Leah’s story is one of heartache. Her name means “weary.” She lived in a time when a woman’s value was based entirely on how desirable she was to men. Unfortunately for her, based on what the Bible describes simply as “weak eyes” she was not considered very attractive to potential suitors in her area. She was the older of two daughters and of marriageable age, yet still single with no prospects whatsoever.
To make matters worse, her younger sister is described as a rare beauty.
I imagine that Leah had to learn to hold her head high and just go on about her business while men fawned over her sister, always vying for Rachel’s attention.
I imagine she learned to tune out the hushed whispers from the older women in her village who would shake their heads with pity for this unattractive daughter of Laban who would probably never marry.
Leah’s story takes an unexpected turn when we read that Jacob, son of Isaac, comes into her family’s life and not surprisingly falls head over heels in love with her beautiful sister. Jacob asks Laban if he can marry Rachel. Leah gets a front row seat to witness how hard a man would work to win his bride. She had to watch him labor for her manipulative, selfish father for seven years in order to win Rachel’s hand. He works, and it seems like just a few days to him because he is so wildly in love with Rachel. Leah got to see what love looked like, yet it was not directed at her.
The wedding day finally arrives. There is feasting and drinking and celebration. Jacob will finally marry the woman his heart loves. Only, that night when it is dark, Laban makes Leah go into the wedding chamber with Jacob, pretending to be Rachel. He figures he will kill two birds with one stone. He assumes that no man would want Leah, so he will get her off his hands this way. He knows that Jacob is so consumed with love that he won’t stop until he has Rachel. Laban saw it as a win win situation. And Leah, like a powerless pawn has no choice but to go into the wedding tent with Jacob, veiling herself to conceal her identity, knowing that he has chosen her sibling, and try to take her place. Sounds familiar. I wonder if Jacob ever truly understood the irony of that situation.
Leah had to give the most intimate part of herself to a man who did not want her, had not chosen her, and did not love her. He thought she was her sister. Heartbreaking.
The next morning, in the light of day, Jacob realized what had happened and he was furious.
He confronts Laban and Laban agrees to give him Rachel in exchange for seven more years of labor. Jacob finishes out the wedding week with Leah and marries Rachel too.
If Leah didn’t think her situation could get worse, it just did. Now, not only has she married a man who does not love her, but she gets to be upstaged in her marriage by her own sister for the rest of her life.
I cannot even imagine how difficult those first few years must have been for Leah. The Bible spells out how Jacob and Rachel felt about her. Genesis 29:31 says that she was “hated.” If there is anything worse than being unloved it would have to be being hated.
What I do love about this story is that though Leah was not loved by her husband, there was a bigger story unfolding in her life, a story of which she was completely unaware. The Bible says that “When the Lord saw that she was unloved, he opened her womb.” Leah gave birth to a son. When Rueben was born, Leah said, “The Lord has looked on my affliction; for now my husband will love me.” Maybe now that she had given him a son he would love her. She was wrong. She bore another son, Simeon. This time she said, “Because the Lord has heard that I am hated, he has given me this son also.” Each time, she kept holding out hope that maybe now, Jacob would not hate her. Maybe now that she was bearing him sons, he would choose her, and give her the love her heart so craved. He did not. Leah bore a third son. She named him Levi. She said, “Now this time my husband will be attached to me, because I have born him three sons.” I don’t know what happened between her third and fourth sons, but the next time she bore a child, something had changed. She simply said, “This time, I will praise the Lord.” She named him Judah, which means “praise.”
Leah would go on to bear Jacob two more sons herself and another two through a surrogate. In spite of all of her efforts, Jacob would never love her the way she so desperately wanted him to. He would never choose her. But guess what? God chose Leah. Jacob didn’t notice or care that Leah’s heart was broken. God did. Jacob didn’t move to comfort his wife in her sadness. God did. He saw her pain, and it moved His heart. He gave her children to love her, to fill her life, again and again. But that’s not all. He chose her again. He chose her to be the mother of eight of the twelve tribes of Israel. He chose her to be the mother of Levi, from whose line the Levites, the very priests of God, would come. He chose her to be the mother of Judah. If you look at the first chapter of Matthew, you will see Judah’s name listed in the genealogy. Leah was chosen to be part of the lineage of King David, and ultimately Jesus Christ. You see, though Jacob did not choose Leah, God did. I wonder how her perspective would have changed if she could have understood that. I wonder if it would have enabled her to look past her husband and see the God who was with her, watching over her, loving her, every step of the way.
Sometimes in our pain, we struggle so hard to get from other relationships what we could freely get from God himself. In our struggle for fullness we forget to lift our up our heads and see the God who fills all of our empty places. We forget that even marriage is just a picture, a means to an end. Regardless of whether or not we are well loved by our spouse, the Great Love Story of our lives is not about another fallen human being. It is the story of our God who loves us unconditionally, gave Himself to redeem us from our sin, and chose us to be His own. He is the true bridegroom. He is the reality that our marriages are to reflect. So whether you find yourself well loved, like Rachel, or wearily striving for love that seems just out of reach, remember Leah, a girl whose very name means “weary.” Remember her God, and look beyond your situation. See Him there. He loves you. He loves you. He loves you. Rest.
*My blogs are written with the assumption that they are being read primarily by Christians. If you want to know more about what it means to be a Christian or about the gospel of Jesus Christ, click the link here: The Gospel