Rachel was the younger sister of Leah and daughter of Laban. A beautiful young woman, she won the heart of her cousin Jacob and became his second wife. Their passionate romance was marked by love's inspiring endurance and sacrifice as well as its ugly face of jealousy (Genesis 25—35).
Rachel met Jacob when he was fleeing from his hometown. He was the grandson of Abraham and youngest son of Isaac. His older twin brother, Esau, had sold him his birthright for a bowl of stew. Some time later, Jacob covered his arms in animal fur in order to trick his father who had poor eyesight into giving him Esau's blessing. When the deed was done, his mother Rebekah encouraged Jacob to leave the area and return when his brother no longer desired to kill him.
Upon arriving to his relative Laban's land, he encountered Rachel working with her father's sheep. Rachel took Jacob back to her father, Laban. After a month, Laban asked Jacob to tell him what his wages should be for his work. Jacob asked for Rachel's hand in marriage. But Laban was a bit of a con artist, not unlike Jacob himself. He made a contract with Jacob that if he worked for seven years, he could take Rachel as his wife. On the wedding day Laban switched his older daughter for Rachel and Jacob married Leah instead. The Bible is not clear on how this happened, but it is possible the cultural custom of the time was for the bride to be completely veiled. With his eldest daughter married, Laban then agreed to have Jacob marry Rachel the following week as long as he continued to work for him for another seven years. In the end Laban not only married off both of his daughters, but also gained fourteen years of free labor from his son-in-law.
Jacob clearly favored Rachel over Leah. However, Rachel was barren while Leah gave Jacob four sons: Reuben, Simeon, Levi, and Judah. Rachel became very distressed and demanded of Jacob, "Give me children, or I shall die!" (Genesis 30:1). Jacob became angry, knowing that he had no control over Rachel being barren. Jealous of Leah, Rachel gave her maidservant Bilhah to Jacob so that through her they might have children together. Bilhah birthed Dan and Naphtali. Leah, now jealous of Rachel, gave her maidservant Zilpah to Jacob and through her they had Gad and Asher. Later, Reuben gave his mother a mandrake plant as it was thought to help with fertility. Rachel begged Leah to let her have the plant in exchange for a night with Jacob. Leah agreed and conceived Issachar that night. Leah then went on to have Zebulun and a daughter named Dinah.
God had not forgotten Rachel though. He saw her suffering and opened her womb. "She conceived and bore a son and said, 'God has taken away my reproach.' And she called his name Joseph saying, 'May the LORD add to me another son!'" (Genesis 30:23–24). Joseph became the favorite of his father's sons and would one day save his family from a famine and fulfill God's plan in leading the Israelites into Egypt.
Jacob soon decided to return to the land God had promised him with his family. Laban continually tried to trick Jacob, but God blessed him time and again and he left with many livestock and servants. Upon leaving her father's household, Rachel stole two idols that were important to Laban. He pursued them and wanted to kill whoever had stolen them. Rachel hid them in a saddle bag and sat on top of them. She said she was on her period and unclean so that the bags were not searched. Laban returned home empty handed and the family continued on their journey. Rachel became pregnant again and gave birth to Benjamin. It was a difficult pregnancy and she died soon afterwards.
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