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Sermon - Rachel

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Rachel's Story

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Genesis 29v14-30

Now that may be to some a long passage, but it helps set up the story of Rachel.  Sounds like a modern day soap opera like Holby City, Eastenders or Coronation Street doesn't it? Rachel had a fairly complicated family structure as we have seen, so lets try to unravel it!

Rachel's sister Rebekah was Jacob's mother. Rebekah trained Jacob to scheme in order to gain his father's blessing and promised him that she would take the results of the deceitful act upon herself. Rachel became Jacob's wife, but only after Laban had tricked him into marrying Leah, the older daughter first. We can wonder if Rachel encouraged Jacob in his trickery, or if she was influenced by him to think first of herself at the expense of others. Whether his mother and/or his wife influenced Jacob, or indeed if he influenced them, both Rebekah and Rachel serve as examples of the outcome of sinful deceit and discontent.

Some personal details about Rachel

So, who was Rachel?

  • Born in Aramea (Syria)
  • Daughter of Laban
  • Second wife of Jacob, her first cousin.
  • Mother of Joseph & Benjamin.
  • Ancestress of three tribes of Israel- Benjamin, Ephraim & Manasseh (Sons of Joseph).
  • Possessed great beauty (Genesis 29:17)
  • Devious (Genesis 31:19, 34-35)
  • Not single-minded in devotion to God.
  • Probably did not put away her idols until shortly before she died.
  • Her sorrow is depicted by Jeremiah (Jeremiah. 31), to signify the sorrow of Israel's people at the exile of Israel to Assyria and Babylon.

Now let us look at some of the main people involved in the life of Rachel: her father, sister, husband and children.

Her Father

Firstly, here is Laban - her dad!  Laban was a crafty sort of character. Over the course of 20 years he switched Jacob's wives, wages and livestock for his own advantage. He was devious and deceitful. It was probably his philosophy that Rachel imitated in her long search for fulfilment, for she too, was always looking to protect or enhance her own position be means of cheating and deceit. Although she resembled her father in this way, Rachel had little respect for him. The only subject about whom she seemed to agree with Leah about was that their father had cheated them. Jacob told his wives that he had noticed that Laban's attitude toward him had changed (Genesis 31:2), and that God had directed him to return to the land of his fathers (Genesis 31:14-16). But Rachel went one further step than her sister. She stole her father's household gods, the inheritance, and Jacob did not know either. When Laban found out, and caught up with Jacob, Jacob angrily insisted that Laban search among his goods, and he promised to put to death anyone found to have taken them (Genesis 31:33-35).

Her Sister

Secondly, lets look at Rachel's sister Leah.  To a certain point, Rachel's relationship with her sister affected her marriage with Jacob since Leah also happened to be married to Jacob (Genesis 30:11). There began a fierce competition between the Leah and Rachel over their rights to Jacob's sexual attention. Rachel insisted that Jacob sleep with her maid Bilhah so that she could build a family through her servant. Two sons were born, Dan & Naphtali (Genesis 30:1-8). When Leah stopped bearing children of her own, she gave her maid Zilpah to Jacob. Two more sons were added. Rachel was far from satisfied her jealousy was not eased.

(Genesis 30:14-16) During wheat harvest, Reuben went out into the fields and found some mandrake plants, which he brought to his mother Leah. Rachel said to Leah, "Please give me some of your son's mandrakes."

But she said to her, "Wasn't it enough that you took away my husband? Will you take my son's mandrakes too?"

"Very well," Rachel said, "he can sleep with you tonight in return for your son's mandrakes."

So when Jacob came in from the fields that evening, Leah went out to meet him. "You must sleep with me," she said. "I have hired you with my son's mandrakes." So he slept with her that night.

We may be surprised to see in this passage Jacob's abdication of his own authority over the household in the face of these fighting sisters!!! We see Leah's readiness to drive a hard but petty bargain when she had the opportunity. But we also see the extent to which Rachel jealously guarded her territorial claim to Jacob against her sister. Rachel was not the older sister, nor the first wife, but she was clearly the more dominant woman. Though she granted her a night with Jacob in exchange for mandrakes, Rachel would have had to answer no the Leah's question, "Wasn't it enough that you took away my husband?" No, she would have to respond! Discontent continued to smoulder within her, as not one thing was ever enough for Rachel.

Her Husband

Thirdly here is her husband, Jacob! When Jacob fled from the wrath of his brother Esau, he obeyed his mother's advice and went to Haran in search of his uncle Laban. First he found Rachel, a shepherdess, and daughter of Laban. Jacob identified himself as her cousin, kissed her, and wept aloud. Rachel was a very beautiful woman, and Jacob was soon falling head over heels in love with her. He offered to work for Laban to earn Rachel as his bride. (Genesis 29:20). On the wedding night, however, the crafty Laban put his daughter Leah into the marriage bed. Jacob was angry, but there was nothing to be done but to fulfil Leah's bridal week and then marry Rachel. (Genesis 29:30).

Later, in the wake of the sisters' competition over children, two maidservants were elevated to wife status as well, but Rachel was always the most loved. We see this in the care with which Jacob protected her by placing her with Joseph at the end of the caravan when he met Esau again after 20 years (Genesis 33:1-3). Years later, Jacob's preference for Rachel's children Joseph and Benjamin was painfully obvious to his other ten sons (Genesis 37:3, 45:18-19). Unfortunately, the only person who failed to recognize this supreme love and to rest in it, was Rachel herself.

God's gifts of love, beauty, or intelligence, can only reach their full potential for His glory when they are acknowledged and received by the individual who has received them. The extent to which these gifts are developed depends largely on the person's attitude and response to them. In the same way, a woman may be loved by a man, but she will only radiate that love the degree that she chooses to receive and rest in it. Rachel was more beautiful and beloved than her sister Leah, yet Leah learned to find peace through focusing on God's care in the midst of her difficult circumstances. Neither God's blessing of physical beauty nor the love of Jacob was enough for Rachel.

Her Children

Now finally: her children. For 13 years Rachel was childless. The social problems for women with no children were terrible. Rachel must have suffered a lot whenever Leah, Bilhah and Zilpah became pregnant, while she remained childless. She took out her frustration on her poor husband Jacob, even though it was not his fault and he would not have it put upon him (Genesis 30:2). God's participation in the miracle of life is evident in these chapters, especially Genesis 29:31; 30:17 when God remembered Leah, and also when Rachel finally becomes pregnant Genesis 30:22-24. Rachel had waited a long time for God to bless her in this way. Perhaps He was waiting to see whether her attitude might improve. It did not. Rachel stubbornly refused to be satisfied with her circumstances. She persisted in looking at the negative side of her situation. When Rachel's maid Bilhah bore Jacob a son in her name, she named him Dan (Genesis 30:6) which means "God has vindicated.". While recognizing God had heard her prayers, she regarded the child as her right to make up for her past suffering, rather than a free gift to her out of His love. When Bilhah's second son was born she named him Naphtali, which means "my struggle". Again she considered the child a sign of victory over her sister in reward for her unhappiness. Even the birth of Rachel's own son Joseph did not satisfy her (Genesis 30:23-24). One son was not enough. Nothing was enough.

Many years passed. Jacob built up his herds and left Laban (Genesis 31). He was reconciled with his brother Esau (Genesis 32 & 33). He settled in Shechem, where his elder sons killed all the men and plundered the city in revenge for the violation of their sister (Genesis 34). God told Jacob to move his family to Bethel, where he renewed his covenant.

(Genesis 35:16-18). Here Rachel aptly expressed her perception of her whole life and revealed her capacity for self-pity when as she died giving birth, named her baby Ben-Oni "son of her trouble." Her devoted husband over-ruled her choice and gave him the name that means "son of my right hand", Benjamin, suggesting that perhaps not only that he would treasure this son in a special way, but also that Rachel had been like a right hand to him. Rachel was probably a very positive supportive wife for Jacob, but this cannot be proved from what the Bible says. When Rachel died, Jacob honoured her tomb with a pillar, and to this day the site apparently remains an important landmark for Jews in Bethlehem. In her lifetime, however, it seems that all Rachel constructed - was a monument to her own misery.

The Story continues

There we have the pen portraits of Rachel's father Laban, Rachel's sister Leah, Rachel's husband and Rachel's children - with an gleaning idea of her relationship with all of them.

Here it is perhaps helpful to discuss 2 points about culture at that time. First, the household gods represented tokens of inheritance more than just symbols of idolatry. Whoever had them, could lay claim to a man's property after his death. Second, as God later spelled out for the Israelites, it was considered an act of uncleanness to touch a woman during her period of menstruation or anything on which she sat (Leviticus 14:19-23). God intended it as a health precaution, but Rachel used it to hide her theft. As she expected, Laban did not bother searching any further.

Because she had an older sister and several brothers, Rachel must have realized that she had no real claim to her father's property, regardless of who had the idols. Her act was spontaneous, motivated by a desire to retaliate against her family rather than for self gain. The combination of stealing and lying was simply another expression of the dissatisfaction. The household gods were buried after Jacob commanded them to be (Genesis 35).

What alternative did Rachel have? How can people resolve their feelings of resentment in productive, permanent ways? Leah's life demonstrates a determination to face facts, confess her feelings and focus on the Lord as a reliable source of fulfilment in every circumstance. Jacob also learned to accept his difficult situation by finding evidence of God's blessing even in the midst of hardship (Genesis 31:5, 7, 9). But Rachel consistently refused to be comforted by the blessings God had faithfully provided. She chose instead to brood over her father's treachery, her sister's fertility, her husband's conflicting duties and her own failure to have children. Rather than making the best of her current circumstances, she was haunted be the past and her unfulfilled dream of what could have been; and consistently entered into self-pity parties. She insisted on trying to twist the future into what she wanted.

To be lovely and much loved is what so many people want to be and have. Yet it wasn't enough for Rachel: she wanted more.

So why is Rachel in the Bible? Firstly she is mentioned in Jeremiah 31, where she signifies the sorrow of Israel's people at the exile to Assyria and Babylon.  Then there is Matthew 2, where she symbolizes the sorrow of the women of Israel weeping at the loss of the babies during Herod's killing of children in the early years of Jesus. But thirdly and perhaps the most important reason is found in Ruth 4v11, where she is honoured with Leah by later generations as those "who together built up the house of Israel". This would seem to suggest that despite her obvious and many faults, Rachel with Leah, were well respected by the Jews as the "mothers" of Israel. There were 12 tribes of Israel, all sons or grandsons of Jacob, and heard his prophecies concerning them & their future (Genesis 49). The names of the twelve tribes were Reuben, Simeon, Judah, Issachar, Zebulun, Gad, Asher, Dan, Naphtali, Benjamin and the sons of Joseph, Ephraim and Manasseh. Levi, the third son was not included amongst the tribes given land. Moses instead set the Levites apart to be priests (Numbers 3:1-4, 49).

Conclusion

Perhaps there are 3 kinds of people here tonight.

Firstly, if you are a Christian here tonight, how and in what way are you like Rachel?  As you go through your day, ask the Holy Spirit to reveal to you ways in which you may well be deceitful, vengeful, dwelling on the past bitterly or engaged in constant self-pity.  Are you like Rachel, headed downhill on a course of dissatisfaction that may end in dishonesty and deceit, or in disappointment and despair? Accept God's love. Believe that in every trial He desires us to draw closer to Him, so that we can be energized by Him and realize that He alone and only He is enough.

Ask for forgiveness for dwelling on the past and any inappropriate behaviour where those things were involved.  God is faithful and just and will forgive if you go to Him with a penitent heart.  Then no long dwell on those things, for they are in the past, are forgotten and not to be remembered any more.  So forgetting what is past, go into the future with a new outlook of service to God and others.  That way your life will be a living prayer and a living witness to others about the great God you serve, love and worship.

Secondly, you may be a Christian but you are the victim of somebody else's deceit and dishonesty - then forgive them before God and as far as it is possible, ask that person for forgiveness.  Bitterness, envy and pride can eat away and cause much misery, sin and depression.

Finally, if it happens that you are not a Christian here tonight, then please do see one of the leaders or myself and we would be glad to tell you how you can be free from a life of dissatisfaction, deceit and dishonesty - both as the victim and perpetrator of such things.  Know that Jesus Christ is above deceit, never dissatisfies and is never dishonest - His word is true and He seeks you, to be in  a relationship with you, where His love is always serving, always humble and always satisfies.  As I said, come and see one of us after if that is you..

Thank you.

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