And He Loved Rachel
“And now these three remain: faith, hope, and love. But the greatest of these is love.”
(1 Corinthians 13:13)
The Two Shall Become One
Those words, written by the apostle Paul, were about love in general, but may also be applied to romantic love. Romantic partners should have faith and hope in each other, but their guiding light should be love. When God first created man, He noted that it was “not good for the man to be alone” (Genesis 2:18) in the creation of the entire garden, God had deemed everything “good.” Everything, that is, but Adam’s loneliness. God resolved to make a suitable helper for him. First He showed Adam all the animals, instructing Adam that he should care for them, and be their companion, but in doing so, demonstrating that they were unsuitable to be his equal and his partner. So the Lord created Eve to be a helper to Adam, and thus, the first marriage was recorded. Genesis 2:24: “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh.”
Once a marriage has occurred, the Bible gives us guidelines on how each spouse should treat the other. Matthew and Mark record Jesus’ warnings against divorce; asserting in Matthew 19, that what God has joined together, no man should separate. While in Matthew 5 Jesus states that anyone who divorces his wife causes her to become an adulterer. Jesus echoed those sentiments in Mark, chapter 10. The apostle Paul, in his letter to the Ephesians, instructed his readers to love and respect their spouses as they would themselves. He compared the marriage union to the love that Christ felt for His church; holy and blameless. It’s not just about husband and wife; in all relationships, three parties are involved, each individual and Christ himself. All relationships should be held to the standard of God’s love. The author of the Song of Songs certainly understood the importance of love. In 6:3 the author states “I am my beloved’s and my beloved is mine.” and 8:7 claims that “Many waters cannot quench love; rivers cannot wash it away.”
God called on His followers to love and respect their spouses, to honor the marriage contract, and to keep their marriage holy before God. How does one keep a marriage holy? By loving the spouse the way that Christ loved his church. One need only look around to see that people often fall short of God’s high standard for marriage. The modern divorce rate of nearly 50% illustrates the realities of modern marriages. Oh, for the days when husband and wife respected each other and family units were full of love and grace. It’s a nice fantasy, but the Bible, as well as history, show us that those days never existed. Adam and Eve hadn’t been married long when Adam accused his wife, in front of God Almighty, of leading him to sin against God’s only command. Deuteronomy 22 gives laws against men slandering their wives, committing adultery, raping woman, and sleeping with their fathers’ wives. Such laws would have been unnecessary if the actions were not already common.
"Many waters cannot quench love; rivers cannot wash it away.”— Song of Songs 8:7
Though God had instructed His followers to honor, love, and cherish their spouses, mankind has often been guilty of breaking that command. Unfortunately, such actions have left pain and heartache in its path. We can find an example of this in the Book of Genesis. Jacob, on the run from his twin brother’s murderous rage, found refuge in his uncle’s ranch. Now his uncle, Laban, had two daughters, Leah and Rachel. Rachel, the youngest, the Bible tells us was “lovely in form, and beautiful.” The eldest, Leah, we’re told, had “weak eyes.”
This is a very odd thing to say about a person. Was Leah near sighted? Perhaps the desert sand and sun was too harsh for Leah and caused problems with her vision. Was her vision so bad as to render her a burden who must receive constant care? Was she blind? Did the weak eyes accompany a physical deformity that left her less attractive than her beautiful sister? Or was it a mere astigmatism? Had she lived today, she might have worn glasses, but that’s perfectly normal and hardly anything worth noting. Many people who are “lovely in form, and beautiful” are bespectacled. The introduction is especially puzzling in light of the fact that the Bible gives us no other information about her. However, closer examination into the root word may help to explain.
Jewish tradition describes both Leah and Rachel as beautiful women, but holds that Leah’s eyes were made “weak” from crying so hard and often that she lost her eyelashes and her eyes became red and puffy. She cried so frequently because she knew, that as the eldest, she was arranged to marry Esau. She wanted to be the mother of righteous children, and the prospect of her pending arrangement with the wild Esau kept her in a constant state of distress. Many modern translations of the Christian Bible state that Leah’s eyes were weak, but the root of that word, “Rak” actually means delicate, or tender. Jewish tradition holds that when Leah heard that she was to marry Esau, she asked what he was like. She was told that he was a hunter, while Leah was an animal lover, who often took in stray animals to nurse. Upon hearing that she was betrothed to a hunter, the antithesis of all she stood for, Leah was crestfallen. Her tender heart couldn’t handle the thought of being bound to such a man.
Other theories about Leah center around the word “Rak” as well. Those who subscribe to this theory believe that the delicate eyes were actually windows to a delicate, or tender, soul. Rachel was stunning, but Leah’s beauty lay on the inside. Still other theories suggest that Leah’s eyes were ordinary, or lacked sparkle. Ancient Middle Eastern garb often covered everything but the eyes of women. If the only part of Rachel and Leah’s bodies that Jacob could see was her eyes, and Leah had plain eyes, but Rachel’s sparkled, then there would be no comparison. Rachel would be favored, hands down.
Whatever the case may be, between the two sisters, Jacob favored Rachel. Jacob had worked for Laban a month when Laban approached him, “Just because you are a relative of mine, should you work for me for nothing? Tell me what your wages should be.” So Jacob named his price, “I’ll work for you seven years in return for your daughter Rachel.” (Genesis 29:15 and 18) So Jacob worked seven years for Laban and the Genesis 29:20 tells us that Jacob was so in love with Rachel that the seven years felt like seven days.
Delicate eyes were actually windows to a delicate, or tender, soul. Rachel was stunning, but Leah’s beauty lay on the inside.
Wedding Bell Blues
Jacob had a rather checkered past; he conned his brother out of both his inheritance and his father’s deathbed blessing. The latter he accomplished with his mother’s help. Now we learn that deception was a family trait, and that you can, in fact, cheat a cheater. After the seven years was up, Laban prepared a wedding feast. But on the night of the wedding, Laban put Leah in the place of Rachel. In the days before electricity, a tent at night was pitch black. Jacob had no idea the switch had been made until morning. Jacob confronted Laban who informed him that custom dictated that the eldest daughter be married first. Laban promised to give Rachel to Jacob after the wedding week in exchange for another seven years of labor. And so it was, that seven days after his first wedding, Jacob had a second wedding, this time with the woman that he actually loved.
One must pity Jacob. Conned into fourteen years of manual labor and stuck with a woman he never loved to begin with. Leah was in the unenviable position of being married to a man who didn’t love her, while Rachel was tricked out of her rightful wedding and forced to share her husband with her sister. Thanks to Laban’s deceit, there were no winners. Only unhappy victims of a trusted family member’s duplicity.
But how much of a victim were they really? Jacob worked hard for Rachel’s hand in marriage. It is very likely, that at first his attraction to her was merely physical, he had not known her but a month when they first made the arrangement. Of course, such unions were commonplace in those days, so it was a pretty standard transaction. However, over the next seven years he came to develop real feelings for her, and the Bible tells us he loved her. Presumably she loved him too. His feelings of shock, betrayal, and confusion upon waking up and finding Leah must have been keen indeed. And where was Rachel the night of the wedding? She was promised to Jacob. Did Laban use some form of trickery to keep her away somewhere? Was she in on the deception? Were attempts to warn him thwarted? We don’t know. All we can do is imagine that after the wedding both the groom and promised bride, were deeply disappointed.
And what of Leah? She didn’t accidentally stumble into Jacob’s wedding bed. The deception could not have been possible unless she was in on the ruse. Sure it was dark in that tent, but we have no reason to believe that Jacob was drunk. If she had simply spoken up and told Jacob the whole scheme, the lives of three people could have been made much easier. To be sure, she didn’t even need to confess. All she had to do was utter a single word and Jacob surely would have recognized her voice. You don’t live with a woman for seven years without getting to know what she sounds like. But Leah remained silent. And that night, Jacob consummated their vows. The Bible never mentions Leah’s part in Laban’s plot. Was she as deceitful as the rest of her family? Perhaps she was forced into it against her will. It’s possible she simply feared angering her father. Or maybe she dearly loved Jacob and hoped that he would love her back. If that was the case, it unlikely that she knew Laban would immediately marry Jacob off to Rachel seven days later. Either way, she spent the remainder of her life paying for her complicity.
The Bible could not have been more clear: Jacob loved Rachel, he was stuck with Leah. How miserable Leah must have been, stuck in the desert at the ranch of an untrustworthy father, competing with her own sister for a man who would never love her. She must have felt so alone, and as the second chapter in Genesis tells us; loneliness is the first thing on the entire earth that God had deemed “not good.” (Genesis 2:18) While Leah surely felt alone, without question she was never actually alone. God saw her pain. Genesis 29:31-35 tells us that God opened her womb. In those days and in that culture, it was very important that a woman conceive, preferably with sons. Through God’s mercy, Leah gave birth to a son, who she named Reuben. Of which Leah said “it is because the Lord has seen my misery. Surely my husband will love me now.”
Unfortunately for Leah, giving Jacob a son wasn’t enough to earn his love. She gave birth to a second son, named Simeon, and said “because the Lord heard that I am not loved, he gave me this one too.” But, sadly, she still remained alone and unloved. By the time she had her third son, Levi, she remains cautiously optimistic, declaring “now at last my husband will become attached to me because I have borne him three sons.” Notice the language she used, she went from begging to be loved to begging for friendship. It seems by the time poor Levi came around she had given up on love, and hoped for mere attachment. She again gave birth to a son, Judah, this time merely stating that she would praise the Lord. She no longer expected Jacob to love her.
One must pity Jacob. Conned into fourteen years of manual labor and stuck with a woman he never loved to begin with. Leah was in the unenviable position of being married to a man who didn’t love her, while Rachel was tricked out of her rightful wedding and forced to share her husband with her sister.
The Battle for Jacob
While Leah was busy mingling loneliness, pregnancies, child birth, and rearing her sons, Rachel grew increasingly jealous. In a culture where a woman was expected to bare children, Rachel had none. No doubt, watching Jacob share his affection with sons that weren’t hers increased Rachel’s misery. Taking her frustration and wrath out on her husband, she turned on him, “Give me children or I’ll die!” Jacob responds in kind “Am I in the place of God, who has kept you from having children?” (Genesis 30:1,2) Surely, those words cut through Rachel like a lance. If the Bible didn’t make it such a point to state that Jacob loved Rachel, one would think they had a terrible marriage. (Of course, given the circumstances, it was far from ideal.)
Since Rachel couldn’t conceive. She gave her servant, Bilhah, to mate with Jacob. For certainly, such a union can only be called “mate.” She didn’t ask Bilhah if she wanted to lie with Jacob, she merely leant her out to him. Bilhah gave birth to a son which Rachel took and named “Dan.” Again, Rachel leant Bilhah to Jacob, and again she got pregnant with a son that Rachel would raise. This one was named Nephtali. Now it was Leah’s turn to get jealous, and tit for tat, she gave her servant Zilpah to Jacob. Twice Zilpah became pregnant and gave birth to sons named Gad and Asher. At this point, it seems as if Jacob is nothing more to his wives than a prize bull. Each sister using him as a tool to have children just to spite the other. The poor guy only wanted to marry the woman he loved and he got stuck in a battle with four women, two of who were using all the rest in their quest to one- up the other. In chapter 30:16, Leah casually informs Jacob that she had hired him for the night for the price of mandrakes. Rachel and Leah had traded him for a plant. Jacob’s, Bilhah’s, and Zilpah’s emotions or opinions didn’t matter in the sisters’ rivalry.
Lest I seem too hard on the women, they were both placed in an unfortunate situation that neither woman asked for. Leah was an unloved and lonely third wheel. She yearned for the love of Jacob, and if she couldn’t have that, she wanted him at least to like her. His neglect left her hurt and bitter. So unimportant was she in Jacob’s eyes, that the Bible doesn’t even mention her death. Rachel, meanwhile, was similarly unhappy, forced to share the man she loved, and then watch as her sister gave him many sons. A gift she herself was incapable of giving. Leah eventually gave birth to two more sons and a daughter before Rachel was finally able to conceive. Rachel gave birth to a son named Joseph. In tragic irony, she gave birth to a second son, Benjamin, who would be her last. The woman who only wanted to give her husband children of her own, had died in childbirth.
Despite her faults, Leah was a woman of great faith. She called on the Lord for comfort during her lonely days with Jacob. Tradition holds that she was tender and nurturing. It was her, and her inner beauty, that God saw fit to bless with a multitude of children. God had pity on Rachel too, and her two sons became Jacob’s favorites. And it was Rachel’s first born son Joseph, who through God, became second- in -command in Egypt, and saved countless lives during a famine. But it was the tender hearted Leah who became the ancestor of Christ, by way of her fourth son Judah. Though she was unloved and unhappy in her lifetime, God still singled her out for greatness. He was there for Leah the entire time.
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© 2017 Anna Watson