Jacob's stay at Padan-Aram was a lengthy one, much longer than he imagined when he first went there, so little do any of us know what the immediate future holds for us. We move to some place expecting to settle there, and lo, in a short time, God calls us to strike our tents and move to another region. Or, we go to a place thinking it is only for a transient visit, but remain there many years. So it was with Jacob. How blessed to remember, "My times are in Thy hand" (Ps. 31:15).
A somewhat lengthy account is given describing Jacob's sojourn in Laban's home. It is not our aim to expound in detail this section of Genesis- abler pens have done that; rather shall we proffer a few general remarks upon some of the outstanding features which are of special interest and importance.
The thirtieth chapter of Genesis is not pleasant reading, yet is it, like every other in the Old Testament, recorded for our learning. No reflecting Christian mind can read through this chapter without being disgusted with the fruitage and consequences of polygamy as therein described. The domestic discords, the envies and jealousies between Jacob's several wives, forcibly illustrate and demonstrate the wisdom and goodness of God's law that each man should have his own wife, as well as each woman her own husband. Example is better than precept, and in Genesis 30 the Holy Spirit sets before us an example of what a plurality of wives must necessarily result in- discord, jealousy and hatred. Let us thank God, then, for giving to us His written precepts to regulate the marriage relationship, the observance of which is necessary not only for the protection of the purity of the home but for its peace and happiness as well.
Though the strifes and jealousies of Jacob's wives were indeed distressing and disgusting yet, we must not attribute their desire for children, or the devices they resorted to in order to obtain them, to mere carnal motives. Had there been nothing more than this the Holy Spirit would not have condescended to record them. There can be little doubt that the daughters of Laban were influenced by the promises of God to Abraham, on whose posterity were entailed the richest blessings, and from whom the Messiah Himself, in the fullness of time, was to descend. It was faith in these promises which made every pious woman of those times desirous of being a mother, and that explains why we read so often of Hebrew women praying so earnestly for this honor.
In the previous article we dwelt at some length on the law of retribution as it was exemplified in the history of Jacob. In an unmistakable and striking manner it is shown again and again in the inspired narrative how that he reaped just what he had sown. Yet it must be borne in mind that in dealing retributively with Jacob God was not acting in wrath but in love, holy love it is true, for Divine love is never exercised at the expense of holiness. Thus, in this evident retribution God was speaking to our Patriarch's conscience and heart. A further illustration of the righteousness of God's governmental dealings is here seen, in that, now Jacob had obtained Laban's first-born daughter his desire was thwarted she was barren. As another has remarked, "God would have His servant Jacob learn more deeply in his own wounded affections the vileness of self-seeking deceit, and hence He permitted what He would use for chastening and good in the end." (W. K).
That which occupies the most prominent place in the passage we are now considering is the account there given of the birth and naming of Jacob's twelve sons by his different wives. Here the record is quite full and explicit. Not only is the name of each child given, but in every instance we are told the meaning of the name and that which occasioned the selection of it. This would lead us to conclude there is some important lesson or lessons to be learned here. This chapter traces the stream back to its source and shows us the beginnings of the twelve Patriarchs from which the twelve-tribed Nation sprang. Then, would not this cause us to suspect that the meaning of the names of these twelve Patriarchs and that which occasioned the selection of each name, here so carefully preserved, must be closely connected with the early history of the Hebrew Nation? Our suspicion becomes a certainty when we note the order in which the twelve Patriarchs were born, for the circumstances which gave rise to their several names correspond exactly with the order of the history of the Children of Israel.
Others before us have written much upon the twelve Patriarchs, the typical significance of their names, and the order in which they are mentioned. It has been pointed out how that the Gospel and the history of a sinner saved by grace is here found in veiled form. For example: Reuben, Jacob's first-born, means, See, a Son! This is just what God says to us through the Gospel: to the Son of His love we are invited to look- "Behold the lamb of God." Then comes Simeon whose name signifies Hearing and this points to the reception of the Gospel by faith, for faith cometh by hearing, and the promise is, "Hear, and your soul shall live." Next in order is Levi, and his name means Joined, telling of the blessed Union by which the Holy Spirit makes us one with the Son through the hearing of the Word. In Judah, which means Praise, we have manifested the Divine life in the believer, expressed in joyous gratitude for the riches of grace which are now his in Christ. Dan means Judgment, and this tells of how the believer uncompromisingly passes sentence upon himself, not only for what he has done but because of what he is, and thus he reckons himself to have died unto sin. Naphtali means Wrestling and speaks of that earnestness in prayer which is the very breath of the new life. Next is Gad which means a Troop or Company, speaking, perhaps of the believer in fellowship with the Lord's people, and Jacob's eighth son announces the effect of Christian fellowship, for Asher means Happy. Issachar means Hire, and speaks of service, and Zebulon which signifies Dwelling reminds us that we are to "occupy" till Christ comes; while Joseph which means Adding tells of the reward which He will bestow on those who have served diligently and occupied faithfully. Benjamin, the last of Jacob's sons, means Son of my right hand, again speaking directly of Christ, and so the circle ends where it begins- with our blessed Lord, for He is" The First and the Last."
There is, then, a typical significance behind the meaning of the names of Jacob's twelve sons, and we believe there is also a prophetic significance behind the carefully preserved record of the words used by the mothers upon the naming of their sons, a significance which must be apparent to all, once it is pointed out. In view of the fact that the Hebrew nation became known as the children of Israel, it is to be expected that we should look closely at the children of Jacob, from whom the nation took its name. And further, in view of the fact that Genesis 29, 30 records the early history of Jacob's twelve sons, we should expect to find their history in some way corresponds with the early history of the Nation descended from them. Such is indeed the case, as we shall now endeavor to set before the reader.
What we have written above in connection with the typical significance of the names of Jacob's twelve sons is no doubt, with perhaps slight variations, well known to our readers. But it is to be noted that in addition to the naming of the twelve Patriarchs, Genesis 29 and 30 records the circumstances which gave rise to the selection of their respective names, for in each case a reason is given why they received the names they did, yet, so far as we are aware, little or no attention at all has been paid to this feature. We are fully satisfied, however, that the words uttered by the respective mothers of these twelve sons on the occasion of their births, is not without some special significance, and it behooves us to inquire prayerfully into the Spirit's purpose in so carefully preserving a record of them.
Jacob's first son was born to him by Leah, and was named Reuben, and upon giving her son this name she said, "Surely the Lord hath looked upon my affliction" (Gen. 29:32). The second son was also borne by Leah and was named Simeon, and her reason for thus naming him was as follows, "Because the Lord hath heard that I was hated" (Gen. 29:33). The striking resemblance between these two utterances and what is recorded in Exodus in connection with the sufferings of Israel in Egypt is at once apparent. First, we read that "God looked upon the Children of Israel" (Ex. 2:25). Then, unto Moses He said, "I have surely seen the affliction of My people which are in Egypt" (Ex. 3:7). Then, corresponding with the words of Leah when Simeon was born, He adds, "And have heard their cry" (Ex. 3:7). It is surely something more than a mere coincidence that at the birth of Israel's first two sons their mother should have spoken of "affliction," which she said the Lord hath "looked upon" and "heard," and that these identical words should be found in the passage which describes the first stage in the national history of the Children of Israel who were then "hated" and "afflicted" by the cruel Egyptians. When the Lord told Moses He had seen the "affliction" of His people Israel and had "heard" their cry, did He not have in mind the very words which Leah had uttered long years before!
Jacob's third son was named Levi, and at his birth his mother said, "This time will my husband be joined to me" (Gen. 29:34). Again these words of the mother point us forward to the beginning of Israel's national history. When was it that Jehovah was "joined" to Israel, and became her "husband"? It was on the eve of their leaving Egypt on the night of the Passover when the lamb was slain and its blood shed and sprinkled. Then it was Jehovah was "joined" to His people- just as now God is joined to us and becomes one with us only in Christ: it is in the Lamb slain, now glorified, that God and the believing sinner meet. And then it was that Jehovah entered into covenant relationship with the chosen Nation, and became their "Husband.'' Note how this very word is used in Jeremiah, and mark how this reference points back to the Passover night: "Behold, the days come, saith the Lord, that I will make a new covenant with the House of Israel, and with the House of Judah: Not according to the covenant I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt; which My covenant they brake, although I was an Husband unto them, saith the Lord" (Jer. 31:31, 32).
Jacob's fourth son was Judah, and upon his birth the mother said, "Now will I praise the Lord" (Gen. 29:35). As Leah's words at Levi's birth point us back to the Passover, so her words at Judah's birth carry us forward to the crossing of the Red Sea, where Israel celebrated Jehovah's victory over their foes in song and praised the Lord for their wondrous deliverance. Then it was that, for the first time, Israel sang: "Who is like unto Thee, O Lord, among the gods? Who is like Thee, glorious in holiness, fearful in praises, doing wonders?" (Ex. 15:11). Mark, too, that the Psalmist when referring back to this momentous event said, "And the waters covered their enemies: there was not one of them left. Then believed they His words: they sang His praise" (Ps. 106:11, 12).
Next comes Dan, and upon his birth Rachel said, "God hath judged me" (Gen. 30:6). If the line of interpretation and application we are now working out be correct, then these words of Rachel, following those of Leah at the birth of Judah, which as we have seen carry us, prophetically, to the Red Sea, will bear upon the early experiences of Israel in their Wilderness wanderings. Such, indeed, we believe to be the case. Do not the above words of Rachel, "God hath judged me," point us to the displeasure and "wrath" of God against Israel when, in response to their "murmuring" He sent the "quails," and when again they provoked His wrath at the waters of Massah and Merribah?
At the birth of Jacob's sixth son Rachel exclaimed, "With great wrestlings have I wrestled with my sister, and I have prevailed" (Gen. 30:8). How strikingly this corresponds with Israel's history! The very next thing we read of after that God "judged" Israel for their sin at Merribah was their conflict or "wrestling" with Amalek, and again be it particularly noted that the self-same word used by Rachel at the birth of Napthali is used in describing the "wrestling" between Israel and Amalek, for in Exodus 17:11 we read, "And it came to pass, when Moses held up his hand, that Israel prevailed: and when he let down his hand, Amalek prevailed." Surely it is something more than mere coincidence that the very word used by the mother of Napthali should occur twice in the verse which records that in Israel's history which her words prophetically anticipated; the more so, that it agrees so accurately with the order of events in Israel's history.
The utterances of the mother of the seventh and eighth sons of Jacob may be coupled together, as may also those connected with the birth of his ninth and tenth sons. At the birth of Gad it was said, "A troop cometh" (Gen. 30:11), which perfectly agrees with the order of Israel's history, for after the Wilderness had been left behind and the Jordan crossed, a "troop" indeed "came" to meet Israel, the seven nations of the Canaanites seeking to oppose their occupation of the promised land. The words of the mother of Asher, the next son, "Happy am I" (Gen. 30:13), tell of Israel's joy following the overthrow of their foes. Then, the words of Leah at the birth of Jacob's ninth and tenth sons, namely "God, hath given me my hire" (Gen. 30:18), and "God hath endued me with a good dowry" (Gen. 30:20), tell of Israel's occupation of the goodly inheritance with which Jehovah had "endowed" them. Then, just as there was a break or interval before the last two sons were born, and just as these two completed Jacob's family, and realized his long cherished desire, inasmuch as they were born to him by his beloved Rachel, so her words, "The Lord shall add to me another son" (Gen. 30:24), and "The son of my sorrow" changed by the father to "Son of my right hand" (Gen. 35:18), would point to the completion of Israel's history as an undivided nation and the realization of their long cherished desire, in the giving to them a King, even David, to whom was "added" only one "other," namely, Solomon; and the double sentence uttered at Benjamin's birth was surely appropriate as a prophetic intimation of Solomon's course so bright, yet so dark- for while in his reign the Kingdom attained its highest dignity and glory (the position signified by the "right hand"), yet, nevertheless, from the time of Solomon's coronation began Israel's sorrowful decline and apostasy.
Thus we have sought to show how the utterances of the mothers of Jacob's twelve sons were so many prophetic intimations of the course of the history of the Nation which descended from them, and that the order of the sayings of these mothers corresponds with the order of Israel's history, outlining that history from its beginning in Egypt until the end of the undivided Kingdom in the days of Solomon, for it was then the history of Israel as a nation terminated, the ten tribes going into captivity, from which they have never returned, almost immediately after.
To complete the study of this hidden but wonderful prophecy, particular attention should be paid to the way in which Jacob's sons were grouped under their different mothers, for this also corresponds exactly with the grouping of the outstanding events in Israel's history. The first four sons were all borne by Leah, and her utterances all pointed forward to one group of incidents, namely, Israel's deliverance from Egypt and the Egyptians. The fifth and sixth sons were borne by a different mother, namely, Bilhah, and her utterances pointed to a distinct series of events in Israel's history, namely, to their experiences in the Wilderness. The seventh and eighth sons were borne by Zilpah, and the ninth and tenth by Leah, and their utterances, closely connected yet distinct, pointed, prophetically, to Israel's occupation and enjoyment of Canaan. The eleventh and twelfth sons were separated from all the others, being borne by Rachael, and so also that to which her words at their births pointed forward to, was also clearly separated from the early events of Israel's history, carrying us on to the establishment of the Kingdom in the days of David and Solomon.
In drawing this article to a close, one or two reflections upon the ground we have covered will, perhaps, be in place: First, What a striking proof of the Divine inspiration of Scripture is here furnished! Probably no uninspired writer would have taken the trouble to inform us of the words used by those mothers in the naming of their boys- where can be found in all the volumes of secular history one that records the reason why the parent gave a certain name to his or her child? But there was a good and sufficient reason why the words of Jacob's wives should be preserved- un-known to themselves their lips were guided by God, and the Holy Spirit has recorded their utterances because they carried with them a hidden, but real, prophetic significance; and in that recording of them, and their perfect agreement with the outstanding events in the history of Israel, in which, though centuries afterward, these prophetic utterances received such striking fulfillment, we have an unmistakable proof of the Divine inspiration of the Scriptures.
Second, What an object lesson is there here for us that nothing in Scripture is trivial or meaningless! It is to be feared that many of us dishonor God's Word by the unworthy thoughts which we entertain about it. We are free to acknowledge that much in the Bible is sublime and Divine, yet there is not a little in it in which we can see no beauty or value. But that is due to the dimness of our vision and not in anywise to any imperfection in the Word. "All Scripture" is given by inspiration of God, the proper nouns as much as the common nouns, the genealogical lists equally as much as the lovely lyrics of the Psalmist. Who would have thought that there was anything of significance in the meaning of the names of Jacob's sons? Who would have supposed that it was of first importance that we should note the order in which they were born! Who would have imagined there was a wondrous prophecy beneath the words used by the mothers on the occasion of them naming their sons? Who! Each and all of us ought to have done so. Once we settle it for good and all that there is nothing in the Bible which is trivial and meaningless, once we are assured that everything in Scripture, each word, has a significance and value, then we shall prayerfully ponder every section, and expect to find "hid treasures" (Prov. 2:4) in every list of names, and according unto our faith so it will be unto us.
Third, What a remarkable illustration and demonstration of the absolute Sovereignty of God is found here in Genesis 29 and 30! What a proof that God does rule and overrule! What a showing forth of the fact that even in our smallest actions we are controlled by the Most High! All unconsciously to themselves, these wives of Jacob in naming their babies and in stating the reasons for these names, were outlining the Gospel of God's Grace and were prophetically foreshadowing the early history of the Nation which descended from their sons. If then these women, in the naming of their sons and in the utterances which fell from their lips at that time were unknown to themselves, guided by God, then, verily, God is Sovereign indeed. And so affirms His Word, for OF HIM, and through Him, and to Him, are all things." (Rom. 11:36).
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