Question: "What is the story of Jacob, Leah, and Rachel?"
Answer: The story of Jacob, Leah, and Rachel comprises one of the larger sections of Genesis and includes much information relevant to the history of the Jewish people. Jacob, the son of Isaac and grandson of Abraham, fled to his mother’s brother Laban. At the time, Jacob feared his twin brother, Esau, would kill him (Genesis 27:41-46).
Laban offered Jacob a place to stay. Jacob soon fell in love with Laban’s younger daughter, Rachel, and agreed to work for Laban seven years in exchange for marriage to her (Genesis 29:16-20).
Laban agreed, but after seven years, he deceived Jacob and gave Rachel’s older sister, Leah, to him as a wife instead. Jacob protested, but Laban argued that it wasn’t the custom to give the younger daughter in marriage first. Laban then said Jacob could have Rachel in exchange for another seven years of work (Genesis 29:21-30). In an ironic twist, the deceiver Jacob had been deceived and had two wives in exchange for fourteen years of work.
Jacob showed favoritism to Rachael and loved her more than Leah. God compensated for the lack of love Leah received by enabling her to have children and closing Rachel’s womb for a time (Genesis 29:31). There developed an intense rivalry between the two wives. In fact, at one time the wives bartered over the right to sleep with Jacob. Genesis 30:16 says, “When Jacob came from the field in the evening, Leah went out to meet him and said, ‘You must come in to me, for I have hired you with my son's mandrakes.’ So he lay with her that night.” In the end, Jacob fathered twelve sons and some daughters. Leah bore him six sons; Zilpah, Leah’s maidservant, bore him two; Rachel bore him two; and Bilhah, Rachel’s maidservant, bore him another two (Genesis 35:23-36).
After twenty years with Laban, Jacob, now very wealthy, moved his family back to his father’s land. As they were leaving Laban’s house, Rachel stole her father’s teraphim (Genesis 31). Jacob knew that he would have to face Esau again. He still feared Esau’s anger, and he sent gifts to satisfy him before he arrived. The night before Jacob crossed the Jordan, he “wrestled with God” and was given the name Israel, confirming that he was the one who would receive the promises granted to Abraham.
Rachel died giving birth to her second child, Benjamin. Even Benjamin’s name, meaning “son of my right hand,” indicates the importance Jacob placed on his youngest son because of his love for Rachel. Rachel “was buried on the way to Ephrath (that is, Bethlehem), and Jacob set up a pillar over her tomb. It is the pillar of Rachel's tomb, which is there to this day” (Genesis 35:19-20). Leah was buried in the same tomb as Abraham and Sarah and Isaac and Rebekah (Genesis 49:30-32). Jacob and his son Joseph would also later be buried in this tomb (Genesis 50).
The story of Jacob, Leah, and Rachel is filled with much difficulty, yet God used these people greatly to impact history. Their twelve sons were the leaders of the twelve tribes that became the nation of Israel. Through their family, Jesus Christ would be born from the tribe of Judah to offer salvation to all (John 3:16; Luke 2:10).