God paints an emotionally stirring picture of Rachel for us in His end-time prophecy concerning the soon-coming captivity of the modern nations of Israel. In beautiful poetic style, Jeremiah recorded: “Thus says the Lord: 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 no more” (Jeremiah 31:15; English Standard Version).
Work at using your imagination to hear and see what God tells us through His prophet. Can you hear a woeful voice wailing with gut-wrenching groans and moans? Can you see a woman—Rachel disturbed from her sleep in death—weeping so bitterly and loudly she can hardly catch her breath? God explains that she refuses to be comforted because her children are no more. Can we relate to the devastation a woman feels at the loss of all her children?
Why does God say Rachel’s voice is heard crying at Ramah? Her tomb is located near Bethlehem. Jeremiah 40 shows that Ramah was the staging area for the Jewish captives before they were taken as slaves to Babylon. What a tragic time that was! God wants us to view that time just like Rachel would have had she been alive. Can we imagine Rachel watching her children thrust out of their own land until they vanish from her sight?
Why is it important for us to do this? What happened at Ramah in Jeremiah’s time is a type of what is to happen to the Laodicean Church, our non-Church families, friends and acquaintances in the near future.
Matthew applies this same prophecy to a horrible first-century event. After being jilted by the eastern wise men, Herod angrily murdered hundreds of Jewish boys, 2 years old and younger, living in Bethlehem and surrounding areas to eliminate his falsely imagined rival—Jesus Christ (Matthew 2:16, 18). God inspired Matthew to use the symbol of Rachel’s comfortless crying at Ramah to illustrate the emotional impact of the loss of these children. Can you imagine the sorrowful sound of wailing coming from all the mothers who lost their young sons at that time?
This sad picture of Rachel gives us a nightmarish glimpse of the black and tragic conditions our nations will wake up to when caught in the Great Tribulation—that unparalleled time of great bitterness, grief and sorrow. Multiple millions will die painful deaths from pestilence, famine and nuclear war. Those who survive will be taken captive and suffer cruel treatment and death at the hands of hate-filled taskmasters. Gerald Flurry writes in Jeremiah and the Greatest Vision in the Bible: “Rachel is symbolically pictured as losing her entire family! It will be so bad that she cannot be comforted. Imagine a mother with a large family losing all her children at one time! This is a prophecy for Israel—primarily America and Britain.”
Yet we know that the most tragic stories to come out of the Tribulation will be tales of the torturous martyrdom of our repentant Laodicean brothers and sisters. Still worse will be the eternal loss of 50 percent of the Laodiceans who refuse to repent. Tragically, the little children of the unrepentant Laodiceans will also be slaughtered. Certainly, God uses Rachel as a type of His own sorrow over events looming on the horizon. Do we share God’s sorrow for Israel and our Laodicean family?
God’s choice of Rachel to vividly illustrate end-time prophecy about Israel gives us deep insight into her life and important history.
Desperate for Children
The account about Reuben’s mandrakes in Genesis 30:14-15 jarringly stops the history of the births of Jacob’s sons by Bilhah and Zilpah. We must not just skip over it as unnecessary detail. The story is important because God gives us a final look at the horrible tension fomenting between Jacob’s wives.
Leah despairingly longed for Jacob’s love and attention. Rachel desperately wanted children. Leah hoped to gain Jacob’s love by giving him more sons. Rachel wanted children in order to compete with her sister. We know from Abraham’s history with Isaac that the birth of sons was a major part of the fulfillment of God’s promises to the patriarchs. In fact, the promises and the knowledge of the promises were passed on from father to son. Jacob most assuredly discussed these vital facts with both Leah and Rachel. Can we see how this knowledge would have affected Rachel? She must have felt as Hannah did. Although Rachel held Jacob’s devotion, Leah, like Peninnah, had the children. Rachel likely believed that having children would raise her to Leah’s status. Rachel must have spent many sorrowful hours weeping over not having a son of promise to care for and cuddle.
After the births of their handmaid’s sons, Leah and Rachel ran into a disheartening deadlock in their rivalry. Neither could bear children (verses 1, 9). Yet neither employed the use of a handmaid again to obtain more children. Had they learned a lesson? Moses shows us they did. However, at this point in the story the wistful women appear to look to the mandrakes—commonly used to make a love potion and as an aid to conception—as the new solution to their problem. Leah wanted the mandrakes, commonly called love apples, so she could attract Jacob. Rachel wanted the mandrakes in order to bear his sons. Moses is careful to show us that they were both wrong: The mandrakes did nothing for them.
Motivated by envy and jealousy, Leah and Rachel dealt with each other with carnal craftiness. We should not forget that they were daughters of the wily Laban. After learning about Reuben’s mandrakes, Rachel made a gutsy move to get her hands on them. “Give me, I pray thee, of thy son’s mandrakes” (verse 14). Observe carefully that Rachel asked for only some of the mandrakes. Why?
We can safely speculate that Rachel, fully aware of her sister’s fractured emotions for Jacob, recognized that she would be lucky to get one of the love apples. Leah’s bitter retort to Rachel’s request proves this point: “Is it a small matter that you have taken away my husband? Would you take away my son’s mandrakes also?” (verse 15). Leah was in no mood to give Rachel anything.
Realize we only have the briefest summary of this negotiation between the sisters. It is safe to assume that far more was said than is recorded here. The last half of verse 15 appears to show that Leah countered her sister’s request. “And Rachel said, Therefore he shall lie with thee to night for thy son’s mandrakes.” What was said to cause Rachel to make this statement? Who suggested that Jacob be a part of the deal? We don’t know. However, Moses’s use of the word and suggests a conclusion to a longer conversation. Rachel’s statement as recorded is much like the close of a sales contract.
It is possible that Leah came up with the idea: a night with Jacob for the mandrakes. This is so much like what Jacob did when he gave soup to his famished brother, Esau, in order to wrangle the birthright from him. In a moment of clarity, did Leah come to see the mandrakes as the means to wrestle Jacob from Rachel’s arms? It is only natural that Rachel agreed to the vulgar deal in order to satisfy her deep hunger to bear a son for Jacob. Won’t it be fascinating to ask our beloved forefathers (and mothers) the details of what happened here?
While this mandrake account has its negative undertones, it actually is the beginning of positive change for Leah and Rachel—especially Rachel.
Jacob: Leah’s Hire
“And Jacob came out of the field in the evening” (Genesis 30:16). While his wives were striking their mandrake deal, which heavily involved him, Jacob had been working hard at harvesting grain, not only for Laban’s livestock but also for his growing family. Being near dark, it was time to conclude the day’s work and head for home. Jacob would have been tired and hungry. What husband is not ready for some food and relaxation after a hard day at work? However, Jacob had no idea of what (or who) was waiting for him when he got home.
From just inside her tent, Leah waited anxiously to see a sign of him. When he came into sight, she hurriedly went to meet him. Without even a courteous hello, she informed her husband: “You must come in to me, for I have hired you with my son’s mandrakes” (verse 16). Wow, what went though Jacob’s mind when he was met in such a fashion? He had to have been thoroughly puzzled. Yet Moses tells us nothing about Jacob’s reaction to Leah other than “he lay with her that night.” We don’t know whether Jacob was frustrated with his wives or if he was just weakly compliant. However, what we do know is that God took full advantage of the situation.
Moses wrote, “And God hearkened unto Leah, and she conceived, and bare Jacob the fifth son” (verse 17). This verse gives us incredible understanding. It is clear that Leah was praying to God for more children of her own. Although she may have looked to the mandrakes as a solution, Moses shows us clearly that the mandrakes were no help to her. It was God’s goodwill that made it possible for Leah to conceive a child.
The fact that God hearkened to Leah shows that she had a changed attitude of mind and purpose. Leah learned the lesson that the Apostle John teaches us: “And whatsoever we ask, we receive of him, because we keep his commandments, and do those things that are pleasing in his sight” (1 John 3:22). God blesses us when we work to obey and please Him. Leah stopped wrangling with her sister and worked to please God. Look at the result for her.
After giving birth she exclaimed, “God hath given me my hire, because I have given my maiden to my husband: and she called his name Issachar” (Genesis 30:18). The translation of this verse makes it difficult to understand exactly what Leah means here. The Hebrew word sakar translated as hire gives us some insight. Sakar means payment, salary, fare, maintenance, compensation, benefit. Leah viewed her fifth son as a direct benefit or reward from God. The name Issachar basically means benefit or reward.
God continued to favor Leah because she conceived again twice, giving birth to Zebulun and Dinah. In total, Leah gave Jacob seven children in seven years. Leah was a truly blessed woman.
Mother of Joseph
“And God remembered Rachel, and God hearkened to her, and opened her womb” (Genesis 30:22). Lange’s Commentary explains the important meaning behind the expression: God remembered. The phrase “denotes a turning point after a long trial.” A similar expression is used concerning Hannah in 1 Samuel 1:19. God had closed Rachel’s womb as a severe test for her. God wanted her to learn the importance of bearing sons for His purpose—not her own. Rachel also repented of wrestling with Leah. Look at the positive outcome. Having passed the test, God allowed her to get pregnant.
“And she conceived, and bare a son; and said, God hath taken away my reproach: And she called his name Joseph; and said, The Lord shall add to me another son” (Genesis 30:23-24). Although God withheld children from her for nearly seven years, Rachel gave birth to one of the most important of Jacob’s sons: Joseph. Note that she gave her firstborn son a name with prophetic implications. The name Joseph in the Hebrew means adding. Rachel knew God would give her another son. God did just that (Genesis 35). In addition, the name is meaningful because Joseph added much to Israel.
No one can deny the importance of Joseph in the long history of Israel. This young man was given incredible intelligence, talent and leadership skills. He received these gifts from both his father and mother. Rachel must have been a talented woman. God certainly wanted her to be Joseph’s mother.
In previous articles we have shown you that God personally took control of Joseph’s education when he was just 17. God tried him severely, allowing his brothers to sell him into slavery. Then in an equally dramatic fashion, God saw to it that Joseph became prime minister of Egypt. Of course God did this to secure the position of the nation of Israel in the world. Israel, made up of Joseph’s descendants, was destined by God to dominate the world culturally, materially, militarily and with a multitude of people. Sadly, Israel is quickly losing all those blessings today.
Joseph, his immediate sons and their descendants inherited the birthright promises. In The United States and Britain in Prophecy, Herbert W. Armstrong wrote, “The birthright belonged, legally, to Reuben, not Joseph. It is related in 1 Chronicles 5:1-2 how it fell to Joseph: ‘Now the sons of Reuben the firstborn of Israel, (for he was the firstborn; but, forasmuch as he defiled his father’s bed, his birthright was given unto the sons of Joseph the son of Israel: and the genealogy is not to be reckoned after the birthright [or, rsv, “so that he (Reuben) is not enrolled in the genealogy according to the birthright”]. For Judah prevailed above his brethren, and of him came the chief ruler; but the birthright was Joseph’s).
“So at this point the two divisions of the Abrahamic promises—the birthright, involving material and national promises, and the scepter, including the kingly and spiritual promises—were separated.
“It is of first importance to keep in mind that the birthright, including the Promised Land now called Palestine, the assurance of multitudinous population, material and national prosperity, dominance over other nations, was now given to Joseph and his sons.
“Mark that well! This birthright was not to be inherited by all the tribes of Israel! It was not given to the Jews! Only a part of the Israelites—the descendants of Joseph— was to inherit these tremendous national promises!”
Rachel: Our Mother
This revealed truth should thrill God’s Church—especially the members whose natural origin is in the United States and Britain. God has seen fit to show us our earliest history. We know our ancient father and mother. We know the wonderful history of one of our most important forefathers—Joseph. He is an example of the kind of people we should be spiritually—thoroughly obedient to God’s laws and humbly submissive to God’s purpose.
Without this knowledge, we could not understand prophecy. With this knowledge, we know how to prepare to survive the coming Tribulation—the time of Jacob’s trouble (Jeremiah 30:7). And we also know what an incredible future we and our nations will have—the opportunity to lead all nations to God. In just a few short years, we will return to Jerusalem and begin to build the incredible, wonderful World Tomorrow.
Although God only allowed Rachel to have two of Jacob’s sons in her time, the reality is she became the mother of millions. How excited she will be to see all her descendants in the future. However, let’s not forget that as far as God is concerned, many tears will be shed during the time of Israel’s punishment for its many sins.