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2. Jacob

2-2-2 Jacob, Rachel And Leah

Jacob was under the one man: one woman ideal of Genesis; and yet he evidently didn't take this too seriously. His mad infatuation with Rachel meant that he thought nothing of polygamy. The idea of accepting one's married circumstances for the sake of principle (a common 21st century believers' cross) was obviously foreign to our Jacob. Many aspects of the Mosaic Law were already in place before it was pronounced to Moses; the prohibition on marrying a second wife who was the sister of the first wife could well have been known among God's people in Jacob's time, seeing that it was a precept based on the principles of Eden (Lev. 18:17,18). " It is wickedness" was God's comment to Moses, and there is no reason to think that His essential moral judgment on this kind of thing has ever changed much. Yet Jacob thought nothing of breaching this command, and committing this " wickedness" . Leah's reaction to Jacob's evident favouritism for Rachel was to become obsessed with having children. When she failed to conceive, she panicked that she was barren, and therefore asked Jacob to have intercourse with her servant Zilpah in order to produce children. During the first seven years of her marriage, she produced 6 sons and 1 daughter. This indicated not only an incredible fertility, but also a high womanly status in those times, seeing that she produced so many more sons than daughters. The fact none of her children died in babyhood was also remarkable for the times. Her fertility became proverbial in later Israel (Ruth 4:11). And yet despite this evident fecundity, whenever she thought she had failed to conceive, she asked Jacob to have intercourse with Zilpah. Despite knowing her fertility, Jacob did so. It seems he sacrificed basic principles in order to placate a neurotic wife who, it would seem, he didn't care too much for anyway, seeing he made it plain he had never wanted to marry her in the first place (29:25,31). The whole sense that we get is that his relationship with Zilpah was unnecessary, and he was far too casual in his attitude to it. “Now will my husband dwell with me” (Gen. 30:20) surely implies that Jacob and Leah had effectively split up. The evidence that Leah bore seven children in seven years is evident from the chronology of Jacob's life, relfecting as it does the traumatic Jacob, Rachel, Leah relationship:

The Life Of Jacob





Jacob died



Went down into Egypt



Joseph 39

41:46; 45:6


Finished serving Laban 6 years for cattle; with Laban 20 years

30:25; 31:41


Joseph born, after Leah had already borne her children



Married Leah; took Rachel



Fled from Esau and arrived at Laban's



Took birthright from Esau

The way Leah comments about Jacob to Rachel “Now will my husband love me…now this time will my husband be joined unto me” (Gen. 29:32-34) all imply that Jacob’s marriage was in a mess. Jacob, Rachel and Leah were indeed a tangled web. God joins together a married couple; yet Jacob, apparently, neither loved his wife Leah / Rachel, nor had allowed God to join him unto her in emotional bonding. And there he was, having kids by his domestic servants as well, his boss’s cast-offs. And God loved this man, and worked with him so patiently, to build the house of Israel His people. There’s comfort enough for every man and woman, reading this record. The way Jacob is simply described as the one whom God loved in Ps. 47:4 is majestic in its brevity. God loved Jacob. He really did. Simple as that. When Jacob is the one presented as having struggled with God more than any other.

In passing, Jacob's love for Rachel is reflected and acknowledged by the inspired record when we read of Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted "because they are not" (Mt. 2:18; Jer. 31:15). But these ideas are more relevant surely to Jacob weeping for Rachel and especially for Joseph- for Jacob wept for Joseph and refused to be comforted (Gen. 37:35). This was after the death of Rachel (Gen. 35:19). Surely the record is reflecting the unity which there was between Jacob and Rachel; even after her death, Jacob wept as it were with her kind of weeping. Martin Buber notes that "womenfolk bring the household gods to the homes of their husbands from the homes of their fathers" (1). By doing this, Rachel showed both her loyalty to her husband and yet also her attachment to idolatry; a classic case of mixed motivation arising from not having wholly given herself to the one true God.

Jacob And Laban

The repeating similarities between our lives and those of others also reveal to us that God at times arranges for us to suffer from our alter ego- persons who behave similarly to us, and who through those similarities cause us suffering. In this way we are taught the error of our ways, both past and present. It seems that Jacob the deceiver suffered in this way from Laban the deceiver- in order to teach him and cause his spiritual growth. For example, as Jacob deceived his blind father relating to an important family matter, so Laban deceived Jacob in the darkness of the wedding night. And Jacob learnt from this- whereas Laban [so it seems] just didn't "get it". Indeed, so many themes repeated in Jacob's life in order to teach him. For example, when he first meets Rachel, there are three other flocks of sheep waiting to be watered (Gen. 29:2); but the implication of Gen. 29:10 is that Jacob rolled away the stone from the well and watered them and ignored the other three flocks. But did not this stone return upon his own head when God rolled away the reproach of the other three women in Jacob's life (Leah and the two servant girls) but not that of Rachel, who initially remained barren?


(1) See Martin Buber, Moses (Oxford: Phaidon Press, 1947) p. 205.