Rachel – “Ewe or Little Female Lamb”
Please Read: Genesis 29-31; Genesis 33:1-7; Genesis 35:16-26; Genesis 48:7; Jeremiah 31:15 and Matthew 2:18
My first child – a precious baby girl – was resting in a portable crib just outside the door of my hospital room. I heard some shuffling steps coming down the hallway. Hurry, nurse, hurry. I want to hold my baby! But it was a doctor; a tired, gray obstetrician who’d seen many babies come and go from this hospital. He stopped, peered into my daughter’s little bed and sighed, “That one’s a beauty.”
Beauty is what defines Rachel.
Leah was plain, but Rachel was beautiful. She had a nice figure. – Genesis 29:17 (NIRV)
Just as God arranged for the unnamed servant to arrive at just the right well to find Rebekah, Jacob arrives at just the right well, at just the right time, to meet the beautiful Rachel. Rebekah watered the servant’s camels but Jacob waters Rachel’s sheep and instantly falls head over heels in love.
Beautiful and Blessed
Yes, Rachel was blessed with great outer beauty – scripture emphasizes a beautiful face AND a beautiful body. She was also blessed with the deep, abiding, lifelong love of a hard-working man. It was truly “love at first sight” for Jacob. Shortly after meeting her at the well, he willingly offered to work seven years for her father in order to marry her. The years seemed like only a few days to him because of his love for her.
But beauty does not guarantee happiness. The painting above by William Dyce shows an enthusiastic Jacob and a hesitant Rachel. The Bible never tells us how Rachel felt about Jacob. In spite of all her outer beauty and the blessings God gave her, the only emotions we have recorded for Rachel are all-consuming jealousy and a spirit of competition with her sister.
Commentaries are really hard on Rachel – calling her greedy, a thief, an idolator, a schemer with beauty that’s only skin deep. The same commentaries are usually very gentle with “poor” Leah. Let’s play devil’s advocate for a moment. Rachel does seem to treat Jacob’s love in a matter of fact way – the sort of entitled way that beautiful women have about them. His whole life, Jacob loves Rachel more than anyone, yet she isn’t ever happy, only grasping for more.
My question: Does she have a reason? Not an excuse. There’s no excuse for how she behaves in her relationships but there may be some reasons she chooses to spend the rest of her life unhappily competing with her sister.
Beautiful and Bitter
Rachel waited seven years. She planned the perfect wedding. Every detail had been arranged: her gown, the decorations, the food. The ceremony goes perfectly. The guests are having a great time. Just as she was slipping away to the honeymoon suite and her wedding night with her eager groom, her father pulls her aside and sends her sister, Leah, to her new husband’s bed.
Angry, yes! Bitter, no doubt!
Jacob had tricked his brother, Esau, out of his birthright and his blessing. He may have won that wrestling match but now his wives would be locked in combat for the rest of their days. Laban, a master manipulator himself, had deceived the deceiver.
“When morning came, there was Leah! So Jacob said to Laban, “What is this you have done to me? Wasn’t it for Rachel that I worked for you? Why have you deceived me?”
The wedding ruined. A permanent, inescapable love triangle formed. Rachel finds herself cheated out of first wife status, relegated to second wife even though she’s first place in her husband’s heart. And to top it off, her husband is enslaved for seven more years to her scheming, greedy father who names his daughters after livestock. But wait, there’s more.
Beautiful and Barren
Rachel. can’t. have. children.
And her sister Leah can. Lots and lots of children.
In Rachel’s world, barren women were considered cursed by God. So what does this beautiful, wealthy, spoiled woman with a husband who dotes on her choose to do? Hint: she doesn’t take it to the Lord in prayer. She gets a bad case of the gimmes.
- She shouts at Jacob: “Gimme sons or I will die.”
- Then she schemes: “Gimme children through my maid.”
- Next she says to God: “Gimme victory in this wrestling match with my sister.”
- To her sister: “Gimme that love potion and you can have a night with our husband.”
- When God finally gives her a child, Joseph, she basically names him, “Gimme another one.”
Even when she has children, her life is barren. She is completely focused on the thing she doesn’t have. The thing she grasps for – having children, winning this competition with her sister – is what kills her in the end. God does give her another one, and giving birth to him takes her life.
Rachel had many reasons to be angry and bitter. When Rebekah left to go to Isaac, Laban consulted with her to see if she was willing. We don’t see him consulting with his daughters on this wedding night switch. The one thing they both agree on in the end is this: they owe their father nothing. The two them are more than willing to hit the road with Jacob when he decides to head back to the Promised Land.
Rachel was a product of poor choices; her own and other people’s. I didn’t want my beautiful daughter to have the same barren kind of life as her. The thing about beauty is this – you didn’t do anything to deserve it, it is a gift from God. It is not a weapon you wield to get what you want out of life, to get your own way. I sat my beautiful daughter down and shared this with her and – by the grace of God – choice by godly choice she grew up to be beautiful on both the inside and the outside.
How is Jesus involved in Rachel’s Story?
In Life Principles from the Women of the Bible Book Two it says: “Every time in scripture when a woman was barren and then later was blessed with a child, that child grew up to be especially significant to the plan of God. Sarah was barren before giving birth to Isaac. Rebekah was barren before giving birth to Jacob. Rachel was barren before giving birth to Joseph.”
In spite of his bitter mother, Rachel’s Joseph ends up being a very special man – a type of Christ in the Old Testament.. Like Jesus: Joseph was beloved of his father; sent to his brothers who rejected him and sold him out; he was unjustly accused and condemned; “buried” in prison; resurrected from prison and exalted to sit on a throne; was a dispenser of bread to starving Egypt (Jesus is the “Bread of Life” for a starving world) and finally Joseph got a Gentile bride just as Jesus will get a Gentile Bride – the Church.
Rachel is also mentioned in the New Testament – still weeping and lamenting for her children. When she died having her second child, Jacob set up a pillar and buried her by the northern entrance of Bethlehem. This what Jeremiah 31:15 (NIV) prophesied and Matthew 2:18 said after Herod killed the children of Bethlehem, hoping to kill the baby Jesus:
“A voice is heard in Ramah, mourning and great weeping,
Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted,
because they are no more.”
Questions to Ponder:
- Do you spend more time mourning and complaining about what you don’t have or praising and thanking God for what you do have? Quickly list ten things you are thankful for. If you can’t think of anything, keep practicing until you can. Thanks-giving requires practice.
- Have you spent your life longing for the one thing you do not have? What would you do to get it? Have you ever considered placing this thing in God’s hands and trusting Him with it no matter what?
- How much time do you spend every day making your outside beautiful? How much time do you spend every day making your inside beautiful? Have you talked to your daughters about the latter?
Lord, help me to be content with the things that I have because You have said You will never leave me nor forsake me. Amen
The Bottom Line
Things I learned from Rachel: Beauty does not guarantee happiness. Contentment is a choice I make.
originally published February 23, 2016