The story of Leah is found in Genesis chapter 29 interwoven with the account of her husband Jacob, and sister Rachel. They become locked in a love triangle with ongoing rivalry. It seemed as if Leah was the one disadvantaged with everything stacked against her. But when we look deeper into the story did she manage to find a measure of peace and happiness? And are there lessons from Leah in the Bible that we can relate to?
Jacob’s First Wife
Jacob was sent away from the promised land by his mother Rebekah for his own safety. He had manipulated and deceived his brother, Esau, and stolen his birthright. Rebekah, quite rightly, was concerned that Esau would avenge himself by killing his brother – and then she would lose both her sons! She arranged for Jacob to go to her family in Harran, and he went with the blessing of his father, Isaac.
“So Isaac called for Jacob and blessed him. Then he commanded him: “Do not marry a Canaanite woman. Go at once to Paddan Aram, to the house of your mother’s father Bethuel. Take a wife for yourself there, from among the daughters of Laban, your mother’s brother.”Genesis 28:1-2
Who Was Laban?
Esau had already married not one, but two, Hittite women which was a source of concern for Isaac and Rebekah. It seems as if Rebekah manipulated Isaac into sending Jacob to her brother’s household. She used his genuine concern for finding a suitable wife for Jacob, as the main reason for him to go to Harran. Laban was Rebekah’s brother and therefore an uncle to Jacob. His home would be a place of safety for Jacob, among family, but, away from Esau.
Where Did Laban Live?
Laban lived in Harran, Mesopotamia, which was Abraham’s native land. God had called Abraham to leave his country, his people, and his father’s household to go to a land that God would show him. With this command came the promise of blessing that Abraham would become a great nation.
“The God of glory appeared to our father Abraham while he was still in Mesopotamia, before he lived in Harran.’ Leave your country and your people’, God said, ‘and go to the land I will show you.’”Acts 7:2-3
After the death of his father, Abraham responded to God’s call and left his homeland and settled in Canaan. He sent a servant back to his relatives in Harran to find a wife for his son Isaac. Now Laban and Rebekah were descendants of Abraham’s brother Nahor. And whereas Rebekah had left Harran to marry Isaac, the rest of her family still lived there.
Leah and Rachel in the Bible
When Jacob arrived in the countryside around Harran he made contact with some of the local shepherds at a well, a popular watering place. He chatted with them and enquired as to whether they knew his uncle. Just then a shepherdess arrived at the well – this was Rachel, Laban’s daughter. When she realized that Jacob was a close relative, she rushed off and fetched her father.
“As soon as Laban heard the news about Jacob, his sister’s son, he hurried to meet him. He embraced him and kissed him and brought him to his home…”Genesis 29:13
Leah Had Weak Eyes
Laban had two daughters, Leah and Rachel. Leah was the eldest and is described as having weak or delicate eyes. It is not clear exactly what that description meant, possibly she had poor eyesight or maybe a timid look due to being shortsighted. Rachel in contrast is said to be beautiful and to have a lovely figure.
The lessons from Leah in the Bible begin right there with that description comparing the sisters with one another. Siblings are often compared and living in someone else’s shadow is tough – especially when they are younger than you! Rachel’s beauty overshadowed Leah, and the comparison damaged them both. The younger sister was usurping her elder sister’s place, eroding the confidence of one and bringing a sense of entitlement to the other….
Jacob and Rachel
Jacob started work for his uncle as a shepherd, for the family were herdsmen of goats and sheep. After he had been working for Laban for about a month, his uncle raised the question of pay. It didn’t seem right for Jacob to be working for nothing, just because they were relatives. By now, Jacob was smitten with Rachel and offered to work for Laban to pay the bride-price to marry her.
“Jacob was in love with Rachel and said, “I’ll work for you seven years in return for your younger daughter Rachel.”Genesis 29:18
Seven years may seem like a long time to be working to prepare for marriage, but when you are in love the days just seem to fly by….
Finally, the wedding day came, and according to the custom a feast was held in celebration of the marriage. It may well have been tradition for the men and women to celebrate separately. When evening came Laban gave his daughter Leah to Jacob – and he made love to her! Jacob did not realize his mistake until the morning.
As we look at the lessons from Leah in the Bible we find the consistent truth of God’s word – we reap what we sow! To win the rights of the firstborn Jacob had deceived his father. He took advantage of Isaac’s darkness – his blindness. Now Laban took advantage of Jacob’s blindness in love, and the darkness of the bridal bedroom, so that he received the firstborn daughter. The deceiver had been deceived!
The outcome was that Laban offered Rachel to Jacob in marriage after Leah’s bridal week was over. But he would have to work for Laban for another seven years!
“And Jacob did so. He finished the week with Leah, and then Laban gave him his daughter Rachel to be his wife.”Genesis 29:28
Did Jacob Love Leah?
The two sisters, Leah and Rachel were trapped in a cycle of comparison. It is clear from Scripture that Jacob loved Rachel and also had affection for Leah. And that knowledge was hard for Leah to endure!
“Jacob made love to Rachel also, and his love for Rachel was greater than his love for Leah. And he worked for Laban for another seven years.”Genesis 29:30
Leah became the mother of Jacob’s first four sons. God blessed her with children, and later more children, out of compassion for the difficult situation that she was in.
Leah’s firstborn son was named Reuben, which sounds like the Hebrew for ‘he has seen my misery.’ She acknowledged that God saw, and cared for her, and had blessed her with a son.
She then had a second child and once again she acknowledges God’s favor in her life. She named this child Simeon, meaning one who hears because she believed that God had heard that she was not loved.
Leah named her third son Levi, which may be derived from the Hebrew word for attached. Leah felt that with a third son, finally Jacob would be more attached to her as his first wife and mother of his children. With her first three sons, Leah’s focus had been on God’s care and concern for her in connection to her relationship with her husband. Leah desperately wanted Jacob to love her for who she was….
Then Leah conceived again and gave birth to a fourth son and named him Judah, which sounds like the word for praise.
“This time I will praise the LORD.”Genesis 29:35
Then, for a time, she stopped having children. Leah had learned to praise God and to see His love and faithfulness even in her less-than-perfect situation.
What Did Rachel Do With the Mandrakes?
Later on, after giving her servant Zilpah to Jacob as his wife, Leah herself had two more sons and a daughter with Jacob.
This came about when Rachel gave approval for Jacob to sleep with Leah in exchange for some mandrakes that Leah’s son Reuben had found. The mandrake plant was thought to induce pregnancy. This superstition of the fertility power of mandrakes, drove Rachel to willingly share her husband with Leah. This gives an insight to the relationships, that Rachel controlled Jacob and still had his love over and above Leah.
Scripture does not tell us exactly what Rachael did with the mandrakes. But the fact that she was willing to share Jacob with Leah to get the mandrakes, reveals how badly she wanted them. From that we infer that she believed in the superstition – that eating the mandrakes would help her to conceive.
Leah named her fifth son Issachar believing that God was rewarding her with another son because she had given her servant to Jacob as his wife. Leah’s sixth and final son, was named Zebulun because God had presented her with a precious gift. Leah still hoped that Jacob would honor her because she had now given him six sons.
And finally Leah has a daughter who she names Dinah, meaning judgement or vindication.
Four Important Lessons from Leah in the Bible
Comparison Kills Contentment
Leah was longing to be loved and to come first in her husband’s affections. Maybe she felt that she had never come first, that she had always been the runner up and in second place? But, slowly with the birth of her children there came a new maturity.
We can see with the choice of her children’s names that initially she saw the babies as a means to winning Jacob’s love. But by the time her fourth son was born, her attitude had changed, and she praised God for the gift of her son. Rather than focusing on her lack, she saw the richness of God’s blessings.
It appears that Leah stepped away from the comparison game, and from looking for the approval of other people. That finally she was able to see the blessing of God in her life. Leah had found a measure of peace in worshipping God.
Jealousy Steals our Peace and Joy
It appears as if Rachel, possibly for the first time in her life, felt diminished by her sister. Rachel had no children, but Leah had given Jacob four sons and she was jealous of her sister. Did Rachel learn from Leah, that we cannot find peace and contentment through someone else? No, she came up with a plan to even the score.
Rachel gave Bilhah her servant to Jacob as his wife, so that she could have children through Bilhah. At that time, any children that a servant bore within a household would belong to their Master and Mistress. When Bilhah gave birth to a son, Rachel named him Dan believing that God had vindicated her. Bilhah went on to have a second son who Rachel named Naphtali, meaning my struggle, revealing her motivation:
“I have had a great struggle with my sister, and I have won.”Genesis 30:8
Whereas Leah’s focus had been on winning Jacob’s approval and love, Rachel was focused on the competition with her sister! Leah also gave her servant to Jacob as his wife, and Zilpah went on to have two children with him. Leah named these boys Gad and Asher, meaning good fortune, and happy, expressing her joy at the birth of these babies.
Life is Not a Competition
There are lessons from Leah in the Bible that are so relevant for us today. There will always be someone with whom we can compare ourselves. In social media we are constantly bombarded with filtered images of other people’s perfect lives. But every now and then, the filter cracks and we get a glimpse of the reality.
There are no winners with comparison. It leads to discontent and jealousy both of which are corrosive and harmful eating away at our contentment, peace, and joy.
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Rachel seemed to have everything, the looks, the figure, and the man! But she was not content – even when God enabled her to conceive. She gave birth to a son and named him Joseph, meaning ‘may he add’ immediately saying, ‘May the LORD add to me another son.’
Rachel’s wish for another son was fulfilled, but not in the way she would have wanted. By this time Jacob and his family had moved back to Canaan but they were still on the move.
While they were travelling to Ephrath, to settle there, Rachel went into labor. This was a difficult birth, the midwife told her that she had another son who she named Ben-Oni meaning son of my trouble. But as a result of complications during the birth Rachel died. Then Jacob changed his name to Benjamin, meaning son of my right hand. He was the youngest of Jacob’s children and much loved by his father.
The lessons from Leah in the Bible can speak to us today – life is not a competition! Another sister’s success can be celebrated, and someone else’s victory does not diminish us in anyway. Collaboration, rather than competition, among Christian women is so powerful because God blesses unity.
We can rejoice with those who rejoice, and trust in God’s perfect plan for us!
You Are Enough
Each one of us is uniquely and individually made by God. Both Leah and Rachel had a destiny to fulfil as part of God’s plan in founding the nation of Israel. From Leah came six of the tribes of Israel, including Judah, the tribe of king David, and the ancestry of Jesus, the Messiah, the Savior of the world!
But in the immediate future, Rachel was the mother of Joseph, whose destiny was to be positioned in Egypt to save the family of Israel from starvation by famine.
In Leah and Rachel’s imperfect lives, there was still the possibility to live a fulfilled life. And to see the goodness of God and His hand of provision and blessing on their household.
The main lessons from Leah in the Bible are to see the possibilities to praise and worship God within our situation. In our imperfect lives, we can live in the fulness of joy that Jesus has won for us. We can see the goodness of God, with His hand of blessing, and hope for the future.
We need to know that we are enough for our circumstances, however difficult, because God is more than enough. Where God has placed us, He will enable and equip us to live our lives to the full!
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Where was Leah Buried?
Leah was buried with Jacob’s parents and grandparents – who were also her relatives. Abraham had bought a field near Mamre in Canaan from Ephron the Hittite. In the field, there was a cave that became the burial place for Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebekah, and Leah.
Rachel died while they were travelling from Bethel to Ephrath – an older name for Bethlehem. She died in childbirth and was buried on the way to Ephrath, and Jacob placed a pillar as a memorial over her tomb.
Jacob finally died of old age in Egypt – his family had gone there to escape famine. But on his deathbed, he asked his son Joseph to promise not to bury him in Egypt. Jacob’s final instructions were that he was to be buried in the promised land of Canaan, in the field that his grandfather Abraham had bought as a burial place.
In death, Jacob was united with Leah. Along with the other great ‘love matches’ of Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebekah, we find Jacob and Leah. Maybe Jacob finally honored his first wife, for her love and faithfulness to him?
Bible Gateway – Genesis 49: 29-33