The Bible Vindicated! - 18
After Jacob’s unannounced departure from his uncle in Padan-Aram, Laban pursued Jacob almost all the way into Canaan. Laban had pulled every trick in the book to keep receiving the ultra-cheap labors of his nephew, and he was not about to give that up easily. He was evidently prepared to bring Jacob back by force if necessary - until he received a message from God, “Be careful not to say anything to Jacob, either good or bad!” - Genesis 31:24.
But Laban still complained to Jacob about items missing from his house, and insisted on his men searching Jacob’s encampment, but found nothing. This was too much for Jacob and he blew his cool! -
• “THESE TWENTY YEARS I have been with you; your ewes and your female goats have not miscarried their young, and I have not eaten the rams of your flock. 39 That which was torn by beasts I did not bring to you; I bore the loss of it. You required it from my hand, whether stolen by day or stolen by night.
• 40 “There I was! In the day the drought consumed me, and the frost by night, and my sleep departed from my eyes. 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” - Genesis 31:38-41.
This has been generally understood to mean that Jacob stayed in Padan-Aram to serve Laban for a total of twenty years: seven years for Rachel, Genesis 29:18, plus seven years for her older sister Leah, v.27, plus six years for animals as his wages to build up his own flocks, 30:25-36; 31:41.
But the details of the narrative do not support a twenty years total. The first child was not born until the eighth year, 29:32. Joseph was born before Jacob’s contract with Laban for service with wages, 30:22-36. This leaves only seven of the twenty years for the birth of eleven sons and one daughter.
This would hardly work even if the seven births by Leah approached 10 months apart! - Reuben in month 10 of the 8th year of Jacob’s service, Simeon in month 8 of the 9th year, Levi in month 6 of the 10th year and Judah in month 4 of the 11th year. Then of Leah’s maid Zilpah: Gad in month 2 of the 12th year, and Asher in month 12 of the 12th year.
Reuben would be hardly 5 years old about the time he went out into the field and brought some mandrakes, 30:14, back to his mother! But within the seven years Rachel would need to decide that she was barren and give her maid to Jacob, 30:1-4, and for Leah to decide that she had stopped bearing and give her maid to Jacob, v.9.
As mentioned previously, the timing of Judah’s birth also became a focus of attack by a supporter of the Higher Critics. Based on Jacob’s twenty year service, he shows the impossibility of including the two grandsons of Judah, named in Genesis 46 as counted among those who entered Egypt with Jacob - “...Judah marries...and has three children; two grow up, and in succession marry Tamar; then Tamar... has twin sons, Perez and Zerah, by her father-in-law; and here the two sons of Perez... come flown with Jacob into Egypt. Thus Judah marries, has three children, and ... becomes a grandfather, all within the space of 22 years!”