Archive for October, 2014

Then she (Jochebed) put the child into (a basket) and set it among the reeds by the bank of the Nile. His sister (Miriam) stood at a distance to find out what would happen to him. (Exodus 2:3,4)

Miriam the prophetess, Aaron’s sister, took the timbrel in her hand, and all the women went out after her with timbrels and with dancing. Miriam answered them,

”Sing to the Lord, for He is highly exalted;

The horse and his rider He has hurled into the sea.” (Exodus 15:20,21)

Then Miriam and Aaron spoke against Moses because of the Cushite women whom he had married (for he had married a Cushite woman); and they said, “Has the Lord indeed spoken only through Moses: Has He not spoken through us as well?” And the Lord heard it. (Numbers 12:1,2)

Miriam was the first recorded singer and prophetess in Israel. She has always been highly honored and respected among Jews and Christians. She was courageous, faithful, gifted, and loving, but not without human faults.

MiriamMosesColorWhen only a child of about seven years of age, Miriam showed the tenacity, intelligence, and courage that would characterize her for her whole life. Miriam’s family lived with all of the Israelites in the land of Egypt. The Israelites had been there for hundreds of years and the current Pharaoh was a wicked and cruel tyrant. The Israelites had multiplied in number so Pharaoh called for the deaths of all baby boys. One brave woman Jochebed decided to try and save her son. (You can read more about this in the September 23, 2014 post on this blog.) Thanks to Miriam’s help, the boy would be raised by Pharaoh’s daughter and grow up to be Moses, the leader of God’s people.

The Bible doesn’t tell us more about Miriam until after Moses led the people out of Egypt. Recall that Moses and his brother Aaron went before Pharaoh many times and told him to let the people go. Pharaoh refused and God sent ten plagues as punishment and to show Pharaoh and all the Egyptians that He alone is mighty God.

The Israelites were exempt from these plagues, but Miriam must have seen the devastation and horror as frogs, lice, boils, hail, and many other horrible things happened to the neighboring Egyptians. Her parents would have put the blood of the lamb on their doorposts to spare their firstborn. They would have celebrated the first feast of unleavened bread – Passover. They would have gone around to their neighbors and accepted silver and gold from the Egyptians who were so glad to see the Israelites leaving. Miriam would have rejoiced as all of the preparations were made for the Israelites to finally leave behind lives of slavery and follow God’s man Moses – her brother – to the Promised Land.

Finally Pharaoh tells the Israelites they can go and so hundreds of thousands of men, women, and children begin the Exodus out of Egypt. They haven’t gone far though when Pharaoh has second thoughts and goes after them with his army. This must have been horrifying to the Israelites on foot, carrying their food and belongings. The Egyptians on horses were riding down on them and seemed to have them trapped against the Red sea.

But God did a miracle when the Israelites got to the sea. He parted the waters for them. After Miriam and the other Israelites were safely across, God caused the waters to come back together just as the Egyptian army was crossing. All of the soldiers and their horses drowned.

When the Israelites saw this, they joined Moses in a great song of praise to God for His deliverance. Then Miriam took a moses-redsea Miriam-timbreltimbrel and began to lead the people in a song and dance rejoicing over their great deliverance. Don’t forget that Miriam was over eighty years old by this time. Her brother Moses had gone away when he was about forty years old and then lived in Midian for forty years, so he was eighty. Miriam was probably about seven years older than that. What amazing vitality and exuberance she had as she led the people in worshipping God in song and dance.

Miriam continued to encourage the people as they traveled on their journey to Canaan. The people needed all of the help they could get. They complained to Moses about everything. Moses interceded with God for food for the people. God gave them manna. Moses interceded for water and safety. God provided for all of their needs. The people did not seem to have as much faith as they should have. Whenever things went wrong they too easily complained to God rather than trusting Him. It is easy to picture Miriam coming along side of the women in the congregation showing by her example how to trust God to take care of them.

The Bible tells us that Miriam was a prophetess. Her brother Moses was the greatest prophet of the Old Testament. How amazing that God raised up two great prophets in the same family. Their brother Aaron would be the first high priest in the newly formed congregation of Israel. This family had tremendous responsibility in leading the people to the Promised Land. Aaron failed in his task when he let the people talk him into making a golden calf for them to worship while Moses was on the Mountain receiving the Ten Commandments from God. The Bible doesn’t say what part if any Miriam played in this. I believe that as God’s prophetess she would have stayed away. Maybe she even tried to talk Aaron out of it. We don’t know.

Miriam seemed to be a model leader but one day she and her brother Aaron fell to the temptation of pride to criticize their brother Moses. Miriam and Aaron went to Moses to chastise him for marrying a Cushite woman. We do not know who this woman was. Perhaps Zipporah had died by this time. In any event Miriam did not think that it was right for Moses to marry this Cushite woman.

A careful reading shows that Moses’ marriage to the Cushite woman may have been only a pretext for Miriam’s complaint. Perhaps there was really more going on in her heart. She had fallen to the temptation to desire the honor or glory of leadership that her brother Moses had. She asked, “Has He (God) not spoken through us as well?” In other words, Miriam as a prophetess was a respected leader of the people, but she wanted to share in the primary position of authority with Moses.

But the Lord heard what Miriam and Aaron said and called the two of them together with Moses for a talk in the tent of meeting. God came down in a cloud at the door of the tent and addressed them. He made it very plain that Moses was His chosen leader. How dare Miriam and Aaron speak against God’s servant? When the cloud lifted and God departed, Miriam was white as snow with leprosy.

Moses cried out to God to heal Miriam. She would be healed but she had to spend seven days outside of the Israelite camp. Yet, such was the honor and esteem that the people had for Miriam that they waited to travel on until she could be received into the congregation again.

Some wonder why Aaron seemed to get off without punishment. They have tried to say that Miriam got an especially harsh punishment because she was a woman and should not have been such a bad example to the other women by not submitting to male authority. But what actually happened in the story goes completely against that. God honored Miriam by including her in the group that met with Him at the tent of meeting. She was asked to meet with God as one of the leaders of the Israelites. The purpose of the meeting was to make sure she understood her place beneath Moses. It was not because she was a woman, but because she tried to give herself equal authority with Moses. God had already chosen Miriam, a woman, to be His prophetess. Miriam was punished to show the people that they should not rebel against God’s chosen leader.

After Miriam returned to camp, the Israelites traveled to the wilderness of Paran. They were close to the Promised Land at last. The story of the sending of the twelve spies into the land is well known. The people as usual were fearful and did not trust God to take care of them. They had to wander in the wilderness for forty years. Sometime during this wandering Miriam died. (Numbers 20:1) Neither Aaron nor Moses would enter the Promised Land either.

Miriam was gifted, though she had human faults. It is a temptation to compare our lives with the lives of others as Miriam did. We need to be content with the place that God has given us. We must also remember that leaders have a greater responsibility to honor God and others in authority as an example to those who are following them. When Miriam challenged Moses, it was not good. But God was gracious and forgave her. The people showed that they also forgave her and continued to love her by waiting for her when she had to go outside the camp. When Miriam repented trust was restored to her. We should imitate her example of humility and faithfulness.

miriam prophetessMiriam played a significant role in the Exodus. She was the first of many women prophets in both the Old and New Testaments. Miriam is a godly example for women today. She answered her call from God as a prophetess and worship leader. Those who think that women should not help in the worship services need only look at Miriam’s life to see that God calls women to help with men in the community of faith.





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Afterward she bore a daughter, and called her name Dinah. (Genesis 30:21)

Now Dinah the daughter of Leah, whom she had born to Jacob, went out to see the daughters of the land. … The Jacob said to Simeon and Levi, “You have troubled me by making me obnoxious among the inhabitants of the land, among the Canaanites and the Perizzites; and since I am few in number, they will gather themselves together against me and kill me. I shall be destroyed, my household and I.” But they said, “Should he treat our sister like a harlot?” (Genesis 34)

These were the sons of Leah, whom she bore to Jacob in Padan Aram, with his daughter Dinah. All the persons, his sons and his daughters, were thirty-three. (Genesis 46:15)

Imagine having twelve brothers! Dinah’s mother Leah had six of the brothers, and Rachel, Bilhah, and Zilpah had the other six. Leah’s six sons felt a special obligation to protect Dinah. In our story this week we have to wonder if the brothers did the right thing for their sister or if they went too far in their protection. You can read the whole story in Genesis, chapter 34.

Jacob_journeyRecall from our blog posting last week that Jacob and his wives and children were on their way back to Canaan. This was all part of God’s plan for eventually giving the Israelites the Promised Land. They had a long journey and it must have been arduous for Jacob’s family of over thirty persons along with numerous servants, animals, and household goods.

When Jacob’s family reached the town of Shechem, he bought some land, pitched his tent and rested awhile.

Perhaps after the long journey all this was boring for his daughter Dinah, a girl of thirteen or fourteen years of age.

Dinah decided to have a look around in Shechem. The Bible says that she went to see the daughters of the land. Perhaps she was tired of all boy company and decided to see if she could make some female friends. Some commentators have suggested that she was looking for a sinful relationship; I don’t believe that. She was innocent and had been under protection of her father and brothers all of her life. She was probably very ignorant of the ways of the world.

Prince Shechem (the same name as the city) saw her and decided to take her and lay with her. He violated her, but afterwards he fell in love with her. He went to his father Hamor and asked if they could go to Dinah’s father and make an arrangement whereby Shechem could marry Dinah. Hamor did so and offered a generous dowry and peaceful arrangements for dwelling in the land if Jacob would give Dinah to his son Shechem in marriage.

We’re not sure what Jacob’s response would have been, but Dinah’s brothers absolutely refused. They may have felt some sympathy for their sister, but mostly they were angry at the insult done to their family. They had no intention of giving their sister, Dinah to Shechem. They plotted revenge for the insult.

The brothers answered Hamor deceitfully and told him what their plan was if he wanted his son to marry their sister. They told Hamor that they couldn’t have uncircumcised members in their family. So every male in Hamor’s family had to be circumcised. Not suspecting any deceit, Hamor agreed.

Shechem hurried to obey the instructions. He assured the men in their land that the Israelites were honorable and would be good neighbors. The Bible says that Shechem “delighted in Jacob’s daughter. He was more honorable than all the household of his father.” (Genesis 34:19) It seems that Shechem really loved Dinah and wanted to do the honorable thing for her.

Circumcision was a painful and debilitating experience for adult males. The Shechemites agreed apparently for reasons of their own. A union with the Israelites would bring wealth and prosperity to them. So every male was circumcised. After threeMassacre of the Hivites by Simeon and Levi days when they were all in great pain, two of Dinah’s brothers, Simeon and Levi, took their swords and killed every male in the city including Hamor and Shechem. They took Dinah out of Hamor’s house and returned her to their own home. Later they went back and plundered the city. They took everything, sheep, cattle, money, wives and children, because Shechem had violated their sister.

When their father Jacob heard about the slaughter of the Shechemites he was really troubled. He feared reprisals. His sons were not concerned about that. They felt that their vengeance for their sister Dinah was filled.

What about Dinah’s feelings? We are not told what Dinah thought about the whole incident. Even though she was raped, was it possible that she could have found herself liking the prince and thinking that a marriage to a prince would be all right? Perhaps the prince was kind to her after he realized how much he loved her.

It must have been a horrifying experience to be raped in a foreign country. Though Dinah’s family was camped very near to Shechem she apparently did not walk back home after the ordeal. Did Prince Shechem keep her against her will? Did she stay because she wanted to? No matter which one of these scenarios that we choose, Dinah was a pawn. The men in her life all used her. Her only decision that she made was to walk to Shechem in the first place.

Prince Shechem abused her and then kept her at his home because he wanted to marry her. This seems better than just using her and turning her out as Amnon would do to Tamar many years later. (See II Samuel 13; blog post September 16, 2014) At least Shechem tried to do the honorable thing because he was genuinely in love with Dinah. This might have been a good marriage. We will never know because Dinah’s father did not get the chance to make a contract with Hamor. Jacob’s sons interfered immediately, angrily denying their sister in marriage to Shechem.

Were Dinah’s brothers in the right? There is much Biblical evidence that their motives were less than pure. They did not honor their father’s authority. They were deceitful with Hamor and Shechem. They murdered many innocent men. They plundered the entire city of Shechem. Does it seem like a high price for the people of Shechem to pay because their prince sinned against one Israelite woman?

The brothers never gave one thought to their sister’s happiness. Don’t forget – these are the guys who would soon sell their own brother Joseph to a passing caravan to get rid of him just a while later. (Genesis 37) In that story they contemplate murder, but settle for kidnap. They lie to their father about it. They haven’t changed since they “avenged” their sister. They had selfish motives.

We don’t know anything else about Dinah except that she was with the family over twenty years later when they moved to Egypt. By then, her half-brother Joseph was already in Egypt waiting to help the family through the famine. It doesn’t appear that Dinah was married. Perhaps she remained single until the end of her days.

What can we learn from Dinah’s story? It is hard to relate to such abuse in our day. There are laws against rape and kidnap and there are many provisions made for women victims of abuse. We can be thankful for that.

But we still may often find ourselves in situations that are totally outside of our control. It may appear that there are few who will do justice for us. We must turn to God for our solace. For God Himself has said, “I will never desert you, nor will I ever forsake you.” (Hebrews 13:5)

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Now When Rachel saw that she bore Jacob no children, she became jealous of her sister; and she said to Jacob, “Give me children, or else I die.” Then Jacob’s anger burned against Rachel, and he said, “Am I in the place of God, who has withheld from you the fruit of the womb?” she said, “Here is my maid Bilhah, go in to her that she may bear on my knees, that through her I too may have children.” So she gave him her maid Bilhah as a wife, and Jacob went in to her. Bilhah conceived and bore Jacob a son. (Genesis 30:1-5)

When Leah saw that she had stopped bearing, she took her maid Zilpah and gave her to Jacob as a wife. (Genesis 30:9)
Rachel, Leah, Bilhah, and Zilpah eventually bore 12 sons and 1 daughter to Jacob. Here is a handy chart to illustrate which woman bore each of the children. Notice that King David and the Lord Jesus would come through Leah’s line.


What a contrast these two sisters were. As we mentioned last week the sisters were in competition for Jacob’s love. Each of Rachel and Leahthe sisters would look to a different source for her help. Leah would look to God when she realized that she would never gain the affection she craved from her husband. Rachel would depend on her own resources.

Rachel had Jacob’s love from the beginning. Did he love her because she was so beautiful, like his own mother Rebekah and his grandmother Sarah? He wouldn’t be the first man to become smitten over a pretty face.

But beauty isn’t everything. Rachel’s relationship with her sister was affected by her jealousy when Leah conceived and she didn’t. The two sisters would fight and go to extremes in order to get children. Rachel had Jacob’s love but she wanted more. She wanted to have children for herself. She even yelled at Jacob about it and he in turn got angry with her. We have no indication from the Bible that Rachel prayed to God as Leah did. Rachel became bitter.

And this is not the only indication that Rachel may not have loved God as much as Leah. When Jacob saddled up his wives and family and left for Canaan, Rachel stole the household idols from her father.

Most of the people in the ancient world worshiped false gods, so it is not surprising that Laban had his own collection. What is surprising is that Rachel would wish to take them with her when she moved away. What could she be thinking? Hadn’t her husband explained to her that they only worshiped Yahweh? It doesn’t seem as though Rachel trusted in God alone. She wanted to have the household idols for extra protection.

Leah-Rachel-Laban-JacobFurther evidence of her less than stellar character is what occurred when Laban found out that Jacob had sneaked off without saying goodbye (Genesis 31:22). Laban went after Jacob and spoke carefully to him when he caught up with him. He explained that he could understand that Jacob may have longed to go back to his own home. But he asked Jacob, “Why did you steal my gods?” Jacob denied the charge and told Laban he could search everyone and the one who stole Laban’s gods would be put to death.

Rachel resorted to deception rather than surrender the idols. She hid them under a saddle and sat on it and pretended to be in the “manner of women” so that Laban would not touch her. Laban did not find his gods of course and eventually he and Jacob parted as friends, making a covenant between their families (Genesis 31:44).

Rachel’s story reminds us that only a relationship with God will provide us with happiness. Husbands and children are blessings, but we should not put so much emphasis on them that we forget God. Rachel was spoiled and selfish. Her most serious problem however was that she turned to physical means, by giving her maid to Jacob for children, rather than trusting in God alone.

Let’s not be too hard on Rachel. It must have been hard for her to get all excited about her wedding day only to find out at the last minute that the man she loved was given to her sister. She would never be Jacob’s only wife. Then she had to share his attention with not only her own maid, but also the hated Leah’s maid. As time went on, Leah, Bilhah, and Zilpah would bear children for the man Rachel loved while she remained barren. Finally God would give her two children and in bearing her second son she died. What a tragic end.

Jacob loved Rachel from the moment he saw her but he did not love Leah. He respected Leah and he paid enough attention to her to get four sons early on in their marriage. Leah hoped that by giving Jacob so many sons he would come to love her.

When Jacob’s love was not forthcoming, Leah turned to God for comfort.

Leah knew that she was not beautiful like her sister. Perhaps this was a blessing in disguise. Her character was beautiful because she remained a faithful wife and mother. Leah knew that God loved her. She had seven children in all, four sons and one daughter of her own, and two more sons by her maid. Many people like Jacob may be impressed with the outer appearance, but God looks on the inward appearance of the heart. We should be more concerned with our relationship with God than with impressing others. Leah is remembered as a godly wife and mother of patriarchs. It is her inner beauty that we should imitate.

What about those poor maids, Bilhah and Zilpah? No one asked them whether or not they would like to be used as surrogatebilhah and zilpah mothers. The Bible does not record their feelings, only that each obeyed when her mistress commanded her to sleep with their husband in order to get children. Bilhah and Zilpah became Jacob’s concubines.

This is not the first time that we see this custom of giving the maid or slave to the husband when the wife seemed barren. Recall that Sarah gave her maid, Hagar, to Abraham. Out of the union of Abraham and Hagar came Ishmael. But Isaac was the child of promise eventually born to Sarah and Jesus would come through his line. The two tribes would part and be at enmity with each other. Ishmael’s heirs would not inherit the promise.

In this story however, the twelve sons of Jacob would inherit the Promised Land together. It did not matter that there were four mothers involved. Though Bilhah and Zilpah were not given the position as wives, their children were adopted as the children of Rachel and Leah and Jacob and treated with equal love. Bilhah and Zilpah would forever be honored as the mothers of four of the tribes of Israel.

The four mothers continued to have good relationships with each other. We are told only one further story concerning one of the maids. Many years later Reuben, Jacob’s oldest son by Leah “went and lay with Bilhah his father’s concubine, and Israel (Jacob) heard about it” (Genesis 35:22). It seems that Bilhah remained an obedient servant to the end of her days. It is sad to see that she was still being used.

How can we relate to Bilhah and Zilpah? When there are things that happen in our lives that we have no control over, we can still trust in God. God may bring wonderful things out of our troubles as He did for Bilhah and Zilpah. They were faithful and are named as two honored women among God’s people in the Old Testament.


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While he was still speaking with them, Rachel came with her father’s sheep, for she was a shepherdess. When Jacob saw Rachel the daughter of Laban his mother’s brother, and the sheep of Laban his mother’s brother, Jacob went up and rolled the stone from the mouth of the well and watered the flock of Laban his mother’s brother. Then Jacob kissed Rachel, and lifted his voice and wept. (Genesis 29:9-11)

Now Laban had two daughters; the name of the older was Leah, and the name of the younger was Rachel. And Leah’s eyes were weak, but Rachel was beautiful of form and face. Now Jacob loved Rachel, so he said, ‘I will serve you (Laban) seven years for your younger daughter Rachel.’ … So Jacob served seven years for Rachel and they seemed to him but a few days because of his love for her. (Genesis 29:16-18)

There was a wedding ceremony at which Jacob thought he was marrying Rachel but, “in the evening he (Laban) took his daughter Leah, and brought her to him; and Jacob went in to her. … So it came about in the morning that, behold, it was Leah! And he said to Laban, ‘What is this you have done to me? Was it not for Rachel that I served with you? Why then have you deceived me?’” (Geneses 29:23, 25)

Laban explained that it was the custom for the eldest daughter to marry first. He asked Jacob to work seven more years for Rachel. However he told Jacob that he should give Leah her week as a bride and then he could have Rachel. Jacob would not have to wait the whole seven additional years. “Jacob did so and completed her (Leah’s) week, and he (Laban) gave him is daughter Rachel as his wife…So Jacob went in to Rachel also, and indeed he loved Rachel more than Leah, and he served with Laban for another seven years.” (Geneses 29:28,30).

Jacob had been traveling to find his uncle Laban and must have been very relieved when he had reached the end of his jacob kisses racheljourney. Some other shepherds pointed out Rachel to him. Rachel was beautiful and strong. She was no doubt physically fit from walking so many miles to care for the sheep. As soon as he laid eyes on her Jacob was smitten.

Laban welcomed his nephew into his home and hired Jacob to be his sheepherder. Jacob offered to work for seven years for Rachel. This was a huge dowry, since the annual wages of a sheepherder in those days was probably enough for the normal dowry price. Jacob was so in love that he willingly labored for seven years, later claiming that it only felt like a few days. He was really looking forward to his wedding.

Imagine how upset Jacob was to find a Leah with him the morning after his marriage. Laban told Jacob that it was the custom to marry off the older sister first. Jacob would have to do it Laban’s way.

Leah was a virtuous woman, but not nearly as good looking as her sister. We are not sure what made her so unattractive or homely. The Bible says that she had weak eyes. We have no idea if there was any disfigurement or if her eyes just weren’t as dazzling as the eyes of her beautiful sister.

Jacob_Laban_rachel leahWhy did Leah go along with this marriage? Was she just obeying her father? Perhaps she thought this was her only chance to be married. Maybe she really loved Jacob but knew she couldn’t compete with her sister. The custom of giving the oldest daughter in marriage first gave her a chance of happiness.

At each marriage, the women were given a gift of servant girls. Laban gave Zilpah to his daughter Leah as a maid. He gave Bilhah to his daughter Rachel for her maid. Both of these maids would also become mothers of some of the twelve patriarchs of Israel.

It is difficult for us to imagine how a family could be happy when there are two wives competing for the love of the husband. In those days it was not uncommon for men to have more than one wife in order to be sure to get heirs. Apparently it was also acceptable for a wife to give her servant to her husband to get children. In the case of Leah and Rachel, the sons born to Bilhah and Zillpah were loved and cherished and recognized along with their own natural born sons. This is pretty amazing. Recall that Sarah sent Ishmael, the son of her slave Hagar away when her son Isaac was born. Sarah did not allow her slave’s son to be treated as her own was (Genesis 16). But in Jacob’s family all of the children were recognized as legitimate heirs.

It is possible that Leah thought Jacob would come to love her in time, especially as she gave him sons. In the early years of their marriage, Leah bore Jacob three sons hoping each time that Jacob would regard her with more love. After the third son was born, Leah named him Levi (meaning “attached”), hoping now “this time my husband will become attached to me, because I have borne him three sons” (Gen. 29:34). It was no use; Jacob still loved Rachel.

By the time her fourth son, Judah (meaning “praise”), was born, Leah had given up on Jacob and turned to God for her consolation. God also graciously gave Leah a daughter, Dinah, and two more sons through her maid, Zilpah, seven children in all. Even after all of this, Jacob favored Rachel. But Leah had learned to trust and depend on God. God loved Leah and blessed her for her faithfulness. The ancestor of Jesus would be one of Leah’s children, Judah.

Though Jacob respected Leah, he loved Rachel. It seems that the feeling was mutual. Rachel longed to give her husband sons. God had made Rachel barren for a time. We do not know why. Finally in desperation Rachel decided to give her maid, Bilhah, to Jacob in order to get a son. Bilhah would bear two sons for Jacob, whom Rachel treated as her own. God finally opened Rachel’s womb and she bore Joseph and said, “May the Lord give me another son” (Genesis 30:24). Ironically, God would give Rachel one more son, Benjamin, but she would die during this childbirth.

We do not know how close the two sisters were before Jacob came along. Surely this combined marriage caused a lot of strain between them. There was jealousy, rivalry, and pain.

However, when it came to important family matters, the sisters stuck together. One day God told Jacob it was time for him to pack up the family and go back to Canaan. Jacob told the news to his wives. “Rachel and Leah said to him, ‘Do we still have any portion or inheritance in our father’s house? … Now then, do whatever God has said to you.’” (Geneses 31:14,16) The sisters were willing to support their husband though they would be moving away from the only home they had ever known.

Next week, we will explore the personalities of Rachel and Leah. We will also take a look at the lives of their maids, Bilhah and Zilpah. All four of these women were mothers of Jacob’s children. God would deal with each woman in special ways as He worked out His grand plan of redemption for history.




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