Where did Jacob’s troubles begin? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.
Jacob is the patriarch who embraced polygamy. To be fair, he was kind of tricked into it, but still, he had more than one wife. Unfortunately, as we go through the story, we will see that this leads to trouble for Jacob. After all, some siblings of his will not get along with others and considering they call different women, “Mom” that could explain some of it.
For the positives, it looks like when Jacob comes in at one point, Rachel has borrowed some mandrakes from Leah to increase fertility for herself and says Leah can sleep with Jacob tonight in exchange. Thus, one can understand that it looks like Jacob knew that when he came home that evening, he’d be sleeping with someone.
It wasn’t just Rachel and Leah. They also gave their female servants to Jacob to sleep with to continue their family line. Thus, four different women in the text become mothers and all do so through Jacob.
One reason for this is that Leah was being neglected by Jacob because he had a greater love for Rachel. As a result, God allowed Leah to get pregnant more often and closed the womb of Rachel. Leah is the one who in the end provides Jacob with half of his sons and has a daughter as well.
Still, polygamy is one of those practices that never seems to end well for those involved in Scripture. Rachel always carries a position of the favorite and thus, her children carry positions of favor with Jacob as well. As we go through the history of Jacob and his family, we will see this play out more and more. In the account of the birth of most of Jacob’s children, you find some squabbling taking place and if this was the worst of the effects of polygamy, there wouldn’t be much of a case, but later on, we’ll see more.
It’s also worth noting that Jacob’s brother, Esau, also had married multiple women and they were a source of grief to Rebekkah. Esau’s solution was not to get rid of them, but to marry another woman he thought his mother would approve of. Later on in Israelite history, getting rid of wives that are outside of the covenant would be more necessary.
Thus, aside from perhaps Pharaoh and Abimelech who have harems in Genesis, Lamech, Esau, and Jacob are the only ones I can think of at least that have multiple wives. We don’t know enough about the inner workings of those other families to speak about them, but we do know enough about Jacob.
Polygamy was one of those borderline practices God tolerated in the Old Testament, but in the time of the new covenant, He was much stricter on. Most Jews at the time of Jesus were highly monogamous. Paul will later write that an elder needs to be the husband of one wife and yes, we will look at that passage a lot more when we get there.
For now, just know Jacob has rough times coming ahead.
(And I affirm the virgin birth)