Women of the Bible - Rachel and Leah Women Who Gave Birth to a Nation by Kathryn Capoccia Young Adults Sunday School Class All Scripture references are taken from the HOLY BIBLE: NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION (C) 1978 by the New York Bible Society, used by permission of Zondervan Bible Publishers. © Copyright Kathy Capoccia 2000. This file may be freely copied, printed out, and distributed as long as copyright and source statements remain intact, and that it is not sold. I. Introduction A. Prayer Requests B. Review of Last Week's Lesson/Verse II. Character Profile: Rachel and Leah, Women Who Gave Birth to a Nation A. Who Were They? (read GEN 29-33; 35:16-26; 37:10; 46:22,25; 48:7; 49:31; RTH 4:11; 1SA 10:2; JER 31:15; MAT 2:18). 1. What Were Their Names? Rachel means "ewe", and Leah means "cow". 2. When Did They Live? They lived in the days of the Patriarchs (dated anywhere from the 18th century B.C. to the 14th century B.C.). 3. Where Did They Live? They lived in Haran in Paddan Aram (GEN 29:1,4). Later (at least 13 yrs. after their marriages) they lived in Canaan. Rachel died in childbirth on the way from Bethel (in central Canaan W. of the Jordan River about 20 mi. N. of Jerusalem) to Ephrath, which is also called Bethlehem (around 12 mi. W. and 2 mi. S. the northern tip of the Dead Sea: GEN 35:16-20). 4. Who Were Their People? a) they were Aramaeans; these people were of Semetic origin (from Shem) who populated regions in Mesopotamia and Syria. Haran and Nahor were Aramaean cities in the Balikh Valley of northwestern Mesopotamia. *This information came from "The Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible" (1975), vol.1, pg. 246. b) they were sisters: Leah, the older, had "weak eyes"; Rachel, the younger, was beautiful (GEN 29:17). c) their father was Laban, brother of Rebekah (Isaac's wife)- a man who practiced divination (GEN 30:27), kept idols in his home (GEN 31:30), acknowledged the existence of the true God but did not honor Him as God (GEN 31:53); a man who deceived Jacob (GEN 29:22-30) and tried to cheat him (GEN 31:7), and who never gave his daughters any part of their own dowries (GEN 31:15). d) their great-grandfather was Nahor, brother of Abraham. e) their first cousins were Esau and Jacob. 5. Were They Believers? a) Leah: yes- 1) God gave her children to compensate for being unloved (GEN 29:31). 2) She named her children names that spoke about God's working in answer to her petitions. b) Rachel: yes, though she made many mistakes- 1) when she was barren she demanded that Jacob give her children (GEN 30:1) and resorted to using mandrake plants as a fertility drug (GEN 30:14,15). 2) she stole idols from her father's house and brought them with her when the family left Laban's camp (GEN 31:19,34). 3) she lied to and deceived her father to conceal her theft (GEN 31:34,35). BUT: 4) she prayed for a son and God answered her (GEN 30:22). 5) when she became pregnant she acknowledged that God had done it and she named her fist son "God shall add" saying, "May the LORD add to me another son" (GEN 30:22-24). 6. Who Were They Married To? (GEN 29:25,28) They were both married to their cousin, Jacob (lit. "he grasps the heel" or figuratively, "deceiver"). a) Jacob's family life: 1) Jacob was a twin to older brother Esau, but he had been promised the rights of the first born by God (GEN 25:23). 2) In order to secure his rights Jacob resorted to deceptive and fleshly means: a] he bought the inheritance rights from Esau with food one day when Esau felt that he was starving (GEN 25:29-34). b] he stole Esau's blessing (which was a verbal will) from their father, Isaac, by impersonating Esau to their blind father (GEN 27:1-29). 3) Jacob fled to his mother Rebekah's family in Haran because Esau was furious with him and planned to kill him when their father died (GEN 27:41-45). b) Jacob's spiritual life: 1) his mother, Rebekah, and father, Isaac, were believers in the true God and were blessed and protected by Him (GEN 24, 25:19-28, 26:1-14,22-32, 27). 2) he had witnessed the grief that ensued when his brother, Esau, had married idolatrous women (GEN 26:34,35). 3) he had had a dream about a stairway to Heaven at Bethel while traveling to Haran and came into a personal relationship of faith in and submission to God (GEN 28:20,21). 4) God instructed him in how to practice selective breeding and gave Jacob Laban's wealth through it (GEN 31:8-12). 5) God appeared to Jacob in a dream and told him to leave Laban's camp and return to Canaan (GEN 31:3,13). 6) Jacob met the angels of God on the way to Canaan at Mahanaim (GEN 32:1,2). 7) Jacob wrestled with God Himself, spiritually in prayer and physically with the angel of God (a theophany) and was named "Israel" ("he fights or persists with God") at Peniel (GEN 32:9-13,24-30). 8) God instructed Jacob to journey to Bethel and worship Him there and Jacob cleansed his camp of idols (GEN 35:1-4). B. What Did They Do? 1. They Were Co-Wives. a) Rachel was promised to Jacob as wife (GEN 29:14-20). 1) Jacob was sent to Haran for a wife (GEN 28:1-5). a] Jacob had estranged himself from his family, especially his brother Esau, so his father, Isaac, sent Jacob to Haran ostensibly to look for a wife from Abraham's family there (GEN 27:1-46; 28:1-5,10). i] the distance from Beersheba, Isaac's camp, to Haran was approximately 500 miles. ii] the trip from Beersheba to Haran (Paddan Aram or North-West Mesopotamia) would have taken perhaps a month since a day's journey was normally twenty to thirty miles, or longer if there were a large company traveling together at the rate of ten miles a day. iii] the trip was probably accomplished on the back of some animal in the company of others (a caravan) with a guide who knew the way and the water sources. iv] traveling was considered dangerous and arduous and, in order to escape the intense heat and possible robbers, travel was often done at night with the guide navigating by the stars. *this information came from "Manners and Customs of Bible Lands", by Fred H. Wight, Moody Press, 1953, pgs. 270,271. b] Jacob arrived in the vicinity of Haran near a well where shepherds were gathering with their flocks and inquired about Laban, Abraham's great nephew and his own mother's brother (GEN 29:1-5). i] it was still high day and the shepherds were gathering at the well (when normally flocks would have been in the fields until the end of the day.) ii] a large stone lay over the well which prevented the shepherds from watering their flocks before all the flocks had gathered and the shepherds corporately moved the stone. c] The shepherds identified one of Laban's family members as being nearby, a shepherdess, Rachel, who was Laban's daughter (GEN 29:6). i] Jacob saw Rachel and rolled the stone away and then watered Laban's flock (GEN 29:10). WHY WOULD JACOB HAVE MOVED THE STONE BY HIMSELF AND NOT WAITED FOR THE OTHERS TO DO IT FOR THEMSELVES? *Perhaps he only wanted to be kind; perhaps he wanted to impress Rachel with his strength and consideration. ii] Jacob kissed Rachel in greeting and wept for joy over her (GEN 29:11). -- it was common to greet a relative with kisses -- weeping was a common sign of joyful emotion in the Middle East. iii] Jacob explained his kinship to her, and she told Laban who then invited Jacob home and acknowledged their relationship (GEN 29:13,14). 2) Jacob loved Rachel and asked to marry her (GEN 29:18). a] Jacob wanted to marry Rachel. i] Jacob was 77 years old and had never married (Isaac was 60 yrs. old when Jacob was born, GEN 25:26; he was 137 yrs. old at the time of Jacob's deception, "The Ryrie Study Bible" notes on GEN 27:2, pg.49: thus Jacob was 77). ii] Jacob was in love with Rachel (GEN 29:18). iii] Rachel was "lovely in form and beautiful" (GEN 29:17). *this is the same phrase that was used of Rebecca and Esther, both beautiful women. b] Jacob arranged to marry Rachel (GEN 29:15-18). GEN 29:18 "Jacob was in love with Rachel and said, 'I'll work for you seven years in return for your younger daughter Rachel.'" i] Jacob offered to work as a "dowry" for Rachel (GEN 29:18). -- It was customary for a groom to pay a "dowry" or "bride price" to a woman's family to compensate them for the loss of their daughter. The dowry did not have to be in cash: it could be in the form of service (see 1SA 18:25 where David killed 100 Philistines as his dowry). -- A woman was expected to receive some of the dowry money for herself (although Laban never gave any dowry to either Rachel or Leah: GEN 31:15). -- A woman was also given a special wedding dowry from her father if he could afford it; Rebecca's father gave her a nurse and attendants (GEN 24:59), and Caleb gave his daughter a field with water (JUD 1:15); Laban gave Leah a maid, Zilpah, and Rachel a maid, Bilhah (GEN 29:24,29). *This information came from "Manners and Customs of Bible Lands, by Fred H. Wight, pgs. 127-129. *It's interesting to note that Jacob offered to work for seven years because that term of service became the standard length of time under the Law for a Hebrew slave to serve until he obtained his freedom from his countryman. ii] Laban agreed to the terms of the offer (GEN 29:19). GEN 29:19 Laban said, "It's better that I give her to you than to some other man. Stay here with me." 3) Rachel and Leah became Jacob's wives. a] Jacob completed the terms of his betrothal. i] Jacob served Laban for seven years (GEN 29:20). ii] Jacob anticipated his wedding so much that the toil was not a burden (GEN 29:20). GEN 29:20 "So Jacob served seven years to get Rachel, but they seemed like only a few days to him because of his love for her." b] Laban substituted Leah (GEN 29:22). i] Jacob asked for his wife to be given to him upon the completion of his term (GEN 29:21). ii] Laban gave the customary wedding feast but delivered Leah to Jacob instead of Rachel (GEN 29:22-24). WHY WOULD LABAN HAVE COMMITTED SUCH A DECEPTION? -it may have truly been customary to have the older daughter marry before the younger as Laban claimed (GEN 29:26). -it may have been Laban's opportunity to get unattractive Leah a husband as well as one for attractive Rachel. -it may have been God's discipline upon Jacob for having deceived both his father and brother. HOW COULD JACOB NOT HAVE NOTICED THE SWITCH? -- wedding feasts normally included much wine drinking. -- Jacob's bride was brought to him when it was dark (GEN 29:23). -- A bride's silence on her wedding night was a Middle Eastern wedding tradition (this is from "All the Women of the Bible", by Herbert Lockyer, Zondervan Publishing House, pg. 82). -- Leah probably would have worn a heavy veil which Middle Eastern women commonly wore. -- Leah may have had a bodily resemblance to Rachel (except for her eyes: GEN 29:17). -- Leah undoubtedly concealed her identity. iii] Jacob consummated their marriage that night (GEN 29:23). c] Jacob married Rachel as well (GEN 29:27-30). i] the deception with Leah was discovered (GEN 29:25). GEN 29:25 "When morning came, there was Leah!" *the morning's light revealed the identity of his wife as being Leah. ii] Laban was confronted (GEN 29:25). GEN 29:25,26 "So Jacob said to Laban, 'What is this you have done to me? I served you for Rachel, didn't I? Why have you deceived me?'" *Jacob rightfully protested and accused Laban of deception. GEN 29:26 "Laban replied, 'It is not our custom here to give the younger daughter in marriage before the older one.'" *Laban's excuse was a lame one because if it were true that the younger could not be married before the older because Laban had been responsible for making the conditions clear in the beginning of negotiations. iii] another wedding was arranged (GEN 29:27,28). -- Laban proposed to let Jacob have Rachel as wife at the end of Leah's bridal week in exchange for another dowry of seven year's work (GEN 29:27). -- Jacob agreed to the terms of the new covenant (GEN 29:28). I. Jacob completed the wedding week for Leah (GEN 29:28). II. Jacob consummated his marriage to Rachel after Leah's bridal week was over (GEN 29:28-30). III. Jacob worked the seven years for Rachel (GEN 29:30). *This whole polygamous situation of sisters married to the same man would be later be forbidden in the Law: LEV 18:18 "'Do not take your wife's sister as a rival wife and have sexual relations with her while your wife is living." WHY? *A verse somewhat off the subject sheds some light: MAT 6:24 "No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other." 2. They Were Rivals a) they competed for Jacob's attentions. 1) Leah felt she had to earn Jacob's love. a] Leah knew she was not loved (GEN 29:29,31,33). b] she hoped bearing children would win his love. i] her first son she named, "...Reuben ["look a son"], for she said, 'It is because the Lord has seen my misery. Surely my husband will love me now'" GEN 29:32). ii] her second son she named Simeon ["hearing"], "...Because the LORD heard that I am not loved, he gave me this one too" (GEN 29:33). iii] her third son she named Levi ["attachment"]; "Again she conceived, and when she gave birth to a son she said, 'Now at last my husband will become attached to me, because I have borne him three sons'" (GEN 29:34). *Reuben would disqualify himself from leading the family by "sleeping with his father's concubine, Bilhah" (GEN 35:22); Simeon and Levi would disqualify themselves for leadership by murdering the inhabitants of Shechem (GEN 34:25-29). The mantle of inheritance would fall to Judah and it was from this tribe that the Messiah would come, as Israel prophesied, "The scepter will not depart from Judah, nor the ruler's staff from between his feet, until he comes to whom it belongs and the obedience of the nations is his" (GEN 49:10). c] she felt that she had lost her husband to Rachel (GEN 30:15). 2) Rachel feared she would lose Jacob's favor. a] she knew Jacob loved her (GEN 29:18,20,30). b] she was jealous of and threatened by Leah's fertility (GEN 30:1). c] she had provoked Jacob's anger by her jealousy (GEN 29:1). d] she saw herself in a struggle with her sister (GEN 30:8). *Rachel prevailed over Leah: in GEN 3l:14 Rachel's name is before Leah's in the narrative for the first time, indicating her preeminence. b) they competed for children 1) Leah bore children (GEN 29:31-35). a] Leah bore three sons and hoped that they would make Jacob love her (GEN 29:32-34). b] Leah bore a forth son, Judah ["praise"] as she turned towards the Lord: "She conceived again, and when she gave birth to a son she said, 'This time I will praise the LORD.' So she named him Judah" (GEN 29:35). c] Leah temporarily stopped bearing after her fourth son (GEN 29:35). 2) Rachel was barren (GEN 30:1). a] she blamed her husband (GEN 30:1). b] she devised a plan to obtain children through her maid, Bilhah (GEN 30:3-7). i] she gave her maid to Jacob as a third wife so that she could legally claim Bilhah's children as her own (GEN 30:3,4). ii] Bilhah conceived (GEN 30:4-7). -- she bore a son, whom Rachel named Dan ["justice"] (GEN 30:6). GEN 30:6 "Then Rachel said, 'God has vindicated me; he has listened to my plea and given me a son'". -- she bore another son, whom Rachel named Naphtali ["wrestling"] (GEN 30:7,8). GEN 30:7,8 "Rachel's servant Bilhah conceived again and bore Jacob a second son. Then Rachel said, 'I have had a great struggle with my sister, and I have won.'" 3) Leah's maid, Zilpah, bore children to Leah. a] when it was apparent that Leah had stopped bearing she gave her maid, Zilpah, to Jacob as a fourth wife to obtain more children for herself (GEN 30:9-12). b] Zilpah conceived (GEN 30:9-13). i] she bore a son, whom Leah named Gad ["luck" or "fortune"] (GEN 30:10,11). GEN 30:10,11 "Leah's servant Zilpah bore Jacob a son. Then Leah said, 'What good fortune!' So she named him Gad." ii] she bore another son, whom Leah named Asher ["happy"] (GEN 30:12,13). GEN 30:12,13 "Leah's servant Zilpah bore Jacob a second son. Then Leah said, 'How happy I am! The women will call me happy.' So she named him Asher." 4) Leah resumed bearing (GEN 30:17-21). a] she bore her fifth son to Jacob, whom she named Issachar ["reward"] (GEN 30:17,18). GEN 30:17,18 "God listened to Leah, and she became pregnant and bore Jacob a fifth son. Then Leah said, 'God has rewarded me for giving my maidservant to my husband.' So she named him Issachar." b] she bore a sixth son, whom she named Zebulun ["dwelling"] (GEN 30:19,20). GEN 30:19,20 "Leah conceived again and bore Jacob a sixth son. Then Leah said, 'God has presented me with a precious gift. This time my husband will treat me with honor, because I have borne him six sons.' So she named him Zebulun." c] she bore a daughter named Dinah ["justice" or "one who judges"] (GEN 30:21). GEN 30:21 "Some time later she gave birth to a daughter and named her Dinah." i] Dinah "went out to visit the women of the land" of Shechem, in Canaan (when she was 14 0r 15 yrs. old), and was attacked and raped by a young man, Shechem, the son of Hamor the prince of the land (GEN 34:1,2). ii] two of Jacob's sons, Simeon and Levi, took revenge for this act; they deceitfully agreed to let Dinah marry Shechem if the whole city of Shechem was circumcised- then when the men of Shechem were at the height of their incapacitation from the operation, they came and slew every male and looted the city of everything valuable (GEN 34:13-29). 5) Rachel bore children a] Rachel was enabled to conceive and bore a son, Joseph [either "may the Lord add' or "He has taken away"] (GEN 30:22-24). GEN 30:22-24 "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.' She named him Joseph, and said, 'May the LORD add to me another son.'" *This son, Joseph, would become Israel's favorite because he was Rachel's child (GEN 33:2, 37:3); and Isaac would show his favoritism to the hurt of Joseph and his brothers, much as Isaac had shown favoritism toward Esau and Rebekah toward Jacob to the hurt of that family. b] she bore another son, Benjamin ["son of my right hand"] as she was dying (GEN 35:16-19). 3. They Were Loyal To Jacob a) they agreed to journey with Jacob leaving their father and home in Haran behind (GEN 31:14-16). 1) they acknowledged that they were no longer loyal to their father because he treated them like foreigners, and not like relatives (GEN 31:15). 2) they stated that they were no longer loyal to Laban because they had never received a portion of their dowries from him and that he had, in fact, spent their shares (GEN 31:15). 3) they told Jacob were loyal to him and would support him in his decisions, "whatever God has told you" (GEN 31:16). b) Rachel tried to ensure a blessing on Jacob by stealing her father's household idols and bringing them into their camp (GEN 31:19). 1) teraphim, or household idols (small female fertility figures), were thought to confer power and good luck to their owners; i.e. guardian angels of a home. 2) teraphim were also commonly considered to be the sign of the head of a household; possession of Laban's idols then made Jacob the legal heir of Laban's wealth. *This information came from "Manners and Customs of Bible Lands" by Fred H. Wight, Moody Press (1953), pg.118. *This reprehensible act, of course, did not ensure protection or blessing because the idols were merely worthless images; in fact, Jacob would later command that all images be cast out his camp in order that they might purify themselves and honor the true God, El-Shaddai, Who had worked so powerfully for them (GEN 35:2,3). c) they obediently remained separated in groups when Jacob met Esau and showed the proper respect to Esau that the occasion demanded (GEN 33:1-7). GEN 33:1,2 "Jacob looked up and there was Esau, coming with his four hundred men; so he divided the children among Leah, Rachel and the two maidservants. He put the maidservants and their children in front, Leah and her children next, and Rachel and Joseph in the rear." GEN 33:6,7 "Then the maidservants and their children approached and bowed down [to Esau]. Next, Leah and her children came and bowed down. Last of all came Joseph and Rachel, and they too bowed down." d) Leah assumed the care of Jacob and Rachel's children after her death (implied by GEN 37:10). *WHAT DID THEY ACCOMPLISH IN THEIR LIVES? They were responsible for the formation of the twelve tribes of Israel because they (and their maids at their direction) gave birth to Jacob's twelve sons; the extended families of these sons would grow into the tribes of Israel during the sojourn in Egypt, would journey back to Canaan under Moses and Joshua as a mighty army to redeem the land, and would occupy it in fulfillment of God's promise to Abraham that, "To your offspring I will give this land" (GEN 12:7). C. What Can We Learn From Them? 1. A true love exists when the lovers are willing to wait to experience sexual intimacy until the proper time, as Jacob was willing to wait for Rachel. 2. God takes the weak, misguided and sinful efforts of people and turns them into good things that accomplish His purposes (ROM 8:28), as He did with Leah and Rachel's efforts to build their families. 3. God rewards those who serve Him to the best of their ability: He rewarded the patient and steadfast devotion of Leah by making two of the most important tribes of Israel come from her: Levi, the priestly tribe, and Judah, the tribe from whom our Lord Jesus descended. 4. God develops maturity in His followers gradually but surely; Jacob and Rachel especially show how God worked His will in them to give them faith, to make that faith grow, and to bring it to a fullness that enabled them to trust Him without leaning on anything or anyone else. 5. The ways of sin are easily learned: Jacob learned deception and favoritism from Isaac and Rebekah; Rachel learned deception and selfishness from Laban; Jacob's sons learned deception and envy from Laban and Rachel- we must guard ourselves from learning sinful ways by associating with godly people who will have a purifying influence upon our lives (PRO 13:20) and by cleansing ourselves from sin's influence through regular Bible study (EPH 5:26). 6. When we venture unprotected to places of wickedness, as Dinah did, we place ourselves in grave danger spiritually and physically because, "bad company corrupts good morals" (1CO 15:33) and "the wicked man craves evil; his neighbor gets no mercy from him" (PRO 21:10). III. What Fruits Of The Spirit Can We See In Them? IV. Memory Verse: JER 29:11 "'For I know the plans I have for you,' declares the LORD, 'plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.'"
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