5 LESSONS FROM THE LIFE OF RACHEL
When Jacob fled from his brother, Esau, his parents instructed him to go to his mother’s family in the land of the eastern peoples. When he got there, he stopped at a well to rest. Some shepherds who were gathering their flocks for watering at the well assured him it was the city where his relatives lived. And right on cue, a pretty shepherdess joined them with her father’s flock. She was Rachel, the second daughter of Laban, Jacob’s maternal uncle.
Jacob’s heart was flooded with both relief that he had safely arrived his destination and a stirring of love for this beautiful girl. Had his parents not told him to get a wife from this side of the family? This was the one! And he proposed to make her his once Laban asked what he should pay for his services, one month after his arrival.
Laban gladly agreed but tricked Jacob into marrying the less attractive older sister, Leah, first. A week later, Rachel joined her older sister in Jacob’s home and the stage was set for a complicated and painful existence for the sisters.
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Rachel obviously saw Leah as an interloper and treated her as such, her status as the younger sister and second wife notwithstanding. Jacob became a pawn in the sisters’ competition for marital happiness and fulfilment. The full details of this background account and the story of the life of Rachel can be seen in Genesis, chapters 29-31, 33 and 35:16-26.
Now, let us see 5 lessons we can learn from Rachel’s life. Like every other person, Rachel had some strengths and weaknesses and on occasion, these were intertwined. In other words, what started out as a strength turned into a weakness when not moderated.
(Related: Loyalty Wins – Flash Fiction)
5 Lessons from the Life of Rachel
1. Loyalty to one’s spouse is commendable: Rachel was devoted to her husband, Jacob, as was Leah, her sister and co-wife. When Jacob complained about Laban’s cheating and mistreatment, they supported and helped him in the family’s secret escape from their hometown in Mesopotamia.
“14. And Rachel and Leah answered and said unto him, Is there yet any portion or inheritance for us in our father’s house?
“16. … now then, whatsoever God hath said unto thee, do.
“17. Then Jacob rose up, and set his sons and his wives upon camels;
“18. And he carried away all his cattle, and all his goods which he had gotten, the cattle of his getting, which he had gotten in Padan–aram, for to go to Isaac his father in the land of Canaan” – Genesis 31:14, 16-18.
But Rachel, unlike her sister Leah, carried her loyalty to her husband too far and sinned as a result as we shall see in Lesson No. 5.
2. Look unto God, not man: Rachel had a fertility problem and, at some point, she took out her frustration about it on Jacob. Jacob lost his temper but in lashing out at her reminded her of who she should be talking to about her predicament.
“1. And when Rachel saw that she bare Jacob no children, Rachel envied her sister; and said unto Jacob, Give me children, or else I die.
“2. And Jacob’s anger was kindled against Rachel: and he said, Am I in God’s stead, who hath withheld from thee the fruit of the womb?” – Genesis 30:1-2
No matter how much anybody loves us, there is a lot they cannot do for us and burdening them with such things will only strain our relationship with them. Even in the things human beings can do for us, praying to God about those things improves our chances of getting them from the people who should provide them or from others if the former are unwilling or unable to meet our needs.
3. Avoid jealousy and unhealthy competition: In polygamous societies, a man whose wife is childless can take a second wife and have both wives care for the children that come from the latter. That is where the family is built on understanding. But that wasn’t the case in Jacob’s home. Rachel was envious of her sister, Leah, who was bearing Jacob children. I would imagine that this prevented her from sharing in Leah and Jacob’s joy with each childbirth and in helping to nurture the children. Instead, she was consumed with the desire to have her own children and was resourceful enough to come up with the idea of a surrogate to make her dream come true.
(Related: Say “No” To Stress-Inducing Comparison)
“3. And she said, Behold my maid Bilhah, go in unto her; and she shall bear upon my knees, that I may also have children by her.
“4. And she gave him Bilhah her handmaid to wife: and Jacob went in unto her.
“5. And Bilhah conceived, and bare Jacob a son.
“6. And Rachel said, God hath judged me, and hath also heard my voice, and hath given me a son: therefore called she his name Dan.
“7. And Bilhah Rachel’s maid conceived again, and bare Jacob a second son.
“8. And Rachel said, With great wrestlings have I wrestled with my sister, and I have prevailed: and she called his name Naphtali.” – Genesis 30:3-8
It is true that in traditional societies no woman wants to live with the stigma of childlessness, but Rachel would have had more peace and happiness while waiting for God to visit her if she had not been envious of her sister. Her competitive attitude came out forcefully in v. 8 above and Leah, not to be outdone, gave Jacob her maid for a wife as well (v. 9). Thank God Jacob spent many nights out in the fields with the flocks. It would have been very trying staying with the fighting sisters all the time.
The truth is that Rachel’s jealousy was unnecessary because Jacob clearly loved and preferred her over Leah.
“31. And when the Lord saw that Leah was hated, he opened her womb: but Rachel was barren.
“32. And Leah conceived, and bare a son, and she called his name Reuben: for she said, Surely the Lord hath looked upon my affliction; now therefore my husband will love me.” – Genesis 29:31-32
Yet, Rachel felt so insecure. I am convinced that Jacob would not have loved her less even if she had borne him no children. This reminds me of another family in the Bible – Elkanah and his wives: Peninah, who had many children and taunted her co-wife, Hannah, who had none. These were Elkanah’s comforting words to Hannah when she was sorrowing over her childlessness:
“… Hannah, why weepest thou? and why eatest thou not? and why is thy heart grieved? am not I better to thee than ten sons?” – 1 Samuel 1:8
It was bad enough that the adults had to live in the unhealthy atmosphere created by the battling sisters in Jacob’s home, the children were watching and learning! To help his mum maintain her advantage in child rearing, Reuben brought her some mandrakes – said to help in conception (Genesis 30:14). Now we can understand why his brothers who were mostly from Leah’s stable hated Joseph so much. He was born into a home where jealousy was festering and he was the favoured child of their father born late to his favoured wife, Rachel. Joseph’s brothers threw him into a pit and subsequently sold him into slavery (Genesis 30:20-24, 37:3-4, 12-14, 18-28).
4. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you: (The Golden Rule – Matthew 7:12) It was true that Laban conned Jacob into marrying Leah when he already loved Rachel and requested her hand in marriage, but this was not Leah’s fault. She was not as pretty as Rachel and seemed to have some kind of eye defect, but having married her, God expected her to be treated better than she was and so compensated her with many children while Rachel was barren as we saw in Genesis 29:31 above.
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It appeared that Rachel was controlling the conjugal rights in the house as seen in the incident about the mandrakes.
“14. …Then Rachel said to Leah, Give me, I pray thee, of thy son’s mandrakes.
“15. And she said unto her, Is it a small matter that thou hast taken my husband? and wouldest thou take away my son’s mandrakes also? And Rachel said, Therefore he shall lie with thee to night for thy son’s mandrakes.
“16. And Jacob came out of the field in the evening, and Leah went out to meet him, and said, Thou must come in unto me; for surely I have hired thee with my son’s mandrakes. And he lay with her that night.” – Genesis 30:14-17
Regardless of Jacob’s romantic preference, Leah was still the first wife and Rachel’s elder sister. Sharing a man may seem repulsive to us today but it wasn’t in that era, hence the sisters’ gifting of their maids to Jacob. So, I’m sure that if Rachel was in Leah’s shoes, she wouldn’t have liked being put in a position where she had to beg her younger sister before her husband would sleep with her.
Rachel may have thought she was acting on behalf of Jacob who must have resented Leah but, in God’s eyes, she was treating her sister shabbily and that attracted punishment.
5. Eschew craftiness and personal revenge seeking: When Jacob’s family secretly embarked on the journey from Padan-aram to Canaan, Rachel stole her father’s household gods (Genesis 31:17-19). Maybe she wanted to punish her father for his maltreatment of Jacob as can be seen from this complaint by the latter.
“38. This twenty years have I been with thee; thy ewes and thy she goats have not cast their young, and the rams of thy flock have I not eaten.
“39. That which was torn of beasts I brought not unto thee; I bare the loss of it; of my hand didst thou require it, whether stolen by day, or stolen by night.
“40. Thus I was; in the day the drought consumed me, and the frost by night; and my sleep departed from mine eyes.
“41. Thus have I been twenty years in thy house; I served thee fourteen years for thy two daughters, and six years for thy cattle: and thou hast changed my wages ten times.
“42. Except the God of my father, the God of Abraham, and the fear of Isaac, had been with me, surely thou hadst sent me away now empty. God hath seen mine affliction and the labour of my hands, and rebuked thee yesternight.” – Genesis 31:38-42
We may not understand the value that heathens place in their idols, but they do believe that those images help to protect and prosper them. Rachel wanted to strip her father of such coverage and favour. However, the Bible discourages us from taking the path of vengeance.
“17. Repay no one evil for evil ….
“18. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.
“19. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.’
“20. To the contrary, ‘if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.’
“21. Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” – Romans 12:17 – 21 (ESV emphasis, mine)
(Related: From Bait to Catch (3) Short Story)
Perhaps, Rachel also thought she was doing something good for Jacob and their household (in the belief that those gods could add to whatever blessings they could get from the Fear of Isaac, God Almighty). Idolatrous people do not understand the concept of serving one God exclusively. They feel that the more gods you acquire, the more supernatural benevolence you receive.
Unfortunately, harbouring strange gods can only spell trouble. In trying to wreak vengeance on her father, Rachel unwittingly courted disaster.
“25. The graven images of their gods shall ye burn with fire: thou shalt not desire the silver or gold that is on them, nor take it unto thee, lest thou be snared therein: for it is an abomination to the Lord thy God.
“26. Neither shalt thou bring an abomination into thine house, lest thou be a cursed thing like it: but thou shalt utterly detest it, and thou shalt utterly abhor it; for it is a cursed thing.” – Deuteronomy 7:25-26
When Laban caught up with the family, Jacob pronounced death on whoever had Laban’s gods, not knowing that Rachel did. Although she cleverly hid the gods in her camel’s saddle and sat on them (claiming she was menstruating to stop her father from searching where she sat for fear of contracting ritual uncleanness), she had brought a curse on herself.
“31. And Jacob answered and said to Laban, …
“32. With whomsoever thou findest thy gods, let him not live: before our brethren discern thou what is thine with me, and take it to thee. For Jacob knew not that Rachel had stolen them.
“33. And Laban went into Jacob’s tent, and into Leah’s tent, and into the two maidservants’ tents; but he found them not. Then went he out of Leah’s tent, and entered into Rachel’s tent.
“34. Now Rachel had taken the images, and put them in the camel’s furniture, and sat upon them. And Laban searched all the tent, but found them not.
“35. And she said to her father, Let it not displease my lord that I cannot rise up before thee; for the custom of women is upon me. And he searched, but found not the images.” – Genesis 31:31-35 (emphasis, mine)
I once read an article where it was suggested that Rachel’s untimely death through birth complications on the journey back to Canaan was a fallout of this incident. Whether this was the case or not, we can safely say that it is very dangerous to do anything that will attract a curse to oneself and that it’s always better to allow God to avenge us.
After all said and done, Rachel died and was buried at Ephrath as Jacob and his family continued their journey to Mamre to see his aged father, Isaac. Leah, on the other hand, lived longer and was buried with Jacob and his forebears, Abraham and Isaac, each beside his wife in the field of Machpelah, near Mamre (Genesis 49:29-31).
When I think generally about the life of Rachel, the scripture that comes to my mind is 1 Samuel 2:9 that says, “… by strength shall no man prevail.” Our physical power, intelligence, wealth, beauty, favour with men or whatever else we have may not secure us the fulfilment we seek in life. Only God can give us inner peace and satisfaction. That is why the Lord Jesus says, “Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” – Matthew 11:28
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Rachel lived before the law of Moses was given, so her knowledge of God’s requirements were limited, but we not only have the Decalogue (Ten Commandments) given through Moses, we have the entire Bible containing the teachings of our Lord Jesus, the prophets and apostles. We also have the outpoured grace of God and the indwelling Holy Spirit to help each of us live right.
So don’t spend your life struggling and striving. Don’t feel you need to disdain or distress anyone to be happy. Be nice to everyone so that you don’t block God’s blessings on your life. And be assured that no one’s blessings can prevent yours for God certainly has enough bounties to go round.
The scriptures used in this post are from the King James Version of the Holy Bible except where otherwise stated.
English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Text Edition: 2016. Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers
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