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Genesis 29:15-30:21--The Plain Jane

Leah. For most of my life, I questioned the wisdom of parents who named their daughter “Leah.” I’d wonder, “If the parents were looking for a female biblical name, why not select the name of a woman who was known for her beauty, such as ‘Sarah,’ ‘Rebekah,’ or ‘Rachel?’”

Growing up, I only came to know one aspect about Leah, and that was how the Bible described her. The Bible says Leah was “tender-eyed,” which can also be translated “weak-eyed.” Did that mean she had droopy eye lids? Was she cross-eyed, or did she perhaps have a lazy eye?

Whatever her eye problem, evidently it was the most significant attribute about her looks, because that is the sum of her description in Genesis 29:17. However, in the very next sentence, we are told that Rachel was beautiful and well favored. Hmm, God made it a point to inform us of the physical appearance of these sisters: Leah was weak-eyed, and Rachel was beautiful. It was the beauty queen against the plain Jane. I’m a visual person, so when I imagine how Rachel might have looked, I think of several dark-haired beauties such as Catherine Zeta Jones, Jennifer Lopez and Kim Kardashian, who, to me, have a “take-your-breath-away” type of beauty.

But here we have Leah, the older, unmarried sister, who is not breathtakingly beautiful. Unfortunately, having to stand beside Rachel, she is overlooked, unwanted and undesirable. So, with Rachel betrothed to Jacob, what is Laban going to do with Leah? After all, it was a custom for the elder sister to marry first. So, rather than being honest with Jacob, Laban decided to deceive Jacob after he worked seven years for the privilege of marrying Rachel.

It certainly appears that deceit was a family trait here. Isaac’s wife, Rebekah, who is also Laban’s sister, is the one who convinced Jacob to masquerade as Esau in order to receive Isaac’s blessing. Not only that, but she also arranged the entire sham. She prepared the phony venison stew, provided Jacob an “Esau costume,” and convinced Isaac that he was, indeed, blessing Esau. There’s a bit of irony here when Rebekah suggested Jacob head toward her former homeland, Haran, to flee Esau’s wrath. The deceiver was being sent off to another deceiver and into the web of another sibling rivalry. When Jacob negotiated for the hand of Rachel in marriage, he trusted Laban to hold up his end of the bargain. Unfortunately for Jacob, he experienced firsthand the devastation of being double crossed, much like the double cross he pulled on his brother, Esau.

After Jacob informed Laban that he had served his seven years and was ready to wed Rachel, we’re told in Genesis 29:22 that Laban prepared a feast. The KJV indicates that Laban gathered together all the men of the place, and made a feast. This makes it seem Laban might possibly have planned a men’s only private party, probably to assure that Rachel wouldn’t be around. It’s possible that only Laban, Jacob and Leah knew that a wedding was about to take place that evening.

However, in other translations and study Bibles I researched, the indication is that Laban gathered all the people together, which is what I have always been taught. The Jewish Study Bible (Tanakh Translation) p. 60, includes an interesting side note taken from a midrash* in the Talmud, which

“…speaks of Rachel’s selflessness and her concern to spare her unloved older sister humiliation.”

Anticipating that Laban was capable of deceit, the midrash reports that:

“… Jacob had given Rachel certain tokens by which he could identify her, lest her deceitful father succeed in substituting Leah. Worried that her sister would then be put to shame in her wedding bed, she handed the tokens over to Leah.”

I had never heard or read this insightful viewpoint before, but it would go a long way in answering a question I’ve always had, “Where was Rachel when the feast and wedding ceremony were taking place? How did Laban manage to keep her away from the celebration and feast that everyone else was attending?”

It’s difficult for us to imagine how Jacob didn’t notice the switch that took place, but if it was dark, and the lighting was poor, and if Leah had a veil covering her face, it’s understandable how Laban could have pulled this off. I’m sure, too, that the wine flowed freely at that party, so we have no idea of the sobriety of Jacob on his wedding night. We’re not given any indication that Leah was involved in the scheming aspect of this deception, only that she was obedient to her father. And, if there’s any validity to the midrash quoted above, Leah would have been able to produce the tokens, or proof to convince Jacob that he was really marrying Rachel.

We also have no indication that Jacob ever grew to love Leah, certainly not like he loved Rachel. Genesis 29:30 says that Jacob loved Rachel more than Leah. But in Genesis 29:31, we’re told that the LORD saw that Leah was hated (KJV), or unloved (other translations). As Leah begins bearing children for Jacob, and Rachel doesn’t, Leah’s desire is that through the birth of each male child she might obtain the affection of Jacob.

When Leah conceived and bore her first son, she named him Reuben, for “Surely the Lord hath looked upon my affliction; now therefore my husband will love me” (29:32). When her second son, Simeon, was born, she said, “Because the LORD hath heard that I was hated, he hath therefore given me this son also” (29:33). When her third son is born, she said, “Now this time will my husband be joined unto me, because I have borne him three sons,” and he was called Levi.

Her insecurities and her sense of being unloved were evident as she named her children. It was obvious that she was lonely, and that she longed to be noticed and loved by Jacob. Sadly, her entire self worth became connected to her bearing children, especial male babies. She hoped that her children would be the catalyst for gaining Jacob’s attention and adoration. However, we’re never given any hint that that ever happened.

Fortunately, we see a change take place in Leah’s heart when she named her fourth son. She declared, “Now will I praise the Lord,” and she called his name Judah. Finally, she praised the LORD!! Finally, she threw off the cloak of self pity and self-centeredness, and she praised the LORD for this fourth son. Finally, she saw the blessings and favor God had been bestowing on her all along, and that her personal situation wasn’t as bleak as she perceived it. Though we don’t know this from Scripture, it’s hopeful that she recognized that having the love of the LORD was enough. Yes, having the love of a man would be great, but God’s love was better, not to mention more than sufficient.

Judah was obviously a blessing to Leah; but in her lifetime, she would never be able to truly understand the extent of this child’s blessing to the world. Today, we know that this precious baby boy for whom she praised the LORD would become the tribal head through which our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, would be born. The Abrahamic covenant was fulfilled through Leah. Jesus, the Messiah from the tribe of Judah (the tribe of thanksgiving), didn’t come through Rachel, the beautiful and the loved. Judah came through Leah, the weak-eyed and the unloved. Unloved by a man, yes, but loved by the LORD.

In today’s society, as women put so much stock and importance on being loved by a man, we would do well to remember that the love that is the most significant and fulfilling is the love of our Heavenly Father, and His love is always available and is always unconditional. It doesn’t depend on our outward beauty, what we can accomplish or what we achieve. God IS love.

One other point worth noting is the blessing God bestowed on the Israelites through Leah’s third child, Levi. It was through Levi’s tribe that God would establish the priestly order who would oversee the Law, Tabernacle, the sacrifices, the feasts, the temple, the baptisms and worship.

Yes, the birth of Judah was worthy of God’s praise. Leah certainly got that part right. And when I recognized it was Leah through whom we eternally benefitted, I changed my attitude toward her. No longer will I question a parent’s naming a daughter Leah. Instead, when I meet a young girl or woman with the name of Leah, or a derivative of her name, I share with her the blessing with which her name is identified.

*The New World Encylopiedia states that a Midrash is a Hebrew word referring to the exposition, or exegesis, of a biblical text. The term can also refer to a specific compilation of midrashic teachings.


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