Biblical Commentary on the Old Testament, by Carl Friedrich Keil and Franz Delitzsh, [1857-78], at sacred-texts.com
Bilhah's Sons. - When Rachel thought of her own barrenness, she became more and more envious of her sister, who was blessed with sons. But instead of praying, either directly or through her husband, as Rebekah had done, to Jehovah, who had promised His favour to Jacob (Gen 28:13.), she said to Jacob, in passionate displeasure, "Get me children, or I shall die;" to which he angrily replied, "Am I in God's stead (i.e., equal to God, or God), who hath withheld from thee the fruit of the womb?" i.e., Can I, a powerless man, give thee what the Almighty God has withheld? Almighty like God Jacob certainly was not; but he also wanted the power which he might have possessed, the power of prayer, in firm reliance upon the promise of the Lord. Hence he could neither help nor advise his beloved wife, but only assent to her proposal, that he should beget children for her through her maid Bilhah (cf. Gen 16:2), through whom two sons were born to her. The first she named Dan, i.e., judge, because God had judged her, i.e., procured her justice, hearkened to her voice (prayer), and removed the reproach of childlessness; the second Naphtali, i.e., my conflict, or my fought one, for "fightings of God, she said, have I fought with my sister, and also prevailed." אלהים נפתּוּלי are neither luctationes quam maximae, nor "a conflict in the cause of God, because Rachel did not wish to leave the founding of the nation of God to Leah alone" (Knobel), but "fightings for God and His mercy" (Hengstenberg), or, what comes to the same thing, "wrestlings of prayer she had wrestled with Leah; in reality, however, with God Himself, who seemed to have restricted His mercy to Leah alone" (Delitzsch). It is to be noticed, that Rachel speaks of Elohim only, whereas Leah regarded her first four sons as the gift of Jehovah. In this variation of the names, the attitude of the two women, not only to one another, but also to the cause they served, is made apparent. It makes no difference whether the historian has given us the very words of the women on the birth of their children, or, what appears more probable, since the name of God is not introduced into the names of the children, merely his own view of the matter as related by him (Gen 29:31; Gen 30:17, Gen 30:22). Leah, who had been forced upon Jacob against his inclination, and was put by him in the background, was not only proved by the four sons, whom she bore to him in the first years of her marriage, to be the wife provided for Jacob by Elohim, the ruler of human destiny; but by the fact that these four sons formed the real stem of the promised numerous seed, she was proved still more to be the wife selected by Jehovah, in realization of His promise, to be the tribe-mother of the greater part of the covenant nation. But this required that Leah herself should be fitted for it in heart and mind, that she should feel herself to be the handmaid of Jehovah, and give glory to the covenant God for the blessing of children, or see in her children actual proofs that Jehovah had accepted her and would bring to her the affection of her husband. It was different with Rachel, the favourite and therefore high-minded wife. Jacob should give her, what God alone could give. The faithfulness and blessing of the covenant God were still hidden from her. Hence she resorted to such earthly means as procuring children through her maid, and regarded the desired result as the answer of God, and a victory in her contest with her sister. For such a state of mind the term Elohim, God the sovereign ruler, was the only fitting expression.
Zilpah's Sons. - But Leah also was not content with the divine blessing bestowed upon her by Jehovah. The means employed by Rachel to retain the favour of her husband made her jealous; and jealousy drove her to the employment of the same means. Jacob begat two sons by Zilpah her maid. The one Leah named Gad, i.e., "good fortune," saying, בּגד, "with good fortune," according to the Chethib, for which the Masoretic reading is גּד בּא, "good fortune has come," - not, however, from any ancient tradition, for the Sept. reads ἐν τύχῃ, but simply from a subjective and really unnecessary conjecture, since בּגד = "to my good fortune," sc., a son is born, gives a very suitable meaning. The second she named Asher, i.e., the happy one, or bringer of happiness; for she said, בּאשׁרי, "to my happiness, for daughters call me happy," i.e., as a mother with children. The perfect אשּׁרני relates to "what she had now certainly reached" (Del.). Leah did not think of God in connection with these two births. They were nothing more than the successful and welcome result of the means she had employed.
The Other Children of Leah. - How thoroughly henceforth the two wives were carried away by constant jealousy of the love and attachment of their husband, is evident from the affair of the love-apples, which Leah's son Reuben, who was then four years old, found in the field and brought to his mother. דּוּדאים, μῆλα μανδραγορῶν (lxx), the yellow apples of the alraun (Mandragora vernalis), a mandrake very common in Palestine. They are about the size of a nutmeg, with a strong and agreeable odour, and were used by the ancients, as they still are by the Arabs, as a means of promoting child-bearing. To Rachel's request that she would give her some, Leah replied (Gen 30:15): "Is it too little, that thou hast taken (drawn away from me) my husband, to take also" (לקחת infin.), i.e., that thou wouldst also take, "my son's mandrakes?" At length she parted with them, on condition that Rachel would let Jacob sleep with her the next night. After relating how Leah conceived again, and Rachel continued barren in spite of the mandrakes, the writer justly observes (Gen 30:17), "Elohim hearkened unto Leah," to show that it was not from such natural means as love-apples, but from God the author of life, that she had received such fruitfulness. Leah saw in the birth of her fifth son a divine reward for having given her maid to her husband - a recompense, that is, for her self-denial; and she named him on that account Issaschar, ישּׂשׂכר, a strange form, to be understood either according to the Chethib שׂכר ישׁ "there is reward," or according to the Keri שׁכר ישּׂא "he bears (brings) reward." At length she bore her sixth son, and named him Zebulun, i.e., "dwelling;" for she hoped that now, after God had endowed her with a good portion, her husband, to whom she had born six sons, would dwell with her, i.e., become more warmly attached to her. The name is from זבל to dwell, with acc. constr. "to inhabit," formed with a play upon the alliteration in the word זבד to present - two ἅπαξ λεγόμενα. In connection with these two births, Leah mentions Elohim alone, the supernatural giver, and not Jehovah, the covenant God, whose grace had been forced out of her heart by jealousy. She afterwards bore a daughter, Dinah, who is mentioned simply because of the account in Gen 34; for, according to Gen 37:35 and Gen 46:7, Jacob had several daughters, though they were nowhere mentioned by name.
Birth of Joseph. - At length God gave Rachel also a son, whom she named Joseph, יוסף, i.e., taking away (= יאסף, cf. Sa1 15:6; Sa2 6:1; Psa 104:29) and adding (from יסף), because his birth not only furnished an actual proof that God had removed the reproach of her childlessness, but also excited the wish, that Jehovah might add another son. The fulfilment of this wish is recorded in Gen 35:16. The double derivation of the name, and the exchange of Elohim for Jehovah, may be explained, without the hypothesis of a double source, on the simple ground, that Rachel first of all looked back at the past, and, thinking of the earthly means that had been applied in vain for the purpose of obtaining a child, regarded the son as a gift of God. At the same time, the good fortune which had now come to her banished from her heart her envy of her sister (Gen 30:1), and aroused belief in that God, who, as she had no doubt heard from her husband, had given Jacob such great promises; so that in giving the name, probably at the circumcision, she remembered Jehovah and prayed for another son from His covenant faithfulness.
After the birth of Joseph, Jacob asked Laban to send him away, with the wives and children for whom he had served him (Gen 30:25). According to this, Joseph was born at the end of the 14 years of service that had been agreed upon, or seven years after Jacob had taken Leah and (a week later) Rachel as his wives (Gen 29:21-28). Now if all the children, whose births are given in Gen 29:32-30:24, had been born one after another during the period mentioned, not only would Leah have had seven children in 7, or literally 6 1/4 years, but there would have been a considerable interval also, during which Rachel's maid and her own gave birth to children. But this would have been impossible; and the text does not really state it. When we bear in mind that the imperf. c. ו consec. expresses not only the order of time, but the order of thought as well, it becomes apparent that in the history of the births, the intention to arrange them according to the mothers prevails over the chronological order, so that it by no means follows, that because the passage, "when Rachel saw that she bare Jacob no children," occurs after Leah is said to have had four sons, therefore it was not till after the birth of Leah's fourth child that Rachel became aware of her own barrenness. There is nothing on the part of the grammar to prevent our arranging the course of events thus. Leah's first four births followed as rapidly as possible one after the other, so that four sons were born in the first four years of the second period of Jacob's service. In the meantime, not necessarily after the birth of Leah's fourth child, Rachel, having discovered her own barrenness, had given her maid to Jacob; so that not only may Dan have been born before Judah, but Naphtali also not long after him. The rapidity and regularity with which Leah had born her first four sons, would make her notice all the more quickly the cessation that took place; and jealousy of Rachel, as well as the success of the means she had adopted, would impel her to attempt in the same way to increase the number of her children. Moreover, Leah herself may have conceived again before the birth of her maid's second son, and may have given birth to her last two sons in the sixth and seventh years of their marriage. And contemporaneously with the birth of Leah's last son, or immediately afterwards, Rachel may have given birth to Joseph. In this way Jacob may easily have had eleven sons within seven years of his marriage. But with regard to the birth of Dinah, the expression "afterwards" (Gen 30:21) seems to indicate, that she was not born during Jacob's years of service, but during the remaining six years of his stay with Laban.
New Contract of Service Between Jacob and Laban. - As the second period of seven years terminated about the time of Joseph's birth, Jacob requested Laban to let him return to his own place and country, i.e., to Canaan. Laban, however, entreated him to remain, for he had perceived that Jehovah, Jacob's God, had blessed him for his sake; and told him to fix his wages for further service. The words, "if I have found favour in thine eyes" (Gen 30:27), contain an aposiopesis, sc., then remain. נחשׁתּי "a heathen expression, like augurando cognovi" (Delitzsch). עלי שׂכרך thy wages, which it will be binding upon me to give. Jacob reminded him, on the other hand, what service he had rendered him, how Jehovah's blessing had followed "at his foot," and asked when he should begin to provide for his own house. But when Laban repeated the question, what should he give him, Jacob offered to feed and keep his flock still, upon one condition, which was founded upon the fact, that in the East the goats, as a rule, are black or dark-brown, rarely white or spotted with white, and that the sheep for the most part are white, very seldom black or speckled. Jacob required as wages, namely, all the speckled, spotted, and black among the sheep, and all the speckled, spotted, and white among the goats; and offered "even to-day" to commence separating them, so that "to-morrow" Laban might convince himself of the uprightness of his proceedings. הסר (Gen 30:32) cannot be imperative, because of the preceding אעבר, but must be infinitive: "I will go through the whole flock to-day to remove from thence all...;" and שׂכרי היה signifies "what is removed shall be my wages," but not everything of an abnormal colour that shall hereafter be found in the flock. This was no doubt intended by Jacob, as the further course of the narrative shows, but it is not involved in the words of Gen 30:32. Either the writer has restricted himself to the main fact, and omitted to mention that it was also agreed at the same time that the separation should be repeated at certain regular periods, and that all the sheep of an abnormal colour in Laban's flock should also be set aside as part of Jacob's wages; or this point was probably not mentioned at first, but taken for granted by both parties, since Jacob took measures with that idea to his own advantage, and even Laban, notwithstanding the frequent alteration of the contract with which Jacob charged him (Gen 31:7-8, and Gen 31:41), does not appear to have disputed this right.
Laban cheerfully accepted the proposal, but did not leave Jacob to make the selection. He undertook that himself, probably to make more sure, and then gave those which were set apart as Jacob's wages to his own sons to tend, since it was Jacob's duty to take care of Laban's flock, and "set three days' journey betwixt himself and Jacob," i.e., between the flock to be tended by himself through his sons, and that to be tended by Jacob, for the purpose of preventing any copulation between the animals of the two flocks. Nevertheless he was overreached by Jacob, who adopted a double method of increasing the wages agreed upon. In the first place (Gen 30:37-39), he took fresh rods of storax, maple, and walnut-trees, all of which have a dazzling white wood under their dark outside, and peeled white stripes upon them, הלּבן מחשׂף (the verbal noun instead of the inf. abs. חשׂף), "peeling the white naked in the rods." These partially peeled, and therefore mottled rods, he placed in the drinking-troughs (רהטים lit., gutters, from רהט = רוּץ to run, is explained by המּים שׁקתות water-troughs), to which the flock came to drink, in front of the animals, in order that, if copulation took place at the drinking time, it might occur near the mottled sticks, and the young be speckled and spotted in consequence. ויּחמנה a rare, antiquated form for ותּחמנה from חמם, and ויּחמוּ for ויּחמוּ imperf. Kal of יחם = חמם. This artifice was founded upon a fact frequently noticed, particularly in the case of sheep, that whatever fixes their attention in copulation is marked upon the young (see the proofs in Bochart, Hieroz. 1, 618, and Friedreich zur Bibel 1, 37ff.). - Secondly (Gen 30:40), Jacob separated the speckled animals thus obtained from those of a normal colour, and caused the latter to feed so that the others would be constantly in sight, in order that he might in this way obtain a constant accession of mottled sheep. As soon as these had multiplied sufficiently, he formed separate flocks (viz., of the speckled additions), "and put them not unto Laban's cattle;" i.e., he kept them apart in order that a still larger number of speckled ones might be procured, through Laban's one-coloured flock having this mottled group constantly in view.
He did not adopt the trick with the rods, however, on every occasion of copulation, for the sheep in those countries lamb twice a year, but only at the copulation of the strong sheep (המקשּׁרות the bound ones, i.e., firm and compact), - Luther, "the spring flock;" ליחמנּה inf. Pi. "to conceive it (the young);" - but not "in the weakening of the sheep," i.e., when they were weak, and would produce weak lambs. The meaning is probably this: he only adopted this plan at the summer copulation, not the autumn; for, in the opinion of the ancients (Pliny, Columella), lambs that were conceived in the spring and born in the autumn were stronger than those born in the spring (cf. Bochart l.c. p. 582). Jacob did this, possibly, less to spare Laban, than to avoid exciting suspicion, and so leading to the discovery of his trick. - In Gen 30:43 the account closes with the remark, that the man increased exceedingly, and became rich in cattle (רבּות צאן many head of sheep and goats) and slaves, without expressing approbation of Jacob's conduct, or describing his increasing wealth as a blessing from God. The verdict is contained in what follows.