One of the most well-known love triangles in the Bible, the story of how Jacob ends up marrying sisters Leah and Rachel in Genesis 29 has been a mystery to most women of the modern age. In a generation of female liberation, it is difficult to make sense of Leah’s painful emotional neglect by her husband, and is especially confounding when you consider the character of a loving God.
As someone who has always enjoyed a good romance tale and felt strongly for women who struggle with love and acceptance, knowing how Leah’s life turned out as opposed to her younger sister Rachel’s is pretty infuriating and discouraging all at the same time. Unlike the mean girls in dramas who typically wind up unloved and rejected, Leah has done nothing wrong besides having bad eyesight. She doesn’t actually steal her sister’s husband – her father seems to have forced her into it, possibly with the threat that she’ll never get married if nobody else as blind (blinded by love, that is) as Jacob appears.
Such seeming injustice in the presence of a loving God! The question that bubbles uncomfortably beneath the surface: What if the same thing happens to me?
FOR THOSE OF US WHO AREN’T RACHELS
Most women, I’d imagine, naturally crave the feeling and certainty of being loved and pursued by a man.
In Rachel’s case, Jacob loved her very much for her “lovely figure and beauty”. He was drawn what seems almost immediately to her outward attractiveness and, I’m sure, to her ladylike disposition. She was the ultimate definition of beauty – a flower to be loved and beheld.
On the other hand, her older sister Leah is described as a plain Jane with bad eyes. In our context, that would probably mean she wore glasses and couldn’t hold a candle to the pretty little thing Rachel was. The kind of girl boys don’t fall for at first sight.
The first time you read the story of Jacob, Leah and Rachel, you’re appalled to find out that Leah is subsequently never loved by Jacob – at least not in the same way he is in love with Rachel – even after bearing him way more children than Rachel. It’s upsetting, especially for us types who are big on justice, to think that God doesn’t grant this poor woman the fairytale ending she seems to deserve after a life of emotional hardship.
All because she wasn’t very pretty.
To make matters worse, Jacob goes on to sacrifice 14 years of his life to win Rachel’s heart. He deeply loves the 2 children she bears him, one which tragically ends her life at childbirth, the other whom he favours so much that the other children plot his death.
What happened to “God is just”? What is going to happen to all of us who just aren’t Rachels? The ones who don’t get second glances, the ones with less than perfect features and figures? Are we doomed to never be truly loved and passionately pursued (for 14 years!) by a man?
YOU ARE LOVED BY A KING
But I took some time to rethink the meaning behind Leah’s story – to go deeper into what message God had hidden in the story for women like me who would read it in the years to come.
The Leah Experience is as important as the Rachel Experience.
The Rachel Experience is beautiful to have, and it can happen to anyone regardless of how you think you look.
But the Leah Experience, as a love story directly between a woman and her God who created and loves and knows her innermost being – her thoughts, desires and emotions – can be infinitely more life-changing than any love story she will ever experience on earth through a finite man. It is an experience no woman should be afraid to go through.
The Leah Experience can be one of the most empowering and precious lessons from God to girls everywhere.
While Rachel was off on an enviable romance with Jacob the hopeless romantic, Leah must have felt pretty horrible and alone. She probably questioned her beauty, her worth and maybe even her relationship with God.
How could her Heavenly Father let her suffer like this if she was the apple of His eye? If He loved her as much as He did Rachel, playing no favourites, shouldn’t she be at least a little more desired by the man she had married? Why was she even in a marriage like this?
But time after time, God blessed her. He opened her womb, whereas Rachel was last to bear Jacob children. As unloved as Leah was by her man, God blessed her abundantly with children who would one day be her legacy. Among her six sons: Reuben, firstborn in the family; Levi, father of the priesthood; and Judah, from whose line would come David, king of Israel, and Jesus, King of kings.
He already has a legacy planned out for you that has nothing to do with whether you are loved by a man.
So what if she spent most of her life far from the heart of Jacob? She had already won the heart of God.
This is the beautiful experience Leah has passed down to generations of women around the world: Not a consolation that God will “make up” for your physical lackings, unsatisfactory attractiveness or failures in the relationship department with a legacy (of children), but the powerful message that He already has a legacy planned out for you that has nothing to do with whether you are loved by a man.
The Rachel Experience is thrilling and also given by a God of love, a God who created the mysterious attraction between man and woman to further His Kingdom on earth. But the Leah Experience is one the King offers to all of His beloved daughters – that they may come to understand that His love is truly unmatchable and perfect and enough.
The greatest blessing one can have as a woman is not to be a Rachel who is loved by Man, but a Leah who has been pursued by God.