Updated: Apr 23, 2020
The scent of roasted meat filled the air. It made Rachel's heart skip a beat as she hastened home from the sheepfold. Finally, it was her wedding day! All around her was bustle and energy as the servants prepared the food and wine for the large gathering planned for nightfall. Away from the house was a large tent with the sides tied up for the gathering. She blushed as she looked a little further and saw the figure of her soon-to-be-husband as he raised the bridal tent a little ways from the feast. He was a handsome man, her betrothed. Her skin tingled in anticipation of his touch.
Seven years! Seven years since the first time she had laid eyes on him. He had startled her the first time they met. She had come as a girl to the well, and he had rolled away the large rock for her, a feat usually reserved when all the men were gathered at well, for it was very heavy. She had been even more stunned when he kissed her cheek and announced himself as her relative!
Her father had been pleased to welcome Jacob into his home, and even agreed to take the young man as his future son-in-law. Jacob had come without flocks or herds for a bride-price, but he had been willing to serve seven years so that he could claim Rachel as his own.
Seven years was a long time for a man to wait, and sometimes Rachel worried he would despise her before the time was up.
“Do you still desire me?” she had whispered only a few weeks ago. “Do you still wish for me to be your wife, the same way you did all those years ago?”
“Can't you tell by the way I look at you?” Jacob had murmured, leaning a little closer. She had peered up into his eyes and shivered happily at the intensity that burned there. “To me, it feels like it has only been a few days.”
Now the years were up, and it was time for her father to fulfill his vow.
Jacob seemed to feel her gaze, and he turned her way. She gave a bashful wave, and turned and ran to the house. It was time for her to prepare.
She needed to bathe and perfume herself before she put on the new clothes she had carefully sewn. As the sun dipped below the horizon she would conceal herself in the veil she had woven and be led by a procession to her husband's tent. He would take her inside and claim her as his own while the family feasted and celebrated the union.
Dashing through the doorway, her mind full of dreams, Rachel nearly tumbled into her father.
“Father!” she laughed. “I'm so sorry!”
Her father didn't even smile, and Rachel furrowed her brow. He took her arm and led her into the women's room at the back of the house. Rachel saw her mother, Leah, and the maids all waiting there. Her wedding clothes were spread out, ready to put on. The air was sweet with perfumed oils.
Yet, no one was smiling.
“What's wrong?” Rachel asked, her heart dropping like a stone.
Her father, Laban, released her arm and Rachel hurried to her mother's side, worry seeping into her veins.
“You know our traditions,” Laban said, his voice even and in control.
“What do you mean?” Rachel breathed, but her eyes flew to her sister. Leah had dropped her gaze to the floor.
“Leah is older. Our traditions say she must be married first,” Laban said, crossing his arms as if to shield himself from his daughter's dismay.
Rachel's hand flew her mouth. “But you promised Jacob! It has been seven years, Father. The wedding feast is being prepared as we speak.” Panic clawed its way up her throat and her voice became shrill. “Today is my wedding day!”
Laban's gaze was implacable. “Jacob will take a wife today. But it shall not be you.”
All the air seemed to be sucked out of the small room. The corners of her vision grew dim. She clutched her mother's arm for support. She was not going to be given to Jacob?
“But, then who—” she began, but then it hit her. Leah. She turned back to her older sister, and Leah lifted her soft, brown eyes at last. Though she didn't smile or gloat, Rachel could see the joy that danced in her sister's eyes.
“But he's my betrothed!” Rachel gasped out, hot tears beginning to stream down her cheeks.
“That is enough,” Laban snapped. “You will not cry on your sister's wedding day! Your sister has a right to a husband and children before you. Now, help her prepare!”
Laban swept from the room like a cold breeze. Rachel stood stunned, staring after him. Why was he doing this? There had been plenty of time for Leah to be married. There had even been talk about sending Leah to marry Esau, Jacob's brother. Laban had been hesitant to send his daughter so far away and Leah hadn't been eager to go. So they had done nothing, happy to let the situation go on and on until now. Now, this was their solution?
Anger flared in Rachel's heart and she lunged at her sister. “How could you!”
“Rachel!” their mother snapped. “It is not her decision. It is the will of your father.” Rachel's shoulders dropped. Her father's word was law in the family. Tears dripped off her chin and she wiped them with her sleeve.
“Does Jacob know?” Rachel whispered.
No one answered her.
Rachel was not permitted to sit in the corner and weep as she wished. She was forced to brush and braid her sister's gleaming hair. Her hands shook so bad that she had to