Genesis 30:3 NASB
3 She said, “Here is my maid Bilhah, go in to her that she may bear on my knees, that [b]through her I too may have children.”
What does this phrase mean?
Biblical Hermeneutics Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for professors, theologians, and those interested in exegetical analysis of biblical texts. It only takes a minute to sign up.Sign up to join this community
To "bear upon the knees" is a very Hebrew piece of idiom surrounding the birthing custom of the time. When a child was born, it was placed, usually on the knees (in modern terms we say "lap") of the father and mother.
Thus, Rachel was essentially saying that any children born to Bilhah would be placed upon Rachel's knees, thus signifying that Rachel, not Bilhah, would be recognized as the mother, according to the custom of the time.
Ellicott says the same thing:
She shall bear upon my knees.—So in Genesis 1:23, it is said, in the Hebrew, that “the children of Machir were born upon Joseph’s knees,” not borne, as in our margin. It appears that there was a custom of placing the new-born child upon the knees, first of the father, who, by accepting it. acknowledged the infant as his own; and secondly, upon those of the mother. In this case, as Bilhah’s children were regarded as legally born of Rachel, they would be placed upon Rachel’s knees. Probably, too, the children of Machir, by being placed upon Joseph’s knees, were in some way adopted by him.
The Cambridge commentary is more helpful again:
bear upon my knees] By this phrase Rachel means that she will recognize and adopt as her own the children by her handmaid, Bilhah. For the phrase, cf. Genesis 50:23; Job 3:12. The child being received on the knees of the parent was regarded as being accepted into the family. The words retain the trace of a primitive ceremony of legitimatization and adoption.