16 And they journeyed from Beth-el; and there was but a little way to come to Ephrath: and Rachel travailed, and she had hard labour. 17 And it came to pass, when she was in hard labour, that the midwife said unto her, Fear not; thou shalt have this son also. 18 And it came to pass, as her soul was in departing, (for she died) that she called his name Ben-oni: but his father called him Benjamin. 19 And Rachel died, and was buried in the way to Ephrath, which is Beth-lehem. 20 And Jacob set a pillar upon her grave: that is the pillar of Rachel’s grave unto this day.
A very somber end to the story of Rachel. It is particularly sobering how childbearing, usually a source of great joy for a mother, was such a source of travail in Rachel’s life. First, she was unable to have any children for several years, causing her to envy her sister Leah. Then she miraculously had one child, Joseph, but then ceased again for a while. Here, at last, she was able to give birth to a second…but that proved to be the death of her. Her grief is apparent in how she named the child Ben-oni, which translates to “son of my sorrow.”
That is a very heavy title for an innocent child to bear, but Jacob set for him another title: Benjamin, which means “son of the right hand.” I cannot help but wonder what sort of special companionship Joseph and Benjamin shared, the only two half-orphaned brothers born of Rachel. It seems a difficult situation for starting one’s life, but perhaps it was necessary for their development. Each of them grew to be the most faithful of sons.
I wonder also how her death affected Jacob, who still had many years to go without his most beloved companion. We do not know exactly how long she and Jacob had together before the end. It is clear that they were married after Jacob had served Laban seven years, and that Jacob served Laban twenty years in all, but we aren’t sure how long Jacob was in Shalem before travelling to Beth-el, and how long he was in Beth-el before this fatal delivery occurred. Still, it seems likely that their earthly union was somewhere in the range of fifteen-to-twenty years. He likely had many years yet to go, but he would always see a living reminder of her in their two sons.