Written by Pastor Lincoln A. Graham, Jr
The history of Leah is that she was hated and unwanted. The Bible is more descriptive of her by what it does not say rather than by what it says. We know that she is the eldest daughter of Laban, uncle of Jacob. Her sister Rachel was beautiful, comely, and well favored. Leah, by contrast, was tender-eyed, weak, soft and frail. We are led to believe, by inference, that although she was older, she played second fiddle in every area and aspect of her life. Her introduction to us is off-handed, cavalier and dismissive. She is introduced to us juxtaposed against her sister to indicate her lack (Gen 29: 16-18). She was unappreciated and overlooked; a pawn given away to a man whose heart and mind was for her sister. She was a side bargain in somebody else’s dream – the flea that comes with the dog. Her husband hated and rejected her and did not desire her – she was unwanted. This is not to say he did not have a cause… for she was the unwitting dupe in her father Laban’s fraud to rid himself of a drain on his resources and to dump her off on some unsuspecting man. No man would want a sickly and feeble wife; for the ultimate value of a wife was in her ability to bear sons. It was a shame and a man would be pitied if he could not have sons. Furthermore, somebody needed to feed her. Why not have Jacob feed her & protect her and pay him (Laban) by dowry to do it.
Leah was in an unenviable position yet she was determined to make the most of the situation – she was looking to redefine herself. She wanted to be desired, needed and appreciated. Unfortunately, she loved a man who did not want to return that love.
Leah: weak, tender-eyed, unloved, unappreciated and betrayed. Her father didn’t want her; her husband didn’t love her, and her sister controlled the heart and attention of the man she loved. She was a pawn; easily traded by a father and difficult to get rid of by a husband. She was damaged goods; seemingly fit only to be bartered and sold. She knew her husband did not love her. He would look through her and see her sister – the beautiful one. She knew that her marriage was the product of a scam… a scam to pass off damaged goods. In name, she was the first wife… but in heart and intention, she would have been no man’s wife. Her husband was the unsuspecting dupe who was stuck with her. In spite of these things, she loved him unconditionally and craved his love in return. Her life was wrapped up in trying to make someone who hated her love, appreciate and care for her. Therefore every day was a struggle to overcome her physical, emotional as well as spiritual deficiencies in the hope that she would get a little morsel of attention, a fleeting look of admiration, or even, miraculously, a word of encouragement. Unfortunately, because she was under intense pressure, each day quickly spiraled out of control as she struggled, connived, scraped, and fought tooth and nail to be recognized as the first wife – in word and deed – and also to reap the benefits and honor that the position bestowed. However, it was not to be, for in Jacob’s eyes she represented the suffocating hold that Laban had on his life as well as the deprivation of earned wages and the woman of his dreams. To him she was a parasite sucking his blessings out of him. Not only was he stuck with her but he actually hated her, for beyond her looks and frailty of body she represented his own weaknesses and inabilities and the fact that he was trapped in a life that he hated. She represented what he had become – struggling with his own flesh, not loving himself and not reaching his Penial.
Leah’s situation looks tragic, hopeless and unenviable; without a resolution. And then comes the momentous verse! ‘When the Lord saw that Leah was unloved, he opened her womb; but Rachel was barren’ (Gen 29:31). Hated she was; odious to Jacob, but God ALWAYS has a plan for those who trust in Him. ‘He maketh the barren woman to keep house, and to be a joyful mother of children. Praise ye the Lord! (Psalm113:9). In a society where children were prized (Psalm 127:3), God opened her womb and closed Rachel’s. And so began her transformation. However, it would be many years of additional suffering before she learned her most valuable lesson: happiness will never be found in trying to define yourself by societies expectations, and lastly, you can’t live one’s life trying to make people like you.
Leah: a woman unsure of herself; an awkward duckling; unable to define herself because she was defined by what others thought of her; struggling to find her place in a society where women were defined by fathers, husbands, uncles, men and the ability to bear children.
As she began to bear children, Her transformation was slowly occurring: Emotionally – she was coming to grips with the fact that delivering on other people’s expectations was not going to make her happy in the long run. Physically – she was doing things that her chief antagonist only could dream of: giving birth to another human being. Spiritually – she was growing; displaying her faith in God.
Her journey of self discovery started when she became pregnant and gave birth to a son. She named him Rueben, for she said, ‘It is because the Lord has seen my misery. Surely my husband will love me now’ (Gen 29:32-35). However, to her surprise, though her womb was open, and she begot a firstborn man child for the man she wanted to be her true husband, nothing had changed. His estimation of her barely rose on the appreciation scale. She conceived again, and when she gave birth to a son she said ‘Because the Lord heard that I am not loved, he gave me this one too.’ So she named him Simeon. Evidently this was a hard lesson to embrace, because her focus shifts to the idea that two are better than one in getting the Love she desperately craved. Again she conceived, and when she gave birth to a son she said, ‘Now at last my husband will become attached to me, because I have borne him three sons,’ So he was named Levi. Leah had four sons in rapid succession and gave them names which indicated her state of mind- she wanted to connect and belong with someone who did not care for her in the same way she did for him. Implicit within the naming of these children was what she needed emotionally and spiritually as a woman:
Reuben – “see, a son!” – She wanted to be seen
Simeon – “hearing” – She wanted to be heard
Levi – “attachment” – She wanted to be touched
She conceived again and when she gave birth to yet another son, she said “This time I will praise the Lord”. So she named him Judah. Then she stopped having children.
Somewhere between Levi and Judah something clicked within her and she realized that she did not need to define herself through others. She got tired of trying to please a man. Her primary objective was no longer to be seen, heard and touched by a man. She now just wanted to give God praise!
Sometimes God is praised for his inherent qualities. ‘Praise the Lord, O my soul. O Lord my God, you are very great; you are clothed with splendor and majesty….. He stretches out the heavens like a tent… He makes the clouds His chariot… He makes the wind His messengers …’ (Psalm 104: 1-5). Sometimes God is praised for His majesty (Psalm 104:1) or His holiness (Isa 6:3). Sometimes He is praised for what He has done for us (Psalm 103:1-5).
Leah, through childbirth, learned the important lesson that you can praise God through ANY and EVERY situation. She learned that the setting and the extenuating circumstances need not be ideal for you to praise God. She learned that our praise should come from deep within, out of a heart of gratitude, and not dependent on another person. She learned how to declare God’s glory in spite of! What a poignant lesson for us as we navigate life’s journey. We should be able to declare like David … ‘I will bless the Lord at ALL times. His praise shall continually be in my mouth’ (Psalm 34:1). Praise ye the Lord!