I’ve always been fascinated by the story of Rachel and Leah—if for no other reason than because everyone has always called Rachel and Jacob a “great love story” on par with “Romeo and Juliet”. I just want to go on record that “Romeo and Juliet” is not a love story—by Shakespeare’s own admission it’s a cautionary tale and a tragedy, but it’s really more about impulsive decisions leading to some pretty dire consequences in a world where violence and corruption are so prevalent that even love is corrupted. So in other words, you should always think things through and act with your head in addition to your ever-changing emotions. I kind of see Rachel and Jacob in the same light. Jacob is a super impulsive man who rarely thinks with anything other than those darn emotions and doesn’t see the consequences of said actions until God is bailing him out of whatever situation he’s found himself in. Now that gives me a lot of hope because the good Lord knows how often he has to dig me out of my own head and place me back on His path. And Rachel…well it took me a long time to read this story with any kind of grace for her, and that has more to do with my own demons than the girl’s actions in and of themselves.
Love At First Sight
Genesis 29:7 has Jacob seeing his cousin for the first time. After a long journey, he is tired and ready for some good ol’ hospitality. He’s his momma’s boy, after all, and hasn’t spent a lot of time in the fields or out on his own really, so he’s ready for a home cooked meal and a nice bed I can imagine. And then he sees her. The townspeople have identified her, and he is eager to be on his way—or maybe he’s eager to be alone with her, after all he is encouraging the others to water their sheep and go back to the pastures. Either way, it’s clear that he wants to impress Rachel when he “rolls the stone away” all by himself and “water’s his uncle’s sheep”. All we know of Rachel at this point is that she is a shepherdess, so she spends a lot of time outside. Probably she has dark skin, bright eyes, and later in Genesis 29:17 we are told she is “lovely in form”, probably from all that exercise she gets being out with the sheep and covering a lot of ground day in and day out. You go girl.
At any rate, she arrives and after Jacob shows off his muscles—or his impatience (take your pick)—he kisses her and begins “to weep aloud”. I feel pretty justified in my assertion that he is an emotional man, not that emotions are a bad thing, but he tends to let them kind of get the better of his common sense sometimes—very Romeo of him (if you’ve read the play, then you know what I’m saying). Like when he hangs out with his uncle for a month and falls in love with the pretty daughter—who he is so in love with he suggests working 7 years for her hand in marriage (and so he can work up some property of his own) but “they only seemed like a few days to him because of his love for her” (Genesis 29:19). Which sounds really sweet, and maybe it is, except for his demand to Labon. In the very next verse “Give me my wife…I want to lie with her,” which just seems kind of shallow to me. But I live in the 21st century, my perception is colored by my disdain for this kind of thinking.
All through this bargaining, we don’t get any of Rachel’s thoughts, feelings or emotions. Even when Labon tricks Jacob into lying with his other daughter—thus gaining a BOGO wife deal—we hear nothing of Rachel’s thoughts or emotions. Was she as in love with Jacob as he was with her? I have my doubts about her devotion, which is part of why I feel that God arranged for Jacob—whom he had chosen to receive the blessing of Abraham and Isaac—to marry Leah too (and first), because God knows what we need is not always what we want.
What a Girl Wants
After Jacob unwittingly marries Leah, I would expect Rachel to be a little bit salty—especially if she was as in love with Jacob as he was with her.
Actually, we don’t see Rachel’s reaction to this marriage arrangement at all. In Genesis 29:30 it tells us that Jacob love Rachel more than Leah, but we already knew that. It doesn’t tell us anything about how Rachel feels about the situation…until her sister starts to have kids and she remains barren. This is where I start to struggle extending grace to Rachel. We’ve seen women deal with barrenness before—in previous generations of the same family—but none of these women react in the same spoiled little princess way that Rachel does. In Genesis 30:1 she declares to Jacob that if he doesn’t give her children she will just die. Oh please, girl. You will not die. Even Jacob gets annoyed with her in his response in Genesis 30:2 “Am I in the place of God, who has kept you from having children?”
Rachel doesn’t want to please God. She doesn’t even want to please Jacob. She is only concerned about pleasing herself, and this is seen throughout the course of the narrative.
God shows us that wanting certain things in our lives is not necessarily a bad thing. Sarah, Rebekah, Hannah, all these women wanted children. Our wants are not the problem. Our desires are not the problem. Our hearts and our motivations are what God cares about the most. In her selfishness, Rachel hurt her sister, her husband, and ultimately God, but her wants seemed more important, and it almost got her killed by her father.
Genesis 31:19 reveals the crux of Rachel’s problems. When Jacob is ready to flee Laban, because he knows he’s overstayed his welcome, Rachel steals her father’s household gods. Then when her father pursues them and demands the return of the gods, Jacob is so offended (after all, he’s a follower of his father’s God) he said if they gods are found Laban can put that individual to death. Rachel is wily though. She hides them under her saddle and sat on them—then she played the “period” card—which of course sent this ancient man a running because, well, whose father wants to talk about that with his daughter? So she gets away with the crime…and keeps the idols. Rachel can never be as happy as Jacob or even her sister, who finds peace in embracing a personal relationship with God, simply because Rachel searches for validation in the things of this world: children, husband, idols. You see, what a girl wants is not always what she needs.
You Took My Husband
Leah gets a bad rap in this story nine times out of ten she is seen as the manipulative one—the one who stole Rachel’s fiancé from beneath her sister’s nose. But I think that is an unfair statement. Not only was Leah acting in obedience to her father when she married Jacob, I wonder if she was also acting in obedience to God and her own heart. This is pure speculation, mind you, but I find Genesis 30:15 to be an incredibly revealing verse: “But she [Leah] said to her [Rachel], “Wasn’t it enough that you took away my husband? Will you take my son’s mandrakes too?”
Oh Leah, interesting point. Didn’t you take away Rachel’s betrothed….? There are so many unanswered questions here, and that is the first thing I expected Rachel to bring up. But it isn’t! The verse ends with: “Very well,” Rachel said, “he can sleep with you tonight in return for your son’s mandrakes.” Rachel concedes to Leah’s claim!
The story is complicated, and not exactly the greatest love story of all time. Sure, Jacob loved Rachel—but Rachel only loved what Jacob could give her and when he didn’t, she sought it elsewhere…everywhere but with God. Ultimately, when it comes down to it, when we seek our validation outside of our Almighty Creator, all we do is create heartache for ourselves—and those around us. Leah learned this lesson. Rachel never did. And as a result, their family—though formed under the blessing of God—would always live in strife and contention.
So the lesson here? If you want to avoid tragedy, seek God’s favor, and thank him for your blessings. That doesn’t mean your life will always be easy, but it can make a difference in how you react and live through life’s disappointments. Don’t believe me? Just ask Leah and Rachel.