Leah was first in birth, but, not first in much else. At first glance…
Ah, Leah and Rachel, what a story. Two sisters who are put in a situation where they both are married to the same man by a scheming father. The years following are marked with hints of rivalry and pain all the way through one of them dying and their son’s struggle to stay on the right path. But, their children’s misadventures is a story for a later time. Today I want to focus on the little hints that the Bible gives us about Leah and Rachel and the things that I hope we can learn from them. This post will focus on Leah, the next one Rachel and the last one Jacob.
First in birth, but, at first glance, not much else, Leah was the daughter of Laban, an Aramean from Paddan Aram in Mesopotamia which was an area of modern Iraq and Syria. The Bible says that Leah had “weak” or “delicate” eyes and implies that she was not as attractive physically as her sister (Genesis 29:17-18). Laban secretly married Leah to Jacob in the place of her younger sister Rachel, whom the Patriarch of the Israelites loved more. Jacob was shocked by this because he had already spent 7 years working for Laban to earn the right to marry Rachel.
25 When morning came, there was Leah! So Jacob said to Laban, “What is this you have done to me? I served you for Rachel, didn’t I? Why have you deceived me?” 26 Laban replied, “It is not our custom here to give the younger daughter in marriage before the older one. 27 Finish this daughter’s bridal week; then we will give you the younger one also, in return for another seven years of work.” 28 And Jacob did so. He finished the week with Leah, and then Laban gave him his daughter Rachel to be his wife. 29 Laban gave his servant Bilhah to his daughter Rachel as her attendant. 30 Jacob made love to Rachel also, and his love for Rachel was greater than his love for Leah. And he worked for Laban another seven years.
– Genesis 29:25-30
As an aside, have you noticed the escalation of the usage of exclamation points in today’s society? As a contributor to the problem, I know my blame, and the guilt I feel is far worse than any punishment I might receive! But the “point” here is that in the 186,000 or so sentences in the Bible, exclamation points are evidently only used 313 times in the NIV and only 275 in the KJV. Is this right? I don’t know, but I googled it and it seems close. Again, my specific “point” here is that this punctuation mark denoting “strong feeling” or “forceful utterance” is not used a lot, so conceivable, when it is, we should note the emphasis. In the passages I am looking at covering the early parts of Leah and Rachel’s story, the exclamation point is used 3 times. It is safe to say that we need to understand the emotion behind these passages and between these sisters. Aside Over!!!
Jacob’s absolute shock – that Leah was in his bed, that Rachel was not, that both girls had to know about the switch and that Laban, his Uncle, would do this to him – sets the stage for the rest of the story and is complete foreshadowing to the trials, travails and triumphs that Israel will go through for the rest of the Old Testament and on to this day and into the future until the Messiah returns.
Genesis 29:31 through Genesis 30:24 provides a rich detail about this time in Leah, Rachel and Jacob’s lives. In studying what is written, I noticed that the Bible gives us small, but powerful, statements about each child’s birth and what the mother, and sometimes God, was thinking. Let’s look at Leah
Leah goes on from the disastrous betrothal to be the mother of the first four sons of Jacob, all the while continuing to hold her place as, at best, Jacob’s second favorite. Over the following years, Leah and Rachel continue to scheme to get what they desire – Love for Leah and children for Rachel. They both abandon their principles and sense during this rivalry so much that they go on to introduce their husband to their attendants to have children for them. In this sin, neither gets what they long for because neither the love or children are truly theirs.
From Leah’s standpoint, the most interesting part of this story to me is the progression that she goes through as she, and her attendant Zilpah, have 8 of Jacob’s 12 sons. Leah moves through these emotions during that time – miserable, hated, hopeful, joyful in the Lord, counting her blessing, happy, rewarded and thankful.
Folks, this is the part of the story that I never caught before – the movement of Leah from disgraced and second place to being in love with the only person that can truly love her back and bring her peace and joy – God himself. I believe the proof of Leah’s God-derived joy is shown in Genesis 29:31, Genesis 29:35 and Genesis 30:13 showing the reaction to the births of her 4th and 6th son. It should be noted that one of the rare 313 Biblical exclamation points denotes the level of her happiness.
31 When the Lord saw that Leah was not loved, he enabled her to conceive, but Rachel remained childless. – Genesis 29:31
35 She conceived again, and when she gave birth to a son she said, “This time I will praise the Lord.” So she named him Judah. – Genesis 29:35
13 Then Leah said, “How happy I am! The women will call me happy.” So she named him Asher. – Genesis 30:13
How heart warming to see this and know that if we give our lives to God and love Him, He will deliver the same for us!
This cycle of God loving us, our responding with love and praise, and His giving us joy, even during and through very difficult situations, is present many times throughout the Bible. Leah’s love for the Lord changed her life. It did not keep her from hardship as she was still locked in a life-long struggle with her sister. It did not keep her from sinning as she still gave her attendant to her husband in her place. But, it changed her outlook on life from one of sorrow and self-pity, to one of Love for the Lord and joy.
Leah’s story is one of the biggest examples of foreshadowing of events to come, through Mary, a relation to Leah’s son Judah. Mary comes to understand Leah’s joy when she finds that she is pregnant with Jesus because of the Lord.
45 (Elizabeth says)Blessed is she who has believed that the Lord would fulfill his promises to her!”
46 And Mary said: “My soul glorifies the Lord 47 and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, 48 for he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant. From now on all generations will call me blessed, 49 for the Mighty One has done great things for me — holy is his name.
– Luke 1:45-49
Note the exclamation point.
Photo by Antonio Guillem at http://antonioguillem.com/