Rachel is first in Jacob’s heart, and, first in every way. At first glance…
Ah, Leah and Rachel, what a story. Two sisters who are put in a situation where they both are married to the same man by a scheming father. The years following are marked with hints of rivalry and pain all the way through one of them dying and their son’s struggle to stay on the right path. But, their children’s misadventures is a story for a later time. Today I want to focus on the little hints that the Bible gives us about Leah and Rachel and the things that I hope we can learn from them. This is the second post in this series and will focus on Rachel.
First in Jacob’s heart, and, at first glance, she is first in every way. Rachel was the daughter of Laban, an Aramean from Paddan Aram in Mesopotamia which was an area of modern Iraq and Syria. The Bible says that Rachel, the second born and a shepherdess, “had a lovely figure and was beautiful” (Genesis 29:17). Because of this, Jacob was in love with her and was willing to work for seven years to earn her in marriage.
18 Jacob was in love with Rachel and said, “I’ll work for you seven years in return for your younger daughter Rachel.” 19 Laban said, “It’s better that I give her to you than to some other man. Stay here with me.” 20 So Jacob served seven years to get Rachel, but they seemed like only a few days to him because of his love for her. 21 Then Jacob said to Laban, “Give me my wife. My time is completed, and I want to make love to her.”
– Genesis 29:18-21
Jacob willingly spent seven years as a shepherd for his Uncle in exchange for his daughter. Later it talks about how successful Jacob was for Laban, but even with all of this, Laban does something to Jacob that will change his life forever. Laban secretly marries Leah to Jacob in the place of her younger sister Rachel. Jacob was shocked by this betrayal of Laban’s, maybe more shocking was that Rachel and Leah might have know what was going on.
Regardless of the scheme or who did or didn’t know, Jacob demands that he be allowed to marry Rachel as well in exchange for another seven years of work – fourteen years total. Laban capitulates and soon Jacob, the Patriarch of Israel, makes love to her and proclaims that NOW his love for his second wife Rachel is EVEN GREATER than his love for his first wife Leah. Seriously, this may be one of the most monumentally stupid statements by anyone in the Bible – This guy now has two wives and a lifetime of “wedded bliss-ters” forming.
I discussed this in detail in my story on Leah and will mention it here because it applies again. Of the 186,000 or so sentences in the Bible, exclamation points end only 313 sentences in the NIV and only 275 in the KJV. Suffice to say, when we see a punctuation mark, we know that we should read the passage with an understanding of the “strong feeling” or “forceful utterance” in the words.
Let’s find out where the strong feeling and forceful utterance comes in to play for Rachel. Skip forward 4 years or so from the marriage fiasco and Leah has given birth to 4 sons to carry on Jacob’s name and Rachel has none. Rachel still has Jacob’s love, but Leah now has sons. I can’t imagine the daily atmosphere in that household, but the Bible gives us a little picture at the beginning of chapter 30.
1 When Rachel saw that she was not bearing Jacob any children, she became jealous of her sister. So she said to Jacob, “Give me children, or I’ll die!” 2 Jacob became angry with her and said, “Am I in the place of God, who has kept you from having children?” 3 Then she said, “Here is Bilhah, my servant. Sleep with her so that she can bear children for me and I too can build a family through her.”
– Genesis 30:1-3
Several things strike me as I consider this passage. Rachel, a beautiful and tough shepherdess, has the love of the father of all Israelites, but God has blessed Leah, and I mean directly blessed Leah (Genesis 29:31) four times already. I can feel Rachel’s pitiful plea, but certainly not as deeply as Jacob does. But, instead of getting to her knees and praying for God’s favor, she schemes and attempts to figure out a way to get at least something from the situation by having her attendant (Bilhah) sleep with her husband instead of Leah – literally anyone but Leah.
Genesis 29:31 through Genesis 30:24 provides a rich detail about Leah, Rachel and Jacob during the time when they were having children. In studying what is written, I noticed that the Bible gives us small, but powerful, statements about each child’s birth and what the mother, and sometimes God, was thinking. Let’s see what happens now to Rachel with this added pressure and sorrow of Bilhah being injected into the mix.
As with many of our own stupid God-dismissing schemes, it unfortunately worked just as she schemed. Bilhah gave birth to a son. Rachel’s immediate reaction is one of vindication. She claims that she pled with God to give her a son, but I am thinking that with her vindictive feelings she might have been demanding action of God rather than asking for Grace from God. Regardless, Bilhah was put to service again and produced a second son for Rachel. This time Rachel’s reaction was one of victory in the struggle with her sister. At this point, I am feeling pretty bad for Rachel because we already know that Leah is working to put her faith in the Lord all the while Rachel is conniving and scheming with old-wives tale enabled mandrakes.
We are not sure what is going on with Rachel through Leah’s next three births, but finally, after being tricked into becoming a second wife and missing out on giving Jacob 10 sons and 1 daughter, something happens and God remembers Rachel.
22 Then God remembered Rachel; he listened to her and enabled her to conceive. 23 She became pregnant and gave birth to a son and said, “God has taken away my disgrace.” 24 She named him Joseph, and said, “May the Lord add to me another son.”
– Genesis 30:22-24
It says that God “listened to her”. My guess is that through all of this pain, sadness and struggle, her heart may have finally begun to soften enough that she began a conversation with the Lord.
How many times have our schemes seemed like the only answer in the moment only to blown up in our face? When it happens, do you find yourself on your knees in prayer or shaking your fist demanding vindication and victory? Did Leah and Bilhah and Zilpah and mandrakes need to be brought into the situation? What would have happened if Rachel had fallen to her knees in prayer to the Lord and submitted to His will when her father proposed to trick Jacob with Leah? We don’t know how the story would have changed, but we know that Rachel’s heart would have been in the right place before the Lord. As Jesus told his disciples time and time again, when our hearts are right, we have peace and good things are produced.
33 “A tree is identified by its fruit. If a tree is good, its fruit will be good. If a tree is bad, its fruit will be bad. 34 You brood of snakes! How could evil men like you speak what is good and right? For whatever is in your heart determines what you say. 35 A good person produces good things from the treasury of a good heart, and an evil person produces evil things from the treasury of an evil heart.
– Matthew 12:33-35
Photo by Antonio Guillem at http://antonioguillem.com/