Each of the names of Jacob’s sons means something, especially to the mothers. Which name moves you most?
- Reuben: Hebrew for “See, a son.” “Maybe now my husband will love me, since I have given him a son” (29:32).
- Simeon: Sounds like the Hebrew term for “one who hears.” “…Because the Lord has heard that my husband still does not love me, so he gave me another son” (29:33).
- Levi: Sounds like the Hebrew term for “becoming attached.” “Now my husband and I will develop a deep bond” (29:34).
- Judah: Sounds like the Hebrew term for “praise.” “Now my husband and I will develop a deep bond” (29:35).
- Dan: Hebrew for “he judged.” “God has listened to the case I made. He rendered the judgment that I am a fit parent, since he has given me a son” (30:6).
- Naphtali: Hebrew for “competition,” or “struggle.” “I’ve competed with my sister for so long. I fought hard, too. Now, I’ve finally won” (30:8).
- Gad. Hebrew for “lucky.” “I’m so lucky!” (30:11).
- Asher. Hebrew for “happy.” “I’m so happy! Women everywhere will call me happy!” (30:13).
- Issachar: Hebrew for “reward.” “God was happy about me giving my slave to Jacob, so he gave me a reward” (30:18).
- Zebulun: Sounds like the Hebrew word for “honor” or “respect.” “God has given me such a wonderful gift. Surely my husband will respect me now, since I have given him six sons” (30:20).
- Joseph: Sounds like Hebrew word for “more.” “I’m asking the LORD to do it again, and give me another son” (30:24).
Reading the full list of names and the reasons for those names feels heartbreaking. No matter how wide-eyed, bug-eyed, or cross-eyed Leah may be (29:17), readers feel for her. The name of her first son, Reuben, may be as moving as any of the others. What might seem interesting, though is that from Leah’s first son to her last son, she moves from asking for her husband’s love, with Reuben, to asking for her husband’s respect, with Zebulun.
Reprinted from the Leader’s Guide & Atlas for Genesis