Jacob arrives at Uncle Laban’s in Genesis 29. When he arrives, he meets Laban’s two daughters, Leah and Rachel.
Now Laban had two daughters. The name of the older was Leah, and the name of the younger was Rachel. Leah’s eyes were weak, but Rachel was beautiful in form and appearance. Jacob loved Rachel. And he said, “I will serve you seven years for your younger daughter Rachel.” Laban said, “It is better that I give her to you than that I should give her to any other man; stay with me.” So Jacob served seven years for Rachel, and they seemed to him but a few days because of the love he had for her. (Genesis 29:16-20)
What is the deal with Leah’s eyes? If you look at a lot of different translations, you will see the word describing Leah’s eyes to be slightly different almost every time – weak, tender, soft, etc. Does this mean that she has bad eyesight? If you look at the immediate context, as well as the overall context of this chapter, it is clear something else is intended. Notice the contrast with Rachel. The text does not say, “but Rachel had 20/20 vision.” The text says, “but Rachel was beautiful in form and appearance.” Whatever was the issue with Leah’s eyes made her unattractive. So, Jacob chooses the attractive sister over the unattractive sister. Shallow, but very normal. Check out Laban’s response to Jacob’s offer to work for seven years for Rachel. Did you notice that he never actually agreed to the deal? Laban said, “It is better that I give her to you than that I should give her to any other man; stay with me.” Jacob has met his match as a schemer! Laban knows Jacob really wants Rachel, so he decides that he will pawn off Leah (who is going to be harder to marry off because she is unattractive) first, and then get Jacob to work longer for Rachel. And the plan works like a charm.
So, Jacob serves his seven years, Laban throws a wedding feast, and Jacob goes into his tent to consummate the marriage. He is ecstatic! Until he wakes up the next morning…
And in the morning, behold, it was Leah! And Jacob said to Laban, “What is this you have done to me? Did I not serve with you for Rachel? Why then have you deceived me?” (Genesis 29:25)
You see, back then it was really, really dark at night. They didn’t have artificial lighting. And women wore veils. So, Jacob consummated the marriage with the wrong girl. Laban agrees to give him Rachel, but he will have to work for him for seven more years in return! Jacob is learning how it feels to be on the other end of the deception.
Laban and Jacob both treated Leah very poorly. Laban pawned her off on a man who didn’t want her. Jacob clearly let it be known he didn’t want her. (And, although it doesn’t say it here, Chapter 30 shows us that Rachel did not treat her well either.) We often tend to idealize relationships or marriage, or even having children. This text makes it clear that is a bad idea. Tim Keller says, “The Bible is the most unsentimental of all books when it comes to the topic of marriage and family. It is always hard and often devastating to not be married, and it is always hard and sometimes devastating to be married.” If you look to a relationship, or marriage or family to make you happy or satisfied, you will be disappointed.
Leah is having babies, but she is not happy. She is looking to each child to satisfy. Reuben means “see.” (“Maybe this time, Jacob will notice me.”) Simeon means “hear.” (“Maybe this time, Jacob will pay attention to MY voice.) Levi means “attach.” (Maybe this will help me get more attached to Jacob.”) This is what Leah is hoping with each baby. “Maybe this time…” Finally, Leah gives up on that dream and puts her hope in the right hands. When Judah (whose name means “praise”) is born, Leah says, “This time I will praise the Lord.”
And Judah will go on to be the one of Jacob’s sons through which the promised Messiah would come. He is the only One in whom we should place our hope. All others will disappoint.