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Rachel is Jacob's second wife, but his first choice. She gets to bask in the sunshine of being the favorite wife, so much so that God feels sorry for her sister, Leah, and gives her sons (29:30-31). Leah becomes a real baby-making machine while Rachel endures the cultural stigma of being childless. Ouch.
Enter the green-eyed monster.
Rachel, terribly jealous, throws a temper-tantrum, saying, "Give me children, or I shall die!" (30:1 NRSV). Kind of extreme, but when that doesn't solve her problems (surprise!), she asks her husband to take her handmaiden as his third wife (30:4). The catch? Any kiddos the maid has count on Rachel's tally sheet (30:6-8).
Her plan works and her maid gets pregnant. This sets off a tit-for-tat contest with Leah, who sends her maid into Jacob's tent, chalking up wife number four for the stud (30:9). Rachel might be able to fool a distant observer, but she's not really satisfied with this surrogate mother arrangement. She even goes so far as to sell a night with their husband to her sister, Leah, in exchange for an aphrodisiac plant called a mandrake thought to stimulate conception (30:14-16).
Whew—things are getting crazy in the soap opera we call Genesis.
Finally, not because of meltdowns or manipulation, but because the deity takes pity on her (30:22), Rachel bears a son, Joseph, who becomes daddy's golden child and gets the best clothes to boot (37:3). Later, Rachel gives birth once more, to Benjamin, while they're migrating to Jacob's homeland. Rachel gets the sons she's always wanted, but in a sad twist on her earlier threat that she'll die if she can't conceive, childbirth takes her life (35:16-18).
True to the rest of the soap opera, Rachel also inherits the family gene for conniving.
When they're on their way out of Dodge, leaving her father's land to travel to her husband's, Rachel's fingers get a bit sticky with the household gods in her dad's tent (31:19). And when Laban discovers the missing loot and comes looking, she uses the oldest trick in the book not to get caught. The idols stuffed neatly in the saddle bags under her first class seat on the camel, she tells papa she can't come down because it's her time of the month (31:33-35).
We couldn't make this stuff up if we tried.
Bottom line: this might be a patriarchal society, but women like Rachel fend for themselves and take matters into their own hands. And hey, they even win God's favor. Fancy that.