Now Laban had two daughters; the name of the older was Leah, and the name of the younger was Rachel. And Leah's eyes were weak, but Rachel was beautiful of form and face. Now Jacob loved Rachel, so he said, "I will serve you seven years for your younger daughter Rachel." (Genesis 29:16-18)
I’m reading again through Genesis, and again -- at the story of Jacob, Leah and Rachel -- I let my mind wander into the scene.
If you’ve read my second book, you will recognize this is excerpted from it. I’m posting it here because the story is so very beautiful and illustrative of God’s overarching presence, power and influence in our lives – even when we don’t sense it.
Leah lived in the shadow of her younger sister's beauty (see Genesis 29-30). When Jacob visited the family, Rachel's beauty captured him. Her beauty consumed 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 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 agreed to do so, 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).
I can almost hear the wistful yearning in her voice, "Now my husband will love me."
Leah was not the first woman to hope, "If I have his child, he will love me." But that's not the way love works.
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."
But even after six sons, Rachel remained the proverbial light in Jacob's eyes while Leah hungered for her husband's embrace. She longed for his touch, for a kind word and to know in the core of her being she was loved. And Jacob remained deaf to her heartache and blind to her sorrow.
God, however, knew it all – and that is the wonderful message of this story.
I've read this chapter in Genesis dozens of times, but now my eyes froze at the list of Leah's sons, and then refocused on two.
Levi and Judah.
Not only was Leah unaware God was with her in Rachel's shadow, she also 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).
St. Paul tells us the things written in Scripture are for our benefit, and 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.
Oh, Lord. Grant that we may yearn deeply for your love.