Who was Rachel in the Bible?
Growing up attending Sunday school, I learned a lot about the patriarchs of our faith. Adam, Abraham, Noah, Moses, David, Paul…I could rattle off their stories with relative ease.
With the exception of perhaps Eve, in that the original sin was always blamed on her, there was no overt teaching on who these matriarchs of our faith were. I had never learned of Rachel in the Bible growing up.
As an adult, I have appreciated digging into the Word of God to study these women out for myself.
Who was Rachel in the Bible?
To answer this question, let’s turn to the twenty-ninth chapter of Genesis. We must first take a look at who Rachel wasn’t, she wasn’t Leah. Leah was Rachel’s older sister, the first wife of Jacob.
Leah was given to Jacob by her father’s trickery, the agreement had been for Jacob to work for Laban for seven years in order that he would marry Rachel.
As we read through this story, we may have hard feelings rise up in our hearts towards Rachel because we feel bad for Leah. We are conditioned to cheer on the underdog.
However, we must remember that Rachel didn’t ask to be the favored sister or wife. She did not ask to birth Joseph, Jacob’s favorite son.
Looking now at Rachel, apart from Leah, know that she was highly favored, a shepherdess, Laban’s youngest daughter, Jacob’s second wife and the mother to two sons, Benjamin and Joseph.
Rachel met Jacob (her cousin) after he had fled Esau, his twin brother after taking his birthright and listening to his mother to go back to the land of her people.
The Lord knew that Jacob loved Leah more than Rachel and so he blessed Leah and Jacob with children, while shutting the womb of Rachel.
In a culture where your very worth is based on providing children for your husband, having her womb shut and not being able to provide children for Jacob, but instead watching as her sisters family grew, caused feelings of jealousy to arise in Rachel.
The scriptures tell us in Genesis 30 verse 1, Rachel demanded children from Jacob.
Obviously, Jacob had no control over the situation and was not able to get her pregnant simply because she had demanded him to do so.
This drove Rachel to give her slave, Bilhah, to her husband to start a family through. Culturally, any child that Bilhah bore to Jacob would belong to Rachel.
Later on, when Jacob decides to bring his family back to his native land (Canaan) Rachel steals, hides and lies about taking her father’s household idols. Genesis 31:35 (esv) And she said to her father, “Let not my lord be angry that I cannot rise before you, for the way of women is upon me.” So he searched but did not find the household gods.
Sometime later, when Rachel was thirty-six years old, she become pregnant with her youngest son, Benjamin, and upon his birth passed away. Rachel is buried near Bethlehem, apart from the rest of her family.
Characteristics of Rachel in the Bible?
As we can tell from looking into her story, Rachel, just as the rest of us, had both good and bad characteristics.
Hardworking – when we first come across Rachel in the scripture she has come to the well to water her father’s sheep. Any type of agricultural work is high-intensity in nature. Later as a wife and mother, she would be doing labor intensive work as well.
Eager to serve – As soon as Jacob reveals that he has been sent to this town to look for Laban, Rachel runs back to her father to tell him the news. She was willing and ready to serve her father. In this culture she would have still been living at home, serving her father.
Patient – Leah was given to Jacob to marry first. While we always think of Jacob being the one who had to wait, Rachel was right there with him. Rachel then had to wait to be given children as she watched her older sister build her family with the man who should have been solely her husband.
Not so favorable
Jealousy – Rachel was jealous of Leah, which caused rivalry with sister. As we read through this story, we see both Leah and Rachel vying for Jacob’s attention, in and effort to be his preferred wife and also to be blessed with more children.
Once, after Reuben (Leah’s son) had found mandrake roots (known for boosting fertility) Rachel asked Leah to share them, on the premise that Leah would sleep with Jacob that night.
Emotional – While God created our emotions and it is healthy to experience them, when we use our emotions to sin it is not good. Rachel through her jealousy of her sisters growing family, demanded Jacob to give her children.
Obviously, he had no control over this. This, much like in the case of Sarah, led her to giving her servant to Jacob to begin building her family. Which would have surely caused Bilhah some concern.
Stealing – Later in the story, we learn that as Rachel, Leah, Jacob and their children journey back towards Canaan, Laban is hot on their tail in search of his household idols. Jacob trusts that they don’t have them.
However, it just so happens that Rachel had stolen these from her father’s home.
Lying – Not only did Rachel steal these idols, she was untruthful about the fact. When Laban came into her tent to search for them, she misled him into believing that she was on her period and therefore could not stand up.
When instead she had hidden them in her saddle and was sitting on top of them.
What we learn from Rachel?
One of the things I love about reading the Word, is being able to learn from the people God chose to include in His narrative.
Learning from them and then applying these lessons to our personal lives is a blessing we have as Christians.
Five Lessons from the life of Rachel
1). There are two sides to every story. If the last two years has taught us anything, it’s that we all have some sort of bias in our hearts.
Through Rachel’s story we so clearly see that there are two sides to every situation. Some will have empathy for Leah, the un-favored. Others can see Rachel’s plight and are more prone to feeling sorry for her.
Perhaps you have walked through what these sisters experienced and therefore have a bias towards her. If you have known infertility you may have a heart that goes out towards Rachel.
Whereas if you were picked on in school or in your adult life, Leah may be who you more closely resonate with. Our biases our usually shaped by walking through some sort of pain.
2). God remains in Control. Throughout Rachel’s life, it is clear to see that no matter what happened, God had ultimate control.
God gave children to Leah while closing Rachel’s womb for a season. Then later as Rachel prays for a son, her desire is fulfilled.
As we continue reading in Genesis we learn why things happened as they did.
Joseph (Rachel’s oldest son) is favored in the highs of Jacob which leads to him being sold into slavery and brought to Egypt, which eventually leads to him being in a position of high authority and being able to guide the country through a famine.
God has control in your life too. Even when things feel as if they are spiraling out of control, when you don’t see how a certain happening fits into what He is doing, He has a plan and it is a plan we can trust.
3). Jealousy ruins relationships – It may be true that Rachel was given an unfair hand when her father tricked Jacob into first marrying her sister, and then when God closed her womb because of the favoritism Jacob showed Rachel.
However, jealousy was not the right answer. Jealousy will ruin relationships every time.
We see this in the strained relationship the sisters had and again in the demand for children Rachel placed on Jacob.
In our world today, what comes to mind is social media and how so many use it as a highlight reel. We can quickly become jealous of women who only post great trips they’ve taken, sweet moments with their family, time with their girlfriends.
What we often forget is that just because it’s not on social media does not mean these ladies don’t also struggle with finances, dirty dishes in their sinks, complaining children or spats with their spouse. Jealousy is not becoming and will work to divide even the closest of friends.
4). Sin breeds sin – If we are not daily walking by the Spirit, the enemy is quick to come into our hearts and plant seeds of sin.
Rachel not only stole Laban’s idols but then made up an elaborate story to lie about this to her father. Often one sin needs to be covered by another.
As Christian women it is important that we are continually walking into sanctification. We should be doing all that we personally can to avoid sinful behaviors.
Remembering that even when sin tempts, God provides a way for us to escape temptation.
5). Rachel loved Jacob – Rachel could have easily wrung her hands of the situation once Leah was given to Jacob in marriage, and gone on to find another suitor.
However, as we see, that was not the case. Rachel loved Jacob and chose to stay by his side.
Life as married people is not always rainbows and butterflies as we think it will be when we are first falling in love with someone.
It is hard, intentional work. But it is good work. God blesses the sanctity of marriage.
Rachel is a woman of the Word who we can learn many things from. What lesson do you take from her life?
We can learn a lot from the women in the Bible. The story of Rachel (and consequently Leah) teaches us many different things about the love of God, the plans He has for our lives and the value He places on family.
Like this? Save for later!
If you enjoyed this article, you may also be interested in…