Genesis 29:14 through 30:24 tells how Jacob came to have wives and children. Jacob first works seven years to marry Rachel but his father-in-law, Laban, sneaks his older daughter, Leah, into Jacob’s tent on the wedding night. Jacob is furious but receives Rachel also after celebrating his wedding to Leah for a week.
Then there’s the pain of childbirth. Emphasis on “pain.” The story of how Jacob’s sons were born is a full-on soap opera: full of jealousy, conniving, one-upping, and self-interest. Leah and Rachel use their wombs as weapons in a war for Jacob’s affections. The only problem is Rachel can’t have kids. So she gives her slave, Bilhah, to Jacob and has two sons through her. Although Leah was able to have 4 sons herself, she can’t be outdone. So she gives Jacob her slave, Zilphah, and has 2 more sons through her. Then, Rachel sells Jacob’s body to Leah for some mandrakes. Leah has another son. And another. Finally, God remembers Rachel and allows her to have a son herself. Years later, Rachel birthed Jacob’s last son–Benjamin–as she was dying (Gen. 35:17-18).
The names of Jacob’s sons are:
Reuben–“See, a son”
Simeon–“He hears / obeys”
Asher–“Happy / blessed”
Issachar–“There is recompense”
Zebulun–“Exalted / lofty”
Joseph–“Add to / harvest”
Benjamin–“Son of my right hand”
The names of these sons describe another Son–God’s Son, Christ. Consider how the names, “Son of my right hand,” “Exalted,” or “Judge” suggest the risen Christ. Names like “My struggle” or “He hears / obeys” allude to Jesus’s time on earth, His suffering and death.
Jacob’s wives prophetically show us the main activity of the church: bringing forth the Son. Walking out this marriage with the Lord in the earth is a messy process. Jacob’s wives show how very human the bride of Christ is. The church is full of fallen drama, self, factions, competition, angling, manipulation, and all the angst we see with Jacob’s wives. Despite all of that, Jacob’s wives brought forth sons. And despite all that is good, bad, and ugly in the church, God is bringing forth Christ. There is no doubt about that.
Paul tells us God works all things together for the good of those who love Him and are called according to His purpose (Rom. 8:28). That purpose is laid out in the next verse–“For those He foreknew He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brothers” (Rom. 8:29). God’s redemptive purpose through the cross is so powerful He makes everything work toward the bringing forth of Christ within. Our successes, failures, good days, bad days–all of it is useful to God in conforming us to the image of His Son.
The names of Jacob’s sons all came out of the particular circumstances around their conception and birth. This shows how God uses all our circumstances to conform us to Jesus, to bring forth His image in us. Second Corinthians 4:7-11 demonstrate how being pressured, perplexed, persecuted, and struck down lead to us manifesting the death and life of Jesus. Under God’s administration, everything contributes to the Son’s formation. As the names of Jacob’s sons all bring out different aspects of God’s Son, we can rely on God to grow us in all aspects of Christ, “into a mature man with a stature measured by Christ’s fullness” (Eph. 4:13).
What encouragement this is as we live with our own weaknesses in this world! We are predestined to be conformed to the image of God’s Son. God conceives, grows, and manifests His Son in us because it is His unalterable plan to do so. We do not assure that plan by our achievements. We do not thwart that plan by utter failure. God is God. His plan depends on Him. He opens the womb of divine actualization. He brings forth His Son, come hell or high water. All praise and glory to Him!