Two sisters, married to the same man but only one could have his heart: The story of Leah and Rachel

Though many know the story of Jacob and his two wives Leah and Rachel and how he loved only one, it would seem there was more to the story. This is that story.  In their early years  Jacob loved Rachel very much and far more that her other sister, his first wife Leah. We have heard the story of how their father Laban had tricked Jacob into marrying Leah so not to disgrace to older sister by the younger marrying first, plus there is the fact Laban wanted to keep using Jacob as cheap labor. However in the midst of all this Jacob married Rachel after Leah and preferred Rachel over Leah thus rejecting Leah. The Lord in His mercy saw the pain in Leah’s heart from the rejection of her husband and gave to her a son, Jacob’s firstborn so. Leah responds to the Lord by naming her son Reuben which means “Behold a son” 32Leah conceived and bore a son and named him Reuben, for she said, “Because the Lord has seen my affliction; surely now my husband will love me.”  Leah sees the gift of God as a means to win her husband’s approval. Still even after producing Jacob’s firstborn son she went on unloved, so the Lord in His mercy gave to her a second son. Leah here responds to the Lord by naming her son Simeon, “He has heard,” for God had heard her sorrows. 33Then she conceived again and bore a son and said, “Because the Lord has heard that I am unloved, He has therefore given me this son also.” So she named him Simeon. Yet Leah went on being rejected by her husband and in her heart yearned to win her husband’s love, so the Lord granted to her a third son. For her third son she named him Levi, meaning “Join” for she had longed that her husband would join his heart with hers. 34She conceived again and bore a son and said, “Now this time my husband will become attached to me, because I have borne him three sons.” Therefore he was named Levi. Now even after giving her husband three sons, while her sister Rachel produced no children she went on being unloved and rejected by Jacob, so her heart cried before the Lord. The Lord in His kindness and gave to Leah a fourth son whom she would name Judah, meaning “Praise.” Here it would seem that Leah learned a valuable lesson being that though her husband may have rejected her, God had not thus she lifted her hands and praised the Lord for His faithfulness to her. 35And she conceived again and bore a son and said, “This time I will praise the Lord.” Therefore she named him Judah. Then she stopped bearing. Genesis 29:32-35.

As the story continues Leah’s son Reuben goes out and picks some mandrakes and returns home. Rachel seeing the mandrakes desires to take and eat them for herself. Leah responds asking why her sister must first take her husband and now take her son’s mandrake’s, which he had gathered for his mom. Rachel responds by offering the right to lying with Jacob that night as payment for food. 14Now in the days of wheat harvest Reuben went and found mandrakes in the field, and brought them to his mother Leah. Then Rachel said to Leah, “Please give me some of your son’s mandrakes.”  15But she said to her, “Is it a small matter for you to take my husband? And would you take my son’s mandrakes also?” So Rachel said, “Therefore he may lie with you tonight in return for your son’s mandrakes.” 16When Jacob came in from the field in the evening, then Leah went out to meet him and said, “You must come in to me, for I have surely hired you with my son’s mandrakes.” So he lay with her that night. Even after this the Lord sees Leah’s love for her husband and opens her womb up again that she might bear a fifth son, Issachar meaning “There is a reward.” 17God gave heed to Leah, and she conceived and bore Jacob a fifth son. 18Then Leah said, “God has given me my wages because I gave my maid to my husband.” So she named him Issachar. It is in my opinion that the reward of a fifth son being more of the fact that Leah seems to have valued Jacob far more than Rachel did, much like Jacob valued Esau’s birthright more. Nevertheless, once again God’s gaze fell on Leah and He opened up her womb that she might bear a sixth and final son for Jacob. This time she named her son Zebulun meaning “Gift of honor” or more likely “Dwelling of honor”. 19Leah conceived again and bore a sixth son to Jacob. 20Then Leah said, “God has endowed me with a good gift; now my husband will dwell with me, because I have borne him six sons.” So she named him Zebulun. Finally Leah bears Jacob a daughter whom she names Dinah, meaning “Judged” or “Vindicated” which the names shows how the Lord vindicates Leah’s mistreatment with six sons and one daughter while her sister had yet to produce one child. 21Afterward she bore a daughter and named her Dinah. Genesis 30:14-21

Though the Lord seems to have shown an abundance of favor to Leah, He had not forgotten Rachel and gave to her a son whom she named Joseph “He will add” for the Lord had removed the reproach of barrenness from her. Rachel believed now that she had born a son that she would be able to bare another. 22Then God remembered Rachel, and God gave heed to her and opened her womb. 23So she conceived and bore a son and said, “God has taken away my reproach.” 24She named him Joseph, saying, “May the Lord give me another son.” Genesis 30:22-24

Later on in the story of Jacob and his wives we the Lord calling him and his family to leave Laban and to return to his father’s land. What is the interesting fact is that it was Rachel who sought to take the idols of her father with her. Leah who had learned the lesson of worshipping the Lord did not, but it was the younger sister that desired the idols. When Laban had gone to shear his flock, then Rachel stole the household idols that were her father’s. Genesis 31:19 Jacob having no clue that Rachel had done such a thing was unable to stop her, and the scriptures say nothing about Leah in this regard but it would seem to contrast the difference between the two wives in where their hope was.

Years later the Lord opens up Rachel’s womb again that she might bear another son, however this time the birthing process would be too much for her and would claim her life. When Rachel heard that she had given birth to a son she named him Ben-oni, meaning “Son of my sorrow” for her soul was passing away. However, Jacob not desiring that his son would be named with such an awful and negative changed it after Rachel died to Benjamin which means “Son of my right hand.” 18It came about as her soul was departing (for she died), that she named him Ben-oni; but his father called him Benjamin. 19So Rachel died and was buried on the way to Ephrath (that is, Bethlehem). Genesis 35:18-19


Lastly let us now consider where Rachel was buried, which was on the road to Bethlehem. Though this seems of little consequence it is quite peculiar. Why would the woman Jacob had loved so much in his early days just bury her while on the road? Joseph made sure his bones were to be carried from Egypt back to the land of his father (Genesis 50:25), so why not Rachel’s? Leah on the other hand was not treated in the same manner. Jacob while in Egypt and lying on his death-bed reveals that he had buried Leah in the tomb with his grandparents Abraham and Sarah and of his parents Isaac and Rebekah. This is quite peculiar, for his last request before he passed away was that he might be buried in that tomb with his wife and parents and grandparents. So at Jacob’s passing he was carried from Egypt to the land of Canaan to be buried. 29Then he charged them and said to them, “I am about to be gathered to my people; bury me with my fathers in the cave that is in the field of Ephron the Hittite, 30in the cave that is in the field of Machpelah, which is before Mamre, in the land of Canaan, which Abraham bought along with the field from Ephron the Hittite for a burial site. 31There they buried Abraham and his wife Sarah, there they buried Isaac and his wife Rebekah, and there I buried Leah—32the field and the cave that is in it, purchased from the sons of Heth.” Genesis 49:30-32

In conclusion, though Jacob had loved Rachel more in their early years because of her looks, it would seem that as time went on things changed. As Leah began to find her confidence in the Lord and it would appear she gained favor with the Lord and ultimately her husband. Scriptures seem to show that Rachel did not mature much in the Lord at all. No wonder Jacob at the end of his life desired to be buried with Leah for as the preacher says Charm is deceitful and beauty is vain, But a woman who fears the Lord, she shall be praised.”Proverbs 31:30


Posted on May 10, 2012, in Thoughts from the place of prayer, Topical Studies and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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