This is a story of broken people hurting others. To understand what's happening here with Leah, we need to go back a moment and see why Leah's not loved. Her husband Jacob had moved away from home after deceiving his brother and father in order to gain the family blessing, and found himself at his uncle Laban’s home where he met Rachel and then Leah, daughters of Laban. Jacob fell in love with Rachel, the younger sister, and worked 7 years for his uncle in order to marry her, but Laban deceived Jacob and had Leah step into Rachel’s place during the wedding ceremony, and then, after Jacob discovered the betrayal, Laban offered Jacob Rachel as a second wife if he worked 7 more years for him, which Jacob does. In the mean time, Jacob marries Rachel a week after marrying Leah. Even though Jacob has married Leah, and Leah is his first wife, Jacob loves Rachel over Leah, creating a great deal of pain for Leah. Leah’s in a tough spot.
“When the Lord saw that Leah was not loved, he enabled her to conceive, but Rachel remained childless. Leah becomes pregnant and gives birth to a son. She names him Reuben, for she said, “It is because the Lord has seen my misery. Surely my husband will love me now.” Reuben’s name sounds like the Hebrew word “to see,” Leah confesses that the Lord has seen her troubled heart and marriage. Leah hopes that having a son will cause Jacob to finally love her. We hear in her words a deep desire for love. A number of Jewish commentaries mention that Leah likely loved Jacob, which is why she participates in her father’s plan, hoping that Jacob will come to love her. Now she’s hoping giving Jacob sons will turn his heart to her, but it doesn’t seem to happen.
The Lord gives Leah another son and she says, “Because the Lord heard that I am not loved, he gave me this one too. So she named him Simeon.” Simeon’s name sounds like the Hebrew word “to hear,” Leah recognizes that the Lord sees her distress and broken heart and has blessed her with Simeon. But nothing changes in Jacob’s heart and Leah remains unloved by her husband. The Lord blesses Leah with another son and we see in his name that Leah’s still praying for Jacob’s heart to turn to her, naming her son Levi saying, “Now at last my husband will become attached to me, because I have borne him three sons.” How long can Leah keep holding onto hope, keep looking for Jacob’s love to heal her brokenness?
In Jacob, Leah, and Rachel’s marriage, there’s great brokenness, so much so, that later on when Israel is at Mount Sinai after being rescued from slavery by God, God gives them this command, Leviticus 18:18, “Do not take your wife’s sister as a rival wife and have sexual relations with her while your wife is living.” The original intent for marriage is for “a husband to leave his parents and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh.” Bringing others into the marriage relationship brings brokenness into the relationship and breaks God’s intent for oneness in marriage. Paul tells us in Ephesians to come into marriage with a spirit of mutual submission, while the wife is called to honour her husband, and the husband called to love his wife with a sacrificial love, a Christ-like love.
The story continues, when Leah gives birth to a fourth son she says, “This time I will praise the Lord.” Leah names her fourth son Judah, which comes from the Hebrew word ‘praise’ and says, “This time I will praise the Lord.” Leah finally sees that Jacob is never going to love her in the way he should and that only the Lord has shown her love by giving her four sons; a gift that gives her great honour among the other women and members of her community. Leah finally finds her identity and worth in the Lord, not Jacob. Leah finds some healing in the Lord who is compassionate and gracious to her.
Judah becomes the ancestor of Jesus, the promised Messiah who comes for all the unloved, the scorned and rejected, those living on the fringes who are hurting. Jesus understands their lives, having experienced scorn, rejection, hatred and more in his life time here on earth. The Lord, already in the Old Testament, time after time speaks of his compassion for the orphan, the widow, the oppressed, and even the foreigner among his people, constantly calling his people to live out of love, grace, justice, and mercy. God loves us because we are his children, created in his own image, given life through his breath.
Leah keeps looking to God even as she kept trying to earn Jacob’s love. She discovers that, while people will fail you at times, sometimes all the time, God doesn’t fail us. Jesus doesn’t always change our circumstances or the situations and relationships that we’re in, but he is with us through his Spirit, who points us to Jesus’ faithfulness to us. Our hope lies in Jesus who came to take our sin and brokenness on himself to the cross to bring forgiveness, grace, and healing. Our call is to submit to Jesus and his will, to look for our hope to Jesus first. Jesus goes to the cross for our sin, but also to bring healing to those who are hurt and broken, to bring hope to the outcasts of society. God hears their cries and sees their pain.
If you’re like Leah, Jesus sees you and cares for you, inviting you to come to him, Matthew 11:28–30, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light.” You don’t have to earn Jesus’ love, he’s loved us way before we ever fell in love with him. Jesus sees your hearts and he aches with you. Some of the most powerful verses in the Gospels are those that begin with, “And Jesus saw the people, and he had compassion on them.”
The wisdom writer in Ecclesiastics writes that there’s nothing new under the sun. There are many people today who live in loveless marriages, praying that by having children, by changing who they are to fit their spouse’s desires, they can earn their spouse’s love. They look for their worth through their spouse; they believe that their happiness depends on their spouse’s love, and will submit to all kinds of hurt in order to earn love and acceptance. For some marriages there is no happy ever after because of the sin and brokenness that fills our world. Too often I’ve had to tell people that their worth doesn’t come from their spouse, but from Jesus, from Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross that offers them new life. In the cross, we see Jesus’ deep love and commitment to us, a love that can fill the emptiness that comes from the rejection and hurt others we care about give us. You don’t have to earn Jesus’ love, he loves you unconditionally.
We bring our pain to the cross. Jesus understands our pain; he was also rejected, turned away from, abandoned in his time of deepest pain, yet never gave up on turning to his Father our God, he kept trusting in his Father. Jesus is concerned about how our hearts are shaped, calling us to turn to him for our meaning and purpose, to find our hope, our value, and our worth in him. Jesus keeps calling us to come to him, to trust him to never abandon us.
Paul writes in Romans 12:2, “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.” Look to Jesus, to God for your worth, not someone else. When you take God and Jesus out of the picture, when we stop looking to Jesus, we become like Rachel, desperate for what this world offers, for love from fallible people; Rachel who took her father’s household gods because she couldn’t let go of them, Rachel who begged her sister for mandrake roots, looking to magical superstitious ways to become pregnant so she could also give Jacob a child.
The Jewish Virtual Library writes, “It is not written when Leah died, but only that she was buried in the Cave of Machpelah. Leah left as her legacy half of the 12 tribes, including Judah, father of the monarchy, and Levi, father of the priesthood.” While Jacob did not honour or love Leah because of the brokenness in his own heart and life, Jesus saw her and gave her honour. Jesus sees you, hears you, and loves you; calling you to come and find your hope in him.