What can we learn from Leah in the Bible? We’ll learn quite a bit about contentment, if we, unlike her husband Jacob, can pause and appreciate her.
It’s the oldest trick in the Book. Look at his handsome profile. Check out her successful portfolio. See how well-behaved her kids are, how green his lawn is, how effortless their marriage seems? We’re easily led, quickly distracted by what’s over there, and the green tendrils of envy and disappointment twist like ivy through our thoughts. Before the creation dew had dried in Eden, Satan was already propositioning Eve with this tactic: don’t you wish you could be more like God and less like the human He made you to be?
It’s not just the usual suspects of social media and popular culture that launch us into such spirals of comparison. Before such a term as “insta-worthy” was ever spoken, the human heart cast about for validation and belonging from sources that could never sustain it. Let’s take a look, for example, at the story of Leah in Genesis 29-30.
“In a time when women had little control over their lives, Leah and her younger sister, Rachel, seemed to be a means to an end.”
In a time when women had little control over their lives, Leah and her younger sister, Rachel, seemed to be a means to an end for their father, Laban. In exchange for seven years of Jacob’s labor, Laban promised Rachel in marriage. Genesis 29:17-18 tells us that Rachel was “lovely in form, and beautiful,” and that Jacob was in love with her.
We could imagine Jacob’s infatuation with Rachel was “love at first sight,” as they almost certainly would not have been granted time for deep conversation or solitary walks across the pastureland of Haran. But Jacob’s willingness to labor seven years for her demonstrates feelings deeper than flattery or casual interest. Deep down, most women long to captivate a lover this way, to be pursued and cherished by a committed heart. We’re made to yearn for belonging and completion.
“We’re made to yearn for belonging and completion.”
Enter Leah, Rachel’s older sister. The only description we have of Leah is of her “weak or delicate eyes” (Gen. 29:17). Some translations generously speculate this could mean that she was “tender-hearted,” but either way, she was not pursued by Jacob, not found lovely in his eyes, and not worth seven years of his life to labor for. The night of the wedding feast, Laban instead gave Leah to Jacob in marriage, yet Jacob didn’t discover it until morning. (Was she veiled? Was he drunk? We don’t know.)
Scripture gives us no indication of what Leah’s feelings were in the matter, but it wouldn’t be a stretch to guess. How could this end well? What would this do to her relationship with her sister? Would this marriage born of deception ever know love? If she could just find love, if she could only be a good wife, wouldn’t that be enough? Wouldn’t that grant Leah admiration and respect from others? Wouldn’t it make her measure up?
“Wouldn’t that grant Leah admiration and respect from others? Wouldn’t it make her measure up?”
It doesn’t take much to put ourselves in Leah’s place because, if we’re honest, we all get it. We’re picked last (or not at all) during gym class. The other guy got the promotion we’d been gunning for. We didn’t get the call back, the job offer, the prom-posal. We’re Miss Congeniality instead of Miss Universe, the JV second-string, the understudy instead of the lead. Consolations aren’t exactly what dreams are made of, are they?
Leah married Jacob, and then, seven years later, Jacob was finally given Rachel in marriage as well. Verse 30 lays it out plain: Jacob “loved Rachel more than Leah,” and it wasn’t a big secret. Imagine the lump in her throat Leah had to swallow each time her sister received favor and cherishing from their husband, while she was merely tolerated.
“It never makes her good enough.”
Leah repeatedly offers her heart to Jacob for years. She serves him and cares for him dutifully, but it never makes her “good enough.” Leah then turns to her children, which were seen as symbols of blessing. If not marital love, surely children would complete her. Sons and daughters could make her worthy. We can see her dashed hopes because each time she conceives a son with Jacob, she pins her future happiness on them.
A parent’s happiness, by the way, is an unwieldy burden to load on a child and one that is immensely unfair for them to carry. With the first, she says “surely my husband will love me now,” proving her worth through her womb. With the second, she reasons the Lord has given her a son because He “heard that I am not loved,” and with the third, she hopes “at last my husband will become attached to me” (vs. 32-24).
Jacob never wavers in his favoritism toward Rachel, but some time after Leah’s third child, it’s Leah who seems to have a change of heart. Instead of pining after Jacob and regarding herself as a disappointment, instead of hoping that her children would bestow worth upon her, with her fourth pregnancy, Leah proclaims, “This time I will praise the Lord” (vs 35). It’s only when her focus changes to God’s favor, when she rests in what she has and what she’s capable of, that she’s able to find happiness. Later in the story, her words change from a piteous “woe is me” tone to “what good fortune!” and “how happy I am!” (Gen. 30:11-12).
“It’s only when her focus changes to God’s favor that she’s able to find happiness.”
While Jacob may have “settled for” Leah, Leah herself doesn’t settle. She learns to set aside her idols of marriage, children, and family, and set her sights on higher things than her circumstances. It’s then that God demonstrates how He faithfully cherishes and He faithfully pursues.
God doesn’t consider beauty and loveliness when enlisting Kingdom workers. Among His children, no one is a runner-up or second-string. God bestows worth on each of us from the moment we draw breath, when we are yet helpless and needy infants. He isn’t waiting for us to display great talent, add up our bank accounts, or tally the number of followers we’ve amassed before deciding we are enough.
We are enough because He is. He lets us off the hook of striving and comparing. What an enormous relief that is! If we never accomplish another impressive thing, He is for us anyway. Blessed assurance.
“He lets us off the hook of striving and comparing. What an enormous relief that is!”
Despite her years of worry and comparison, despite her disappointment and feelings of being “not enough,” Leah goes on to be the mother of six sons and a daughter, including one son (Judah) who is named in the lineage of Christ. She’s buried in a place of honor alongside Jacob, at the site of his ancestors, including Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebekah. Her children led half of the tribes of Israel. It’s likely they revered and cherished their mother, bringing her untold joy and satisfaction.
Comparison and its companions–disappointment and envy–never satisfies. Worse, it’s a poisonous distraction from God’s intentions for us. We should stop peeking at one another’s papers. Our neighbor’s test is different from ours anyway.
“What would make you feel that you could rest?”
What would make you feel that you could rest? That you’d done enough to be counted successful enough, good enough, rich enough? What would make you feel loved enough? As we learn from Leah, playing the future “when” game is a dangerous exercise in missing God’s intentions for us now. I’ll be happy (enough) when I graduate. I’ll be content (restful) when I get married. I’ll be satisfied (measure up) when I own that property or take that vacation. That future rarely arrives as we imagine it, and yet off we go again, postponing our contentment/rest/enough-ness for a someday that we may never see.
We are now, today, with all our faults and imperfections, enough for God to love and partner with. With faith securely in God, may we rest in the assurance and relief that we measure up because He does. May we set aside our “future whens” and the idols to which we pin our hopes of happiness and worth and awake to what is already set before us.
(From bonnieblaylock.com. Used with permission.