Jacob & Leah: The Facade of Beauty

Jacob & Leah: The Facade of Beauty

Part 6 of “The Tree” – a study of Jesus’ family tree.

Genesis 29:14-35

The Bible is so real, so raw, and relevant to life! It does not paint a pretty picture of what happens when you bring multiple sin-cursed people into a relationship together.  The people who comprise Jesus’ family tree were real, historical people.  Genesis 29 introduces us to a self-centered and deceitful man by the name of Jacob, and a girl no-one wanted that wound up being Jacob’s wife. 

When God told Abraham that he would bless him, He promised that through Abraham’s descendants, a child would be born who would bless the nations. Abraham and Sarah had a son named Isaac who later married Rebecca and was blessed with a set of twins of whom God made the following promise:

“Two nations are in your womb,
and two peoples from within you shall be divided;
the one shall be stronger than the other,
      the older shall serve the younger.” (Gen. 25:23)

God told Isaac and Rebecca, specifically, that the seed of promise would not be the older son, but the younger.  When Rachel gave birth to her two babies, we are told: “The first came out red, all his body like a hairy cloak, so they called his name Esau.  Afterward his brother came out with his hand holding Esau’s heel, so his name was called Jacob” (vv. 25-26).  Jacob literally means “heal grabber.”  Yet, regardless of what God said of Jacob, Isaac favored Esau more. 

Culture demanded that Isaac bless his first-born, but God had decreed that Jacob would be the recipient of what was entitled culturally to the Esau.  Esau was a “man’s man”; he was strong and had a natural gift for hunting.  Jacob, however, was a mama’s boy who grew up “a quiet man, dwelling in tents” (v. 27).  The tone of the Isaac and Rebekah’s family dynamics is illustrated in verse 28, “Isaac loved Esau because he ate of his game, but Rebekah loved Jacob.” 

The sad thing about the way Isaac and Rebekah treated their sons is that Esau grew up to be a willful, proud, self-centered man, who exercised little self-control.  Jacob grew up to be a self-centered liar, deceiver, and manipulator.  We see Esau’s lack of self-control and the manipulative skill of Jacob in the last paragraph of Genesis 25,

Once when Jacob was cooking stew, Esau came in from the field, and he was exhausted. And Esau said to Jacob, “Let me eat some of that red stew, for I am exhausted!” (Therefore his name was called Edom.) Jacob said, “Sell me your birthright now.” Esau said, “I am about to die; of what use is a birthright to me?” Jacob said, “Swear to me now.” So he swore to him and sold his birthright to Jacob. Then Jacob gave Esau bread and lentil stew, and he ate and drank and rose and went his way. Thus Esau despised his birthright. (Genesis 25:29–34)

These verses highlight Esau’s dismissive attitude towards the honor of being the first-born as a descendant of Abraham.  Esau cared more about his stomach than he did his identity in Abraham; he was willing to trade in what was eternal for what was temporary—a bowl of stew!  Jacob was no better, for he manipulated his brother in a moment of weakness.[1]  Jacob’s lying, deceiving, manipulating character reached its climax when he and his mother conspired together to deceive Isaac after he planned to give Esau the blessing of the firstborn in spite of what God said of Jacob:

When Isaac was old and his eyes were dim so that he could not see, he called Esau his older son and said to him, “My son”; and he answered, “Here I am.” He said, “Behold, I am old; I do not know the day of my death. Now then, take your weapons, your quiver and your bow, and go out to the field and hunt game for me, and prepare for me delicious food, such as I love, and bring it to me so that I may eat, that my soul may bless you before I die.” (Genesis 27:1–4)

After Esau went out as instructed by his father, Rebekah pulled Jacob aside and plotted against her oldest son and her husband:

Now Rebekah was listening when Isaac spoke to his son Esau. So when Esau went to the field to hunt for game and bring it, Rebekah said to her son Jacob, “I heard your father speak to your brother Esau, ‘Bring me game and prepare for me delicious food, that I may eat it and bless you before the Lord before I die.’ Now therefore, my son, obey my voice as I command you. Go to the flock and bring me two good young goats, so that I may prepare from them delicious food for your father, such as he loves. And you shall bring it to your father to eat, so that he may bless you before he dies.” But Jacob said to Rebekah his mother, “Behold, my brother Esau is a hairy man, and I am a smooth man. Perhaps my father will feel me, and I shall seem to be mocking him and bring a curse upon myself and not a blessing.” His mother said to him, “Let your curse be on me, my son; only obey my voice, and go, bring them to me.” (Genesis 27:5–13, ESV)

So Jacob did as his mother instructed, deceived his father into blessing him while Esau was hunting, and Esau hated his brother for it (see Gen. 27:30-45).  Yet, even though Jacob was, at this point in his life-story  a lying, deceiving, manipulating jerk, God was still committed to His promise to Abraham and to Jacob as his man:

Jacob left Beersheba and went toward Haran. And he came to a certain place and stayed there that night, because the sun had set. Taking one of the stones of the place, he put it under his head and lay down in that place to sleep. And he dreamed, and behold, there was a ladder set up on the earth, and the top of it reached to heaven. And behold, the angels of God were ascending and descending on it! And behold, the Lord stood above it and said, “I am the Lord, the God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac. The land on which you lie I will give to you and to your offspring. Your offspring shall be like the dust of the earth, and you shall spread abroad to the west and to the east and to the north and to the south, and in you and your offspring shall all the families of the earth be blessed. Behold, I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land. For I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.” Then Jacob awoke from his sleep and said, “Surely the Lord is in this place, and I did not know it.” (Genesis 28:10–16)

After Jacob’s dream, he traveled to see his uncle Laban to take for himself a wife from one of his daughters just has his mother and father instructed. 

Outside of Eden We Want Rachel (Gen. 29:1-20)

When Laban learned that his nephew had come to see him, he “ran to meet him and embraced him and kissed him and brought him to his house” (Gen. 29:13).  Jacob stayed with his uncle for a month and fell in love with Rachel, the younger daughter of Laban (v. 18).  His love for Rachel is explained in verses 16 through 18, “Now Laban had two daughters.  The name of the older was Leah, and the name of the younger was Rachel.  Leah’s eyes were weak, but Rachel was beautiful in form and appearance.” 

I am not sure exactly what is meant by Leah’s eyes being weak; some commentators think that she was cross-eyed, others think that they were sunken, baggy, or even bulging.  I think that compared to her gorgeous sister, Rachel, Leah was average.  Laban recognized the difference in his daughters by the names he had given to them; the Hebrew meaning for Leah can mean “wild cow” or “gazelle,” while the Hebrew meaning for Rachel is “ewe” or “lamb” which was more of a term of endearment.  Rachel was beautiful and Jacob loved her for her beauty.

When his uncle offered to pay Jacob for his work, Jacob offered to work for seven years in exchange for the hand of Laban’s younger daughter in marriage.  Laban agreed.  “So Jacob worked seven years to pay for Rachel. But his love for her was so strong that it seemed to him but a few days” (Genesis 29:20, NLT).  Rachel was the apple of his eye; Rachel was all Jacob wanted and all he probably felt he needed, for he was willing to work for his uncle for no other wage, but the hand of his daughter in marriage.  Jacob, like Jerry Mcquire, in a dog-eat-dog world, full of cynicism and grief, may have felt that having Rachel with him would satisfy him and bring a measure of happiness that had eluded him growing up. 

On this side of Eden, we all want a Rachel to bring us happiness.  We might not call it “Rachel.”  But, we feel it in movies like Jerry McGuire, we all long for an Oz, and our hearts beat for the Grey Havens of Lord of the Rings.  We do not want Leah, we want Rachel. 

 Outside of Eden We Get Leah (Gen. 29:21-30)

After Jacob completed the seven years of work, he asked to have Rachel as his wife: “Then Jacob said to Laban, ‘Give me my wife; I’ve completed what we agreed I’d do. I’m ready to consummate my marriage.’ Laban invited everyone around and threw a big feast” (Genesis 29:21–22, The Message).  Finally, Jacob was about to receive what he had longed for;  finally, his life would become sweet.  The wedding party commenced, the meal was eaten, and the wine consumed.  The bride was presented to Jacob during the wedding banquet veiled at night with Jacob, mostly likely, feeling pretty good from the wine, and Laban deceived Jacob.   “But in the evening he took his daughter Leah and brought her to Jacob, and he went in to her.  And in the morning, behold, it was Leah!

When Jacob discovered that he was not married to the woman of his dreams, but to the weak-eyed daughter whose name meant “wild cow” he was irate.  He had been deceived just like he deceived his brother Esau.  The life Jacob had dreamed for himself seemed to be shattered: “And 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’” (v. 25)?  Laban manipulated Jacob again out of seven years of free labor with the added bonus of getting rid of his oldest daughter by selling another lie: “It is not so done in our country, to give the younger before the firstborn.  Complete the week of this one, and we will give you the other also in return for serving me another seven years” (vv. 26-27).  Tim Keller, in a sermon on this passage, made the following observation:

One of the most fascinating things in the narrative is the way it turns on you, because here is Jacob saying, “Finally, finally I’m going to have happiness in this life. Finally, finally I have Rachel!” But behold in the morning it was Leah. There is a very interesting little commentary written by one of my favorite writers, Derrick Kidner. He puts it this way. Derrick Kidner says, “But in the morning, behold, it was Leah. This is a miniature of our disillusionment, experienced from Eden onwards.”

Do you know what he is saying? He is saying everybody in this room needs to know … you critically need to know it … no matter what your hopes for a project, no matter what your hopes for marriage, no matter what your hopes for love, no matter what your hopes for a career, no matter what you have hopes in, in the morning it will always be Leah. No matter what you think is Rachel, it will always be Leah.[2]

Outside of Eden We Still Have Hope

The wedding celebration lasted seven days; convincing Jacob to finish out the celebration with Leah, would give sufficient opportunity for Leah to get pregnant.  When the week was over, according to verse 30, Jacob took Rachel as his wife: “Jacob went in to Rachel also, and he loved Rachel more than Leah, and served Laban for another seven years.”  However, due to the pervasive greed of both Jacob and Laban, Leah was caught in the middle and loved by no one, for Leah was hated and Rachel was loved.

The irony of Leah’s story is that the only person that was for her was God himself: “When the LORD saw that Leah was hated, he opened her womb, but Rachel was barren” (v. 31).  The heart-rending part about Leah’s story is that after each birth of each of her children, while God blessed her, the love of her husband that she desperately longed for eluded her.  Listen to Leah’s response to each child born to her:

  • And Leah conceived and bore a son, and she called his name Reuben, for she said, ‘Because the LORD has looked upon my affliction; for now my husband will love me.’” (v. 32)
  • She conceived again and bore a son, and said, “Because the LORD has heard that I am hated, he has given me this son also.’  And she called his name Simeon.” (v. 33)
  • “Again she conceived and bore a son, and said, ‘Now this time my husband will be attached to me, because I have borne him three sons.’  Therefore his name was called Levi.” (v. 34)
  • “And she conceived again and bore a son, and said, ‘This time I will praise the LORD.’  Therefore she called his name Judah.  Then she ceased bearing.” (v. 35)

I wish Leah’s story ended with her praising the LORD, but it didn’t.  Like Sara  in the story of Abraham, Rachel also used a servant to bare children, because she was not able to bear any children, while her older sister seemed to be a baby-making factory. Leah, did the same as well.  What followed, seemed to be a feud between Leah and Rachel as to who could score the most babies through their servants.  God eventually blessed Leah with two more sons and finally a daughter, but her desire for the affection and love from her husband never waned, nor was it ever satisfied (see Gen. 30:19-21).  The only two children Rachel was able to have was Joseph and Benjamin; the birth of her second son killed her.    

Application

The irony of Leah’s story is that the one who was frowned upon by her father, rejected by her husband, and hated by her younger sister, was favored by God.  The promise God made to Jacob that the nations would be blessed through his seed, did not come from the wife he idolized, but from the woman God blessed, for out of Leah came Judah.  The descendants of Judah would be known as the Tribe of Judah; out of Judah would come the line of kings that would eventually include David, and then ultimately conclude with Jesus.  

Out of a relationship, shaped by the evil intentions of the two most important men in her life, Leah was blessed with seven children (which is the number symbolic in the Bible for completeness or perfection).  Of her seven children, was one of whom the scriptures promised, “The scepter shall not depart from Judah, nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet” (49:10).

From Leah’s story and the story of the Bible, we learn three powerful lessons:

  1. Your sin-induced behavior will have consequences from which others will suffer.  The first group of people who will be victimized by your sin are the members of your family.  Remember that in dealing with your spouse and your children, to seek their forgiveness when you have sinned against them and to give the gift of forgiveness when it is needed.  Because you were born a sinner, you will sin against those closest to you.
  • In this life, we tend to look for Rachel, but seem to always wind up with Leah.  We look for Rachel, because we believe we have worked for her, or that we deserve her, but in the end we are eventually disappointed.  Remember that our hearts are idol factories that tend to make good things, ultimate things.  The only way to get rid of the idols of your heart is to replace them with Jesus.
  • We were made for someone better than Rachel.  There is only one who can complete you and make you whole.  That one is not your spouse, your child, or your community.  The one who is better than Rachel is Jesus Christ.  While speaking to a woman who was always looking for a better “Rachel” in the form of one relationship with a man after another, Jesus met her and told her that that reason that she could not find the satisfaction that her thirsty soul longed for, was because she was looking for it in placed that could not provide it.  “Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” (John 4:13–14, ESV)

[1] Lest we are tempted to look down upon Esau for trading in his birthright, we are guilty of doing the same thing when we confuse our identity in Jesus Christ for our place of employment, friendships, stuff, or relationships. 

[2] Keller, T. J. (2013). The Timothy Keller Sermon Archive. New York City: Redeemer Presbyterian Church.


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