name of her sixth son is linked to the Hebrew expression yizbeleni (“will honor me” or “will tolerate me”). (30:19, 20) Josephus (Antiquities, I, xix, 8) understood the name Zebulun to signifiy “pledged by benevolence toward her.” Leah later also gave birth to a daughter whom she named Dinah, meaning “judged” or “vindicated.” (30:21)

Rachel’s pregnancy is represented as having resulted because God remembered her, listened to her appeals to him, and opened her womb. Although direct divine intervention may not have been involved but occurred by God’s permissive will, Rachel attributed the birth of her son to God, saying, “God has taken away my reproach” (the reproach of having been barren). She named the baby boy Joseph (“May YHWH add” [or increase] or “YHWH has added” [or increased]). The name Joseph may be linked to the verb yasáph (“add”) and possibly also ’asáph (“remove” or “take away”). (30:22-24)

After the birth of Joseph, Jacob wanted to return to the land of Canaan with his family. Based on his agreement with Laban, he had served him for fourteen years, fulfilling his obligation to him for his daughters Leah and Rachel. Therefore, he wanted Laban to release him from his service and to depart with his wives and children. It appears that Laban did not want to let Jacob depart. By means of divination, he had come to recognize that YHWH had blessed or prospered him on account of Jacob. So he wanted to keep him in his service and promised to give Jacob whatever wages he might stipulate for himself. (30:25-28)

Laban did not have much when Jacob began serving him. After reminding Laban that the flock of sheep and goats had greatly increased under his care and the blessing of YHWH, Jacob agreed to continue in the service of Laban for a portion of the flock. For this purpose, Jacob wanted to remove from the flock all speckled and spotted goats and all dark-colored sheep and thereafter to shepherd the solid-colored animals, which would have been the black goats and the white sheep. In the future, his chosen wages would be all the abnormally marked sheep and goats that the solid-colored flock produced. Laban agreed to this arrangement for wages. (30:29-34)

Based on what Jacob had said, Laban chose to remove all the streaked and spotted he-goats and all the spotted and speckled she-goats (every animal that had white markings on it) and every dark-colored sheep. To make sure that there would be no interbreeding with the abnormally marked animals that he had removed, Laban entrusted them to his sons and had them tend this flock a distance of three days’ journey away from the animals Jacob would be shepherding. Laban probably reasoned that he would enjoy the greater gain, for he likely did not think that the solid-colored animals would produce a large number of abnormally colored sheep and goats. (30:35, 36)

Like peoples in past centuries, Jacob appears to have believed in prenatal influence. For this purpose, he took saplings from a variety of trees and peeled their bark in a way that made them look striped and spotted. Jacob placed the specially peeled saplings in the troughs from which the robust goats, not the feebler ones, came to drink and then mated. This selective breeding of the stronger animals and the use of the peeled saplings seemed to work for Jacob, for the she-goats came to have streaked, speckled, and spotted young. It was, however, not the actual reason for what happened. In a dream, YHWH’s angel revealed to Jacob that the he-goats were not the solid-colored animals they appeared to be but were streaked, speckled, and spotted when it came to producing young. The selective breeding of the stronger animals meant that Jacob came to possess the more robust animals and Laban the weaker ones. Apparently Jacob sold part of his ever-increasing flocks and, with the proceeds, acquired male and female servants, camels, and donkeys. (30:37-43; 31:10-13)

In the case of the sheep, Jacob followed a different procedure but one that relied on the belief in prenatal influence. He had them face toward the streaked and dark-colored animals in Laban’s flock (apparently the animals that were produced from the original flock entrusted to him) and kept the offspring that became his wages distinctly apart from the flocks of Laban. (30:40)


In verse 3, the expression about Bilhah bearing on the knees of Rachel appears to indicate that Rachel would place the newborn baby on her lap and, by this act, adopt it as her own.

The Septuagint does not make a distinction between the animals that make up the flock (sheep and goats), and the rendering of verse 40 differs from that of the extant Hebrew text. Verse 40 says that, in front of the sheep, Jacob set a white-speckled ram and every mixed-colored (or spotted) one among the lambs.