Leah – “Wild Cow” or “Wearied”
Please Read: Genesis 29-30; Genesis 49:31; Ruth 4:11
I have to admit, I’ve always related more to Leah than Rachel (even though her parents named her after a wild cow!) I’ve been a bespectacled geek since the second grade. Some scholars think Leah’s “weak eyes” were due to nearsightedness. I can’t imagine Leah functioning in ancient times with myopia and no glasses.
But no one knows what “weak eyes” really meant. It could’ve been a backhanded compliment – as in “her eyes were her only redeeming feature.” The bottom line, however, was Rachel was attractive and Leah wasn’t. And they were both married to the same man. This is not a formula for a happy marriage.
(Jacob) loved Rachel more than Leah. – Genesis 29:30
Commentaries often say Leah was more “spiritually sensitive than her shallow minded sister.” I don’t buy it. Read the text. Really read the text. As I dug deep, I began to see that Leah had flaws of her own. Not the same flaws as Rachel but serious flaws nonetheless.
Imagine Jacob’s shock when he woke up to find Leah in his bed the night after his wedding. She betrayed Jacob just as much as her father did. By participating in Laban’s scheme, she tricked both Jacob and Rachel. Why didn’t she protest going in to take her sister’s place on the wedding night? She could’ve said NO! to her dad or warned Jacob that night. Was she that desperate to get a husband? Did she despise her sister that much? She was part of the cause of the horrible love triangle she was now caught in.
The “Who Can Have the Most Children Competition”
Leah spends the rest of her life locked in combat with her sister. What do they compete with? Children, specifically sons. “Behold, children are a gift of the Lord.” (Psalm 127:3) He gives them. We receive them. They are not pawns in a game.
What do Rachel and Leah compete for? Jacob’s love and affection – at least at first. We see that Leah genuinely wanted Jacob to love her by the names she gives her children.
- Leah’s Son #1 – Reuben means “Behold a Son!” Leah says: “The Lord has seen my affliction, surely my husband will love me now.” Score: Leah 1, Rachel 0.
- Leah’s Son #2 – Simeon means “hearing.” Leah says: “God has heard me. The Lord heard that I am unloved and has given me this son also.” At least she is praying to God about her unhappiness. Score: Leah 2, Rachel 0.
- Leah’s Son # 3 – Levi means “joined or attached.” Leah says: “At last my husband will become attached to me because I have borne three sons for him.” He didn’t become attached to her. Ever. Score: Leah 3, Rachel 0.
- Leah’s Son #4 – Judah means “Praise.” Leah says: “This time I will praise the Lord.” Commentaries often say this shows that she was more godly than her sister, Rachel; that she turned to God in her pain. But her actions that follow would seem to refute this notion. Score: Leah 4, Rachel 0.
Then Leah stopped having children. By this time Rachel is beside herself with jealousy so she sends her maid into Jacob’s bed so she can claim to have children by her.
- Rachel’s maid Bilhah child #1 – Dan means Judge. Rachel says: “God has vindicated me. He has heard me and given me a son.” So, Rachel is praying, too. Not praying with a good motive, but praying. Score: Leah 4, Rachel 1
- Rachel’s maid Bilhah child #2 – Naphtali means “wrestling with strife.” Rachel says: “I have wrestled with my sister and won.” Rachel must have been having a blonde moment because it’s now Leah 4, Rachel 2. Honey, this is not winning.
Something seems to change after this statement by Rachel. Leah begins to comprehend that Jacob is never going to return her love. His heart will always be for Rachel. So Leah turns her attention to the “Who Can Have the Most Children Competition” that Rachel started years ago. Instead of vying for her husband’s love, Leah now seems to want to beat her sister at all costs. Leah enters her concubine in the race. The names she gives these boys make no mention of God.
- Leah’s maid Zilpah child # 1 – Gad means “What good fortune! or troop. Leah does have quite the army of kids now. Score: Leah 5, Rachel 2.
- Leah’s maid Zilpah child # 2 – Asher means happy. Leah says: “I am happy that the women call me happy.” Does it matter what other women think? What about what God thinks? Score: Leah 6, Rachel 2.
Now’s where it gets really sad. Leah’s son Reuben finds some mandrakes (believed to be an aphrodisiac and to aid fertility.) Rachel wants them. It’s obvious she has control of who sleeps in Jacob’s bed because she allows Leah a night with Jacob in exchange for the mandrakes. Leah complains to Rachel you’ve taken “my husband.” Hadn’t she stolen Jacob from Rachel first? Then she humiliates herself by waiting outside the tent and telling Jacob she bought a night with him.
- Leah’s Son #5 – Isaachar means “there is reward or recompense” or “what good fortune.” Leah says: “God had rewarded me for giving my slave to my husband.” No. No. No. This is not good theology. God never condoned polygamy. His plan was always one man, one woman. Leah is way off track here. Score: Leah 7, Rachel 2.
- Leah’s Son #6 – Zebulun means “exalted, honored” Leah says: “This time my husband will honor me because I have borne six sons for him.” Honor me. No longer is she seeking for his love. She wants him to honor her, to recognize her. Score: Leah 8, Rachel 2.
Then God remembered Rachel. He listened to her.
- Rachel’s Son #1 – Joseph means “God will add another.” She’s not satisfied even when God answers her prayers but this is also a bit prophetic as she would have another son. Score: Leah 8, Rachel 3.
- Rachel’s Son #2 – Benjamin means “Son of my right hand.” Rachel named him Benoni meaning son of my sorrow but Jacob renames the poor tike. She died trying to beat her sister. The thing she wanted most, children, kills her.
Contest over – Final Score: Leah 8, Rachel 4.
How is Jesus involved in Leah’s Story?
Grace. When the Lord saw Leah was unloved, He opened her womb. He didn’t care that her exterior wasn’t lovely – God does not look upon the outward appearance. Just as He saw Hagar’s plight, He saw Leah’s misery. Used by her father, unloved by her husband, and resented by her sister, God heard Leah crying out. He never overlooks the cry of the unloved. God knows and God cares.
Rachel may have been Jacob’s choice but Leah was God’s choice and God’s will always prevails. Leah ends up first wife, last wife and is buried alongside Jacob in the tomb of the patriarchs. Insecure Rachel was buried alone. Jacob may have loved Rachel more but it is Leah whose son, Judah, ends up in the lineage of Christ. Our redemption and salvation come through Leah’s line, not Rachel’s.
In spite of all her flaws, Ruth 4:11 says Leah and Rachel together built the house of Israel. Leah contributed six sons – half of the twelve tribes of Israel. “A tremendous heritage would come through Leah, the woman with the unhappy marriage,” says author Gien Karssen. Which just goes to show you that there is a reward for perseverance in the face of rejection.
Questions to Ponder
- Do you tend to compare yourself to other women and feel like you come up short?
- Do you judge others merely by their outer appearance?
- Take a moment to look in the mirror and do what the young lady in this You Tube video does – Appreciate what God has given you. When do we lose our ability to do this? When do we start comparing and seeing all our flaws instead of our beauties?
from Women of the Bible by Ann Spangler and Jean E. Syswerda:
Lord, I don’t want to be critical of how you’ve put me together, relying on what others think of me for my sense of well-being. Make me a woman who is confident that I am loved, not because of any outward beauty but because you have loved me from the moment you called me into being. In Jesus’ name I pray. Amen.
The Bottom Line
Things I learned from Leah: Rachel had her faults but so did Leah. We all have different faults.