I love a good love story! And I'm not alone. The number of books, songs, poems, movies, plays, and letters written about love gained and love lost are impossible to count. I wonder just how much money has been gained by selling love stories in all their various forms? Even the Bible is full of them.
If you aren't already familiar with how Jacob and Rachel meet and he agrees to work for seven years for her father, Laban, in order to marry her (and those seven years seem but a day Jacob is so in love with her), you need to read this chapter. It's a love story you can sell!
But when those seven years are up, Leah, Rachel's older sister, is still not married. So Laban tells Jacob he can marry Rachel, holds a wedding feast, and then substitutes Leah for Rachel in the marriage bed.
Okay...if Jacob loved Rachel and lived around her for seven years, you would think he would know what she looked like, the sound of her voice, the distinctive color of her hair, etc. So either he was quite drunk or he was dead drunk. There is no other way to explain this. Laban was obviously serving large quantities of wine at the wedding feast, and I'll bet you real money it wasn't the first time Jacob ever got drunk.
Think for a moment of poor Leah. She's been compared to her younger, more beautiful sister her entire life. Jacob makes the deal with Laban for Rachel and, in that entire seven years, no one comes to court Leah. No one has been enticed by a dowry to take her. She has reached an age where Laban doesn't think he will ever be able to get her off his hands. Think of the words Leah's father must have used to force her into the bed of a drunken man deeply in love with her sister. Think of her own desperation to go along with the deceipt. Think how unloved she is by both father and husband.
And do you know what her big failing is? She has "weak" eyes. Some translations use the word "delicate" or "dull" but one says they were "nice" eyes. Whatever! I imagine Leah was moderately pretty and docile but, when you put her next to stunning and spirited Rachel, she faded into the background.
But she conceives.
Think on that one for a minute. These are not characters in a book. They were real people. Jacob is really angry at being cheated into a marriage he did not want. He must "finish out the bridal week" with Leah, and then he can have Rachel, the one he really wants, the one he gave his heart to seven years ago, the beautiful one, his one and only. You get the idea.
So...how much time did Leah really have to conceive? At most, I'm guessing she only had her bridal week. Realistically, it may very well have been the first night when Jacob was too drunk to know better.
Leah bears a son and names him Rueben. The name means "son" and sounds like the Hebrew for "he has heard my misery." Leah thinks this will turn the heart of her husband toward her since Rachel has remained barren.
Right or wrong, it is impossible to take this story out of the culture. As you probably already know, boys were highly prized by both fathers (for their ability to work and increase the family wealth) and mothers (because sons took care of their mothers in their old age). But there was also a pecking order for wives. The first wife had priority over any married second, third, or more. Also, the first to bear a child had status by showing her fertility. And the first to bear a son had priority over all for producing the heir. Things got pretty sticky when you had multiple wives and each had their reason for feeling they should be the "number one" wife. However, Leah could legitimately claim all three of these status symbols as her own. She just isn't loved.
Son number two comes along, Leah names him Simeon which means "one who hears" because God has heard how son number one hasn't done the trick so he gave her another. Surely now, with two fine sons, Jacob will begin to love her a little more. Doesn't happen.
Son number three is born and named Levi which means "attached, connected, companion" depending on which version you read. Jacob will now become attached to Leah, connect with her, become a companion. She has born him three sons...three! Still, she is not loved.
If she wasn't loved, how come she keeps bearing children? Again, you have to go back to the culture. Our culture says you only have sex if your "in love" regardless of marriage. That culture, you had sex with your wife in order to bear children regardless of how much you loved or didn't love her. Since Rachel is barren, and Jacob HAS to have children, Leah continues to conceive. Somehow, I think things might have been quite different if Rachel had been popping babies.
Then comes number four son, Judah, which means "praise God." Leah has finally, after years of being unloved, turned her eyes to her heavenly Father and given him praise for caring for her, loving her through four sons who will protect her as she ages, work to bring food to her table, and provide her with love and companionship.
The Bible says, after Judah was born, she stopped bearing children. I'm not sure if it's because Jacob stopped visiting her, if Leah kicked him out of her bed finally, or if she was getting too old to bear children anymore, but whatever the reason it doesn't really matter. Her position was secure despite Jacob's lack of love for her. (Those of you who know "the rest of the story" need to hang tight...we'll get there.)
God loved Leah. He provided for her not just in spiritual ways but temperal as well. He made sure she was married first, timed that wedding for Leah's fertile days, gave her multiple sons, and allowed her to realize He was the one who cared most for her. Her story may not sell well in the open market, but it resonates with those who find themselves on the losing end of a competition for earthly affection.
Leah's story says you are loved, your position of preminence is secure, even if you aren't the good-looking one, the spirited one, or the one who gets all the attention. That covers just about all of us, wouldn't you say?
Until next time,