The character of Rachel in the Bible stands out as one of the most memorable women.
She is often used as an example of faith, godly motherhood, fervent prayer, and a prophetess.
I believe she was all of this and so much more that we don’t often discuss.
In this post we discuss the real and raw woman that was Rachel.
Let’s talk about the good, the bad and the ugly of this giant in the Scriptures.
The story of Rachel in the Bible
The love story of Rachel and Jacob is the perfect example of a romantic tragedy.
The Bible verses which tell the story of Rachel begin in Genesis 29 and continue through Genesis 35.
Her story is interwoven with Leah’s and Jacob’s. I have talked about them in separate posts.
In summary, after Jacob ran away from home, he headed for his uncle’s house.
When he arrived at the place, the first friendly face he saw was Rachel’s.
It was love at first sight.
She brought him home to her father, Laban, who happily received him.
Jacob expressed interest in marrying Rachel. But having left home without money, he couldn’t afford the bride price.
Since he was family, Laban entered a contract with him. The deal was that Jacob would work 7 years as the bride price for Rachel’s hand in marriage.
The 7 years passed and the wedding happened. Early the morning following the honeymoon, Jacob realized that Laban had given Rachel’s sister, Leah, instead.
Laban deceived Jacob.
They agreed on another deal. Jacob would work 7 more years for Rachel. The following week he married Rachel and worked the next 7 years for her.
With both sisters being married to the same man, the household became contentious.
As we go through this study, we will explore the details that made Rachel’s life difficult, how it shaped her characteristics and the lessons we can learn from her life.
Positive characteristics of Rachel in the Bible
There were alot of wonderful qualities about Rachel. Let’s explore some of them.
Rachel was extremely attractive
The Bible describes Rachel as being one of the prettiest and most physically attractive women of the Scriptures
Genesis 29:17 in the KJV says
Leah’s eyes were delicate, but Rachel was beautiful of form and appearance.
Today we would say Rachel is easy on the eyes. It would seem like she had the same kind of beauty as Rebekah, her aunt.
Rachel not only had a pretty face but she also had a lovely figure. Jacob fell in love with her the moment he saw her.
Men very often choose women who favor their mothers. It may be no coincidence that Jacob was bitten by the love bug when he saw Rachel for the first time.
Rachel was a shepherdess and a hard worker
When Jacob arrived in Haran at a particular place, the Bible says,
Rachel arrived with her father’s sheep, for she was a shepherdess. Genesis 29:9
When Moses met Zipporah for the first, she was also doing the same kind of work
As the younger daughter, it was Rachel’s job to take the flock out to pasture, watch them, treat minor injuries, water them and then tuck them away at night in their shelter.
The work of a shepherdess for young girls was meant to develop a sense of discipline, responsibility and independence in preparation for marriage.
Rachel’s family trusted her with this task. This tells us that she was hardworking and responsible.
Rachel was a woman of faith and a prayer warrior
Rachel was a sure prayer warrior. She was barren and she felt that God was withholding the blessing of children from her.
In those days, since there were no medical explanations and scientific knowledge about why women could not get pregnant, the primary remedy for infertility was prayer.
Rachel no doubt pleaded with God night and day to do something about her childless state.
Like Hannah, her anguish was so great that she felt like she would die.
Then God remembered Rachel; he listened to her and opened her womb. She became pregnant and gave birth to a son and said, “God has taken away my disgrace.” (Genesis 30:22-23)
When Joseph was born, she acknowledged that God had taken away her reproach.
Also, with each success she experienced with the birth of a son through her handmaid, she acknowledged it as a blessing from God.
Rachel was persistent
One of the qualities of competitive people is that they never give up. We see this in Rachel. She was very persistent.
The strength of Rachel is seen in her unwillingness to give up. With that came her ability to think up solutions, to negotiate with her sister for the mandrake.
And she never stopped praying and trying to get pregnant. Rachel had her ways but she was a real fighter.
With all the dirt she must have gotten from her sister and others about her barrenness, she managed to keep going.
Rachel was no joke. She was no pushover. A real tough cookie to crack.
She was a strong woman with a ferocious and stubborn spirit and a will as unrelenting as the rains of a thunderstorm.
Negative characteristics of Rachel in the Bible
There were lots of really great qualities of Rachel but she also had some not-so-good things about her. It might almost seem that the bad outweighed to good.
Rachel was deeply envious and very hateful
Life brings out the worst in Rachel. As she saw her sister having child after child after child, the green-eyed monster rose up inside her.
In Bible times, motherhood was the main role of married women. Children were seen as the greatest blessing and the primary purpose of a marriage was to bring children into the world.
So to not be able to do the one thing that was expected of her produced great distress and shame.
Being barren was socially stigmatized like those today who have disabilities. There were both social and economic implications.
Having children ensured a workforce for the family to generate and sustain wealth. People would have looked at her with disdain.
When Rachel saw that she was not bearing Jacob any children, she became jealous of her sister. Genesis 30:1
Rachel just could not stand to see her sister enjoying what seemed impossible to her.
Rachel was terribly insecure
Rachel stood to lose her status, position, and value in her home, family and community.
Men were permitted to divorce their wives if they had no children up to 10 years after their marriage. Her future was at stake here.
Although there is no evidence that Jacob wanted to part with Rachel, the fact that Leah bore children elevated her status in the eyes of her family and community.
Being barren was seen as God’s doing. When Rachel accosted Jacob, he said
Am I in the place of God who has withheld from you the fruit of the womb? (Genesis 30:2)
Rachel would have felt that she had committed some great sin that caused God to forget her.
She likely saw her sister as being favored by God but herself as unfavored.
This situation worsened an already bad situation as her father had given her husband to Leah first.
All of these different things combined made Rachel feel insecure.
Rachel was desperate and in poor mental health
After maybe about 14 years or so, Rachel’s identity as a woman is absolutely fragile.
In a culture where having children, especially sons, defined who you were, Rachel wouldn’t have been seen favorably among women.
The disgrace and shame was real. The insecurity in her own female skin was so real.
She said to Jacob:
Give me children or I will die. (Genesis 30:1)
Does this sound like someone in a healthy state of mind?
She had her husband’s full affection, unlike her sister Leah. But that was not enough. Every time she saw her nieces and nephews, she felt inferior.
There is also a very great possibility that Leah used it to insult her. Hannah faced the same difficulty at home from Penninah.
For Rachel, it didn’t matter that her husband loved her with his whole being. It mattered that the one thing that she should have been able to do as a woman wasn’t happening.
The situation transformed Rachel into a desperate, competitive woman who wasn’t comfortable in her own skin, despite her regal beauty.
Here was a woman who had all the physical beauty a woman could hope for but whose heart was turning to stone.
made her unkind, vicious, desperate, and competitive. (More on this later.)
Rachel was competitive in an unhealthy way
When Rachel saw that Leah had given birth to 4 children, she decided to get a child of her own through her handmaid.
This began the baby competition.
Rachel was a woman of faith but her spiritual relationship didn’t transfer to the situation she had found herself in.
Rachel became competitive and with each child born to her, she claimed victory over her sister.
Then Rachel said, “I have had a great struggle with my sister, and I have won.” So she named him Naphtali. (Genesis 30:8)
The idea of a great struggle here means to wrestle or fight.
But a kind of fight that is messy and ugly. Worse than a cat fight kind of thing.
These children were born, not out of an expression of love or a true desire for motherhood.
They were trophies for one sister to wave over the head of the other.
Not just that.
Her handmaid was pulled into this competition and became an innocent bystander of the brutal battle between Rachel and Leah.
Lives were being affected and the impact would be seen for generations.
Just check out Joseph’s story and you’ll see a tiny bit.
Rachel was discontent and dissatisfied
So Rachel becomes a mother twice over through her handmaid.
But she still wanted her own.
I wouldn’t argue with this. I’m a woman. I know there is hardly anything that could replace the experience of pregnancy and birthing your own baby.
This is the problem: as soon as Rachel gave birth to Joseph, she wanted more.
She named him Joseph, and said, “May the LORD add to me another son. (Genesis 30:24)
There is a perspective that this statement made by Rachel was a prophecy but that is not do.
This statement was the expression of a desire for more sons which would have allowed to gain ground in the baby battle against her sister.
Notice that she asked for another son. This is very important. If she had more boy babies, she would become closer to being superior to Leah.
Her statement was more of a prayer, if anything.
There is something about discontentment and dissatisfaction that makes a person generally unhappy with the state of their life.
It’s hard to be grateful in discontentment.
Rachel was a trickster
In true family style, Rachel followed in the footsteps of her aunt Rebekah, her husband Jacob and her father Laban.
When Jacob decided to leave his life at Laban, he took his entire family.
Wives, children, livestock, servants.
But Rachel took something that didn’t belong to her.
She stole her father’s gods. We are not sure why she took them.
It could be that she worshipped many gods or maybe she intended to spite her father who did not allow her any of the dowry or inheritance.
Whatever, the reason they did not belong to her and she shouldn’t have taken them.
Being in possession of them was a sign of power in the home. Taking them away was a demonstration of taking authority from her father.
And to make matters worse, she hid them under her and sat over them claiming to be having her period.
Jacob had no clue that she had done this thing. This got Jacob into some serious trouble with Laban but she never came forward with the truth.
Rachel had the dreadful trait of deceit and trickery that ran in her family. And it might have cost her an early death.
When Laban accused Jacob of this theft, Jacob declared:
But if you find anyone who has your gods, that person shall not live…(Genesis 31:32a)
Some people think that Rachel’s early death might have been a fulfillment of Jacob’s words.
Because words have more power than we realize.
What can we learn from Rachel in the Bible?
So far we see that Rachel had both good and bad characteristics. And who doesn’t?
The life lessons from Rachel in the Bible are many. Let’s explore a few.
Rachel teaches us that believers are people too.
Let me explain.
As I studied Rachel’s characteristics, I was tempted to judge her.
It seemed like there were more negative than positive qualities.
Then it struck me…
Our human nature is so vulnerable to the stresses and circumstances of life.
Like Rachel, anyone can easily give in to unpleasant situations and allow themselves to be influenced in really awful ways.
Which takes me to my next point…
Rachel teaches us that we should not allow bad situations to change us
Rachel is a good example of what not to become.
Rachel allowed her situation at home to turn her into a competitive, desperate woman.
I don’t know that it has helped any situation to become bitter and angry, even at an enemy.
How about you? Do you know the parable of the carrot, egg, and coffee bean?
How are you allowing an unfavorable situation to shape who you become?
You can choose to be other than what would be expected. Know that the trying of your faith works patience (James 1:3-4).
God isn’t trying to harden you. He’s wanting to bring you closer to him.
Rachel reminds us that godliness with contentment is great gain
Even the moment Joseph is born, Rachel isn’t satisfied. She wants more.
Her lack of contentment does her in. While giving birth to her second son, she died.
Sometimes, just sometimes, contentment serves us better.
So God answered a prayer for you to get another degree, another certification, another side hustle, another promotion, another piece of property. OK.
So how many or how much will be enough to bring you to a place of contentment. How many more degrees and certificates?
How many more promotions? How many more side hustles?
Godliness with contentment is great gain. Sometimes this yearning for more and more will lead us to killing ourselves.
And even if we do not die, something in our life does. Our marriage. A deep relationship with friends and family. Our spiritual walk.
Something or someone will suffer.
Benjamin grew up without knowing his biological mother.
And Joseph misses out as well. Maybe it wouldn’t have been so easy for his brothers to sell him into slavery if his mom were alive.
Rachel teaches us that the things we use to define ourselves drive the decisions we make
Rachel’s identity was tangled up with becoming a mother. This defined many of the decisions she made.
Giving her servant to her husband had nothing to do with love.
Jacob already had children via Leah. He didn’t need to have more. Although in those days the more the merrier.
But here’s the thing, Rachel was being driven by the wrong kind of motives. Even after the servant birthed 2 sons, Rachel isn’t satisfied.
Although those children were hers by culture, this was not enough.
Rachel still felt empty. The criteria that she had set for her identity was not fulfilled.
So she kept making decisions towards accomplishing that.
But how much was she thinking about the impact of those decisions?
Stop and think for a moment how hard life must be for someone who cannot be content.
We can learn from Rachel that our choices don’t just affect us
Our choices affect other people. Think about the handmaids who got caught in the crossfire between the sisters.
They waited on these women hand and foot. They were even given to Jacob, to have children they could never own.
This wasn’t a case that they were wives who were loved and dotted on.
This home was filled with rivalry and competition. It could not have been a healthy place for the boys. Think also about how it affected generations.
Just think about your own family and how the decisions of your grandparents and parents have affected your life.
God will show up for His children, no matter their character
We have seen that Rachel wasn’t the kindest person to live with. But, God shows up for Rachel anyway.
He relented to her persistent prayers of faith for a baby. He allowed her to experience motherhood from her own womb.
God shows up even for those who don’t have the purest hearts or intentions.
Because they too belong to him.
He rains on the just and the unjust (Matthew 5:45). He’s sovereign God and He does not cherry pick those who are to be blessed.
None of us is more deserving than the other of the blessings we get.
God isn’t like Santa Claus. God shows up for all His children whether we are naughty or nice.
God works everything for good
Yes, Rachel and Leah had a horrible relationship.
Yes, the baby competition was nasty.
But look at God….
The promise God made to Abraham to make of him a great nation really began to take off in this unpleasant situation.
The 12 boys born from this feud became the 12 tribes of Israel.
Ruth 4:11 says
Then the elders and all the people at the gate said, “We are witnesses. May the LORD make the woman who is coming into your home like Rachel and Leah, who together built up the family of Israel…
If anyone knows just how to make the best of a bad situation, God does!
Only God knows how to bring out the beauty from the broken.
So whatever horrible situation you find yourself in right now, look for God to fulfill a promise He made to you.
How’s that for some encouragement?
Facts about Rachel in the Bible
Here are some other details about Rachel to add to your Bible knowledge.
Meaning of Rachel in the Bible
The name Rachel means “ewe”. She may be one of the only persons in the Bible whose name comes from an animal!
It is meant to be an affectionate title. It symbolized prosperity.
Scholars say her father probably named her when he considered the tenderness with which he had to handle the lambs in his flock.
Family relations of Rachel in the Bible
Rachel and Jacob were cousins. Rachel’s father Laban was the brother of Rebekah, Jacob mother. This means Jacob was Laban’s nephew.
How old was Rachel when she died
Various Jewish sources say Rachel died at age 36 and other sources say age 45. Whatever the case, she died young.
When you consider that her husband Jacob died at 147 years old, Rachel really didn’t have a long life.
Rachel was the first woman in the Bible to have been listed to die in childbirth.
She died leaving two sons, one of them a baby, and a broken-hearted husband.
Who are well-known descendants of Rachel
Joseph and Benjamin, her two birth sons became two of the 12 tribes of Israel.
King Saul, the very first king in Israel, was one of the descendants of Rachel.
He was born from the tribe of Benjamin. This was the son whom Rachel birthed and then passed away.
The Significance of Rachel in the Bible
As Rachel is dying from childbirth, she gives her son a name Benoni, which means sorrow.
Although Jacob renamed him, in other places in the Scriptures, Rachel’s sorrow is remembered.
In fact, she is used to symbolize acts of violence against innocent people and children.
This is what the Lord says: “A voice is heard in Ramah, mourning and great weeping, Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted, because they are no more.” Jeremiah 31:15
In Jewish religious culture, she is a symbol of prayer.
Final words on Rachel in the Bible
Wow…. this study was so deep. Packed with a ton of valuable life lessons. Rachel did not possess many of the qualities we thought she did.
Yes, she was a woman of faith and a prayer warrior but much of that spiritual energy was used to fuel self-interest. She died young. And this is always very sad.
I hope that as you reflect on her character, you will not only be reminded of God’s goodness but that you will also be challenged to live above the challenges of your life.
As you are working or driving, find yourself a sermon on Rachel in the Bible to continue soaking in lessons from her life.