I have enjoyed preaching from the Narrative Lectionary. It has given me the opportunity to revisit stories and events that I have glossed over in recent memory. One of those is the story of Jacob and his two wives Rachel and Leah. They were sisters, and Leah was the older of the two.
When Jacob left home following his deceit of his father Isaac and his brother Esau, he traveled some distance to Haran, which is on the border between modern day Turkey and Syria. There he stopped at a well and met Rachel. He kissed her and introduced himself. It was love at first sight. She took him to meet her father and family. Scripture tells us that “Leah’s eyes were lovely, and Rachel was graceful and beautiful. Jacob loved Rachel.” Jacob and the girls’ father, Laban, reached an agreement. Jacob would work for Laban for seven years. At the end of the seven years, Laban would give Rachel to be Jacob’s wife.
However, nothing in scripture turns out the way we expect. At the end of seven years, Jacob married whom he thought was Rachel. But Laban pulled a fast one, and he married Leah instead. Angry but not willing to accept defeat, Jacob agreed to work for seven more years in order to marry Rachel. In the end, Jacob was married to both sisters.
Of course, there was rivalry between the two. The conflict arose when Rachel discovered that she was barren. Leah on the other hand had six sons. Rachel gave Jacob her handmaiden to have sons in her name. The handmaiden had two sons. Not to be outdone, Leah gave Jacob her handmaiden for the same purpose. She also had two sons. After all of this drama, Rachel conceived; and she bore a son named Joseph. Then she conceived a second time; however, this time she died in childbirth.
While Leah is never noted for any heroic acts and is only rarely attributed with outstanding virtues, she is clearly strong. Though she lived in the shadow of her more beautiful sister, her legacy is profound. Her six sons would become the ancestors of six of the twelve tribes of Israel. Both genealogies in Matthew and Luke trace Jesus’ lineage through Judah, Leah’s firstborn. At the end of her life, she was buried in a place of honor, at Machpelah, in Canaan, where Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebekah were buried. At the end of his life, Jacob was not buried beside Rachel whom he loved, but beside Leah.
Though Jacob loved Rachel, scripture never tells us how he felt about Leah. They spent their whole lives together, and after Rachel died, it is certain that they comforted, supported, and cherished one another through the years. Leah is a woman of strength and integrity. She was one of God’s chosen instruments through which blessings have come to the world. Jacob was the second born and the one God chose. Leah was the first born but lived in the shadow of her sister and was second in the eyes of Jacob. Didn’t someone say something about the first being last and the last being first.
Leah is a reminder that God chooses us not because of our beauty or abilities, but by the strength of our character and our devotion to his purposes. Each of us is Leah. Each of us has lived in someone else’s shadow. Each of us has experienced disappointment and crushed dreams. But we are God’s chosen. How God will use us and our children and grand-children is beyond our ability to see. But through faithfulness and devotion, something beautiful will happen.