Prologue: Leah had one week alone with her new husband. Was it filled with stress and anger, tears and rejection? Did she regret her part in the subterfuge? Were there any pleasant moments at all? Here the Bible is silent, leaving readers to their own pondering of these tragic events. It does say, unequivocally, Jacob loved Rachel, and she entered his tent a week later, thereby pushing Leah aside.
Though Leah lived in the constant comparison to her beautiful sister, she was not hidden from God’s eyes. He saw her suffering and gave her the one thing Rachel did not have—a fertile womb.
Names from the heart
The declarations she made after the birth of her first four sons speak to the depth of her heartache and anguish:
- Reuben: “The Lord has surely looked on my affliction. Now therefore, my husband will love me.”
- Simeon: “Because the Lord has heard that I am unloved, He has therefore given me this son also.”
- Levi: “Now this time my husband will become attached to me, because I have borne him three sons.”
- Judah: “Now I will praise the Lord.”
Leah’s last comment indicates the point when she accepted a miserable situation for what it was, and turned her eyes to God.
Or else I die!
Meanwhile Rachel’s envy raged. Why was she barren? How can Leah be so fruitful? “Give me children, or else I die,” she cried to Jacob, to which he retorted, “Am I in the place of God, who has withheld from you the fruit of the womb?”
Driven to desperate measures, Rachel seized on a remedy for her obsession. She gave her handmaid Bilhah to Jacob as a secondary wife, knowing that any child resulting from that union was legally hers. With no recorded resistance to the idea, Jacob soon fathered two sons. Her declarations after each birth give glimpses into the workings of her mind:
- Dan: “God has judged my case, and He has also heard my voice and given me a son.”
- Naphatali: “With great wrestlings I have wrestled with my sister, and indeed I have prevailed.”
Leah’s unrequited yearning for Jacob’s love resulted in a sort of “tit for tat”: she gave her handmaid Zilpah secondary wife status. Zilpah also bore two sons. Listen to Leah’s exaltation as she named each son:
- Gad: “A troop comes!”
- Asher: “I am happy, for the daughters will call me blessed.”
A precious find
The final round in the fight for status and affection began when Leah’s Reuben happened upon the ultimate weapon—mandrakes, long thought a fertility aid. Rachel learned of the precious find and proceeded to bargain in way that is difficult to fathom: Jacob would spend the night in Leah’s tent in exchange for the coveted aphrodisiac.
Jacob fulfilled his part of the negotiations and Leah produced two more sons. Her words express her undying hope for his love:
- Issachar: “God has given me my wages, because I have given my maid to my husband.”
- Zebulun: “God has endowed me with a good endowment; now my husband will dwell with me, because I have borne him six sons.”
At long last
Scripture records, “Then God remembered Rachel, and God listened to her, and opened her womb.” She bore Jacob these sons:
- Joseph (Finally, she could say, “God has taken away my reproach.”)
- Benjamin (Some years later, as Rachel was dying in childbirth, she named this son BenOni, son of my sorrow. Jacob renamed him Benjamin, son of the right hand.)
(The account of Leah and Rachel is found in Genesis 28-35.)
Part 3 will tie up some loose ends.