Rachel, in Genesis, the first book of the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament), is one of the two wives of the patriarch Jacob. Forced to serve Rachel’s father, Laban, for seven years to win her, Jacob was tricked at the end of that time into marrying her sister, Leah.
She spends much of her married life attempting to bear children for Jacob and eventually uses her maid Bilhah as a surrogate, but Rachel still craves biological children. She and her sister Leah, also Jacob’s wife, conspire so they both may have children with him, leading to the birth of Rachel’s son Joseph.
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The Story Of Rachel In The Bible
Rachel, the lovely wife of Jacob, furthered the lineage of God’s people and lived to see some of God’s promises to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob realized. Rachel in the Bible is a quiet character who occasionally speaks her mind and sometimes acts with questionable integrity.
Rachel’s beauty overwhelms Jacob when he arrives at Rachel’s father’s compound, where he fled to avoid being killed by his brother Esau after Jacob cheated Esau out of his birthright. Jacob takes Rachel as his wife, though Rachel is his first cousin. Their marriage is complicated and troubled.
Who Was Rachel in the Bible?
The daughter of Laban, Rachel works for the family as a shepherdess before becoming Jacob’s second wife. Rachel is Jacob’s second wife—though strongly desired by Jacob before he is married—after Laban tricks Jacob, himself a champion trickster, by switching Leah for Rachel on their wedding night. Laban, his new father-in-law, tells Jacob the next morning that he switched his daughters as brides because it is traditional for an older daughter to wed before a younger daughter. Jacob had labored seven years for Laban’s first daughter Leah; Jacob worked an additional seven years to wed Rachel, his true love.
Rachel’s union with Jacob and place in their extended family do not bring her joy. Women in ancient Israel did not exercise much control over their lives and Laban did not respect his daughters’ or Jacob’s love interests, creating a dysfunctional family dynamic.
Jacob and Rachel Story Summary
Rachel was a Biblical figure found predominantly in Genesis who is best known for her unsuccessful attempts to have children but eventually gave birth to two sons. Rachel was the favorite of Jacob’s two wives and the mother of Joseph and Benjamin, two of the twelve forebears of the tribes of Israel. Rachel was born in Paddan Aram, Aram-Naharaim (present-day Harran, Turkey) to Laban, Rebekah’s brother.
Rachel was a beautiful young woman who won the heart of her cousin Jacob. Jacob had traveled a great distance to find Laban, Rachel’s father. Rebekah had sent him there to be safe from his angry twin brother, Esau. During Jacob’s stay, he fell in love with Rachel and agreed to work seven years for Laban in return for her hand in marriage. On the night of the wedding, the bride was veiled, and Jacob did not notice that Leah, Rachel’s older sister, had been substituted for Rachel. Later, Jacob confronted Laban, who excused his own deception by insisting that the older sister should marry first. He assured Jacob that after his wedding week was finished, he could take Rachel as a wife as well and work another seven years as payment for her. When God “saw that Leah was unloved, he opened her womb” (Genesis 29:31), and she gave birth to four sons. Rachel, like Sarah and Rebekah, remained unable to conceive. According to biblical scholar Tikva Frymer-Kensky, “The infertility of the matriarchs has two effects: it heightens the drama of the birth of the eventual son, marking Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph as special; and it emphasizes that pregnancy is an act of God.”
Rachel became jealous of Leah and gave Jacob her maidservant, Bilhah, to be a surrogate mother for her. Bilhah gave birth to two sons that Rachel named and raised (Dan and Naphtali). Leah responded by offering her handmaid Zilpah to Jacob, and she named and raised the two sons (Gad and Asher) that Zilpah bore. According to some commentaries, Bilhah and Zilpah were half-sisters of Leah and Rachel 4. After Leah conceived again, Rachel finally had a son, Joseph, who would become Jacob’s favorite child.
Rachel’s story is a reminder of the importance of faith and perseverance. She was a woman who was unable to conceive for many years, but she never lost faith in God. She was willing to do whatever it took to have a child, even if it meant giving her husband her maidservant to bear children for her. Rachel’s story is also a reminder of the importance of family. She was a woman who loved her husband deeply and was willing to share him with her sister. She was also a woman who loved her children deeply and was willing to do whatever it took to protect them.
What Can We Learn From Rachel In The Bible
Early, blossoming love doesn’t guarantee future happiness.
Though Rachel and Jacob are madly in love upon first meeting, their marriage is full of challenges from inside and outside the relationship.
Life is full of surprises
Laban tricks his son-in-law Jacob into marriages with both of his daughters by switching them on their wedding night. Jacob has to work twice as long to win the woman he desires.
Things go wrong in life
Rachel has fertility problems for many years. This is particularly frustrating because God promised Jacob he would continue and prosper the nation of God’s chosen people, begun with his grandfather Abraham and carried into the next generation with Jacob’s father Isaac. Rachel would feel personal unhappiness and community grief over her inability to bear children early in her marriage.
Children are one of life’s richest blessings
I imagine households and fields full of boys and a girl playing and working for their family. Leah, Rachel, and the maidservants would have enjoyed the children very much. Leah’s fourth son is part of Jesus’ ancestry, detailed in Matthew 1.
God looks out for those troubled and sorrowful
Despite a troubled family situation, including a deceitful father-in-law and devious husband, Rachel does have her heart’s desire for a time—a family with children and security.
God keeps his promises
God works his way through Rachel’s son Joseph, who is raised in the pharaoh’s palace and changes the course of Jewish history. The circumstances of Rachel’s life play a large part in God’s plan for His people.
God is in Control
When Rachel faced infertility, she took her frustration out on her husband, Jacob. Jacob obviously wasn’t happy to be the brunt of her anger and reminded her that God is in control.
How often have you done this? In your frustration or anger, lashed out at someone close to you. Our loved ones should be there to listen and console us, but they simply aren’t God. They can pray for us and with us, but they can’t control a situation – only God can.
No one wins with jealousy
There’s sibling rivalry, and then there’s Rachel and Leah. Rachel was jealous of Leah as Leah was, it seemed, able to easily conceive while Rachel struggled.
Instead of being happy for her sister, she was resentful of her. She even went so far as to offer up her handmade to her husband in order to bring children to him.
Infertility is hard. There’s no questioning that, but God is in control. If only Rachel had rested in God’s sovereignness and trusted Him with His plan for her life.
Jacob had about enough, too, and spend many nights sleeping in the fields with his flocks rather than listening to his complaining and jealous wife.
While Rachel was jealous of her sister’s flourishing womb, Rachel was clearly loved by Jacob more than Leah. Her barrenness made her feel insecure, but from what we read in scripture, Jacob couldn’t have loved her more even if she could bear children.
Nagging doesn’t get you anywhere
As mentioned in lesson #2, Jacob was so fed up with Rachel’s complaining that he often resorted to sleeping in the fields. Her nagging didn’t make the situation better. In fact, it made it worse.
Instead of nagging and complaining, think first about how it will affect the recipient. Breathe, pray, give it to God, but don’t nag.
Love others, even when you don’t feel like it
It wasn’t Leah’s fault that Laban pulled a switcheroo on Jacob and forced him to marry Leah first. But Rachel didn’t like giving up her position as first wife.
Rachel was calling the shots and controlling Jacob’s time. (Remember the mandrake incident?)
She wasn’t very kind to her sister.
It is not for us to take revenge. That is God’s job.
Rachel stole her father’s idols as an act of revenge for what she saw as her father’s mistreatment of Jacob. Had she let God deal with the revenge, it certainly would have prevented Jacob from making that oath and Rachel from lying.
Be satisfied and grateful, not always seeking “more”
When Rachel finally was blessed with a child, instead of being happy and feeling grateful, she was so focused on one-upping her sister that she wanted more. More children. More time of Jacob’s. More money from the bride price.
Facts About Rachel In The Bible
1. The name Rachel means “ewe”
רָחֵל Rāḥêl, Her father, Laban, was a shepherd and that may be where her name, which translates as “ewe” comes from. Biblical scholars conclude that this name might have been a term of endearment by her father.
2. Rachel died young, even for biblical times.
She was only thirty-six years’ old when she died during childbirth.
3. She wasn’t buried in the family tomb.
Instead, she was buried in Bethlehem, not in the Cave of the Patriarchs, where the rest of the matriarchs were found their final resting place.
4. She is a national symbol of a praying mother
In the Midrash, Rashi wrote that Rachel cried out from her grave and begged for mercy for her children. The prophet Jeremiah prophesied about Rachel: “A voice is heard on high … Rachel is weeping for her children …” Even after biblical times, “Mother Rachel” continued to be celebrated as a powerful intercessor for the people of Israel.
Rachel’s life was not without its challenges. She was caught in the middle of a family feud between her father and her uncle, and she was unable to conceive for many years. However, she remained faithful to God and persevered through her struggles. Her story is a testament to God’s faithfulness and loving care for His people 1.