The next women we come across is Rachel. The prophecy that Rachel will weep for her children is fulfilled as Herod has all boys under the age of 2 slaughtered, in his murderous aims to rid himself of the new born king of the Jews.
‘Rachel’ is a personification of Israel, of Jerusalem, but she was also the mother of a nation. The story of Rachel and Jacob (later renamed Israel after fighting with God in a dream), is one of betrayal and hope and above all love.
Rachel’s father deceives her, and although she is promised in marriage to Jacob, it is the elder daughter who is handed over in marriage, and Jacob only realises after he has slept with her (bridal veils have a lot to answer for)! Fortunately this was in a time when it was common place for men to have more than one wife, and after much more trickery, Rachel eventually gets to marry her true love.
However the sisters are pitched against each other instead of being friends and supporting each other, their spend the rest of their lives vying for the love of Jacob. This can be seen in the bearing of children,between them and their servants (who are used as baby machines, sorry surrogates, when their mistresses can’t conceive) 13 children are born, 12 sons and 1 daughter, Dinah (now her story really is quite shocking).
Childbirth gives the women dignity and purpose; Rachel is unable to conceive for many years, and although she is beloved of Jacob, she feels dishonoured. Eventually she gives birth to 2 sons, Joseph who saves Egypt and Israel from famine, and Benjamin, whose tribe the House of David stems from, but Rachel is on in years now and she dies in childbirth.
Before she met Jacob, Rachel was a shepherdess for her father. A difficult, hardy job requiring bravery and a specialist knowledge of her flock and how to enable them to rear safely. Once she married Jacob though, her whole focus was on child rearing, which when it didn’t happen brought bitterness, competitiveness and low self-esteem: being judged and indeed judging herself on her (in) ability to have children. Eventually though, she becomes the ‘Mother of Israel’ – even though she herself only gave birth to 2 sons – and it is as her ‘sons’, are slaughtered that she ‘weeps over Ramah’. Bethlehem is Benjamin’s city and the children Herod murders are therefore her sons and grandsons.
Rachel, and her sister Leah, were judged by their bodies and not their minds. Rachel is the more beautiful sister, but Leah was more fertile. Yet these two women had so much more to offer. We still judge women on outward appearances – I have been criticised for having long blonde hair and not been taken seriously for my ‘youth’ (I’m actually 40!). We need to stop judging people by outward appearances and stereotyping by gender, and look beyond to the calling God has put on each and every person’s life, and encourage, nurture and value it.
Rachel was not just a wife and mother, she was a highly skilled shepherdess; it was her descendent that provided a home on earth for Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep, the Good Shepherd.