Jacob loved Rachel, but it wasn’t enough. She wanted a son. When she had a son, she wanted another.
When we first meet Rachel in the Bible, she’s a lovely young shepherdess taking care of her father’s sheep. Jacob is immediately smitten with her. He kisses her and weeps for joy. It’s love at first sight. As he gets to know Rachel better, his love continues to grow. It doesn’t take long for him to ask for her hand in marriage, offering to serve Laban, Rachel’s father, for 7 years in exchange for Rachel as his wife. We’re told that the years seemed like only days so great was the love that he had for her.
Rachel’s Story in the Bible
As Jacob entered the land of his people, he met a group of shepherds by a well and asked them if they knew Laban, his uncle. Not only did they know him, but they pointed out that Rachel, Laban’s daughter, was headed their way.
Rachel was a shepherdess, taking her father’s sheep to water at the well, when she and Jacob first met. Jacob moved the stone from the well’s mouth and watered Laban’s sheep. Then he kissed Rachel, lifted up his voice, and wept.
Jacob told Rachel who he was and that his mother was her father’s sister, and she ran and told her father. Laban came to meet him, hugged him, kissed him, and brought him to their house. He welcomed him as a member of the family.
After deceiving his brother, receiving Isaac’s blessing, fleeing for his life, and meeting with God at Bethel, what a relief it must have been to Jacob to find refuge with family. Though his parents sent him off to find a wife, it doesn’t appear he immediately shared that with Laban and his family. Instead, he took a month just to get acquainted. During that time he worked for Laban without pay.
Jacob and Rachel
At the end of the month, Laban asked Jacob what he wanted his wages to be. Jacob offered to work for seven years in order to marry Rachel.
Why didn’t Jacob just ask for Rachel’s hand then? Why did he offer to work seven years before marrying her? Was he hesitant to rush into marriage? Was he waiting for Rachel to grow up? Did he need to work out his guilt from what he’d done to Esau? Was he allowing time for her older sister Leah to get married? We don’t know. All we know is he loved Rachel, and the seven years passed quickly.
For seven years Jacob worked without pay in order to marry Rachel, the younger daughter of Laban. Laban agreed to this arrangement because he said it was better for him to give Rachel to Jacob than someone else. He invited Jacob to stay with them for seven years, and then Jacob could marry Rachel. We’re told in Genesis 29:20 that the years “seemed only a few days to him because of the love he had for her.” (NKJV)
It was the perfect beginning for a happily ever after, but on the night that should have been the highlight of their lives, Daddy threw them a curve ball. While it was tradition at the time for the older sister to marry before the younger sister, no mention was made during Rachel and Jacob’s courtship. Surely they knew of the tradition, but in their infatuation with each other they must have assumed an exception could be made this time.
I can only imagine how Rachel must have felt when Laban pulled her aside and informed her that she would not be marrying her beloved on their wedding day. Instead, Leah would be the one to web Jacob.
Rachel Wants Children
Rachel had the love of her husband, but it wasn’t enough. She wanted more. She envied her sister and blamed Jacob with her infertility. “Give me sons or I will die!”
Jacob wasn’t the problem. For the first time, we see him angry with Rachel. He told her it was God, not him, who kept her from bearing children.
Rather than taking her problems to God, she chose to do the same thing Sarah had done. She gave her handmaid to Jacob to serve as a surrogate wife to bear children for her. Jacob agreed, and Bilhah, her maid, bore Jacob a son.
Rachel named the son Dan, saying, “God has judged my case; and He has also heard my voice and given me a son.”
Bilhah conceived again. This son Rachel named Naphtali, saying “With great wrestlings I have wrestled with my sister, and indeed I have prevailed.”
Just as Leah looked to her sons as a way to win her husband’s affection, Rachel saw Bilhah’s sons as a way to show her superiority over Leah.
So Rachel gave Jacob her maid so she could conceive for her. When the maid’s son Dan was born, her response, “God has vindicated me and given me a son.” When her slave bore another son, “In my wrestlings with God, I have wrestled with my sister and won.
In a scene that bears a great resemblance to an earlier scene with Jacob and Esau. Leah’s son Reuben found mandrakes, a fruit associated with fertility, and brought them to his mother.
When Rachel saw Leah’s mandrakes, she wanted them. Leah, saw the opportunity for a trade. Rachel offered Leah Jacob for a night if she could have the mandrakes. Leah agreed.
Even when Rachel was finally able to conceive her own son, her response? “May the Lord add another son to me.”
Rachel and the Idols
Jacob knew it was time to leave Laban and return to the land of his fathers, but before he did anything, he consulted Rachel and Leah. He explained to them that he was no longer held in favor by their father. They knew how Laban had deceived Jacob, changing his wages ten times.
The sisters pointed out that their father’s actions had impacted them as well. He had taken from their inheritance and treated them as strangers. He’d sold them and consumed their money. They said to do whatever God told him to do.
So while Laban was away shearing his sheep, Jacob set his wives and sons on camels and carried away all his livestock and all his possessions and headed to his father Isaac in the land of Canaan.
In the process of fleeing from Laban, Rachel stole his household idols. When Laban returned home and realized Jacob had left with his daughters, grandchildren, and idols, he pursued after them.
Laban confronted Jacob, claiming to be upset that he wasn’t able to give them a proper sendoff. He understood why Jacob would want to return to his father’s house but was confused why Jacob would steal his idols.
Jacob had no idea what he was talking about. He told Laban to feel free to search everyone, going so far as to say, “Anyone with whom you find your gods shall not live.” (Genesis 31:32 ESV) What a rash statement to make, but it didn’t occur to him that anyone in his party might take idols, especially his beloved Rachel.
Laban went through all the tents, going to Rachel’s last, but when he entered Rachel’s tent, he found her sitting. She was actually sitting on the idols. She apologized for not getting up, but said it was that time of the month. He searched throughout the tent but didn’t find anything.
Why did Rachel steal the idols? Was it an impulse move or a deliberate attempt to hold on to idol worship? Why would she hold on to useless objects after seeing the hand of Jacob’s true God. What happened to those stolen idols?
How easily Rachel deceived her father, stealing from him, hiding from him, and lying to him. Though she wasn’t caught, Jacob’s foreshadow of death would soon come true.
Rachel Bible Study
Bible Study Review:
1. What was Jacob willing to do to marry Rachel?
2. What did Rachel want from Jacob?
3. Why was Rachel jealous of Leah?
Thoughts to Ponder:
1. Why was Rachel never content?
2. What was Rachel’s reaction to the birth of her first son?
3. Why did Rachel steal her father’s idols?
1. Do you appreciate what you have or long for more?
2. Do you envy what others have?
3. Do you have idols you’re holding onto?