Rachel and Leah

 •  6 min. read  •  grade level: 12
Family Character and Grace
In a previous issue of The Christian (September 2019), we have considered the family character of Rebekah, which she passed on to her younger son Jacob. In looking chronologically further at women in Scripture, we come upon Rachel and Leah, who were part of the same family. They became the wives of Jacob, but they were actually his first cousins, daughters of Rebekah’s brother Laban. They too display this family character, and it is instructive to see how it is exhibited.
The story is well-known of how Jacob was compelled to leave his home to escape the wrath of his brother Esau, whom he had cheated out of the blessing belonging to him as the elder son. He flees to Haran, to his mother’s brother, and falls in love with his younger daughter Rachel. He strikes a bargain with Laban to work for him for seven years to obtain Rachel, of whom Scripture says that she was “of beautiful form and beautiful countenance” (Gen. 29:1717Leah was tender eyed; but Rachel was beautiful and well favored. (Genesis 29:17) JND). Of her older sister Leah, Scripture says, “The eyes of Leah were tender [or weak]” (Gen. 29:1717Leah was tender eyed; but Rachel was beautiful and well favored. (Genesis 29:17) JND).
Schemes and Deceptions
Here begins a sad history of scheming and deception on Laban’s part, but allowed on God’s part to teach Jacob a much-needed lesson. However, we are here dealing with Rachel and Leah. After working for seven years, Jacob claims Rachel as his wife, but in order to gain another seven years of “free” labor from Jacob, Laban gives Leah to Jacob — a trick that he does not discover until the morning after the wedding feast, because Leah would, no doubt, have been veiled at the wedding. While we allow for the obedience Leah might have felt was due to her father, yet she must have been party to this cruel scheme, and she could have alerted Jacob before the marriage had been consummated. All this bears sad fruit later on, as both she and her sister Rachel are evidently estranged from their father, again due to his avarice. Many years later, when Jacob proposes to them to leave Haran, they respond, “Are we not counted of him [Laban] strangers? for he hath sold us, and hath quite devoured our money” (Gen. 31:1515Are we not counted of him strangers? for he hath sold us, and hath quite devoured also our money. (Genesis 31:15)). The normal relationship between their father and themselves had been soured by covetous dealings on Laban’s part.
In the case of Rachel, her character is in some ways worse than that of Leah. Although she had captured Jacob’s heart with her physical beauty, there remained a sinful aspect of her character that displayed itself on more than one occasion. When the Lord blessed Leah with children, Rachel, overcome with envy, blamed her husband for her failure to conceive. Then, after giving Jacob her maid, Bilhah, who bore two sons, her comment was, “With great wrestling have I wrestled with my sister, and I have prevailed” (Gen. 30:88And Rachel said, With great wrestlings have I wrestled with my sister, and I have prevailed: and she called his name Naphtali. (Genesis 30:8)).
Later, she is guilty of a much greater sin, for when Jacob and his family secretly “stole away unawares” from Laban, she stole the heathen gods belonging to her father. Here were two serious sins — valuing heathen images instead of worshiping the true God and resorting to stealing them from her father, quite possibly in an attempt to “even the score” for Laban’s injustices toward her. But another sin was to come, for later, when Laban pursued after Jacob and accused him of stealing these gods, Rachel lied to him, having hidden them in the camel’s furniture and sat on them. Jacob had pronounced a death sentence on the one with whom these gods were found, not knowing that his beloved Rachel was the guilty one. No doubt they were discovered later, for we find Jacob getting before the Lord about the matter and eventually telling his family, “Put away the strange gods that are among you” (Gen. 35:22Then Jacob said unto his household, and to all that were with him, Put away the strange gods that are among you, and be clean, and change your garments: (Genesis 35:2)).
If there were any repentance on Rachel’s part, it is not recorded in Scripture, and we cannot help but feel that her subsequent dying in childbirth may well have been the government of God upon her. However, the event was evidently used of God to restore Jacob, for while Rachel called the son born to her Benoni (“son of my sorrow”), Jacob renames him Benjamin (“son of the right hand”).
In all this display of sinful family character, we also see God’s grace coming in. God had His eye not only on Jacob, but also on Leah and Rachel. Leah, the one who was part of Laban’s deception and who later desperately vies with Rachel for Jacob’s affection, is the mother of six of Jacob’s sons and also of his daughter Dinah. Among her sons is Judah, the father of the royal tribe, who exhibits to us an example of extreme sin, but then wonderful repentance and restoration. This only adds to Leah as a type of the church, which was not the first to be chosen of God (in time), but which is the first to be brought into blessing on the ground of grace. She does not have the natural appeal of Israel, for we read in 1 Corinthians 1:2626For ye see your calling, brethren, how that not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called: (1 Corinthians 1:26), “Ye see your calling, brethren, how that not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called.” No, for “God hath chosen ... the weak things of the world” and “base things” and “things which are despised” (vss. 27-28) to make up His church. But all this only abounds to God’s glory.
Types of Israel
However, God has not forgotten His earthly people. Rachel, a type of Israel, also comes into blessing on the ground of grace. Israel is not required to suffer the full penalty of her idolatry and lying, but rather is forgiven. Both of her sons are types of Christ. Joseph, her firstborn, is probably the most beautiful type of our Lord Jesus in the Old Testament, suffering wrongfully from both his own family and also from the Gentiles, but then raised up to the highest glory among the Gentiles. Benjamin is also a type of Christ, but in the character of the One who carries out judgment on the earth in a coming day. Thus, in the blessings of his sons, Jacob could say of Benjamin, “Benjamin shall ravin as a wolf: in the morning he shall devour the prey, and at night he shall divide the spoil” (Gen. 49:2727Benjamin shall ravin as a wolf: in the morning he shall devour the prey, and at night he shall divide the spoil. (Genesis 49:27)). It is for this reason that Joseph and Benjamin are brought together in these blessings of Jacob, for jointly they complete the type of Christ. First He must suffer and then be exalted, but then He must carry out judgment before He can reign in righteousness.
Rachel, the first loved on earth, comes into blessing after Leah, a type of the church, but both are eventually blessed purely on the ground of grace. In this day of God’s grace, their sin is a warning for us not to allow a sinful family character to overshadow our lives, while in their blessing we see God’s grace overabounding, for “where sin abounded, grace did much more abound” (Rom. 5:2020Moreover the law entered, that the offence might abound. But where sin abounded, grace did much more abound: (Romans 5:20)).
W. J. Prost