“So Rachel died, and she was buried on the way to Ephrath (that is, Bethlehem), and Jacob set up a pillar over her tomb.” (Genesis 35:19,20)
The first time we find ourselves on the road to Bethlehem in scripture is for Rachel’s burial. Rachel was the love of Jacob’s life, but was actually his second wife after a wedding night mixup in Haran. (You can read all about it in Genesis 29.) Even though Jacob had to work seven years for her, he loved her so much it only seemed like a few days.
For a long time, Rachel couldn’t have children. She could only look on as her sister Leah, her servant Bilhah, and Leah’s servant Zilpah gave birth to ten sons for Jacob. Finally God remembered Rachel, listened to her prayer, and she had a son named Joseph. She died giving birth to Jacob’s last son, Benjamin. The families of these twelve sons would grow to be the twelve tribes of Israel, the great nation that God promised to Jacob’s grandfather, Abraham.
Just about everyone traveling to Bethlehem would pass by the place where Jacob had set up a pillar of remembrance. The tomb was still there when Saul was anointed king of Israel (1 Samuel 10:2). Was it still there when David was going back and forth to feed his father’s sheep (1 Samuel 17:15)? Or when some were trying to escape the Babylonians (Jeremiah 41)? Did Joseph and Mary see it on their way to Bethlehem for the census?
If so, each might have remembered stories their parents had told them about Abraham who had obeyed God and moved to a new land. Or the moment on the mountain when God provided a ram for a sacrifice instead of Abraham’s son Isaac. Or how Jacob cheated his older brother Esau out of his birthright and blessing. And how Jacob ended up with two wives, the sisters Leah and Rachel. Or how Rachel’s son Joseph, who became a prince in Egypt, saved the lives of his father and brothers during a time of famine.
I may have passed by Rachel’s tomb on a bus entering Bethlehem. Our tour guide didn’t mention anything, but I remember all the Sunday School stories. God had his hands full trying to keep that family and nation intact and on the right track to bring a Savior into the world. But he did it. He did it for them and he did it for us. Nothing, not even death, can separate us from his love!
Thank you, Lord, for those who taught us the faith and those whom we can teach. Remind me often of the stories, the names and the places along the road to Bethlehem. Amen.