Today’s reading includes Genesis 31:17-32:12, Matthew 10:24-11:6, Psalm 13:1-6, and Proverbs 3:16-18. But my studies today find me back in Genesis 29. At this point in our study of Jacob we see that he was beginning to mature. He was beginning to change from a self-centered young man to one willing to work hard for others. We are beginning to see fruit from his Bethel experience.
Jacob worked so hard that his uncle Laban came to him and said, “Just because you are a relative of mine, should you work for me for nothing? Tell me what your wages should be.”
And then Leah enters the scene for the first time. Take a moment to read Genesis 29: 16-30.
We have already met Rachel. Rachel had stirred in Jacob acts of service and unusual strength. But poor Leah. What do we learn of her as she enters the scene?
1. She was the eldest.
2. She had weak eyes. This information was followed by “but Rachel …,” as in a comparison, which most likely had occurred for most of Leah’s life. “But Rachel was lovely in form, and beautiful.” Even their names called out to the world their differences: Rachel’s name meant Ewe. Leah’s name? Cow! Now, these types of names were common among a herdsman’s family, but come on! Cow? Poor Leah! I saw a secondary meaning for her name in Hebrew: Tired and weary. A weary and tired cow! Poor Leah!
We can only imagine what that means. Rachel had a beautiful figure, lovely skin, shining eyes. Rachel was beautiful. And in comparison, Leah was not. Did she have a weight problem? Acne? Oddly-shaped body? Seems to me “weak eyes” could be overlooked if she, too, had been lovely in form and beautiful.
What does “weak eyes” mean anyway? Prone to infections? Near-sighted? Far-sighted? Both—like I am now? Obviously in a world without contacts or glasses, that problem would hinder Leah’s contribution to the family. She certainly couldn’t be put in charge of the flocks; they could lose some of their sheep, their livelihood.
Yes, Leah had problems. And we see that the family’s propensity to favor Rachel could not have helped her sense of worth or self-esteem.
What did Jacob want in the payment for all his hard work? He wanted Rachel. It is hard for us to imagine why that would be so complicated. It is after all, a great love story, if we are looking at it only through Rachel and Jacob’s eyes. But it is hard for us to imagine the complexities because we don’t have the same customs and traditions that were so important in that day.
You see, back then, the place of the first-born was very important. First-born children had certain rights and responsibilities and, in turn, privileges. In Jacob’s dealings with his elder brother, Esau, we see that he was prone to try and buck the system. And here he goes again! He asked for Rachel as his wife. He knew that Leah was the eldest. He knew that custom required that the eldest marry first. He didn’t really care about those traditions. He didn’t care about how Leah might feel. He just cared about his love for Rachel. And he would do just about anything to get what he wanted.
So, he offered to work for Laban seven years “for your younger daughter, Rachel.” He knew he was requesting outside the box of tradition. Remember that seven is the number of completion and perfection. Maybe they all thought surely in seven years they could find a husband for Leah. But no! Poor Leah!
And so the one whose name meant Deceiver was himself deceived. The morning after their wedding, he found that he had actually married Leah. Can you imagine how humiliating it must have been for Leah to have to participate in the trick? We find out soon enough that Leah loved Jacob. Her greatest, deepest desire was for him to love her back. But he didn’t. He loved Rachel.
As we read further, we see that this battle between Leah and Rachel for Jacob’s love, attention, and children went on for many, many years. The one thing that Leah did have over Rachel was that she could have Jacob’s children.
When the LORD saw that Leah was not loved, He enabled her to conceive, but Rachel remained childless.
Genesis 29:31, NIV
We must take note of the three simple words in this verse that are filled with truth and meaning: “the Lord saw.” He saw the situation clearly—all the ins and outs, hurt and deceit, bitterness and pain. He saw it all. And He understood it all. He came to the rescue with great blessing and comfort, but Leah didn’t seem to recognize it. Just like us, Leah’s obsession with what she did not have overruled her enjoyment and acknowledgment of what she did have. We pick up on the truth of this by looking at what she named her children.
Her first-born she named Reuben, which meant “It is because the Lord has seen my misery. Surely my husband will love me now.” (Genesis 29:32)
Her second born was named Simeon, which meant “Because the Lord heard that I am unloved, he gave me this one, too.” (Genesis 29:33)
She named another son, Levi, saying, “At last my husband will become attached to me, because I have borne him three sons.” (Genesis 29:34) But it was not to be. The focus of these children was not the children, but the focus was trying to win Jacob’s love. How sad is that?! Then throw in a bitter sister, Rachel, who had the love that Leah so desperately wanted, but didn’t have the children that Leah had. I suspect that both would have traded places with the other, so desperate was their longing for what they didn’t have.
We all know the story. God did give Rachel children eventually, both physically and through her servant. One of her sons, Joseph, was greatly used to fulfill the plan of God on behalf of His people. But the struggle continued between the sisters, back and forth, child after child. In my Sunday School knowledge of Leah, that is where I had always left her: still in the struggle. But if we take the time to study just a little bit, we find that Leah wasn’t so forgotten after all. God was orchestrating a great plan and legacy for Leah. The forgotten one, in the end, was the matriarch. The ugly duckling may not have changed physically, but in the spiritual realm she was greatly honored even above the beautiful Rachel.
How do we know this? Because of the generations that came through her. It was through Leah that the Levites, the holy priests of the Lord, came. And most importantly, it was through Leah that Jesus came. In Genesis 29:35 we find that she had momentary peace when she gave birth to her fourth son. She named him Judah, which means “This time I will praise the Lord.” Period. She basically said, “I will just praise God, without trying to change my circumstances, without trying to make things good and right, without trying to win love. I will just praise.” I believe this peace and praise came because deep in her spirit the Lord was whispering, “With this One, I will make all things new.” And so it was. It was through Judah that Jesus, the Savior, was born.
Even after Judah, Leah struggled back and forth with her desire for human love. But in the end, it was Leah that was buried next to Jacob, just as Isaac was buried with Rebekah and Abraham was buried with Sarah. God saw. And He did something about it. And though it took time to see, He was working all along the way.
Where are you today? Do you relate with Leah’s struggle? Do you want something you can’t seem to obtain? Do you struggle with making idols out of good, God-given things, forgetting that the true God is the giver of those things? Do you feel unloved and misunderstood? God sees. He sees all the complexities of your life and He understands. So like Leah, when she got a tiny glimpse of the Savior to come, why don’t you say, “This time, I will praise the Lord.”
Praise has great power. Angels surround the Throne of God in constant praise saying, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty; Who was and is and is to come.” Let’s praise Him like that, no matter our circumstances, trusting that He sees and has done something about it.