So this week we only had one question sent into us during the sermon. The question was:
“Not for the sermon, but curious as to why Gen 37 records Jacob’s wives as Bilhah and Zilpah. Not Leah and Rachel?“
This is a great question and does give some potential insights into the story as well.
As we know from Genesis 30 Rachel and Leah gave both their servants to Jacob to have children for them. Rachel because she couldn’t have kids at that point, and Leah because she had stopped being able to have kids. Culturally providing a servant was the ‘second best’ way of having kids for your husband.
A wife who couldn’t provide children for her husband was not as well accepted in the culture unfortunately. IT was also a battle between sisters. We see this in Genesis 30:8 where we read “Then Rachel said, “I have had a great struggle with my sister, and I have won.””
Both Genesis 30:4 and Genesis 30:9 indicate that Rachel and Leah gave their servants, Bilhah and Zilpah, to Jacob as wives. So at that point Jacob had 4 wives.
After she had Joseph, Jacob’s favourite son, we read in Genesis 35:16-19 Rachel dies giving birth to Benjamin.
As for Leah we don’t know when she died, except based on Genesis 49:31 we know Leah died before Jacob.
So to answer the question after that long winded intro. Some possibilities exist. The question you ask came from Genesis 37:2
“2 This is the account of Jacob’s family line. Joseph, a young man of seventeen, was tending the flocks with his brothers, the sons of Bilhah and the sons of Zilpah, his father’s wives, and he brought their father a bad report about them.”
- This could mean both Rachel and Leah are dead so these two women are the only wives Jacob has left. This would mean then the children of Bilhah and Zilpah could be all of Jacob’s children.
- Perhaps Leah is alive, or perhaps not, however this could indicate that just Bilhah and Zilpah’s children are out shepherding the flock. These would be Dan, Naphtali, Gad, and Asher. These could be the sons Joseph brought a bad report about. In some ways this view, while in the minority among scholars it seems, makes sense to me. Jacob had favourites starting with his love Rachel’s children, I would think then that Leah’s kids might be second in line followed by the kids of Bilhah and Zilpah.
Either way – they were Jacob’s wives. The children could be referring to a sub group of the children, or especially if Leah had passed away, it could refer to the whole group. I personally lean toward answer two that I gave as it seems the most liberal interpretation.
I’d love to hear your thoughts on why Genesis 37:2 only mentions these two wives. Leave a comment below!