Week Ten:Genesis 28–33
The first time Jacob met Rachel it seemed like love at first sight. After seeing his cousin with her father’s sheep, he, much like his mother Rebekah had, watered the flock of his intended family. Then it says, “Jacob kissed Rachel, and lifted up his voice, and wept.” (Gen. 29:11) One could assume he wept for joy.
When Rachel takes Jacob to meet her father, we hear about her older sister for the first time. “Leah was tender eyed; but Rachel was beautiful and well-favoured. And Jacob loved Rachel.” (Gen. 29:17) Many biblical commentaries disagree about the meaning of Leah’s only described trait. The word “tender” comes from the Hebrew word for soft or weak. Some take this to mean her eyes were sweet and her best feature. Others think she may have needed glasses, or her eyes were crossed or droopy. Whatever the intended meaning, the conjunction “but” says it all. In contrast to Rachel, she was not beautiful in the sight of Jacob, and Jacob did not love her.
Jacob begs Laban for his younger daughter’s hand, and Laban asks Jacob to work for seven years. Then this romantic phrase, “And Jacob served seven years for Rachel; and they seemed unto him but a few days, for the love he had to her.” (Gen 29:20)
The wedding night arrives, and Jacob and his veiled bride go into their dark tent for their wedding night. In the morning he discovers that it is not his beautiful Rachel but Leah. Like Bianca from the “Taming of the Shrew,” Laban explains the younger could not be married before the firstborn. And here’s the kicker, after one week Laban lets him marry Rachel after all. Again, much conjecture surrounds these events. In “The Red Tent” Rachel is afraid of the wedding night and lets her sister marry Jacob instead, then realizes her error when she sees how happy Leah is. In Orson Scott Card’s “Rachel and Leah,” Leah loves Jacob desperately and through conniving takes the wedding veil. Some biblical scholars suggest that Laban may have forced Leah into the deception, encouraging her not to speak until the marriage was consummated. Whatever the case, Leah is married to a man who does not love her, and she later is even referred to as “hated.”
The only words we hear from Leah in scripture are the names she gives her children which seem a reflection of her heart. The Lord blesses Leah with three sons in quick succession. She names her oldest Reuben, which means in part “now… my husband will love me.” Simeon means “Because… I was hated, he hath… given me this son.” And Levi means “Now…will my husband be joined to me.” (Gen 29:32-34) In each case, we see Leah looking to her husband to shift his attitude, hoping that if she tries her hardest, he will change. Whether we are facing a challenging marriage, a wayward child or even a difficult boss or co-worker, when we put all our hope in another person changing their behavior, we give away the ability to find happiness in our own lives. Instead, we need to hand that burden to the Lord and listen to His direction. If we do, the change will come, but it may be in us.
With the birth of her fourth son, Judah, we see a significant adjustment. Leah names him, “Now will I praise the Lord.” (Gen. 29:35) By putting her trust in the Lord, whatever her husband’s choices, Leah can feel confident in her choices. That doesn’t mean her troubles ended, but we do see new rays of light.
Rachel has been barren this whole time and “envies” her sister, saying to her husband, “Give me children, lest I die.” (Gen. 30:1) She gives her handmaiden Bilah to Jacob and has two sons through her, naming her second son Naphtali, which means “With great wrestlings I have wrestled with my sister and I have prevailed.” (Gen 30:8) Ironically, Leah never talks about her sister, only wanting her husband’s love.
Leah also gives her handmaiden to Jacob and has two more sons through Zilpah. We can see the new attitude of Leah as she names the first “A troop cometh”, probably a reflection of Gad being the seventh son, and Asher, meaning “Happy am I.” (Gen. 30:13)
Rachel is still barren so when Leah’s oldest son finds a mandrake, Rachel wants it and agrees to let Jacob stay with Leah again if she can have the mandrake. When Jacob returns to Leah, the scriptures say, “God hearkened unto Leah.” (Gen 30:17) She has two more sons and Jacob’s only daughter, Dinah, which means “judged and vindicated.”
Soon after, “God remembered Rachel” (Gen 30:22) and she has Joseph. Then the family returns to Canaan. On the way, Rachel has her second son Benjamin in Bethlehem where she dies in childbirth. She names the boy, “son of my sorrows” but Jacob renames him “son at my right hand.” (Gen 35:18-19) This may explain why the two motherless boys were given preferential treatment, since the others had mothers to care for them.
After Joseph is sold to Egypt, prepares for the famine and ultimately saves his family from perishing, we learn of the fate of Leah. As they move to Egypt, an account of Jacob’s family members entering Gershon shows they have grown to seventy people, but Leah was not among them. (Gen 46:27) Then as Jacob nears death, he begs his children to not leave his bones in Egypt. “I am to be gathered unto my people: bury me with my father in the cave that is in the field of Ephron the Hittite… There they buried Abraham and Sarah his wife; there they buried Isaac and Rebekah his wife; and there I buried Leah.” (Gen 49:30,31)
After four hundred years of slavery, the house of Israel at last return to Canaan, carrying Jacob’s bones and he is laid to rest next to Leah in the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron. By putting her trust in the Lord, Leah was able to endure a difficult situation and say, “Happy am I,” despite her challenges. Instead of becoming bitter, she endured and left a great legacy, including becoming mother to half of the tribes of Israel and having the Savior come through one of her children.
Neal A. Maxwell, a previous apostle, put it this way: “With spiritual endurance there can be felicity amid poverty, gratitude without plentitude. There can even be meekness amid injustice. One never sees the ‘root of bitterness springing up’ in the enduring meek. (Heb. 12:15) While in the midst of all these things, if we are wise like Job, we will avoid charging God foolishly. (Job 1:22)”
Let us be wise like Leah, as well, and turn our troubles to the Lord.