a tale of two sisters
Steven P. Wickstrom
all Scriptures quoted from the NASB
In Genesis chapter 27, Jacob had already swindled his brother Esau out of the birthright, and now he had deceitfully taken away the blessing of their father Isaac. Esau, having been double-crossed twice, was so angry that he was preparing to kill Jacob. When their mother, Rebekah, found out about Esau's plans, she convinced Isaac to send Jacob up to the city of Haran where her brother Laban lived to find a wife. Jacob left home, headed north east, found Laban and became employed as one of Laban's workers.
Laban had two daughters; the older daughter was named Leah, and the younger daughter was named Rachel. Rachel had the body of a goddess and the face of a super-model. Leah is simply described as having “weak” eyes. (The word “weak” is often translated as “tender” in the Old Testament. It does not denote a defect, but instead, describes the quality of gentleness.) Jacob immediately fell head over heels in love with Rachel. He told Laban that he would work seven years for Laban and as payment, he would get to marry Rachel. Both men shook hands on the deal.
At the end of the seven years, Laban swindled Jacob by switching Leah for Rachel towards the end of the marriage ceremony. Jacob thought he was spending the night with Rachel, but Laban had cunningly substituted Leah in her place. It is important to realize that women during this time frame were treated as property. Since marriages were arranged, the wishes of a daughter were not taken into consideration. Since both Leah and Rachel were under Laban's authority, they had to do what they were told. I don't think either daughter wanted to go along with the deception, but they were given no choice. They were not allowed to say “no.”
Jacob of course was furious about the deception. The swindler had been swindled. He did not want Leah, he wanted Rachel. Jacob and Laban worked out another deal for another seven years of service. When the seven-day marriage ritual with Leah was complete, Jacob immediately married Rachel.
The Bible says in Genesis 29:30 that “Jacob loved Rachel more than Leah.” The words “more than” are not in the original Hebrew text. The interpreters of the Old Testament added those words to the text much later. What the Bible indicates here is that Jacob did not love Leah at all. Jacob had eyes only for Rachel and he did not care about Leah. Jacob's heart was for the super-model, not the homely girl who needed glasses.
Two women; one was loved and the other was unloved. The interesting thing to look at is the personalities of the two women. They were like night and day, complete opposites. Let me show you.
• Rachel was for the most part, barren (a sign of God's displeasure).
• Leah bore many children (a sign of God's favor).
• Rachel stole her father's idols and kept them in her tent, and worshiped them.
• Leah worshiped God, kept asking Him for more sons in the hope that maybe Jacob would love her.
• Rachel traded Jacob to Leah (for a night) for some of Leah's mandrakes (a root that was thought to make a barren woman bear children).
• The only thing Rachel had that Leah wanted, was Jacob's love.
• Rachel was always jealous of Leah because Leah could bear children.
• Leah was jealous of Rachel because Jacob was in love with her.
• Rachel was unhappy due to God closing her womb.
• Leah was happy and rejoiced over her children.
• When Rachel died (after giving birth to Benjamin) Jacob buried her near Bethlehem.
• When Leah died many years later, Jacob buried her next to Abraham and Sarah, and Isaac and Rebekah.
The Bible points out in Genesis 30:8 that Rachel and Leah were in a “contest” with each other to see who could bear the most children. Rachel said, “I've struggled hard with my sister, and I've won!” So she named the boy Naphtali. (CEV) To put that verse into context, at this point, Leah has given birth to Reuben, Simeon, Levi, and Judah. Rache's servant, Bilhah, has given birth to Dan, and now to Naphtali. I'm not sure why Rachel sees this as having won the “contest,” but she does. I have no doubt that this “contest” (struggle with each other) was born out jealousy of each other. I point this out to show that both sisters had faults and shortcomings. It is not my intention to paint Leah as a “better” than Rachel, rather, she was simply “different.” These two sisters were just as human as you are and therefore serve as examples for us to learn from.
When Jacob was old and dying, he gave his sons instructions to bury with him with his forefathers, and next to Leah (Gen. 49:29-31). What happened in the end that caused Leah to be shown so much honor and not Rachel? It was Leah who was buried with Jacob's forefathers, not Rachel. It was Leah that Jacob wanted to be buried next to, not Rachel. In the end, Leah was given the love she had always longed for. What happened?
Perhaps Jacob started seeing things from God's perspective. Perhaps Jacob saw how much God loved Leah, and fell into line with God's will. Perhaps Jacob saw that Leah was focused on God which became something that drew him to her. Thousands of years later, the messiah would be born through Judah's lineage. It was Leah who gave birth to Judah. It was Leah who gave birth to Levi, who would become the father of the line of Priests. Leah was not blessed with physical beauty, but she was indeed blessed by God. Unloved by men, she was deeply loved by God.
Perhaps you are a Christian woman who is married to man that does not love you. You and Leah have much in common. Where is your focus? Leah learned to put her focus on God. God eventually turned Jacob's heart to Leah and he loved her more than he had ever loved Rachel. While Leah was waiting all those years for God to turn Jacob's heart to her, she never gave up hope. During all those years that she was unloved, God continued to bless Leah. During all those years that Leah was unloved by her husband, God never stopped loving her.
If you are a woman in Leah's shoes, there is great hope for you. Are you willing to give God time to answer your prayers? Leah waited, and God answered her prayer. Leah could have become bitter because she was unloved, but she did not, and God rewarded her patience. God could have looked at all of her faults and shortcomings, but he focused on her desire for him. Like Leah, you also may be struggling with jealousy and fighting for your husband's attention. God will reward your patience if you keep your heart and your life focused on Him. Keep God as your number one priority and he will see you through to the end.
The desire of most women is to be a super-model like Rachel. What woman does not want men to desire her? But God wants women who desire Him. He wants women with weak eyes like Leah, who will focus on Him, and not on the world. You know how painful and tough life really is as you live from day to day. Will you face life and focus your eyes on God like Leah? Or will you focus inward and focus on your problems, like Rachel. It is a tale of two sisters, which one will you choose to be?
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© 2005 (re–edited and updated in 2014) by Steven P. Wickstrom All rights reserved. No part of this article may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system or transmitted in any form or by any means without the prior written permission of the author.