Wives of the Patriarchs (Abraham, Isaac and Jacob).
In the context of the Jewish and Christian Bible, the term “matriarchs” refers to a group of prominent women who are considered the female founders or ancestral mothers of the Israelite people.
- Sarah: wife of Abraham and considered the first matriarch. She is known for her faith and trust in God, as well as her role in the birth of Isaac, her son with Abraham.
- Rebecca: wife of Isaac and the mother of Jacob and Esau. She played a crucial role in facilitating Jacob’s reception of his father’s blessing. Rebecca is remembered for her beauty, kindness, and her participation in God’s plan for the chosen lineage.
- Leah: the older daughter of Laban and the first wife of Jacob. Though initially unloved by Jacob, she bore him many children. Leah is recognised for her perseverance and her significant role in the establishment, through her sons, of the twelve tribes of Israel.
- Rachel: the younger daughter of Laban and the beloved wife of Jacob. She is known for her beauty and her deep love for Jacob. Rachel gave birth to Joseph and Benjamin, two significant figures in the biblical narrative. Her tragic death during Benjamin’s childbirth is also a notable event.
Judaism, Christianity, and Islam hold that the patriarchs, along with their primary wives, the matriarchs Sarah, Rebekah and Leah, are entombed at the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron, a site held holy by the three religions. Rachel, Jacob’s other wife, is said to be buried separately at what is known as Rachel’s Tomb, near Bethlehem, at the site where she is believed to have died in childbirth.
Sarah (wife of Abraham)
Sarah is a biblical figure and the wife of Abraham. She is an important figure in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Sarah and Abraham faced challenges in conceiving a child, but according to the biblical account, God promised them a son. In their old age when Sarah was 101, she miraculously gave birth to Isaac, who became a significant figure in the religious traditions that followed. Sarah is celebrated for her faithfulness, loyalty, and resilience. Her story emphasizes the importance of trust in God’s promises and the strength of the family lineage that descended from her and Abraham. On the Goltzius engraving we see the very old Sarah laughing when she hears the angels on the background tell Abraham that they will get a son. Sarah cannot believe what she is hearing. It’s the background narrative on te print that depicts the encounter between Abraham and three angelic visitors who deliver this important message.
According to the story, Abraham saw three men standing near him. Recognising their divine nature, he hurriedly approached them and offered them hospitality, inviting them to rest and partake in a meal. Abraham and his wife Sarah quickly prepared a generous meal for their guests, consisting of freshly baked bread and cooked meat. As the guests enjoyed the meal, they engaged in conversation with Abraham. During the conversation, the visitors revealed that they were messengers from God and brought a message of great significance. They informed Abraham and Sarah that they would soon have a son, despite their old age and Sarah’s previous inability to conceive. Sarah overheard the conversation from inside the house and laughed incredulously, as she found it hard to believe such news. In response to Sarah’s laughter, one of the visitors questioned Abraham about her disbelief, asking, “Is anything too hard for the Lord?” This emphasized the divine power and ability to fulfill their promise. It also served as a reminder that God’s plans can exceed human expectations and limitations.
The story of Abraham and the three angels highlights themes of hospitality, faith, and divine intervention. Abraham’s generous and welcoming nature, serves as an example of righteousness and compassion. The announcement of Sarah’s impending pregnancy, despite her age, showcases the fulfilment of God’s promises and the possibility of miracles. And indeed, Sarah gave birth to Isaac.
Rembrandt’s Abraham Entertaining the Angels of 1646 depicts the foretelling of the birth of Isaac to the elderly Abraham and his wife, Sarah. This episode, from chapter 18 of Genesis, begins with the visit of three travelers, to whom Abraham offers a meal and water with which to wash their tired feet. While eating, the guests ask about Sarah, and one of them announces that she will give birth to a son in a year’s time. Hearing this, the old Sarah, on the painting standing in the doorway on the right, laughs in disbelief, prompting the speaker – now identified in the text as God – to chastise her, asking, “Is anything too hard for the Lord?” He thus reveals to the couple the divine and providential nature of his announcement.
Abraham (as Ibrahim) is also one of the most important prophets in Islam and is seen as a father of the Muslim people through his first child, Ishmael.
A Son Is Promised to Sarah, Genesis 18: 1-15 1One day Abraham was sitting at the entrance to his tent during the hottest part of the day. 2He looked up and noticed three men standing nearby. When he saw them, he ran to meet them and welcomed them, bowing low to the ground. 3Abraham said, “if it pleases you, stop here for a while. 4Rest in the shade of this tree while water is brought to wash your feet. 5And since you’ve honored your servant with this visit, let me prepare some food to refresh you before you continue on your journey.” “All right,” they said. “Do as you have said.” 6So Abraham ran back to the tent and said to Sarah, “Hurry! Get three large measures of your best flour, knead it into dough, and bake some bread.” 7Then Abraham ran out to the herd and chose a tender calf and gave it to his servant, who quickly prepared it. 8When the food was ready, Abraham took some yogurt and milk and the roasted meat, and he served it to the men. As they ate, Abraham waited on them in the shade of the trees. 9“Where is Sarah, your wife?” the visitors asked. “She’s inside the tent,” Abraham replied. 10Then one of them said, “I will return to you about this time next year, and your wife, Sarah, will have a son!” Sarah was listening to this conversation from the tent. 11Abraham and Sarah were both very old by this time, and Sarah was long past the age of having children. 12So she laughed silently to herself and said, “How could a worn-out woman like me enjoy such pleasure, especially when my my husband is also so old?” 13Then the visitor (who in meantime revealed himself as God) said to Abraham, “Why did Sarah laugh? Why did she say, ‘Can an old woman like me have a baby?’ 14Is anything too hard for the Lord? I will return about this time next year, and Sarah will have a son.” 15Sarah was afraid, so she denied it, saying, “I didn’t laugh.” But the Lord said, “No, you did laugh.”
Rebecca (wife of Isaac)
Rebecca is a biblical figure, also mentioned in the Book of Genesis. She is one of the matriarchs and the wife of Isaac and the mother of Jacob and Esau. According to the biblical narrative, the patriarch Abraham wanted to find a suitable wife for his son Isaac. He sent his servant with a convoy of camels to his homeland to find a wife and there the servant encountered Rebecca near a well. He approached Rebecca and asked for a drink of water. In a remarkable display of hospitality, Rebecca not only gave him water but also volunteered to draw water for his camels until they were satisfied. He was impressed by her kindness and hospitality and believed she was the chosen woman. The servant gave her gifts of jewellery and asked for her hand in marriage on behalf of Isaac, and Rebecca agreed to go with him.
Rebecca married Isaac and became the mother of their two sons, Jacob and Esau. She played a significant role in the story of the deception that led to Jacob receiving Isaac’s blessing instead of Esau. The story of Rebecca at the well highlights themes of divine guidance, hospitality, and faith. It is regarded as a pivotal event in the biblical narrative, shaping through Jacob the future of the Israelite people.
A Wife For Isaac, Genesis 24: 1-67 1Abraham was now a very old man, and the Lord had blessed him in every way. 2One day Abraham said to his oldest servant, the man in charge of his household, 4"Go to my homeland, to my relatives, and find a wife there for my son Isaac. 9So the servant took swore to follow Abraham’s instructions. 10Then he loaded ten of Abraham’s camels with all kinds of expensive gifts from his master, and he traveled to the distant land. 11He made the camels kneel beside a well just outside the town. It was evening, and the women were coming out to draw water. 12“O Lord, God of my master, Abraham,” he prayed. “Please give me success today, and show unfailing love to my master, Abraham. 13See, I am standing here beside this spring, and the young women of the town are coming out to draw water. 14This is my request. I will ask one of them, ‘Please give me a drink from your jug.’ If she says, ‘Yes, have a drink, and I will water your camels, too!’—let her be the one you have selected as Isaac’s wife.” 15Before he had finished praying, he saw a young woman named Rebecca coming out with her water jug on her shoulder. 16Rebecca was very beautiful and old enough to be married, but she was still a virgin. She went down to the spring, filled her jug, and came up again.17Running over to her, the servant said, “Please give me a little drink of water from your jug.” 18“Yes,” she answered, “have a drink.” And she quickly lowered her jug from her shoulder and gave him a drink. 19When she had given him a drink, she said, “I’ll draw water for your camels, too, until they have had enough to drink.” 20So she quickly emptied her jug into the watering trough and ran back to the well to draw water for all his camels. 21The servant watched her in silence, wondering whether or not the Lord had given him success in his mission. 22Then at last, when the camels had finished drinking, he took out a gold ring for her nose and two large gold bracelets for her wrists. 50Then later Rebecca's brother said 51"Here is Rebecca; take her and go. Yes, let her be the wife of your master’s son, as the Lord has directed.” 52When Abraham’s servant heard their answer, he bowed down to the ground and 53then he brought out silver and gold jewellery and clothing and presented them to Rebecca. He also gave expensive presents to her brother and mother. 54Then they ate their meal, and the servant and the men with him stayed there overnight.But early the next morning, Abraham’s servant said, “Send me back to my master.” 55“But we want Rebecca to stay with us at least ten days,” her brother and mother said. “Then she can go.” 56But he said, “Don’t delay me. The Lord has made my mission successful; now send me back so I can return to my master.” “Well,” they said, “we’ll call Rebecca and ask her what she thinks.” So they called Rebecca. “Are you willing to go with this man?” they asked her. And she replied, “Yes, I will go.” 59So they said good-bye to Rebecca and sent her away with Abraham’s servant and his men. The woman who had been Rebcca’s childhood nurse went along with her. 61Then Rebecca and her servant girls mounted the camels and followed the man. So Abraham’s servant took Rebcca and went on his way. 62Meanwhile, Isaac, when one evening as he was walking and meditating in the fields, he looked up and saw the camels coming. 64When Rebecca looked up and saw Isaac, she quickly dismounted from her camel. 65“Who is that man walking through the fields to meet us?” she asked the servant. And he replied, “It is my master.” So Rebecca covered her face with her veil. 66Then the servant told Isaac everything he had done. 67And Isaac brought Rebecca into his mother Sarah’s tent, and she became his wife. He loved her deeply, and she was a special comfort to him after the death of his mother.
Leah and Rachel (wives of Jacob)
Leah and Rachel are prominent figures in the biblical narrative, specifically in the Book of Genesis. They are sisters and the daughters of Laban, who is Rebecca’s brother. They become the wives of Jacoband play significant roles in the story of the patriarchs.
Jacob, the son of Isaac and grandson of Abraham, traveled to the land of his uncle Laban in search of a wife. Jacob encountered the beautiful Rachel at a well, where she was going to water her sheep. Jacob fell in love with Rachel at first sight and desired to marry her. In exchange for marrying Rachel, Laban asked Jacob to work for him for seven years. However, on the wedding night, Laban deceived Jacob by giving him Leah instead of Rachel. Upon discovering the deception, Jacob confronted Laban, who explained that it was not their custom to give the younger daughter in marriage before the elder daughter. Laban offered Rachel to Jacob as well but required him to work for an additional seven years. As a result, Jacob married both Leah and Rachel, becoming polygamous according to the customs of that time. Leah, who was described as having “weak eyes,” became Jacob’s first wife, while Rachel, whom Jacob loved more, became his second wife.
The story of Leah and Rachel portrays a complex and often troubled relationship between the two sisters. Leah, feeling unloved by Jacob, yearned for his affection. She gave birth to several sons, including Reuben, Simeon, Levi, and Judah. Rachel, on the other hand, initially faced infertility and struggled with jealousy over Leah’s ability to bear children. Eventually, Rachel conceived and gave birth to two sons, Joseph and Benjamin. Tragically, Rachel died while giving birth to Benjamin.
The story of Leah and Rachel encompasses themes of love, rivalry, fertility, and the complexities of family relationships. Their roles as the wives of Jacob and the mothers of the twelve tribes of Israel make them significant figures in the biblical narrative.
At the well, Jacob noticed a large stone covering its mouth. He asked the shepherds about the well and the people of the area. They informed him that they were waiting for all the shepherds to gather before they could remove the stone and water their flocks. While they were conversing, Jacob saw Rachel, Laban’s daughter, approaching the well with her father’s sheep. Overwhelmed by Rachel’s beauty, Jacob was immediately drawn to her. Filled with excitement, he approached the shepherds and asked them to remove the stone so that Rachel’s sheep could drink.
As Jacob helped Rachel water her flock, he was overcome with emotion. Without hesitation, he kissed Rachel and wept aloud. Jacob’s meeting with Rachel at the well is often romanticized as a moment of love at first sight. The story serves as a turning point in Jacob’s life, as it leads to his eventual marriage to Rachel and marks the beginning of his years of service to Laban in order to earn Rachel’s hand in marriage.
Jacob fell in love with Rachel and to earn her hand in marriage agreed to work as a shepherd for her father, Laban, for seven years. But, presumably under cover of the marriage veil, Laban substituted his elder daughter Leah for Rachel. When Jacob discovered the deceit the morning after the marriage, he was bitterly disappointed. He reproached his new father-in-law, but Laban argued that the elder daughter must be married first. He compromised by offering to allow him to marry Rachel as well – in return for another seven years work. The determined Jacob agreed, and was eventually simultaneously married to both sisters, and had 12 children.
Jan Steen in the painting above, portrays the dramatic moment of surprise when Jacob discovers the Laban has deceived him. The younger woman in the bed is Leah whom Jacob married the night before. Her handmaid kneels before her offering a bowl of water. To the left stands Rachel, while Laban is obliged to explain the deceit to a beseeching and agitated Jacob. Celebrants from the wedding night’s festivities give context and a bit of levity to the scene. The rich, theatrical setting and lush appointments of the bedroom set the scene in the historical past, a device that Steen may have adopted from contemporary Dutch theatre.
The story of Jacob and the speckled lambs depicts a scheme devised by Jacob to increase his own wealth while working for his father-in-law, Laban. After Jacob’s marriage to Laban’s daughters, Leah and Rachel, he agreed to work for Laban for a total of 14 years in exchange for marrying Rachel. During his service, Jacob became a skilled shepherd and developed a keen understanding of animal husbandry, although more relying on the hand of God than on Mendel’s Laws of Genetics.
Jacob noticed that Laban’s flock consisted mainly of solid-colored sheep and goats. He proposed a deal to Laban, suggesting that he would continue to work for him but requested a specific arrangement regarding the offspring of the flock. Jacob proposed that he would keep any lambs that were speckled, spotted, or otherwise marked differently from the rest of the flock as his own.
Laban agreed to this arrangement, likely thinking that the chances of such offspring were slim. However, Jacob had a plan. He took rods of poplar, almond, and plane trees and peeled off strips of bark to create striped patterns on them. He placed these rods in the watering troughs where the flock would come to drink. When the flock mated, Jacob strategically positioned the rods in the watering troughs so that the sight of the striped patterns would be imprinted in the minds of the animals during conception. As a result, many of the offspring were born with speckled, spotted, or striped markings.
Over time, Jacob’s flock began to grow, and Laban’s flock dwindled in comparison. Jacob’s understanding of animal breeding and the use of selective breeding techniques allowed him to increase his own wealth while Laban’s flock decreased. The story of Jacob and the speckled lambs demonstrates Jacob’s resourcefulness and cunning in outwitting Laban and increasing his own wealth. It also highlights the theme of divine intervention, as Jacob attributes his success to God’s guidance and favor.
Jacob arrives at the well, Genesis 29: 1-14 1Then Jacob hurried on, finally arriving in the land of the east. 2He saw a well in the distance. Three flocks of sheep and goats lay in an open field beside it, waiting to be watered. But a heavy stone covered the mouth of the well. 3It was the custom there to wait for all the flocks to arrive before removing the stone and watering the animals. Afterward the stone would be placed back over the mouth of the well. 7Jacob said, “Look, it’s still broad daylight, too early to round up the animals. Why don’t you water the sheep and goats so they can get back out to pasture?” 8“We can’t water the animals until all the flocks have arrived,” they replied. “Then the shepherds move the stone from the mouth of the well, and we water all the sheep and goats.” 9Jacob was still talking with them when Rachel arrived with her father’s flock, for she was a shepherd. 10And because Rachel was his cousin, the daughter of Laban, his mother’s brother, and because the sheep and goats belonged to his uncle Laban, Jacob went over to the well and moved the stone from its mouth and watered his uncle’s flock. 11Then Jacob kissed Rachel, and he wept aloud. 12He explained to Rachel that he was her cousin on her father’s side, the son of her aunt Rebecca. So Rachel quickly ran and told her father, Laban. 13As soon as Laban heard that his nephew Jacob had arrived, he ran out to meet him. He embraced and kissed him and brought him home. When Jacob had told him his story, 14Laban exclaimed, “You really are my own flesh and blood!” Jacob Marries Leah and Rachel, Genesis 29: 14-30 14After Jacob had stayed with Laban for about a month, 15Laban said to him, “You shouldn’t work for me without pay just because we are relatives. Tell me how much your wages should be.” 16Now Laban had two daughters. The older daughter was named Leah, and the younger one was Rachel. 17There was no sparkle in Leah’s eyes, but Rachel had a beautiful figure and a lovely face. 18Since Jacob was in love with Rachel, he told her father, “I’ll work for you for seven years if you’ll give me Rachel, your younger daughter, as my wife.” 19“Agreed!” Laban replied. “I’d rather give her to you than to anyone else. Stay and work with me.” 20So Jacob worked seven years to pay for Rachel. But his love for her was so strong that it seemed to him but a few days. 21Finally, the time came for him to marry her. “I have fulfilled my agreement,” Jacob said to Laban. “Now give me my wife so I can sleep with her.” 22So Laban invited everyone in the neighborhood and prepared a wedding feast. 23But that night, when it was dark, Laban took Leah to Jacob, and he slept with her. 25But when Jacob woke up in the morning—it was Leah! “What have you done to me?” Jacob raged at Laban. “I worked seven years for Rachel! Why have you tricked me?” 26“It’s not our custom here to marry off a younger daughter ahead of the firstborn,” Laban replied. 27“But wait until the bridal week is over; then we’ll give you Rachel, too—provided you promise to work another seven years for me.” 28So Jacob agreed to work seven more years. A week after Jacob had married Leah, Laban gave him Rachel, too. 30So Jacob slept with Rachel, too, and he loved her much more than Leah. He then stayed and worked for Laban the additional seven years. Jacob’s Wealth Increases, Genesis 30:25-43 25Soon after Rachel had given birth to Joseph, Jacob said to Laban, “Please release me so I can go home to my own country. 26Let me take my wives and children, for I have earned them by serving you, and let me be on my way. You certainly know how hard I have worked for you.” 27“Please listen to me,” Laban replied. “I have become wealthy, for the Lord has blessed me because of you. 28Tell me how much I owe you. Whatever it is, I’ll pay it.” 29Jacob replied, “You know how hard I’ve worked for you, and how your flocks and herds have grown under my care. 30You had little indeed before I came, but your wealth has increased enormously. The Lord has blessed you through everything I’ve done. But now, what about me? When can I start providing for my own family?” 31“What wages do you want?” Laban asked again. Jacob replied, “Don’t give me anything. Just do this one thing, and I’ll continue to tend and watch over your flocks. 32Let me inspect your flocks today and remove all the sheep and goats that are speckled or spotted, along with all the black sheep. Give these to me as my wages. 33In the future, when you check on the animals you have given me as my wages, you’ll see that I have been honest. If you find in my flock any goats without speckles or spots, or any sheep that are not black, you will know that I have stolen them from you.” 34“All right,” Laban replied. “It will be as you say.” 35But that very day Laban went out and removed the male goats that were streaked and spotted, all the female goats that were speckled and spotted or had white patches, and all the black sheep. He placed them in the care of his own sons, 36who took them a three-days’ journey from where Jacob was. Meanwhile, Jacob stayed and cared for the rest of Laban’s flock. 37Then Jacob took some fresh branches from poplar, almond, and plane trees and peeled off strips of bark, making white streaks on them. 38Then he placed these peeled branches in the watering troughs where the flocks came to drink, for that was where they mated. 39And when they mated in front of the white-streaked branches, they gave birth to young that were streaked, speckled, and spotted. 40Jacob separated those lambs from Laban’s flock. And at mating time he turned the flock to face Laban’s animals that were streaked or black. This is how he built his own flock instead of increasing Laban’s. 41Whenever the stronger females were ready to mate, Jacob would place the peeled branches in the watering troughs in front of them. Then they would mate in front of the branches. 42But he didn’t do this with the weaker ones, so the weaker lambs belonged to Laban, and the stronger ones were Jacob’s. 43As a result, Jacob became very wealthy, with large flocks of sheep and goats, female and male servants, and many camels and donkeys.
Abraham & Sarah
Two sons: Isaac (with Sarah) and Ismael (with Hagar).
Isaac & Rebecca
Two sons: Jacob and Esau
Jacob & Leah
Six sons and one daughter: Reuben, Simeon, Levi, Judah, Issachar, Zebulun and Dinah
Jacob & Rachel
Two sons: Joseph and Benjamin