Her life was tragic, faced with suffering at every turn.
After Rebecca, the next most prominent woman in the Bible is Rachel, the wife of Jacob and mother of Joseph and Benjamin. Her life was not easy and she encountered great suffering during her short life.
Here are five fast facts about Rachel to help you better understand her tragic role in the Bible.
1. Her name means “ewe”
Rachel’s father Laban was known as a shepherd and from that context he decided to name his younger daughter “ewe,” which is a female sheep. Some biblical scholars think this was a term of endearment on Laban’s part.
2. Rachel was cheated by her father
When Jacob first arrived he fell in love with Rachel, the younger daughter of Laban. However, Laban believed his older daughter should marry first. When Jacob was to marry Rachel, he instead married Leah, who fooled Jacob by her veil. Jacob had to agree to work another seven years for Laban in order to marry Rachel.
3. She greatly suffered from being barren
Even after marrying Jacob, she was not blessed with children for many years. She even cried out to Jacob, “Give me children, or I shall die!” (Genesis 30:1) God heard her prayers and eventually blessed her with Joseph and Benjamin, two of the most loved sons of Jacob.
4. Rachel’s mourning and sorrow is recalled throughout the Bible
After Benjamin was born, Rachel suddenly died. Before her death she named him “son of sorrow.” This and her previous mourning made her an image of the ultimate sorrowful mother. Jeremiah writes about the nation of Israel being taken away into exile, “A voice is heard in Ramah, lamentation and bitter weeping. Rachel is weeping for her children; she refuses to be comforted for her children, because they are not” (Jeremiah 31:15). This same weeping is referred to in Matthew in connection to the slaughter of the innocents (cf. Matthew 2:18).
5. Her burial site remains a popular place of pilgrimage
While the exact site of her burial has been disputed over the years, a location near Bethlehem has been revered by Jews, Muslims and Christians for thousands of years as the place of her tomb. Many pilgrims pray at her tomb each year, recalling her lamentation.