Forty women: 8. Rachel

You’d think it would be the plain sister who lived a life twisted and bitter with jealousy and envy. But no. It turns out that it’s the pretty one. The one who had to wait fourteen years to be married to her beloved Jacob. The one who had to watch her sister produce child after child, son after son, while she herself remained childless. Rachel is the one eaten up with envy.

We can always find a reason to be envious. There’s always some way that another person’s grass looks greener. They’re richer, more popular, wiser; they have a better job, home, marriage; they aren’t living with chronic illness or disability; they haven’t suffered great tragedy. They have what we want.

There’s always a reason to be envious, because we can always find more things to want. Rachel wanted what Leah had: she wanted a son. She demands a son, in dramatic fashion, saying to Jacob, “Give me children, or I’ll die!” (Genesis 30:1). Jacob makes the mistake of every husband, replying to an emotional outburst with calm logic, “Am I in the place of God, who has kept you from having children?” (Genesis 30:2).

It’s not his fault. Obviously not, since he has plenty of children with Leah. And, presumably, since he loves Rachel so much, he’s been having sex with her more often than her sister. What’s he to do about it?

So Rachel does what Sarai did: she sends her servant in, to build her family that way. The servant does indeed bear a child and for Rachel, this is a triumph. Not a triumph over her infertility. Nor a triumph over Jacob or God. No, for Rachel, it’s all about one person: “I have had a great struggle with my sister, and I have won.” (Genesis 30:8).

Her triumph doesn’t last long. Leah does exactly the same as Rachel, sending her servant in to Jacob, and she too bears a child. And another. So now Leah has children of her own and children of her servant, while Rachel only has children by her servant. She had what she wanted but now she wants more. Her discontent wasn’t sated by the arrival of the child. Discontent only breeds further discontent.

Leah, having thought her childbearing years were over, goes on to have two further sons and a daughter.

Rachel, having thought she’d finally won against her sister, goes on to become more and more envious.

God does relent, giving Rachel a son. Is she satisfied, finally? “She named him Joseph, and said, “May the Lord add to me another son.” (Genesis 30:24).

The truth that Rachel never learns is that there is only one way to be satisfied, and it is not by getting the things that you want. That only makes you want more. There is only one secret to being content in every situation, whether you are in need or have enough, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. The secret, as Paul discovered thousands of years later, is not to try to find our contentment in our circumstances. The secret is to find contentment in our saviour.

Forty women: 9. Dinah