Today’s Bible reading
God appeared to Jacob again when he came from Paddan-aram, and he blessed him. God said to him, “Your name is Jacob; no longer shall you be called Jacob, but Israel shall be your name.” So he was called Israel. God said to him, “I am God Almighty: be fruitful and multiply; a nation and a company of nations shall come from you, and kings shall spring from you. The land that I gave to Abraham and Isaac I will give to you, and I will give the land to your offspring after you.” Then God went up from him at the place where he had spoken with him. Jacob set up a pillar in the place where he had spoken with him, a pillar of stone; and he poured out a drink offering on it, and poured oil on it. So Jacob called the place where God had spoken with him Bethel.
Then they journeyed from Bethel; and when they were still some distance from Ephrath, Rachel was in childbirth, and she had hard labor. When she was in her hard labor, the midwife said to her, “Do not be afraid; for now you will have another son.” As her soul was departing (for she died), she named him Ben-oni; but his father called him Benjamin. So Rachel died, and she was buried on the way to Ephrath (that is, Bethlehem), and Jacob set up a pillar at her grave; it is the pillar of Rachel’s tomb, which is there to this day. Israel journeyed on, and pitched his tent beyond the tower of Eder. – Genesis 35:9-21
More thoughts for meditation
Jacob is Abraham’s grandson. His story is in Genesis 25-50. His given name means “supplanter” or “one who grabs.” In the case of Jacob, he grabbed his twin brother Esau’s heal when we was being born. Jacob later supplanted Esau as the heir of their father, Isaac. After a night of struggling with an angle in chapter 32, Jacob’s name was changed to Israel (one who wrestles with God). Jacob’s sons are the family leaders of the twelve tribes of Israel.
The story of Jacob and his second wife, Rachel, is a great love story, along with a tale of how Israel is founded in unlikely ways by God’s mysterious direction. Jacob was sent by his father to find a wife from his uncle Laban’s family. He met Rachel at Laban’s well and for him, it was love at first sight. He single-handedly moved the great stone cover off of the well, perhaps trying to impress his future wife (Genesis 29:10-11). Jacob stayed with Laban’s family and within a month, he fell deeply in love with Rachel and determined to marry her. Laban convinced Jacob to work for him for seven years before he could have Rachel. Jacob agreed. Jacob cared for Rachel so much that the years “seemed like only a few days to him because of his love for her” (Genesis 29:20).
After the seven years of labor, Laban agreed to allow Jacob to marry Rachel. In traditional wedding ceremonies, the bride usually had her entire face covered with only a small opening for the eyes. After Jacob married the woman and spent the night with his new bride he woke up in horror to discover that he had been tricked. Jacob thought that he had married Rachel but he had instead married her older sister, Leah. Jacob was outraged and when he confronted Rachel’s father Laban, the father told Jacob that it was customary to have the eldest daughter marry first. Laban said that Jacob could also marry Rachel if he agreed to work another seven years for him. Jacob, smitten by Rachel, quickly agreed and worked another seven years for Laban. Nothing could stop Jacob because “his love for Rachel was greater than his love for Leah…and he worked for Laban another seven years” to secure Rachel for his wife (Gen 29:30). Jacob had once deceived his brother Esau and had tricked him out of his rightful birthright. Now it was Jacob’s turn to be tricked.
Jacob’s other wife, Leah, had several children but Rachel remained barren. Rachel once said that if she didn’t have children she would die (Gen. 30:1). She eventually gave birth. As this growing, nomadic tribe was on the move again, Rachel had problems with her second labor, she “began to give birth and had great difficulty….and as she was having great difficulty in childbirth, the midwife said to her, ‘Don’t despair, for you have another son.’ As she breathed her last—for she was dying—she named her son Ben-Oni. But his father named him Benjamin” (Gen 35:16-18). Ben-Oni means “son of my trouble” but Jacob, now called Israel, named him Benjamin, which means “son of my right hand.” This may have been due to Rachel’s being Jacob‘s favorite wife or his “right hand“ to him. Perhaps Benjamin, was named after her.
“So Rachel died and was buried on the way to Ephrath (that is, Bethlehem). Over her tomb Jacob set up a pillar, and to this day that pillar marks Rachel’s tomb” (Gen 35:19-20). Rachel had died but Jacob’s love for her never did. Jacob loved Rachel at first sight and at last sight. He set up a marker so he could come visit her and let people know how he honored her.
In the New Testament Rachel is mentioned during the account of Herod searching out and killing boys who might be the Messiah. Matthew quotes Jeremiah, whose prophecy is fulfilled: “A voice was heard in Ramah, wailing and loud lamentation, Rachel weeping for her children; she refused to be consoled, because they are no more” (Matthew 2:18). Ramah is the territory in which Bethlehem is situated. She who had so much trouble being married and then giving birth is a sympathetic ear for mothers weeping over their lost children.
Suggestions for action
Let’s appreciate the love and loss so vividly described in these ancient and influential stories of Jacob and Rachel. Part of why the stories are preserved is because they enshrine great truths: love and family matter, and most of all, God’s guidance and blessing are the foundation of true life. Loss, deception, and violence may mar our way, but the Lord guides our steps.
In your family and in your schedule today, how must you trust God?
Here is a moralistic version of the story on video for the kids which encourages the Leahs of the world.