Photo Courtesy of flowerpictures
Please forgive my appearance, l know I am a real sight. In truth I never was very pretty, and the present situation does not help. My sister is the pretty one. Tonight, I will tell you the story of Rachel from my own perspective.
I’m the eldest in the family, and as all Aramean fathers wished to have boys, I was a disappointment to him. When my family realized there was something wrong with my eyes, mom found it hard to accept. But dad took a different turn. He began to pity me and from that pity, he grew to love me more. This is really quite amazing, and a great mercy from God. Dad had always been a go-getter in the family. When you combine a higher-achiever father and a let-down daughter like me, he could have easily ordered mom to abandon me by the Euphrates.
Rachel came along not long after me. They watched her closely, and to their relief, her eyesight was normal. And that was a good thing too. You see, after Rachel, mom stopped having children for a long time, and our brothers came much later, and they were no help till later. This is pretty bad for us as a family because we had no boys. Who will pasture the sheep? When Rachel was old enough, dad asked her to take the sheep out.
This can be dangerous for a girl, but I just couldn’t do it because of my poor eyesight. I think that additional work kept her slim. My sister, she has a beautiful body and a beautiful face to match. She is real eye-candy. On top of all that, she is lively, gets along well with people, and has a perky personality. There is nothing not to like about her. You know, from childhood, she would wear an ankle bracelet that jingles. She continued wearing a jingling bracelet until she got married. Well, it announces her presence. She skipped as a child, but there is something about the way she walks even when she was grown up. She always had this light playful step about her.
Me, I am different. My eyesight limits me to the home. So I am pretty much home bound. I think that also made me rounder than I like to be. I was always the rounder one between Rachel and I.
I recall that day that changed our lives forever. Jacob our cousin, son of Isaac and Rebekah, had come to us because Esau his brother wanted to kill him. He met Rachel at the well where she watered the sheep, and immediately fell in love with her – as many men have.
He wanted to marry her, and dad made him work seven years for her hand. When it was almost time for the wedding, dad pulled me aside and we had our talk.
“Leah, he said, “I have something I need to talk to you about.” I could not read his expression, but his voice was strained.
“Your sister is about to marry Jacob. We will begin the wedding feast in about a week. You know I have promised Rachel to Jacob, but it is a real problem if she is married before you.”
“Leah, you are such a wonderful girl, but your weak eyes have made it hard for us to find you a husband. I like to suggest to you that at the end of the week of feasting, when it is time for Rachel to go to the bedchamber, that you go in her place.”
I could not believe my ears! It is so outrageous and so impossible. But nothing is pass my dad when he set his mind on something. He always has a plan. When the time came, he would persuade Rachel not to go, and I would wear a similar ankle bracelet and go to Jacob. I will wear her scent, and learn to walk like her. I will keep the veil on most of the time, and he will ensure the bedchamber is dark, and Jacob would have had lots to drink.
It seemed like a betrayal to Rachel, but dad reasoned, “You know the custom is that you must be married first. Rachel has much in life and you have little. This is one thing she can share with you. In a way, you will be forever indebted to her for getting you a husband, but I will also give her to Jacob, so he will still have Rachel.”
It took a while for this to sink in, but dad is always right in getting things done. He tends to stretch what is right and wrong, and this seems to be a stretch. But I don’t have an alternative to offer.
Most of you would have heard what happened after that. Everything went as dad had planned. Rachel had to be tied-up, but I did not know that till after the event.
Tradition can be very harsh. I know I got myself a husband through this deception. But I still cringe when I recall Jacob’s reaction in the morning. Dad calmed him down by giving him Rachel also. This whole thing is really hard. From that very first night, I was allied with dad and Rachel with Jacob. I am the first wife, but it was Rachel Jacob married.
I guess now that I am older, I can talk about it without the same level of shame and pain. But I can tell you it was hard when he calls me “Rachel” when we were together.
Where is God in all this? I admit to you that God was not in our consideration when all these things were happening. Dad had adopted some of the gods of the Arameans, and the Lord (Yhwh) seems to be a dying family tradition.
I don’t know if it has happened to you, but we were so desperate to get me married that we didn’t really think about what God wants. And Jacob, he could not see my beauty, only Rachel’s. And sometimes, I wonder what would have happened if we had not deceived Jacob. I guess that is something we will never know.
Jacob does love me. He is not a mean man. But it is clear he loves Rachel much more. Our marriage was very imperfect. And we forgot all about God.
It is really strange how God returned to our lives. To be more accurate, I should say how I returned to the Lord God. When the Lord saw that I was not loved, he comforted me my giving me a son. Reuben, our first born, came to me when I was feeling really low. But when Reuben came, “It is because the Lord has seen my misery. Surely my husband will love me now.” (Gen 29:32).
I suppose I should never have wandered from the Lord, but I did. And God is so merciful. I am weak and I just could not see God’s goodness outside of the things that were important to me. And God in his mercy made himself known to me again by his goodness. I am so glad he did not punish me for my wrong, but showed me grace upon grace so I would return to him.
It was not right for me to have felt that way, but I was really happy that finally, I had something Rachel didn’t. Even though I am the elder sister, I lived in her shadow. Now that I bore Jacob a son, things will go well for me.
But Jacob’s love for Rachel did not change. So the Lord gave me another son “because the Lord heard that I am not loved” (Genesis 29:33). I certainly gained status, but not love. So God gave me a third son. “Now at last my husband will become attached to me, because I have borne him three sons” (Genesis 29:34).
I have come to accept it now, but I was really struggling then. When the Lord gave me three sons, I knew God had not rejected me. These were proofs of God’s grace to me. But when my three sons could not change Jacob’s love, I began to ask if God is asking me to find my satisfaction in him and not in my spouse. I began to ask, “What if Jacob would never love me the way I crave? Will I spend the rest of my life in misery?”
Then something remarkable happened. As I leaned more on God and looked less to having the love of my husband, the Lord blessed me again. So I conceived and bore Judah. “This time, I will praise the Lord” (Genesis 29:35). It was no longer about getting my husband’s love. It was just embracing God’s goodness to me.
I learned something powerful. I had always imagined God would punish me until I learn my lessons. Instead, I see the Lord to be full of compassion. He saw how unloved I was, and instead of beating me into shape, he blessed me till I understood his love for me. I wanted God to bless me in a certain way. But that way never came. Instead he blessed me differently, in a way he thinks is best.
It seems that I have just got a handle of life that things started going wrong again. Rachel was really envious that the Lord had blessed me with four sons, and had not opened her womb. So she adopted Plan B. We all know it is not the best, but when we women get desperate, we can do desperate things. She gave her slave girl Bilhah to Jacob to bear children for her.
As much as I failed to see God’s love to me and only saw Jacob’s love for Rachel, Rachel could not see God’s blessing for her in the love of Jacob, but could only see what she did not have.
Rachel then made child bearing an issue of who God is vindicating. So when Bilhah gave birth to a boy, Rachel said, “God has vindicated me” (Genesis 30:4). I guess it is different for men and women. For us women, our children are our vindication, but for men it seems their work success is their vindication of God’s goodness. Sometimes we just insist God must bless us in one area and fail to see his abundant blessings in other areas. It seems the success we have is unimportant and the success we don’t have is what we really want. That was exactly where Rachel and I were.
Rachel had a second son through Bilhah, and she said, “I have had a great struggle with my sister, and I have won” (Genesis 30:7).
Satan, our adversary is always ready to bring us down. Just when I thought I had my heart under control, all these remarks stoked my anger back to flame. “Two can play the same game,” I thought. So I also gave my slave girl to Jacob to have children. My slave girl Zilpah gave birth to a son. But I really should not have done that. This time, I took my eyes off God and returned to the ways of man.
One day, Reuben found some mandrakes and Rachel was sure this will help her get children. So she traded her time with Jacob for the mandrakes. And guess what! God was not pleased with such human schemes. He showed it by reopening my womb, and I had my fifth son, then my sixth, then to our only daughter Dinah. Three children for the mandrakes! Good deal!
Rachel finally understood what the Lord was saying. She stopped this baby contest which I also got sucked into. Rachel then stopped using all kinds of methods and gave up. She just accepted that she might never have children. And if God wanted to bless her with children he will do it.
The great thing about God is that he loves Rachel just as he loves me. He spoke to her differently and when she stopped her schemes (I guess it is a family trait), God suddenly blessed her with a boy! I did not feel the least bit resentful. I actually rejoiced with her sincerely when Joseph was born. By now, I focused on God’s blessings to me. I was not in competition with my sister. Rachel had also grown. “God has taken away my disgrace” she said (Genesis 30:23). And I heartily agree.
Tonight’s sad episode happened when we were approaching Bethlehem. Rachel was pregnant, and had to deliver the baby before we could get to Bethlehem. It was a very difficult birth, and my sister did not survive giving birth to Benjamin.
How I wish we had not squabbled as we did. How I wish we had a full reconciliation. We never did. We just sort of each returned to the Lord in our own way, and we each lost our envy of the other, but we never really became as we were before Jacob came into our lives.
One regret I have is that I should have reach out to her so we have full reconciliation. When God has blessed us and we understand and feel his goodness, we should have reach out and eased those strained relationships. There is really no better time to be gracious than when we have drunk deeply of God’s grace.
Here we are now at Bethlehem. The time of mourning for Rachel is about over. But she will always live on in my heart. And now, I want her to always live on in Jacob’s heart also. It’s strange how the Lord has changed the way I think and feel towards him, towards Jacob, and towards my sister.
I cannot imagine what my life will be from here on without Rachel. Through good and hard times, Rachel and I never lived without each other. Only God knows the future. While I regret our squabbles, I see God’s hand there as well. Rachel and I were trying to outdo each other and the end result is that there are now twelve sons born to Jacob. I believe this is the start of God’s promise to my grand uncle Abraham, that his descendants will be like the sand on the sea shores.
One more thing before I close. I have a special feeling about this place. Bethlehem is the place of Rachel’s weeping for a season. But I have a sense that some time in the future, God will give us a son in Bethlehem. He will reverse the weeping of Rachel, and the curse of painful childbearing. He will wipe away the tears from our eyes, and in the resurrection, my weak eyes will be whole again. Rachel’s passing is not the end of hope but the beginning of it. When God has worked out his purpose in our life, our redeemer will come and make all things right.
My honored guests, thank you for coming to my sister’s funeral. Thank you for allowing me this privilege of sharing with you the wonderful life of my beautiful sister, of how we squabbled, and how God returned us to himself and to each other. And finally, of the day that will come when Bethlehem will be remembered for life and not death, for wholeness and not infirmity.
Leah, daughter of Laban
182 years after God’s Promise to Abraham