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Leah’s Lament

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Genesis 29:15-29

Any time someone mentions biblical family values, I laugh because the Bible contains some pretty wild family stories.  The story of Jacob and his family would make a fascinating soap opera.  Jacob and his brother Esau were twins, though as different as brothers could be.  Jacob was their mother’s favorite and Esau was their father’s favorite.  Jacob resented the fact that his large, hairy, presumably less intelligent brother left the womb first and therefore had both the birthright and the blessing of the firstborn son.  Jacob managed to coerce his brother into giving him the birthright and, with the help of his mother, he tricked his aging father into giving him the blessing.  And then he had to flee for his life.  His parents sent him to the land of his uncle Laban so that he might find a wife among his mother’s people.  (This was back when marrying your cousin was considered a good thing.)  When Jacob found his uncle Laban, he discovered that Laban had two daughters.  The oldest was Leah, and the only description given is about her eyes.  The translation of the adjective is uncertain, but her eyes were either lovely or weary.  But Leah’s younger sister Rachel is described as graceful and beautiful.  Jacob began working for Laban, and Laban asked what his wages should be.  Jacob answered, “I will serve you seven years for your younger daughter Rachel.”  Laban agreed, and the scripture says the seven years seemed to Jacob but a few days because of the love he had for her.

After the seven years Jacob asked for his wife, so Laban gathered all the people for a big wedding feast.  But at the end of the evening, after all the partying, Laban did a switcharoo, and gave to Jacob his older daughter Leah, rather than Rachel.  Jacob didn’t notice until the next morning, and then he was furious.  Picking up now with Genesis 29:25:

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?” Laban said, “This is not done in our country—giving the younger before the firstborn. Complete the week of this one, [the bride’s week was kind of like a honeymoon] and we will give you the other also in return for serving me another seven years.” Jacob did so, and completed her week; then Laban gave him his daughter Rachel as a wife. . . . So Jacob went in to Rachel also, and he loved Rachel more than Leah. He served Laban for another seven years.

 This story is called the Jacob Saga—not to be confused with the Jacob Saga that apparently is in the Twilight series of books and movies about vampires.  Our Jacob was not a vampire.  The biblical Jacob Saga is most often told, like the rest of the Bible, from the male point of view.  Poor Jacob, who got tricked by his uncle / father-in-law.  Or less charitably, that trickster Jacob finally met his match.  In many Christian circles still today, Leah and Rachel are only discussed in terms of sibling rivalry and fights between women.  You see, after they both married Jacob, Rachel – the beloved wife—could not get pregnant.  But we are told that God saw the plight of Leah—the unloved wife—and so God opened her womb.  If that was the case, God did a really good job because she started popping out babies left and right.  Listen to this part of the scripture because it’s heartbreaking.

Leah conceived and bore a son, and she named him Reuben; for she said, “Because the Lord has looked on my affliction; surely now my husband will love me.” She conceived again and bore a son, and said, “Because the Lord has heard that I am hated, the Lord has given me this son also”; and she named him Simeon. Again she conceived and bore a son, and said, “Now this time my husband will be joined to me, because I have borne him three sons”; therefore he was named Levi.

 She did not get her wish or her prayer—In my reading I don’t see any signs that Jacob started loving her.  Can you imagine her plight?  Being intimate with her husband again and again in spite of knowing he didn’t love her.  Giving birth again and again in spite of knowing her husband would love her children less than any that might come from her sister.  Some of you know some of this pain—maybe not your husband having many wives, including your sister—but some of you know the pain of not being loved as you should be.  Some of you know the pain of receiving not enough love—whether from a parent or a spouse or an estranged child.

A recent issue of Psychology Today discusses the “Accidental Truths Unloved Daughters Learn.”   The first accidental truth is that real love is not a transaction.  The author writes: “While I spent much of my childhood and adolescence trying to figure out what to do in order to wrest some crumbs of love from my mother, I also knew at a relatively young age that my mother’s transactional model—in which love was doled out at the cost of pleasing her—was decidedly different from the behaviors of those who actually loved me simply because I was, not because of what I did or didn’t do. Knowing that you’re worthy of love just because . . . is a lesson well-loved children know from the very beginning.  My mother didn’t teach me that, but there was value in knowing what love wasn’t—a version of cash-and-carry.”[1]

Listen again to the transition in Leah’s response to the birth of her sons, to see what she learned.  After giving birth to her first son, she said: “Because the Lord has looked on my affliction; surely now my husband will love me.”  After the birth of her second son, she said: “Because the Lord has heard that I am hated, the Lord has given me this son also.”  After the birth of her third son, she said: “Now this time my husband will be joined to me, because I have borne him three sons.”  Notice that she no longer said maybe he would love her—she had apparently given up on that.  She just hoped he would be joined to her, bonded to her, maybe care about her some.  But by the fourth child she had a far different response: “This time I will praise the Lord.” Maybe she had started to realize that the love she longed for would not come from the source she longed for.  But maybe—just maybe—God’s love was enough.

Leah’s story reminds me of a contemporary Christian song by Lauren Daigle that to me should be called Leah’s song.  Instead it’s called You Say.

I keep fighting voices in my mind that say I’m not enough–

Every single lie that tells me I will never measure up.

Am I more than just the sum of every high and every low?

Remind me once again just who I am because I need to know.

You say I am loved when I can’t feel a thing.

You say I am strong when I think I am weak.

And you say I am held when I am falling short.

And when I don’t belong, oh You say I am Yours.

And I believe.  Oh, I believe What You say of me.  I believe.

The only thing that matters now is everything You think of me.

In You I find my worth, in You I find my identity

You say I am loved when I can’t feel a thing

You say I am strong when I think I am weak

And you say I am held when I am falling short

When I don’t belong, oh You say I am Yours

And I believe.  Oh, I believe What You say of me.  I believe.

What if we did?  What if we did believe?  What if we did truly believe what God says of us— that we are created in the image of God, beloved by God, held in the embrace of Love that is greater than any we know on earth?  What if we did believe?

It should make a difference.  It should empower us.  It should change us.

I wish it had done that for the biblical Leah.  But this story is problematic for more reasons than I’ve already stated.  We’ve already seen that women were treated like property—Jacob receiving a wife as payment for his labor.  We saw a father give his oldest daughter as property to a man who he knew didn’t love her.  And when he was confronted, he said, “Give this one her week—”  he didn’t even call her by name.  Give this one her week, and then I’ll give you the other one.”  (Here are my daughters—this one and the other one!)  But having been raised in this culture, having been shown no other way, the two women then turned around and did the same thing to the women in their care.

After Leah gave birth to four sons, Rachel became jealous.  So she gave her maid Bilhah to Jacob as another wife, and since Bilhah was her maid, she claimed the two sons that Bilhah gave birth to as her own.  Not to be outdone, Leah gave her maid Zilpah to Jacob as yet another wife, and since Zilpah was her maid, she claimed the two sons that Zilpah gave birth to as her own.  Having been treated like property, Leah and Rachel learned to treat others the same way.  Their maids apparently were not asked: Hey, would you like to be another wife to my husband so that you can risk your life to carry and deliver a child I will claim?

Unjust systems get carried forward for generations, and get passed down, each step down the ladder with less power.  It’s like the old scenario of a boss yelling at an employee.  The employee cannot yell at his boss so he goes home and yells at his wife.  The woman cannot yell at her husband so she yells at their child.  The child cannot yell back so the child kicks the dog.  The abuse gets handed down until someone changes the cycle.

That’s what love is supposed to do.  Love is supposed to empower us—yes, first, to greater sense of worth and identity.  But then love is supposed to lead to greater awareness of others’ worth and identity.

So listen to the voice inside your mind that says you are enough.  Listen to the voice that says you are worthy.  Then may we continue to amplify the voice for others.

Amen.

 

 

[1] Streep, Peg. “5 Accidental Truths Unloved Daughters Learn,” Psychology Today, March 11, 2021.

 

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