God Remembers Rachel

God Remembers Rachel

God Remembers Rachel.

“God remembered Rachel’s plight, God answered her prayers, and He opened her womb.’ (Genesis 30:22).

God never “forgot” Rachel, of course. So He didn’t need to remember her. God was mindful of Rachel’s prayers all along, her repeated requests to be blessed with a child by Jacob, and in the fullness of time according to Him, He jumped into action. God doesn’t need a memory, He doesn’t need to be reminded, He holds everything in the universe in the top of His mind at all times. For God to “remember” is for God’s light to focus like a laser in order to act, to intervene. God becomes mindful when He wants to act.

The biblical story of Rachel reads like a romantic tragedy. She was the younger sister of Leah who thus had the duty of being the shepherdess out in the fields. She must have been hardworking, responsible and resourceful in her important role in the family business. She had to bring her flock out to pasture for food and drink, to care for them, watching out for predators, and being careful to nurse her flock through injuries and sickness. Rachel must have fulfilled this role well, or she wouldn’t have had the responsibility. One day her job brought her to a local well, where she met her cousin Jacob. He was immediately smitten, fell desperately in love with Rachel, love at first sight. This might have been the first time in the Bible that romantic love seemed to be the prelude to marriage. Their meeting at the well also confirmed the Jewish tradition that wells were the place for romantic meetings.

Jacob wanted to marry Rachel, of course. She was noted as being particularly beautiful, according to Scripture. In this way Rachel was like her other matriarchs before her, Sarah and Rebekah, both of them noted for their beauty as well. Rachel’s father agreed to marry off his daughter to Jacob if he worked seven years for Laban, but he didn’t say which daughter. So Jacob was fooled into marrying sister Leah. Jacob was furious, naturally, but agreed to work seven more years in order to marry his love Rachel. The trickster Laban gave the con man Jacob a bit of his own medicine. Finally, Jacob married Rachel, and now he had the misfortune of being married to two sisters. As he was to find out, it’s no wonder later the Mosaic Law forbade the marrying of sisters (Lev. 18:18). Theirs was not a happy family life, unfortunately.

There is no doubt that both Rachel and Jacob deeply resented the deception of Leah’s marriage to Jacob. So the relationships were all strained right from the start. This led to Leah’s overwhelming feelings of rejection in her married life, that she was profoundly unloved. The sibling rivalry between Rachel and Leah really heated up when it was soon discovered that Leah was especially fruitful and Rachel was barren. There were many years of baby competition as Leah continued bearing Jacob’s children while Rachel remained childless. Rabbinic tradition holds that Rachel went fourteen years childless, which is a long time to maintain a fierce rivalry with Leah. Making matters worse for Rachel was the stigma that accompanied barrenness at that time. The inability to bear children assumed God’s disfavor. Pregnancy was accepted as an act of God. A barren womb brought guilt, shame, distress, and the sense that the major purpose in life was being thwarted. The baby battles continued, full of jealousy and resentment on Rachel’s part. She to her credit did continue to pray to God for a baby through these trying times. Rachel was competitive but faithful at the same time.

Referring to Jacob’s undying preference and passion for Rachel, Rabbi Jonathon Sacks had a few¬† observations in his commentary on Genesis. “What Jacob learned is that love is not enough. We must also heed those who feel unloved. Without that, there will be conflict and tragedy. But to heed the unloved requires a special capacity: the ability to listen – in Jacob’s case, to the unspoken tears of Leah and her feelings of rejection. What the story of Jacob, his wives, and their children tell us is that love alone is not enough. There must be justice, fairness, a regard for how your sentiments impact on others. In the end, it was Leah, the less loved, who gave Israel its holy tribe, Levi (Moses, Miriam, Aaron, and the whole line of the priesthood), and its kings, the descendants of Judah.” And of course, it was from Leah, the rejected one, that produced the Messiah, the Lion of the tribe of Judah.

Scripture makes the point that after continued prayers from Rachel, God finally became mindful of Rachel in such a way that He intervened and opened her womb. She soon gave birth to a biblical hero, Joseph, which means, “May He Add.” Rachel’s first words after this first birth was, “God has taken away my disgrace.” So having one child only whetted Rachel’s appetite for more in her competition with Leah. Joseph much later became the savior of Jacob’s entire family when he provided land in Egypt during a drought.

There came the time when Jacob decided to move his whole family to settle in another land. As they were leaving Laban, Rachel decided to secretly take Laban’s household gods. She wasn’t unlike her husband Jacob by being crafty to meet her own ends. In those days, the little statuaries were usually a form of title deed that confirmed one’s possession of inheritance. These gods were only held by the head of the household. By taking them from Laban, it appears that Rachel wanted to make sure that Jacob would have that role as head of household in their new land. Another possible meaning of her theft was that those gods represented loyalty to one’s family, and Rachel merely wanted to reveal her loyalty to Jacob and not Laban. Rachel’s theft was never discovered by Laban despite his chasing down Jacob to find them. Later on, Jacob declared that all gods or items of worship would be destroyed, so Rachel’s little idols didn’t last very long anyway.

And now the tragedy. Rachel became pregnant again, but she died in childbirth. This was the first recognized death during childbirth in Scripture. Before she died, she named the boy “the son of my sorrow.” But Jacob soon renamed the boy Benjamin, which means “son of my right hand,” which meant a designation as a favorite son. Jacob was understandably devastated, and decided to bury Rachel while they traveled to their new home. Rachel was buried in Bethlehem, the land where she died. Jacob did not want to bury her in the ancestral tomb in Hebron, but there was no clear reason given in Scripture. Rabbinic tradition has Rachel dying before her 40th birthday, a short life. Especially when you consider that Jacob lived until he was 147 years old.

That’s not the last we see of Rachel in Scripture. Through her son Joseph and his son Ephraim, Rachel became known as the “mother” of Israel, the northern kingdom. Her grandson Ephraim, along with Manasa, were the two tribes that settled in the north, apart from Judah in the south. In Jeremiah 31:15-17, Rachel is pictured by the Lord to be weeping in her grave for the exiled children of Israel, destroyed by the Assyrians almost 150 years earlier. In her grief, the motherly heart of Rachel “refused to be comforted.” Rachel is symbolic of all the distraught mothers of Israel who mourn their children taken captive. Her weeping was considered by Jeremiah to be intercession, and her prayers were answered by the Lord, “Stop your weeping, and dry your eyes. for your grief work will be rewarded. They will return from the enemy’s land. There is hope for your future. Your children will return to their own territory.” Her weeping for suffering children, and her being buried in Bethlehem, was prophetic and was quoted in Matthew 2:18, after the horrific massacre of all the babies in Bethlehem by the insane king Herod as he tried to quell his fears about the new king born in Bethlehem. Rachel is accepted as having the ultimate heart of the mother, and Jeremiah brought her compassion for children to the forefront in his prophecy. The slaughtered babies in Bethlehem became known as the Holy Innocents, and Rachel continues to be pictured as weeping from her grave for suffering children.