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Study Resources :: Text Commentaries :: H. Hastings Weld :: The Women of the Scriptures

H. Hastings Weld :: Rachel

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Picture of Rachel



In the early period of the world's history, it was thought no disgrace to the female character to be found discharging some of the gentle but substantial duties of life. The first glance which the Scriptures give us of Rachel presents her to our view as busily occupied in feeding her father's sheep. The paternal dwelling was at Padan‐aram, in Mesopotamia, where the family possessions were extensive. She had an only sister, older than herself, whose name was Leah. By the grove in Beersheba, the father of Rachel had a sister, who was married to Isaac the son of Abraham. This sister had twin sons, Esau and Jacob. The latter was the favourite child of his mother, and it is a painful thought that she led him into the tortuous path of subtlety, deception, and sin. It soon brought upon the youthful victim and foolish mother a fearful penalty. By falsehood and fraud he supplanted Esau, and obtained the birthright of his father's house. This so enraged his brother, that it was foundnecessary for him to leave the scenes of his childhood and the associations of home-he must become an exile in a distant country.

Under the advice of his mother and with the consent of his father, he determined to go into Syria and seek a resting‐place with his uncle Laban. What must have been the excitement and anguish of his mind as he made his solitary journey on foot, scorched by the sun amidst the fatigues of the day, and chilled by the dews during the darkness of the night? Faint and weary, we see him cast himself upon the bare earth, with nothing softer than a stone for his pillow, and the wide vault of heaven for his canopy. In the midst of deserved wrath God remembered mercy. He pitied the condition of his erring child, and by a vision of the night opened to him the mysteries of providence, and sent him on his way rejoicing. Arrived "in the land of the people of the east," (Gen 29:1) he saw three shepherds with their flocks, and inquired if they knew one Laban, the son of Nahor. They had no sooner replied in the affirmative and stated that he was in goodhealth, than they said-"Behold, Rachel his daughter cometh with his sheep." (Gen 29:6-11.) The heart of the desolate wanderer began to beat with joy. How shall he approach her? What can he say or do to win her confidence and allay her fears? He offers his services, rolls away the stone from the mouth of the well, waters the sheep, makes known to the fair damsel who he is, gives to her the kiss of peace, and lifts up his voice and weeps.

With hasty step and fluttering heart the maiden "ran and told her father" (Gen 29:12) of the unexpected arrival of her cousin Jacob. The youthful stranger received a hearty welcome, and from that hour there was kindled in the breasts of the newly‐met, a tender flame which was to ripen and mature into settled and unchanging affection.

For a time, all seemed marked by generosity on the side of the uncle, and respect and gratitude on the part of the nephew. It was not long, however, before the selfishness of the Syrian was displayed, and his true character developed, in the treatment which he gave his confiding and unprotected relative. He caused him to feel his dependence. He made him as one of his hired servants, and then defrauded him of the wages of servitude. There is a touching melancholy in the recital of this iniquitous course as given by the sufferer. "Thus I was; in the day the drought consumed me, and the frost by night; and my sleep departed from mine eyes. That which was torn of beasts I brought not unto thee. I bare the loss of it; of my own hand didst thou require it, whether stolen by day or stolen by night. Thus have I been twenty years in thy house, and thou hast changed my wages ten times." (Gen 31:40-41.) All this was submitted to for the sake of Rachel.The cheerfulness with which he agreed to serve seven years that he might obtain her for his wife, is beautifully set forth in the simple but expressive words of the historian-"Jacob served seven years for Rachel, and they seemed to him but a few days, for the love he had to her." (Gen 29:20.) At the end of seven years, the cupidity, the wicked avarice of Laban, led him to resort to a vile artifice to impose additional servitude upon his nephew. A cruel device gave him Leah instead of Rachel, and without murmuring, to attain the object of his heart's strong desire, he agreed to serve with him yet other seven years, "for he loved Rachel more than Leah." (Gen 29:30.) Moses tells us that Rachel "was beautiful and well‐favoured." (Gen 29:17.) We cannot, however, suppose that it was mere beauty of person that gained suchentire ascendancy over the son of Isaac; but a "well‐favoured"disposition, a gentleness of spirit, a uniform propriety of demeanour. He looked to her as the only one who could lighten the burdens and share the pleasures of his life. To obtain her no sacrifice of ease or comfort was too great, and the hope of this union cheered him amidst the years of a weary exile. He would often feel the injustice of Laban's oppression, and the chafings of his despotic and unrighteous course-but the soft words, the kind looks, the love‐kindled smiles of Rachel, made the yoke easy and the burden light. At length, after long years of waiting, under the allowed Polygamy of Mesopotamia, Rachel became his own. Leah he had never loved. The stratagem by which she had become his wife was such an outrage upon nature, and so conspicuous was the part she had taken in the treachery, that little could be expected beyond slight and neglect. It was widely different with the younger sister; nay, it is morethan probable he loved her too much, and that this inordinate affection was one of the causes of the subsequent trials that came upon him. No sooner did Rachel give promise of becoming the joyful mother of children, than Jacob began to revolve in his mind a return to his father's house, and his own land. There the religion of the Patriarchs was better understood, and the advantages were much greater for the training of a godly seed. The birth of Joseph gave unmingled joy, and when the promise of another branch to the parent stock was granted, he resolved to recross the wilderness he had travelled twenty years before, and seek among his own immediate kindred the security and comfort he had never found in the house of Laban.

What a change of circumstances had these twenty years produced! When he left his father's house, he was without any substance. This he cannot forget, hence we hear him say, "With my staff I passed over this Jordan, and now I am become two bands." (Gen 32:10.) He returns rich in flocks and herds, with his two wives, children, and servants. Well might he say, "O God of my father Abraham, O God of my father Isaac, I am not worthy of the least of all the mercies, and of all the truth, which thou hast showed unto thy servant." (Gen 32:9-10.)

Full of hope, he commenced and prosecuted by slow stages his difficult journey. Prayer, praise, and sacrifice marked its successive halting‐places, while the visions of the Almighty were mercifully granted, assuring him of the reconciliation of his brother, and his family interest in the covenant of promise. The delicate condition of Rachel made it requisite that all unnecessary fatigue should be avoided, and whatever could minister to her comfort be afforded. For this Jacob was well prepared-for he had been long accustomed to "gather lambs with his arms and carry them in his bosom, and gently lead them that were with young." (Isa 40:11.) It requires no stretch of the imagination to picture the bright hopes which spread their golden wings before the happy pair as they conversed about their new settlement, and the various plans connected with their future life. The mother hoped to have two lovely children to present to their grandparentin the Grove of Beersheba, and receive upon her own head the patriarchal blessing. Alas! how vain are all things here! How soon, how suddenly may the brightest sky be covered with clouds, and the fairest prospects blasted with disappointment: Rachel is never to see the birth‐place of her beloved Jacob, never to receive the kiss of peace from the aged Isaac, never to repose in the sweet elysium of Mamre. The hour of nature's sorrow overtook her a little way from Ephrath, (Gen 35:16-18) in the mountains of Rama. The encouraging words of the midwife who said unto her, "Fear not," were insufficient to rally her exhausted strength; in vain did they say to her, "thou shalt have this son also," for she yielded up her own life in giving birth to him. When her soul was departing she called his name Benoni, and in that effort her spirit passed away.

"And Rachel died and was buried in the way to Ephrath, which is Bethlehem. And Jacob set a pillar upon her grave: that is the pillar of Rachel's grave unto this day." (Gen 35:19-20.)

We have no words to describe the anguish of Jacob's heart, when, with trembling hand and weeping eyes, he reared the monumental pillar over Rachel's grave. It commemorated an event that crushed a thousand hopes, and made him feel more than ever that here we have no continuing city. The pledges of affection which she left behind were endeared to him by the strongest ties-and the history of Joseph and Benjamin is inwrought in that great scheme of redeeming love which arranged for the birth of the Messiah where Rachel found a grave.


The Blue Letter Bible ministry and the BLB Institute hold to the historical, conservative Christian faith, which includes a firm belief in the inerrancy of Scripture. Since the text and audio content provided by BLB represent a range of evangelical traditions, all of the ideas and principles conveyed in the resource materials are not necessarily affirmed, in total, by this ministry.


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