Grace Journal 13.1 (Winter 1972) 3-12.

          Copyright © 1972 by Grace Theological Seminary.  Cited with permission.








Charles L. Zimmerman

Pastor Evangelical Church

Archbold, Ohio


In Genesis 29:31-30:24 the birth of twelve of Jacob's children is

recorded. These children are the offspring of four different women,

Leah and Rachel, his wives, and Zilpah and Bilhah, their respective


It will be remembered that Jacob had bargained with Laban to

serve him seven years for his daughter Rachel. Upon being deceived

by Laban at the end of that seven years, Jacob was given Leah, the older

daughter of the family. Through further bargaining and mutual agree-

ment, for seven more years of service Jacob was given Rachel, the

woman he loved, one week later.

In Genesis 30:25, 26 it seems the last seven years of service had

been completed and the twelve children had been born. This fact will

be challenged by some of the suggested interpretations. Jacob then says

to Laban, his father-in-law, "Send me away, that I may go into my own

place and to my country. Give me my wives and my children for whom

I have served thee, and let me go: for thou knowest my service where-

with I have served thee.”

Now it is not difficult to understand how Jacob could have had

twelve children in seven years from four different women. No doubt

a number of the children could have been born contemporaneously. How-

ever, it is amazing to read that Leah gave birth to seven of the twelve

children which were born at that time. Of course, there is nothing


Charles L. Zimmerman holds the B. A. degree from Wheaton College, and

the B. D. and Th. M. degrees from Grace Theological Seminary. He is

presently pastor of the Evangelical Church of Archbold, Ohio.



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biologically impossible about having seven children in seven years, but

the real problem arises when we learn that during that seven year period,

"Leah saw that she left off bearing, so she took Zilpah her handmaid,

and gave her to Jacob to wife. And Zilpah, Leah's handmaid, bare Jacob

a son. And Leah said, 'Fortunate!' and she called his name Gad. And

Zilpah Leah's handmaid bear Jacob a second son. And Leah said, 'Happy

am I!' For the daughters will call me happy! and she called his name

Asher" (Gen. 30:9-13). How could Leah have borne seven children and

have had a barren period in which her handmaid bore two children, all

in seven years? Or did these events occupy some period other than

seven years?

It may be granted that this is not a problem of great theological

significance, but nevertheless it dare not be overlooked if the authority

and integrity of the Word of God is highly valued. In fact, whether

naturally or supernaturally, it must be answered if the inerrancy of the

Scripture is not to be sacrificed.




I. The births took place during two twenty year periods of ser-

vice that Jacob gave Laban.


The basis of this interpretation is found in Gen. 31:38, 41. In

these verses Jacob mentions twenty years of service to Laban two times.

This interpretation holds that the two sets of twenty years are different

periods and make a total of forty years in Laban's house. Each men-

tion of twenty years is introduced with the word zeh, which word, when

repeated, is used by way of distinction; as when we say, this or that;

the one or the other. The following passages are cited as confirming

this translation. "So that the one came not near the other" (Ex. 14:20).

"This hath more rest than the other" (Eccl. 6:5). The word zeh is

used twice at a greater distance, "one dieth . . . and another dieth"

(Job 21:23,25). Clark goes on to explain it as follows:


So here in Genesis 31:38 Jacob says to Laban, "during

the one set of twenty years I was with thee. . . ."

Meaning the time in which he lived, not in Laban's

house, but in his neighborhood; not as a servant but as

a friend; after he had served in Laban's house fourteen

years for his cattle. But then, as to the other twenty,

he tells Laban at verse 41, "during the other twenty

years for myself (own benefit) in thy house; I served  

thee fourteen, and six years." And during the last pe-

riod though only six years, he charges Laban with

changing his wages ten times.1




It should be observed that this interpretation is proposed, not

only to answer this problem, but also to solve many related problems

with the Biblical chronology of the period of the Bible patriarchs, Isaac

and Jacob. For instance, this longer period of time at Laban's house

gives relief to a very crowded chronology of events in the life of Jacob.

With this system of calculation Jacob would have left his home to find

his wife twenty years earlier, or at approximately fifty-seven years of

age. This age for Jacob to go looking for a wife harmonizes better with

the marriage age (40) of both Isaac and Esau than the traditional view

of seventy-seven.

Also, if Jacob had no son till he was eighty-five, and he went to

Egypt at one hundred and thirty, with sixty-six persons, only forty-five

years are allowed for his family, whereas the larger sum of sixty-five

years seems necessary for the births of so many children and grand-

children. This view also has the advantage of assigning such ages to

Simeon, Levi, Dinah, Benjamin, Judah, Er, and Onan as harmonize with

the events described in chapters 34 and 35.

Then there is the problem of harmonizing the dates of the patri-

archs with the exodus. John Rea has dealt with this matter in his doc-

toral dissertation, "The Historical Setting of the Exodus and the Con-

quest." Calculating from external sources, it would seem that Jacob

was only a young man of about eighteen years of age when he left home.

Of course, that age does not tally with the Scriptural indication of his

age. The Bible tells us that when Jacob was presented in the court of

Pharaoh, "the days of the years of my sojournings are a hundred and

thirty years; few and evil have been the days of the years of my life,

and they have not attained to the days of the years of the life of my

father:s in the days of their sojournings" (Gen. 47:9, RSV). By making

calculations based on the life of Joseph we learn that there was an in-

terval of about thirty-three years between the time when Jacob returned

from Haran and when he went down to sojourn in Egypt. If Jacob was

one hundred and thirty years old when he stood before Pharaoh, then he

must have been ninety-seven when he came back to Canaan. If Jacob

was with Laban only twenty years, then he was seventy-seven years old

when he left home. This is an extreme contradiction with the ancient

history calculation of eighteen years of age. This conflict can be re-

lieved a bit by making Jacob's stay with Laban forty years instead of

twenty. He would have gone from home at fifty-seven. It is interest-

ing to note, however, that Rea is not at all interested in accepting this

interpretation to help resolve some of the distance between the calcu-

lation from ancient history and the seeming Scriptural chronology. He

briefly discards the view in a footnote, saying, "I cannot agree that there

are two different periods of twenty years each referred to in Genesis

31:38 and 41, the view of R. Payne Smith. "2 What seems to be the


6                                              GRACE JOURNAL


reason for so little consideration of a view that seemingly aids in solving

a number of quite thorny problems?

The main refutation and weakness of this interpretation lies in the

grammar of the text. As has been noted, the proponents of this view

lay great emphasis upon the construction of the two clauses which men-

tion the twenty years of service. Each clause is introduced with the

word zeh. They proceed to claim that when zeh is repeated, it is used

by way of distinction; as when we say this or that; the one or the other;

and Scripture passages are cited to confirm this translation.

The writer was impressed by the fact that not one Hebrew scholar

whom he confronted with the suggested translation for this theory could

find any justifiable evidence in the text for such a translation. The whole

scheme breaks down when once it is observed that in each of the passages

used to confirm their point, when zeh is repeated, it is always connected

with the waw conjunctive. The waw conjunctive is the device used in the

language in such cases to convey the idea of distinction. Without the

waw conjunctive there is nothing to indicate this idea. In Genesis 31:38

and 41, where the two clauses mentioning the twenty years of service

are introduced by zeh, there is no waw conjunctive. Therefore, it may

be reasonably concluded that these two clauses are not arranged to imply

two different periods of twenty years but rather to emphasize the signi-

ficance of the one twenty year period in the mind of Laban. The follow-

ing is an arrangement of the chronology of Jacob's life according to this



Year                                        Event

0                                              Jacob and Esau born

40                                            Esau marries 2 Hittite wives

57                                            Jacob goes to Haran

58                                            Esau marries Ishmael's daughter

63                                            Ishmael dies at 137 years. of age

64        Fourteen years          Jacob marries Leah and Rachel

65        service for                 Reuben born

66        his wives                    Simeon born

67                                            Levi born

69                                            Dan born

71                                            Naphtali born

72                                            Gad born

74                                            Asher born

78        Twenty years            Reuben, at 13, finds mandrakes

79        service as a                Issachar born

81        friend                                     Zebulun. (82, Dinah)

86                                            Judah marries Shuah at 18

87                                            Er born (88, Onan; 89, Shelah)

91                                            Joseph born of Rachel




Year                            Event

91-97                          Six years of service for the cattle

97                                Jacob comes from Haran to Succoth

(Dinah defiled)

98                                Benjamin born, Rachel dies

105                             Tamar married to Er (106 to

108                             Joseph (17) sold into Egypt

109                             Shelah at 20 not given to Tamar

110                             Pharez and Zaran born of Tamar

120                             Isaac dies (180)

121                             Joseph (30) made governor of Egypt

123                             Beriah, 20, marries

125                             Heber (127, Malchiel) born to Beriah

128                             Pharez at 18 marries

129                             Hezron (130), Hamul) born to Pharez

130                             Benjamin at 32 has 10 sons, and Jacob

goes to Egypt

147                             Jacob dies3


            II.  Four of the births took place during the last seven year

period of service for Jacob’s wives and the remaining births occurred

during the six year period of service for Jacob’s flocks.


Those who hold to this view suggest that if Jacob's first child was

born in the first year of his second period of service, and if the other

births followed in the order in which they are enumerated in chapter 30,

it is impossible that Leah could have borne her six sons and one daughter

and Rachel could have borne afterwards Joseph by the end of the period,

so that the new contract could be made at the beginning of the fifteenth

year. It is, therefore, suggested that some of the births must be allowed

to occur in the third period of service. It is felt that the "text has

nothing against this; for the expression, my service, i.e. (30:26) my

time of service, need not necessarily be restricted to the seven years

of 29:18 and 27. It is thus clear that this verse is not from the author

of 31:41."4

This view assumes too much. First, it assumes the impossibility

of the birth of twelve children in seven years. This conclusion is made

upon the felt demand that the births followed each other in the order enu-

merated. There is nothing in the text to forbid the possibility of con-

temporaneous births on more than one occasion. A more positive proof

of this possibility will appear later. Secondly, it assumes that the ex-

pression, "my service, " (30:26) need not be restricted to the seven year

periods, but may be as well projected to include the following six year



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period. But the text does not read this way. In 30:25 it is not until

Rachel has borne Joseph, that Jacob asks to be sent away. It is then

following this (30:27-30) that Laban bargains with Jacob to stay another

six years. Joseph had to be born before the six year period of Jacob's

service for Laban's cattle. Thirdly, it assumes that the author of 30:26

is not the author of 31:41. The critical evidence for this is not final

and is based upon a superficial reading of the text. This conclusion is

not valid and is dangerous for the verbal inspiration of the Scriptures.

The following is an arrangement of the chronology for the dates of the



Wife or Handmaid

Year5              Name of Child                                              of Jacob

1                      Reuben                                                           Leah

2                      Simeon                                                           Leah

3                      Levi                                                                Leah

4                      Dan                                                                 Bilhah

4                      Judah                                                              Leah

5                      Naphtali                                                         Bilhah

6                      Gad                                                                 Zilpah

7                      Asher                                                              Zilpah

8                      Issachar                                                          Leah

9                      Zebulun                                                         Leah

10                    Dinah                                                                         Leah

11                    Joseph                                                            Rachel


III.  The birth of the six sons of Leah took place during the last

seven year period of service for Jacob’s wives, and the birth of Dinah,

the daughter, was sometime after this period.

This view, it seems to the writer, is only held in order to re-

lieve the congested period of seven years in which it would seem that

Leah had seven children. The grammatical construction, however. would

not seem to prevent this conclusion. The proponents say, "with regard

to the birth of Dinah, the expression ‘afterward’ ('hr, 30:21) seems to

indicate that she was not born during Jacob's second seven years of ser-

vice, but during the remaining six years of his stay with Laban.”6

This problem with this view arises when we come to chapter 34.

Here we read that Jacob had left Padan-aram and was dwelling in peace

at Shechem. At this time Shechem, the Hivite, the son of the prince,

took Dinah with him and seduced her. This event had to take place at

least a year before Joseph was seventeen (37:2). If Dinah was born any

length of time after Joseph, say the second year of Jacob's, six year ser-

vice for Laban's cattle, this would make Dinah fourteen years old or




even less when this experience with Shechem occurred. This would seem

quite unlikely biologically and would cause one to wonder why Jacob did

not keep a closer eye upon such a young girl. It is felt by the writer

that there was a wilful cooperation in this act of defilement. The fol-

lowing is a chronology of the births according to this arrangement.


Wife or Handmaid

Year7              Month                        Name of Child                      of Jacob

  1                    9                      Reuben                                   Leah

  2                    7                      Simeon                                   Leah

  3                    5                      Levi                                        Leah

  3                    8                      Dan                                         Bilhah

  48                  3                      Judah                                      Leah

  4                    7                      Naphtali                                 Bilhah

  5                    9                      Gad                                         Zilpah

  6                    10                    Asher                                      Zilpah

  6                    12                    Issachar                                  Leah

  7                    9                      Zebulun                                 Leah

  7                    11                    Joseph                                    Rachel

  9                    6                      Dinah                                                 Leah




The Interval of Time


The seven births took place within the second seven year period

that Jacob served Laban for his wives. The fallacy of accepting the

possibility of two twenty year periods of service for Laban was explained

under interpretation I. Under interpretation II, we showed the danger of

assuming too much. To say that some of the births took place during

the six year period of Jacob's service for cattle goes beyond what the

text says. A simple literal interpretation of the text would lead one to

conclude that the births all occurred during the second seven year period

of service.


The Arrangement of the Period


Since we have determined the period to be confined to the seven

years, the arrangement of the births in the seven years must be dealt

with. Now if all the children, whose births are given in 29:32-30:24,

had been born one after another during the period mentioned, not only

would Leah have had seven children in seven years, but there would have

been a considerable interval also, during which Rachel's maid and her


10                                            GRACE JOURNAL


own maid gave birth to children. This, of course, would have been im-

possible and the text does not really demand it.

When we bear in mind that the imperfect tense with the waw con-

secutive expresses not only the order of time, but also the order of

thought as well it becomes apparent that in the history of the births,

the intention to arrange them according to the mothers prevails over

the chronological order. Therefore, it by no means follows that because

the passage, "when Rachel saw that she bare Jacob no children" (30:1)

occurs after Leah is said to have had four sons, that it was not until

after the birth of Leah's fourth child that Rachel becomes aware of her


There is nothing on the part of grammar to prevent the arrange-

ment of events in this way. Leah's first four births follow as rapidly

as possible one after the other. In the meantime, not necessarily after

the birth of Leah's fourth child, Rachel, having discovered her own

barrenness, had given her maid to Jacob; so that possibly both Dan and

Naphtali were born before Judah. The rapidity and regularity with which

Leah had borne her first four sons, would make her notice all the more

quickly the cessation that took place (30:9). Jealousy of Rachel, as well

as the success of the means which she had adopted, would impel her to

attempt in the same method to increase the number of her children.

Moreover, Leah herself may have conceived again before the birth of her

handmaid's second son and may have given birth to her last two sons and

her daughter, Dinah, in the fifth, sixth, and seventh years of their mar-

riage. Contemporaneously with the birth of Dinah, or immediately after-

wards, Rachel may have given birth to Joseph. The following is a chron-

ology of Jacob's life according to this view and a chart indicating the ar-

rangement of the births of the twelve children in seven years.


Chronology of Jacob's Life


Year                                        Event

0                                              Jacob and Esau born

40                                            Esau marries 2 Hittite wives

63                                            Ishmael dies, age 137

77                                            Jacob goes to Haran

84                                            Jacob marries Leah and

84                                            Reuben born

85                                            Simeon born

86                                            Levi born

86                                            Dan born

87                                            Judah born

87                                            Naphtali born




Year                                        Event

88                                            Gad born

89                                            Asher born

89                                            Issachar born

90                                            Zebulun born

90                                            Dinah born

90                                            Joseph born

97                                            Jacob returns to Haran

98                                            Jacob dwells at Succoth

99                                            Jacob comes to Shechem and continues 8 yrs.

101                                         Judah marries Shuah's daughter

102                                         Er born (103, Onan; 104, Shelah)

106                                         Shechemites destroyed by Levi and Simeon

107                                         Benjamin. born, Rachel dies

108                                         Joseph sold at 17

111                                         Tamar married to Er

114                                         Tamar's incest

115                                         Pharez and Zaran born to Judah

120                                         Isaac dies at 180

121                                         Joseph made governor in Egypt

130                                         Jacob goes to Egypt

147                                         Jacob dies


Arrangement of Births


Wife or Handmaid

Year9              Month            Name of Child                            of Jacob

   1                   9                      Reuben                                               Leah

   2                   7                      Simeon                                               Leah

   3                   5                      Levi                                                    Leah

   3                   6                      Dan                                                     Bilhah

   410                3                      Judah                                                  Leah

   4                   5                      Naphtali                                             Bilhah

   5                   3                      Gad                                                     Zilpah

   6                   1                      Asher                                                  Zilpah

   6                   3                      Issachar                                              Leah

   7                   1                      Zebulun                                             Leah

   7                   11                    Dinah                                                             Leah

   7                   12                    Joseph                                                Rachel


12                                GRACE JOURNAL




1.         Adam Clarke, Clarke’s Commentary (New York:

1850) Vol. I, p. 210.

2.         John Rea, "The Historical Setting of the Exodus and the Conquest,"

Unpublished doctoral dissertation, Grace Theological Seminary,

Winona Lake, Indiana, 1956, p. 82.

3.         Adam Clarke, Clarke’s Commentary (New York: Lane and Scott.

1850) Vol. I, p. 211.

4.         A. Dillmann, Genesis (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1897). p. 245.

5.         Calculation begins from the first year of Jacob's marriage to Leah.

6.         C. F. Keil and F. Delitzsch, Commentary on the Pentateuch

(Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1885). p. 311.

7.         Calculation begins from the first year of Jacob's marriage to Leah.

8.         Leah's barren period is from 4-5 to 4-12.

9.         Calculation begins from the first year of Jacob's marriage to Leah.

10.       Leah's barren period is from 4-3 to 5-7.





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