It is generally thought that the son's of Jacob were born in the sequence
they are listed in chapters 29 and 30 of Genesis.
Reuben to Leah
Simeon to Leah
Levi to Leah
Judah to Leah
Dan to Rachel's handmaid
Naphtali to Rachel's handmaid
Gad to Leah's handmaid
Asher to Leah's handmaid
Issachar to Leah
Zebulun to Leah
Joseph to Rachel
subsequently Benjamin to Rachel (Gen 35:16-18)
However, the problem with this perspective is that Scripture seems to
allow less than 7 years from the first born Reuben to Joseph.
Reuben is the firstborn son after the marriage of Jacob to Leah. The
marriage to Leah occurring after the initial seven years that Jacob
worked for Laban.
Joseph is born prior to the end of the second span of seven years. That
is prior to Jacob agreeing to work another 6 years for Laban.
Gen 30:25 And it came to pass, when Rachel had borne Joseph,
that Jacob said to Laban, "Send me away, that I
may go to my own place and to my country.
:26 Give me my wives and my children for whom I have
served you, and let me go; for you know my service
which I have done for you."
:27 And Laban said to him, "Please stay, if I have
found favor in your eyes, for I have learned by
experience that the Lord has blessed me for your
:28 Then he said, "Name me your wages, and I will
31:41 Thus I have been in your house twenty years;
I served you fourteen years for your two daughters,
and six years for your flock, and you have changed
my wages ten times.
So the question arises, "Is seven years enough time?".
For Leah to:
1) give birth to four sons,
2) identify a period when she is barren (Gen 30:9),
3) then give birth to a further two sons.
Leah may have given birth to the first four sons in the first four
years, ceased bearing children in the fifth year, and had her last
two children in years six and seven.
While it may be hypothetically possible, it does seem as though the
text is suggesting these events actually spanned a longer period of
Could the last two sons of Leah have been born during the subsequent
period of six years when Jacob was working for the flock of Laban?
Is the text discussing the mandrakes, encountered prior to the birth
of the last two sons of Leah, trying to indicate a relevant timing?
There is within the mandrake text an unexpected comment from Leah.
Gen 30:15 But she [Leah] said to her [Rachel],
"Is it a small matter that you have
taken away my husband? ..."
So while Rachel was initially the wife Jacob sought, it was Leah
that gave him his initial sons. This caused Rachel to blame Jacob,
and as a result Jacob became angry with Rachel (Gen 301-2).
So Rachel fought back by trying to gains sons via her handmaid.
After this, when Leah became barren, Leah also offered her handmaid.
Yet despite these events it is clear from the comment of Leah,
"you have taken away my husband", that at the time of the mandrake
incident that Rachel had gained the upper hand. That Rachel had
regained the favour of Jacob. Won again the love of Jacob!
For this reason Leah had said, "you have taken away my husband".
Given the context of Genesis chapter 29 and 30, the only event which
would have been serious enough to have captured the love of Jacob to
such an extent would have been the birth of Rachel's first son.
The birth of Joseph!
So if we place the birth of Joseph just prior to the end of the second
span of seven years, then the birth of Leah's last two sons must have
occurred during the subsequent period of six years.
If we are questioning the birth order placement of Leah's last two sons
then we may need to consider the birth order of the second sons of both
So this means that a total of four sons may have been born to Jacob
during the six year period when he was working for the flock of Laban.
So what does this mean?
It means that Joseph, the firstborn of Rachel, would not have been the
eleventh son of Jacob.
We have already discussed that Gen 37:3 should be understood to mean,
Gen 37:3 Now Israel loved Joseph more than all his children,
because he was the builder of his old age. ...
That this verse refers to when Joseph was
17 years old and chosen by God to be the
'builder' of the family.
The confusion arises because the word 'son'
is derived from a word meaning to 'build'.
The true 'son' of Jacob's old age was Benjamin.
Gen 44:20 And we said to my lord, 'We have a father,
an old man, and a child of his old age,
who is young; his brother is dead, and he
alone is left of his mother's children,
and his father loves him.
So what was the birth order of Jacob's sons?
It seems there is some lack of clarity on this issue. However we can
conclude the following.
*** SUMMARY ***
1) Leah's first four sons were older than Joseph.
2) It is reasonable to assume the firstborn sons of the
handmaids were also older than Joseph.
3) There is uncertainty about whether the second sons of
the handmaids were older or younger than Joseph.
4) The last two sons of Leah were younger than Joseph.
5) Benjamin was the youngest.
NB: There is some subtle indications that the 20 years that Jacob
served Laban corresponded to calendar years.
1) The mandrakes incident occurred at the time of the wheat harvest.
In the Spring at the start of the year.
(Start of the final six years.)
2) The 'week' for Leah.
This may have been a literal week, but perhaps more likely was
a reference to the 7 Sabbaths prior to the Feast of Weeks. A
period which started in the first month and ended in the third
(This occurred at the start of the second period of seven years.)