Commentary of the Old and New Testaments

Genesis 30

By Joseph Benson


Verse 1
Genesis 30:1. Rachel envied her sister — The Hebrew women considered barrenness as one of the greatest misfortunes that could befall them, not only from a natural desire of children, but from their eager wishes to be the means of fulfilling the promise to Abraham, and bringing forth that seed in which all the families of the earth were to be blessed. But Rachel does not seem to have been chiefly actuated by this motive in desiring children, but by envy of her sister; hence she says, Give me children — A child would not content her; but because Leah has more than one, she must have more too. And her heart is set upon it: she repines, and grows impatient with her husband; else I die — That is, I shall fret myself to death; the want of this satisfaction will shorten my days. Observe the difference between Rachel’s asking for this mercy, and Hannah’s, 1 Samuel 1:10, &c. Rachel envied, Hannah wept: Rachel must have children, and she died of the second; Hannah prayed for this child, and she had four more: Rachel is importunate and peremptory, Hannah is submissive and devout; If thou wilt give me a child, I will give him to the Lord. Let Hannah be imitated, and not Rachel; and let our desires be always under the conduct and check of reason and religion.

Verse 2
Genesis 30:2. And Jacob’s anger was kindled — He was angry at the sin, and showed his displeasure, by a grave and pious reply: Am I in God’s stead? — Can I give thee that which God denies thee? He acknowledges the hand of God in the affliction: He hath withheld the fruit of the womb. Whatever we want, it is God that withholds it, as sovereign Lord, most wise, holy, and just, who may do what he will with his own, and is debtor to no man; who never did, nor ever can do any wrong to any of his creatures. The key of the clouds, of the heart, of the grave, and of the womb, are four keys which God has in his hand, and which (the rabbins say) he trusts neither with angel nor seraph. He also acknowledges his own inability to alter what God appointed; am I in God’s stead? There is no creature that is, or can be, to us, in God’s stead. God may be to us instead of any creature, as the sun instead of the moon and stars; but the moon and all the stars will not be to us instead of the sun. No creature’s wisdom, power, and love, will be to us instead of God’s. It is therefore our sin and folly to place that confidence in any creature which is to be placed in God only.

Verse 3
Genesis 30:3. Behold my maid Bilhah — She will rather have children by reputation than none at all; children that she can call her own, though they be not so. But had she not considered her sister as her rival, and envied her, she would have thought Leah’s children nearer to her, and more entitled to her care than Bilhah’s could be. As an early instance of her dominion over the children born in her apartment, she takes a pleasure in giving them names that carry in them nothing but marks of emulation with her sister. As if she had overcome her, 1st, At law, she calls the first son of her handmaid Dan, judgment; saying, God hath judged me — That is, given sentence in my favour. 2d, In battle, she calls the next Naphtali, wrestlings, saying, I have wrestled with my sister, and have prevailed — See what roots of bitterness envy and strife are, and what mischief they make among relations!

Verse 9
Genesis 30:9. Rachel had absurdly and preposterously put her maid into her husband’s bed; and now Leah, because she missed one year in bearing children, doth the same, to be even with her. See the power of rivalship, and admire the wisdom of the divine appointment, which joins together one man and one woman only. Two sons Zilpah bare to Jacob, whom Leah looked upon herself as entitled to, in token of which, she called one Gad, promising herself a little troop of children. The other she called Asher, happy, thinking herself happy in him, and promising herself that her neighbours would think so too.

Verse 14
Genesis 30:14. Found mandrakes — The word דודאים, thus rendered, is only found here and Song of Solomon 7:13; and it is not agreed among interpreters whether it signifies a fruit or a flower. It is thought, however, by many, that mandrake-apples are here meant, which, according to Pliny, are of the size of filberts. They were pleasant to the smell, (Song of Solomon 7:13,) and probably also desirable for food. Whatever they were, Rachel could not see them in Leah’s hands, but she must covet them.

Verse 17
Genesis 30:17. God hearkened unto Leah — And she was now blessed with two sons, the first of whom she called Issachar, hire, reckoning herself well repaid for her mandrakes; nay, (which was a strange construction of the providence,) rewarded for giving her maid to her husband. The other she called Zebulun, dwelling, owning God’s bounty to her, God has endowed me. Jacob had not endowed her when he married her; but she reckons a family of children a good dowry.

Verse 21
Genesis 30:21. Mention is made of Dinah, because of the following story concerning her, chap. 34. Perhaps Jacob had other daughters, though not registered.

Verse 22
Genesis 30:22. God remembered Rachel — Whom he seemed to have forgotten, and hearkened to her, whose prayers had been long denied, and then she bare a son. Rachel called her son Joseph, which, in Hebrew, is akin to two words of a contrary signification: Asaph, abstulit, he has taken away my reproach; as if the greatest mercy she had in this son were, that she had saved her credit: and Joseph, addidit; the Lord shall add to me another son: which may be looked upon as the language of her faith: she takes this mercy as an earnest of further mercy: hath God given me this grace? I may call it Joseph, and say, he shall add more grace.

Verse 27
Genesis 30:27. I have learned by experience — The best way of learning. And it would be well if we always remembered and adhered to what we have thus learned. But, alas! we are too apt to forget or neglect it.

Verse 32
Genesis 30:32. Removing all the speckled and spotted — He does not mean, that those cattle which were already speckled and spotted, &c., should be given him; for that does not agree with what went before: Thou shalt not give me any thing, that is, I will take nothing that is now thine. Besides, it would have been no wonder if those that were spotted already should bring forth others like themselves. But the sense is, that he would separate all the spotted sheep and goats, and then, out of those which were of one colour, would have all that should fall hereafter of the before-mentioned variety. Jacob desired to make a clear bargain, about which they might have no disputes. Had they agreed for a particular number of cattle every year, there might have been room for cavil and suspicions; for if any of the flock had by accident been lost, they might have differed whether Jacob’s or Laban’s were the lost cattle. But, to prevent all possible disputes, “Let me,” says Jacob, “have all the speckled and spotted cattle, and then, whenever you have a mind to look into my stock, my integrity will come before your face,” or be conspicuous, which is the meaning of the next verse.

Verse 34
Genesis 30:34. Laban was willing to consent to this bargain, because he thought, that if those few he had that were now speckled and spotted were separated from the rest, the body of the flock, which Jacob was to tend, being of one colour, either all black or all white, would produce few or none of mixed colours, and so he should have Jacob’s service for nothing, or next to nothing.

Verse 35-36
Genesis 30:35-36. He gave them into the hands of his sons — To be fed apart by themselves, lest Jacob should get any of them to mix with those of one colour. He set three days’ journey betwixt himself and Jacob — Such journeys as flocks are able to make, that they might not so much as see one another. Between this and the 37th verse, the Samaritan copy inserts a paragraph about the angel’s appearing to Jacob in a dream, which is not found in any other version; but is related by Jacob himself in the following chapter, Genesis 30:11, as a thing which had happened to him, and which justifies the policy which the subsequent verses represent him as using.

Verse 37-38
Genesis 30:37-38. And pilled white streaks in them — Pilled off the bark from the rods, at certain distances, till the white appeared between the bark. He set the rods in the gutters — Or channels of water, at the time when the cattle were wont to couple, that their fancies might be painted with such divers colours as they saw in the rods. As it appears from Genesis 31:10, that God, to reward Jacob’s fidelity, and punish Laban’s injustice, determined that the cattle should generally be speckled and spotted; so it is probable he directed him to take this method to attain that end; not as though it were sufficient of itself to produce such an effect, which any person that will make the trial will find it is not; but as a means which God would bless in order to it, and which Jacob was required to use in testimony of his dependance on God, as Naaman was required to wash in the river Jordan, in order to his being cured of his leprosy. Much being said by authors concerning the surprising effects which impressions made upon the imaginations of pregnant animals will have upon the form, shape, and colour of the young, Dr. Shuckford observes, “1st, That it cannot be proved that the method which Jacob used is a natural and effectual way to produce variegated cattle; the ancient naturalists having carried their thoughts upon these subjects much further than they will bear; that the effect of impressions upon the imagination must be very accidental, because the objects that should cause them may or may not be taken notice of. But, 2d, Granting that they might naturally produce the effect here mentioned; yet if, as is probable, Jacob used the rods in obedience to a special divine direction, without knowing any thing of their natural virtue, the effect must still be ascribed immediately to God himself; just as in the case of Hezekiah, though the figs which were applied for his recovery might be a natural remedy for his distemper; yet, since the application of them was not made by any rules of physic then known, but by a divine direction, the cure is justly ascribed to the immediate hand of God.”

Verse 40
Genesis 30:40. Jacob set the faces of the flocks toward the ring-streaked — Having used the pilled rods by divine direction, and seeing the effects they produced, he here employs his own natural sagacity, and turns the faces of Laban’s flocks toward the ring-streaked and the brown, that by looking frequently on them, they might be disposed in their conception to bring forth the like. And he put his own flocks apart, lest, by looking at Laban’s, their young might fall off from being ring-streaked and brown.

Verse 43
Genesis 30:43. The man increased exceedingly — Upon the whole of what is said here, and in the following chapter, we may conclude that Jacob’s behaviour in this affair was generous, fair, and candid; that he chose the ring-streaked cattle with a view to prevent disputes, trusting that God would so order it, agreeably to his petition at Beth-el, that he should have enough, being determined to be content with what God’s providence should give him; and that, when he made use of the rods, it was an act of faith, and in obedience to God’s command. We have the more reason to think this, because we find nothing but good arose to Jacob from it; whereas, we may remark, that though the Scripture often mentions the misconduct of good men, yet it always takes care to inform us, that evil arose to them in consequence of such actions. We may observe also God’s faithfulness; he had promised Jacob at Beth-el to be with him in all places whither he should go; and we find him accordingly blessing Laban because he was with him: so that, though Laban had but little when Jacob came to him, it was, under him, increased to a multitude. We ought likewise to take notice that, though Jacob, from what he says to Laban in the following chapter, appears to have been a most industrious, faithful servant, yet he attributes all the increase of the flock to the blessing of God, and not to his own care.