Leah’s father, Laban, was a piece of work. It wasn’t being his oldest daughter. Her greater burden, however, was being the older sister of Rachel.
Everybody noticed Rachel. And why not? the Bible bluntly says she “was shapely and beautiful” (Gen 29:17); we can be sure family members, neighbors, and adolescent men raved nonstop about her. Meanwhile, poor Leah is described only as having “ordinary eyes.” The idea is that next to her head-turning sister, Leah was all but invisible.
We don’t have much information about the sister’s personalities or their childhood interactions. But when they were older, their sibling rivalry and insecurity came to a head. Jacob came for a visit. He was their cousin (his mom and their dad were sister and brother), who hailed from a wealthy family. Best of all, Jacob was single and looking to settle down.
Of course, the minute Jacob laid eyes on Rachel, he flipped head-over-heels in love with her. So much so that he agreed to serve Laban seven years for the right to make her his bride.
Watching that whole mushy relationship unfold was tough enough for Leah to stomach. But then on the wedding night, her father, well, pulled a Laban. Instead of giving Rachel to Jacob as promised, he sent Leah into the darkened “honeymoon suite.”
The next morning Jacob was apoplectic. He confronted his wily old uncle/new father-in-law, securing a pledge to get his true love, Rachel, in seven more days if he’d agree to stick around and work seven more years.
When you try to put yourself in Leah’s place, it just about kills your heart. To be the passed-over one, the ignored one, the undesirable one. But there she was. What could she do?
There were moments of grace and, dare we say it, sweet revenge. “When the LORD saw that Leah was unloved, He opened her womb” (Gen 29:31). In rapid-fire succession, she began having sons, even as Rachel found herself unable to conceive.
She named the first Reuben, saying, “The LORD has seen my affliction; surely my husband will love me now” (Gen 29:32). But apparently this momentous event failed to kindle any real affection in Jacob’s heart, because upon the birth of her second son, she muttered, “The LORD heard that I am unloved” (29:33). A third birth reveled her lingering longing for love: “At last, my husband will become attached to me because I have borne three sons for him” (29:34). She marked the birth of her fourth son without referencing Jacob at all, saying only, “This time I will praise the LORD” (29:35). Perhaps by this point she was resigned to the notion that she’d never be loved in the way she hoped. The pregnancies stopped.
Even though she’d given Jacob six sons and a daughter, it wasn’t enough. When Rachel finally conceived, it nearly killed Leah. Just as Leah feared, that newborn son, Joseph, the child of the favored wife, became the favored child of the next generation.
After all those maternal mentions, not much is said in scripture about Leah. It seems that Rachel died first, while giving birth to her son Benjamin. No one can say for sure, but perhaps this altered the dynamic between Jacob and Leah.
Here is what we do know: when Jacob was on his death-bed and charging his sons, he mentioned the family plot “in the field of Machpelah near Mamre, in the land of Canaan” (Gen 49:30-31). It was the burial site for all the patriarchs of the faith. Abraham and Sarah were laid to rest there, and Isaac and Rebekah after them. Interestingly, Jacob and Leah buried there-but not Rachel (read Gen 35:19). Later, before he himself passed away, Jacob let it be known he wanted to be buried there, next to Leah.
It makes you wonder: perhaps the ordinary girl who just wanted to be wanted, who just wanted to be loved, was more wanted and more loved than she ever realized.
GENESIS 29:31 – “When the LORD saw that Leah was unloved, He opened her womb; but Rachel was unable to conceive.