In those days the household gods were a symbol of family headship. The heir was the one to possess the household gods. When Jacob fled with his family, Rachel’s theft was her way of laying claim for her husband and children to all her father had. It’s possible this theft and the claim it implies were major factors leading Laban and his sons to pursue Jacob so far.
Archeology also gives us insight into Jacob’s “gift” to Esau when he sent herds of animals on ahead to his brother (Gen. 32–33). When the two brothers met, Esau at first politely protested that he had plenty and did not need the gifts. Jacob urged him to accept. This urging was not from mere politeness, nor even a salve to a guilty conscience. In Jacob’s time, to refuse such a gift would have meant that Esau was declaring himself to still be an enemy. Acceptance of the gift bound Esau to friendship. It was a visible sign to all that the rift between the two brothers was healed.
LEAH (wearied) — the older daughter of Laban, who deceitfully gave her in marriage to Jacob instead of her younger sister Rachel (Gen. 29:16–30). Although Rachel was the more beautiful of the two daughters of Laban and obviously was Jacob’s favorite wife, the Lord blessed Leah and Jacob with six sons—Reuben, Simeon, Levi, Judah (Gen. 29:31–35), Issachar, and Zebulun (Gen. 30:17–20)—and a daughter, Dinah (Gen. 30:21). Leah’s maid, Zilpah, added two more sons: Gad and Asher (Gen. 30:9–13).
Leah was the less-favored of the two wives of Jacob, and she must have been painfully conscious of this during all the years of her marriage. But it was Leah rather than Rachel who gave birth to Judah, through whose line Jesus the Messiah was eventually born.
Apparently Leah died in the land of Canaan before the migration to Egypt (Gen. 46:6). She was buried in the Cave of Machpelah in Hebron (Gen. 49:31).
RACHEL (lamb) — the younger daughter of Laban; the second wife of Jacob; and the mother of Joseph and Benjamin.
Jacob met Rachel, the beautiful younger daughter of his uncle Laban, at a well near Haran in Mesopotamia as he fled from his brother Esau (Gen. 29:6, 11). Jacob soon asked Laban for Rachel as his wife (Gen. 29:15–18). However, it was customary in those days for the groom or his family to pay the bride’s family a price for their daughter. Having no property of his own, Jacob served Laban seven years for Rachel, only to be tricked on the wedding day into marrying Rachel’s older sister, Leah (Gen. 29:21–25). Jacob then had to serve another seven years for Rachel (Gen. 29:26–30).
Although Rachel was Jacob’s favorite wife, she envied Leah, who had given birth to four sons—Reuben, Simeon, Levi, and Judah—while she herself had remained childless (Gen. 29:31–35). Her response was to give her handmaid Bilhah to Jacob. According to this ancient custom, the child of Bilhah and Jacob would have been regarded as Rachel’s. Bilhah bore Dan and Naphtali (Gen. 30:1–8), but Rachel named them, indicating they were her children. Rachel’s desperate desire to become fruitful is illustrated by her asking for Reuben’s mandrakes, which she believed would bring fertility (Gen. 30:14–16). Mandrakes were considered love potions or magic charms by people of the ancient world.
Only after Zilpah, Leah’s handmaid, produced two sons—Gad and Asher (Gen. 30:9–13)—and after Leah had borne two more sons and a daughter—Issachar, Zebulun, and Dinah (Gen. 30:17–21)—did Rachel finally conceive. She bore to Jacob a son named Joseph (Gen. 30:22–24), who became his father’s favorite and who was sold into Egypt by his jealous brothers. Rachel died following the birth of her second son, whom she named Ben-Oni (son of my sorrow). But Jacob later renamed him Benjamin (son of the right hand). Jacob buried Rachel near Ephrath (or Bethlehem) and set a pillar on her grave (Gen. 35:16–20). Jews still regard Rachel’s tomb with great respect. The traditional site is about a mile north of Bethlehem and about four miles south of Jerusalem.
Although Rachel was Jacob’s favorite wife, the line of David and ultimately the messianic line passed through Leah and her son Judah, not Rachel. “Rachel weeping for her children” (Jer. 31:15; Rahel, KJV; Matt. 2:18) became symbolic of the sorrow and tragedy suffered by the Israelites. Matthew points out that the murder of all the male children in Bethlehem, from two years old and under, by Herod the Great, was the fulfillment of Jeremiah’s prophecy (Matt. 2:16–18).
Jacob’s prayer (Gen. 32:9–12). After 20 years with his father-in-law, Laban, Jacob took his wives and children and flocks to return to the Promised Land. God told him to return, but Jacob was frightened. The remembrance of the wrong he’d done Esau 20 years before as well as of Esau’s hatred combined to produce guilt and terror.
Now Jacob was about to meet his brother. Driven to the Lord, he prayed the longest recorded prayer up to this time. It’s fascinating to see what Jacob said. He reminded God of His covenant promise (v. 9). Then he denied any personal merit as a possible basis for God’s favor and reminded God (and himself) of the blessings from God he had enjoyed (v. 10). Then he honestly admitted his fear of Esau and begged God’s help (v. 11). Finally Jacob reminded God of His personal promise to him that his descendants would be the chosen people (v. 12).
In many ways this prayer of Jacob’s is a model for us. We have to give up all notion of personal merit as a basis for claiming God’s favor. We can and must rely on the character of God as a covenant-keeping God, one who keeps all His promises to His people. We need to be honest in expressing our fears and doubts and uncertainties to God, to face our own deep need of Him and Him alone for strength and provision. Also we need to remember God’s personal promises as one of the “whosoever” for whom Christ died. Because in Jesus God has freely given all things, we can know that He seeks only to do us good. Because of who God is, we can abandon everything to Him, and rest.
The wound of grace (Gen. 32:24–32). On the night Jacob prayed, he went out to plan his own way to gain Esau’s favor. He prepared a number of gifts for his brother and sent them on ahead. He trusted God—and then took out insurance.
That night a “Man” whom Jacob assumed to be an angel or theophany (a preincarnate appearance of God in human form, v. 30) wrestled with him. In the struggle the Man touched the back of Jacob’s thigh. Some commentators feel the ball and socket there were thrown out of joint. Others say that a ligament (sinew, or tendon) was torn. Jacob was left with a permanent limp.
Sometimes a wound is a very special act of God’s grace. Jacob struggled to hold onto the man, for after suffering the wound he must have realized how much more powerful this Visitor was than he himself, and he wanted His blessing.
How often we need to be wounded for the same reason! It’s easy for us to trust our own skills and abilities. But sometimes a wound (physically, or in a broken relationship, or in the failure of a much-loved plan) will remind us to cling to God again, totally dependent on Him for blessing. How good it is that God doesn’t hold back from hurting us—for our own good.
In this experience Jacob received a new name: Israel, “he who strives with God.” Jacob had struggled with God, refusing to give up until God blessed him. That name may well represent the transformation of character that had begun in Jacob. But now the wound remained, a constant reminder of Jacob’s need for God. A Jacob wholly dependent on God can become an Israel. What can we become if we let each wound draw us closer to the Lord and make us more dependent on Him?
- The unethical and ungodly actions of the parents, produced children even more ungodly and unethical then themselves…
- Imagine Leah’s thoughts when her boys, returned from the field and said that Joseph was dead—behind this claim was the memory of their murdering of all the men in a town because one had raped their sister Dinah. “Simeon and Levi, Dinah’s brothers, each took his sword and came upon the city unawares, and killed every male”
- Reuben and Mandrakes — “love-plants” Gen. 30:14–16 The ‘apple of Sodom’. It has been called the “love-apple.” The Arabs call it “Satan’s apple.” It possesses stimulating and narcotic properties.
- Rachel’s children Benjamin were not without faults—Joseph was arrogant with a superior attitude.
- Both Rachel and Leah had such animosity toward each other that it not only strained the relationship between he two sisters, it produced a division between the children.