Rachel - the Bible story
|Rachel - love at first sight |
People in the story
Rachel was the beautiful daughter of Laban, brother of Isaac's wife Rebecca. Every afternoon when the heat of the day had passed, she watered her flock of sheep at a well near Haran, an outpost of the ancient city of Ur - see Map 1, Bible Maps.
Rachel at the well
One afternoon a young traveler called Jacob was there. He chatted with the shepherds, telling them who he was and asking about other members of his family - they had originally come from this area, and he was looking for them. The men obligingly pointed towards a woman in the distance, telling Jacob she was Rachel, the daughter of his motherís brother Laban.
When Jacob saw Rachel at close quarters he was instantly smitten. In an act of bravado he removed the great stone cover of the well single-handed, no doubt hoping to impress the young woman. He was successful.
In response, Rachel ran to her fatherís house and told him about the young man. Her father Laban ran out to meet Jacob, welcoming him warmly. Jacob stayed with Rachelís family for a month, and during this time he fell deeply in love with Rachel.
Jacob asks for Rachel
Jacob approached Laban for permission to marry Rachel. But Jacob was empty-handed, and could not produce the normal bride-price for Rachel. Laban agreed that his daughter might marry Jacob but stipulated that, as a bride price, Jacob must work for him for seven years (the seven year cycle was a sacred one in the ancient world).
Jacob agreed, and he and Rachel settled down to see out the long period of waiting. What neither of them realized was that Laban had agreed to let 'his daughter' marry Jacob, but had not specified which daughter it would be. Rachel had an older sister Leah, not so beautiful, and the older sister in a family was usually married before her younger sister.
Laban tricks Jacob
The seven years passed, and Jacob demanded his bride. The girl was dressed in her finest clothes, including a rich head-dress and veil that covered her face. When the drinking banquet was over her father led her, still veiled, into the room of her bridegroom, and she and Jacob made love. By this time, he had drunk a considerable amount.
When the morning dawned, Jacob realized his mistake. The bride in his bed was not Rachel, but Leah - he had been tricked into marrying the wrong sister.
There was a kind of horrible irony in this: Jacob had outwitted his brother Esau; now he was outwitted by someone even wilier than himself. Moreover, he was fooled with the same trick: he pretended to be his brother Esau, and now Leah had pretended to be her sister Rachel.
Jacob marries both sisters
Jacob never forgave Leah for her part in the deception. She was the 'unloved' wife, but the original Hebrew word is better translated as 'detested'.
Leah on the other hand had no problem in bearing children. Almost immediately after marrying Jacob and despite the fact she was 'unloved', she became pregnant and gave birth to a series of male babies.
Leah bore Reuben, then Simeon, then Levi, then Judah. Each time she had another son, she prayed that Jacob would finally love her as he loved Rachel. He never did.
Rachel cannot conceive
A bitter rivalry developed between the two women.
A bitter rivalry developed between the two women.
The mandrake roots
One day, Leahís son Reuben found some mandrake roots in the fields (see an example at right). Mandrake roots were a popular aphrodisiac in the ancient world, probably because they looked like the sexual organs of a well-endowed man. Reuben took the mandrakes to his mother, and when Rachel saw them she asked Leah if she could have some of them. Leah agreed, on condition that Rachel commanded Jacob to have sexual intercourse with Leah that night. Rachel complied, and this resulted in a fifth son for Leah. She called him Assachar. Later, another son arrived for Leah, called Zebulun. Finally, she bore Jacob a daughter, Dinah.
Rachel has a child at last
Jacob out-maneuvers Laban
Rachel steals the household gods
The clan assembled, ready to return to the land of Jacob's father, Isaac. They crossed the Euphrates and headed towards the hill country of Gilead. But it was not going to be as easy as that. Laban pursued them, caught up with them, and confronted them. Where were the household gods? They were missing and Laban wanted them back.
This was news to Jacob - he did not know Rachel had taken them. He then said something rash: that whoever had done such a thing should die.
Rachel tricks her father
Rachel's manner was so sweet and demure that Laban did not argue, and left her tent empty-handed. He had to back down. The two men made a face-saving covenant, and early the next morning Laban said good-bye to them all, and left.
Rachel dies in childbirth
But Rachel did not live to see him grow. She died in childbirth.
'Jacob, Joseph', Michelangelo, Sistine Chapel, Rome
Here's something strange
This is one of the biblical paintings by Michelangelo in the Sistine Chapel, Rome. Its caption, as you can see, is 'Jacob, Joseph'.
For some reason, probably ignorance of the Bible stories, some websites and books, even Wikipedia, interpret the names as Jacob (from the Book of Genesis) and Joseph, husband of Mary in the New Testament.
The first assumption is correct; the second is nonsense. The painting is clearly not of Joseph in the New Testament. It is Joseph, son of Jacob in the Book of Genesis.
Each of the figures in Michelangelo's painting is a known character in the Genesis story, as anyone who knows the Bible story of Jacob, Rachel and Leah can tell you. On the left side sits Jacob - and the face given him by Michelangelo suits the deceitful man in Genesis very well. Beside him is a rather sickly Rachel with her first son Joseph. She will later die at the birth of her second child. On the right side is Leah 'of the beautiful eyes', blessed with many sons.
Long-term Plans: Rachel and Jacob waited seven years. Have you made similar sacrifices?
Deceit: Virtually everyone in the story is deceitful or deceived. What about you? Do we deceive ourselves and others?
'While Jacob was still speaking with the shepherds, Rachel came with her father's sheep; for she kept them. Now when Jacob saw Rachel, the daughter of his mother's brother Laban, Jacob went up and rolled the stone from the well's mouth, and watered the flock...'
|Bible Stories: People of the Old Testament - Bible Study Resource: Rachel and Jacob|