Posts Tagged ‘Bilhah and Zilpah’

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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