LEAH A D RACHEL. MRS. S. G. ASHTO .

Two sisters, dwelling under one roof, loving and beloved, careless of the future, which in its beauty and freshness, like an unclouded morning just opening upon them, gives no hint of the darkness which may gather, or the tempests which may lower before the day is done ; entering a path which seems to lead through smiling and flowery fields on to some land of perfect peace ; but which will, ere long, find the weary and heart-stricken traveller harassed with unforeseen obstacles, entangled in inextricable thickets, or plunged all unawares in some miry slough of Despond, such are Leah and Rachel, when on the sacred page they are first presented to our view. We regard them with deep and growing interest as we study the peculiarities of their differing characters, and glean from the slight mementoes which are left us, some connected history of their more widely differing destinies. Rachel comes ever first to our thoughts, in her

LEAH A D RACHEL. 91 witching beauty, the pet and darling of her selfish father the life of the house the spoiled child the blithesome, light-hearted young shepherdess, who could so charm and entrance her staid and quiet cousin, that the seven years through which he toiled to win her, consumed by heat and chilled by frost, seemed to him but a few days, for the love he had to her ; and who, although eighty years had passed over his head before he claimed her for his bride, and youthful impulse and enthusiasm had long since fled, and romance

had expired, still cherished for her through life an affection such as we find not in any page of fiction. But, notwithstanding her beauty and attractiveness, Rachel was, as we have said, a spoiled child, and she took this character into her married life, to her own sorrow, and the evident unhappiness of those around her. Wayward, and accustomed to be petted, she could ill endure to be crossed even by Providence. Envious of her sister, and impatient under any delay in the fulfilment of her wishes, she manifested a spirit which brought severe rebuke even from the lips of her devoted husband. Months and years were

92 THE MOTHERS OF THE BIBLE. spent by her in a tumult of discordant feelings, and in resorting to unnatural and crooked policy in order to accomplish her end. Far from proving amiable and lovely as a wife, she seems to have been to Jacob often a severe trial ; yet, he ever loved her, even as in the first days of fondness. But at length the disciplinary process which she needed seems to have had its designed effect, for the time came when he who sits as the refiner saw fit to visit her, and bestow the longsought blessing. Happy beyond measure in the birth of a son, she offers her tribute of gratitude, and we must believe, though little further light shines on her character, that the fresh fountain of a mother's love, newly opened in her heart, flowed to the purifying of all selfishness and jealousy, and to the harmonizing of all discordant elements in the hitherto distracted family. Would not her heart feel a new tie to her husband, the father of her child ? Would she not turn again, with self-reproach and reviving love, to her longneglected and abused sister, the once-cherished companion of her childhood, now that she could understand and sympathize in her maternal joys

LEAH A D RACHEL. 93 and cares ? Would not her affection be called forth as never before toward each childish member of the household, invested with an interest hitherto unknown, and doubly dear, because as truly the children of her husband as her own cherished nursling ? That she was a happier and better woman after Joseph's birth, we cannot doubt, and we feel sure that a peace never before experienced by them settled on Jacob's family. But complete happiness abides not long a tenant in any circle on earth. That which had been to Rachel the strongest desire of life, became, at length, in its fulfilment, the occasion of her death. She who had felt that the birth of a son could bring only joy, who had said " Give me children or else I die," saw a day, when, with feeble, expiring breath, she named her second born " Benoni the son of my sorrow," and departed from earth, leaving her two helpless ones to want a mother's care and love, and perhaps wishing as fervently as before that they had never been born, or that she might take them with her to the unseen world. She was taken from evil to come. The fear-

94 THE MOTHERS OF THE BIBLE. ful trial which threatened to bring Jacob's gray hairs with sorrow to the grave, she was spared. Her memory was most fondly cherished. Her children how tenderly were they regarded because they were hers, and what can exceed in pathos and beauty her husband's last uttered

remembrance of his early love, when bestowing on Joseph's sons the forfeited birthright of Reuben, and, wishing to bind their hearts to the land of Canaan, he reminds them that it was the place of her death, and that her bones reposed beneath its soil. One question ever comes to us as we read of Rachel's death. Did Leah's sorrowing heart find repose at length in the assurance of her husband's love ? When Jacob was left alone, and comfortless, did he turn to her for consolation, who had so long endured alone for his sake ? We do not know. From her childhood, Leah appears to have borne the yoke. Although she was the eldest in her father's house, yet Rachel's superior beauty and vivacity had cast her into the shade, and doubtless rendered her, as in all such cases, reserved and silent, and less attractive than she

LEAH A D RACHEL. 95 would otherwise have been. Yet, there beamed ever from her eyes a loving tenderness, which betrayed an unusually affectionate heart, and lent a charm to her whole deportment which mere regularity of features cannot give. Oh ! how cruelly was that affectionate, clinging heart doomed to suffer ! How bitter was her lot ! Forced to act a deceitful and most revolting part, her feelings of delicacy and maidenly propriety outraged by an unfeeling father, she became clandestinely the wife of one who sought her not, whom she knew to be wholly absorbed in love to another and fairer, but to whom she had unwittingly given the wealth of her own rich affections. From her bridal day, she was a neglected, unloved wife. How must the sounds of joy have jarred on her spirit and mocked her heart during the week of festivity which in the East celebrates

a marriage. And yearning' to be loved as she loved herself, what anguish must she have felt when another week gave to her husband's arms one who she knew must entirely supplant her, and blot out every hope of winning, even by the utmost devotion, the heart which would now, more

96 THE MOTHERS OF THE BIBLE. than ever, turn from her ! He might be kind to her, as he doubtless was. Many tokens of regard he would bestow upon her, and treat her with the respect due the oldest and first wedded wife ; but love her, he could not ; she knew he could not. The cares, the toils, the suffering which marriage brings, shall be hers, but the rich compensation, the pure, overflowing, confiding love, which cheers and lightens care, and which woman will be a living martyr to win this she will never know. But Leah, thus seemingly desolate and wretched, was not forsaken. The Eye that pondereth all hearts was a witness to her conflicts, and Almighty love came to her relief. A mother's joys were soon in store for her, and with the prospect came delightful thoughts of gratitude to God, and fond anticipations of brighter days. " Surely the Lord hath looked upon my affliction ; now, therefore, my husband will love me." Alas! poor Leah ! She knew the important blessing promised in Abraham's covenant was a numerous seed, and she thought surely the birth of her son, so desirable an event, would win her a place in her husband's heart. This hope cheered every hour

LEAH A D RACHEL. 97 of weariness and suffering, and sustained her in her agony, and when that was past, and tidings

were borne to Jacob that he was a father, how eagerly she listened for his approaching footsteps with what intense earnestness she scanned the face so dear, to learn that she had not suffered in vain ! Her babe was not a daughter, so lightly esteemed in Eastern countries. God, the God of his father, had bestowed the blessing, and it was a son she had to give. He could not turn coldly from her he must love her now. She was doomed to disappointment. A new grief weighed on her heart, and when her second son was given to her arms there was no hope in her words, but only a meek, subdued expression of love to Him who knew her sorrows, and had again appeared for her comfort. Again and again, sometimes hoping, sometimes desponding, but always in the spirit of earnest piety and a beautiful trust in God, she welcomed her children into the world. Years rolled on. She was still a neglected wife, but she was no longer unhappy nor lonely. A song of praise to the Lord was ever on her lips. Around her clustered smiling 9

98 THE MOTHERS OF THE BIBLE. little faces soft hands smoothed her care-worn brow, and cooing, dove-like voices cheered her solitude, and called her "mother." Six fair sons and a daughter grew up around her, and she had the consolation of knowing that distinguished honor was put upon her by Him who thus made her an instrument of fulfilling his covenant with her husband. So far as we know Leah's character, it was extremely lovely. o repining or discontented words, no rebellious or wilful expressions, fell from her lips, no murmuring appears to have been in her heart. Once only the hidden conflict appears, when her sister asks

a favor. "Is it a small matter that thou hast taken away my husband ? And wouldst thou take away my son's mandrakes also ? " It was a revealing of deep sorrows, and it melted even Rachel's heart. Again the question returns : Did Jacob ever love her as she deserved to be loved ? and again we must answer, we do not know. She lived many years, fulfilling the duties of a wife and mother, and reposed at last in the cave of Machpelah, beside Sarah and Rebekah, with whom she

LEAH A D RACHEL. 99 has doubtless been thousands of years rejoicing in the perfect blessedness of that world where unrequited love is unknown where the soul, with its increasing capacities for affection, is ever abundantly filled and satisfied, because its portion is infinite. " God only knows the love of God," but they who have come up from earth, out of much tribulation, and have washed their robes and been made meet for heavenly fellowship, shall understand the blissful mystery of that union which alone is dearer and more intimate than the hallowed unions of earth. They who are bound in marriage ties here " are of twain made one flesh; " but "he that is joined to the Lord is one spirit." How gracious and condescending to human infirmities is God our heavenly Father ! How ready to gratify every reasonable desire ! If any who read these pages- are conscious of earnest and unsatisfied wishes, let them, not in Rachel's fretful and rebellious spirit, but in meek and patient trust, with thanksgiving, make their request known unto him. He has written, " The desire of the righteous shall be granted."

100 THE MOTHERS OF THE BIBLE. If any neglected, lonely wife reads with tearful eyes the story of Leah's sorrow, let her turn to Leah's Almighty Friend for comfort, and learn to say, though again and again disappointed, " Still will I praise the Lord." Let her, with childlike submission, receive her cup at his hands, and in the faithful discharge of duty wait her appointed time and lot. She shall not labor and wait in vain. If her heart finds no place of repose in his who should cherish and love her, she shall surely understand at length what is that perfect peace in which they are kept whose minds are stayed on the infinite God. If he has bestowed on her the inestimable blessing of children, the richest solace earth affords is already hers ; let her not indulge gloomy and repining thoughts, but let her bend all her energies to the task of training immortal minds, who, if she is faithful, shall rise up and call her blessed, and praise God for her care and instructions. In Jacob's family were two other mothers of whom we have not spoken. They were servants ; little is said of them ; yet they were cared for by Jehovah, and their children were sons who were at length heads of four tribes in Israel. Every mother, however humble her position in earthly society, is the immediate care of God, and is doing his work. She knows not what mighty results depend on her fidelity in performing her allotted task. Let her train every child as if she heard a voice from heaven saying, Take this child and nurse it for me. She shall not lose her reward.

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