Rachel’s story begins with Jacob. He went back to the land of his grandfather Abraham to find a wife from among his own people. When he arrived in town, he went to the well where some shepherds had gathered with their sheep and were waiting to water them. He talked to them to find out if they knew the family of Laban, and indeed they did. While they were talking, Laban’s daughter Rachel came to the well with her father’s sheep. When you read the passage below, you will see that it was love at first sight with Jacob.
Genesis 29:10-20 And it came to pass, when Jacob saw Rachel the daughter of Laban his mother’s brother, and the sheep of Laban his mother’s brother, that Jacob went near, and rolled the stone from the well’s mouth, and watered the flock of Laban his mother’s brother. And Jacob kissed Rachel, and lifted up his voice, and wept. And Jacob told Rachel that he was her father’s brother, and that he was Rebekah’s son, and she ran and told her father. And it came to pass, when Laban heard the tidings of Jacob his sister’s son, that he ran to meet him, and embraced him, and kissed him, and brought him to his house. And he told Laban all these things. And Laban said to him, “Surely you are my bone and my flesh.” And he abode with him the space of a month. And Laban said unto Jacob, “Because you are my brother, should you therefore serve me for nothing? Tell me, what shall your wages be?” And Laban had two daughters: the name of the elder was Leah, and the name of the younger was Rachel. Leah was tender-eyed; but Rachel was beautiful and well-favored. And Jacob loved Rachel, and said, “I will serve you seven years for Rachel your younger daughter.” And Laban said, “It is better that I give her to you, than that I should give her to another man: abide with me.” And Jacob served seven years for Rachel; and they seemed unto him but a few days, for the love he had for her.
So far we know nothing about Rachel except that she was beautiful, she was a shepherdess, and she was greatly loved by Jacob. Oh yes, she was also the younger of two sisters. This turns out to be very important. Do you remember last week that I told you about Laban’s greed and trickery? Well, he hadn’t changed at all. The wedding day came, and instead of giving Rachel to Jacob, he instead gave him Leah. The deceit was fairly easy to pull off, since she wore a heavy veil as they entered the marriage tent. Then after the marriage was consummated, there was nothing Jacob could do. He was married to Leah. Period. That must have been awkward for Leah, and we’ll talk more about her next week. But how do you suppose Rachel felt about it? To be honest, I don’t know. Never in the Scripture does it ever say that she loved Jacob, only that Jacob loved her. It is likely that the sentiment was not shared. Perhaps it did not matter to her that her sister was given to Jacob, not at first anyway.
But it sure mattered to Jacob. He was furious at being so deceived. Laban justified himself by saying it was not customary to give the younger daughter in marriage before the older one was married. Then he told Jacob to fulfill Leah’s week of marriage, after which he would give him her sister too. Two wives—and sisters at that! Imagine the rivalry! In their culture polygamy was quite common. In fact, Jacob would have four wives before many years had passed.
The favoritism between the sisters was all too obvious, and it caused no small stir between them. Leah was obviously in love with Jacob, although Jacob showed no particular interest in her; and Jacob was obviously in love with Rachel, although Rachel showed no particular interest in him. Talk about a lovers’ triangle!
God saw that Leah’s tender heart was regularly neglected, so He intervened by allowing her to get pregnant while causing Rachel to be barren (Gen. 29:31). Rachel and Jacob both handled this matter carnally. Instead of pleading with the Lord, they bickered with one another, playing the blame game.
Rachel was filled with envy toward her sister. Her solution? Give Jacob her handmaid as a concubine. Her concubine had first one son and then another, but that didn’t really make Rachel feel any better. She said that she had been vindicated, but deep down inside, she really wanted a child of her own. She wanted God’s blessing, but she was trying to get it by doing things her way. It didn’t work.
In the meantime, Leah left off conceiving, so she too gave Jacob her handmaid as a concubine, and thus the child war continued. It was as though the two sisters thought they could win the affection of their husband by the number of sons they gave him. True, sons were very important to the fathers. They always have been, for they carry on the family name. But the truth is, Rachel was at a natural advantage because Jacob already loved her. She did not need to compete for his affection.
At some point Rachel learned to quit fighting with Jacob and start taking her burden to the Lord. How do I know this? Because the Bible says that God hearkened to her.
Genesis 30:22-24 And God remembered Rachel, and God hearkened to her, and opened her womb. And she conceived, and bore a son; and said, “God has taken away my reproach.” And she called his name Joseph; and said, “The LORD shall add to me another son.”
In other words, God heard her prayer and answered it. By this time Jacob had ten other sons and a daughter by Leah and the two handmaids. Rachel must have felt very humbled by then. Humility is a good thing, but wouldn’t it have been much better for Rachel if she had humbled herself at the beginning? Some of us take a long time to learn our lessons, but God is very patient with us and will not stop working on us until He has finished His good work.
Rachel had not only learned humility, but she had also learned to put her faith and trust in God. When Joseph was born, she said by faith that she would also have another son.
Rewarded for Her Faith
Genesis 35:16-20 And they journeyed from Bethel; and there was but a little way to come to Ephrath: and Rachel travailed, and she had hard labor. And it came to pass, when she was in hard labor, that the midwife said unto her, “Fear not; you shall have this son also.” And it came to pass, as her soul was departing, (for she died) that she called his name Benoni: but his father called him Benjamin. And Rachel died, and was buried in the way to Ephrath, which is Bethlehem. And Jacob set a pillar upon her grave: that is the pillar of Rachel’s grave unto this day.
Rachel trusted God to give her a second son, but she had to wait many long years for Benjamin. In fact, Joseph was well into his teen years when his little brother was born. The years between the births of the two boys are quiet as concerning Rachel. Evidently she herself has quieted down, and her burning desire to have a child has quieted too. She trusts God for a second son, but she is not fretting, wondering when it is going to happen. We are not even told when she conceives. In fact, we do not find out she is pregnant again until the moment she goes into labor.
Pain in childbirth is a part of the curse of sin, inherited by all women since Eve (Gen. 3:16), but some births are more difficult than others, and this one was very hard on Rachel. In fact, she died giving birth to Benjamin, but she did not die comfortless. Four things brought joy at her death:
- She had the comfort of a friendly midwife. While the Bible does not record the name of the midwife, we do have her encouraging words written down for all time. What a blessing this woman must have been for Rachel! How she must have given the older woman the strength she needed to finish the job of bringing her son into the world.
- She had the presence of her husband. She may never have truly loved him, but he was always devoted to her, to the very end.
- She had the privilege of hearing the first cries of her new son and possibly of seeing Jacob take the child into his arms. She named the baby Benoni, “son of my sorrow,” but Jacob turned it around and immediately named him Benjamin, “son of my right hand,” which is the position of greatest honor and blessing.
- She died in the hope of a glorious immortality, for her soul immediately departed to that heavenly country where her Redeemer stood waiting for her.
Rachel’s aunt Rebekah (who also happens to be Jacob’s mother), as you may remember from last week, started well, with some admirable character qualities; but she ended poorly when major flaws in her character were later revealed. Rachel, however, was not like her aunt and mother-in-law. Rachel start off a proud and shrewish young woman, but over the years she allowed God to humble her and give her a meek and quiet spirit, rich in patience. Perhaps Joseph learned these traits from his mother. Rachel had her share of sorrow, but it did not make her bitter; instead it made her better.
It is certain that in your life and mine, troubles will come. Will they make us bitter, or better? That is the question.
Job 23:10 But He knoweth the way that I take: when He hath tried me, I shall come forth as gold.
James 4:6 But He giveth more grace. Wherefore He saith, God resisteth the proud, but giveth grace unto the humble.
Next week: Leah
Photo taken in Sapphire Valley, North Carolina, 2011