rachel was the first woman in the Bible to die while giving birth to a child. Her story reveals how deception can spawn tragedy. In rachel's family, the deception was between father and daughter, but in the family of Jacob (rachel's husband), the deception occurred between mother and son.
Rachel's name, which means “ewe,” was given to her by her father Laban, who owned sheep. She fell in love with Jacob, the youngest son of Isaac and Rebekah, when she saw him approaching the well where she often drew water for the sheep.
Jacob had fled his parents' home after he and his mother had deceived the aging and nearly blind Isaac, when he approached the well. Isaac had told Jacob not to take a wife from the Canaanite women, but rather to choose from among Laban's daughters (Laban was rebekah's brother, and Rachel and Leah were Jacob's cousins). The chance meeting at the well between Jacob and rachel seemed to be divinely ordained. The two experienced an instant attraction and soon Jacob sought Laban's permission to marry rachel. Laban saw how the love between his daughter and Jacob could work out well for him. He forced Jacob to labor for him for seven years in exchange for agreeing to the marriage.
As her wedding day approached, rachel did not know the devious scheme that her father and older sister Leah had worked out. Leah disguised herself in rachel's wedding garments, married Jacob, and spent the wedding night with the new groom. only when the sun rose the next day did Jacob discover he had been tricked; it was too late to undo the marriage. After about a week, Laban offered rachel to Jacob if Jacob would agree to work for Laban for an additional seven years. It was a harsh pact, but Jacob's desire for rachel was so great, he agreed to it.
Rachel stood by as her sister Leah conceived and bore six sons and a daughter by Jacob. Eventually, Rachel also married Jacob, but unlike her sister, she could not conceive. She cried out in anguish, “Give me children, or else I die” (Genesis 30:1). In desperation, she gave her maid Bilhah to Jacob to bear children for her. Bilhah bore two sons — Dan and Napthali. Rachel eventually conceived and bore a son that she named Joseph, and another son named Benjamin.
Rachel at the well
The family was the keystone of ancient Hebrew society, and the tribe was simply an extension of the family on a larger scale. Family size quickly increased in many cases due to polygamy, the practice of men taking multiple wives, as Jacob did when he married Leah and Rachel and had children by their handmaidens.
After serving out the allotted time to Laban as a laborer, Jacob, who had increased his and Laban's wealth, asked for release. Having received inspiration from God, Jacob wished to return to the land of his family, and to rebuild his relationship with his brother Esau. rachel desired that they would continue to prosper in their new life. Without telling Jacob, she stole some small religious idols from her father's house. outraged at finding the idols gone, Laban believed Jacob was the thief. He set out to find him.
Rachel, upon seeing her father approaching their camp along the road, hid the idols in a saddle bag on a horse, and then climbed onto the saddle. On the pretext of having her monthly period, Rachel refused to dismount.
Jacob, unaware that rachel had taken the idols, asked Laban what he had done to cause Laban to pursue him. Jacob went on to remind Laban of all that he had done during two decades, “Thus have I been twenty years in thy house; I served thee fourteen years for thy two daughters, and six years for thy cattle: and thou hast changed my wages ten times” (Genesis 31:41). Jacob's quiet reasoning cooled Laban's rage. Jacob offered a sacrifice and invited Laban and those with him to eat. The next day, Laban and his companions left.
Eventually, rachel became pregnant again. The labor was extremely difficult. She gave birth to a son, calling him Ben-oni (Son of My Sorrow), just before dying. rachel, the woman who had cried out “give me children or else I die” perished in childbirth. Her husband changed the newborn's name to Benjamin (Son of Happy omen), and buried rachel on the way to Ephrath in Bethlehem. He built a monument on the road at the place where he buried her, with eleven stones put there by rachel's sons. The largest stone was set into place by Jacob.