Jacob, later renamed Israel, fled from Esau to the land of his mother Rebecca where he providentially was guided to the household of Laban, his mother’s brother. After one month, Laban asked Jacob to name the wages he should receive for his service in tending the flocks. Now Jacob was in love with Rachel and made a covenant with Laban that he would serve 7 years as the bride-price for his youngest daughter. When the 7 years’ commitment had passed, Jacob asked for his wife Rachel. However, Laban deceived Jacob and gave Leah, his older daughter, to Jacob. This greatly upset Jacob, and after confronting Laban, he was given Rachel with the stipulation that he serve Laban another 7 years. Laban also gave handmaids to his daughters, namely Zilpah to Leah, and Bilhah to Rachel.
It is obvious from the account in Genesis 29 and 30 that there were feelings of rivalry between the sisters in attaining and maintaining the love of Jacob. Leah felt unloved and competed with Rachel in bearing sons. Overall, she bore six sons and Rachel two. Their two handmaidens also bore two sons each. In those days, a child borne of a handmaid was thought of as the wife’s son. Rachel first, and then Leah, did what they could to outdo one another. Each in turn requested Jacob sleep with her handmaid. All told, Jacob had 12 sons. (Gen. 35:23-26
Eleven of his sons were born in the service of Laban. Having served 14 years for his two wives and 6 years in building his own wealth, Jacob fled with his wives, children, and possessions. His last son, Benjamin, was born of Rachel on the way to Bethlehem. Sadly, Rachel died in childbirth.
Joseph, the 11th son, and first actual son of his favored wife, Rachel, was resented by his brothers (Benjamin being the exception) because of the greater attention from Jacob. They sold him into Egypt, where he rose in power and authority, becoming next to Pharaoh. Later, Jacob, his sons and their families settled in Egypt because of the famine and Joseph’s position. Thus, God’s providence sustained the incipient nation of Israel.