TITLE: LEAH, CHRIST’S UGLY GRANDMOTHER
Subtitle: Beauty Is Only Skin Deep
It has always been an interesting thing to me to realize how the Lord makes us take note of incidents in His Word. Many times we read verses of Scripture and become familiar with them, but actually fail to see the messages that are contained there. Something of this nature came to my attention as I was studying chapter 29 in the Book of Genesis. In this particular chapter we find that Jacob has left home after cheating his brother Esau out of his birthright. Their mother Rebekah had been a co-conspirator with her favorite son Jacob in the deception of Isaac, the father. When Esau found out what had happened, he threatened to kill his brother and Rebekah heard it. She quickly advised Jacob to flee to her brother Laban, who lived about 400 miles away at a place called Padan-aram. Jacob did as his mother advised and when he arrived, the first person he met was Laban’s daughter Rachel. As we pick up the narrative in verse 16 we find this:
"Now Laban had two daughters; the name of the elder was Leah, and the name of the younger was Rachel. Leah’s eyes were weak and dull looking, but Rachel was beautiful and attractive. And Jacob loved Rachel; so he said (to Laban), I will work for you for seven years for Rachel your younger daughter. And Laban said, It is better I give her to you than to another man. Stay and live with me. And Jacob served seven years for Rachel; and they seemed to him but a few days, because of the love he had for her. Finally, Jacob said to Laban, Give me my wife, for my time is completed, so that I may take her to me. And Laban gathered together all the men of the place, and made a feast [with drinking]" (Parallel Bible, KJV/Amplified Bible Commentary, parenthetical insert mine).
Jacob is obviously smitten by the beauty of Rachel and we are told that the eldest daughter Leah’s eyes were weak and dull looking. I believe this is just a diplomatic way of saying that she was "as ugly as a mud fence!" In any case, Jacob’s heart is all aflutter and he obligates himself to seven long years of indentured labor to Laban for the hand of his younger daughter. In order that we might understand the incidents that follow, we must realize Laban is so crooked that they will have to "screw him into the ground" to bury him when he dies! Add to this the fact that Jacob’s name means "supplanter"—one who "trips up" or deceives—and we have all the ingredients for some doublecrossing!
Laban makes all of the preparations for the wedding feast and everything seems to go as planned, but when Jacob wakes up the next morning—he is aghast to find that he has been tricked into marrying old ugly Leah! (Folks, I really believe that God has a sense of humor!) The very one who tricked his father into conferring the blessing reserved for the eldest son upon himself, is now on the other end of the stick! He naturally went right away to complain to Laban, but was told that their laws forbid a younger daughter to marry before the eldest. Next we pick up the story in verse 27 where Laban says:
"Finish the [wedding feast] week [for Leah], then we will give you [Rachel] also, and you shall work for me yet seven more years in return. So Jacob complied and fulfilled [Leah’s] week; then [Laban] gave him Rachel his daughter as his wife. (And Laban gave Bilhah his maid to Rachel his daughter to be her maid.) And Jacob lived with Rachel also as his wife, and he loved Rachel more than Leah, and served [Laban] another seven years [for her]. And when the Lord saw that Leah was despised, He made her able to bear children; but Rachel was barren" (Parallel Bible, KJV/Amplified Bible Commentary).
Leah named her firstborn son Reuben, which literally means, "See, a son!" and it is sad to note in verse 32 how she speaks of her humiliation and the hope that maybe now she will be loved by her husband. As time passes, three more sons are born to her: Simeon ("God hears"), Levi ("companion"), and Judah ("praise"). The birth of these four sons only made the family situation more tense, because Rachel was not able to get pregnant. In that Middle Eastern culture, barrenness was seen as a disgrace. So, in a desperate attempt to try to "even the score", Rachel gave her handmaid Bilhah to Jacob as a surrogate, or secondary, wife in order to bear children for her. Because of our culture, we find this to be strange to say the least, but in that day it was fairly common. Bilhah then gave birth to Dan ("judged") and Naphtali ("struggled"). Then not to be outdone, Leah gave her handmaid Zilpah to Jacob and she bore Gad ("fortune") and Asher ("happy")! The family is blessed with many baby boys, but the stress and strain between the two competing sisters is fierce. Leah then becomes distraught because she has ceased having children and prays that the Lord will give her more children. We are told in verse 17 that God heeded Leah’s prayer and she subsequently had two more sons: Issachar ("hired") and Zebulun ("dwelling"), plus a daughter named Dinah.
Then in verse 22 of chapter 30, we see where God "remembered Rachel":
"Then God remembered Rachel, and answered her pleading, and made it possible for her to have children. And [now for the first time] she became pregnant and bore a son; and she said, God has taken away my reproach, disgrace and humiliation. And she called his name Joseph ["may he add"] and said, May the Lord add to me another son" (Parallel Bible, KJV/Amplified Bible Commentary).
We are not specifically told that the friction between the sisters eased after these children were born, but it appears to be so. As the old saying goes, "Time heals all wounds". Jacob was blessed with this large family while he was serving Laban, and now the Lord was about to bless him in material things. After the birth of Joseph, Jacob decided it was time to go back to where he came from—back to his family. When he approached Laban with his plan, Laban was not exactly thrilled at the prospect of losing his valuable worker and he makes a remarkable statement in verses 27 and 28 of chapter 30:
"And Laban said to him, If I have found favor in your sight, I pray you [do not go]: for I have learned by experience and from the omens in divination that the Lord has favored me with blessings on your account. He said, state your salary, and I will give it" (Parallel Bible, KJV/Amplified Bible Commentary).
Laban was not a godly man and it shows in the fact that he practiced "divination"—trying to look into the future by using various occultic methods. But he did have enough sense to realize that God’s blessings upon Jacob had "spilled over" onto him. In an effort to try to keep Jacob happy and not to leave, Laban said to him, "name your price". Jacob surprised him by asking only for the speckled and spotted animals, plus the black sheep that would be born among the herds and flocks. Laban’s herds were predominately white or black and only occasionally were speckled or spotted animals born. Laban agreed to it, but in keeping with his crooked nature, he quickly removed all animals that were not pure white or black and gave the solid colored animals to Jacob to tend. But Jacob was depending upon the Lord to take care of the genetics of the situation and over a period of time the speckled and spotted animals and black sheep were being born on a regular basis! Jacob soon became quite wealthy in terms of the number of animals he possessed. Naturally Laban’s sons then began to accuse Jacob of underhanded methods, but they could not prove it. So because of the animosity now exhibited by Laban and his family toward him, Jacob and his family move out in the middle of the night and head back home.
Jacob will not learn until he gets back home that his beloved mother Rebekah had died in the intervening years. He was her favorite son and she engaged in underhanded methods to secure him the birthright blessing, but she paid for it by never seeing him again! He also made peace with his brother Esau and they buried their father Isaac together. Then in chapter 35 we find where God appears once again to Jacob and confers another blessing on him. In verse 9 and following we read this:
"And God [in a distinctly visible manifestation] appeared to Jacob again when he came out of Padan-aram, and declared a blessing on him. Again God said to him, Your name is Jacob (supplanter); you shall not be called Jacob any longer, but Israel shall be your name. So he called him Israel (contender with God). And God said to him, I am God Almighty. Be fruitful and multiply; a nation and a company of nations shall come from you, and kings shall be born of your stock; The land which I gave Abraham and Isaac I will give to you; and to your descendants after you I will give the land. Then God ascended from him in the place where He talked with him. And Jacob set up a pillar [monument] in the place where he talked with [God], a pillar of stone; and he poured a drink offering on it, and he poured oil on it. And Jacob called the name of the place where God had talked with him, Bethel (house of God). And they journeyed from Bethel, and had but a little way to come to Ephrath [Bethlehem], when Rachel suffered the pangs of childbirth and had hard labor. When she was in hard labor, the midwife said to her, Do not be afraid; you shall have this son also. And as her soul was departing, for she died, she called his name Benoni (son of my sorrow); but his father called him Benjamin (son of the right hand). So Rachel died and was buried on the way to Ephrath, that is, Bethlehem. And Jacob set a pillar (monument) on her grave: that is the pillar of Rachel’s grave to this day" (Parallel Bible, KJV/Amplified Bible Commentary).
I find it very interesting that no record is given of Jacob’s sorrow regarding his "favorite" wife. We are just told that he buried her, erected a monument, and journeyed on! One would normally expect that great lamentation would have been made over her and a period of grief observed—but if this was the case, we are not told of it. It would be tempting to surmise from these things that perhaps because of the passing of time, she no longer held the same place of affection in Jacob’s heart. But this is not likely because in chapter 33—when Jacob was about to meet his brother Esau—we see from his actions in dividing up the household, that Rachel and her two sons were still favored. Jacob was afraid that Esau was still angry with him and would attack at the first opportunity. That is why Jacob placed his two concubines and their children up in front of their caravan, Leah and her children next, and Rachel and her son in the rear. If they were attacked, the concubines and their children were felt to be the most expendable, Leah next, and Rachel last—thereby standing a better chance of survival. Just imagine the message that this sent to all of the wives and children! I strongly believe that this blatant favoritism played a big part later on when the eldest sons betrayed Joseph—the favorite son of the favorite wife—and sold him into slavery. Jacob’s own childhood had been marred by parental favoritism—Isaac favored Esau and Rebekah favored Jacob—so he should have known from first-hand experience what it was like to be "second-best" in the eyes of a parent.
In chapter 35, many sad things happen in rapid succession to Jacob and his family. First his mother Rebekah’s nurse, Deborah, dies. This woman more than likely raised Jacob and was probably a second mother to him. He named the place of her burial "Allon-bacuth", which means "oak of weeping". It is shortly thereafter that Rachel dies in childbirth and then his oldest son Reuben dishonors him by sleeping with Bilhah the first concubine. In verse 29 we are told of his father Isaac’s death at the age of 180 and that Jacob and Esau buried him. Yes, Jacob was well familiar with tears of sorrow, but there are more to come. Slowly but surely, God is working His sovereign will in Jacob’s life and molding him into the godly saint he would become.
The next traumatic event that occurred to Jacob involved the loss of his favorite son, Joseph. We all know the story of how the older brothers were jealous of Joseph and used the first opportunity they had to get rid of him by selling him into slavery. They told Jacob that wild animals had eaten him and, of course, Jacob had no real recourse but to believe them. As we learn from the narrative later on, the brothers meant harm to Joseph—but God meant it for good! The evil action of the brothers actually in the long run was their own salvation—along with the entire nation of Egypt—through the efforts of Joseph! Also during the course of this particular story, we find that for a short time Jacob was even deprived of Benjamin—the last of his favored sons. One by one, God stripped away from Jacob all that he held dear in order to make a better man out of him. We have to "read between the lines" in order to see all that is taking place here, but it is fairly obvious that during his last days Jacob was forced by circumstances to rely more and more upon Leah—the wife that I personally believe God favored! (Have you ever considered the fact that Leah gave birth to both Judah and Levi—the Messianic and priestly tribes?) Leah loved Jacob, but the return of that love was a long time in coming. I do not consider myself to be overly romantic (and my wife readily concurs), but it touches my heart to consider that Jacob did come to love Leah and I believe we see the unmistakable evidence in chapter 49, where we read beginning in verse 28:
"All these are the twelve tribes of Israel, and this is what their father said to them as he blessed them, blessing each one according to the blessing suited to him. He charged them and said to them, I am to be gathered to my [departed] people; bury me with my fathers in the cave that is in the field of Ephron the Hittite. In the cave in the field at Machpelah, east of Mamre, in the land of Canaan, that Abraham bought with the field of Ephron the Hittite to possess as a cemetery. There they buried Abraham and Sarah his wife; there they buried Isaac and Rebekah his wife; and there I buried Leah" (Genesis 49:28-31, Parallel Bible, KJV/Amplified Bible Commentary, emphasis mine).
Old ugly Leah—the faithful but long-time unloved wife—wound up in the place of honor beside her beloved husband Jacob and he was personally responsible for the choice. Why did he not bury Rachel there? Only eternity will reveal the answer, but I would like to think that God taught him over time what real love was all about.
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