Jacob leaves his family to find a wife. You know the story. He meets Rachel, who according to the Bible, “had a lovely figure and was beautiful.” He falls in love with her and asks Laban for her hand in marriage in exchange for seven year’s work. After seven years, he is so excited to finally marry Rachel. However, Laban, that sneaky fellow, switches Rachel out with his less attractive older daughter, Leah.
So Laban brought together all the people of the place and gave a feast. But when evening came, he took his daughter Leahand brought her to Jacob, and Jacob made love to her. (Gen. 29:22-23)
And here is the funniest verse: When morning came, there was Leah!
It is just as the Hebrew says. And most of the English translations are the same. Maybe you don’t find that verse funny. And truth be told, the story begins quite tragically, but packs a powerful message for you and me.
Leah was not Ugly
But here is where the translation is wrong. Leah was not ugly, as we like to think. the Bible doesn’t say she had, “weak eyes.” The Hebrew word is רקות/rakot and it means she had soft or gentle eyes. And, it doesn’t say that Rachel had a nice “figure” (which I always felt was strange for the Bible) but that she was יפת תאור, meaning beautiful beyond description or something close. In modern Hebrew it means, “really hot!” So, while Leah was not ugly, her sister was super-model pretty. And competing with that, can be hard for an insecure young woman.
Jake goes back Laban and he is not happy. They come to a deal whereby he gets both girls as wives and their servants as well.
It was a common thing in ancient times for there to be an unloved wife in the family. The Torah even makes provision for the son of the unloved wife, something other cultures did not. It was common to have many wives and most of these unregenerated husbands favored one wife above the others. Jacob loved Rachel, but he did not love Leah.
The Bible says that the earth trembles over a married woman who is unloved (Prov. 30:23). It angers the Lord to see a woman abused or not loved by her husband. God was so upset over Leah’s situation that he closed the womb of her sister Rachel and opened Leah’s.
When the Lord saw that Leah was not loved, he enabled her to conceive, but Rachel remained childless. (Gen. 29:31)
From Bitterness to Victory
Leah has three sons, and she gives them names that highlight her misery.
Rueben—“It is because the Lord has seen my misery. Surely my husband will love me now.”
Simeon—“Because the Lord heard that I am not loved, he gave me this one too.”
Levi—“Now at last my husband will become attached to me, because I have borne him three sons.”
The lack of love from Jacob has become her identity. She feels that if only she can get Jacob to love her, then she will be happy and fulfilled. And, bearing one a son in ancient times was certainly considered worthy of being favored. If you could not have sons or any children at all, like Rachel, you were considered cursed or even defective. The most desired thing from a wife in those times was for her to bring forth sons.
Leah thinks, this is my ticket to being loved! Each time she gives birth, she has this false expectation that Jacob will realize that even though she isn’t as pretty as her younger sister, she is the real diamond. She is the worthy one. She produces boys! But it doesn’t work.
It would seem that at some point Leah made peace with God over her unfortunate situation. You see friend, it really doesn’t matter if your husband loves you or not. Don’t get me wrong—he should. But you can still experience God’s love despite him. It is the same for an unloved child. Really, anyone who has let disappointment in a relationship label them, if you will, as unloved or unlovely.
It’s not you!
It’s not you—it’s him! My wife recently met with the wife of a pastor. Elana told me that she was strikingly beautiful and has lovely personality. And yet, her pastor husband left her! Despite being what we would all call “attractive” inside and out, he cheated. No matter how beautiful you are and how amazing everyone says you are, such things take a toll on our self-worth.
The enemy tells you that you deserved it. You are not attractive. You are not worthy of love. And yet God, your creator and designer says of you:
The Lord your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save; he will rejoice over you with gladness; he will quiet you by his love; he will exult over you with loud singing. (Zephaniah 3:17)
Leah has a revelation!
At some point, it seems that Leah discovers her worth in God, not in Jacob. This is reflected in the name she gave for her next child.
Judah— “This time I will praise the Lord.”
There is no mention her of being unloved or needy Jacob’s love. She is simply grateful to God for her son Judah. And it is more than ironic, maybe even prophetic, that she found her self-worth in giving birth to the forefather of Yeshua, who, like David, came through the tribe of Judah.
She did not become perfect after that. When his maidservant bore two sons she gave them positive names connected to good fortune and happiness. When she gives birth to Issachar, she says, “God has rewarded me for giving my servant to my husband.”
But then, sometime after giving birth to Judah, she gives birth to her final son, Zebulun, and says, “God has presented me with a precious gift. This time my husband will treat me with honor, because I have borne him six sons.”
But even in still longing for Jacob’s love, you do not see the misery, as before, when she complains about not being loved. She has found love in God. You can too! No matter what your situation. He is there and he loves you!
In part two, I will talk about men’s self-worth and how it can be attacked.