Rachel and Leah

Last week we talked about Jacob. Jacob had a twin brother named Esau that he basically tricked out of his inheritance and blessing, and Esau got so mad that everyone was worried Esau might murder Jacob. So Jacob was sent away to his uncle Laban.

Remember if you look at our family tree, Laban is Jacob's mother's brother. But if you remember our lesson on Rebekah, she left her brother and never went back, to marry Isaac. So Jacob was leaving his family and the only place he'd ever known to go live with an uncle he'd never met. But he thought he might die if he stayed so he had to go.

Today we're going to talk about this time period that Jacob spent with Laban--which we skipped last week--because today we will be talking about Jacob's wives, who are Laban's daughters. Please go get your Bibles.

So Jacob makes it all the way to Haran and finally sees a bunch of people. They are shepherds with flocks of sheep. But he notices that they're just kind of all milling about this well, which has a big stone over it, basically to keep it closed and protect it. Probably to keep stuff from falling into the well when they're not using it. But the effort of moving the stone is so great that basically they wait for all the flocks to arrive before they remove it. Because they would need a couple of strong people to do it and they don't want to have to do it more than once.

Jacob approaches these guys and asks them if they know his uncle Laban. And basically they're like "Yes, and his daughter is coming here with her sheep!"

Can someone now read Genesis 29:9-14

9 While he was still speaking with them, Rachel came with her father’s sheep; for she kept them. 10 Now when Jacob saw Rachel, the daughter of his mother’s brother Laban, and the sheep of his mother’s brother Laban, Jacob went up and rolled the stone from the well’s mouth, and watered the flock of his mother’s brother Laban. 11 Then Jacob kissed Rachel, and wept aloud. 12 And Jacob told Rachel that he was her father’s kinsman, and that he was Rebekah’s son; and she ran and told her father.

13 When Laban heard the news about his sister’s son Jacob, he ran to meet him; he embraced him and kissed him, and brought him to his house. Jacob told Laban all these things, 14 and Laban said to him, “Surely you are my bone and my flesh!” And he stayed with him a month.

So when Jacob sees Rachel, he removes the stone blocking the water, even though it wasn't his job. Why do you think he did that? [Let them answer.]

He could have been trying to impress her. He could have been trying to do something nice for her to show he was a nice guy. We don't know. All we know is that he does that first and then he goes to greet her. And he greets her with a kiss. Now when Jacob is described as kissing Rachel here, don't think of it as a romantic kiss. Think of it more like a customary greeting, like how the French greet each other. Basically he sees her and is so happy to meet a family member and finally be at his destination that he cries.

So he tells her they're related and she runs home to her dad, Laban. And Laban is very happy to see him. Remember, he probably hasn't heard anything of his sister since she left all those long year ago, and now here is her son! It would probably be a reassurance to him that he didn't make the wrong decision sending his sister off, and Jacob's existence was proof she was still alive. So Laban invites Jacob into his home to stay.

Now can someone read verses 15-20

15 Then Laban said to Jacob, “Because you are my kinsman, should you therefore serve me for nothing? Tell me, what shall your wages be?” 16 Now Laban had two daughters; the name of the elder was Leah, and the name of the younger was Rachel. 17 Leah’s eyes were lovely, and Rachel was graceful and beautiful. 18 Jacob loved Rachel; so he said, “I will serve you seven years for your younger daughter Rachel.” 19 Laban said, “It is better that I give her to you than that I should give her to any other man; stay with me.” 20 So Jacob served seven years for Rachel, and they seemed to him but a few days because of the love he had for her.

Basically Jacob is staying with Laban and helping out around the family business. And Laban thinks it's unfair not to pay him. So after that first month, when it's now clear that Jacob isn't going back home, Laban asks Jacob what a fair wage is. And Jacob offers to work seven years in order to marry Rachel.

Why Rachel? Because she's beautiful. It's interesting your versions of the Bible say her eyes are lovely, but every other version of the Bible I've read says it's "weak eyes" which is not meant as a compliment. So I checked my commentary and it seems the words used in the original language can go either way. However, most interpreters use the previous sentence that contrast the sister's age to say that this whole section is comparing and contrasting this sisters. If so, then this would be a contrast. Rachel was beautiful, and Leah was not [1].

However, even if we take it positively, that Leah really does have beautiful eyes, it's clear that for Jacob Rachel's overall grace and beauty out balanced Leah's eyes. After all, he loves Rachel not Leah.

Laban agrees to give Rachel to Jacob--you'll notice they don't ask Rachel her feelings at all on this matter. But Jacob has to work the seven years agreed. And in that last verse it says that the seven years only seemed a few days to Jacob because he's so in love. Have you guys ever experienced something like that? Where a long period of time seems short? [Let them answer.]

Generally when I'm looking forward to something, the time seems to take even longer for me! But clearly I'm not as patient as Jacob.

Alright, now let's see what happens after these seven years, if Laban holds true to his promise. Can someone read Genesis 29:21-27?

21 Then Jacob said to Laban, “Give me my wife that I may go in to her, for my time is completed.” 22 So Laban gathered together all the people of the place, and made a feast. 23 But in the evening he took his daughter Leah and brought her to Jacob; and he went in to her. 24 (Laban gave his maid Zilpah to his daughter Leah to be her maid.) 25 When morning came, it was Leah! And Jacob said to Laban, “What is this you have done to me? Did I not serve with you for Rachel? Why then have you deceived me?” 26 Laban said, “This is not done in our country—giving the younger before the firstborn. 27 Complete the week of this one, and we will give you the other also in return for serving me another seven years.”

So does Laban hold up his end of the bargain? [Let them answer] No! Instead of marrying Jacob to Rachel, he marries him to Leah!!!!!

Now how did he pull that off? Well you guys know what wedding veils are, right? Now days those veils are pretty lacy and you can see right through them. But back then, that wouldn't have been the case! The veils they wore were heavy and would have masked her entire face!

Also there would have been a lot of drinking during the wedding feast, so by the time Jacob and his new wife got back to their room and it would be time to lift the veil, Jacob might have been so drunk he wouldn't have known the difference anyway.

Needless to say Jacob is really upset, but how do you guys think Leah felt? Were not told what she agreed to or if Laban just did it. But I imagine it would be rather demoralizing for your new husband to wake up the next morning and be devastated to see you instead of your sister.

The Bible doesn't tell us how Leah felt, unfortunately. But for Jacob, it was just not acceptable. So he went to Laban and yelled at him. It's too late for them to do anything about it, once Jacob was married to and slept with Leah, there was no going back. There wasn't really divorce back then, and if Jacob did decide to leave her over this--to not continue the marriage--no one else would want to marry her. And for women in these ancient times, you couldn't really make a living on your own. But fortunately, it doesn't seem like Jacob even considered that. Instead he was just mad because he wanted to marry Rachel, and fortunately for him--I guess--he could have a second wife.

So Laban says he can marry Rachel, and even lets her marry her within the week! But he has to work another seven years. Does that seem very fair? [Let them answer]

Alright let's see what happens next, can someone read Genesis 29:28-31.

28 Jacob did so, and completed her week; then Laban gave him his daughter Rachel as a wife. 29 (Laban gave his maid Bilhah to his daughter Rachel to be her maid.) 30 So Jacob went in to Rachel also, and he loved Rachel more than Leah. He served Laban for another seven years.

31 When the Lord saw that Leah was unloved, he opened her womb; but Rachel was barren.

So Jacob gets to marry Rachel, and now he has two wives. And he loves Rachel more and favors her, which doesn't seem very fair to Leah, does it? As far as we know she didn't do anything wrong, just did what her father told her to. And God sees that. So he lets Leah have children and doesn't let Rachel. Why do you think he did that? [Let them answer]

Yeah because he saw it was unfair for Jacob to treat Leah like this, and knew that he gave her children Jacob would at least give her some attention. Whereas Rachel was going to get attention whether she had children or not.

But remember as we spoke talked about with Sarah, for women back then, a lot of their self worth was tied up in their ability to have children. So do you think Rachel was very happy about this situation? [Let them answer.]

Well let's see what the Bible says. Can someone read Genesis 30:1-5?

30 When Rachel saw that she bore Jacob no children, she envied her sister; and she said to Jacob, “Give me children, or I shall die!” 2 Jacob became very angry with Rachel and said, “Am I in the place of God, who has withheld from you the fruit of the womb?” 3 Then she said, “Here is my maid Bilhah; go in to her, that she may bear upon my knees and that I too may have children through her.” 4 So she gave him her maid Bilhah as a wife; and Jacob went in to her. 5 And Bilhah conceived and bore Jacob a son.

Even though Rachel is the wife that is loved, she is jealous of her sister. And she gets angry at Jacob, "Give me children, or I shall die!" This might seem like an over-reaction to you, but remember back then a woman who couldn't give birth was a shameful thing. The world was not at all as it is today. Now we know women are equal to men, and women are allowed to do all the same things men are. I don't have kids, and I'm not ashamed or sad, or thinking I would rather die! But for Rachel, having a baby would have been her only job. And she's failing at it and her sister is succeeding. It wouldn't even matter that Jacob loved her. His love isn't enough in the face of what seems to her to be this huge failure.

So Rachel does the same thing Sarah did. She gives Jacob her maid. Because remember, the child of her maid could basically be considered her child.

Rachel's maid, as we can see on our family tree, actually has two children. You would think that would be the end of this, yes? That Leah at this point already has four sons, and now Rachel has these two sons by her maid, that everyone would be happy, right?

Well let's see what happens.

9 When Leah saw that she had ceased bearing children, she took her maid Zilpah and gave her to Jacob as a wife. 10 Then Leah’s maid Zilpah bore Jacob a son.

Leah has four sons. But she doesn't seem to be having any others. So does she say "Well four is enough! Let's stop here!" No! Instead she gives her maid to Jacob, so that her maid's kids can be counted towards her. It's like Rachel and Leah are having this Cold War arms race of babies, but Leah is clearly winning. Why would Leah want to continue to have more kids, do you think? [Let them answer.]

The Bible doesn't tell us what Leah was thinking, but I think for Leah it was about having Jacob's attention. Without her children, without having more, Jacob would just hang out with Rachel all the time. After all, he loves Rachel not Leah. So if she stopped having more kids, would Jacob want to spend time with her? He could just spend time with his sons and not her. But mothers have a lot of control over babies, and for Jacob to hang out with a baby he has to hang out with it's mother.

It's all about who gets Jacob's attention and we'll see this in the next passage. Can someone read Genesis 30:14-17?

14 In the days of wheat harvest Reuben went and found mandrakes in the field, and brought them to his mother Leah. Then Rachel said to Leah, “Please give me some of your son’s mandrakes.” 15 But she said to her, “Is it a small matter that you have taken away my husband? Would you take away my son’s mandrakes also?” Rachel said, “Then he may lie with you tonight for your son’s mandrakes.” 16 When Jacob came from the field in the evening, Leah went out to meet him, and said, “You must come in to me; for I have hired you with my son’s mandrakes.” So he lay with her that night. 17 And God heeded Leah, and she conceived and bore Jacob a fifth son.

Alright so what is happening here? Reuben is one of Leah's sons. He finds a plant called a mandrake. Now back in the day, mandrakes were believed to have some special properties that could help a woman get pregnant. I don't think this is true--like I don't think anyone today believes that--but back then women might use the plant to help them. When Rachel sees it then, of course she wants it! She still wants a baby! But Reuben takes it to his mother, Leah. So Rachel has to go to her sister and ask for it.

Leah responds rudely, though perhaps understandably. She says Rachel has stolen her husband, which is true when you consider Jacob technically married Jacob first. But Jacob loves Rachel, and therefore probably spends more time with her. So to Leah it seems that Rachel is taking everything away from her, though of course Rachel would feel the other way. That Leah has stolen Rachel's husband, since Jacob had worked those original seven years for Rachel, not Leah.

But Rachel is desperate so she barters. She offers Jacob. Basically when you had multiple wives like this back in the day, a husband would alternate which nights he was with which wife. So that night he was probably supposed to be with Rachel. But Rachel gives the night to Leah.

In the end, Leah gets pregnant, and Rachel is still not pregnant. So this deal doesn't really work to Rachel's benefit. But it does show how competitive these sisters are, and how even when it seems that everything should be okay, because they each have kids associated with them, it's not.

So Leah actually has two more sons and then a daughter. And Rachel still has no children. Until finally, can someone read Genesis 30:22-24

22 Then God remembered Rachel, and God heeded her and opened her womb. 23 She conceived and bore a son, and said, “God has taken away my reproach”; 24 and she named him Joseph, saying, “May the Lord add to me another son!”

Finally Rachel has a son. And when Joseph is finally born, when she finally has a child of her own, is she like "Thank you, God! I'll stop asking now because you gave me this one precious child and that's all I need?"

No. She's not. Instead she says "May the Lord add to me another son." She just had a kid and she's already worrying about whether she'll have a next one!

We'll study much later, stories in the Bible where there are women who God only gives one child and they are extremely grateful, but remember Rachel is in a child bearing Cold War. She needs to catch up with Leah, and right now she's like six behind.

But I'll give you a spoiler, Rachel is never going to catch up. Rachel only has one other son and it's not for many years later, after she thinks Joseph is dead. But we'll study that next week.

Perhaps if Rachel had been more grateful God would have given her more children? We may never know. But she does at least have this one son, Joseph, and we'll study next week what happens to him.

So all this time Jacob is still in Haran, with Laban and his family. But eventually we know, as we studied last week, he returns to Canaan, right? Can someone read Genesis 31:1-3.

31 Now Jacob heard that the sons of Laban were saying, “Jacob has taken all that was our father’s; he has gained all this wealth from what belonged to our father.” 2 And Jacob saw that Laban did not regard him as favorably as he did before. 3 Then the Lord said to Jacob, “Return to the land of your ancestors and to your kindred, and I will be with you.”

Jacob has been in Haran for a long time, and he's gained a lot of wealth in that time. But now it's time to go back. But Jacob is also married to both of Laban's daughters. Do you think he's going to be happy to see his daughters and all his grandchildren go away? [Let them answer.]

Yeah, I don't think so either. Can someone read Genesis 31:17-21?

17 So Jacob arose, and set his children and his wives on camels; 18 and he drove away all his livestock, all the property that he had gained, the livestock in his possession that he had acquired in Paddan-aram, to go to his father Isaac in the land of Canaan.

19 Now Laban had gone to shear his sheep, and Rachel stole her father’s household gods. 20 And Jacob deceived Laban the Aramean, in that he did not tell him that he intended to flee. 21 So he fled with all that he had; starting out he crossed the Euphrates, and set his face toward the hill country of Gilead.

This section basically says that Jacob leaves without telling Laban, because he's afraid of what Laban will do if Jacob tries to leave. Laban may never let him go back to his father's family, back to his homeland, back to the land God has promised him. So Jacob leaves sneakily in the night. And everything would have been fine except what does verse 19 say? "Rachel stole her father's household gods."

So remember, back in this day no one followed God--our God--except Abraham and his descendents. Most people believed in many gods and spirits, and it was fairly common to have these household idols that you would worship as representations of these gods. This sort of practice even existed all the way to the Roman times. And people took these idols very seriously, because worshiping them was their only connection to their gods. So stealing them would be tantamount to grand larsony, stealing the most priceless and sentimental things people had.

Why does Rachel do it? Why would she steal her father's gods? Why do you guys think she did it? [Let them answer.]

I don't know and the Bible doesn't say. There are many theories. Perhaps they were made of gold, and Rachel wanted to sell them for money. Jacob seems to have a lot of money, but maybe she was worried something might happen on this long journey to a strange place. Maybe she didn't really believe in God--after all she had never seen them--and these idols held special meaning to her? Or maybe she was just really angry at her dad. Remember this is the man who made Leah marry Jacob instead of letting Rachel do it. Maybe she was so angry, she wanted to steal the most precious thing he had.

We don't know Rachel's motivation, we can only guess. What we do know is that Jacob didn't know she stole them, and Laban was furious when he found out. Can someone read Genesis 31:25-32?

25 Laban overtook Jacob. Now Jacob had pitched his tent in the hill country, and Laban with his kinsfolk camped in the hill country of Gilead. 26 Laban said to Jacob, “What have you done? You have deceived me, and carried away my daughters like captives of the sword. 27 Why did you flee secretly and deceive me and not tell me? I would have sent you away with mirth and songs, with tambourine and lyre. 28 And why did you not permit me to kiss my sons and my daughters farewell? What you have done is foolish. 29 It is in my power to do you harm; but the God of your father spoke to me last night, saying, ‘Take heed that you speak to Jacob neither good nor bad.’ 30 Even though you had to go because you longed greatly for your father’s house, why did you steal my gods?” 31 Jacob answered Laban, “Because I was afraid, for I thought that you would take your daughters from me by force. 32 But anyone with whom you find your gods shall not live. In the presence of our kinsfolk, point out what I have that is yours, and take it.” Now Jacob did not know that Rachel had stolen the gods.

So he chases after Jacob, and when he finally catches up to him, he's like "You didn't even let me kiss my kid's goodbye!!!! And on top of that, you stole my gods!" And Jacob owns up to the running away like a thief in the night because he was afraid of what Laban would do, but he's adamant he didn't steal the idols. Because he doesn't know Rachel did it. So he says that if someone did, it's the death penalty for that person! Uh-oh. Jacob just signed a death penalty for his favorite wife, without even knowing it. Anyone think this is going to end well?

Well let's see. Can someone read Genesis 31:33-35?

33 So Laban went into Jacob’s tent, and into Leah’s tent, and into the tent of the two maids, but he did not find them. And he went out of Leah’s tent, and entered Rachel’s. 34 Now Rachel had taken the household gods and put them in the camel’s saddle, and sat on them. Laban felt all about in the tent, but did not find them. 35 And she said to her father, “Let not my lord be angry that I cannot rise before you, for the way of women is upon me.” So he searched, but did not find the household gods.

Laban searches the tens and finds nothing in Jacob, Leah, or the maid's tents. Finally he ends up at Rachel's. But she hides the gods in a camel saddle and sits on it. And when Laban enters, she should rise to greet him but she says to him, "I can't because I'm on my period."

Back then they didn't have all the feminime products we have. A woman basically used rags and stayed away from everyone else during her period. And anything she touched would be considered unclean. So Laban wouldn't even want to touch the camel saddle, basically thinking it would be covered in her blood.

So he doesn't find them and Rachel doesn't have to die.

And that's basically the story of Rachel and Leah. We'll talk more about their sons next week, and how Jacob's favoritism trickles down through his children and causes ramifications he couldn't imagine. But for Rachel and Leah, there is only this competition for their husbands affection.

There really isn't some sort of pat morale. Though I will say, thank goodness in modern American society a woman's worth is not tied to her ability to bear children and no one has more than one wife. Because it sure seems that both of those things just led to a whole ton of drama!