I just finished re-reading the story of Jacob, Rachel and Leah (Genesis 29-30), and thought again of the rejected sister -- and the message her story holds for us about the compassion of God. (BTW, this is excerpted from my second book, Lessons Along the Journey).
Leah lived in the shadow of her younger sister's beauty. When Jacob visited the family, Rachel's beauty captured him – so much so, he agreed to work her family's farm for seven years as payment to marry her. But on the eve of the seventh anniversary, Rachel's family pulled a classic bait and switch. When the new groom awakened the next morning, he found himself lying next to Leah. If Jacob still wanted Rachel, he'd have to work another seven years.
He did, but it's not difficult to imagine how Leah felt – unloved, unattractive, unwanted, knowing her family had to trick Jacob into her marriage bed.
Yet, the story grows more poignant. Scripture tells us: “When the Lord saw that Leah was not loved, he opened her womb . . . and [she] gave birth to a son. She named him Reuben, for she said, ‘It is because the Lord has seen my misery. Surely my husband will love me now’" (Genesis 29:31-32, NASB). I can almost hear the wistful yearning in her voice, "Now my husband will love me."
But Jacob’s feelings toward her did not change.
Yet, ever the optimist, Leah conceived again. And then, again. "Now at last my husband will become attached to me," she said, "because I have borne him three sons."
Yet even after six sons, it was Rachel who remained the proverbial light in Jacob's eyes. Leah hungered for her husband's embrace. She longed for his touch, a kind word and to know in the core of her being she was loved. Yet, Jacob was deaf to her heartache and blind to her sorrow.
God, however, knew it all – and that is the wonderful message of this story.
I had read these chapters in Genesis dozens of times, but a few years ago my eyes froze at the list of Leah's sons -- and then refocused on two.
Levi and Judah.
Not only was Leah unaware that God was with her in Rachel's shadow, but she didn't know eternity would measure life and death through her offspring – and not Rachel's.
Levi and Judah: ancestors of Moses, Aaron, David, Solomon, Ezra, Ezekiel, Zechariah. All of Israel's religious and political leaders would spring from her womb.
Including Jesus the Messiah.
"For I know the plans that I have for you," God tells us through Jeremiah, another of Leah's descendants, "plans for welfare and not for calamity, to give you a future and a hope" (Jeremiah 29:11, NASB).
Hope. St. Paul tells us the things written in Scripture are for our benefit, and that through the encouragement of God's word we can have hope (Romans 15:4). That's what Leah's story is all about – great, ineffable hope. It’s about God in our shadows, about God who loves us, and who knows our deepest hurts.
And it’s the story of how God can turn the rejection of others into something of immeasurable value for those who yearn to be touched by God's love.