The Word Made Fresh
1Rachel was jealous of her sister because she had borne no children to Jacob while her sister had. She said to Jacob, “I’ll die if you don’t give me children!”
2That made Jacob angry, and he said to her, “Who do you think I am – God? God is the one who has kept you from getting pregnant, not me!”
3Then Rachel said, “Here, take my maid Bilhah and get her pregnant. Her child will be born on my lap, and I’ll have children through her.” 4So, she gave her maid, Bilhah, to Jacob as his wife and he had sex with her 5and she became pregnant and gave birth to a son for Jacob.
6Rachel said, “God has vindicated me and heard my plea and has given me a son.” She named the boy Dan. 7Her maid Bilhah got pregnant again and had a second son with Jacob. 8Rachel said, “I have competed with my sister and I have been successful.” She named the boy Naphtali.
9When Leah realized she was no longer getting pregnant, she gave her maid Zilpah to Jacob as a wife 10and Zilpah gave birth to a son with Jacob. 11Leah said, “That’s good!” and named him Gad. 12Her maid Zilpah had a second son with Jacob, 13and Leah said, “Good fortune! Now the women will see how fortunate I am,” and she named him Asher.
14When wheat harvest time came around, Reuben found some mandrakes in the pastures and brought them to his mother Leah. Rachel said, “Please let me have some of your son’s mandrakes,” 15but Leah said, “Wasn’t it enough to take my husband? And now you want my son’s mandrakes, too?” Rachel said, “If you give me the mandrakes, he can sleep with you tonight.”
15When Jacob came in from working in the fields all day, Leah went out to meet him. She said, “You have to come to bed with me tonight; I’ve hired you with my son’s mandrakes.” So, he lay with her that night. 17God heard Leah and she became pregnant again and gave birth to a fifth son for Jacob. 18She said, “God has rewarded my hiring of my husband because I let him have my maid.” So, she named her son Issachar. 19And she became pregnant again, and gave Jacob a sixth son, 20and said, “God has rewarded me well, and now my husband will surely honor me because I have given him six sons.” She named her sixth son Zebulun. 21Then she gave birth to a daughter and named her Dinah.
22Then God remembered Rachel and honored her wishes and made her fertile. 23She finally got pregnant and gave birth to a son. She said, “God has taken away my shame.” 24She named the boy Joseph, and said, “May the LORD give me another son!”
25After Joseph was born, Jacob met with Laban and said, “Let me go back home to my country and my family. 26I earned my wives and children by serving you, so let me go now. You know well all I have done for you.”
27Laban answered, “I should tell you that I have learned through the magical arts that the LORD has rewarded me because of you. 28Tell me how much you want, and I’ll pay it.”
29Jacob replied, “You know how well I have served you and how your livestock have fared because of me. 30You didn’t have much when I came and now you have abundantly more, and everywhere you put me to work the LORD has rewarded you. But now I need to provide for my own family.”
31Laban said, “What should I pay you?”
Jacob replied, “You don’t have to pay me anything if you will accept this offer: I’ll feed and tend your animals, 32but let me go through all your flock today and remove every speckled and spotted sheep and every black lamb and all the speckled and spotted goats. That will suffice for my salary. 33When you come to check on me you’ll see that I’m honest. If you find any sheep or goats that are not speckled or spotted, or any lamb that is not black, you can claim they are stolen.
34Laban said, “Okay! I accept your offer!” 35But later that day Laban removed all the male goats that were striped or spotted and all the female goats that were speckled and spotted, looking for any streaks of white, and also every black lamb. He put them all in the charge of his sons 36and told them to keep a three days’ walk between him and Jacob while Jacob looked after the rest of the flock.
37But Jacob cut fresh poplar rods, and rods from almond and plane trees and exposed white streaks in them. 38Then he put them in front of the sheep as they came to the troughs or other watering places where they drank, and since they bred when they came to drink 39that meant they were breeding in front of the rods; so they gave birth to animals that were striped, speckled and spotted. 40Not only that, but Jacob also separated those lambs and turned the rest of the flock so that they faced the striped and black animals among Laban’s animals. He put his own animals apart and kept them out of Laban’s flocks. 41Then, whenever the healthiest animals were breeding, he set the rods in the troughs in front of them so that they only bred among the stripped rods. 42Whenever the scrawniest animals came he removed the rods. The result was that the weaker animals therefore belonged to Laban and stronger ones were Jacob’s. 43That’s how Jacob became wealthy and had large flocks, and he was able to purchase male and female slaves, as well as camels and donkeys.
1-8: Rachel is distraught over her inability to conceive and blames Jacob for not giving her children. Jacob in turn blames her. Or rather he puts the responsibility in God’s lap. So, Rachel, like Sarah before her, decides to take matters into her own hands and offers her maid Bilhah to Jacob. Bilhah promptly gets pregnant and has a son, whom Rachel names Dan. Jacob and Bilhah hook up again and Bilhah has another baby boy. Rachel names him Naphtali.
9-13: Leah, not to be outdone, sends her maid to get pregnant, and Zilpah has two sons by Jacob; Gad and Asher.
14-21: The competition heats up when Reuben finds some mandrakes in the field and brings them to his mother Leah. Mandrake is an herb, related to nightshade. It has forked roots that resembles the human body and so it was believed to have fertility properties. It is, however, poisonous, and I’m not sure how it was used to promote fertility. Rachel begs Leah for some of them, but Leah is not about to help her until Rachel offers to let her sleep with Jacob. She gives Rachel some of the mandrakes then, and waylays Jacob when he gets home, and manages to get pregnant again. Her fifth son is named Issachar. Maybe that encounter kindled the flame, because she gets pregnant twice more and has another son and a daughter – Zebulun, and Dinah.
22-24: Finally, Rachel somehow has success with the mandrakes and has a son whom she names Joseph. The etymology of the name suggested here is that it is a prayer that she’ll have another son, and indeed she does, but much later – see 35:16-18. So, 12 sons and a daughter are born to Jacob by these four women. The 12 sons are the ancestors of the 12 tribes of Israel.
25-36: Incredibly, only seven years have passed since Jacob married Leah and Rachel, and he asks Laban to let him take his leave and return home. Laban has prospered greatly because of him, though, and tells him to name his price for staying on. Jacob has been through this before but can’t resist pressing his luck with Laban. He offers to stay if Laban will give him the sheep and goats that are speckled and spotted. Laban agrees, but then secretly removes all the animals that would be Jacob’s and pastures them a safe distance away.
37-43: Jacob is not deterred. He hatches an elaborate scheme of putting stripped wooden rods in front of the animals when they mate and begins to amass a large flock of speckled and spotted goats and sheep. There is no evidence to suggest such a thing can actually result in speckled and spotted lambs and kids, but piebald genes are obviously already in Laban’s herds and flocks so that inevitably, speckled and spotted offspring will be born. Jacob simply undertakes an ambitious selective breeding program and in 6 years has amassed an impressive amount of wealth which enables him to purchase donkeys and camels and slaves in addition to his flocks and herds.
Once again God allows a bit of chicanery to forward the fortunes of the people God wants to bless. Laban is not impoverished, though, so God’s blessings are still spread widely.