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.
30 And now, though thou wouldest needs be gone, because thou sore longedst after thy father’s house, yet wherefore hast thou stolen my gods?
32 With whomsoever thou findest thy gods, let him not live: before our brethren discern thou what is thine with me, and take it to thee. For Jacob knew not that Rachel had stolen them.
33 And Laban went into Jacob’s tent, and into Leah’s tent, and into the two maidservants’ tents; but he found them not. Then went he out of Leah’s tent, and entered into Rachel’s tent.
34 Now Rachel had taken the images, and put them in the camel’s furniture, and sat upon them. And Laban searched all the tent, but found them not.
35 And she said to her father, Let it not displease my lord that I cannot rise up before thee; for the custom of women is upon me. And he searched, but found not the images.
Laban demanded why Jacob had stolen his idols, which Jacob obviously denied. His pledge to put to death anyone who stole the idols seems a very bold oath to make. Obviously, Jacob knew that he had not taken them, I wonder what made him so mistakenly sure that no one in his household did either. Who knows how they would have resolved things if Rachel had been discovered as the culprit.
As for her sake, Rachel adds lying to her theft. I do not mean this as an excuse for her deceitful practices, but it is worth noting that Laban was also a deceitful father. After Jacob completed his first seven years of service, she had been robbed of her intended wedding by Laban’s lies, and now she is robbing him of his gods with hers. Two wrongs do not make a right, but it is a fact of life that the wrong things we do set an example to others that are usually used against us later on. Though it may be indirect and years in the making, we are often the authors of our own harm.
17 Then Jacob rose up, and set his sons and his wives upon camels;
18 And he carried away all his cattle, and all his goods which he had gotten, the cattle of his getting, which he had gotten in Padan-aram, for to go to Isaac his father in the land of Canaan.
19 And Laban went to shear his sheep: and Rachel had stolen the images that were her father’s.
20 And Jacob stole away unawares to Laban the Syrian, in that he told him not that he fled.
Things had certainly deteriorated very far between Jacob and Laban, that Jacob would feel it necessary to steal away in secret. Given that he was living three day’s journey away it must not have been very hard to sneak away. But it is important to note that he did not depart secretly because he was a thief. He took only the things that belonged to him, the cattle that he had earned and not the ones that he didn’t.
What’s more, it does not appear that he abandoned his duties to Laban’s cattle either. Verse 19 seems to suggest that he did not leave them to fend for themselves, but waited until Laban took them in from the field for their shearing.
But while Jacob may have conducted himself honestly and honorably, the same could not be said for Rachel. Before leaving she stole the images, or idols, of her father. There are a few disturbing details here. First, evidently Laban was worshipping false gods, which is another mark against his character. Secondly, why did Rachel take them? Had she inherited her father’s superstitious idolatry? Did she intend to sell them to make up for receiving no dowry? I suppose she might have been trying to remove the temptation from her father, but overall, her behavior seems highly suspect.
14 And Rachel and Leah answered and said unto him, Is there yet any portion or inheritance for us in our father’s house?
15 Are we not counted of him strangers? for he hath sold us, and hath quite devoured also our money.
16 For all the riches which God hath taken from our father, that is ours, and our children’s: now then, whatsoever God hath said unto thee, do.
If Jacob had been concerned about how Rachel and Leah would feel about leaving their father’s household, it turns out that he didn’t need to be. Rachel and Leah felt that Laban did not view them as his daughters anymore, and they in turn left off viewing him as their father. After all, he had sold each of them to Jacob for seven years’ service and had never so much as given them a marriage dowry.
But just as God had taken from Laban and given to Jacob, He had also been accounting for Rachel and Leah. For through Jacob they had received all of Laban’s wealth anyway. Jacob had provided for them in the place of their father, and God had provided for him. Thus, they did not need their old father any longer, they only needed God, and in a declaration of faith they encouraged their husband to follow the Lord in whatever He required.
6 And Rachel said, God hath judged me, and hath also heard my voice, and hath given me a son: therefore called she his name Dan.
7 And Bilhah Rachel’s maid conceived again, and bare Jacob a second son.
8 And Rachel said, With great wrestlings have I wrestled with my sister, and I have prevailed: and she called his name Naphtali.
Rachel may have been prevented from having children directly, but God did allow her backup plan to work. Bilhah was able to conceive, and Rachel was as joyous to welcome her handmaid’s sons as if they had been her very own. What a turnaround from when she despaired to Jacob that she would die if she could not have any children!
Rachel despaired because she had been fighting for something that just wasn’t going to work out. In each of our lives there are these matters that don’t go according to plan, losses that have to be accepted. So long as Rachel persisted in her original path, she was only going to make herself more and more frustrated. Rachel instructing Jacob to take Bilhah to wife shows that she was finally surrendering those original plans and accepting things as they really were. It was only then, after being humbled and reformed, that she was able to find success.
And so it is with each of us. We all have times of trying to fit our square-peg dreams into our round-hole realities. We have our agenda, and we relentlessly pursue it, even when things stubbornly refuse to work out how we want. Eventually we have to be broken enough to let the old dream go and find out what divine role we were actually meant to fulfill.
1 And when Rachel saw that she bare Jacob no children, Rachel envied her sister; and said unto Jacob, Give me children, or else I die.
2 And Jacob’s anger was kindled against Rachel: and he said, Am I in God’s stead, who hath withheld from thee the fruit of the womb?
3 And she said, Behold my maid Bilhah, go in unto her; and she shall bear upon my knees, that I may also have children by her.
4 And she gave him Bilhah her handmaid to wife: and Jacob went in unto her.
5 And Bilhah conceived, and bare Jacob a son.
Rachel begged Jacob for children, but all he could do was wring his hands and say that it wasn’t up to him. Nothing on his end was preventing her conception, it was the will of God, and Jacob was just as powerless to change that as she was.
Finally, Rachel did accept that her situation was not about to change, so she knew that she must adapt to it instead. She did not give up her ambition to be a mother, but she did find other methods to accomplish it.
And sometimes this sort of resourcefulness is all that remains for us. We might pray and seek heavenly blessings, but for whatever reason God sometimes answers “no” or “not yet.” Then, if possible, it is up to us to provide our own solutions, though only if they are still moral and honorable.
Rachel elected to have her handmaid to bear the children in her stead. It may not have been the exact solution that she had hoped for, but it worked, and at long last her branch of the household was filled with the sound of children.
9 And while he yet spake with them, Rachel came with her father’s sheep: for she kept them.
10 And it came to pass, when Jacob saw Rachel the daughter of Laban his mother’s brother, and the sheep of Laban his mother’s brother, that Jacob went near, and rolled the stone from the well’s mouth, and watered the flock of Laban his mother’s brother.
As mentioned yesterday, Jacob wasn’t able to secure the private conversation he had wanted with Rachel, but as soon as she appeared he was moved to do something dramatic for her. The other shepherds had already told him that the stone was not to be removed until all the other sheep were gathered, but he disregarded that custom and rolled the great rock back all on his own, then watered all of Rachel’s flocks for her.
Of course, this romantic gesture hardly compares to his later one when he serves seven years, then seven years again to marry her. I never really thought about it before, but while many consider the Old Testament to be a cold and distant book of scripture, it is actually full of many tender gestures of love, just like these. There was Adam and Eve facing the fallen world hand-in-hand, the way that Abraham handled the responsibility of buying a grave for his lifelong companion Sarah, Isaac and Rebekah’s love-at-first-sight meeting, these stories of Jacob and Rachel, and later we will later have Ruth and Boaz’s love story. Genuine love, and even romantic love, is at the core of many of the greatest Old Testament stories.