Friday, January 05, 2007

Rachel - Shepherdess and Sister

How happy I am! Jacob has told Father that he loves me, and will work 7 years for Father in exchange for me becoming his wife! 7 years is a long time... However, I'm sure I have a lot to learn before becoming a wife, and waiting will provide a lot of time to prepare.

I only met Jacob a month ago, when I met him by the well while trying to water my sheep. The gallant man first rolled the stone away from the well and watered my sheep, then told me that he was a relative of my father! I couldn't wait to tell Father all about him, for he was handsome. And now he wants to marry me! I hope the time will fly...

The story of Jacob and Rachel begins as a tender romance. Jacob, fleeing from his angry brother Esau, goes to Paddan Aram, sent by his parents. He asks the shepherds he found where they were from, then, "He said to them, 'Do you know Laban, Nahor's grandson?' 'Yes, we know him,' they answered. Then Jacob asked them, 'Is he well?' 'Yes, he is,' they said, 'and here comes his daughter Rachel with the sheep.' " (Genesis 29:5-6) Jacob turned to look and got his first glimpse of the beautiful Rachel, who was tending her father's sheep. Genesis 29:17 tells us that Rachel was "lovely in form and beautiful." Jacob was moved when he saw her, and worked to water her sheep. then he kissed her (in the customary greeting of that day, I'm sure!) and began to weep, presumably out of joy. Rachel probably didn't know what to think of this strange man; but when he told her that he was a son of Rebekah, a relative of her father, she excitedly ran to tell her father all about him.

I don't know if Jacob fell in love at first sight, but he obviously grew to love her quite quickly. He had been with Laban (Rachel's father) and his family for a month, helping out, when Laban offered to pay him for his labor.

The lovesick, but penniless, Jacob didn't think long, for he desperately loved Laban's younger daughter Rachel. He offered Laban seven years of work in return for Rachel. Laban though it was better to give Rachel to Jacob rather than another man, and agreed. Although Jacob didn't have money to pay the typical bride price, Laban no doubt was more than happy to get seven years of free labor from a strapping young man instead! "So Jacob served Laban for seven years, but they only felt like a few days, because of his love for her." (Genesis 29:20) Wouldn't any girl be touched at such devotion?

The seven years finally drew to a close. Jacob, understandably impatient, asked for Rachel to be given to him as his wife, as had been agreed. So Laban brought together a lot of people for a wedding feast, but instead of Rachel, he gave Jacob his older daughter, Leah. Can you imagine Rachel's devastation? The Bible never tells us that she was in love with him, but it is to be assumed. This gallant man, who loved her so dearly and worked so hard for her, was deceived by her father and given her older sister Leah as his wife, and she could do nothing to stop it.

Jacob was very angry when the next morning he found Leah beside him instead of Rachel. Angrily, he demanded of Laban, "What is this you have done to me? I served you for Rachel, didn't I? Why have you deceived me?" (Genesis 29:25) The conniving Laban replied, "It is not our custom to give the younger daughter in marriage before the older one. Finish this daughter's bridal week; then we will give you the younger one also, in return for another seven years of labor." (Genesis 29:27) Laban should have told Jacob about this "custom" seven years earlier, but he didn't. Instead, he deceived Jacob, and connived a way to get seven more years of free labor out of him. In those days, God hadn't condemned multiple wives, so it was pretty common. "And Jacob did so. He finished the week with Leah, and then Labon gave him his daughter Rachel to be his wife." (Genesis 29:28)

Jacob finally got his true love. However, his troubles were far from over. He (understandably) loved Rachel, whom he'd loved at a distance for seven years, more than Leah, whom he'd been tricked into marrying. He worked hard for Laban for seven more years, while all the while his wives, also sisters, bickered and behaved jealously.

The years went on, and Leah, Rachel's rival, bore Jacob 4 fine sons. This made Rachel very jealous. "So she said to Jacob, 'Give me children, or I'll die!' " (Genesis 30:1) Jacob, knowing Who the true give of children was, "became angry with her and said, 'Am I in the place of God, Who has kept you from having children?' " (Genesis 30:2) Rachel desperately wanted a family, and resorted to the method of their day; she gave Jacob her maidservant Bilhah as a wife, who bore two sons. The naming of children was very important. When Bilhah bore her first son, "Rachel said, 'God has vindicated me; He has listened to my plea and given me a son.' Because of this she named him Dan." (Genesis 20:6) Bilhah had her second son. "Then Rachel said, 'I have had a great struggle with my sister, and I have won.' so she named him Naphtali." (Genesis 30:8) Rachel finally had children by her maidservant, but it wasn't the same. Life went on; her sister had more children, and Rachel still longed for her own children.

"Then God remembered Rachel; He listened to her and opened her womb. She became pregnant and gave birth to a son and said, 'God has taken away my disgrace.' She named him Joseph and said, 'May the LORD add to me another son.' " (Genesis 30:22-24) God didn't forget Rachel's desire. He heard her prayer, yet for years His answer was "wait." He did finally give her a son, and Rachel rejoiced in God's precious gift.

Life and its trials went on for Jacob's family. Because of disagreement and Laban's deceit, Jacob's household finally fled from Paddan Aram. Interestingly to not, and contrary to the view that men back then didn't respect their wives, Jacob valued his wives' opinions. After God told him to leave, Jacob met with his wives out in the field and told them what was going on.

Rachel and Leah felt a lack of love from their father. They replied, "Do we still have any share in the inheritance of our father's estate? Does he not regard us as foreigners? Not only has he sold us, but he has used up what was paid for us. Surely all the wealth that God took away from our father belongs to us and our children. So do whatever God has told you." (Genesis 31:14-16) So Jacob took his family and left. Sadly, Rachel seems to have had divided loyalties and trust, for she stole her father's household gods, and later deceived him into thinking she didn't have them.

Laban did love his daughters and grandchildren, and followed them. Finally, he and Jacob agreed to separate, so he, in his rightful fatherly role, kissed his grandchildren and daughters, blessed them, and left.

Rachel lived through the stressful meeting with Esau, and all the moving around of the family. She must have been fairly advanced in age, when she had another son. Sadly, she died soon after he was born, not living to enjoy the fruit of her womb.

What can we learn from Rachel? Just as we learned from Rebekah, we learn that while she was young, Rachel wasn't pining away and waiting for a husband. She was helping her father, tending his sheep, when Jacob showed up after his long journey. We don't need to worry; God will bring a husband for us if it's His will. Our time is much better occupied than spent worrying! I know it's hard... I struggle with worry as well, but God is faithful!

Purpose to use your time wisely, and help wherever you are.

We also need to also learn to be patient, for although Rachel wanted children for years, God had her wait, until His time was right.

In addition, purpose to stay strong despite different circumstances. Rachel didn't react well to her difficulties; she became jealous and turned to other gods. Keep your trust in God strong - He will help you through!

Read all about Rachel in Genesis 29:1 - 35:20.


Miriam Rebekah said...

Really good post! I was always disappointed that Rachel did not remain patient during those trials, but she was only human after all!

Anna Naomi said...

Yes, that's true. It's hard to not hold up those in the Bible as extra-special and holy people that shouldn't have sinned. But, "We all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God."

Elizabeth Ellen Moore said...

Fantastic post! I am also disappointed at how Rachel responded at times, but her life is certainly one we can learn from!