We see the beginnings of Jacob’s large family. God gives Leah sons while Rachel has none. We are told right up front why this is. Because God sees and hears her heart’s cry.
For Leah this was a loveless marriage. I don’t know if she expected this when she was snuck in the place of her sister on her wedding night but by that morning things began to be clear. It wasn’t even 24 hours before her husband was looking for his other wife; his “true love.” I wonder how tense things were for her during her “bridal week.” Did Jacob seek her company or shun it? Was she simply someone to keep the bed warm at night or a companion?
We are not told how long it was before Leah started having children by Jacob or how long it was between them. If you were with me when Jacob arrived in Paddan-aram you were aware of my attempt to find out how long Jacob stayed there before returning to the Promised Land. We know for a fact that his stay was a LEAST 20 years. This includes seven years working for his “first bride”, seven years working for his “desired bride” and six years working for his livestock. With the number of children born to Leah in our reading today, we account for a minimum of four of those years. But if my reasoning is right, which I will share in a minute, more than that passes with Leah’s fruitfulness.
With most couples trying for a baby it takes a few months before concerns start to set in and several months before real trouble is suspected. As Rachel was the favored wife, I imagine Jacob put his efforts into having children with her first. So Leah would have been “left on the shelf” until it was proven that Rachel wasn’t going to give Jacob children. Leah could have gotten pregnant during her bridal week though.
Leah was granted children because “the Lord saw that Leah was hated” (verse 31a). God could have known the intent of Jacob’s heart from the beginning but it probably took a little bit of time before Leah truly felt hated. I’m supposing that Jacob “used” Leah as a vessel for children only. No tenderness was shown to her beyond what was required to get the job done. How she must have longed to be cherished. She probably desired to have Jacob spend time in her presence just for her company. To spend a day together just talking about the little things. But Rachel got all those days and times.
When Leah became pregnant the first time I imagine she was overjoyed. Finally she could give her husband something that Rachel couldn’t. Surely he would love her for this! She probably envisioned time with her, her child, and her husband doing things together. Taking walks or showing the child off to others and her husband’s pride in her at this accomplishment. That was likely her reasoning behind the name Reuben. Its meaning is “a vision of the son.” She gave Jacob the greatest gift a man could ask for; a son.
Rachel still wasn’t getting pregnant no matter how hard she tried and I imagine she tried everything. Leah needed time to recover from the birth and nurse her first child before her body was ready to receive a second one. Jacob comes to her again to increase his family. Not out of love but out of necessity. She becomes pregnant again. I imagine her thinking about how her husband’s heart would surely start favoring her now because she is doing a second time what his “favorite wife” hasn’t even done once. She probably resurrected some of those forgotten dreams during her first pregnancy. The dreams of her husband choosing to spend time in her company. She names this son Simeon, meaning “that is heard” because at least God heard her heart’s cry. This child will surely bring her husband to her instead of her sister.
Leah again needs time to recover and nurse her second child. All the while Rachel is STILL trying to conceive. Jacob returns to Leah’s tent to continue to increase his family. At least she has a purpose. She becomes pregnant a third time. I don’t imagine much is left of her dreams from her first pregnancy. No walks together watching the children play. No quiet evenings spent just enjoying one another’s company. But maybe this child will cement their relationship together and Jacob will find a place for her in his heart. It doesn’t have to be love, but any soft feelings will do. So she names this child Levi, meaning “associated with him.” Leah will take whatever she can get from her husband by now.
But those soft feelings and stolen glances filled with love or even respect don’t materialize. Instead she bears and nurses yet another beautiful son for Jacob without reward from him. Yes, he appears to love the children. He spends time with them and teaches them as they grow. But this is apart from their mother’s company.
Rachel continues to be denied children so Jacob turns again to Leah. She becomes pregnant a fourth time. This time she isn’t even considering Jacob’s behavior towards her. She is instead looking at God’s favor that has rained down on her during all her struggles. This time she gives praise to God for all the children He has blessed HER with. She has sons who love HER. That is enough for now. God’s blessing and the love of her children. So she names this child according to her new heart’s position. She names him Judah, meaning “the praise of the Lord.”
All these years her husband has remained committed to Rachel. All these years Leah has taken whatever she could get; the leftovers from Jacob. But she has received God’s best. When she finally stops trying to have children to win her husband she won her own happiness. And now God sees fit to give her body a rest. She stops getting pregnant no matter how many times Jacob comes into her tent.
I wonder about the relationship between these two sisters. They were sisters before Jacob ever came along. Did they hold onto that bond through the years? Did their relationship deteriorate to the point of hatred? Did Rachel rejoice for Leah when she had children or was her heart filled with bitterness over her own childless state instead? Did Rachel love Leah’s children because they were sisters? Did she love Leah’s children because they were Jacob’s? Or did she resent Leah and her children?
The pain of both women touches my heart. The older for the love denied to her and the younger for the joy of motherhood. Did Leah always get Rachel’s “seconds” her whole life because of her “weak eyes”? Did she ever really feel loved by anyone?
How I long to hear that these sisters actually loved one another and rooted for each other. Jealousy is an ugly monster. I pray they made peace before Rachel’s death. But I don’t think that happened. We will see more of their relationship tomorrow.
Father God, thank You for my sisters! I have sisters who support me in whatever I do. They love me in good times and in bad. No. Our relationship hasn’t always been perfect but we are there for each other no matter what.
Thank You Father also for allowing me to be a mother. I understand Rachel’s broken heart over not being allowed to do the one thing that seems to come so naturally to most women; birthing a child. That emptiness is hard to fill and the fullness is amazing! I don’t know where I would be without my children. They have given me reason to live on more than one occasion.
Thank You that You listen to both of these women’s cries. Thank You that You hear EVERY cry of my heart too. I can be assured that I am heard, even if the answer takes a bit longer to show up than I want it to. You are faithful! You are the Lord who hears!