Genesis 30:14–24

30 14 Reuben went out during the wheat harvest and found some mandrakes in the field and brought them to Leah, his mother. Rachel said to Leah, “Pray, give me your son’s mandrakes.”
     15 Leah replied, “Is it not enough that you’ve taken my husband? Now you would take the mandrakes of my son?”
     Rachel said, “Jacob may sleep with you tonight in exchange for the mandrakes of your son.”
     16 When Jacob came from the field in the evening, Leah went out to meet him and said, “You must come into me because I’ve hired you with the mandrakes of my son.” So he lay with her that night.
     17 God heard Leah. She conceived and bore a fifth son to Jacob. 18 Leah said, “God has given me my wages for giving my slavegirl to my husband.” So she named him Issachar/There-Is-Hire. 19 Leah conceived again and bore a sixth son to Jacob, 20 and she said, “God has presented me a wonderful gift. Now my husband will prize me for having borne him six sons.” So she named him Zebulun/Prince. 21 Afterward, she gave birth to a daughter and called her name Dinah.
     22 God remembered Rachel, heard her, and opened her womb. 23 She conceived and bore a son and said, “God has taken away my shame.” 24 She named him Joseph, meaning, May the Lord give me another son.

Reuben gathers mandrake (an aphrodisiac and fertility herb) and takes them to his mother rather than using them for his own purposes. Without a time frame, we don’t know if he is innocently bringing in a random plant that turns out to be a mandrake or if he has noticed the competition for conceiving between the sisters, Leah and Rachel, that has also engaged the slavegirls and is consciously advantaging his mother.

This gift from Reuben does not go unnoticed in the household. Rachel still desires to give birth herself—she is two behind in the competition with Leah—and wants the fertility benefit of the mandrake.

A bargain is struck. Rachel, the favored, sells her privileged position of Jacob’s favorite. Leah gets the aphrodisiac; Leah gets the fertility; Jacob continues to come into a woman. The aphrodisiac leads to conception by Leah; the fertility drug failed Rachel. Sex was just sex.

Leah births two more sons, bringing the total to six, and the seventh child is a daughter, Dinah. Dinah receives no naming speech. She is a female in a patriarchal culture and will not have a tribe named after her.

Dinah’s position in the usually-lucky seventh position, will not pan out.

At long last G*D remembers Rachel and hears her demand of Jacob for sons. On one hand, the opening of her womb and the birth of a son is seen as a vindication. Her shame of barrenness is broken. On the other hand, her naming of Joseph saddles him with being simply being a conduit for others. His value is not in himself even though he is set aside as special. His value is not in himself.

The firstborn of Jacob’s favorite wife will have dreams of leadership, but ultimately there will be no tribe of Joseph, and the focus will be on other brothers—in particular, Leah’s sons, Judah and Levi.

Genesis 30:1–13

30 1Rachel saw that she had not born children to Jacob, and Rachel became jealous of her sister. She said to Jacob, “Give me children! If not, I’m a dead woman.”
     Jacob’s nostrils flamed at Rachel, and he said, “Am I the God who has denied you fruit of the body?”
     Rachel said, “Here’s my slavegirl, Bilhah. Come into her, so she will give birth upon my knees so that I may be built-up-with-sons through her.” She gave Bilhah to him as a wife, and Jacob came into her. Bilhah conceived and bore Jacob a son. Rachel said, “God has done-me-justice, has heard my voice, and given me a son.” So she named him Dan/He-Has-Done-Justice. Rachel’s slavegirl, Bilhah, conceived again and bore a second son to Jacob. Rachel said, “I have grappled with my sister, and now I’ve prevailed.” So she named him Naphtali/My Struggle.
     When Leah saw that she had ceased bearing children, she took Zilpah, her slavegirl, and gave her to Jacob as a wife. 10 Zilpah, Leah’s slavegirl, bore a son to Jacob, 11 and Leah said, “Good luck has arrived!” So she named him Gad/Fortune.12 Zilpah, Leah’s slavegirl, bore a second son to Jacob, 13 and Leah said, “What happiness! The girls have called me fortunate.” So she named him Asher/Happiness.

Following the birth of Leah’s four sons, Rachel decides not just to be Jacob’s first-love but to make it only-love by besting Leah in multiplying. Rachel remains barren even as Leah had and then did not have children. After a certain amount of time, Rachel berates Jacob for the lack of her having a child. Whether by G*D’s decree or Jacob’s desire to keep Rachel lovely-to-view, Rachel finally follows Sarah in offering the surrogate of Hagar, her slavegirl. Bilhah bears a son, and Rachel claims him through a naming process—Dan (a verb suggesting a successful outcome of a legal process—a mother, if only in name).

Rachel is on her way to wrest Leah’s birthright from her. Bilhah has another son, Naphtali. The name Rachel gives him echoes back to Jacob’s grabbing Esau’s heel and eventual overthrow of the elder, Esau, and, now, Leah.

With the ground rules in place of a wife of convenience, Zilpah, Leah’s slavegirl, is offered to Jacob. He enters her and Gad exits. Gad is a stroke of good luck—Leah is keeping her lead.

For good measure, Zilpah bears a sixth son for Leah—Asher doubles Leah’s good fortune and keeps her four up on Rachel. Who’s counting? . . . The sisters. Jacob plays the role of a kept man among Amazons.

Without much forethought, Jacob is exceeding Abraham’s and Isaac’s output of the replacement number of two. So far there are four from Leah, two from Bilhah, and two from Zilpah. This is a good place to remember that male lineage raises the question of where additional wives will come from to be able to keep multiplying. How realistic is it to return to the Mesopotamian roots and not become acculturated into CanaanLand. This was a question for Cain, Abel, Seth, Ishmael, and Esau. How will questions of the first-born resolve itself in this new setting? There are already many second sons who might become first.

Genesis 29:31–35

30 31 When YHWH saw that Leah was despised, he opened her womb—while Rachel was barren, 32 Leah became pregnant and bore a son. She named him Reuben/See, A Son because she said, “Indeed, YHWH has seen my suffering, and now my husband will love me.” 33 She became pregnant again and gave birth to a son. She said, “Indeed, YHWH has heard that I was hated, so he gave me this one, too,” and she named him Simeon/Hearing. 34 She conceived again and gave birth to a son. She said, “Now, finally, my husband will be joined to me, for I have given him three sons.” So she named him Levi/Joining. 35 She conceived again and gave birth to a son. She said, “This time I will sing praise to YHWH.” So she named him Judah/Giving Thanks. Then she stopped bearing children.

With Jacob’s confession that he loved the beautiful Rachel more than the compassionate-eyed Leah, the scene is set for a conversation between external and internal qualities.

Seeing Leah left behind, the second wife/daughter in Jacob’s eyes, G*D blocks the further rising of the privileged Rachel. This is a two-fold process of multiplying Leah and halting fruitfulness in Rachel.

With the birth of Reuben, we are also given insight into Jacob’s priority of physical beauty over his Abrahamic blessing of an increase in the next generation. More “seed” takes a back seat to his eye’s pleasure. Jacob does not increase his love of Leah for her bearing of his children. Jacob may even be ready to have no children by Rachel in order to gaze upon her beauty.

Seen as an exercise in motivation, Jacob’s non-regard for Leah leads her to “try harder,” to claim the status of the first-born, not just in its technical aspect of time.

In quick succession, Leah has a second birth, Simon, whose name refers to sound, being heard. Reuben and Simon, sight and sound, echo the ways Jacob deceived Isaac, his father. Just as quickly is birthed Levi, a hope to be joined with her husband. With no let-up in pace, we come to Judah whose name begins to shift gears away from wresting Jacob’s love away from Rachel to a simple thanks to YHWH. This thanks will later lead to Judah’s becoming the leader of the brothers/tribes. Jacob’s seed is already doubled that of either Abraham or Isaac.

With four sons, Leah stops bearing children. Perhaps her shift from Jacob to G*D plays a part. Perhaps Jacob stops coming into her. Perhaps it is a natural point of rest and recuperation. All that is known at this point is that Leah stops bearing children.

Genesis 29:15–30

29 15Laban said to Jacob, “Just because you are my relative, should you serve me for nothing? Tell me what your wage should be.”
     16 Laban had two daughters: the elder was named Leah, the younger was Rachel. 17 Leah had quiet eyes, but Rachel was fair of form and lovely to look at. 18 Jacob loved Rachel and said, “I will serve you seven years for Rachel, your younger daughter.”
     19 Laban said, “My giving her to you is better than to another man. Stay with me.”
     20 Jacob served seven years for Rachel, but they seemed only a few days because of his love for her. 
     21 Jacob said to Laban, “Give me my wife, my time is done, so I may come in to her.” 22 Laban gathered all the people of that place and prepared drinking-feast. 23 When evening came, he took his daughter Leah and brought her to Jacob, and he came into her. 24 Laban also gave Zilpah his slave girl to Leah, his daughter, as her slavegirl. 25 When morning came, there she was—Leah! Jacob said to Laban, “What is this you have done to me? Was it not for Rachel that I served you? Why have you deceived me?”
     26 Laban said, “It is not done in our place, to give the younger before the firstborn. 27 Fill out the bridal-week with this one, and we will give you that one as well for which you will serve me seven more years.” 28 And so Jacob did. He completed the bridal-week for this one, and then Laban gave him Rachel, his daughter, as a wife. 29 Laban gave Rachel, his daughter, Bilhah, his slavegirl. 30 Jacob came into Rachel also, and he loved Rachel more than Leah. He worked for Laban another seven years.

After a month of working as a family member, not receiving some form of a wage, Laban inquires of Jacob about an appropriate recompense.

Jacob considers an amount of silver and number of animals that can become his herd. He also thinks of Leah and her eyes (the Hebrew can be translated as dull or weak or odd-looking as well as soft, gentle, tender—it is left to the Reader). Jacob also has lovely, beautiful Rachel in mind. Jacob finally chooses Rachel, the Beautiful, over Leah’s eyes, silver, or livestock.

Laban, in bargaining mode, grudgingly accedes, “Better you than some local yokel, I suppose.” An unrecorded agreement is reached that seven years of service is an acceptable substitute for a bride-price.

After seven years, which is still seven years, no matter how quickly they seem to pass. In reality, waiting for a much-desired end builds pressure to be finished and slows the apprehension of time. This is revealed in Jacob’s craving to bed Rachel. The explicit nature of this statement cannot be piously covered over.

In due course, Laban prepares a feast, featuring drinking. Afterward, in the dark, a bride is brought to Jacob, who, presumably, quickly beds her. In the morning, the bride is clearly, Leah! Jacob, who, with Rebekah, took advantage of Esau  and Isaac, has been taken advantage of, in turn, by Rebekah’s brother. What goes around can come around.

Jacob complains about this turn-about. After a “bridal-week” with Leah, Jacob is given Rachel as a second wife—in exchange for an additional seven years of servitude.

Both brides receive a gift from Laban of a slave girl. Leah receives Zilpah; Rachel receives Bilhah. The tension between the twins, Esau and Jacob, continues with Jacob loving Rachel more than Leah. Additionally, there is tension between Jacob and Laban that has seven years to intensify and return the trick.

Genesis 29:2–14

29 2 Jacob looked around and there saw a well in the field, and there were three flocks of sheep lying beside it. That well was used as a source to water the flocks. The stone that covered the mouth of the well was large. When all of the flocks were gathered, the shepherds would roll the stone from the mouth of the well, water the sheep, and put the stone in its place at the mouth of the well.
     Jacob said, “Brothers, where are you from?”
     They said, “We are from Haran.”
     He said, “Do you know Laban, son of Nahor?”
     They said, “We know him.”
     He said, “Is all well with him?”
     They said, “It is well; Here comes his daughter Rachel, with the flock.”
     He said, “It is only the middle of the day, not yet time to gather the herd. Water the sheep, and take them out to graze.”
     They said, “We cannot until all the herds are gathered, only then is the stone rolled away from the mouth of the well and the flock watered.”
     Jacob was still speaking to them when Rachel came with her father’s flock—she was a shepherdess. 10 It happened when Jacob saw Rachel, daughter of Laban, and the flock of his mother’s brother that Jacob stepped forward and rolled the stone from the mouth of the well. Jacob watered the sheep of his uncle Laban, his mother’s brother. 11 Jacob kissed Rachel, lifted his voice, and broke into tears. 12 Jacob told Rachel that he was her father’s kin—Rebekah’s son. Rachel ran to tell her father. 13 When Laban heard the report about Jacob, his sister’s son, he ran to meet him. Laban embraced him, kissed him, and brought him into his house. Jacob recounted to Laban all that had happened. 14 Laban said to him, “Yes, you are my bone, my flesh.”
     Jacob stayed with Laban for a renewing of the moon.

In seemingly no time, Jacob arrives in Rebekah’s ancestral land.

First, Jacob sees a well. Water has been important in Genesis from too much, needing to be constrained into seas, to a return of too much, a flood, to dry Canaan from the well-watered land of the Tigris and Euphrates flowing from Eden. Wells are signs of G*D’s presence and the development of human relationships—both commercial and personal.

Secondly, Jacob sees the sheep waiting to be watered.

Thirdly, Jacob notices the stone on top of the well. Like his earlier stone of protection, this one holds the potential to be differently configured into an altar or memorial to blessings given and received.

Approaching the well, additional information is provided about how the stone was chosen to be large enough, it could only be removed by all the shepherds together. This peacekeeping measure keeps one flock from having an advantage over the others.

As Jacob arrives, he engages the shepherd in conversation and finds he is in the place he was aiming for. To confirm this, Rachel, the Shepherdess, draws near with her flock. As Rachel nears, Jacob is suggesting an early removal of the stone. When Rachel is arrived, Jacob is energized to single-handedly move the stone—pretty good for a tent-dweller.

Jacob proceeds to water the flocks, as Rebekah had done years previously, and kisses Rachel. The Hebrew puns “watered” and “kissed.” This connection will be seen again in the erotic Song of Songs.

Rachel, like Rebekah before her, ran to tell of this encounter with a far distant relative. This excited energy of running is typically part of betrothal scenes.

Jacob meets Rachel’s father and tells enough family stories that Laban exclaims the ’adamic line, “You are bone of my bone!” As back in the Garden, innocence will include betrayal, but that is another story for another moon time.

Genesis 28:18–29:1

28 18Jacob rose early in the morning. He took the stone that he had put near his head, set it up as a stone marker, and poured oil over its top. 19 He called the name of that place Bethel/House of God, even though Luz was the city’s former name. 20 Jacob vowed a vow: “If God will be with me and guard me on the way I am going, give me bread to eat and clothes to wear, 21 and if I return in peace to my father’s house, then YHWH will be God to me. 22 Then this stone that I set as a marker will be a house of God, and of everything you give me I will give a tenth back to you.”
     29 1Jacob lifted his feet and went to the land of the Easterners.

A previously anonymous, everyday place, now revealed as a place of blessing is named. The specific blessing is only part of a larger story, and so the name is a general one of “the House of God”—Bethel. Bethel is another name for the presence of G*D, even in kitchens, as noted by Brother Lawrence.

A way-marker is set-up, using the once lowly stone of protection. That protection is left behind now that a more portable assurance is received—“You’ll be cared for, protected, and your seed will continue to bless and protect this and every place as ‘Water Protectors’ have done in every generation.”

In response to the dream-promise, Jacob, wide-eyed, makes his vow.

As suspicious of this vision-plan as he was of Rebekah’s plan, Jacob holds his cards close. With a poker-face to not give away more than necessary, Jacob turns a direction blessing into a provisional response depending on the outcome of the next river card.

If it turns out his unlikely inside-straight is filled—he will then give a tip to the dealer of ten percent of his winnings. If it is a big enough pot, he’ll even build a memorial befitting the result.

Feeling elated at the way this unasked for journey/task is turning out, Jacob lifts his fee and clicks his heels—dancing on. He continues on to the proverbial East of Eden, back to his mother’s and grandfather’s ancestral home. Jacob comes as one person before returning as a multitude to claim a new Bethel and the surrounding land, starting with Luz, to the ends of Canaan.

Genesis 28:10–17

28 10Jacob went out from Beer-Sheba and set out for Haran. 11 He came to a certain place and spent the night there for the sun had come in. He took one of the stones of the place, set it near his head, and lay down in that place. 
     12 He dreamed: Here he saw a ramp, its foundation on earth and its top reaching the heavens. God’s messengers were going up and coming down it. 13 And, here,YHWH was standing over against him saying, “I am YHWH, the God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac. The land upon which you lie, I give to you and your seed. 14 Your seed will be like the dust of the earth; you will burst forth to the west, the east, the north, and the south. All the clans of the earth will find blessing through you and your seed. 15 Look, I am with you; I will watch over you wherever you go. I will bring you back to this land. I will not leave you until I have done everything that I have spoken to you.”
     16 When Jacob woke from his sleep, he said, “YHWH is in this place, and I did not know it.” 17 He was awestruck and said, “How fearsome is this place. This is none other than a house of God and this a gate of heaven.”

Jacob, on a mission, is between his beginning and end: Beer-Sheba and Haran. He is in an anonymous place, an everyday place, a place he just happens to be at. Jacob settles in for a night—Night brings us back to the beginning Story of Creation.

Placing a protective stone near his head, Jacob proceeds to dream. This stone will mark a turning point for Jacob, and we can anticipate additional points that Jacob will also mark with stones.

The Hebrew often translated as “ladder” is a one-of-a-kind word. This uniqueness makes it ambiguous. Looking at other nearby phrases indicating its top in “heaven” and this place as “a gate of heaven,” we are returned to the imagery of Babel and might better see this as a ramp, as in a ziggurat. This image keeps us from imagining clown-like messengers scrambling over one another and using both sides of a ladder. It does lose, however, the joy of key changes in the song about Jacob’s Ladder.

The loose boundaries of dreams is present with language that can locate YHWH as either standing over Jacob or on the ramp.

This unknown, specific place is revealed to be for Jacob and his seed. Jacob is also directly linked to Abraham through a blessing similar to his—a blessing to all peoples. A side-note here: This blessing is an even closer relationship with Abraham than the blood relationship Esau sought by taking to wife Abraham’s granddaughter through Ishmael.

Remembering the trick Jacob played on Esau and Isaac, Readers might wonder about the effect on Jacob’s decisions of assurance of protection and right to this land. Will they strengthen or weaken his trickster skills? Will it make him more independent or tie him into responsibilities regarding the development of a nation? To what combination of Abraham and Isaac will he add his opportunities and choices.

This anonymous place, as is every place, is “a gate of heaven.” It may be easier to recognize a gate-of-heaven in the wilderness than at Beer-Sheba or Haran.

Genesis 28:1–9

28 1So Isaac summoned Jacob, blessed him, and commanded him: “You shall not take a wife from Canaanite woman. Rise, go to Paddan-Aram, to the house of Bethuel, your mother’s father, and take a wife from the daughters of Laban, your mother’s brother. May God Shaddai bless you, make you fruitful, and multiply you that you become a host of peoples. May God give the blessing of Abraham to you and your seed so that you will inherit the land of your sojournings, which God gave to Abraham.” So Isaac sent Jacob off, and he went to Paddan-Aram, to Laban, son of Bethuel the Aramean, brother of Rebekah, mother of Jacob and Esau.
     And Esau saw that Isaac had blessed Jacob and sent him to Paddan-Aram to take a wife from there, and that, when Isaac blessed Jacob, he commanded him, “Don’t take to wife a Canaanite woman.” Jacob listened to his father and mother and went to Paddan-Aram. Esau saw that the daughters of Canaan were bad in the eyes of Isaac, his father. So Esau went to Ishmael and took to wife Mahalath, daughter of Ishmael, son of Abraham, sister of Nebaioth, and added to his wives.

Blessing leads to blessing. Jacob has received the blessing of a firstborn by tricking Isaac, his father. Readers will decide how Isaac is now able to double down on that stolen blessing by adding to it another blessing that will extend the first into anticipated future generations.

The blessing of the firstborn was one of mastery. This second blessing adds Jacob into the blessing of Abraham to be fruitful and multiply that his seed becomes as numerous as stars and grains of sand.

Jacob is blessed and sent off. Abraham had two children, the second having preference over the first. Likewise, Isaac had two children, the second taking precedence. Essentially, we are only in replacement mode, not multiplication. Isaac replaces Abraham; Jacob replaces Isaac. Is the pattern set? At what point will multiplication take place and how will that sit with the players when some are privileged over others, either as an individual or a tribe?

All other descendants of Noah are divided out as those in Abram’s line—fore and aft—and those not in Abram’s line—local Canaanites or foreign Egyptians. Jacob returns to the land of the Tigris and Euphrates (rivers emanating from Eden) to take a wife.

Meanwhile, Esau, learning that Canaanites are unacceptable for Abrahamic breeding stock, and recognizing he has two Canaanite wives, sets out to do Jacob one better. He will take as a third wife a granddaughter of Ishmael—Abram’s first son. Why go away to the Laban/Bethuel/Nahor connection when a direct tie can be made to Abraham through Ishmael via Mahalath?

The tension born of Rebekah’s and Jacob’s plot to garner the blessing of the firstborn continues to echo through the proxy of the wives of Esau and Jacob.

Genesis 27:41–46

27 41 Esau seethed with resentment against Jacob because of the blessing with which his father had blessed him. Esau said in his heart, “May the days of mourning for my father be few and then I will kill Jacob, my brother.
     42 Rebekah was told the words of Esau, her older son. So she sent and called for Jacob, her younger son, and said to him, “Esau, your brother, is planning revenge. He plans to kill you. 43 So now, my son, listen to my voice and arise, flee to Laban, my brother, in Haran. 44 Live with him some days until your brother’s wrath subsides, 45 until your brother’s anger turns away from you and he forgets what you did to him. Then I will send for you and take you from there. Why should I be bereaved of both of you in one day?”
     46 Rebekah then said to Isaac, “I loathe my life because of the Hittite women. If Jacob takes a wife from the Hittite women, from the women of this land, what good is life to me?”

There is no exaggerating Esau’s anger at formally losing his birthright blessing. He can treat it cavalierly, but he was still expecting his father would set right the earlier dismissal of his right and privilege. For whatever reason, Esau doesn’t follow Cain’s impetuous fratricide even though he fantasizes it.

Esau is a hunter and knows how to lie in wait for his prey. Thus he sets the time of Isaac’s death to be the time to kill his brother Jacob. In this way, all that was rightfully his will actually be his. His enmity runs deep.

Rebekah, again, has a finger in every aspect of family life. As a result, Esau’s plan is easy to find out.

There is no reason to think that Esau is any less Isaac’s favorite. Rebekah’s options regarding her favorite, Jacob, need to include space between brothers lest they kill one another and her travail have been in vain.

Practicality may have been Rebekah’s middle name. Her solution is two-fold: to protect Jacob and to ensure the seed of Abraham and Isaac (and hers) will continue unto a multitude and a nation.

Jacob is to go to her brother, Laban. At first, this is simply for space, but also to take a wife who will bear his seed.

With Jacob apprised of the plan, Rebekah turns to Isaac to get his buy-in.

Using the same language as when Esau and Jacob wrestled inside her womb, Rebekah feels—“Life is not worth the living.” Beginning with the local Hittite women, of which Esau has married two (26:34–35), Rebekah is upset enough for both herself and Isaac. These wives are not acceptable. With a not-subtle reminder of the value Rebekah has been to Isaac, an appeal is made for Jacob to return to her household for a “good” wife. This plan protects Jacob and casts a shadow on Esau for his choice in wives (he is assimilating, not establishing a new nation).

And so we go around again.