I’ve been reading through Genesis for the past few weeks. As I read the story of Jacob this time, I was struck by Leah’s part in the story. Jacob saw beautiful Rachel and fell for her. He worked for 7 years in order to marry her, “but his love for her was so strong that it seemed to him but a few days” (Genesis 29:20). All the ladies say, “Aww…”
The story takes a dramatic turn when Rachel’s father secretly substitutes her older, plainer sister, Leah, on their wedding night. Jacob is obviously distraught when he discovers that he’s been swindled, so his father-in-law offers to allow Jacob to marry Rachel, too, a week after Leah. The story tells us that Jacob loved Rachel much more than he loved Leah (Genesis 29:30).
When reading this story, I’ve always paid attention to Jacob and Laban. Jacob is a liar and cheater, so it seems he’s finally met his match in his father-in-law. But that leaves out the problem of Leah, the woman in the middle of it. Poor Leah, who knew she was second best, the unloved one.
The story only gets worse as Leah begins to have children and hopes each one will be a way to win Jacob’s affections. As her first three sons are born, she holds out hope that she will be loved. Each time, she chooses a name that reflects her hope that Jacob will finally notice her worth and love her. “Surely this time my husband will feel affection for me, since I have given him three sons!” (Genesis 29:34).
Of course, none of it works. From the outside looking in, you know it’s futile, but to her it seems like it just might work. If she just does the right thing, she’ll be good enough. She’ll finally be lovable.
When I thought of Leah’s story in those terms, it hit close to home. How many times have I tried to do just the right thing to be loveable? How often have I tried to change something about myself so I’ll be loved, noticed, respected? Countless times I’ve bent over backwards to meet someone’s expectations for me, but was left feeling tired and more alone, just like Leah. Whether or not I admit it out loud, my actions say, “My worth comes from the things I do.”
The beauty of Leah’s story is that someone else has an important part to play. It says, “When the Lord saw that Leah was unloved, he enabled her to have children…” (Genesis 29:31). Even though Leah recognized that the Lord enabled her to have children, she failed to recognize that he did it out of compassion and love for her. He saw her as worthy from the beginning, whether or not anyone else did. In the end, she finally understood that someone saw her and loved her deeply.
Leah names her fourth son Judah (“praise”) because she finally understood how much God loved her. Even if Jacob would never love her, she had a far more valuable love.
Maybe you are in Leah’s shoes: feeling unloved and assuming doing the right thing will make you loveable. If that’s you, my prayer is that your eyes would be opened to God’s faithful love for you. I pray that you’d rest in his irrevocable love.
And may you have the power to understand, as all God’s people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep his love is. May you experience the love of Christ, though it is too great to understand fully. Then you will be made complete with all the fullness of life and power that comes from God. Ephesians 3:18-19