Tag Archives: Jacob and sons

What’s the Deal with Levi?

Levi was one of Jacob’s sons (the third of twelve).  The Bible doesn’t tell us much about him; what it does say, doesn’t bode well.

The short version is that Levi’s sister, Dinah is raped.  Levi and brother Simeon exact revenge by killing the perpetrator, his family, and the whole village, plus taking all their stuff.  Levi’s version of justice far exceeds the crime — and father Jacob is ticked.  [Genesis 34:1-5, 25-31]

Jacob doesn’t forget this incident either.  On his deathbed he gathers his sons to prophetically tell them their future.  This would be a time of expected blessing.  Not so for Levi (along with Simeon).  Because of their misdeed, Jacob essentially curses them.  [Genesis 49:1, 5-7]

Interestingly, many centuries later God — through the prophet Malachi — reveals what he thinks of Levi, saying “True instruction was in his mouth and nothing false was found on his lips. He walked with me in peace and uprightness, and turned many from sin.”  [Malachi 2:6]

God’s view of Levi is certainly different than Jacob’s.  While Jacob focuses on the bad and can’t forget it, God forgets the bad and focuses on the good.

When we follow God, that’s what he does.

An Eye for an Eye, a Tooth for a Tooth — Not

Moses gave a curious command: “Show no pity: life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot.”  This seems to be an excessive response when one is wronged, but given the culture of that day, it was actually a move towards moderation.

For example, when Jacob’s daughter Dinah was raped, her brothers avenged her violation by killing the perpetrator and all the men in his village and then sacking the city.  That is excessive — and what God, through Moses, wanted to rein in with his “eye of eye, tooth for tooth” imperative.

Jesus, however, took this one step further when he told us to love our enemies and pray for them.  That’s how we should act today — lovingly, not vengeful.

[Deuteronomy 19:21, Genesis 34:1-31 (especially verse 2 and 25), Matthew 5:38-48 (especially verse 44)]

The Meaning Behind the Names

In ancient times, names were given to people for a reason, no matter how trivial.  The meaning of the names of Jacob’s twelve sons gives great insight into the competitive struggle between his two wives, the sisters, Leah and Rachel:

Reuben means “See, a son!” (Leah said, “The Lord has seen my humiliation and affliction; now my husband will love me.”)

Simeon means “God hears.”  (Leah said, “Because the Lord heard that I am despised, He has given me this son also.”)

Levi means “companion.”  (Leah said, “Now this time will my husband be a companion to me, for I have borne him three sons.”)

Judah means “praise.”  (Leah said, “Now will I praise the Lord!”)

Dan means “judged.”  (Rachel said, “God has judged and vindicated me, and has heard my plea and has given me a son.”  Rachel named him; not Bilhah.)

Naphtali means “struggled.”  (Rachel said, “With mighty wrestlings I have struggled with my sister and have prevailed.”  Rachel named him; not Bilhah.)

Gad means “fortune.”  (Leah said, “Victory and good fortune have come.”  Leah named him, not Zilpah.)

Asher means “happy.”  (Leah said, “I am happy, for women will call me blessed.”  Leah named him, not Zilpah.)

Issachar means “hired.”  (Leah said, “God has given me my hire.”)  [For the details behind this, see Genesis 30:14:18]

Zebulun means “dwelling.”  (Leah said, “God has endowed me with a good marriage gift for my husband; now will he dwell with me because I have borne him six sons.”)

Joseph means “may he add.”  (Rachel said, “May the Lord add to me another son.”)

Benjamin means “son of my right hand.”  (Rachel, as she was dying, named him Ben-Oni, which means “son of my trouble,” but Jacob called him Benjamin instead.)

[Genesis 29:1-35, Genesis 30:1-24, and Genesis 35:16-19]

More on Jacob’s Twelve Sons

So, we know that Jacob’s twelve sons had four mothers: Leah was the spurned wife; Rachel was the favorite wife; Bilhah was Rachel’s maid and Zilpah was Leah’s maid.  Here is their birth order and how it all breaks down:

1) Reuben, his mom was Leah
2) Simeon, his mom was Leah
3) Levi, his mom was Leah
4) Judah, his mom was Leah

5) Dan, his mom was Bilhah, Rachel’s maid
6) Naphtali, his mom was Bilhah, Rachel’s maid

7) Gad, his mom was Zilpah, Leah’s maid
8) Asher, his mom was Zilpah, Leah’s maid

9) Issachar, his mom was Leah
10) Zebulun, his mom was Leah
(Then Leah also had a daughter, Dinah.)

11) Joseph, his mom was Rachel
12) Benjamin, his mom was Rachel

It was a tough way to have twelve sons.  Just because that’s how it happened, does not mean that God approves of such an arrangement!

[Genesis 29:1-35, Genesis 30:1-24, and Genesis 35:16-19]

Jacob’s Twelve Sons…and Their Four Moms

In Joseph and the Technicolor Dreamcoat, a reoccurring theme is Jacob’s twelve sons.  What isn’t apparent from Dreamcoat is many of the sons were half brothers; Jacob was indeed the father of all, but there were four different moms.

Here is how this convoluted family tree happened:

Jacob fell in love with Rachel (his uncle’s daughter, that is, his first cousin). Since he had no dowry, he agreed to work for his uncle seven years for her hand in marriage. The morning after the wedding, he discovered that his veiled bride was actually Leah, Rachel’s older sister.  He had been duped by his Uncle Laban. After protesting, Laban also gives Jacob Rachel’s hand in exchange for another seven years of labor.

Leah begins having children (six sons in all), but Rachel is childless — so she has her husband sleep with their maid, Bilhah, to produce children in her stead; Bilhah has two sons. In an escalating competition, Leah follows suit, giving her maid, Zilpah, to sleep with Jacob; Zilpah also has two sons.

Finally, Rachel gets pregnant and has Joseph. As the first-born of Jacob’s favorite wife, Joseph is doted upon by his father; hence he is given the infamous coat of many colors, thereby earning the wrath of his brothers. Later, Rachel also gives birth to Benjamin, the youngest of the twelve; sadly Rachel dies in childbirth.

Although the nation of Israel is launched through these twelve sons, Jacob’s family life is a lesson of everything not to do.

[Genesis, chapters 27 through 29]

Here I Am

A reoccurring statement in the Bible is “Here I am.”

This was often said to God when he calls out or speaks to one of his children.

  • Twice, when God called to Abraham, Abraham responded with, “Here I am.” [Genesis 21:1 and 22:11]
  • Abraham’s grandson Jacob had similar experiences.  Once an angel came to Jacob in a dream (on God’s behalf) and another time God spoke to Jacob in a vision at night.  Both times Jacob replied by saying, “Here I am.” [Genesis 31:11 and 46:2]
  • Some 400 hundred years later, God spoke from the midst of a burning bush and Moses said, “Here I am.” [Exodus 3:4]

Abraham, Jacob, and Moses were all expectantly ready to listen to God.  We need to do the same.

Later Jesus said, “Here I am” in obedience to do the will of his father. [Hebrews 10:7-9, which is quoting the prophetic text in Psalm 40:7.]

Lastly, this phrase is spoken to us by Jesus.  He says,

“Here I am!  I stand at the door and knock.  If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me.” [Revelation 3:20]

Jesus is saying that he is ready for us; he is waiting; all we need to do is open the door for him.