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by Wayne Blank
We first read of Rachel when Jacob was sent to Haran by his mother Rebekah to live with her brother Laban to escape the deadly wrath of Esau (Genesis 27:43). Mother and son had just "pulled a fast one" on the elderly nearly-blind Isaac in which the blessing, which was intended to have gone to the older brother Esau, went to Jacob (Genesis 27:1-40). This followed Jacob's getting Esau's birthright for the price of that famous bowl of stew (Genesis 25:27-34). It wasn't a matter of Jacob simply going somewhere else to live - Jacob was actually fleeing for his life because Esau had every intention of killing him (Genesis 27:41).
Upon arrival in his ancestral homeland, Jacob immediately became infatuated with his cousin Rachel, who worked as a Shepherd. According to an arrangement made with Laban, they could be married in exchange for Jacob working there for 7 years (Genesis 29:18). When the time was up, the marriage was to take place, but in order to abide by a custom that the older were to be married before the younger, Laban resorted to a wedding-night switch in which the Rachel's older sister, Leah, was substituted in the darkness without Jacob's knowledge (Genesis 29:23-30). In the morning, the explosive situation was diffused, to everyone's apparent agreement, by Jacob then also marrying Rachel - in exchange for another 7 years of labor. Some time later, Rachel and Jacob had their first child, Joseph (Genesis 30:22-24).
The years that Jacob spent in his uncle's employ turned out to be extremely profitable for him (see Jacob and Laban). Not only did his family greatly grow to 11 sons and 1 daughter through his 2 wives and 2 concubines (Genesis 29:31-35, 30:1-24), but he actually managed to gain most of the wealth of Rachel's father for himself - which resulted in extreme tension between Jacob, Rachel, and Leah (the two sisters also seemed to have much resentment toward their father e.g. Genesis 31:14-16) on one hand, and Laban and his sons on the other (Genesis 31:1-2,14-16). It was at that point that The Lord told Jacob to return to the land that is today named after him - Israel.
After a very eventful return journey in which Rachel stole her father's pagan "household gods" (Genesis 31:19-55), Jacob "wrestled with God" and was then renamed Israel (Israel means he struggles with God) (Genesis 32:22-32), and Jacob met and was reconciled with his brother Esau (Genesis 33:1-20), they eventually made their way back to Bethel (Genesis 35:1).
Although the family consisted of 2 wives and 2 concubines, it is quite plain that Rachel was the only one that Jacob truly loved, which made her death at an early age all that more tragic to him:
"Then they journeyed from Bethel; and when they were still some distance from Ephrath, Rachel travailed, and she had hard labor. And when she was in her hard labor, the midwife said to her, "Fear not; for now you will have another son." And as her soul was departing, for she died, she called his name Ben-oni; but his father called his name Benjamin. So Rachel died, and she was buried on the way to Ephrath, that is, Bethlehem, and Jacob set up a pillar upon her grave; it is the pillar of Rachel's tomb, which is there to this day." (Genesis 35:16-20 RSV)
Rachel's Tomb is seen in the photograph above.
Fact Finder: On what sort of animal did Rachel ride on their journey to Israel?