2. Leah: The Woman No Man Loved But Every Woman Envied (Gen. 29:15-35)Related Media
When has your boss ever said to you: “Name your salary”? This only seems to happen in Hollywood or in sports. But, that’s what Laban said to Jacob. Laban didn’t have to pay Jacob for his work because Jacob was a houseguest (and houseguests usually worked for their keep), but he offers to do so. Laban appears forthright and generous but he has ulterior motives: (1) to make money through Jacob’s entrepreneurial talents; and (2) to change the uncle-nephew relationship to master-servant in order to control Jacob. So he says to Jacob: “Name your wages.”
Little did Laban know what Jacob’s answer would be. Nor did he dream of the impact it would have on his daughters, particularly Leah. In this story of “Leah: The Woman No Man Loved But Every Woman Envied,” the subject is about depending on God when you are rejected. The overall teaching for us in this story is that: “When you turn your focus from yourself to God, God pours out his blessing upon you.”
As we study this story, please notice some of the literary devices and structure that the story-teller uses, such as the intrigue and irony, and the parallelism between (1) Esau (Jacob’s older brother) and Leah (Rachel’s older sister); (2) between Jacob (the trickster) and Laban (the master trickster); and (3) between Jacob’s birth family and his own marital family.
The first picture in this story is of …
1. Leah: The Woman No Man Loved (29:16-30).
Leah is unwanted by three people. First, Leah is “disregarded” by her cousin, Jacob (29:16-20). Jacob already knows what he wants Laban to pay him. He doesn’t want Laban’s money; he wants his daughter - not Leah the older daughter but Rachel the younger. Jacob, the younger brother, is in love with Rachel, the younger sister. Just as Esau, the older brother, stood between Jacob and the blessing, so here Leah, the older sister, stands between Jacob and his bride.
Jacob probably knew the problem he was up against - that it was customary for a father to give his older daughter in marriage before the younger. But before he ever laid eyes on Leah he had fallen in love with Rachel. It was love at first sight (29:11). It wasn’t as though he looked at both daughters and said: “Mirror, mirror on the wall who is the fairest of them all?” Jacob was smitten by Rachel from the first time he saw her. Comparing her to her older sister only confirmed his decision – there’s no contest. When Leah shows up, he isn’t attracted to her at all – “17 Leah’s eyes were weak, but Rachel was beautiful in form and appearance. 18 Jacob loved Rachel. And he said, ’I will serve you seven years for your younger daughter Rachel.’” (29:17-18). Whatever “weak” means I’m not sure, but the context is clear. Leah was physically unattractive (at least in Jacob’s eyes), whereas Rachel was beautiful. He completely disregards Leah, but that poses a dilemma for Jacob: “How can I get Rachel when she is the younger daughter?” This is a love story with this distinct and complicated twist.
True to his character and upbringing, Jacob devised a plan. It was a very shrewd plan - one that would appeal to Laban’s economic interests and one that is so attractive that perhaps Laban would set aside the custom of giving the oldest daughter in marriage first. He says to Laban: “I’ve got a proposal for you” (Aside: “This is a deal you can’t refuse”). “I will serve you for seven years for your younger daughter Rachel” (29:18).
If Jacob is shrewd, Laban is even more shrewd. Laban agrees to Jacob’s proposal without hesitation. That’s the first sign that the deal perhaps wasn’t as good as Jacob thought. Seven years’ labour was a large amount of money. And as to the problem of giving his younger daughter first, Laban could deal with that when the time came - he could figure out a way around that if he had to. Besides, this may give him an opportunity to solve one of his big problems – how to marry off his unwanted daughter, Leah. Perhaps he could kill two birds with one proverbial stone – get rich and get rid of Leah all at the same time.
So he leaves himself some wiggle room in the deal. Thus, his answer is ambiguous and vague: “It is better that I give her to you than that I should give her to any other man; stay with me” (29:19). Notice, Laban does not say: “It’s a deal” to Jacob’s proposal. Nor does he refer to Rachel by name (only “her,” which could refer to either Leah or Rachel). Jacob has every reason to presume that Laban is in full agreement, but such is not the case.
So Jacob serves the seven years. Such is his love for Rachel that “they seemed to him but a few days” (29:20). Nothing was too much for him to have her as his wife - he was so in love that he didn’t even notice the time. When the seven years are up he called for his “wages.” He had fulfilled his obligation to the letter and his love for Rachel had not diminished one iota.
Leah (the woman nobody wants) is “disregarded” by her cousin, Jacob. And second, Leah is “discarded” by her father, Laban (29:21-27). Her father doesn’t want her either. So, he puts on a wedding feast (29:22), making it look as though he is fulfilling his end of the bargain. But all of this is just part of his “seven year” plan.
Leah now becomes the tool of Laban’s trickery. “…in the evening he took his daughter Leah and brought her to Jacob, and he went in to her” (29:23). How did Laban pull this off? Probably because of two factors. First, the wedding chamber was probably dark at night; and second, Jacob was probably suffering from the inebriating effects of the wedding feast. With these as his cover, Laban substitutes Leah for Rachel, just as Rebekah had earlier substituted Jacob for Esau. How ironic is this? Anyway, Jacob culminates the marriage without knowing that it was Leah, not Rachel.
In the morning light, Jacob discovers the shocking truth, “Behold, it was Leah!” (29:25a). Jacob is now the victim of his own deceptive methods. As they say, “What goes around comes around.” Jacob had pretended to be Esau in front of his father; now Leah pretends to be Rachel next to Jacob. Jacob had pretended to be his older brother; now Leah pretends to be her younger sister. Not only was Jacob tricked, but Leah and Rachel were tricked as well and that by their father! The dysfunctionality of this family continues.
Leah must have been totally embarrassed and Rachel must have been totally incensed – after all, she had waited for Jacob for 7 years! Helpless to do anything Jacob accosts Laban: “What is this you have done to me? Did I not serve with you for Rachel? Why then have you deceived me?” (29:25b). Now he understands what Esau must have felt like when he had swindled him out of his birthright. If Jacob was a swindler, Laban was a master swindler. Laban certainly “knew when to hold them and when to fold them” as they say.
Now, he reveals the trick that he had had 7 years to devise. “It is not so done in our country (29:26), he says to Jacob. “Perhaps back in Canaan you can usurp your older brother (wink, wink), but here in our country, we don’t give a younger sister before the firstborn sister. Our customs have been followed for hundreds of years. Who do you think I am? I’m a prominent man in the community you know. What would people think if I didn’t treat my oldest daughter right?”
God works mysteriously in his redemptive ways. Laban is a cruel father and a deceptive master but God used Laban’s cruelty and trickery to bring about Jacob’s ultimate good – namely, his humility and dependence upon God.
Perhaps there’s a Laban in your life right now and you’ve asked the Lord to remove it or him. Remember, God uses Labans to conform us to the image of his Son and for our eternal good. Just when Jacob thought he had it made, just when he had achieved his ultimate goal, just when life was turning from sour to sweet, “Behold, it was Leah.” What total disillusionment that must have been.
What you set your hopes on in this world invariably disappoints. It always fails to keep its promises, it can’t satisfy your deepest longings whether that is marriage, riches, education, or achievements. “Rachel” always turns out to be “Leah” if God isn’t in it. What we grasp for in the world retreats from us and fades. Like the wind, it slips through our fingers. Your spouse may be good, your education may be superior, your achievements may be sterling, but if your focus is on yourself in the morning it will always turn out to be Leah – not what you expected, merely a substitute.
This often sets up a cycle. Either, you start a cycle of grasping for more, blaming someone else, and becoming cynical, saying: “If there’s nothing in this world that ever satisfies me, what’s the use?” Or, you turn to God who alone can satisfy your deepest longings. To trust in relationships, achievements, or possessions is idolatry – the worship of something other than God. To look for lasting joy, satisfaction, and meaning in this world is foolishness. Jacob thought a beautiful wife was the answer: “She will give me what I never had at home. She will give me back a sense of self-worth, achievement, honour.” But “behold, it was Leah!”
And if Jacob is disillusioned, how do you think Leah felt about all of this? - that the only way her father could get rid of her was by way of a dirty, cheap trick; that her father wanted to get her married off at any cost; that because of her appearance, the only way her father could find a husband for her was by an act of total deception in the dark of night; that no man wanted to voluntarily marry her - nobody truly loved her. And what do you think Rachel’s reaction to all of this was? All these years she thought she was going to marry the man of her dreams, only to have her hopes dashed on the wedding night. How had her older, unattractive sister upstaged her? When did she find out? It must have been on the wedding night or else the secret would have been out. What would happen now? Would Jacob accept Laban’s counter-proposal or would Jacob head back to Canaan with Leah and leave her high and dry? And, if Jacob did accept Laban’s offer, could she accept sharing her husband with her sister?
It’s bad enough for Leah (the woman nobody wants) to be “disregarded” by her cousin, Jacob, “discarded” by her father, Laban, but now, thirdly, Leah is “displaced” by her sister, Rachel (29:28-30). Now Laban says to Jacob: “Listen, Jacob, have I got a deal for you! This will blow you away - I’ll give you Rachel as well as Leah. How do you like that! I’m a man of my word you know. I wouldn’t think of deceiving you and not keeping my part of the bargain. All you have to do is two simple things. First, spend the first week with Leah (the bridal week), and then, second, agree to serve me for another 7 years. That’s all. And just to show you goodwill, I won’t make you wait 7 more years for Rachel. After all, we agreed that you could have Rachel at the end of 7 years and you’ve already served that many. I’ll trust you, Jacob. I’ll give you Rachel at the end of this week, even before you serve the extra 7 years for her” (29:27).
Jacob, of course, agrees to the new deal. His love for Rachel was genuine and deep. So, he fulfills his obligation to Leah for the week and then marries Rachel as his second wife in return for agreeing to serve Laban for another seven years (29:28). But Jacob’s problems had only just begun. He was married to one woman he didn’t love but who wanted his love at any cost and who would be a lifelong reminder of Laban’s trick. He was married to another woman whom he loved dearly but who was barren. In addition, he was obligated to work for another seven years to fulfill his obligations to a man who had defrauded him.
Meanwhile, Leah’s darkness just gets progressively darker. Because of these two schemers, her life becomes a soap opera of favoritism, jealousy, competition, and distrust, which led to unhappiness, tension, stress, anxiety, and anger. This was the beginning of a rotten marriage because it began under false pretences and because her husband loved someone else - “Jacob loved Rachel more than Leah” (29:30). It’s a bit like the Prince Charles and Princess Diana story.
Do you see how the parental favoritism showed by Jacob’s parents to their children now becomes marital favoritism shown by their son? What had produced friction in Jacob’s parents’ family now causes friction in his own family. And Leah’s darkness reaches pitch black. She isn’t wanted by her husband – he disregards her. She isn’t wanted by her father – he discards her. And she isn’t wanted by her sister – she displaces her. Leah is truly “the woman that nobody wants.”
Perhaps you can identify with her. Perhaps someone in your workplace got a promotion ahead of you and you were disregarded. Perhaps your husband doesn’t appreciate you for who you are or he found someone else more interesting and you’ve been pushed aside and you feel displaced and discarded. Perhaps your children don’t show respect for you and are disobedient to you and you feel demeaned and used by them. Perhaps the church hasn’t given you the opportunity to use your gifts as you would like to, or people haven’t been as friendly to you as you think they should and you feel distanced and alone. That’s how Leah felt and that’s how Jesus felt. He was disregarded – “He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him” (Jn. 1:11). He was discarded – they cast him out, saying, “We do not want this man to reign over us” (Lk. 19:14). He was displaced – they chose Barabbas, a robber, rather than him (Matt. 27:21). “He was despised and rejected of men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief” (Isa. 53:3). So, he knows all about you. He knows the deepest feelings of your heart. He knows the rejection, the rudeness, the insults, perhaps even the persecution you have suffered. And be sure of this, he cares more about you than anyone else in the world ever can or will. That was true in the life of Leah. You see, when the Lord steps into the picture, Leah “the woman nobody wants” becomes…
2. Leah: The Woman Every Woman Envied (29:31-35)
How can things change so radically? How such a turnaround? Because God turns darkness into dawn. First, we see that the Lord’s eye of compassion sees her (29:31) – “When the Lord saw that Leah was hated, he opened her womb” (29:31a). Though Leah was not loved by Jacob, she was loved by God. As God had sovereignly chosen Jacob (the second born) over Esau (the first born), so now he chooses Leah (the unloved) over Rachel (the loved).
First, the Lord’s eye of compassion sees her, and second, the Lord’s hand of mercy blesses her (29:31b-35). God’s love for her is evidenced by his action on her behalf. During the second 7 years that Jacob worked for Laban, Leah produced 7 children. In fact, she has four sons in a row (having sons was the ultimate blessing in child birth), while Rachel remains childless. Notice that Jacob isn’t mentioned either in any of the acts of conception or in the naming of the children. “God opened her womb (29:31b). He is the source and means of her fruitfulness and blessing. Leah may not have had Rachel’s beautiful looks but Rachel does not have Leah’s fruitful womb. Leah doesn’t covet Rachel’s looks but Rachel covets Leah’s fertility (30:1).
Look at Leah’s first four sons and what it tells us about Leah and about the deep longing of so many wives for a healthy marital relationship. Her first son she calls “Reuben, for she said, ‘Because the Lord has looked upon my affliction; therefore now my husband will love me’”(29:32). Leah wanted recognition from her husband. She wanted to be seen by him but he doesn’t see her. But God sees the underdog, the despised, the outcast, the vulnerable (just as he did Hagar) and when he sees he acts. God looked upon Leah and she desperately hoped her husband would too.
Her second son she calls Simeon - “Because the Lord has heard that I am hated, he has given me this son also.’ And she called his name Simeon” (29:33). Simeon means “heard.” Leah wanted communication with her husband. She wanted to be heard by him but he doesn’t hear her. She is still unloved; nothing has changed try as she might to please him. She couldn’t share her pain with Jacob but she did with God. He heard her cry. He was her source of strength. He knew all about her and he had blessed her with this son.
Her third son she calls Levi – “Again she conceived and bore a son, and said, ‘Now this time my husband will be attached to me, because I have borne him three sons.’ Therefore his name was called Levi” (29:34). Levi means “attached.” Leah desperately wants affection from her husband. She hadn’t been loved by her father or any other man, so surely Jacob would at least become “attached” to her now that she had given him three sons. She was still living in hope that though she could not attract Jacob with her beauty, she could attract him through her fertility. The truth is, she gives Jacob sons but he doesn’t give her love.
But on what basis did she think she could procure her husband’s love? Did she really think that by producing sons she would earn Jacob’s respect and love? No! Despite all her hopes and desperate attempts to gain her husband’s attention and affection Jacob continued to love Rachel and reject Leah. He was sexually intimate with Leah but emotionally and spiritually detached. She desperately searches for the keys to a healthy relationship - recognition (Reuben), communication (Simeon), and affection (Levi), but she doesn’t find them in Jacob.
Her fourth son she calls Judah, which means “praise.” Leah realizes she’s not going to win Jacob’s love through her own efforts so, when all else fails, she turns to God! Instead of focusing on herself and this overriding compulsion, she now focuses on God. He is the only one she can rely on, the only one who loves her unconditionally, the only one who can make her fruitful. Now she no longer laments her condition. Instead she says, “This time I will praise the Lord” (29:35b). “This time I’m not going to focus on myself but on God.” And, as we noted at the beginning, “when you turn your focus from yourself to God, God pours out his blessing upon you” because God turns the darkness of our lives into the dawn of his blessing.
God’s blessing is beyond anything Leah could have ever imagined. From the womb of an unloved woman and from the pain of an unexpected and unwanted marriage, come two wonderful O.T. institutions – the priesthood and the monarchy. From the line of Levi (her third son) would come the Levitical priesthood (including Moses and Aaron). And from the line of Judah (her fourth son) would come the principal line of monarchy from which ultimately would come the Messiah! – “the Lion of the tribe of Judah” (Rev. 5:5). Leah would be the great, great etc. grandmother of Jesus, the Saviour of the world, the Deliverer, the promised Messiah! She became the woman every Jewish woman would envy, because every Jewish woman would have wanted to be a mother in the Messianic line!
Leah thought that bearing children was the answer - the answer to her unattractiveness, nothingness, and rejection. “For then,” she reasoned, “my husband will love me and take notice of me. Then I will be worthy.” But it didn’t work that way. If you think you can find meaning in life, happiness, significance, and self-worth in a spouse, you’ll be emotionally dependent and your life will go to pieces when he or she doesn’t turn out to be what you expected. In your achievements you’ll be disillusioned and cynical when you get overlooked and someone else gets the promotion, the pay raise, the recognition. If that’s you, then you’re just like Leah. You need to recognize that idols and achievements only make the disillusionment of the world far worse and that God is the only source of true and lasting joy, happiness, love, recognition, and meaning in life.
When Leah turned to God “she ceased bearing children” (29:35c). Why? Because when God became real to her through his great power in her she no longer needed to bear children to find what she was searching for. Instead, she had the God who gave her the children. Leah came to the realization that even though her father treated her cruelly and discarded her, even though her husband disregarded her, and even though her sister displaced her, God was her refuge and solace. He had saved her by his grace. Only when she took her eyes off self and fixed them on God, only when she stopped relying on her achievements in bearing children, only when she turned to the Creator of her children and said: “This time I will praise the Lord”(29:35b), only then did she find release, joy, insight. Only then did her dark life turn into the dawn of God’s blessing.
And when Leah turned everything over to God, God blessed her beyond her wildest imagination. She would be the one whose progeny would ultimately give birth to Jesus. Through her son, Judah, the Messiah would come. Leah “the woman nobody wants” became Leah “the woman every woman envies,” the mother of the Redeemer’s line! She went from a nobody to a somebody.
When you learn that you are bankrupt, helpless, and hopeless, that you can’t climb Jacob’s ladder to heaven by your own efforts, and when you turn your focus from yourself to God, then God pours out his blessing upon you. He is the answer to your deepest longings.
When you realize that you can’t earn what you yearn for (whether it be your spouse’s recognition, communication, or affection, or your bosses’ commendation), and you turn to God, then God sees you and comes to your aid. Remember: “When you turn your focus from yourself to God, God pours out his blessing upon you.”
God loves those who are unloved and unwanted. He pours his grace into the lives of the outcasts and the despised. He is the Father to the fatherless, the husband to the widow, and the protector of the vulnerable. He exalts the humble, feeds the hungry, and gives strength to the weak.
If you’re searching for meaning and happiness, God recognizes your condition. He communicates the answer in the gospel through his Son. He loves you with an everlasting love.
If you feel disregarded, discarded, and displaced, will you turn your focus from yourself to God? His eye of compassion will see you and his hand of mercy will bless you. He will satisfy your every longing in the person of Jesus Christ and you’ll say: “This time I will praise the Lord” (29:35b). After you’ve tried and tried to find meaning and happiness in life by your own endeavours, when you turn to God you’ll find that Jesus Christ is all you want and all you need.