Jacob, the son of Isaac and the grandson of Abraham, had 12 sons, six of whom were born to Jacob’s wife Leah.
- Reuben was his firstborn. Leah conceived Reuben when God saw that Jacob had a special love for his second wife, Rachel, Leah’s sister (see Gen. 29:31-32). Reuben means “behold, a son.” Reuben had intimate relations with one of his father’s concubines, Bilhah (see 35:22; 49:4). Later, when his brothers conspired to sell Joseph into slavery, Reuben had compassion for Joseph (see 37:21-22,29-30). When Jacob was hesitant to send Benjamin with his other sons to buy food in Egypt a second time, Reuben offered to accept responsibility for his youngest brother (see 42:37).
- Simeon, also born to Leah, was Jacob’s second son (see 29:33). Simeon means “hears and obeys.” Simeon, along with his brother Levi, avenged the rape of their sister Dinah. (Dinah was born to Leah after Zebulin, the sixth son born to Jacob and Leah [see 30:19-21]). Dinah had been violated by Shechem (see Gen. 34:1-31 for the full story). Later, Joseph, by then Pharaoh’s right-hand man, kept Simeon with him in Egypt during the time between the departure of the other brothers from Egypt and their return (see 42:24,36; 43:23).
- The third son of Jacob was Levi. His mother also was Leah. Levi means “joined.” He became the original father of the tribe of Israel’s priests.
- Judah, whose name means “praise of the Lord,” was Jacob’s fourth son, as well as the fourth son of Leah. Through Judah’s union with Tamar, Perez and Zarah were born (see Gen. 38:1-30 for the full story). Judah became the father of the tribe that bore his name, and centuries later, Jesus would be born into this tribe. We see this foreshadowed in Jacob’s blessing of Judah in 49:8-12.
- The ninth son born to Jacob also was a son to Leah (see 30:17-18). After bearing Jacob four sons and then going through a period of time when she didn’t have children, Leah once again gave birth. Leah named her fifth son Issachar, whose name means “reward.” Many years later, it was said of the men of Issachar, they “understood the times and knew what Israel should do” (1 Chron. 12:32).
- Leah bore Jacob yet another son—her sixth and Jacob’s 10th. Zebulun was his name (see Gen. 30:19-20). Zebulun means “dwelling.” Later, as we mentioned above, Dinah was born to Leah (see v. 21).
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