Love and rejection in the same family? Rachel and Leah, the loved and hated wives of Jacob. Part A Rachel (Part B will be Leah) "See how she leans her hand upon her cheek? O, that I were a glove upon that hand that I might touch that cheek!" I think this quote from William Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet, aptly depicts Jacob's smitten heart for Rachel. How mesmerising is the nature of love upon the heart, mind and soul? We find we can overcome all obstacles — even going to our death — due to the power of love. Didn't Jesus say to His disciples at the Samaritan well when they offered Him food, "I have food ye know not of?" He could live on the love of God. Here, we will see how Jacob could live off his love for Rachel for many years. This is the greatest love story of the Bible other than the Song of Solomon, but what a twist. I feel we cannot talk about Rachel without involving Jacob, Laban and Leah. Their interactions create her journey of faith.
Jacob needed to flee from Esau's rage. His parents sent him to his mother's brother Laban, to get a wife. So off he went and, like Abraham's servant in the last episode, he also came upon a well. Several biblical relationships began at wells! As he was speaking to some locals, Rachel came into view. Genesis 29:9 says, And while he yet spake with them, Rachel came with her father's sheep; for she kept them. At first sight of this farmer’s daughter, dressed in work clothes but with gorgeous looks, Jacob was immediately infatuated. We’ve seen this scenario in a thousand movies, but here it is in real life. When he found out she was Rebekah’s kin, Jacob wept, hugged and kissed her. It was a great relief for him. He thought his dreams were so quickly coming true. Rachel was a worker with responsibilities, not a fingernail-painting primrose. Most farm girls had responsibilities, and tending flocks is good for the soul. It gives the shepherd a nurse's heart and helps them understand people. It teaches patience, self-sacrifice, leadership, tenderness and love. I feel this is the type of heart Rachel had. A small but large point about Jacob To understand the type of wife Jacob sought, we need to know more about Jacob. Contrary to current consensus, Jacob was upright in heart, not a characteristic deceiver. He deceived once only. For the rest of his life, his character was impeccable. His name meant Supplanter or Deceiver for a one-off event that he knew had to happen but was nevertheless reluctant. How do we know this? Scripture says Jacob was a 'plain' man. Gen 25:27. “And the boys grew: and Esau was a cunning hunter, a man of the field; and Jacob was a plain man, dwelling in tents.” Plain, in this instance, does not mean he dwelt in or on the plains of the region or was ordinary. According to Strong’s Concordance (H8535), it means, ‘complete, morally innocent, having integrity, one who is morally and ethically pure’. This is not the description of a deceiver. That short understanding is sadly lost in many modern versions but it tells us a little about the character he would seek in his wife. He would only desire a righteous woman. Meet her family — a twenty-year surprise Rachel took him home to meet the family, but unlike the brief exchange in his mother’s case — some gold and trinkets, and then departure — the Lord had different plans for Jacob and Rachel. They had to endure different events. Each event in life has its own emotional weight. After a month of working with Laban’s family, Jacob was more in love with Rachel than ever. Laban asked him what his wages should be, to which Jacob replied that he will work seven years as payment for Rachel. Now seven years seems like a great cost to purchase a bride. We might be apt to think, why didn't Jacob just say perhaps three years? I believe he chose seven years because seven is the number of the Holy Spirit. If he worked for seven years, he would be cleared of any further debt for his wife in the Lord’s eyes. Laban would have no comeback. The contract was very clear, and Jacob was able to work for free for those seven years for his beloved betrothed who attracted him so magnetically. Gen 29:20 says, And Jacob served seven years for Rachel; and they seemed unto him but a few days, for the love he had to her. Is your life as a Christian like that? Does your free work for the Lord feel like a few days or a lifetime? How deep is your love for Him? From the time he laid eyes on her, Jacob only ever loved Rachel until the day she died. In this innocent courtship, was the wait worth it for Rachel? No! It was devastating and cruel. On the wedding night, the swap with Leah happened. Leah's 'tender eyes' were a big enough issue to be mentioned in scripture, and I wouldn't be surprised if Laban thought her as deficient. This was the way to get his unfortunate daughter off his hands. After seven years of faithfulness, and waiting for their special day, Rachel bore the shame of the marital crime of having her sister be the first to sleep with her betrothed. In fact, Leah spent the first entire week with him. That was the first week he had spent alone with any woman. How would you feel? It was so easily dismissed by her cur of a father who simply told Jacob, It must not be so done in our country, to give the younger before the firstborn. Jacob had not heard this saying in the past seven years of working and mixing with the local people, nor had any suggestion come from the mouths of the family, even Rachel's. This hideous and unhuman deception was plotted behind Rachel's back by Laban mostly, but I think Leah was complicit. Several things suggest this. Firstly, it was done under the cover of the darkness of night. Also, Leah must have prepared herself for the marriage bed with bathing and enticing perfumes and remained silent and cunning throughout the night. Gen 29:25 states, And it came to pass, that in the morning, behold, it was Leah: and he said to Laban, What is this thou hast done unto me? Is it not equal to Rebekah and Jacob’s deceit of Isaac? Why is it not sermonised as often? After that, Rachel suffered the humiliation of being almost destitute, living in poverty on her own father’s farm, unlike before she was married and on Laban's payroll. When Laban reduced Jacob’s wages ten times over the course of his employment, little did he care that he was taking the food from he mouths of this own daughters and their children. When we hear of this level of abuse happening today we are horrified.
Trying to escape the prison farm I wonder if the words of Jacob’s mother echoed in Jacob's mind from time-to-time? Now therefore, my son, obey my voice; arise, flee thou to Laban my brother in Haran; (Gen 27:43). He did exactly that, but now it was time to flee away just as quickly. Laban was blessed beyond his imagination after Jacob arrived. His mere presence made Laban a rich man, so strong was Jacob’s relationship with God. Now, with all the children being born, Laban was increasing his labour force without increasing any pay. However, Laban was also a very selfish person who spent everything he had. Gen 31:15. Leah and Rachel said, Are we not counted of him strangers? for he hath sold us, and hath quite devoured also our money. As the Jacob-Laban relationship grew sour, God told Jacob to leave quickly. God eventually blessed Jacob with many cattle and other things, so after twenty-odd years he and his family secretly escaped Laban and his sons' clutches. Rachel gave a parting gesture (the middle finger) to her heartless father for all his deception and years of family abuse by stealing Laban’s idols. I think it was a payback from a girl who had been hurt more times than we realise. It’s odd isn’t it, how Laban can have a despicable character yet still believe so strongly in a god? Rachel didn't need the idols. Over the years I am sure Jacob would have ensured his own wives understood that their's was a walk of faith, not of idols. Stealing the idols was such a small thing in comparison to what she suffered, but is made so large in sermons without the balance of Rachel’s pain. Barrenness, Birth and Dying far too early Rachel, like her mother-in-law and grandmother-in-law, had trouble conceiving, all brought about by God for His purpose. Her barrenness brought about a jealousy of Leah, who became the mother of many. Which I think is ironic, given that Leah's upbringing would have been full of jealousy of Rachel.
When Rachel finally conceived, she brought forth Joseph, who was loved by his father Jacob. There may have been a bit of favouritism because he was Rachel's, however, he followed God like his father Jacob. Joseph’s desire was more spiritual than his brothers, and I think that was one reason why they wanted to get rid of him. Then the tragedy struck. Rachel, upon giving birth to their second child Benjamin, realised she was dying during the birth. Very few words were spoken, words of pain and disappointment, and then she passed away. Gen 35:18 says, And it came to pass, as her soul was in departing, (for she died) that she called his name Benoni:(son of my sorrow) but his father called him Benjamin (son of my right hand). I think this cherished woman lamented over dying far earlier than she thought she would. After so much difficulty in getting pregnant, and now not having the chance to see her precious children grow up with her involvement, was a tipping point. Many families experience similar devastating circumstances, leaving them to cry and move on without wives and mothers. The tears and heartaches are as deep as pain can get, and so it was for Jacob, who buried her near Bethlehem, the birth place of our Lord. Jacob set up a pillar on her grave which lasted for hundreds of years.
Summary - Leaving a legacy A great testimony to Rachel and Leah is immortalised in the Book of Ruth 4:11 by Boaz when speaking of Ruth said, The Lord make the woman that is come into thine house like Rachel and like Leah, which two did build the house of Israel: and do thou worthily in Ephratah, and be famous in Bethlehem: Also, in Matthew 2:18, when Herod's Massacre of the Innocents occurred shortly after Christ's birth, Rachel is mentioned again, but this time in one of the saddest passages in the Bible. In Rama was there a voice heard, lamentation, and weeping, and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children, and would not be comforted, because they are not. In my opinion, both Rachel and Leah were hurt by their father Laban and suffered in their own personal ways. We can get angry when we read this story of Jacob and Rachel's trials and Laban and Leah's involvement in their union, but we need to keep perspective. God ordained all this to bring about the twelve sons of Israel. Gen 29:31 implies that Jacob hated Leah. And when the Lord saw that Leah was hated, he opened her womb: but Rachel was barren. Jacob never wanted Leah, and particularly after the deception. If she thought she was rejected when she was single, it was more so now. To me, Jacob displayed a typical human response to a situation. One in which he would need to work his way through if he would continue to be useful to the Lord; which I believe he did. I also feel that part of the reason God engineered those hard years of the Jacob-Laban interactions was to highlight to all that Jacob’s deception of his father was a one-off event with God's blessing and not a life-long tendency. Jacob showed integrity every day of his employment with Laban, and so did Rachel. For some reason, the Bible media as an industry don’t seem to promote Jacob’s innocence but rather his guilt and character deficiencies. It was Laban who had the deceptive nature, not Jacob. One thing is true in all this. That we cannot predict what God has in store for us in our walk of faith. Neither Jacob nor Rachel had any idea of the twists and turns life would take, yet they walked in faith one step after the next, one event after the next following their Lord and Saviour.