31 Days of Women from Scripture
Lessons from Rachel
You can read the whole story of today’s woman in Genesis 29 – 31; Genesis 33; Genesis 35; and Ruth 4:11.
This is part one of a two-part lesson. Rachel’s and Leah’s stories run right along each other. They had very different experiences though. Their story reminds me that there is always another side to any situation. Today, we will look at Rachel’s side.
As we learned in our study on Rebekah, her son Jacob had to be sent away because his brother Esau wanted to kill him for stealing Esau’s blessing. Jacob arrives in Haran. At the local well, he makes inquiries about Laban, Rebekah’s brother (Gen. 29:1-8). While they are talking Rachel comes up with her flock of sheep.
Here is the first thing we know about her – she was a working woman. Genesis 29:9 says, “…Rachel came with her father’s sheep, for she was a shepherdess.” A modern-day job description of a shepherd shows this to be a labor intensive job. Caring for the flocks needs, protecting them from predators, keeping them healthy, and shearing them was a full-time job. The fact that the sheep need to be moved around to find pasture meant one had to focus on the flock while someone else cared for other. This was Rachel’s job. Do you remember David telling Saul that he was not afraid of Goliath because God had helped him to slay lions and bears in the keeping of his sheep (1 Sam. 17:34-36)? This was part of the job.
We wives and mothers do a very similar job. It is ours to see that the needs of our family are met (Titus 2:3-5), that predators are kept away, and the family stays healthy. It is a 24/7 job. In order for our children to sleep well at night, we each went through many steps to see to their meals, their clothes, their exercise, and their emotional care. Learn to keep your home organized so that it does not get in the way of other plans for your day. Learn how to keep your family healthy by choosing good foods, exercising, and using tools to support their health. Learn how to budget your money. Do not let others tell you that this very important job – the care and keeping of your family – is not worthwhile or fulfilling. Do your job with confidence.
Once Jacob introduces himself to Rachel (Gen. 29:12-13), we see what must have been a family trait (Gen. 24:20, 28) – she RUNS to tell Laban about Jacob’s arrival. Laban then RUNS to meet Jacob and get him settled into the family.
I do not know about you – but being able to RUN in response to something means a couple of things to me. It means EAGERNESS to serve. It also means READINESS to serve. I cannot count the number of times I wanted to help and I was eager to serve. But I looked in my freezer and pantry and I was not READY to serve. I didn’t have a chicken thawed. I didn’t have a casserole freezer meal I could grab and take over. I was unable to run because of my failure to plan – so as the saying goes, I ended up planning to fail. Bring on the guilt. Not good. There are seasons for everything. I finally learned that I needed to give myself permission to just be wife and mother for a time. Meanwhile, I learn how to plan better, so I am better prepared to meet needs in the future.
So, Jacob spends time with his family. Laban offers him wages for the work Jacob has been doing (Gen. 29:15). Jacob only wants to be married to Rachel. He is willing to work seven years to be able to marry her, and to him those years “seemed to him but a few days because of his love for her” (Gen. 29:20).
Jacob works those seven years (Rachel WAITED those seven years too) and asks that Laban honor their agreement. Jacob gets to finally marry his Rachel! Oh wait, Laban had something else in mind.
Leah is Rachel’s older sister. We are told in Genesis 29:17, “And Leah’s eyes were weak, but Rachel was beautiful of form and face.” We do not know what “weak” means here. As she is contrasted to Rachel’s physical features, I do not think it was only that Leah had poor eye-sight. Regardless – Jacob gave his love to the younger sister, Rachel. Seven years later, Leah is still unmarried. This is Laban’s problem.
Laban brings Leah to Jacob the evening of the wedding feast instead of bringing Rachel. The next morning Jacob discovers that he has been tricked (Gen. 29:25)! The girls in my teenage class always ask – HOW is this possible? How could he not have known? We have to remember that traditions of that time may have kept a bride hidden or veiled until after she was given in marriage. No electric lights to light up the seams of the tents or the cracks around the doors. If Jacob was brought to a dark room and a woman was waiting for him – he would have assumed this was the wife he wanted. Whatever else could have been done to reveal the truth, it did not happen. Laban only shrugs and says that the oldest daughter has to marry before the younger one (Gen. 29:26). It appears as though running is not the only trait shared in the family! Laban is as deceitful as Rebekah when it comes to getting what he wants! Not only does he give Leah instead of Rachel, he tells Jacob he must work ANOTHER seven years to be able to go ahead and marry Rachel now.
Tomorrow we will talk about Leah, but my heart just aches for her! Can you imagine the embarrassment and hurt she must have felt? Even understanding the traditions of the time, women are women, and women want to be desired by their spouse. The situation is full of opportunities for trouble. Not a good way to begin marriage!
Rachel gets Jacob’s love and attention, but she does not have the joy of being able to conceive children with Jacob. God sees Leah’s lack, and gives her children to fill it.
After Leah bears four sons to Jacob, Rachel’s jealousy gets the better of her (Gen. 30:1). She blames Jacob for the situation. Don’t we say foolish things when we are jealous and angry?
Like Sarah, Rachel decides to circumvent the problem. She gives her maid, Bilhah, to Jacob as a wife, who becomes pregnant. Rachel claims victory and says, “God has vindicated me, and has indeed heard my voice and has given me a son” (Gen. 30:6). So she names the boy, Dan, which means “a judge”. Bilhah conceives again and gives Jacob another son. Rachel says, “With mighty wrestlings I have wrestled with my sister, and I have indeed prevailed” (Gen. 30:8). So she names this son, Naphtali, which means “wrestling”.
“Mighty wrestlings” – this is the relationship Rachel has with Leah. As we will see, these wrestlings were definitely verbal, but this also indicates the emotional level to which this battle was being fought! These are not sisters willing to share their husband, these are sisters fighting to claim what is theirs! They are fighting for their position within the household and they are fighting for his preference. What is odd here to me, Rachel ALREADY had these things! Jacob loved her enough to work fourteen years. He thought having HER was that valuable.
Despite that, deep inside, Rachel still felt the lack and Leah’s gain. The giving of children, especially sons, was a huge thing for women. It meant the carrying on of the family name. It meant all the hard work and time a man put into building his personal wealth was not handed over to someone else, for lack of an heir. As women we still feel it deeply when we are unable to conceive. When you do not yet want children, not getting pregnant is fine. But as soon as it is that season of your life – emotionally, mentally, and physically you hurt when it does not happen. In Rachel’s case, you also add the hurt of the jealous battle with another woman, who not only can conceive, but she can conceive for YOUR husband! I just cannot fathom living in such a way.
After this, Leah fights back by giving her maid, Zilpah, to Jacob. Zilpah bears two sons to Jacob.
During the wheat harvest, Leah’s son Reuben finds mandrakes in the field. He brings them to Leah. Rachel sees them and asks that Leah share with her. Leah refuses, showing her own issues with jealousy, selfishness, and bitterness. Rachel’s response? Understanding that “oh, Leah struggles with the same feelings that I do”? Nope. She just casually says, “Ok, you can be with Jacob tonight in return for the mandrakes.” She sold her husband’s physical attentions for MANDRAKES. Even better, Leah ACCEPTS the offer! Are you thinking this seems similar to Esau selling his birthright for a bowl of stew because he was going to “starve to death” (Gen. 25:30-32)?
The result of all this is that Leah conceives three more times, giving Jacob two more sons and a daughter, Dinah.
At this time, God “remembered Rachel” and opened her womb so she conceived a son for Jacob. We see her thoughts when she names him Joseph saying, “God has taken away my reproach” and “may the Lord give me another son.” Joseph means, “Jehovah has added”. She recognizes that God brought about a change so that she was able to conceive this son. She finally has what she wants! SHE has given Jacob a son. Is it not interesting, that even though she claimed Bilhah’s sons as her own, she was still not satisfied that she had given children to Jacob? It was not the same. Jacob indicates a difference as well, because Joseph becomes his favorite (Gen. 37:3).
After all of this, God tells Jacob it is time to go home. Rachel and Leah both recognize that Laban has used all of them wrongly (Gen.31:14-16) and Jacob is right to leave. Rachel, though, sneaks into the house and steals the household idols. Jacob goes away in secret with all of his family and his possessions. Three days later, Laban is made aware that Jacob has gone. Laban takes off after him, but God comes to him in a dream and tells him not to give Jacob any trouble (Gen. 31:22-23). Laban says he has chased Jacob all this way because he was denied kissing his daughters goodbye. He says he understands about Jacob wanting to go home, but why did he steal Laban’s idols? Jacob denies having taken them, because he did not know what Rachel had done them.
Laban goes looking through Jacob’s tents for the idols. He comes into Rachel’s tent and that thought from Ecclesiastes is proven true again, “there is nothing new under the sun” (Eccl. 1:9). Rachel has hidden the idols in the camel’s saddle and she is sitting on it. To keep them hidden, she uses her monthly cycle as an excuse not to get up (Gen. 31:35)! I am not sure which I find funnier, the fact that she did it or the fact that God shared it – I think the latter. This moment alone can remove any doubts we have about the women in scripture not being like us. God gave us REAL people – real flawed people – to show us what He expects from US.
Jacob and all his company continue on their way home. Again we see Rachel’s preference by Jacob. He sees Esau coming with four hundred men, so he divides everyone into groups. He puts Bilhah and Zilpah, and their children, in front. Leah and her children come next, and Rachel and Joseph are last. There is a loving reunion between the brothers and Jacob settles once again among family.
In Genesis 35, God tells Jacob to move to Bethel. Jacob tells his household to put away their foreign gods. They did so, and he buried the idols, and the earrings that apparently went along with their worship, under an oak tree. God changes Jacob’s name to “Israel”, which means “God prevails”. After this, they journey on towards Ephrath. While traveling, Rachel goes into labor. The labor is severe. Before Rachel dies, she names her son, Ben-oni, which means “son of my sorrow”. Jacob names him Benjamin, meaning “son of the right hand”. She dies and is buried.
In Ruth 4:11, we see the legacy of Rachel – “All the people who were in the court, and the elders, said, ‘We are witnesses. May the Lord make the woman who is coming into your home like Rachel and Leah, both of whom built the house of Israel…'” The great nation that God promised to Abraham and Isaac came about through the feuding of Rachel with her sister. But we know from other scripture that their feuding was not part of His will.
Rachel could have done better in her relationships. Jacob adored her, yet she treated time with him as a means to an end – the bearing of children. 1 Corinthians 7:1-5, Song of Solomon, Proverbs 5:15-23 are just a few places that show how the sexual relationship should be viewed – as precious, special to the marriage relationship, and a vital part of man and woman being “one flesh”. She bought and sold that precious gift for mandrakes (drugs).
She could have worked to be understanding towards Leah, because they were in similar situations. Matthew 7:12 says, “In everything, therefore, treat people the same way you want them to treat you, for this is the Law and the Prophets.” They were in a situation that was not in their control. Laban saw to that. He did not give his daughters the courtesy that he gave to Rebekah (Gen. 24:56-59). Rachel, having the confidence of being the one who was loved, could have been kind (Rom. 12:10; Gal. 5:22-23). Rachel chose not to be.
Rachel exhibits all of the emotions and behaviors that each of us shows from time to time. We get jealous when what is rightly ours is kept from us. We turn ugly in the face of that jealousy and we get emotional. We are dismissive. We can be vindictive. We can take our husbands for granted. We can focus only upon ourselves. There is an alternative! Philippians 4:3-5 says, “Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others. Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus”.
Do not put yourself in a position to be jealous over your husband or him over you. Both of you need to commit to being each other’s ONE and only. Friendships with the opposite sex, whether in person or on social media can bring a mountain of trouble to your marriage and to your soul. At the end of Song of Solomon, the Beloved is talking to the Shulamite. They have been through an ordeal while she tried to choose between him and Solomon. At their wedding he says to her, “Put me like a seal on your arm. For love is as strong as death, Jealousy is as severe as Sheol; Its flashes are flashes of fire, the very flame of the Lord. Many waters cannot quench love, nor will rivers overflow it; If a man were to give all the riches of his house for love, it would be utterly despised” (Song of Solomon 8:6-7). He tells her to wear his love on her arm like a seal – a badge. He tells her not to take them down this road again. There is no room for jealousy; their love is too valuable for that!
Tomorrow we study Leah’s side. Until then, ENJOY!
PS – This is a great post with reminders of how to avoid things today that could damage your marriage. Check it out! 8 of the Worst Marriage Habits
What are your thoughts about Rachel? Comment below and let’s talk about how we can learn from her life!
You also might like:
Did you miss an earlier lesson?