Rachel was the younger of the two sisters that Jacob had married in exchange for working fourteen years for their father Laban. Rachel was the one Jacob had chosen because he loved her; but Laban tricked him into marrying the older sister Leah also. (Genesis 29:16-30)
The sisters competed for Jacob’s love and attention. (See the January issue of Women in Christ, Leah.) Leah gave birth to four sons while Rachel remained childless. Out of jealousy, Rachel demanded of Jacob, “Give me children, or I’ll die!” Jacob became angry; he had been doing his part. (Genesis 29:30) “Am I in the place of God, who has kept you from having children?”
Rachel had a solution, as Sarah before her did: She gave Jacob her maidservant, Bilhah, to be a surrogate mother. The children Bilhah conceived would become Rachel’s by adoption. Dan and Naphtali were added to Jacob’s family through Bilhah.
Leah was getting older, so she also gave Jacob her maid, Zilpah, to bear children for her. Through Zilpah, Gad and Asher were born. Leah had given birth to four sons: Reuben, Simeon, Levi, and Judah. Later Leah also gave birth to Issachar, Zebulon, and Dinah.
Then God remembered Rachel; he listened to her and opened her womb. She became pregnant and gave birth to a son and said, “God has taken away my disgrace.” She named him Joseph, and said, “May the LORD add to me another son.” (Genesis 30:22-24)
When Joseph was born, Rachel gave God the credit and expressed her hope for another.
In the next view we have of Rachel, Jacob has called a family conference with his two wives. He told them he wanted to leave Laban because Laban had been cheating him all along, and that God had told him to return to the land of his fathers .
“Then Rachel and Leah replied, “Do we still have any share in the inheritance of our father’s estate? Does he not regard us as foreigners? Not only has he sold us, but he has used up what was paid for us. Surely all the wealth that God took away from our father belongs to us and our children. So do whatever God has told you.” (Genesis 31:1-16)
Now that Jacob had the consent and cooperation of his two wives, he hurriedly packed up his family, belongings, and flocks and fled back home to Canaan.
Rachel stole her father’s household gods and hid them in her tent. Laban was furious that Jacob took off without telling him and since his “gods” were missing, assumed that Jacob had taken them. When Laban finally caught up with the caravan, Jacob, not knowing Rachel had them, promised that if the idols were found, the person who had them would die. Rachel hid them well enough that they were not found. Laban was told by God in a dream that he had better not mess with Jacob. He kissed his daughters and grandchildren and went back home. (Genesis 31:17-35)
As Jacob drew near Esau’s home, he sent a conciliatory message and gifts on ahead. Then he placed Rachel and Joseph in the most protected position in the caravan. Esau gave Jacob a warm welcome, having apparently forgiven him for cheating him out of his birthright and paternal blessing. (Genesis 32:3-33:1-4)
Rachel conceived her second son, but, between Bethel and Ephrata (or Bethlehem), she died giving birth. She lived long enough to name him Ben-Oni, meaning son of my trouble. Jacob changed his name to Benjamin, meaning son of my right hand. (Genesis 35:16-20; 48:7)
In the prophet Jeremiah’s writings, Rachel became a prophetic symbol of mothers in Ramah who weep for their lost children.
"This is what the LORD says: “A voice is heard in Ramah, mourning and great weeping, Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted, because her children are no more.” (Jeremiah 31:15)
Matthew in his Gospel correlates this prophecy with the murder of infants around Bethlehem by Herod after the birth of Jesus.
When Herod realized that he had been outwitted by the Magi, he was furious, and he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had learned from the Magi: Then what was said through the prophet Jeremiah was fulfilled: “A voice is heard in Ramah, weeping and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted, because they are no more.” (Mathew 2:16-18)
Jeremiah didn’t leave Rachel’s story on this tragic scene, weeping for her lost expectations, shortened life, and murdered descendants:
This is what the LORD says: “Restrain your voice from weeping and your eyes from tears, for your work will be rewarded,” declares the LORD. “They will return from the land of the enemy. So there is hope for your future,” declares the LORD. “Your children will return to their own land.” (Jeremiah 31:16-17)
Paul tells us that death is our enemy and “the last enemy to be destroyed is death.” (I Corinthians 15:26)
Rachel never heard these words of hope. The mothers of those murdered infants could not be consoled with Jeremiah’s words of hope. These women want their lives back and their children’s lives back. They want the reality of hope fulfilled. Jesus offers that hope, the hope of the resurrection and an eternal inheritance.
Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade--kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. (I Peter 1:3-6)
Rachel had suffered disappointment in her life. The son she prayed to conceive, she named “Son of my Trouble.” Jesus reminded his disciples and us that “In this world you will have trouble.” (John 16:33)
He also said,
“I tell you the truth, you will weep and mourn while the world rejoices. You will grieve, but your grief will turn to joy. A woman giving birth to a child has pain because her time has come; but when her baby is born she forgets the anguish because of her joy that a child is born into the world. So with you; Now is your time of grief, but I will see you again and you will rejoice, and no one will take away your joy.” (John 16:20-22)
As Jacob renamed Ben-Oni, Benjamin, so God will rename us. (Revelation 3:12)
For the Scripture References and related Bible Study Guide, go to Bible Study Guide: A Living Hope