… [Jacob] loved also Rachel more than Leah, and served with him yet seven other years.
Yahweh saw that Leah was hated, and he opened her womb, but Rachel was barren. Leah conceived, and bore a son, and she named him Reuben. For she said, “Because Yahweh has looked at my affliction. For now my husband will love me.” She conceived again, and bore a son, and said, “Because Yahweh has heard that I am hated, he has therefore given me this son also.” She named him Simeon. She conceived again, and bore a son. Said, “Now this time will my husband be joined to me, because I have borne him three sons.” Therefore was his name called Levi. She conceived again, and bore a son. She said, “This time will I praise Yahweh.” Therefore she named him Judah. Then she stopped bearing.
When Rachel saw that she bore Jacob no children, Rachel envied her sister. She said to Jacob, “Give me children, or else I will die.”
Jacob’s anger was kindled against Rachel, and he said, “Am I in God’s place, who has withheld from you the fruit of the womb?”
– Genesis 29:30-30:2 (WEB)
In the past, I had also favored Rachel in this story. After all, if I were Jacob, with obvious eyes for Rachel from the start, I would also be upset with Laban after working seven years for her and getting someone else. Even though Jacob got a taste of his own medicine (the deceiver was himself deceived) I feel sorry for him and Rachel.
However, when God saw this, He didn’t favor Rachel because she was loved. Instead He showed favor on Leah because she was hated. God had mercy on the despised and oppressed.
The relationship between Rachel and Leah never seemed to get better, but from the names that Leah and Rachel gave their children and their reasons for those names, it appears that Leah had a better attitude:
Leah (and Zilpah):
- Reuben (“See, a son!”) – “Yahweh has looked at my affliction. For now my husband will love me”
- Simeon (“Hearing”) – “Yahweh has heard that I am hated.”
- Levi (“United”) – “Now this time will my husband be joined to me”
- Judah (“Praise”) – “This time will I praise Yahweh.”
- Gad (“Fortune”) – “How fortunate!”
- Asher (“Happy, blessed”) – “Happy am I, for the daughters will call me happy.”
- Isssachar (“There is hire”) – “God has given me my hire, because I gave my handmaid to my husband.”
- Zebulun (“Dwelling”) – “God has endowed me with a good dowry. Now my husband will live with me, because I have borne him six sons.”
While Leah probably went to her grave never having been loved by Jacob as she wanted and so desperately needed (it shows even in the naming of her last son), she didn’t show animosity towards Rachel. Her focus was on God’s mercy towards her, and she expressed her praise in many of her son’s names. Contrast this with Rachel:
Rachel (and Bilhah):
- Dan (“Judge”) – “God has judged me, and has also heard my voice, and has given me a son.”
- Naphtali (“My wrestling”) – “With mighty wrestlings have I wrestled with my sister, and have prevailed.”
- Joseph (“He will add”) – “God has taken away my reproach. … May Yahweh add another son to me.”
- Benoni (“Son of my affliction”) – Rachel gave this name, but Jacob changed it to Benjamin (“Son of the right hand”)
Rachel was loved by Jacob, but she had great animosity against her sister. Her focus was getting justice against her sister. She wrongly demanded sons of her husband. When God finally did allow her to bear children, there’s no praise given to God for His mercy. Granted that she was in great pain when she died, but that was all she could think about when naming her son.
Even though Leah suffered, hated by both Jacob and Rachel, she was the one most thankful to God. She was the one with the most praise. Perhaps this was also why God favored her.
Leah seems to me more spiritually mature than Rachel in spite of (or perhaps a result of) her suffering, but I still feel sorry for all three. Who knows… maybe Rachel would have turned out better if Laban did the right thing. Maybe they all would have loved each other.
We all have weaknesses, and sometimes we get into situations where those weaknesses get the better of us. Sometimes we don’t recover and end up scarred for the rest of our lives. God save me from becoming a stumbling block to anyone!