Leah: Treasure in an Earthen Vessel

 Once again, I'm featuring articles from my series entitled "Six Women in the Bible with Challenging Marriages". Over the next few weeks, we'll draw insight and encouragement from the lives of Leah, Sarah, Abigail, Hannah, the Shunammite and Hagar.

If we want to find a heart-breaking example of a rejected woman in the Bible, we can go to Genesis 29 for the story of Leah. But first, let's lay out our background.

Jacob tricked his older brother Esau out of the family blessing at his mother's insistence. Years earlier, he extorted the same brother out of the family birthright, which would have automatically made Esau--as the firstborn male--the head of the family with a double portion of the inheritance (Genesis 25:27-34).

The father's final blessings could be given at his discretion to any of his sons. However, it was considered sacred and binding upon the individual and could not be changed or retrieved.

At first, Jacob didn't want to go along with the trick. "…I shall seem to him (my father) as a deceiver; and I shall bring a curse upon me, and not a blessing."

And his mother said unto him, "Upon ME be thy curse, my son: only obey my voice…" (Genesis 27:12-13)

Taking advantage of his father Isaac's waning health and bad eyesight, Jacob dressed up as Esau, a hairy man who loved to hunt. With his mother's help, he put goat kid skins upon his hands and neck (where the father would grab to bless), wore Esau's clothes for the familiar smell, and carried his father's favorite meal into the patriarchal tent. The plan worked.

Esau came home just minutes after the blessing was given!  He threatened to kill his trickster brother after their father's impending funeral. Rebekah, the mother, intervened again on behalf of the son she loved the most. She sent him to her brother Laban in Haran with the charge not to marry outside God's covenant. Even Isaac, although cruelly deceived, gave his conniving son another blessing. Esau was livid!

And, yes. The curse did come upon Rebekah. She never saw her favorite son again. The person she sent away by one act of deceit pursued a lifestyle of one-upmanship. The less favored son, Esau, married forbidden Canaanite women. He also married daughters of Ishmael. Esau's descendants became the Edomites--a strong, ruthless, and idolatrous people who were enemies to Israel (Jacob's lineage).

After a month in Haran working for Laban, the patriarch asks Jacob what he would like as a gift. Jacob asked for his daughter Rachel, and said he would labor seven years for her. The agreement was made.

The tradition, however, was to give the oldest daughter in marriage first. Rachel was the youngest. Why didn't Laban remind Jacob of this well known custom? Verse 17 of Genesis 29 may give us a clue: Leah, the eldest, was "…tender-eyed; but Rachel was beautiful and well favored."

For years theologians have speculated as to what "tender-eyed" means. The Hebrew word translates simply as "weak". Children in the Middle East were often named for characteristics observed in them or for situations at the time of their birth. Interestingly, Leah's name means, "delicate, fragile; weary".

Hers may have been a difficult birth, leaving a physical defect or delayed physical or mental growth. The eyes were the most important asset in a culture that covered their females from head toe. Middle Eastern women were renown for possessing big, dark, expressive eyes. Some scholars have suggested that Leah's were lighter, dull, and smaller.

I've even read articles that supposedly explored the way the Hebrew word "tender" was used connotatively. If they're right, our Leah could have been overweight. But I don't buy into that idea since Jacob would have immediately known the difference in bed, drunk or not.  Another option? She was plain…very plain.

In comparison, Rachel was beautiful and well favored (shape; appearance; good to look upon). Note that the Bible uses two similar words–beauty and well favored. Where beauty is all encompassing and can mean many things about a person, "well favored" limits its meaning strictly to physical attributes.

Sadly, Laban seem disinterested in following through with the customs of his day to give Leah in marriage. Maybe he had been unsuccessful in previous bids or just too embarrassed. But when Jacob arrived, he saw the answer to his problem!

Deceivers will ultimately get deceived. They can dish it out, but they can't take it when the tables are turned. A big party was thrown for the "happy couple". As expected, Jacob went in to his bride late at night, full of merriment and wine. (It was customary for women to remain silent and veiled on their wedding night.)

The next morning, however, he was horrified to discover the older daughter at his side! Jacob went on a tirade, for sure; but all I can think about is poor Leah. Can you imagine how she felt?

First, her dad dragged her into this pitiful scheme. Next, she lay there while her body was being caressed and loved as if she were the most beautiful woman in the world, knowing that the morning light would cruelly reveal she was not whom her bridegroom expected. I don't know what Jacob said to her upon awakening, or the expression on his face that forever burned into Leah's heart, but I'm sure it was devastating.

We all have expectations. When dating, our courtier puts his best foot forward. Only after the "I do's" do we discover that our Prince Charming has another foot! Yet most disappointments can be worked through with patience and grace.

Expectations within a marriage will constantly require adjustments due to illness, injury or uncontrollable circumstances that leave us changed in this fallen world. Unconditional love, however, is the mortar that holds a couple together during demanding times when the world's definition of beauty flees the body or soul.

Laban smoothed over the situation by promising to give Rachel to Jacob after the week-long marriage ceremony concluded for Leah, but only if he would remain with his house and work another seven years. Jacob, desirous as never before for the fruit that was withheld from him, agreed and the festivities continued. It is hard to imagine how Leah put on a happy face for the rest of the week. I wonder, how do rejected women do it today?

The Bible clearly says, "Jacob loved Rachel more than Leah" (Genesis 29:30). I'm sure he knew Leah was her father's pawn. No doubt he found her sweet, attentive and loving. Nevertheless, Rachel got the lion's share of Jacob's attention.

Rachel's name means, "ewe; female sheep". Middle Eastern children would often take a sheep in from the fold as a pet. Immature men do the same. Although they have loyal and loving wives at home, their hearts are easily captivated by "Rachels", which don't have to be actual women (although at times that's sadly the truth).

More often, they're high profile careers. "Rachels" can be sports, a hobby--even the ministry. These things are not bad within themselves, but when these appealing "Rachels" increasingly demand more attention and devotion at the cost of these men's first commitments, it becomes idolatry.

Leahs immediately think the problem is with them: they search ways to look better and lose weight. But let me tell you a true story that opened my eyes to the truth behind men and their "Rachels".

I once worked as a commercial writer for a radio station. My boss had the most beautiful wife I'd even seen! Bergitta was model gorgeous and could literally turn heads when she walked into a room. She was Norwegian, spoke several languages, and was highly educated. Even her name means, "Splendid".

The couple knew I was a Christian. Although they were outspoken agnostics, we got along very well, but never socialized outside office events.  Once Bergitta called and invited me to lunch at an uptown restaurant, claiming she had a problem and needed to talk.

I sat and listened to this stunning woman hold back the tears as she confessed her husband's numerous infidelities! For years, she tried to correct what she perceived as personal inadequacies with painful body contours and a breast lift. She even took lessons to learn his favorite sport. "I HATE golf," she sputtered, "I tell you, I HATE GOLF!"

As she lit a new cigarette from the still glowing butt of her last one, I saw the real Bergitta--so terribly insecure and tormented behind her polished persona, much like a swan appears to effortlessly glide along the surface of a pond; in reality, though, it's paddling frantically underneath.

She begged, "What can I do about him?"

I shot back with a question. "More importantly, what are you going to do with Bergitta?"

We spent the rest of the afternoon talking about the source of her desires and fears, and what she should do to rescue herself from disingenuous living.

Leah, you will never be good enough or pretty enough to beat Rachel. It's not your outward problem, but your husband's inner problem! My boss was not into adultery looking for sex, but an ego fix.

Let's be clear: I'm not focusing on the deeply serious issues of sexual infidelity as I am to the more subtle types of unfaithfulness. Yet, all men whose hearts are too crowded need to find their identity and affirmation in Christ alone, rather than in other people's opinions, big titles, expensive toys, or even a big ministry. "Rachels" validate such men before their peers and appeal to their self-worth--plain and simple.

What should Jacob have done? Rebuking one's father-in-law in the Middle East was a serious insult, even if his tactics were questionable. My husband suggested that Jacob should have swallowed hard and replied, "Uh, wow…two for the price of one. Thanks, Dad"!

Before arriving at Haran, Jacob had a dramatic, divine encounter at Bethel where God personally promised to guide and take care of him. The Lord knew full well about this upcoming complexity and was ready to give Jacob all the grace he could hold to see it through to the good--if he had simply asked.

As one discovers over time anyway, the "in love" feeling wanes and true love becomes a settled joy, acted out mostly from the will, not the emotions. In doing so, Leah would have been able to receive the validation and acceptance she was denied from her father and kinsmen.

Instead, Jacob pacified Laban and dutifully appeased Leah in order to get his Rachel. He was a man who always got what he wanted and this situation was no different. Today, men are still going further in debt to either man or the devil, determined to maintain their "Rachel" while constantly coming up with excuses and lies to placate their family.

Was Leah forgotten and all alone? No, no, no! The Bible says that when God saw that Leah was hated, he opened her womb, but closed Rachel's (Genesis 29:31). In fact, she bore 4 sons in a row! But the naming of her sons reveals her heartbreaking insecurities:

Reuben: "See, a son"
Leah proclaimed at his birth, "Now therefore my husband will love me."

Simeon: "The Lord hath heard"
She said, "Because the Lord hath heard I was hated, He hast therefore given me this son also…"

Levi: "Joined"
She cried, "Now this time will my husband be joined unto me, because I have born him three sons…"

Judah: "praise"
Leah declared, "Now will I praise the Lord."

God was making her fruitful in the midst of her affliction. He was confirming His love for her by giving her sons (and eventually a daughter) that would rise up and called her blessed--children that would impact the earth and have an everlasting heritage in God.

You may feel you are sharing your marriage with a "Rachel". Regardless of what you've done to try to win back your husband, he will not turn loose and give you and your children his quality time and passion.

Nevertheless, has God made you fruitful?

Have you been able to produce beautiful, strong gifts and talents into the earth to be a blessing to others around you? Perhaps you're an encourager, an intercessor; maybe you have the gift of hospitality or service. You're no doubt good with children and youth, and probably help out with their ministries at church. Are you a writer? Do you keep a journal to share your spiritual journey through valleys and over mountains peaks with others? Are you on the praise team or in the choir?

After bearing four children, Leah's womb rested for a season. I can understand the need for her body to regain its strength and vitality. Yet, I think the season of rest may have been God's way of giving Leah time to examine herself and her deepest motives. Whom was she obsessed to please?

Leah saw everything through her glasses of rejection. Every time God gave her a tremendous blessing, she thought it would surely cause Jacob to return her love. She could not see God's exclusive love just for her. She thought she was only being blessed for Jacob's sake!

How many things have we acquired only to make us appear better? How many opportunities have been presented to us--career, ministry, or socially? And instead of being whole enough to simply enjoy them for what they are, we earnestly believe they make us more valuable and desirable to others. Take this test:

"If these blessings were taken away tomorrow, who would I be?"

"Would I still be the beloved daughter of the Most High God or a woman stripped of her identity and value?"

"How much is my worth before God and others determined by what I do?"

My parents were friends with a couple by the name of Jack and Mabel. They didn't have any children for me to play with when we went to visit, but I still enjoyed going because of Mr. Jack's wonderful stories of working on the railroad in the days of the old steam engines and hand-held lanterns. He was a marvelous, compelling storyteller!

He was also an accomplished violinist, yet I never heard him play. Mom implied that years earlier he thought about giving lessons to children, but Miss Mabel was often in fragile health and hesitant to allow so many children into her home week after week. The instrument stayed in the hall closet.

After being together for over 50 years, Mabel died of a sudden heart attack. Two days later, Mr. Jack was found dead in the home--upright in his chair. No gunshot wound, no poison. The autopsy concluded he died simply of natural causes. On the contrary, Mr. Jack died because he lost himself in Mabel.

This gifted, sweet man was not sick or infirmed! How many years could he have continued to live? Only God knows. But think of the gifts he could have left to the world during his final days. His entertaining stories would have awakened the imaginations of children at the local library or in the schools, as it did for me in his living room. Many opportunities existed for him to play the violin again, from the church music department to the senior orchestra in our hometown. And with all due respect to Mabel, God rest her soul, Mr. Jack could have finally opened up the thrilling world of music to eager pupils.

In the mid-eighties, I was on staff at HisRadio, a Christian radio network which is now syndicated across the nation. I hosted a daily interview program called, "Feedback". I was blessed to interview one of my favorite authors, Elisabeth Eliot, who wrote Through Gates of Splendor.

All one has to do is read her book Passion and Purity: Learning to Bring Your Love Life Under Christ's Control to know how much Jim and Elisabeth were blushingly in love. However, these two missionaries had individually been called to Christian service before they met. They struggled between giving in to their desires to be together and pressing through to know the Lord's will.

They did eventually marry, but not long afterward men from the Auca Indian Tribe in Ecuador speared to death Jim and several other ministry companions. Elisabeth and her young daughter bravely stayed at her post in the jungle. Additional contact was successfully made with the tribe and Elisabeth was able to live among the very people who killed her husband, learning their language and becoming their friend. With her help, the remote language was written down for the very first time and a Bible later emerged for the tribe (now called the Woadanni's).

I asked Elisabeth why she didn't pack up and return to the United States after Jim's death. With tears in her eyes, she said, "Because I was called to be God's servant to Ecuador before I was called to be Jim's wife."

Selah…(a Hebrew word meaning, "time for a pause and quiet reflection").

Leah was happy with her brood, but Rachel's envy was growing. She told Jacob, "Give me children or I'll die!" (We need to watch our words, as we will later see.) Jacob replied angrily, "Who am I…God?" (Genesis 30:1-2)

Rachel was a schemer, too ("peas of a pod", I guess). Since God didn't come to her aid, she helped herself to a legitimate custom in her culture of giving a servant to one's husband to produce a legal heir. Bilbah, her maid, bore Jacob two sons:

Dan: judging
"God has judged me and given me a son"

Naphtali: My wrestling
"I have wrestled with my sister and prevailed"

Leah was fruitful, but in a season of rest. Yet her insecurities drove her to jump out of that divine rest to compete illicitly, or out of God's way, with her sister. She dropped down to Rachel's level of fleshly desperation and gave Jacob her handmaid. In turn, the servant Zilpah bore two sons:

Gad: A troop
"A troop cometh" (referring to the number of her sons)

Asher: Happy
"Happy am I; for the daughters will call me blessed"

One day during the wheat harvest, Leah's son, Reuben, found mandrakes in the field and gave them to his mother. Mandrakes were rare and highly prized as aphrodisiacs and fertility roots. The plant was commonly called the "Love Apple". Rachel, still scheming under her own power, used a powerful bargaining chip in order to get the mandrakes. Leah traded them for one night with Jacob.

This encounter in Genesis 30:14-15 gives us an interesting glimpse into Leah's character versus Rachel's. Leah was given the mandrakes; she did not seek the plants on her own. And being aware of their supposed "magical" powers to awaken love in a man (something she longed for), she nevertheless quickly gave them away for one night with Jacob. She loved him so much that she was willing to let go of any manipulating advantage for just one night of genuine intimacy. Although Jacob may have visited out of duty, Leah saw it as another opportunity to lie with her beloved.

The mandrake witchcraft didn't work for Rachel. Instead, Leah bore three subsequent children--Issachar, Zebulun, and Dinah. Although your husband's "Rachel" may seem to have a manipulating, spiritual force behind it, just stay faithful to God, honorable to your principles, and read on to find out what happened to Rachel.

Over the years, Laban was an increasingly hard taskmaster. God was with Jacob and prospered him. No matter how Laban tried to outsmart Jacob, the young man found a way to come out on top. Laban began to take advantage of this good fortune, extorting his son-in-law's wages and tampering with the flocks under Jacob's care.

Jacob finally had enough of his own medicine and abruptly uprooted his family from Laban's household. Rachel caused quite a ruckus by stealing her father's idols and lying about it. Jacob retorted, "…with whomever thou findest thy gods, let him not live…" (Genesis 31: 32) Even her husband didn't know of Rachel's thievery.

Maybe she stole them to get back at Laban or to have something of value since she and her sister had no remaining dowry from their squandering father. Perhaps she clung to the idols in hopes of remaining fertile. Nevertheless, Jacob's rash oath was fulfilled.

Along the way, Jacob heard that Esau was hot on his trail. The aging charmer was tired of trying to stay one step ahead of everybody. He didn't want to run anymore. At nightfall, he sent his household across the Jabbok ford. In his vulnerable aloneness, he literally bumped into God. A wrestling match started, as God pounded out the old to make room for the new man that was going to emerge. Jacob sensed what was happening, as well. (Genesis 32:22-32)

Despite the pain, he held on, refusing to let go until God was finished and could bless him. At the break of day, God changed his name from Jacob (trickster, usurper) to Israel (prevailer). In the Middle East, a change of name meant of change of nature. Indeed, a different man crossed back over the Jabbok in the light of day. He faced Esau, owned up to his deceptions and its consequences, found mercy at the feet of his brother, and made restitution.

In their ensuing journeys, Rachel became pregnant again (She had previously given birth to one son, Joseph, during Leah's season of rest). In giving birth to Benjamin, however, she died. (Remember her rash oath regarding her barrenness and Jacob's vow concerning the stolen idols?) He placed a pillar to mark her grave, but here's the important part: afterward, he moved on!

Pray for your husband to be willing to face the people and events of his past. Only then can he wrestle with God and finally lose. No longer will he charm his way through, run ahead of, or deny his problems. God will change the man to one who prevails over sin and self. Then, his "Rachel" can die as he journeys in his spiritual growth. Oh, yes. He'll mourn the loss. He will grieve, and things may be difficult for a while. It will take courage and honesty, but the two of you can move on!

We don't know how long Leah lived after Rachel's death. By tradition, we know she raised Rachel's two sons and they called her "mother". Jacob spent his latter years as a widower in Egypt and died at the age of 147.

I'd like to think that when it was just the two of them again, Jacob began to make things right with her in a way that brought healing and joy to her remaining years. Indeed, he chose to bury Leah in the patriarchal cave of Abraham, along with Sarah, Isaac and Rebekah. There was room for only 6 people. Jacob's last wish was for his remains to be taken out of Goshen and brought to this family place, completing the entombment with his rest at Leah's side (Genesis 49:29-33).

But what if Leah had decided that she wasn't going to wait for Jacob to get straightened out before she really started living? What if she had determined to no longer look to a man to heal her broken heart? Would events have turned around sooner in her favor?

You don't have to wait until "Rachel" leaves the picture. You don't have to be jealous and focus your time and attention on "her"! After all, Rachel did not survive trying to do what came so naturally and freely for Leah.

So don't waste any more of the precious time given to you. By faith, reach into the finished work of Jesus Christ and find that His restoring power has been there all along--waiting for you to make the move, not Jacob! Pursue your wellness now for the sake of so many people who need your gifts and the uniqueness that is you.

Go ahead...believe that God will set a wrestling match with your Jacob; but also realize that Leah, YOU need to have a one-on-one with God, too.

This may be hard, but it's right. The very thing that could be tying God's hands and delaying the turn around with your husband is your idolatry. Are you surprised?

"But he's the one with the idol," you stammer! True. But what is the bottom line definition of an idol? Anything or anyone we've come to love more than God.

Mark Virkler of Communion with God Ministries has a simple way of checking your heart. In his Communion with God Study Guide, he draws a picture of Jesus on one side of the table and you on the other. In between the two of you is the object of your prayers. Is it larger than Jesus? Can you even see Him or can you only see your "Jacob"? If what you're praying for is larger than the Lord, then you have an idol.

The Bible tells us that a companion to idolatry is stubbornness (1 Samuel 15:23). Situations and people become stubborn in the presence of idolatry. Things just won't move in our favor until we repent! So often the change in us first is the means that releases God's power to work in the lives of our loved ones.

If you really love Jacob, give him to God and make room in your heart for the Lord to transform you from the insecure, rejected girl into a grown woman who walks enfolded in the beauty of holiness.

Reckon your gifts precious in the earth. Raise them up and nurture them for the glory of God, not man. As natural Leah's children became princes among men--one becoming the father of the priesthood (Levi) and one the father of our Messiah's tribe (Judah)--so what you have been given to contribute is mighty in the earth.

You are the dazzling bride of Christ. He asked the Father for your hand in marriage, remember? Jesus knows exactly what He's getting with you. He's not disappointed to see you in even the brightest, most revealing light.

Paying the costliest of all bridewealths, exceeding abundantly beyond what Jacob gave for Rachel, he exchanged His life for yours, allowing His blood to cover and cleanse you from your tearful past. Your Resurrected Savior's love is abiding and not based on the variables of earthly life.

He only sees the beautiful creature that His Father created for Him in the Garden--one with a beauty that may be hidden from the eyes of self-centered others. No, your radiant exquisiteness is His delight and His alone for now.

But one day--in the twinkling of an eye--He will shout! The treasure in your earthen vessel will break forth, as corruption surrenders to unblemished immortality.

Rise up, beautiful Leah!

"For your are of God…and have overcome them (Rachels): because greater is He (Jesus) that is in you, than he (Jacobs) that is in the world!"  1 John 4:4 (author's italics)

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