My dear fellow Proverbs 31 Women in Progress,
Today, I’ll make another post in my Worthy Women Series concerning one of the matriarchs of the Bible. Her story is moving and dramatic as well. Her name is…
Let’s examine her story now.
Lived during the Biblical Times (Book of Genesis)
Family: Laban (father), Jacob (cousin/husband), Leah (sister and co-wife), Joseph and Benjamin (sons), many stepsons and one stepdaughter by Leah and other Jacob’s concubines (including her own servant)
Her qualities: lovely, resourceful
Her sadness: being unable to bear children to her husband during many years, despite being his favourite wife.
If you remember Rebekah’s story, you know that she secretly manipulated her husband Isaac, so that Jacob got the blessings meant to be given to Esau. Esau was very angry against Jacob, and swore to kill him. Jacob had to go away to save his life, with his mother’s help, who suggested he should go to her brother’s place.
When Jacob fled Esau’s wrath – after Jacob stole Esau’s blessings – , he arrived eastwards and met shepherds. He asked them where they were from and if they know a man called Laban. Laban was the brother of Jacob’s mother. The shepherds answered that they knew him and that his daughter Rachel tended her father’s flock with them.
When Jacob met Rachel, he went over the well and helped her to water her flock. He then proceeds to reveal that he was her cousin on her father’s side.
Jacob helping Rachel at the well
Rachel immediately ran to her father to announce Jacob’s arrival. Laban came and warmly welcomed Jacob, inviting him to stay with him, according to the law of hospitality. Later, Laban ased him to work for him and to tell him his wages. As Jacob fell madly in love with Rachel, he asked to marry Rachel as his wages.
They both agreed that Jacob would work for Laban during seven years and marry Rachel afterwards. Rachel is described in the Bible as a beautiful woman.
Jacob diligently worked for his uncle and for him, seven years weren’t that long as he really got his eyes on the prize, i.e. marrying Rachel. Unfortunately, Rachel had an elder sister called Leah who was less beautiful and would stay single after her little sister eloped. Did Laban think that Leah wouldn’t find a suitable husband easily because of her less favoured look? The Bible does not say anything on Laban’s intentions and we will never probably know.
But in the end of the day, Laban elaborated a treacherous plan: Leah would take Rachel’s place during the wedding ceremony and marry Jacob. Rachel had no choice but to obey her father.
When Jacob woke up the next morning, he didn’t find his beloved Rachel but Leah instead! He came to Laban to get some explanations. His father-in-law told him that according to the custom of the land, a younger sister couldn’t get married before her elder sister.
He then offered to give Rachel’s hand to Jacob at the end of the week, in exchange of seven more years of work at his service. Jacob accepted but you can easily imagine that something was broken in the relationship between Laban, Jacob, Leah and Rachel. Can you imagine?
- Jacob resented his father-in-law because he discovered that he couldn’t be trusted and that his word’s worth nothing
- Jacob resented Leah because he didn’t choose her and felt that she was imposed to him
- Leah and Rachel had a relationship not based on sisterly love anymore, but based on competition, mutual jealousy, bitterness and resentment to get the attention of their husband
Rachel’s resentment grew more, as she remained barren whereas God had mercy on her sister (who wasn’t loved) and gave her many children to compensate Jacob’s resentment towards her. Rachel had a desperate need to be a mother and to nurture a relationship with children who would be the result of her husband’s love for her. Her husband’s love wasn’t enough for Rachel at this stage. She probably prayed a lot, but nothing came…
So, as Leah had borne four sons to Jacob in a row, Rachel told Jacob: “Give me children, or I’ll die!” (Genesis 30:1)
So Jacob became angry and answered: “Am I God? He’s the one who has kept you from having children” (Genesis 30:2)
Rachel and Leah
Afterwards, Rachel started a harsh competition with her sister because she wanted children by any means necessary. She gave her servant Bilhah as a concubine to Jacob, so that she could be a surrogate mother and give birth to sons. The names Rachel chose for her servant’s sons reflect very well the spirit of competition she had against her sister:
- When Dan was born, Rachel said: “God has vindicated me! He has heard my request and given me a son” (Genesis 30:6)
- When Naphtali was born, Rachel said: “I have struggled hard with my sister, and I’m winning!” (Genesis 30:8)
And how did Leah answer? She also gave her servant to Jacob who had two other sons, but she also had other children herself. At that little game, Rachel was losing…
Finally, God remembered Rachel and she became pregnant. She gave birth to a son called Joseph and said “May the Lord add yet another son to my family” (Genesis 30:24).
After Joseph’s birth, Jacob planned to leave Laban because he felt frustrated with the dishonesty of his father-in-law. He consulted his wives who gave their agreement to Jacob’s project. Then, Rachel showed her resentment towards her father in another way: she stole her father’s household gods. She then use the excuse of her menstruation to hide the gods and didn’t rise when her father was looking for his gods.
Eventually, Rachel died in Bethlehem when she gave birth to her second son. She planned to name him Ben-Oni (“son of my sorrow”) but Jacob called him Benjamin instead (“son of my right hand”). She was buried in Bethlehem and Jacob never totally recovered from her death. He reported all his affection on Rachel’s sons and this would cause other strifes between brothers…
- We don’t exactly know why Rachel stole her father’s household gods. Did she do it because she wanted to get revenge on her father who didn’t give a dowry for her sister and her; and therefore claim her right to her inheritance in her father’s estate? Did she want to remove the protection of those gods on her father’s household to punish him for having been so deceitful? Her motivations are unclear. However, she manages to deceive her father (the student seemed to have surpassed the teacher in this case). Whatever her motivations, she didn’t keep these idols for a long time because Jacob later orders to get rid of all idols and to get clean and pure, as they arrived in Bethel (Genesis 35:2)
- Nowadays, Rachel’s tomb is a sacred place in the Jewish religion and a highly valued place of pilgrimage in Israel
What we can learn from Rachel
Rachel’s story is quite tragic, isn’t it? She wanted to have children so badly that she was ready to use all the schemes and manipulations she could to get what she wanted. You know, sometimes, we want something so hard that we can forget that God is always there and will surely answer our requests; and we just want things to go on our own terms.
But we should all remember, as Christians, that we should trust God and keep quiet. God will provide when the time will come. Stop doing things your own way. Stop scheming. Stop being forceful. Stop manipulating people to get what you want. Just trust God!
Moreover, Rachel’s story teaches us not to be envious of other people’s situation and to be content with what we have. I know, it’s hard to say that. But look, Rachel desperately wanted to a mother like Leah and did anything to be like her, whereas she could just have been content with having Jacob’s heart.
Instead, her envy caused unhealthy relationships with her sister and her husband; as well as unnecessary competition and enduring bitterness. Moreover, her desperate desire to get children caused her to die in childbirth. Sad…
To sum up, Rachel’s story encourages us to be quiet before the Lord, to wait on Him, to be content with what we have and give praise for what we already have! Isn’t that wonderful?
What are your thoughts on Rachel’s life lessons? Please share your point of view!
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