The name Rachel means ewe-a female sheep. Gee I’m not sure I would appreciate that, but, she was a shepherdess caring for her father’s sheep in Haran when an unexpected visitor appeared. Her cousin, Jacob, was looking for his family, and he ran smack dab into them. It seems he was hit by the “love at first sight” bug. Genesis 29:10-12 “And it came to pass, when Jacob saw Rachel the daughter of Laban his mother’s brother, and the sheep of Laban his mother’s brother, that Jacob went near, and rolled the stone from the well’s mouth, and watered the flock of Laban his mother’s brother. And Jacob kissed Rachel, and lifted up his voice, and wept. And Jacob told Rachel that he was her father’s brother, and that he was Rebekah’s son: and she ran and told her father.” It also seems as though Rachel was quite smitten with Jacob.
Jacob had agreed with Rachel’s father, Laban, to work for seven years to earn the right to ask for the hand of the beautiful shepherdess – Genesis 29:20 “And Jacob served seven years for Rachel; and they seemed unto him but a few days, for the love he had to her.” According to local tradition, the wedding ceremony proceeded, allowing the men to celebrate, while keeping the bride out of sight until the groom entered her darkened tent.
Only after it was too late, did Jacob realize that Laban had deceived him. He had actually married Laban’s older daughter, Leah, whom he did not love. But, here we see how “what comes around goes around.” He now knows what it feels like to be deceived as he had deceived his father and brother. But, alas, another story for another time. A week after their marriage, Jacob received Rachel as his wife. It must have been agony for Rachel after having waited those seven years, only to have her dreams dashed by her father’s trickery. The rivalry and jealousy between Rachel and Leah, and perhaps a desire on Rachel’s part for retaliation against her father for his deception must have put a tremendous strain on the family.
To add insult to injury, Rachel was unable to bear children! Genesis 29:31 “And when the LORD saw that Leah was hated, he opened her womb: but Rachel was barren.” Okay, so God had compassion on Leah because Jacob loved Rachel more. Had I been in Rachel’s shoes, I would have had a very hard time with that. It is not hard to understand the jealousy she must have felt. At the same time, it would have been far better for them all had Rachel put her full trust in the LORD. Instead, she first blamed her husband, and then she allowed her maid to bear children for her. Genesis 30:1-5 “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. 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?
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. And she gave him Bilhah her handmaid to wife: and Jacob went in unto her. And Bilhah conceived, and bare Jacob a son.” Now I know I could never have done that, but it was a different culture than what I know.
Rachel finally did become pregnant and gave birth to Joseph, who became Jacob’s favorite (and that’s another story for another time ;-).) – Genesis 30:22-24 “And God remembered Rachel, and God hearkened to her, and opened her womb. And she conceived, and bare a son; and said, God hath taken away my reproach: And she called his name Joseph; and said, The LORD shall add to me another son.”
In due time, Jacob decided to return to his homeland. After Jacob’s departure, Laban found his household gods missing. Jacob did not know that Rachel had put the gods in her saddlebags, then sat on top of them astride the camel. When Jacob gave Laban permission to search through their belongings, Rachel pleaded weakness because of her menstrual cycle, and she did not dismount from her camel. It was believed that whatever a menstruating woman sat upon was unclean, so of course they did not make her move.
Some believe that those small idols Rachel had stolen from her father were customarily kept in their homes, and were essential evidence for a claim to the family inheritance. But, some also believe that Rachel was a secret believer in pagan superstitions. If this were true, she would have believed that the images would give her and her family safety in their travels and prosperity in their new home.
So, the family returned to Jacob’s homeland, but sometime later, when they were moving again, Rachel became pregnant with Benjamin. The travel in the hilly country was difficult under any circumstances, but it would have been very hard on a woman far along with child. As they approached Ephrath (Bethlehem), Rachel went into hard labor and died while giving birth. She was buried there in Bethlehem – Genesis 35:19 “And Rachel died, and was buried in the way to Ephrath, which is Bethlehem.”
Rachel was a woman greatly loved by her husband, and she gave the world two outstanding sons. Despite her flaws, she stands as an honored daughter of Yahweh. It just goes to show how much God loves us all, even in spite of our wrong choices we may make in our journey in this world. He knows that each of us must go through trials and testings on the road to knowing Him more and coming to the point of total surrender and obedience.