The story of Jacob, Rachel and Leah compels me, comforts me, and... somewhat traumatizes me.
I love the sweet beginning in Genesis 29. It’s your classic “boy goes on journey, comes to a well, his eyes meet hers over bleating sheep, the shepherds fade into the background, they fall in love” type of story. Jacob was so enamored with Rachel he was willing to wait and work seven years to earn her hand; “they seemed only a few days to him because of the love he had for her.”
Eh, not so much.
Their love story was interrupted by the not so classic father-in-law trickery. The ol' switch the daughters at twilight, wake up the morning after and, “Whoa, this is not the love of my life! How did awkward Leah with the weak eyes get into my tent? Ugh- what exactly happened last night?” type of story.
It only gets worse. Jacob works another seven years for the wife he wanted in the first place and gets saddled with two jealous, competing women. No happily ever after in this scenario.
I’m heartbroken for Jacob, who never asked to be thrown into this situation. Granted, favoritism was already an issue in his family where his father openly preferred his brother. Jacob and his mother had their own hand in trickery… but the misery of being strung between two unsatisfied women is pretty harsh. We might be inclined to come down hard on Jacob for favoring Rachel but hey- she’s the one he fell in love with! She was the only one he ever wanted. Yes, she’s the pretty, popular one and we feel bad for underdog Leah. (At least Jacob was honest that he wasn’t feeling it.) Poor Jacob believed the love of his life was promised to him. Instead he was deceived and worked double for a less than ideal situation.
I’m heartbroken for Rachel, who had her heart set on Jacob as a young girl and ended up stuck with the sister she could’ve used space from. She suffered from her father’s selfishness and dishonesty. Then to add salt on the wound, she discovered she was barren and watched her gloating sister produce son after son. With desperation and envy, she pushed her maid at Jacob for childbearing, in an attempt to elbow her way back to the top. Leah did likewise. Suddenly “my one and only; sweet glances at the well” turned into four beds, four women and Jacob realizing all this hooking up is not as great as the magazines might lead you to believe.
I’m heartbroken for Leah, who simply wants to be loved. Her loneliness, her devastation every time she produces a son only to find it’s not enough to make Jacob love her, are permanently recorded in Genesis. Her futile, insecure attempts, “maybe if I do this he’ll love me. Just one more son and certainly he’ll notice me” are painful to read. Then when Jacob is going to meet his brother Esau and is terrified that Esau is going to attack- he puts Leah out in front of Rachel and himself. Hey, if someone’s going to take the fall… ouch.
It’s a train wreck. We might laugh if we didn’t see ourselves in the story:
Jacob’s disillusionment, his inability to fix the circumstances, the “how did I get here” point in life where what once looked simple is complex, twisted, and out of control.
Rachel with her dreams of being a mother, not understanding why God would withhold blessing she was certain she’d receive. Then taking things into her hands only to make them messier.
Leah, who cries out to God curled up alone in bed… again. Why should it be so hard to be treasured and known? Bending over backwards to please a husband who looks past her- unprotected and undefended.
As I said- it’s traumatizing.
When I studied this dysfunctional not-so-love story, I saw it with different perspective than I had before. I saw that out of this dysfunctional trio (with two maids thrown in for good measure) God established His people, set apart. The twelve sons in this family turned into the twelve tribes of Israel. The boys born into this family would be a nation. The holy, orchestrated work of the Lord was weaving in and out of the story while Jacob, Leah, and Rachel were wrecked, confused, and heartbroken.
God knew that He would set this family, this nation, apart. He would use them to demonstrate His love, His plan, His sacrifice, for us all. He would call them to Himself over and over and over again. He would never forsake them. He would work the deep, eternal, forever into their souls and into their legacy, even while they acted in selfishness, while they fought, while they wondered if God was even good.
In the midst of ugly dysfunction God established eternal things that would bring glory to Him.
I took much time reading through Genesis 29-50 examining separately the journeys of Jacob, Rachel and Leah. Among many discoveries, the sweetest was the growth of Leah’s faith. When she named her oldest Reuben she said, “The Lord has surely looked on my affliction. Now therefore, my husband will love me.” The next time she conceived she said, “Because the Lord has heard that I am unloved, He has therefore given me this son also.” By the time she had her fourth son she named him Judah. Simply, “Now I will praise the Lord.” As Leah realizes her marriage will never be what she hoped it to be, she turns to the Lord and praises instead of giving in to despondence.
It seems the Lord has a very unique relationship to Leah. He sees her unfulfilled desires. He blesses her through her sons, while she learns to surrender her disappointment to Him. He deals with her tenderly, understanding the depth of her misery.
I wish Leah’s story ended with being swept off her feet- a Disney type of romance with a prince who has a thing for weak eyes.
But it does end with a relationship with her Creator, a houseful of children, and the honor of being buried next to her husband, which Rachel did not receive. Her son Judah- “Now I will praise the Lord” - ultimately brought forth David who ultimately brought forth the Messiah. While Leah was overlooked and unloved, God was giving her an honored place in the earthly lineage of His Son. He used her very family- the family that was the source of her aching heart. Leah isn’t defended or known by her husband, but she is defended and known by her God.
Jacob, Leah, and Rachel never had the kind of marriage that God intended for His people. They never led marriage conferences. They were never the example people pointed to and said, "now THERE'S a godly marriage." A counselor would have a heyday with this group! It never had a tidy ending. There were sweet moments but we can collectively shake our heads at the mess that they were and the mess they created.
Yet God never stopped, was never surprised, never gave up. He picked this family long before they even screwed anything up. He pursued Rachel, Leah and Jacob. He gave them a place in His story and used them for great things. Jacob is called a founding father of our faith… even with a personal life that was lacking.
It was a paradigm shift for me. Aren’t we supposed to have a neat and tidy marriage before God uses our family? I’m pretty sure Jacob didn’t know his wives’ love languages… and they brought children into that mess!?! Aren’t we supposed to be nice, decent Christian people with good reputations before God does something lasting? How can I say God is working in my life when I still have sin hanging out for everyone to see?
Don’t get me wrong. We should all work through our stuff. Jacob could’ve used Twelve Steps to Ending Favoritism. Leah and Rachel should’ve prayed through their daddy issues. Perhaps if they had conflict resolution skills they could’ve prevented their sons from selling Joseph and lying about it. They caused incredible pain for themselves, each other, and future generations through their unresolved sin and that’s not something to take lightly.
At the same time- I am comforted and humbled that even when our lives are screwed up to the outside world, when our expectations are dashed, when we’ve been tricked, when everything feels circular, when our dreams are broken and unfulfilled, when we are curled up lonely and desperate in bed… again… the Lord is still at work. Regardless of how useless we feel or look, He is establishing the eternal because of who He is, not because of who we are.
Not only that, but if our circumstances remain messy (although please, let us do what we are able to resolve, bring healing, and hope to them) God can still work out His eternal plan. It might not mean a prince with a thing for weak eyes, a Disney ending, or peace between a deceitful father and his hurting daughters, but it might mean drawing close to the Lord. It might mean establishing a nation! It might mean discovering He is the fulfiller. He is the one who gives hope. He can determine our legacy. He is the never giving up God that pursues us even as we stumble blindly along, leaving a wake of filth. He promises. Much of our happily ever after we will never even see in this life.
I was struck that this story isn’t about Jacob and Rachel’s love, as lifelong and sure as it was. It isn’t about Jacob and Leah’s love, as one-sided (yet fertile) as it was. The story isn’t about them pulling their act together and teaching other polygamists how to run an effective household. It isn’t about them making something out of themselves, or setting goals to create a nation. It isn't about their good deeds and it isn't even about the mess they were.
The story is about the One who loves like no other.
The story has a happily ever after that surpasses any ending that ever was, although it’s still playing out long after Jacob, Leah and Rachel have been laid to rest.
THAT is how I look at betrayal, hurt, flaws, drama, heartache and still say it is a love story- THE love story- for the ages.
Just throwing myself out there a bit...