Jacob had two wives, Rachel and Leah. In addition he had children by Bilhah and Zilpah, the servants of his wives. All four of these women could be considered his wives. The Bible records the death of only one of these women, Rachel.
Then they journeyed from Bethel. When they were still some distance from Ephrath, Rachel went into labor, and she had hard labor. And when her labor was at its hardest, the midwife said to her, “Do not fear, for you have another son.”
And as her soul was departing (for she was dying), she called his name Ben-oni; but his father called him Benjamin.
So Rachel died, and she was buried on the way to Ephrath (that is, Bethlehem), and Jacob set up a pillar over her tomb. It is the pillar of Rachel’s tomb, which is there to this day.
Perhaps the reason her death is recorded is that the Bible also tells us of an event which was probably the cause of her death.
Jacob was being treated badly by his father-in-law Laban so he decided to return to his home. He feared that Laban would try to stop him from leaving so he and his family left without telling Laban. But before they left Rachel committed a terrible crime.
Laban had gone to shear his sheep, and Rachel stole her father’s household gods.
When Laban discovered that Jacob had left he followed him and caught up with him. God appeared to him and warned him not to harm Jacob but he still wanted to recover his gods.
“And now you have gone away because you longed greatly for your father’s house, but why did you steal my gods?”
Jacob answered and said to Laban, “Because I was afraid, for I thought that you would take your daughters from me by force. Anyone with whom you find your gods shall not live. In the presence of our kinsmen point out what I have that is yours, and take it.” Now Jacob did not know that Rachel had stolen them.
So Laban went into Jacob’s tent and into Leah’s tent and into the tent of the two female servants, but he did not find them. And he went out of Leah’s tent and entered Rachel’s.
Now Rachel had taken the household gods and put them in the camel’s saddle and sat on them. Laban felt all about the tent, but did not find them. And she said to her father, “Let not my lord be angry that I cannot rise before you, for the way of women is upon me.”
So he searched but did not find the household gods.
Without realizing what he was doing Jacob placed a curse on Rachel.
Like a sparrow in its flitting, like a swallow in its flying,
a curse that is causeless does not alight.
But this curse wasn’t causeless. Rachel was guilty. God kept Laban from finding his gods so Jacob was spared the misery of having to carry out his sentence against Rachel but in the end the curse was fulfilled when Rachel died.
When he encountered Laban Jacob didn’t know Rachel and taken his gods but he did find out later.
God said to Jacob, “Arise, go up to Bethel and dwell there. Make an altar there to the God who appeared to you when you fled from your brother Esau.”
So Jacob said to his household and to all who were with him, “Put away the foreign gods that are among you and purify yourselves and change your garments. Then let us arise and go up to Bethel, so that I may make there an altar to the God who answers me in the day of my distress and has been with me wherever I have gone.”
So they gave to Jacob all the foreign gods that they had, and the rings that were in their ears. Jacob hid them under the terebinth tree that was near Shechem.
The fact that he told his family to put away their foreign gods shows that he knew that some of them were guilty of idolatry. When they gave him their gods he would have discovered Rachel’s guilt if he hadn’t learned about it earlier. When Rachel died he might have remembered the curse he had unknowingly placed on her. The belief that he was responsible for her death would explain the intensity of the grief he felt over it.