Rachel and Leah

By Caryl Krueger

Categories: Women in the Old Testament

Peacemaking is an admirable quality, and the story of Rachel and Leah underlines its necessity. It is a romantic tale of two sisters and the one man they love. It begins in Genesis 29 with Jacob fleeing the wrath of his brother, having deceptively stolen his brother's inheritance. The story points out how subterfuge eventually catches up with the evil-doer. Jacob learns this lesson while he lives at the home of his uncle, Laban.

Laban has two daughters, Leah and Rachel. When Jacob first sees Rachel at the well, it is love at first sight. Since Jacob has not brought the necessary riches to marry, he agrees to work for Laban for seven years, but "...they seemed unto him but a few days, for the love he had to her."

Somehow, everyone thinks that older sister Leah will marry during this waiting time, but she doesn't. Still the wedding takes place, but Laban tricks Jacob by presenting Leah as the bride! What a moment it must have been when Laban says that they can all live together but that Jacob must work another seven years to marry Rachel.

Just picture this household, and these two young women. Although there were times of envy, there was no continuing jealousy since both were devoted to Jacob, but in different ways. Rachel and Jacob have a deep love affair. Leah and Jacob have a quiet arrangement, an arrangement that results in four little boys, and later two more sons and a daughter.

Rachel has to watch the growing family and Jacob's love for them, while she has no children. And Leah has to observe Jacob's continuing devotion to Rachel. Leah did not at first feel loved or wanted. Sometimes Rachel was petulant, yet Leah's gentleness made her the peacemaker, first finding peace within herself.

The names that Leah gives her sons show her ascending thought. First is Reuben whose name means "son provided in my affliction." Then comes Simeon whose name means "gracious hearing of the Lord"; next is Levi, which means "my joining"; then Judah, meaning "the praise of God; next comes Issachar whose name means "a reward"; and finally, Zebulun whose name means "a joyful habitation." So, ultimately, Leah is fulfilled.

Meanwhile Rachel has no children, but her maid, Bilhah, produces Jacob's sons, Dan and Naphtali. Although this arrangement was common, it must have hurt Rachel. Then Leah's maid has sons, Gad and Asher. Imagine ten boys running around the house.

Finally, patient Rachel has a baby. It is Joseph, and she says, "God hath taken away my reproach." Later, she and Jacob have another son, Benjamin. Thus the future leaders of the twelve tribes of Israel have come from these two sisters and their maids.

But there are complications. Jacob longs to return to his native home, but realizes that according to law, Laban could claim his wives and children as well as the great flocks he now has. The love the sisters have for Jacob unites them and they agree on how wronged Jacob has been. So they decide that whatever God tells Jacob to do, he should do. The departure is another story that you can read, but suffice it to say that after 20 years, Jacob returns home with his large family, faces Esau, and all is forgiven. The story of the sisters ends as Rachel dies in childbirth when Benjamin is born. As a symbol of his great love, Jacob sets a pillar on her grave, a grave site still identified today. This is the oldest memorial to a woman in the Bible.

And what about Leah? She, no doubt, becomes Jacob's chief wife and from her son, Judah, comes the line of David and Jesus. The love affair of Jacob and Rachel, as well as the love of the sisters for each other, lasted despite desperate circumstances. These sisters shared a home, a husband, and a history. They must have developed great inner peace to live together for decades. That, in itself, is a tribute to the women who raised the twelve sons who became the leaders of the twelve tribes of Israel.

Bible Characters