The third generation of Abraham's line faces the same challenge: barreness. And just like her predecessor Sarah, Rachel attempts to take matters into her own hands. How will we steward our own seasons of waiting? Like these women, will we strive to establish ourselves or will we grow to trust in God's timing and ways?
It had been several years of trying unsuccessfully to conceive, and I had spent a small fortune on pregnancy tests. Each month, that single line seemed to mock me, reminding me that I was still without a child. I wrestled with why God had given me such a strong desire to be a mom and yet withheld the gift of children from me. I wondered if I would be able to praise God even if His answer to my heart’s desire remained ‘no.’
It’s natural to desire children. However, this section of Scripture adds a layer of complexity to the struggle to start a family: the competition of another wife—and a sister, no less. Rachel has always been the love of Jacob’s life, but her older sister, Leah, has been given to Jacob to marry first (Genesis 29:23-27). While Jacob doesn’t hide his favouritism of Rachel, she remains childless, while her rival has many sons (vv.31-35).
Rachel is keenly aware of God’s promises to Jacob’s grandfather, Abraham. She knows a great nation will proceed from Jacob’s loins. But the way things are going, she might be questioning if she will bear any of those offspring herself. Her desperation is clear when we find her in Genesis 30, crying out to Jacob, “Give me children, or I’ll die!” (v.1). What started as a healthy desire has become Rachel’s all-consuming passion.
Jacob, frustrated with her preoccupation with having a child, is now angry with Rachel, and he reminds her that giving children is God’s business, not his, saying, “Am I in the place of God, who has kept you from having children?” (v.2). If God is in control of the womb, the obvious conclusion to draw is that Rachel needs to continue to wait patiently.
However, the reminder she needs most is the advice she outright rejects: Instead of waiting patiently, Rachel takes matters into her own hands. Just as Sarah gave Abraham Hagar to bear his child, Rachel gives Jacob her handmaid, Bilhah. What could possibly go wrong?
Rachel’s plan appears successful when Bilhah gives birth to two sons, yet she is still not happy. The names she gives the boys reveal her heart. First, Dan is born, whose name means ‘he has vindicated’ (v.6), then Naphtali, whose name means ‘my struggle’ (v.8). Some time later, God finally gives Rachel her heart’s desire: a son whom she bears herself. She names him Joseph. But even after receiving this longed-for gift, her heart is still not satisfied; his name means ‘may he add another’ (v.24).
Rachel has missed the most important lesson of all: to praise God both in the waiting for and in the joyful receiving of her long-awaited son. With a newborn baby cradled in her arms, she still worries about a child she doesn’t yet have.
Like Rachel, my years of longing for a child were finally fulfilled. While I wasn’t competing for my husband’s love and attention, I did learn that God was competing for mine. My waiting taught me to trust Him more and resulted in greater joy when it was finally time to receive.
Are you waiting on God to fulfil the desires of your heart? Can you trust that His will, done in His way, is better than any plans you can concoct on your own? That might seem like Jacob’s reminder to Rachel right now: words you need but don’t want to hear. But trust Him to fulfil your heart’s desires, in His timing, in His way. When God Himself, and not His gifts, are our all-consuming passion, we will find joy in the waiting and in the receiving.
Is there anything God has been speaking to you that you haven't wanted to hear? What might it look like for you to heed His words today?