To me it’s the meanest verse in the whole Bible: Genesis 29:17.
“Leah’s eyes were weak, but Rachel was beautiful in form and appearance.”
Some scholars have tried to write it off—to interpret Leah’s weak eyes as something different than a beauty deficiency. But to me it seems God uses the conjunction “but” for a reason. Rachel was hot but Leah was not.
And I’ve always wondered: Isn’t it rude for God to say that about Leah? Doesn’t God know that it’s not nice to compare women and say that one is better looking than the other? Why doesn’t God pull out one of those lines that I always hear at women’s conferences: “God made every woman beautiful!”?
Shouldn’t there be an asterisk in my Bible to clarify?
Alas, no asterisk. No break for poor Leah, really. Her dad tricks Jacob (her sister’s boyfriend) into marrying her. She tries to give him sons, hoping to win his love. In the last part of Genesis 27, Leah reveals through the meaning of her son’s names her desire to be seen (Reuben), heard (Simeon), and unified with her husband (Levi). It’s as if you can hear Leah’s heart crying, “Please God, just let someone love me.”
But after many years of struggle there’s no victorious turn in Leah’s story. Through her faithfulness she doesn’t win the heart of her husband. Neither does she defeat any giants, rescue any spies, nor pray any memorable prayers you’d hang on a hallway plaque.
Who’d be inspired by the ugly sister?
In fact, Leah’s life is so ordinary, she’s rarely included in books of Bible heroines. No one wants to be a Leah. Why be a Leah when you could be a Rachel?
Yet this is the very reason why I love Leah so much. Leah’s story is every woman’s story.
We’ve all felt dwarfed by the shadow of another woman’s beauty or power. We’ve all strived to do more and be more with the hope it would garner us more love. Who hasn’t begged the question, “Am I enough?” And who among us hasn’t wondered if we could unlock all of our dreams through doing or being “better”?
The triumph of Leah’s story is subtle. It’s hidden in Genesis 29:35. “She conceived again, and when she gave birth to a son she said, “This time I will praise the Lord.” So she named him Judah. . .”
Leah learned that the secret to contentment is not found in being the most beautiful. She understood, in that moment, that it’s also not found in a better marriage or in achieving life goals. Instead, Leah demonstrated that being seen, heard, or in harmony with her husband wasn’t nearly as important as this one thing: Praising the Lord.
Part of me wishes the story of Leah ended right there. We could make her the poster girl for contentment and write pithy devotionals about her.
Yet, like most Bible heroes, Leah’s story is more human than that. Just a few verses later in chapter 30, Leah’s competition with her sister flares. The two engage in a crazy mandrake-eating, servant-giving, baby-making contest. Temptation to win a lifelong comparison battle with her sister envelops Leah once again.
Leah’s bent toward finding satisfaction through child-bearing is revealed once again as she names her servant’s sons Gad—“What good fortune” and Asher, “How happy I am! The women will call me happy!” (verse 13). When Leah bears Jacob a sixth son, she names him Zebulun, “This time my husband will treat me with honor because I have borne him six sons” (Gen. 29:20). Yet scripture doesn’t give us any indication it worked.
The Struggle Is Real
I don’t know your struggle. Maybe it’s the mirror or a struggle with those stubborn pounds you keep gaining and losing. Maybe it’s in your marriage: You, like Leah, desperately want the attention and love of your man—yet he seems distracted and distant. Or maybe it’s work—you’re trying to do all the things, follow all the formulas to get the results you want. And, yet, struggle doesn’t always pay in big dividends.
To me it’s nice to know that Leah experienced the same thing. She tried and tried, but it didn’t work out as neatly as a Hallmark movie.
You see, the beauty of the story of Leah is that we can get a clearer picture of how God works. It’s rarely in the ways we’d expect. God chooses the broken, the banged-up, the dim-eyed, and the hurting to accomplish his purposes here on earth. He uses big fish and talking donkeys to set men on the right course. Instead of a legislature, he used a cross to heal the world’s biggest hurts.
Leah struggled, yes. But what’s even more reassuring is that Jesus struggled too. But he wasn’t just misunderstood and ignored; he was despised and rejected. It’s one thing to feel like a less-than. It’s quite another to be hated.
Yet even in the struggle, God had a great purpose for Leah’s life. In case you don’t know the whole story, Leah’s fourth son, Judah, became a great-grandfather of Jesus Christ. Yes, it’s Leah who is in the lineage of Jesus—not her sister Rachel. Leah’s “not as hot as her sister” status didn’t stop God from accomplishing anything.
Neither did it prevent her from finding contentment. Leah’s example to us is that contentment is always and only found in our Judah—our praise. We can win the beauty contest, get the man, accomplish the things—like Rachel—and still not experience the joy, peace, and rest that come with a contented heart.
Though it may be easy to find inspiration in the stories of Ruth, Mary, or Esther, I’m sticking with Leah. Her honest plight to find contentment in the midst of undesirable circumstances endears her to me. Leah’s the underdog who’s just trying to remain faithful. Can’t we all learn something from that?