He loves me, he loves me not...
On my last post (Rules of Engagement) I ended with Genesis 29:30 and the observation that Jacob loved Rachel more than Leah. However, by the time we arrive at Genesis 29:31 things seem to have deteriorated.
When the Lord saw that Leah was unloved, He opened her womb; but Rachel was barren.
- Genesis 29:31 NKJV
There is some debate about the translation of שָׂנֵא (sane) on this verse. The New King James Version translates it here as “unloved” but this same word is often translated as “hated” in other verses. (A comparison of different translations of Genesis 29:31 can be found here. ) So Leah has gone from being loved less, to being unloved, or possibly even hated.
The Unloved Wife
The unloved wife seems to have been a problem common enough in the ancient world that there is even a law addressing it, Deuteronomy 21:15-17. Another famous case of one wife being more loved than the other is found in 1 Samuel 1, where Hannah is the loved wife.
Because not much is said about Leah’s role in the deception of Jacob it is difficult to assign blame. I would not be too quick to blame Leah, especially in the context she found herself. First of all, as a woman, she was completely dependent on her father and given the behavior of Laban described in Genesis it seems like Jacob would be the lesser evil. What I mean by this is that at least Jacob was a God fearing man who was a close relative, as opposed to a pagan husband. Also with Laban as her father it is likely that she would only be given away in marriage in exchange for some benefit to her father, which does not bode well for poor Leah. So, if (and its a big if) Leah had a choice it would be to either play along with her father’s schemes and marry a man who seemed decent and was blessed by God, or risk marriage to someone who would in all likelihood be much much worse. Personally, I believe Leah did not have any good options. But from Jacob’s behavior towards her, he definitely seems to hold it against her that she played along with Laban’s plan of deception.
Try to place yourself in Leah’s shoes. You find yourself part of a big scheme and end up married to a man who does not love you. Even worse, he loves your sister, and marries her a week later. You desperately crave his love, but he not only loves your younger sister more, he hates you. Imagine yourself feeling powerless, crying yourself to sleep. Even your sister has become your enemy. You are still home, but feeling lonely. You are married but you have not experienced love. Your dreams and hopes of a happy family now seem like they will never come true. Your husband, your sister, those closest to you do not offer you any love or affection.
I do not believe it is possible for me to exaggerate what Leah experienced. It is no wonder that the marriage of a man to two sisters is forbidden in Mosaic law (Leviticus 18:18). Her experience was so bitter that God took notice and did something about it.
When the Lord saw that Leah was unloved, He opened her womb; but Rachel was barren.
Genesis 29:31 NKJV
Gifts From God
One theme that runs the entirety of Scriptures is that God cares. God sees Leah suffering and opens her womb.
So Leah conceived and bore a son, and she called his name Reuben; for she said, “The Lord has surely looked on my affliction. Now therefore, my husband will love me.”
Genesis 29:32 NKJV
Leah recognizes her son as a gift from God, and names him “see [a] son!” hoping her husband will now love her. Leah is desperate for love and she believes that by giving Jacob his first son she will now be loved. But her plan does not seem to work. Even though Leah gave Jacob an heir, his first born son she remains unloved.
Then she conceived again and bore a son, and said, “Because the Lord has heard that I am unloved, He has therefore given me this son also.” And she called his name Simeon.
Genesis 29:33 NKJV
The name Simeon plays on the Hebrew word “heard.” God heard that Leah was hated and gave her another son. Leah was hoping that having kids would repair her fractured marriage, but it was not working.
She conceived again and bore a son, and said, “Now this time my husband will become attached to me, because I have borne him three sons.” Therefore his name was called Levi.
Genesis 29:34 NKJV
“Now at last my husband will become attached to me!” Leah hoped. Third time is the charm right? Adam, Noah, Terah, all fathered three sons, if it was good enough for the patriarchs it should be good enough for Jacob. Leah has a husband who is not attached to her and that brings her much pain. She has dedicated her life to him, she has loved him, she bore him three sons, what else could she do? Was she doomed to live a life without love and affection from her husband?
And she conceived again and bore a son, and said, “Now I will praise the Lord.” Therefore she called his name Judah. Then she stopped bearing.
Genesis 29:35 NKJV
Leah finally moves beyond her obsession with winning the love of her husband, Jacob. She decides to exalt the Lord with the birth of Judah. “I will praise” leads to Judah, which means “he will be praised.” (Mathews, K. A. Genesis 11:27-50:26. Vol. 1B, Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2005. p481) After this, without any explanation, we are informed that Leah stopped bearing. The narrative now shifts to Rachel and things take an unexpected turn.
We began this post with Genesis 29:31 and God seeing Leah’s situation. Genesis 30 begins with Rachel seeing that she was not bearing Jacob any children.
Now when Rachel saw that she bore Jacob no children, Rachel envied her sister, and said to Jacob, “Give me children, or else I die!”
- Genesis 30:1 NKJV
In case you thought that Rachel was happy being the wife who was loved by her husband, you are very mistaken. As it turns out, both wives were miserable. Leah was unloved, while Rachel was loved but barren. She demanded that Jacob give her children or she would die! As if it was Jacob’s fault somehow.
And Jacob’s anger was aroused against Rachel, and he said, “Am I in the place of God, who has withheld from you the fruit of the womb?”
- Genesis 30:2 NKJV
Jacob points to God as the one who handles these types of things making Him responsible for her not having children. Rachel finds herself in the company of Sarah who for many years did not have children (Genesis 21:1-2) and even Rebekah who had been barren (Genesis 25:21). Perhaps Rachel meant for Jacob to plead with God for her like Isaac had done for Rebekah. Far in the future Hannah, Samuel’s mother, found herself in a similar situation to Rachel’s. But Hannah decided to plead before the Lord and God answered her prayer (1 Samuel 1). Rachel, however, decided to follow the example of Sarah, and give her maid to her husband as wife in order to bear children. The children born would be considered Sarah’s. This did not go well in Abraham’s case. But in this case, surprisingly, there seem to be no negative consequences. Bilhah, Rachel’s maid, conceives and bares a son and Rachel names the child Dan (lit. judge) claiming that God had judged her case and heard her voice and given her a son. This was claimed by Rachel and its her interpretation of the events.
Bilhah conceives again and bares Jacob another son. You can click on Genesis 30:8 to see several different translations of this challenging verse. It could be translated literally as “the wrestlings of God” or “great wrestlings” or a number of combinations of the two. It’s worth clicking the link above and comparing the translations. This could be an allusion to Jacob’s future wrestling with God but Rachel mentions her sister as well so it is a challenging passage to translate and interpret. Rachel names the boy Naphtali (lit. my wrestling).
Now it is Leah’s time to see. Leah sees that she has stopped bearing and take Zilpah her maid and giver her to Jacob as wife, following Rachel’s example. Zilpah bore Jacob a son and Leah called him Gad meaning “troop” or “fortune.” Zilpah bares Jacob a second son and Leah calls him Asher (lit. happy) because the daughters will call her blessed. Interestingly Jacob is passive, he says nothing and has no say in what happens and who bears his children.
Now the story gets weirder. Reuben, the firstborn, found some mandrakes in the field. He does not seem to be looking for them, but he found them nonetheless. Mandrakes were used in the ancient Mediterranean world as an aphrodisiac and/or as a means to enhance fertility. (Doukhan, Jacques. Genesis. Nampa, ID, Pacific Press Publishing Association, 2016. p352) Rachel finds out and wants the mandrakes, she hopes it will help her bear children. But Leah replies
But she said to her, “Is it a small matter that you have taken away my husband? Would you take away my son’s mandrakes also?”
And Rachel said, “Therefore he will lie with you tonight for your son’s mandrakes.”
-Genesis 30:15 NKJV
No one consults Jacob about any of this and Leah does not even wait for him to get home.
When Jacob came out of the field in the evening, Leah went out to meet him and said, “You must come in to me, for I have surely hired you with my son’s mandrakes.” And he lay with her that night.
Genesis 30:16 NKJV
In the midst of this mess, God is listening and He listens to Leah and she conceived and bore Jacob a fifth son. Sadly, her child will forever be a reminder of this whole mandrake purchase incident because Leah named him Issachar derived for the Hebrew word for “hire” or “reward.” Surprisingly Leah conceived again and bears Jacob a sixth son!
Then Leah conceived again and bore Jacob a sixth son. And Leah said, “God has endowed me with a good endowment; now my husband will dwell with me, because I have borne him six sons.” So she called his name Zebulun. Afterward she bore a daughter, and called her name Dinah.
Genesis 30:19-21 NKJV
Leah once again hopes and dreams of her husband dwelling with her, and her daughter’s name (Dinah) is similar to the name of Leah’s first son (Dan) and references judgment.
Then God remembered Rachel, and God listened to her and opened her womb.
- Genesis 30:22 NKJV
God remembered Noah (Genesis 8:1) and God remembered Abraham (Genesis 19:29). Rachel receives God’s redemption like Noah and Abraham did, after a long wait. God now listened to Rachel like He had listened to Leah. Rachel would now bear children, but like Leah it was because of God and not her mandrakes. We have God now doing for Rachel what He did Leah in Genesis 29:31 “He opened her womb.”
And she conceived and bore a son, and said, “God has taken away my reproach.” So she called his name Joseph, and said, “The Lord shall add to me another son.”
Genesis 30:23-24 NKJV
The name Joseph receives two meanings based on a pun between the word ‘asaf “take away” and the word yasaf “add.” (Doukhan, p354)
This account of the genealogy of Jacob ends with the expectation of another son. It ends anticipating more, looking forward to something. Thematically this fits with Jacob’s longing for to return to Canaan. Notice how this brief genealogy mentions 12 children, and is it not interesting that they were born in a foreign land and longed to go to Canaan their promised land? Jacob and his 12 children were born in a place that was not their final home, in a place that was hostile and temporary. Abraham, likewise was born in a place and told that there was a land that awaited him. This message will resonate with the generation born in Egypt and in the wilderness, and even us, modern day Christians who await Jesus’ return to take us home (John 14:1-4).
Jacob’s life is one marked by conflicts. There are conflicts between Jacob and Esau (Genesis 27:1-28; 33:1-20), disputes between Jacob and Laban (29:1-31:55 [32:1]), and the sibling struggle between Leah and Rachel (29:31-30:24). Jacob had to deal with struggles and fights outside and inside his home, both publicly and privately. (Mathews, pp.472-473) Nevertheless, the Jacob’s story stands as a monument to God’s grace towards the patriarch.
Interestingly there is no explicit announcement of who will succeed Jacob as the chief recipient of God’s promises. That was the main issue in the rivalry between Isaac and Ishmael and between Jacob and Esau. Yet here we have no mention of it. Will it be Dan the first born? Will it be Joseph the son of the loved but barren wife? She does fit the mold of the wife met at the well, who was barren but finally has a child. However, in this story we don’t even have a clear differentiation between the sons of Leah and Rachel and those of their maids. The account ends and this is not made clear.
As you continue to read the Genesis, it seems like Joseph is the appointed heir. There will be visions and struggles and great success in his life. The reality is that all 12 tribes receive a blessing. But it is Judah who will ultimately had dominion over the brothers. Remember Judah? He is the one who was named when Leah, the unloved wife decided to give God praise.
As Leah decides to give God praise she bears Judah, and his descendants will include King David, and Jesus, the Messiah, our Savior.
Leah might not have enjoyed a loving and caring relationship with Jacob, but God cared and blessed her. God was watching, God noticed and God blessed her, even though she would not realize how great the blessing was in her lifetime.
Could it be that God is blessing you with great blessings that will only be fully realized and appreciated by the next generation? Are you willing to believe and trust in God and His love and His willingness to care and provide for you? To bless you and make you a blessing to those around you? Are you willing to bear your cross if it means that God can use you to save others?
These questions are worth pondering.