The Meaning Behind the Names

In ancient times, names were given to people for a reason, no matter how trivial.  The meaning of the names of Jacob’s twelve sons gives great insight into the competitive struggle between his two wives, the sisters, Leah and Rachel:

Reuben means “See, a son!” (Leah said, “The Lord has seen my humiliation and affliction; now my husband will love me.”)

Simeon means “God hears.”  (Leah said, “Because the Lord heard that I am despised, He has given me this son also.”)

Levi means “companion.”  (Leah said, “Now this time will my husband be a companion to me, for I have borne him three sons.”)

Judah means “praise.”  (Leah said, “Now will I praise the Lord!”)

Dan means “judged.”  (Rachel said, “God has judged and vindicated me, and has heard my plea and has given me a son.”  Rachel named him; not Bilhah.)

Naphtali means “struggled.”  (Rachel said, “With mighty wrestlings I have struggled with my sister and have prevailed.”  Rachel named him; not Bilhah.)

Gad means “fortune.”  (Leah said, “Victory and good fortune have come.”  Leah named him, not Zilpah.)

Asher means “happy.”  (Leah said, “I am happy, for women will call me blessed.”  Leah named him, not Zilpah.)

Issachar means “hired.”  (Leah said, “God has given me my hire.”)  [For the details behind this, see Genesis 30:14:18]

Zebulun means “dwelling.”  (Leah said, “God has endowed me with a good marriage gift for my husband; now will he dwell with me because I have borne him six sons.”)

Joseph means “may he add.”  (Rachel said, “May the Lord add to me another son.”)

Benjamin means “son of my right hand.”  (Rachel, as she was dying, named him Ben-Oni, which means “son of my trouble,” but Jacob called him Benjamin instead.)

[Genesis 29:1-35, Genesis 30:1-24, and Genesis 35:16-19]

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