We've all met someone like her: lovely face, perfect body, interesting career, devoted husband. The kind of woman who seems to have everything.
In Haran of old, her name was Rachel.
Her story opens like a fairytale: Jacob, her cousin, dutifully labored seven years for her hand in marriage, "but they seemed like only a few days to him because of his love for her" ().
Uh-oh. With such blessings heaped in her corner, we know trouble is on the way.
Sure enough, on Rachel's wedding night, Jacob unwittingly married her older sister, Leah, thanks to their father's scheming. Though Rachel became Jacob's second wife, Leah was the fertile one, bearing four healthy sons, one after another.
"But Rachel was barren" (). So few words, so much sorrow. Across the centuries we empathize with our infertile sister, especially those among us who've known this particular heartache.
The Drama Queen
Had Rachel rested in the abundance of Jacob's love, waited patiently for the Lord to open her womb, and involved herself in the lives of Leah's children, we'd applaud her as a timeless role model, showing us how a godly woman handles such a difficult situation.
Ah, but Rachel was a flawed human being, just as we are, and so she "became jealous of her sister" (). Though Rachel was strikingly beautiful and deeply loved, those joys weren't enough. She wanted what her sister had.
Shakespeare called it "the green sickness"jealousy, covetousness, envy. Rachel isn't alone in her sin; we've all succumbed to the temptation of jealousy.
Did she rail at Leah? She did not.
Did she shake her fist at God? She did not.
Instead, Rachel demanded of her husband, "Give me children or I'll die!" (). Boy, does this drama-queen statement sound familiar. Substitute any number of options for the word children, and I've probably said it in the same strident tone of voice: "Give me _________ or I'll I'll "
Expected to fix a situation beyond his control, Jacob lost his temper. "Am I in the place of God, who has kept you from having children?" ().
Ouch. Though his assessment was accurateonly God could solve the problemJacob had clearly run out of patience.
Desperate for a baby, Rachel pushed her husband into the arms of her maidservant, Bilhah, and insisted, "Sleep with her so that she can bear children for me" (). Canaanite customs allowed such a solution but Rachel wasn't a Canaanite! How easily we adapt to the ways of the world when we want, want, want.
Jacob complied with her wishes, and so did Bilhah. Soon Rachel's servant bore a son, whom Rachel was quick to claim and name, declaring, "God has vindicated me" (). Biblical commentators hear more than a little self-congratulation in her words. She gave no credit to Jacob or Bilhah, and she reduced God to One who did her bidding: "He has listened to my plea" ().
Finally, a son in her arms. Rachel truly had it all now or did she?
Apparently not, since Bilhah gave birth to a second son, prompting Rachel to crow, "I have had a great struggle with my sister, and I have won" ().
Sadly, Rachel's victory dance spurred her older sister to follow in her footsteps. Leah, too, gave her maidservant to Jacob as a wife. When we see others getting what they want, by whatever means, it's hard not to say, "Me too."
Still determined to bear her own children, Rachel made her sister a shocking offer, giving up a night with Jacob in exchange for a handful of mandrake plants, believed to make a woman fertile.
Once again, Rachel depended on earthly wisdom rather than heavenly guidance. And once again, Rachel didn't get pregnant, yet Leah did, giving birth to two more sons and later a daughter. All the wanting in the world won't make wishes come true.
When Rachel finally gave up trying, "God remembered Rachel" (Genesis 30:22). He never forgot her, of course. Instead, the Lord waited until she came to the end of herself, then "listened to her and opened her womb" ().
God listens still. For our heartfelt confessions, our humble requests. For our admission that we need him more than we need anyone or anything else.
At the birth of her son, Joseph, Rachel finally remembered the One who remembered her: "God has taken away my disgrace" ().
In its place, he gives us mercy. In its stead, the gift of grace.
Liz Curtis Higgs is the author of 26 books, including Slightly Bad Girls of the Bible (WaterBrook Press). She lives with her husband and their two teenagers in Kentucky. Visit her website: www.LizCurtisHiggs.com.
Copyright © 2007 by the author or Christianity Today/Today's Christian Woman magazine.
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