Who wants to read a story filled with betrayal, deception, jealousy, polygamy and extortion? These look like characteristics that would come from a soap opera or a harlequin novel. But no, this comes from the Bible. The focus of this story will be about Leah in Genesis 29.
Leah was the first wife of Jacob. She was also the oldest daughter of Laban (Jacob’s uncle) and the older sister to Rachel, Jacob’s second wife. The name Leah means “wild cow” or “gazelle” in Hebrew. The only physical characteristic we were given of her is she was tender eyed.
In an act of deception, Leah was given to Jacob by her father, Laban, rather than Rachel – who Jacob was promised to marry. Did Leah have any choice in the matter? Perhaps Leah was being obedient to her father or maybe she also loved Jacob. In verse 26, Laban defended his deception because of the local custom: It is not so done in our place, to give the younger before the first-born. This was not something Jacob was informed of in advance. Especially after living there for seven years, Jacob would have been familiar with this custom, if there really was such; thus it may have been just a lie on Laban’s part. Nevertheless, for Jacob it was irony, since the issue of the firstborn and birthright now entered in as it did with him and Esau.
We do know that Leah wanted her husband to love her, and she wanted children. While God didn’t change Jacob’s heart, God did love Leah. He gave her seven children, and in the process God taught her to seek comfort in Him. Regardless of the fact that Leah was not loved, she stayed devoted to him throughout their marriage.
Personal attractiveness is something Leah learned to live without. Leah mistakenly thought that she could win Jacob’s affection by presenting him with children (Genesis 29:34). Leah kept looking for love, approval, and acceptance from Jacob, and she was constantly disappointed until she reoriented her life toward God. Her character and her relationship with God did eventually develop. Leah learned to pour out her grief to God.
The names of Leah’s children expressed the conditions under which they were born. This was the ancient custom. They did not commonly give a child a name because the parents liked it. Naming children was a more serious matter. A name can inspire or intimidate a child.
- Reuben – literally means “Look, a son.” The reason she gave him this name was: Because the Lord has looked upon my affliction. The Hebrew for looked is raah, “saw,” and the linguistic connection reflects the sound of the name, not the actual meaning of it. The emphasis was on the producing of the firstborn son. Her hope was: For now my husband will love me, meaning that now Jacob will choose her over Rachel.
- Simeon –means “hearing.” The reason Leah gave the name was: Because the Lord has heard that I am hated. In Hebrew, the word heard is shamah. Again, the word hated here means “the one not chosen.” However, it was because of this: He has therefore given me this son also.
- Levi – Then came the third son, in Genesis 29:34: And she conceived again, and bore a son. The hope she expressed was: Now this time will my husband be joined unto me. To be joined is from the Hebrew lavah, meaning “to join.” The reason for the hope was: because I have borne him three sons. Then came the naming: Therefore was his name called Levi, meaning “joined.” This word play is also found in Numbers 18:2, 4.
In the naming of the first three sons, Leah hoped that Jacob would learn to love her or at least treat her equally. That never happened.
By the time Leah gave birth to her fourth son, her focus shifted towards God and away from Jacob, realizing that although she was not loved by Jacob, she was loved by God. This traces the messianic lineage – the world rejoices with Leah as her faithfulness was rewarded. “The Lion of the tribe of Judah,” Jesus the Messiah, came through her offspring Judah and the priesthood through her son Levi (see Rev. 5:5). The two key institutions of Israel, priesthood (Levi) and royalty (Judah), came from an unplanned and unwanted marriage.
- Judah – In Genesis 29:35 came Leah’s fourth son: And she conceived again, and bore a son. The reason for the name was: This time I will praise Jehovah. The word praise comes from the Hebrew root yadah, which means “to praise.” At this point, Leah learned to trust God (“Now I will praise the Lord,” Gen. 30:35). This will be the consolation for the unloved wife. The naming was: She called his name Judah. In Hebrew, it is Yehudah, meaning “praise,” or more literally, “He will be praised” or “Let him be praised.” So for Leah, God is to be praised; for Jacob, Judah is to be praised (49:8).
- Issachar – Upon the birth of her 5th son, Leah’s response is given in verse 18: God has given me my hire, because I gave my handmaid to my husband. Leah had hired Jacob with the mandrakes; now God has paid the higher price to Leah for giving Zilpah to Jacob, and the payment was a fifth son directly from her womb. Then came the naming: and she called his name Issachar, which means “hire.”
- Zebulun – the meaning of this son’s name reflected Leah’s hope for her marriage. The Hebrew for dwell is from the Hebrew zaval, which means “to dwell,” “to exalt,” or “to honor.” The reason she named him what she did is stated as her hope: Now will my husband dwell with me. The basis for this hope was: because I have borne him six sons. Therefore, she named him Zebulun, which means “dwelling.” From her came six of the twelve Tribes of Israel.
- Dinah – a daughter, the naming: and [she] called her name Dinah, which is the feminine form for the name Dan, also meaning “judge.”
Leah was buried in Canaan with Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, and Rebekah. Maybe Jacob recognized her qualities in the end because at the end of his life he asked that his own bones be returned to Canaan, where he lay not beside his beloved Rachel, but the long unloved Leah.
* Leah’s life reminds us of a number of things:
- That people are overly impressed by outward beauty and appearance. Sometimes it seems that only God cares about what He sees in the heart.
- We learn to keep our focus on God because He, not the spouse or boyfriend we love, is the one stable force in our existence.
- Though Leah may have been unattractive in appearance, unloved, unwanted, and even despised, God saw in her an inner beauty which equipped her to carry out His plan (Genesis 29:31).
- Though Leah could not change Jacob, she could change herself and recognized God’s Hand in her life (Genesis 30:13)
- Leah, for her part, did not let the attitudes of others distract her from the task God had given to her.
- We see in Leah’s experience that God blesses each of us in different ways. We need to praise Him for the gifts He gives us and not grieve for what we do not have.
Although it isn’t easy, I hope this is encourages to you to trust God with all your heart, mind and soul for what He’s doing in your life.
Your sister in Yeshua