Rachel and Jacob appear to have fallen in love at first glance — and where else but around a well? When Jacob asks Laban, Rachel’s father, for her hand in marriage, he is told that he must earn her by working for seven years. So he does, so much in love that the years “fly by.”
But after seven years, — and there had to be much anticipation and excitement after waiting that long — her father shuffles Rachel off to some side tent and slips her older sister, Leah, into Jacob’s bed.
As one writer, Miki Raver, says, “Just how drunk was Jacob?” Couldn’t he tell the woman in his bed was the WRONG ONE? Well, it was undoubtably dark; no electricity in those days. And who knows? Maybe Leah didn’t say anything. She couldn’t see much, according to some Bible translations. One says she had “weak” eyes. Another says “lovely” eyes — apparently implying that Leah’s eyes were her only tribute. Rachel was described as “gracious and beautiful.” Her father demanded seven more years of work for her hand in marriage, although it seems Joseph was able to marry Rachel and then work off his time.
And then, in a classic Genesis theme, Rachel finds herself unable to bear children. Like Sarah: beautiful yet barren.
Not only does Rachel have to share her husband with her sister and various servants, but she also has to stand around and watch Leah produce male children like rabbits, one after another. It must have been grueling. Like Sarah before her, Rachel offers her maid to Jacob, so at least she can get the credit for being a mother (all children born to servants were legally the property of their owners… sad but true.)
(Let me just say here that Jacob was one busy guy…)
Rachel did a good bit of emoting in her short life. Look at her statements (click here). Here’s the first thing she says (in the Bible): “Give me children or I will die!”
She finally gets pregnant and gives birth to Joseph. Both parents are besotted with him. Joseph grows into a difficult and spoiled teenager…but turns out rather well as an adult. And then she has Benjamin, but dies while giving birth, putting a sad point on a poignant life.
What’s clear is this: Her story is so entwined with Leah’s that it is difficult for her to stand alone. And perhaps that was her greatest grief. She never had her husband to herself, not even on what was supposed to have been her wedding night. She was always sharing him…and for years, not bearing children. In those days, that was everything. How sweet those few years must have been for her — after Joseph’s birth and before Benjamin’s.
Polygamy was common in ancient days; maybe the situation didn’t bother her. But let’s be real. Of course it bothered her. And no doubt she was in great pain at the end, sensing the life drain from her. From her grief comes an intuitive cry from both Matthew (Matthew 2:18) and the prophet Jeremiah (31:15). “In Rama there was a voice heard, lamentation and weeping, and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children, and would not be comforted, because they are not.”
Matthew and Jeremiah are picking up on Rachel’s overwhelming grief. They see her as rising from the grave, grieving, as Israel’s children are carried into captivity in Babylon.
Passion. Love. Children. Grief. All of these joys and burdens were Rachel’s. May she be at peace now, finally surrounded by those she loves, forever.