Desperate Housewives – Genesis 29:31-30:24: Reflection Guide

Reflection Guide – Genesis 29:31-30:24

Key Terms

Bilhah & Zilpah – Bilhah and Zilpah were Rachel and Leah’s personal servants. Though this story sounds strange and even offensive today, the practice of bearing children through a slave serving as a surrogate was common in the ancient world when a couple could not have children.

My reproach – In this ancient culture there was a high expectation for women to marry and bear children and not doing so often brought public ridicule and shame. Rachel names her firstborn child Joseph because Joseph sounds like the word translated taken away in verse 23. For Rachel, her son Joseph has taken away her reproach or shame.


As the story continues, the Lord saw that Jacob preferred Rachel over Leah and has compassion on Leah by providing four sons to Jacob and Leah (v. 31). Leah names the first son Ruben, saying, Because the Lord has looked upon my affliction; for now my husband will love me (v. 32). Leah names her next two sons similarly—Simeon and Levi—before shifting a bit and naming her fourth son Judah, and saying, “This time I will praise the Lord” (v. 35). Meanwhile, Rachel has been unable to have children with Jacob and Rachel has become jealous and angry (v. 1). This results in Rachel giving her servant Bilhah to Jacob and Jacob and Bilhah have two sons—Dan and Naphtali (vv. 2-8). This scene recalls when Sarah did the same with her servant Hagar when Sarah and Abraham were unable to have children (Gen 16:2). After watching her sister obtain two sons through her servant, Leah decides to do the same and gives her servant Zilpah to Jacob and Jacob and Zilpah have two sons together—Gad and Asher (vv. 9-13). The narrator continues to relate the birth of Jacob’s children with a story about one of Jacob’s sons’—Reuben—finding mandrakes in a field (v. 14). Mandrakes are an herb with small tomato-like fruit and long roots and that oddly can resemble a human body. Because of their appearance, mandrakes were thought to be an aphrodisiac and to promote fertility, which seems to be part of the reason Rachel and Leah argue over them. In the end, Leah trades the mandrakes for a night with Jacob and Leah bears Jacob another son named Issachar (vv. 15-18). Leah then has two more children named in the story—Zebulun and Dinah (vv. 19-21). Then the writer says God remembered Rachel and she finally conceives and bears a son whom she names Joseph, saying God has taken away my reproach (v. 24).

Did You Know?

Although Dinah is the only daughter named, it’s likely Jacob had multiple daughters (see Gen 34:9 & 46:15). In a patriarchal culture like the Ancient Near East, it’s not unexpected that the focus would be on Jacob’s sons. Dinah is likely mentioned because of her significance in the story later (Gen 24).

Going Deeper

Read Romans 8:31-39, Ephesians 3:18-19, and Psalm 5:11-12. What do these verses say about God’s love for you? Where are you currently searching for love and acceptance apart from God? How do these truths about God’s love encourage you?

Reflection Questions

Learning the Word

1. Read Genesis 29:31-30:24. What emotions and internal drives do you see in these people?

2. Does the dysfunctional nature of so many biblical families bother you? Why or why not?

3. What do the various names reveal about these women and their search for significance and affection?

4. How does God fulfill his purposes though such a messy family scene? How is God glorified by working in and through the messes of his people?

5. Read Matthew 1:1-2. Who is the most important descendent of this messy family? What does this fact teach us about God?

Living the Word

6. Have you ever felt unloved or unseen or unimportant? Have you ever longed for something you knew you couldn’t have? Why do our unsatisfied longings sometimes bring out the worst in us?

7. What deep longings of your heart are caused by an inordinate hope for someone or something to fulfill you as only Jesus can? What are some ways that you seek to fulfill the longings of your heart in misguided ways?

8. How does Christ provide so much more graciously and freely the very things that you are longing for?

9. As you seek to live this out, take some time this week to reflect on the questions below. You may want to write out your thoughts or process with a friend. As you go throughout your week, what was really exciting? what made you angry? what brought you sadness? when did you feel your joy go up? when did you feel invisible or that you didn’t matter? Take some time to reflect on how Christ and the gospel speak to these hopes in your life. How does Jesus actually meet these needs?

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