“Now Laban had two daughters: the name of the elder was Leah, and the name of the younger was Rachel. Leah’s eyes were delicate, but Rachel was beautiful of form and appearance.”
– Genesis 29:16-17 (NKJV)
I find my heart aching for Leah tonight.
Back in verse 10, Jacob sees Rachel for the very first time – and is immediately smitten with her. He even goes so far as to plant a kiss on her. Though greeting family members with a kiss was and is very common in the Near East (Laban, Rachel’s father, was Jacob’s uncle), the context suggests that this was no chaste peck. Lovely Rachel and the trickster Jacob. A match made in Heaven? Keep in mind that cousins getting married did not bring about the same “ew” factor it does today.
I hang my head for Leah.
Before we go any farther, allow me to note something very important: just because the Bible records an event does not mean that Divine approval was involved.
Jacob foolishly agrees to work for his uncle Laban for seven years before he marries Rachel. Wait; let’s pause and discuss Rachel for a moment. When she and Jacob first meet, they are by a well. Rachel has come to water her father’s sheep at the same time other herders have brought in their flocks (vs. 1-8). The sight of a shepherdess was, apparently, not uncommon to the males of that time and place. So, it is not Rachel’s presence which I find disconcerting, but rather the fact that Scripture records no protest on her account when Jacob the stranger smacks a wet one on her lips.
What does that say about Rachel? Sure, shock was most likely a factor. Most women I know, however, would only allow the kiss to continue – especially in front of a bunch of people – if they enjoyed it. This says to me that Rachel was something of a flirt. Perhaps her physical beauty was matched by a bubbly, vivacious and even titillating personality. Perhaps she knew how to size up the men in a room (or around a well) and play to them.
How could Leah compete?
For seven years, Jacob labors for his beloved Rachel. Scripture is silent about those years, except to say that “they seemed only a few days to him because of the love he had for her” (vs. 20b). Jacob certainly had close contact with Rachel, “the terminology suggests that the couple was betrothed, but that their marriage had never been consummated” (Moore, 136). Betrothal was legally binding in that culture. In the eyes of all around them, Jacob and Rachel were husband and wife, and would be in all senses once Jacob had fulfilled his vow. (This was to become Hebrew marriage tradition).
The text suggests to me that Jacob never got beyond that first, heady rush of being “in love.” His head was in the clouds, stuck in that infatuated state that allows all flaws to go by unnoticed. How would that be possible, over the course of seven years? Though the two had contact, chances are Jacob worked for Laban from the beginning with the livestock, as Genesis chapter 30 alludes to. He would have been out and about all day, tending to the animals. Rachel would have been going about her own chores. Plenty of chances for contact, yes, but probably not a whole lot of time for deep “getting to know you” sessions.
This is the only thing, to me, that can account for Jacob’s part in what happens next.
The wedding day finally arrives. Jacob demands that Laban give him Rachel. Laban makes no response, but simply gathers the crowd together for a great feast. At the height of the gathering, in the evening, Laban makes a switch. He gives Jacob Leah as a wife instead of Rachel. (Now, tell me, what else does this say about Rachel?) Jacob doesn’t realize the deception until the next morning.
Jacob is, understandably, upset at the deception. Laban makes excuses, saying that it wouldn’t be right for Rachel to be married before Leah. His solution? “Fulfill her week” (vs. 27a). In other words, go on with the wedding celebration. Feast with her. Have sex with her. Make a really good show of it. Then I’ll give you Rachel – in exchange for another seven years’ service.
“Then Jacob also went in to Rachel, and he also loved Rachel more than Leah.”
– Genesis 29:30a (NKJV)
Leah. She is not pursued by this man, her husband. She isn’t even really loved by him. While Rachel is busy getting accolades for her beauty, Leah is forced to carry around a moniker which means anything from “weary” to “cow.” The only mention of Leah’s physicality is the fact that her eyes were “delicate.” She had no twinkle, no outgoing nature. Rachel stole the spotlight in every way possible.
Does that mean that Leah was not beautiful and worthy of being loved?
Perhaps Leah was a quiet, dependable sort. Perhaps she had a plain, unremarkable face. What of her humor? The lines formed around her mouth from laughing? What of her intelligence, as she gazed upon the stars with those sad eyes? Did anyone care what her thoughts were? What part did she play in deceiving Jacob? Did she love him – or did she think that this was as good as it was going to get?
Leah ached to be noticed. At first, she prayed for her husband’s love. In the end, she simply hoped that he might become attached to her in some way because of the sons she bore him.
Eventually the story grows more and more entangled, with Leah and Rachel both giving their maids to Jacob as wives. (Remember, just because Scripture records something does not mean that God was happy about it). Neither woman felt safe. Leah was belittled and humiliated by Jacob’s love for Rachel, while Rachel was belittled and humiliated by Leah’s ability to bear children (see 30:1).
I sympathize with Leah. I get Leah. She wasn’t the best-looking. She didn’t have the ability to entrance men. She just wanted to be loved for who she was. Isn’t that what we all want? I think so. Tell me, then, why we are always on the hunt to make ourselves look like someone else? I’m not talking about being healthy and active. We should take care of ourselves. I’m talking about this ridiculous obsession with what amounts to a very thin layer. Jacob was utterly blinded by Rachel’s physical beauty – which would have faded over time, as all such beauty does. He missed the real beauty that was given into his care that first night.
Did Leah ever come to find healing for this brokenness? I hope so. I suspect that she did eventually, simply because Scripture records that she cried out to the Lord during the process of conceiving children. She knew something of God, and appears to have had real encounters with Him. I have no doubt that He was faithful to minister to her aching heart. Whether she reveled in that or not is beyond my knowing, but I do, for a fact, know that God blessed her over and above Rachel.
How do I know this? Leah bore four sons, Reuben, Simeon, Levi and Judah. From Levi’s family God would draw out men to serve as priests before Him for the nation of Israel. From Judah would come “the Lion” (Revelation 5:5), who would grow up humbly, simply, and unnoticed (Isaiah 53:2) – as Leah herself went unnoticed. Yet this humble Man was none other than “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29).
Oh, heck yes!
Leah, simple, unlovely and unloved Leah had the privilege of being in the direct family line of Jesus Christ.
How’s that for a love story?