Nintendo, do you love me? Let us count the ways… you give me Legend of Zelda at the launch of your new Switch console, but I can’t get my hands on a Mario title until the nebulous “Holiday 2017” time period? You gift me with the NES classic console I never knew I needed, but then package it with a wired controller with a 3 ft. cord? And you return to cartridge based gaming, which is awesome, but make all my investments in both physical and digital games on the WiiU obsolete? Launching incredible new hardware which is only available in limited quantities, making an awesome pro controller but charging a whopping eighty bucks for it… Oh Nintendo, I definitely feel like I love you more than you love me back. Considering your third place standing in the marketplace, I would think you would be a little more thoughtful about my needs in this relationship. To be fair you haven’t really changed that much over the years, so what should I expect really. But who am I kidding… I can’t help falling in love with you. Call me… when Splatoon 2 comes out I’ll be there.
When you feel like you are giving more love than you are receiving it can be incredibly difficult to sustain that relationship. While the Nintendo references above are meant to be tongue-in-cheek (mostly), there are few pains that match the feeling of being a loser in the game of love. If you are a living, breathing human being, you have probably been there more times than you care to admit. But you have probably not had your personal pain and shame documented to the degree of the original “desperate housewife” in the Bible… Leah, the unwanted wife of Jacob in Genesis 29.
Genesis 29:16-19 Now Laban had two daughters: the name of the elder was Leah, and the name of the younger was Rachel. Leah’s eyes were delicate, but Rachel was beautiful of form and appearance. Now Jacob loved Rachel; so he said, “I will serve you seven years for Rachel your younger daughter.” And Laban said, “It is better that I give her to you than that I should give her to another man. Stay with me.” So Jacob served seven years for Rachel, and they seemed only a few days to him because of the love he had for her.
Leah is part of a beautiful love story…. between Jacob and his desired bride Rachel. Her story is a third wheel story for the ages, so if you have previously felt (or are maybe currently enduring) this pain, her story is for you. Jacob has met and fallen head over heels in love with Rachel, the youngest daughter of a schemer (Laban), who is easily more than a match for the duplicitous Jacob. While Jacob only has eyes for Rachel, Laban’s eyes grew wide with the opportunity this created. Jacob’s infatuation led him to offer himself as an unpaid employee to Laban for SEVEN years in exchange for the hand of Rachel in marriage. Forgoing the typical dowry for the currently unemployed Jacob fell in his favor, and for a moment he may have felt like he had made an honest deal with his uncle.
Genesis 29:21-25 Then Jacob said to Laban, “Give me my wife, for my days are fulfilled, that I may go in to her.” And Laban gathered together all the men of the place and made a feast. Now it came to pass in the evening, that he took Leah his daughter and brought her to Jacob; and he went in to her. And Laban gave his maid Zilpah to his daughter Leah as a maid. So it came to pass in the morning, that behold, it was Leah. And he said to Laban, “What is this you have done to me? Was it not for Rachel that I served you? Why then have you deceived me?”
The disingenuous apple did not fall far from the family tree, and Laban pulled one of the most devious bait-and-switch deals ever recorded by swapping his older daughter Leah at the altar, completely unbeknownst to the groom. Before we get too deep in the repercussions of this act, let’s get to know Leah a little bit better since this is actually HER story. Let’s just say her introduction left a LOT to be desired, as she was plainly described as the older and less attractive of Laban’s two daughters. We will get a deeper look at the sibling rivalry that existed here soon, but for now suffice to say Leah was completely overlooked by Jacob and overshadowed by Rachel.
After seven long years it is time for the wedding, and Laban is all too happy to pay up. The ceremony is planned, guests are invited, gifts are given, the good times roll, and the vows are consummated. But whether it was the result of bad lighting or perhaps a little too much consumption of the celebratory liquid refreshments, there was a small problem that revealed itself in the morning light. Verse 25 is hilariously concise by simply stating what Jacob saw as he rolled over that morning, “It came to pass in the morning that behold, it was Leah”. Needless to say Jacob was not amused, and he immediately approached Laban about the double-cross. As Laban and Jacob worked out a deal for Rachel that involved seven MORE years of service, I want to keep the camera fixed firmly on the unwanted bride, Leah. Her one and only wedding day was to a man who did not want her as a wife, and in the morning of her first day as Mrs. Jacob, her new husband’s response to seeing her lying beside him is to run out the door to find the wife he really wanted. No matter how bad your first day of marriage was… that’s a pretty rough start no matter how you slice it.
We don’t know how much Leah knew about what was going on or if she was even aware that a trick had been played on Jacob. To be honest that isn’t entirely relevant, because whether she had awareness or not she was STILL a human being with the desire to be loved and wanted by her spouse… and verse 30 captures the sad but painfully obvious outcome that Jacob loved Rachel more than Leah. Leah gets one whole week of being married to Jacob before Rachel takes over as the desired wife he was infatuated with, and life was just beginning to get complicated for all three of them. But within the sad state of Leah’s new life there was One who saw exactly what was going on, and His eyes are the most important of all. In verse 31 the God who sees into the hearts of all casts His gaze on poor unwanted Leah and rewards her…
Genesis 29:26-31 And Laban said, “It must not be done so in our country, to give the younger before the firstborn. Fulfill her week, and we will give you this one also for the service which you will serve with me still another seven years.” Then Jacob did so and fulfilled her week. So he gave him his daughter Rachel as wife also. And Laban gave his maid Bilhah to his daughter Rachel as a maid. Then Jacob also went in to Rachel, and he also loved Rachel more than Leah. And he served with Laban still another seven years. When the Lord saw that Leah was unloved, He opened her womb; but Rachel was barren.
Children are a gift only the Lord can give, and He lavishes this gift upon Leah with four sons. In our modern era this may lose some of its significance, but in those days this was the most important gift a wife could give her husband. They are the building blocks of what would eventually become the tribes of Israel, and in the short-term represented the expanded abilities to grow their family’s capabilities and fortune. This was a game-changer in the home, granting Leah a status that Rachel and all of her beauty simply could not provide. And through these four sons we get a wonderful insight into what Leah is feeling and thinking for the first time. Let’s start with her firstborn, an event that no one could ever deny her. The first child of Jacob, Reuben, was named this because in verse 32 Leah says,” The Lord has looked at my affliction, now surely my husband will love me.” Such a tragic sentence… how much pain is reflected in the simple hope that this birth would turn the heart of the man she sees as HER husband towards his original wife. But we see that Leah has not lost faith in God through her ordeal… and we will continue to see her faith develop as the Lord continues to stand up on her behalf.
Genesis 29:32-35 So Leah conceived and bore a son, and she called his name Reuben; for she said, “The Lord has surely looked on my affliction. Now therefore, my husband will love me.” Then she conceived again and bore a son, and said, “Because the Lord has heard that I am unloved, He has therefore given me this son also.” And she called his name Simeon. She conceived again and bore a son, and said, “Now this time my husband will become 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, “Now I will praise the Lord.” Therefore she called his name Judah. Then she stopped bearing.
Did bearing her husband a child improve the relationship? Let’s see… in verse 33 we find the birth of the second son of Israel named Simeon, with the quote from Leah, “Because the Lord has heard I am unloved He has given me a second son”. Unfortunately, a child wasn’t the magical cure to her problem. But we DO see the seed of Leah’s faith in God growing as she moves from believing the Lord SAW her affliction in verse 32 to realizing the Lord HEARD her in verse 33. This is significant growth, and this foundation will continue to be built upon. Her third son she names Levi, with the hope that her husband will become attached to her through this child-bearing, but it is with the birth of her fourth son that she simply says, “Now I will praise the Lord”. The name of this son? Judah. As in the lion of the tribe of Judah. The Judah who would be the head of the royal lineage that would lead to David, Solomon…. and Jesus Christ himself.
Leah stopped trying to use God’s gifts to gain favor with her earthly husband and turned her thinking towards her Heavenly Father, as she finally realized that the love story was not between her and Jacob, but between Leah and the Lord. Once she flipped the script and shifted the focus from her pain and disappointment to finding her place in service to Him, everything clicked into place. To be clear, there is no recording of Jacob and Leah’s relationship improving, and honestly we have no reason to believe that their marriage lived up to the hopes and dreams Leah had for it. But in the lineage of the Christ it is Leah and her child who provided the genealogy that would save the entire planet.
Much of our pain and suffering is the result of our inability to see that there is a significance to what we endure that surpasses the disappointments we are currently facing. When your heart’s desire is to possess the love of someone who simply won’t return it to you the way you want them to… well, that can be very difficult to accept. But the reality is there will never be a relationship between two humans that will satisfy the longing for true love that only exists between a created being and their Creator. Our relationships in this life are not meant to fulfill that need, nor is it fair to expect them to. It is only through putting our full heart into pursuing Him and His will that we can achieve true fulfillment and find our place in the plan He designed just for us. Leah was the mother of the most important son of Israel, even while she remained the undesired and less attractive wife of the man Jacob. The losses she experienced were a critical component of her eventual victory, and not just for her but for all of us. Thanks to Leah’s faithfulness to serve the Lord in a thankless relationship, every believer today can thank her for giving us the Davidic line of leaders through her son Judah (the lineage of Jesus), as well as the Levitical line of priests through her son Levi (the lineage of Moses).
So, for all of us that were picked last for dodgeball, danced alone at prom, or are currently sitting in an empty room eating Funyuns because there isn’t anyone there to smell our breath… Leah’s story is ours. And her heartbreak and disappointment were NOT something that God was blissfully unaware of. He saw… He heard… and He rewarded. He was not disconnected from the real-world challenges of a desperate housewife thousands of years ago, and He remains just as active in yours. Just as Leah endured years of struggle and pain as child after child was placed in her husband’s arms only to see her situation fail to improve, so too we must endure extended seasons and oftentimes years of struggling before the purpose for this pain becomes clear. Those years shaped Leah and grew her relationship with God, something that simply wouldn’t have occurred if her life had played out the way she had dreamed it would. She, like each of us, had a vital role to play in the history of the human race. Take heart… your current situation may simply be an opportunity to grow your relationship with your Savior, and if you stay strong you might just find you are the one with the most prominent position after all.