Journey Through The Scriptures

The Twelve Tribes of Israel, Part I

Lesson 6: Open Rivalry in Jacob's House

(Scripture to Read: Genesis 30:1420; 49:1315)

By the time we come to the births of Issachar and Zebulun, Jacob’s ninth and tenth sons and the fifth and sixth born to Leah, the rivalry in this household was out in the open. The conception of Issachar only happened – at least from the human standpoint – because of a deal struck between Leah and Rachel whereby Leah purchased Jacob’s companionship for one night. Mandrakes were thought to aid in fertility, so it is not surprising that Leah and Rachel both wanted them.

But Leah held the upper hand, so Rachel had to give something in return for what she wanted. Issachar was born and given a name that meant “reward.” We are not told how the conception of Zebulun came about. Perhaps Jacob was pleased by the birth of another son and spent more time with Leah. Zebulun can mean both “dwelling” and “honor,” so it seems Leah felt that giving Jacob so many sons would cause him to dwell with and honor her. Issachar and Zebulun appear to have been like most of their brothers – basically undistinguished. Once again, the only detail given of their lives is the notation that they had four and three sons, respectively, when the family moved to Egypt (Genesis 46:1314).

Study Questions

  1. Describe how you see the hand of God at work amid all the rivalries and scheming in Jacob's family.
  2. How does Reuben's involvement in this part of the story indicate that the rivalry had spread to his generation?
  3. Why did Leah believe that God's answer to her prayer came because she had given Zilpah to Jacob as his fourth wife?
  4. Was Leah's hope that the birth of Zebulun (and all six of her sons) would finally turn Jacob's heart toward her ever realized?

Something to Think About

We will learn in our next study that many years later, each of these two tribes provided a leader for Israel during the period of the judges. Just as faithfulness on our part today can mean blessing for future generations, so a lack of significant achievements now does not rule out the possibility that God can use us in greater ways in the future.