Have you ever been the person no one wanted? Passed over for a promotion at work, or unable to land any of the jobs you keep interviewing for? The one left at home on Saturday night without a date? Picked last for dodge ball?
Jacob sees both his marriage prospects—Rachel and Leah—when he arrives at Laban’s house, and the choice is a no-brainer for him. “Rachel was beautiful in form and appearance,” but her older sister, “Leah’s eyes were weak” (29:17).
The English translation bears out the odd description of Leah in the Hebrew. Why does Jacob care about her vision? Was he an ancient optometrist? Isaac didn’t have very good eyesight; maybe he thought that was a very important thing in a mate. We can read that sentence in one of two ways: 1) either her vision was less that 20/20, or 2) she wasn’t very nice to look at. A loose translation would look something like “Leah wasn’t too easy on the eyes, but Rachel was beautiful in form and appearance” (29:17). One sister was nice to look at, the other, not so much.
On his wedding night, Jacob is clearly angry at his father-in-law. Imagine going into your honeymoon tent (or waking up from your wedding night!) and realizing the woman you were lying next to was the ugly sister. You’d worked 7 years for the beautiful one, and now you had consummated your wedding to the wrong woman.
What must Leah have felt when she saw Jacob respond in horror at waking up next to her? She couldn’t have expected much; what woman wants to be underhandedly married to a man who thinks he’s marrying her sister. Still, there must have been a glimmer of hope in her heart that after the two had spent their first night together, Jacob would love Leah. The next morning, that last ember of hope in her heart was extinguished.
Up to this point in the narrative, God has been absent. The Lord did not receive even an honorable mention when Jacob came safely to his relatives after a long journey (notice the absence of gratitude to God during their celebration; 29:11-14). It isn’t until Jacob has married both sisters and Leah is set to be perpetually neglected and unwanted that God makes his presence known.
“When the Lord saw that Leah was hated, he opened her womb” (29:31). And God doesn’t bless Leah just one time. He gives her four sons in a row.
At first, Leah is hoping against hope that giving Jacob sons will make him love her (29:32 & 34). But by the time her fourth son, Judah, is born, it seems she has stopped looking for her husband’s love and begun to accept her Father’s; when Judah was born, she said “This time I will praise the Lord” (29:35).
That unwanted, second wife to Jacob was the one God used to give birth to Judah. The neglected, ugly sister—Leah, not beautiful Rachel—was the one who would be counted the great-great-great… grandmother of the Savior of the world. Jesus would be known as the Lion of Judah. Leah was Judah’s mom.
Our God is full of love and compassion, shedding his grace upon those we deem to be least deserving. The psalms celebrate God’s incredible compassion: “Father of the fatherless and protector of widows is God in his holy habitation” (Ps. 68:5); “He gives the barren woman a home, making her the joyous mother of children” (Ps. 113:9).
Really, we are all spiritual Leahs. We have nothing to offer God, but he pours out grace upon grace on us. He gives us his blessed Son and makes us his children. No matter how neglected or unwanted we may feel in this life, there is nothing we or anyone else can do to make us less loved by God. In Christ, we have received the only love that can satisfy.