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Living a Little Like Leah

Living a Little Like Leah

Genesis 29:16-28

 

If you have ever felt lonely, left out, overlooked or unappreciated, this scripture from Genesis 29 is for you. This was one of the lectionary passages suggested for Sunday, July 30. Read it carefully. It is a tough text for many reasons; even a cursory reading reveals sad undercurrents of male domination along with an overarching trajectory of female isolation.

The story weaves in and out of deals and counter deals, Jacob and Laban working out the transfer of property from one man to the next. They thoughtlessly play with the lives of Rachel and Leah in an exchange of deeds, one owner to the next.[1] In the process, Leah becomes the ultimate example of rejection.

Rachel is graceful and beautiful. Leah has “lovely eyes” we hear from the translated but unclear Hebrew. This is not compliment but likely a Hebrew euphemism for “… well, she’s got a good personality.” In other words, Leah was the opposite of Rachel. She might have been intelligent, talented, a stimulating conversationalist, a great cook … but she didn’t look exactly right. She is unwanted by her father and unloved by her husband. Therefore, she is relegated to the status of discarded property. Her own father, the consummate dealmaker, unloads his eldest daughter to the unsuspecting and easily-duped Jacob.

Instead of Rachel, for whom Jacob has toiled in Laban’s service for seven years, Laban subtly alters the marriage ceremony. Probably wearing a full veil or burka type garment, Leah’s face and figure are hidden from the groom.[2] Laban takes full advantage. And Jacob has no clue, at least until the sun comes up the next morning. It was then, the Bible shares, that Jacob discovers: “It was Leah!” (Genesis 29:25). This is a great moment in biblical storytelling. It is a wonder of ignorance on the part of Jacob, and a humorous image conjured for the storyteller’s audience.

It was also a tragedy for Leah.

Left with no home in the house of her father, and no love in the house of her new husband, Leah is left with every reason to be bitter, sad and shamed. And now the focus of the story shifts subtly. We move from Jacob and his foolishness and from Laban and his exploits. Now the camera rests on Leah.

She is painfully cognizant of her status. Though unwanted, she is used as a surrogate for sons. We find in verse 31 and following how she copes. Her first son she names Rueben, a Hebrew word implying the phrase “Surely now my husband will love me …” Except he won’t.

Things get worse. Not only does Jacob not love her; Leah comes to the sad realization with the second son: “Because the Lord has heard I am hated, the Lord has given me this second son also.” And she named him Simeon. Next we hear the plaintive: “maybe since I have given him three sons, now my husband will be joined to me…” And she named him Levi. But still, no.

Finally, she awakens to the reality surrounding her. Jacob is self-absorbed, in his own world and consumed with things other than who Leah is or what she has to offer. Those around her remain unimpressed, unconnected and unconcerned. No one cares for Leah and nothing works for her – except her own new perspective. With her fourth son, everything changes. Leah says it all in the name she gives her newest son: “This time I will praise the Lord.” And she named him Judah (which means “praise”).

Often in life, we want so badly to impress others, demonstrate our worthiness and gain recognition. What happens in this passage is fascinating in two ways. The first is simply Leah’s initial resiliency, followed by her wise ability to finally become an individuated adult. This is, she stops living to please others; nor does she succumb to the popular notion of just pleasing herself. Instead she lives to give praise to God in spite of her circumstances. More than merely “looking on the bright side of life,” Leah’s determination offers a glad testimony of bold, courageous living with an unconquerable faith. Somehow, Leah believes and is grateful, in spite of her personal difficulty. And she clings to a faith that something good will still come from her life and efforts. And indeed it does.

Which brings us to the second thing about Leah: her life offers an amazing gift.

Salvation history is not traced through the beautiful and graceful Rachel. Nor is it through Joseph or Benjamin, Jacob’s two favorite sons, that the history of our faith will be traced. Instead, surprisingly, the linage of Jesus runs directly through Leah. It is Judah, this son called “praise,” who will serve as the family line of salvation. Through Leah, God will do as Paul would later understand the Lord to say: “My grace is sufficient for you; for my power is made perfect in weakness” (II Corinthians 12:9). Therefore, for Leah, for Paul, and for us: “when I am weak, then I am strong” (II Corinthians 12:10).

So living a little like Leah, giving God praise even in the midst of our most difficult days, can be a blessing. Believe God’s grace is sufficient and that somehow, something good is on the horizon. And perhaps like Leah, God can use the attitude we choose and what we do during those tough times, to allow Jesus to come alive through us, too. May it be so.

[1] The property transfer Laban offers to Jacob continues in our own time in the form of the question asked to the father of the bride: “And who is it that gives this woman to be married to this man?” And while many fathers today respond, “Her mother and I do,” or “her family and I do,” they still hark back to a highly patriarchal time when a daughter was owned by the father, and in the marriage ceremony, deeded over to their new owner, the husband.

[2] The veil, a remnant of the earlier thicker, more burka-like garment of the time, has been scaled down from these biblical scenes and continues to crop up occasionally in our weddings today.