Understanding the Old Testament

Leah's Children

(All quotations are from the New American Standard Bible translation)

In addition to his twelve sons, Jacob must have also had many daughters. But only one is mentioned in Genesis—Dinah, daughter of Leah—perhaps because she plays a role in an ugly incident involving Jacob’s sons.

Dinah attracted the attention of Shechem, a Hivite prince, who raped her and then asked for her hand in marriage. Jacob’s outraged sons pretended to agree to the arrangement, but only on the condition that the males in the city be circumcised. Enticed by Jacob's wealth, the men agreed. But when they were in pain from the circumcision, Simeon and Levi led an attack upon the city, killing the men, capturing their families, and stealing their possessions.

The actions of Simeon and Levi were completely without God’s authority or approval. Indeed, Genesis 35:2-4 hints that Jacob’s family members had adopted the idolatry of the Canaanites, which may give us a clue as to how they had become capable of such despicable behavior.

Jacob apparently knew nothing of his sons’ plan until too late. He was understandably angry about the violence, and worried that the other inhabitants of Canaan would band together to attack. Perhaps to avoid that problem, God sent Jacob and his family to Bethel.

There Jacob’s first-born son, Reuben, seduced Bilhah, Rachel’s maid, who was the mother of Reuben's half-brothers, Dan and Naphtali. Because of this, Reuben lost the preeminence ordinarily due the first-born son. (See Genesis 49:3-4 and 1 Chronicles 5:1.)

Judah, the second oldest of Jacob’s sons, had his own failings. Judah was the father of three sons: Er, Onan, and Shelah. Er married a woman named Tamar, but then was killed by the Lord for his wickedness before he had any children. The Law required Onan to father a child with Tamar on behalf of his deceased brother. (See Deuteronomy 25:5-6.) But Onan was not enthusiastic about this law, so he practiced coitus interruptus in an effort to avoid conception. As a result, the Lord struck him dead, too. (This incident is sometimes erroneously cited as evidence that masturbation is a sin, but that is not what Onan did.)

Having lost two sons, Judah was reluctant to give Shelah as a husband for Tamar for fear of losing him too. So Judah procrastinated. Eventually, Tamar took matters into her own hands. She travelled to meet Judah at the town of Enaim. Disguising herself as a temple prostitute, she had sex with him. Then she accepted his seal, cord, and staff as a pledge against future payment, and went back home. When she began to show in her pregnancy, she provided Judah's seal, cord, and staff as evidence that he was the father, which reminded him that he had not been fair to her. And so she escaped punishment.

Question to ponder or discuss: These men—Reuben, Simeon, Levi, and Judah—were the eldest sons of Leah, the wife Jacob was tricked into marrying. Genesis 29:31 tells us that Leah was “unloved”—literally, “hated”—by Jacob. And we learn in Genesis 37:3-4 that Jacob loved his son, Joseph, more than all of his other brothers. Clearly, Israel was no father of the year. What impact do you think Jacob’s attitude and behavior toward his children, and their mother, may have had in leading his four oldest sons into idolatry, violence, and immorality?

Copyright 2017 by Don Davidson



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Understanding the Old Testament


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