We can have a great marriage, a wonderful husband or wife and still be fundamentally unhappy. Rachel is an example of this.
If you live in the West, you probably have a lot of single people in your church, the majority of them women. Many of these are longing for a husband or wife, because they think that this will solve most of the problems in their lives.
My own experience of 42 years is that a good marriage massively enhances the quality of life. Two are better than one, the Bible says – though it also tells us that there are advantages in remaining single. Nevertheless, we can have a great marriage, a wonderful husband or wife and still be fundamentally unhappy. Rachel is an example of this.
Rachel was a stunningly beautiful women, the type that turned men’s heads. She had a husband, Jacob, who loved her passionately until the end of her life. Yet within her marriage she experienced much unhappiness. It began on her wedding night, when her father decided to deceive Jacob and send her older sister into the wedding tent in place of her, because he feared that she was too plain to marry off.
Rachel had to sit through the pain of seven days of wedding festivities for her sister before she could have her husband, and then she had to share him for all of her married life with her sister. Her father was consistently mean to her husband, and one can imagine the tensions and conflicts of loyalties which that created.
Then, to cap it all, she was unable to have children. Even today, this can be a very painful experience – maybe you have shared the journey with a couple trying IVF for the nth time. But in Rachel’s culture infertility was also a badge of shame and disgrace on a woman. She had to stand by and watch her sister giving birth to no less than six sons and one daughter, while she remained childless. The pain for her was so great that it even disrupted the harmony of her marriage. On one occasion she told her husband, “Give me children, or I’ll die!” He became angry with her and said, “Am I in the place of God, who has kept you from having children?” (Genesis 30:1-2).
After a long time Rachel finally did conceive and bore Jacob a son, Joseph – the one with the technicolour dreamcoat. Much later on she gave birth a second son, but the labour was so difficult that she died while giving birth. As she lay there dying she named her son Ben-Oni, which means ‘son of my trouble’ - the words that she used to sum up her life. But Jacob was having none of this; he renamed his youngest son Benjamin, ‘son of my right hand’ (Genesis 35:16-18).
Why was there so much unhappiness in Rachel’s life? There were no doubt many reasons, and we can only surmise them. However, one incident towards the end of her life sheds some light on the matter and helps to explain her premature death. The time came when Jacob got so fed up with his father-in-law’s mistreatment of him that he decided to run away. We can read about this in Genesis 31. His two wives agreed to leave their father and go with him. But Rachel, despite many years of living with Jacob and hearing from him about the one true God, was still attached to her father’s household gods. So, unknown to her husband, she stole these useless idols.
When Laban caught up with Jacob, he wanted his gods back, because without them he could not be prosperous, he figured. Jacob told him, “If you find anyone who has your gods, he (or she) shall not live.” For Jacob had had an encounter with the living God and he wanted nothing to do with idols anywhere in his family. Despite searching everywhere in Jacob’s entourage, Laban could not find the idols. For they were in the saddle which Rachel was sitting on, and she pretended that she could not get up because she was on her period. Laban returned home empty-handed. Neither he nor Jacob knew that it was Rachel who had the idols; but God, he knew it, and he heard the words of the curse which Jacob uttered.
Proverbs 26:2 tells us: like a fluttering sparrow or a darting swallow, an undeserved curse does not come to rest – which is good news for any of us who have been cursed unfairly. But the curse of death which Jacob uttered did come to rest on Rachel, for it was she who had the idols in her possession. Not very long after this we find her dying while giving birth to her second son. Here was a woman who had all the external attributes of beauty and charm, and many other good qualities such as kindness and faithfulness. But her heart led her into idolatry, which then led her into theft and deception, and ultimately to an untimely death.
Maybe we are not the type of people who turn the heads of the opposite sex when we walk down the street – there are few people like that! But every one of us has been given a measure of beauty – external or internal. Let us discover it, and not set our hearts on things which turn us away from the living God, like Rachel did with her idols. Let us follow the advice of the psalmist: Let the king (Jesus) be enthralled by your beauty; honour him, for he is your lord. Then we will know joy and gladness as we enter the palace of the king (Psalm 45:11,15).