When Rachel saw that she was not bearing Jacob any children, she became jealous of her sister. So she said to Jacob, ‘Give me children, or I’ll die!’” –Genesis 30:1
With Jacob’s double marriage to Leah and Rachel, the sisters’ jealousy and rivalry isn’t a surprise. Each sister wants what the other has: Leah longs for Jacob’s love. She strives to earn his affection by bearing him children. Rachel already has Jacob’s love, but she envy’s Leah’s ability to bear children.
For all of Leah and Rachel’s efforts in their bitter childbearing race, it is God who opens the womb.
You may read Genesis 29:31-30:22 here: Bible Gateway.
All of the great patriarch’s (Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob) had wives who struggled conceiving. While Jacob followed Grandpa Abraham’s example of having relations with his maidservant in order to have his own child, Isaac chose another path. Instead of following the legal and culturally accepted practice of having children through his wife’s maidservant, he prayed to God when Rebekah was barren. God eventually answered his prayer and blessed Rebekah with twins.
The twelve tribes of Israel descend from a very blended and conflicted family. The following chart shows Jacob’s children in the order they were born.
Names in the Old Testament
Names in the Old Testament were often given to reflect the situation at the time of birth. Sometimes a person’s name was later changed because his/her name and character didn’t match.
Six of Israel’s tribes descend from Leah. She birthed the following children.
- Reuben means “see, a son”.
- Simeon means “hear” or “listen”.
- Levi means “attached” or “associated”. The royal priesthood descends from Levi’s tribe.
- Judah means “praise”. The Messiah would come from this tribe.
- Issachar sounds like the Hebrew word for “reward”.
- Zebulun probably means “honor”.
- Leah’s seventh baby was a girl (Dinah).
In Rachel’s frustration of infertility, she adopts her maidservant Bilbah’s babies. Rachel falsely assumes God is pleased with this move. Bilbah birthed two boys.
- Dan means “He has vindicated me”.
- Naphtali means “my struggle”.
When Leah isn’t pregnant, she also offers Jacob her maidservant, Zilpah, who births two boys.
- Gad means “good fortune” or “a troop”.
- Asher means “happy”.
After 14 years of infertility, Rachel births Joseph. She would also eventually birth Benjamin.
- Joseph means “may he add”.
- Benjamin means “son of my right hand”.
Although Jacob was tricked into marrying Leah, he would have saved his family some grief if he would have considered the long term consequences of taking both Leah and Rachel’s maidservants as concubines. However, the most heated rivalry sparked between Leah and Rachel’s children (and descended tribes).
When Rachel couldn’t bear children she lost sight of Jacob’s commitment to her. Instead of accepting what he had already given her—devoted love—seeds of envy toward Leah took root. Heated competition of who could give Jacob the most children sprouted thorns of disunity among the family.
Rachel’s attempt to earn what Jacob had already given her, (love), paints a bigger picture. Perhaps the following question is what we should ask ourselves: Like Rachel, are we trying to earn God’s love?
Without God’s Word, it’s easy to believe these false ideas: 1) We’re good enough—at least better than many—to earn God’s love; 2) God’s love will never be ours because we can never attain it.
While it’s true that we can’t earn God’s love, we can know His love because He gives it freely. If the Bible only paints one picture, it’s this: God loves us! The vibrancy of His incredible mercy and patience are highlighted throughout His Word. He already took care of the problem that separates us from Him—our sin—when He sacrificed His Son on the cross.
When we accept and embrace God’s love, we are free from striving to earn His approval. We can walk with Him in joy and thankfulness.