1 And when Rachel saw that she bare Jacob no children, Rachel envied her sister; and said unto Jacob, Give me children, or else I die.
2 And Jacob’s anger was kindled against Rachel: and he said, Am I in God’s stead, who hath withheld from thee the fruit of the womb?
3 And she said, Behold my maid Bilhah, go in unto her; and she shall bear upon my knees, that I may also have children by her.
4 And she gave him Bilhah her handmaid to wife: and Jacob went in unto her.
5 And Bilhah conceived, and bare Jacob a son.
6 And Rachel said, God hath judged me, and hath also heard my voice, and hath given me a son: therefore called she his name Dan.
7 And Bilhah Rachel’s maid conceived again, and bare Jacob a second son.
8 And Rachel said, With great wrestlings have I wrestled with my sister, and I have prevailed: and she called his name Naphtali.
9 When Leah saw that she had left bearing, she took Zilpah her maid, and gave her Jacob to wife.
10 And Zilpah Leah’s maid bare Jacob a son.
11 And Leah said, A troop cometh: and she called his name Gad.
12 And Zilpah Leah’s maid bare Jacob a second son.
13 And Leah said, Happy am I, for the daughters will call me blessed: and she called his name Asher.
K.J.V. Bible Text
Rachel was upset that she wasn’t having any children and she demanded of Jacob that he give her a child. One can understand why this unreasonable request made Jacob angry. We know that he loved Rachel and slept with her and there was nothing else he could do. He knew that only God could cause Rachel to become pregnant since he was already doing his part.
Rachel is so desperate for children—as are many women today who seek surrogate mothers to bear their children—that she gave Bilbah her servant to Jacob to sleep with so that she could have a family through her. Bilbah became pregnant and gave Jacob a son. I note that the scripture says Rachel named the child “Dan” and also that she said God heard her plea and gave her a son. My assumption is that Bilbah may have enjoyed some favor in the household and may have been wet nurse to the new baby boy, but obviously, the baby was not “hers.” It was Rachel’s and of course, Jacob’s.
Leah also gave her servant Zilpah to Jacob as a wife and Zilpah also gave Jacob a son. Leah named this boy Gad.
Zilpah later gave Jacob a second son and Leah said, “How happy I am! The women will call me happy.”
The culture then was so different that it is difficult to relate to this. Leah believes she is fortunate because another woman has borne children for her husband. This, I assume, is because it was necessary to have children in order to become a more impressively sized community of people and to acquire new workers for your enterprises.
I assume having more children born to your private household, whether borne by you or by a servant, increased your status in the family/community.
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