Leah and Rachel
(Genesis chapters 29 to 35)
Leah and Rachel were sisters. Even though Leah was the firstborn we almost always hear her mentioned last. Usually we hear them referred to as Rachel and Leah, not the other way around. Probably it is because we tend to think of Rachel as being a very virtuous woman. Let's take a look and both sisters and you judge for yourself if that is true or not.
The Bible tells us that Rachel was very beautiful while Leah was tender eyed. (Genesis 29:17) Leah was tender eyed; but Rachel was beautiful and well favoured. Was Rachel so exceptionally beautiful that no one paid much attention to Leah’s beauty or was Leah rather homely and plain in appearance?
What is meant by tender-eyed in relation to Leah? Was her eyesight weak? Could Leah have worn glasses by today’s standards? According to the dictionary the word “tender” can mean a number of things: delicate, weak or feeble; compassionate, gentle or mild. The Bible does not give an explanation.
I believe that it had nothing to do with her eyesight but instead with her personality. Leah was very compassionate and had a delicate spirit. She was easily hurt but she never let anyone know it. Even though she was the elder of the two sisters, Rachel received all the attention. Yet I do not believe that Leah was the jealous type. Let’s look at the two sisters and you’ll see what I mean.
We can only imagine the beauty of Rachel. The Bible says in Genesis 29:20, “And Jacob served seven years for Rachel; and they seemed unto him but a few days, for the love he had to her.” Here was a man who was so taken with the looks of this girl that he was willing to be a servant of her household for seven years in order to have her as his wife. This was Jacob’s first mistake. He only saw what was on the outside. The world has a saying, “beauty is only skin deep.” The Bible puts it this way in 1 Samuel 16:7, “But the LORD said unto Samuel, Look not on his countenance, or on the height of his stature; because I have refused him: for the LORD seeth not as man seeth; for man looketh on the outward appearance, but the LORD looketh on the heart.” Jacob would have been wise to look at Rachel’s heart and not at her face.
Jacob, whose name means “deceiver”, was deceived himself. He fell for Rachel’s looks but knew nothing of her personality until after they were married, and it was too late, as we shall see later.
Jacob’s second mistake was not abiding by the tradition of his people. It was customary for the eldest daughter to be married first before any of her sisters could be married. And then they were usually married in order of their birth. Jacob should have worked for Leah in the first place and he would have saved himself a lot of trouble down the road.
So even though Jacob worked for Rachel he was given Leah instead, much to his surprise. The Bible records this in Genesis 29:25-29: And it came to pass, that in the morning, behold, it was Leah: and he said to Laban, What is this thou hast done unto me? did not I serve with thee for Rachel? wherefore then hast thou beguiled me? And Laban said, It must not be so done in our country, to give the younger before the firstborn. Fulfil her week, and we will give thee this also for the service which thou shalt serve with me yet seven other years. And Jacob did so, and fulfilled her week: and he gave him Rachel his daughter to wife also.
The third mistake that Jacob made in dealing with the two sisters was that of favoritism. (Genesis 29:30) And he went in also unto Rachel, and he loved also Rachel more than Leah, and served with him yet seven other years. Can you imagine how Leah must have felt? All of her life since she was born her sister Rachel got all the attention. When Leah marries and thinks she has found some happiness of her own she finds out that her husband despises her and still wants her sister instead. So she not only has to share her husband but continue to take second place to her sister for the rest of her life.
But God is merciful to her and intervenes on Leah’s behalf. (Genesis 29:31-35) And when the LORD saw that Leah was hated, he opened her womb: but Rachel was barren. And Leah conceived, and bare a son, and she called his name Reuben: for she said, Surely the LORD hath looked upon my affliction; now therefore my husband will love me. And she conceived again, and bare a son; and said, Because the LORD hath heard that I was hated, he hath therefore given me this son also: and she called his name Simeon. And she conceived again, and bare a son; and said, Now this time will my husband be joined unto me, because I have born him three sons: therefore was his name called Levi. And she conceived again, and bare a son: and she said, Now will I praise the LORD: therefore she called his name Judah; and left bearing.
That’s a minimum of at least 5 years that she bore children for her husband and she still did not feel that she had his love. How sad for her. Yet we never read anywhere that she complained. She continued to love her husband despite his feelings toward her.
Rachel on the other hand starts to show her true nature. She becomes jealous of her sister. This is Rachel’s first sin. (Genesis 30:1-2) And when Rachel saw that she bare Jacob no children, Rachel envied her sister; and said unto Jacob, Give me children, or else I die. And Jacob's anger was kindled against Rachel: and he said, Am I in God's stead, who hath withheld from thee the fruit of the womb? We have already learned in our study of Sarah how much of a reproach to a woman it was to be barren. And Rachel did not want to be outdone by her sister.
So Rachel makes the same mistake that Sarah made. Like Sarah, Rachel gives her husband her handmaid to have children by her. Rachel’s next sin is “playing” at being God.
(Genesis 30:3-6) And she said, Behold my maid Bilhah, go in unto her; and she shall bear upon my knees, that I may also have children by her. And she gave him Bilhah her handmaid to wife: and Jacob went in unto her. And Bilhah conceived, and bare Jacob a son. And Rachel said, God hath judged me, and hath also heard my voice, and hath given me a son: therefore called she his name Dan.
As if the first two sins are not enough she now adds a third, selfishness. (Genesis 30:14) And Reuben went in the days of wheat harvest, and found mandrakes in the field, and brought them unto his mother Leah. Then Rachel said to Leah, Give me, I pray thee, of thy son's mandrakes.
Rachel wants only what is best for her. She does not care about anybody else or interested in his or her feelings, even those of her own sister or husband.
(Genesis 30:15-21) And she said unto her, Is it a small matter that thou hast taken my husband? and wouldest thou take away my son's mandrakes also? And Rachel said, Therefore he shall lie with thee to night for thy son's mandrakes. And Jacob came out of the field in the evening, and Leah went out to meet him, and said, Thou must come in unto me; for surely I have hired thee with my son's mandrakes. And he lay with her that night. And God hearkened unto Leah, and she conceived, and bare Jacob the fifth son. And Leah said, God hath given me my hire, because I have given my maiden to my husband: and she called his name Issachar. And Leah conceived again, and bare Jacob the sixth son. And Leah said, God hath endued me with a good dowry; now will my husband dwell with me, because I have born him six sons: and she called his name Zebulun. And afterwards she bare a daughter, and called her name Dinah.
After six sons and one daughter Leah is still looking for real heartfelt love from Jacob. What devotion and faithfulness Leah had to her husband.
Meanwhile God finally gave Rachel a son. (Genesis 30:22-24) And God remembered Rachel, and God hearkened to her, and opened her womb. And she conceived, and bare a son; and said, God hath taken away my reproach: And she called his name Joseph; and said, The LORD shall add to me another son.
For a while after Joseph was born Rachel finally stopped whining and complaining and concentrated her efforts on raising her child. But it is not long before we see her in action again.
Consider her sins of stealing and lying. When Jacob took his family back to the land of his birth Rachel takes her father’s idols. Why she did this is not clear. (Genesis 31:19) And Laban went to shear his sheep: and Rachel had stolen the images that were her father's. She must have known that idolatry was wrong. Perhaps she was just being childish. It wouldn’t surprise me after studying her behaviour so far. Perhaps they were of value, the Bible doesn’t say what they were or what they were made of. Perhaps she wanted to play a trick on her father or get revenge on him for something. It doesn’t really matter. The bottom line is she took what did not belong to her.
(Genesis 31:34-35) Now Rachel had taken the images, and put them in the camel's furniture, and sat upon them. And Laban searched all the tent, but found them not. And she said to her father, Let it not displease my lord that I cannot rise up before thee; for the custom of women is upon me. And he searched, but found not the images. Now she lies to her own father about what she did. What an immature, selfish, spoiled brat she turned out to be.
Jacob was not entirely blind to Rachel’s faults. Look at what he said when she pestered him about not having children. (Genesis 30:1-2) And when Rachel saw that she bare Jacob no children, Rachel envied her sister; and said unto Jacob, Give me children, or else I die. And Jacob's anger was kindled against Rachel: and he said, Am I in God's stead, who hath withheld from thee the fruit of the womb?
Yet when Leah bargained with her sister over some plants and she told Jacob about it he did not rebuke her. (Genesis 30:16) And Jacob came out of the field in the evening, and Leah went out to meet him, and said, Thou must come in unto me; for surely I have hired thee with my son's mandrakes. And he lay with her that night.
Did Jacob really love Rachel more than Leah? Let’s take a look at the end of their lives. When Rachel died after the birth of Benjamin they were travelling from Bethel and nearing Ephrath and Jacob buried her there. (Genesis 35:16-20) And they journeyed from Bethel; and there was but a little way to come to Ephrath: and Rachel travailed, and she had hard labour. And it came to pass, when she was in hard labour, that the midwife said unto her, Fear not; thou shalt have this son also. And it came to pass, as her soul was in departing, (for she died) that she called his name Benoni: but his father called him Benjamin. And Rachel died, and was buried in the way to Ephrath, which is Bethlehem. And Jacob set a pillar upon her grave: that is the pillar of Rachel's grave unto this day.
But when Leah died he buried her with his grandparents and his parents. At long last Jacob showed his love for Leah. (Genesis 49:29-31) And he charged them, and said unto them, I am to be gathered unto my people: bury me with my fathers in the cave that is in the field of Ephron the Hittite, In the cave that is in the field of Machpelah, which is before Mamre, in the land of Canaan, which Abraham bought with the field of Ephron the Hittite for a possession of a buryingplace. There they buried Abraham and Sarah his wife; there they buried Isaac and Rebekah his wife; and there I buried Leah.
I think that over the years Jacob come to love Leah. She certainly was more congenial than Rachel. She was more devoted to her husband than her sister was. Rachel seemed to only care about herself. Rachel was a bitter, jealous, deceitful and conniving woman all her life. She was a child that never grew up. Leah was hated but loved her husband anyway. She knew that she could not compete with her sister with her looks so she just took care of Jacob like a good wife should. She was more mature than her sister. God always blesses someone who is humble and someone who is faithful. Leah was both. She may not have been very attractive but her heart was right with God and with her husband. Rachel died young but Leah lived a long life. God blessed Leah in that two of her sons were important in Jewish history. From Levi came the priestly line and from Judah came the Messianic line.