Let Her Speak for Herself: Nineteenth-Century Women Writing on the Women of Genesis

By Marion Ann Taylor; Heather E. Weir | Go to book overview

Part 5

LEAH AND RACHEL—
FOUNDERS OF THE HOUSE OF ISRAEL

Introduction

The matriarchs, Leah and Rachel,1 with their two maids Zilpah and Bilhah, were the mothers of the twelve sons of Jacob who became the twelve tribes of Israel. Their story is found in Genesis 29–35. Leah and Rachel were the daughters of Laban, the brother of Rebekah. "Leah was tender eyed; but Rachel was beautiful and well favored" (Gen. 29:17). Jacob fell in love with Rachel, the younger daughter, and agreed to work for seven years for her hand in marriage. On the wedding day, Laban switched his daughters, and Jacob inadvertently married the older, Leah. Jacob agreed to work for seven more years for the hand of Rachel. Leah had four sons, filling the childless Rachel with envy. Her words to Jacob, "Give me children or I die!," foreshadowed her death years later following the birth of a second son. Like Sarah, Rachel tried to solve her infertility problem by giving her maid, Bilhah, to Jacob. Leah similarly gave her maid Zilpah to Jacob. Jacob's four wives bore twelve sons and a daughter, Dinah.

Jacob asked Laban for permission to leave for his own country with his wives and children but Laban resisted, acknowledging that he had been blessed because of Jacob's presence. Jacob set up a scheme to increase his flocks and became exceedingly prosperous. The Lord directed Jacob to return to the Promised Land. His wives agreed to leave their father's household. Laban pursued them and searched unsuccessfully for the household gods, which Rachel had stolen. The family stopped for a while near Shechem, where

1 Rachel and Leah are mentioned in Ruth 4:11 as the two women who founded the house
of Israel.

-325-

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