October is Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month. So in honor of that, I want to highlight some of the women in the Bible who experienced grief and loss, particularly surrounding children or family.
Last week, I talked about Leah, so I thought it was only fair to talk about Rachel’s grief this week. I don’t know what kind of relationship the two sisters had before being married to Jacob, but it turns into a bit of a train wreck afterwards.
Rachel’s relationship with Jacob started in a much more romantic, much less problematic way. She meets Jacob at a well, he cries and kisses her when meets her. After a month, he bargains for her in exchange for seven years of labor for her father. And then things take a solid turn for the worse.
We all know where Leah was that first night of the wedding party, but I wonder where Rachel was. For seven years, Jacob was wooing her and then Leah takes her place when the wedding day finally comes. As with Leah, I think Rachel was grieving the seemingly lost chance at love. That is, until Jacob signs up for another seven years of labor to ensure that she is his.
But still, even though marrying more than one wife was pretty common at the time, I doubt Rachel had in mind to share her husband with her older sister. Then, when Leah starts having children, she doesn’t. And her grief is recorded. Even though she is loved more, she blames Jacob for her infertility.
When Rachel saw that she was not bearing Jacob any children, she became jealous of her sister. So she said to Jacob, “Give me children, or I’ll die!”Genesis 30:1
She becomes obsessed with finding her place in this family. She uses her maidservant to produce two sons, both of which are named to reflect the competition she feels with her sister. Then, when she hears that Leah’s oldest son has found a mandrake root (which was supposed to help with conception), she bargains with the one card she has, Jacob. Eventually, she gives birth to Joseph and immediately asks for another son.
But there is more to the story of Rachel than just her ability to have sons. After she gives birth to Joseph, Jacob packs up her family and leaves after an altercation with Laban. Both Leah and Rachel agree that it is time to go, but it still must have been hard to leave. In fact, Rachel takes her father’s household idols (which was more than just a religious artifact in that culture, whoever had the idols would inherit the family’s fortune). She is crafty and quick on her feet when Laban pursues them and investigates. She hides the idols underneath her seat and claims she cannot get up because she is on her period. He never finds them.
They leave on good terms with her father, and when Jacob reaches his brother, they reconcile as well. Jacob continues on to settle in a place called Ephrath (which is called Bethlehem), but on the way Rachel dies giving birth to Benjamin. She doesn’t get to see her sons grow up. She is buried on the way to Bethlehem, not with Jacob in the family tomb, but her tomb is honored as a place in 1 Samuel 10.
Rachel was an incredibile woman, beautiful and smart and honored by her husband. She competed with her sister, left her homeland, and died giving life to a son that would represent a tribe that includes people like King Saul and the Apostle Paul. She was loved by God. And she is a great reminder that while our life might not look the way we think it should, God is working in the details to bring about his great legacy.