Poor Leah. Her of the ‘weak eyes’.
If you’re not familiar with the story, allow me to set the scene. Leah’s story begins in chapter 29 of the book of Genesis, when Jacob is running away from his brother, Esau, who wants to kill him, and turns up that home of his uncle (Leah’s father), and falls in love with Rachel (Leah’s younger sister).
The text tells us that Rachel was beautiful, but that Leah had ‘weak’ or ‘tender’ eyes. What on earth those descriptions of the two sisters mean is really anyone’s guess (and I do mean guess). Many, many have tried to give a satisfactory answer to what her eyes have got to do with anything, but it remains a bit of a mystery. Nevertheless, whatever was going on with Leah, it’s quite clear that Jacob is not interested. He’s only interested in Rachel, and he essentially sells himself into slavery to be allowed to marry her.
Unfortunately, it turns out that her father is a bit of a rogue, and when it comes to the day of the wedding, he puts a veil on his elder daughter, Leah, smuggles her in in Rachel’s place, and tricks Jacob into marrying the weak-eyed one. Somehow, Jacob manages to consummate his marriage to Leah without noticing that he’s got the wrong woman as his wife; cue one of the funniest lines in the Bible:
“And in the morning, behold, it was Leah!”
Naturally, Jacob is not amused, but his uncle appeases him and, with the promise of a little more indentured servitude, hands over his younger daughter, Rachel, to become Jacob’s second wife, and we’re told, quite clearly, that he loves Rachel more than Leah.
The story of Leah has always made me sad. To be unloved, to have to spend a lifetime competing with your sister for your husband’s love, to have to buy a night with your own husband – it’s all impossibly tragic. And then there are her children: her sons grow up to be the less-loved children, competing with their brother, Joseph; Reuben sleeps with his father’s concubine (and mother to some of his half-brothers); and, of course, I’ve written about the heartbreaking tale of her daughter, Dinah, before.
Leah’s story seems so bleak and sad and hopeless at first glance, but when we look closer we’re able to see little glimmers of hope; the first rays of the sunrise that will visit from on high.
We’re told that when God saw that Leah wasn’t loved by Jacob, he gives her children – sons, to comfort her, and to give her status in a society that so valued boys. At the birth of the first three, her hope, expressed as she names them, is bound up in a longing to finally gain her husband’s love. But after son number four, she just says this: “This time I will praise the LORD”, and it’s this son, Judah, whose birth begins a family line that stretches through many, many, many generations, and eventually, brings us to the birth of another baby boy, born amongst the dirt of a stable in Bethlehem, to a poor, teenage mum.
At first glance, Leah’s story, and Mary’s story, seem utterly desperate, but of course they’re not, because there’s something going on behind the scenes; there are different threads being woven together to create something more beautiful and glorious than we could have ever imagined or hoped for.
Let me leave you with a quote from The Jesus Storybook Bible. It may be for kids, but it sure does paint a good picture:
” ‘No one loves me,’ Leah said. ‘I’m too ugly.’
But God didn’t think she was ugly. And when he saw that Leah was not loved and that no one wanted her, God chose her – to love her specially, to give her a very important job. One day, God was going to rescue the whole world – through Leah’s family.
Now when Leah know that God loved her, in her heart, suddenly it didn’t matter anymore whether her husband loved her the best, or if she was the prettiest. Someone had chosen her, someone did love her – with a Never Stopping, Never Giving Up, Unbreaking, Always and Forever Love.
So when Leah had a baby boy she called him Judah, which means, ‘This time I will praise the Lord!’ And that’s just what she did.
And you’ll never guess what job God gave Leah. You see, when God looked at Leah, he saw a princess. And sure enough, that’s exactly what she became. One of Leah’s children’s children’s children would be a prince – the Prince of Heaven – God’s Son.
This Prince would love God’s people. They wouldn’t need to be beautiful for him to love them. He would love them with all of his heart. And they would be beautiful because he loved them.
In summary: hope, after all.