When the LORD saw that Leah was hated, he opened her womb, but Rachel was barren. And Leah conceived and bore a son, and she called his name Reuben, for she said, “Because the LORD has looked upon my affliction; for now my husband will love me.” She conceived again and bore a son, and said, “Because the LORD has heard that I am hated, he has given me this son also.” And she called his name Simeon. Again she conceived and bore a son, and said, “Now this time my husband will be attached to me, because I have borne him three sons.” Therefore his name was called Levi. And she conceived again and bore a son, and said, “This time I will praise the LORD.” Therefore she called his name Judah. Then she ceased bearing.
Genesis 29:31–35, ESV.
Despised, rejected, ignored, hidden, hated, shamed, unwanted, loathed, shunned, undesirable, unpopular, detested, avoided, abhorred…unloved. Have you known any of these feelings before? There are many people who have experienced the pain of being ignored, or rejected, or unwanted, ultimately being unloved. Children unloved by parents and parents unloved by children. Husbands unloved by wives and wives unloved by husbands. Brothers and sisters unloved by siblings. Friends unloved by friends. Grandparents unloved by grandchildren and grandchildren unloved grandparents. In fact, some of you, reading this, will know exactly where you fit in that list. Maybe you were rejected by a husband, wife or parent. Maybe your best friend betrayed you. Maybe never in your life have you ever experienced the sweet love of another human being. In our passage we see the stunning reality of a woman who desperately wanted to be loved. A woman who would do and give anything to be loved. Yet, a woman who would not find the love she wants from her husband. This, is the story of Leah.
Leah the woman ignored by all, she was plain to look at and had weak eyes. In contrast to her sister, who was beautiful in appearance and form, she was nothing (vs. 17). And Jacob agreed, he desired to have Rachel as his wife. He was willing to work the seven years to pay the bride price for his wife to be. Yet at the end of those seven years something very strange happened. We are told that Laban did the old ‘switch-a-roo’. When Jacob woke up in the morning after his wedding night he discovered that it was Leah lying beside him and not Rachel. Now, we are not told how this happened. Perhaps Jacob was drunk and just didn’t realise what was going on. Perhaps because of the veil there was no way that he could have known until the morning. However, the question of how it happened is not really important. The question that is important is why it happened. Laban gives us one side of the answer to the question. He states pretty straight forwardly that, “It is not so done in our country, to give the younger before the firstborn.” (vs. 26) However, let me ask you, could the Father have done this if Leah was not willing?If she did not want this to happen surely she would have been able to inform Jacob. I think, and I can only take a guess, we are not told, that Leah had fallen in love with Jacob over the last seven years. If this is the case then she would have been more then willing to deceive Jacob in this way. She probably assumed that eventually she would be able to win him over. So here we have Leah, desperately in love with a man who loved another, foolishly involved in a deceitful plan in order to get what she wanted.
The problem of course is that Jacob obviously was not that impressed with what happened when he woke up in the morning. He found another woman lying next to him! We cannot know if Leah expected Rachel also to be given to Jacob, all we know is the outcome. “So Jacob went in to Rachel also, and he loved Rachel more than Leah.” (vs. 30) He loved Rachel more then Leah. He loved Rachel more. Can you imagine her feeling, as she comprehends what is happening. She is going to be in this relationship until the day she dies. Another 40 or 50 years of being loved less. The one whom you love and cherish more then anything else, all you want is his love, you would give anything for it. And all you experience is seeing it poured out upon another. Maybe you know exactly what this is like, maybe you sit and watch your spouse, child, parent spread their love out on everything except you. Maybe the person whom you love loves another.
So the question is, what do you do? Where do you go to feel loved, what do you do in order to get the person to love you, to make you feel content and accepted in their sight? Here is where we find Leah dealing with this very problem. We are told that “the LORD saw that Leah was hated, he opened her womb, but Rachel was barren.” (vs. 31) God looks down from Heaven and sees Leah, in her bitterness and distress. Unloved and forgotten. And God comes to her aid, he opens her womb but closes Rachel’s. Now the interesting thing about this whole section is that the name that Leah uses and the name for God in this verse is not the general name for God, but the covenantal name for God, the LORD, YHWH, the God of Jacob. So Leah had obviously been learning about Jacob’s God. But the LORD’s aim for Leah is not quite what Leah thinks.
We are told that Leah’s womb is opened and she gives birth to a son. She names him Reuben, saying “Because the LORD has looked upon my affliction; for now my husband will love me.” (32) At this point we have to note that Leah got it half right. The LORD had seen her affliction and he had given her a son. But why did the LORD give her a son? Was it so that her husband will love her? Is that what she really needs? You see God sees that Leah is unloved by her husband and comes down to meet her. Does he come in order to restore the relationship? Or does he come in order to create a better relationship? God comes to Leah because he wants her to meet him. He wants her to know who the LORD is, for herself! And so he provides her with a son. Yet, as we often do too, Leah learns a bit slow. She assumes that the LORD is providing in order to help her win her husband from her sister.
Unfortunately after a bit of time it becomes apparent that things are not quite going as she expected. Jacob still isn’t loving her as he is Rachel. She is still unloved. So she cries out to the LORD, to the one who gave her the first son. And what does God do? He gives her another son, and Leah calls him Simeon saying, “Because the LORD has heard that I am hated, he has given me this son also.” (33) At this point Leah’s aims and intentions have not changed much. She is now crying out to God for help with her situation, and God is helping, but she is still aiming for her relationship with Jacob to change. Now it appears that she isn’t seeking him to love her, maybe she has given up, but only that she would not be hated by him. (When it says hated it doesn’t mean actively hate but rather it is using a strong word to highlight his lack of love for her) Leah’s problem? She is focusing on what she wants to change in her situation, instead of looking at what the LORD is trying to say to her in the situation.
Eventually again the LORD gives Leah a son and she names him Levi, saying, “Now this time my husband will be attached to me, because I have borne him three sons.” (34) Notice a problem? Leah appears to have given up on the dream of Jacob loving her, or even hating her less. Now she effectively says, ‘Well he isn’t going to love me, he isn’t going to hate me less, but at least this way he is tied to me indefinitely and no one can argue what I have done for him.’ Is this what God is wanting for Leah? Is he really just wanting her to be resigned to her lot and to live out her life in that way? Or is the covenantal God of Jacob, the one who would give her three children, is he trying to get her attention for a different purpose? You see, as I have said Leah is a slow learner, as so many of us are, three children and however many years and she still hasn’t gotten the message God is trying to say. But our God, he is a patient God, he does not give up because we don’t get it, he keeps on going until it becomes clear.
She conceived again and named him Judah saying, “This time I will praise the LORD.” (35) What…nothing about Jacob, nothing about love or hate. Nothing earthly, just “I will praise the LORD.” It seems that the Lord’s message had finally sunk in. Up till this point Leah had assumed that God was trying to do what she wanted through child bearing. But what God was really doing, was showing her how much he loved her. You see, when Leah was hoping to win her husband over through child birth, God was exclaiming his love for her. When Leah was despised, her God was saying “you are my beloved child”. When Leah was unloved by her husband and hated by her sister, she was loved by a God who is far greater then both. And after this birth of Judah she finally realised, this finally sunk in, God hadn’t just been trying to win Jacob over, he had been showing her how much the infinitely wise, infinitely powerful, infinitely loving God cared about her.
Reader, I don’t know what you are going through right now, I don’t know what you have been through in your life. But regardless of your lot, regardless whether you are the unloved wife, husband, parent, child, brother, sister, friend, grandparent or grandchild, God is doing the same thing for you that he did for Leah. It may be that your lot is unchangeable like Leah’s, but that does not mean anything for God. For although he may not give you children to get your attention, he has given something far greater. Notice something that came from Leah, her last child, the child that got her attention, the one which finally made her realise what God was saying, what was his name? Judah. And let me ask you, what did Jacob many years later prophecy about Judah?
Judah, your brothers shall praise you;
your hand shall be on the neck of your enemies;
your father’s sons shall bow down before you.
Judah is a lion’s cub;
from the prey, my son, you have gone up.
He stooped down; he crouched as a lion
and as a lioness; who dares rouse him?
The scepter shall not depart from Judah,
nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet,
until tribute comes to him;
and to him shall be the obedience of the peoples.
Genesis 49:8–10, ESV.
And how would it happen? Did not one come from the tribe of Judah that all his brothers would praise? And would that one not put his hand on the neck of all his enemies and would not all bow down before him and would the scepter ever depart from him? And who is the descendant of Judah spoken of but Jesus Christ the Son of God. Reader, if you feel unloved, if you feel abandoned by men, or despised and rejected, hear God’s cry to you. He calls out to you with a greater gift then the four sons of Leah. He cries out with the gift of his one and only son. How did John say it? For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only son! That whosoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. Or to paraphrase it another way, “For God so loved you, that he gave his one and only son up. That if you believe in him, you shall not perish but have eternal life. And you shall feel his love upon you.”
Reader, the only way you can begin to feel contentment and love in any relationship, especially those where love is not given, is if you look to the one who has given up ALL for you because he loves you.