Holy Mothers (and One Unholy Grandmother) –

Rachel and Leah build the house of Israel.

Genesis 29:15-35, Jacob’s two wives.
Genesis 30:1-26a, The contest.
Genesis 31:1-35, When it’s Jacob vs. Laban, no contest.
Genesis 35:16-20, 23-26; 46:15, Twelve boys and a girl.

Other Mothers

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Genesis 29:15-35, Jacob’s two wives. (6/10/2008)

Sneakiness seems to run in this family, although one culture's sneakiness is another culture's uprightness, so maybe we shouldn't be too judgmental.  Jacob has been away from Isaac and Rebecca for 14 years now, and he has acquired two wives, his own double cousins (see
chart).

Let me talk for a minute about love and hate.  Jesus says, rather famously, that anyone who loves Him must hate his parents, spouse, and children.  This seems so harsh to us that we think he must be kidding, so we ignore it.  It is an idiom.  In the Bible, when hate is contrasted with love, as in "Jacob loved Rachel and hated Leah," is doesn't mean "hate," it means "love less," as shown in vs. 30.  So Jesus is saying that we should love him more than we love our parents, spouse, or children.  That's a lot of love.

Genesis 30:1-26a, The contest. (6/11/2008)

I don't want to say that Leah and Rachel were competitive, but it seems to me that bearing six kids and adopting two more just to get bragging rights over your sister is a little extreme.  If you want eight kids, great, go for it, but Leah and Rachel's motive seems more related to one-upmanship than to mother love.  Maybe they each wanted the lion's share of the blessing, who knows?

Remember how Sarah gave her slave girl Hagar to Abraham so that she, Sarah, could have a child?  We see clear examples of this custom in today's reading.  See especially vss. 4-6, where Rachel claims Bilhah's baby as her own son.   Apparently this custom faded over time, because all the genealogies list Zilpah and Bilhah as the mothers of the appropriate sons.  The
chart lists all of Jacob's children that we know about.  The 12 sons are the ancestors of the 12 tribes of Israel.

Also remember that when they say something like "Happy am I!" and call the boy "Asher," it's because "Asher" sounds like "happy" in Hebrew.

Genesis 31:1-35, When it’s Jacob vs. Laban, no contest. (6/12/2008)

The bride price for Leah and Rachel was seven years of labor each.  We saw that Rebecca got the bulk of the bride price paid for her, but Leah and Rachel say that they didn't benefit from the labor that Jacob paid to Laban.  Leah and Rachel didn't always get along perfectly, but when it comes to a choice between Laban and Jacob, they agreed completely that the whole family should take what was theirs and go before they lost any more.

Why Rachel steals Laban's teraphim - often translated as household gods - is a mystery to me.  However, it does give the writer the opportunity to be really insulting about idols.  Rachel, who is menstruating at the time, sits on the teraphim to hide them from Laban.  Menstrual blood was unclean under the Law given to Moses several hundred years later, so this is a dig at so-called gods who can't even protect themselves from uncleanness.

Genesis 35:16-20, 23-26; 46:15, Twelve boys and a girl. (6/13/2008)

You've probably heard about the Twelve Tribes of Israel all your life, but now you know that the twelve ancestors were born primarily out of the sisterly rivalry of Rachel and Leah.  The last son, Benjamin, was born on the way back to Canaan, shortly before the family reached Bethlehem.  Jacob's favorite wife, Rachel, died in childbirth with the youngest child.  No wonder Jacob was so reluctant to part with him several years later when Joseph demanded that the boy be sent to Egypt!  Our passage today summarizes Rachel and Leah's work in building the house of Israel.

Jacob had one daughter that we know about, Dinah.  You can read more about Dinah in Genesis 34, but it's not a pretty story.  Apparently there were more daughters, not named; see vs. 46:15.


Other Mothers
Sarah
Rebecca
Miriam
Deborah
Ruth
Athaliah
Esther
The Four Most Important Women Who Never Lived
Women Who Expected Miracles
Mary and Elizabeth
UMW in Bible Times


Copyright 2008, 2011 by Regina L. Hunter.  All rights reserved.

Opinions expressed on this page are solely those of the author, Regina Hunter, and may or may not be shared by the sponsors or the Bible-study participants.  Thanks to the Holy Spirit for any useful ideas presented here, and thanks to all the readers for their support and enthusiasm.  All errors are, of course, the sole responsibility of the author.

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