Rachel and Leah, Part II
It would be good if the story ended with Genesis 30:13.
Leah sounded victorious over her loveless marriage. She praised God for
the blessings that she had, and didn't focus on what she lacked. It
would be nice to think that she stayed that way for the rest of her
life. But in life our battles seldom stay won. In the day-to-day rivalry
of Rachel and Leah, a rivalry, which lasted their entire lifetime, and
Leah’s battle to live above her loveless marriage, had to be fought over
and over, again and again.
So once again we can gain some insights into the relationship between
the two sisters in the story that follows: one day Leah’s son “Reuben
went in the days of wheat harvest, and found mandrakes in the field, and
brought them unto his mother Leah.” And so that you will know, a
mandrake is not a male goose, but it’s a plant that bears a yellow fruit
the size of a plum, and is shaped a little like a tomato. This fruit was
called a ‘love apple.’ And people believed that mandrakes helped a woman
become fertile. “Then Rachel said to Leah, Give me, I pray thee, of thy
son's mandrakes.” Apparently having your handmaid to bear a son for you
is not the same as actually conceiving and giving birth yourself is it?
And so she went to see her sister and do a little bargaining. What can
we see in these passages of scripture? We see the almost unbearable
day-to-day tensions in Jacob's household.
Rachel's continual crying to Jacob at the beginning of Genesis 30, “Give
me children, or else I die!” Notice that she was not crying unto God for
her help. This shows us the real and intense desire to bear children for
her husband Jacob. But it also shows us that her focus was on man; her
focus was on Jacob, and not on her Lord. Remember dear one’s that Jesus
said that “ye cannot serve God and mammon” (Matt. 6:24; Luke 16:13). So
we can understand why, when Rachel saw Reuben with ‘love apples,’ that
these ‘love apples’ were in her mind riches...’mammon,’ that he had
found, that she would go and ask her sister Leah to give some to her.
And we can feel sympathy for her in her plight too. But we can also
understand Leah's answer: “Is it a small matter that thou hast taken my
husband? and wouldest thou take away my son’s mandrakes also?”
The relationship between Leah and Rachel was still colored by rivalry.
Rachel would do anything to give a child to Jacob. All Leah could see
was that Rachel held her husband's heart in her seemingly careless
hands. So the bargaining began. In the end Rachel agreed to let Jacob
sleep with Leah that night in exchange for the mandrakes.
And it was the woman who gives up the ‘mandrakes’ who has
the child. And the woman who believed in the magical qualities of those
little yellow ‘love apples’ remained barren.
When Leah's fifth son was born, she called him Issachar,
meaning a “reward.” She explained his name by saying, “God hath given me
my hire, because I have given my maiden to my husband.” She believed
that God had rewarded her for being able to go in unto her hired
servant, who was her own husband. (v.18). No doubt Leah saw Issachar’s
birth as a reward from God.
It appears that almost immediately Leah conceived again and bore Jacob a
sixth son whom she named Zebulun, meaning “great honor.” Her explanation
was, “God hath endued me with a good dowry; now will my husband dwell
with me, because I have born him six sons.” (v.20). Now I wonder just
how long it will take before Jacob gets the message? How many times does
God have to open up Leah’s womb and give him sons before he understands
the blessings of God’s design for marriage? We will see.
Lets look again at the ways in which Leah's understanding of life had
grown. After her first son was born, she believed that her husband would
now love her. After her third son came along, she thought that at long
last her husband would become attached to her. Now at the birth of her
sixth son, she has scaled down her expectations. She simply sees that
maybe now her husband will treat her with honor. She was becoming more
realistic about what would or would not happen in her marriage.
Contentment in a loveless marriage will never come as
long as we cling to the ideal of human romantic love and lose sight of
the good gifts of His eternal unmerited love and grace that He gives us.
Leah focused on her son Zebulun as her “precious gift” from God.
Many years had passed since that morning when Jacob awakened and
discovered that the bride in his tent was Leah and not Rachel. During
all those years Rachel wanted a child more than anything else in the
world. After many years of waiting, and with the score standing at nine
for Leah (including a daughter named Dinah), and only two for Rachel,
and that through her maidservant. We see that God at last heard Rachel’s
cry for a child and she gave birth to a son, which she named Joseph,
whose name means ‘may God add’ more children unto me. And what was
Rachel's first response to God’s favor? She said, “the LORD shall add to
me another son.” (v.24).
God did hear and answered her prayer, but with consequences she couldn't
have anticipated. By this time Jacob had worked for Laban for twenty
years. One scoundrel was being fleeced by another scoundrel. So Jacob
made the decision to return to Canaan with his large family of two
wives, two concubines, ten sons and one daughter.
And as the family journeyed west, the unthinkable happened. Rachel,
nearing the end of the journey to Jacob’s home, and she was about to
give birth to her second son, died in childbirth. What she wanted more
than anything else in the world, and this was became she was about to
experience her final separation from the man who loved her. The woman
Rachel who had every reason to be happy died giving birth to a son, and
with her dying breath of sorrow, she names him Ben-Oni, or Benjamin,
which means “the son of my sorrow.” (35:18). And Jacob buried her along
It's easy to look at a woman with breathtaking beauty and the undying
love of her man and think that she must be the happiest woman in the
whole world. But hear Rachel's sorrow. Hear her complaint. Beloved,
things are not always what they appear to be.
And what of Leah? God had sovereignly removed her rival from the family
circle. Rachel was gone. Leah was now the number one wife. We do not
know whether Jacob learned to love her any more than he had at the time
of that first deception. But we do know that they had many more years
together. And we do know that when Leah died, Jacob buried her in the
ancestral burial ground, the cave of Machpelah, where Abraham and Sarah,
Isaac and Rebekah were buried. In the end he honored her in her death.
And we find that at the end of the book of Ruth, after Boaz had bested
the nearer kinsman and had won Ruth as his bride, the elders of the city
of Bethlehem prayed, “and all the people that were in the gate, and the
elders, said, We are witnesses. The LORD make the woman that is come
into thine house like Rachel and like Leah, which two did build the
house of Israel.” (4:11).
Leah the unloved was Leah the foremother who helped build up the house
of Israel. Of the twelve sons of Jacob who became the fathers of the
twelve tribes of Israel, six were born to Leah. Out of Leah's personal
sadness came rich blessing for Israel. It was Leah who gave birth to
Judah, from whom came Israel's greatest natural king, David, and from
whom came the ‘Lion of the tribe of Judah,’ our Lord Jesus Christ.
Leah, the plain older sister of beautiful Rachel, lived in a very
difficult situation and survived. Like her, we too as God’s elect people
are living in a fallen world. We are people scarred by alienation from
each other and from ourselves. Life seldom, if ever, comes to us in a
way that is fully satisfying. Most of the time it comes with an edge of
dissatisfaction, we find that we don’t have quite enough love, quite
enough care, we don’t have quite enough honor, nor quite enough esteem.
We never seem to have as much as we'd like.
Little child of God, we are like Leah, we must not put our focus on what
we lack and be miserable. We need to follow after the example of our
sister Leah in her later life, and focus on what we do have from God,
what we have in His blessings and make up our minds that we will praise
How do you live with a husband or a wife that shows little or no love
toward you? You do it by changing your focus. Change it from the curses
of this world and placing it on the Church Kingdom of God, and upon His
righteousness! In so doing, you will not only end up exclaiming with
Leah, “Happy am I!” but you will someday find that God has worked His
miracle through your sadness, touching your world with real and lasting
blessings of which only He can give.
Elder Thomas McDonald