This verse seems to raise a variety of opinions in its meaning, but when you look at all the pieces together it all points one direction: God favored Leah. We have to remember that just because a person favors one over another doesn’t mean GOD favors them too. Case in point: Isaac favored Esau over Jacob (Genesis 25:28), but we know that Jacob was God’s choice.
So let’s consider some of the evidence available beginning with Genesis 29:17 (ESV):
Leah’s eyes were weak, but Rachel was beautiful in form and appearance.
Some of the ways the Blue Letter Bible defines this word tender, the Hebrew word rak (H7401), are: “tender, soft, delicate, weak.” When we look at the other contexts this word is used in, they are NOT negative. They speak to gentleness and tenderness, soft-heartedness – again, none of these in a negative context. It turns out being “tender eyed” is actually an idiom that means a gentle, loving and caring person; which completely makes sense given the meaning and implied meanings based on context of usage,
According to the book of Jubilee, Leah was attractive too. Here’s how the sisters were described:
Leah’s eyes were weak, but her form was very handsome; but Rachel had beautiful eyes and a beautiful and very handsome form.
Further, according to the book of Jasher, Leah and Rachel were twins just like Esau and Jacob were twins. And according to the Talmud, there was a saying that inferred the two sets of twins would marry one another, but when Leah discovered what kind of man Esau was (he was described as wicked), she cried so much because she wanted to marry Jacob (he was described as wholesome) that her eyelashes fell out. This also would explain why she didn’t say anything to him to tip him off as he was marrying the sister he didn’t choose.
Let me ask you – especially you ladies – do you look as lovely when your all decked out to go out as when you’ve been crying for hours? No way! Just to make this point I’ve added an image of a woman when she woke up vs. when she was made up (thank you Life in Kuwait blog) – this doesn’t even take tears into account, but it helps prove the point nonetheless. 🙂
So for all we know, the girls could’ve even been identical twins and STILL had a dramatic difference in appearance (if they were identical twins, it would also make more sense how Jacob could marry the wrong one). Keep in mind these are near relatives to Sarah who was still so beautiful in old age that Abraham was passing her off as his sister rather than his wife so he wouldn’t be killed by a king wanting her for himself (Genesis 20:1-18)!
Ok so all of this seems to point to the fact that Leah was attractive and a sweet person, but not necessarily favored by God, so let’s consider a few more points:
- 6 of Jacob’s 12 sons came from Leah
- King David is descended from Leah
- The Messiah is descended from Leah
I’ve always wondered why with Rachel being the chosen/loved wife that Jesus is not descended from her. These pieces coming together this morning were like a puzzle clicking into place.
It’s clear as we continue in chapter 29 that God’s heart is for Leah, but her heart is for her husband. Lets continue looking in Genesis 29 (VOICE).
31 When the Eternal One saw how Leah was unloved, He made her fertile…
32 …Because the Eternal One has been compassionate to me in my painful predicament, allowing me to bear this child, surely now my husband will love me.
33 …she conceived again…Because the Eternal One has heard I am unloved…
34 …she conceived for the third time…Surely now my husband will be more attached to me…
35 …she conceived…This time I will praise the Eternal One!
Leah’s reaction to her first three sons all correspond to her husband and his lack of affection for her, but with her fourth son we see a shift: her heart is turned toward the Lord. And God seems to underscore this response by pausing after Judah is born. And it’s no accident that David and the Messiah both come from Judah!
I have more thoughts on Jacob and his wives, but I’m going to do another blog post (you can find it here: Human Mess (Genesis 30)). 🙂 I think the key points here have been made and all point to God’s favor. We know God is responsible for Leah’s fertility because when Rachel complains to Jacob about her infertility in chapter 30, Jacob responds by saying, “Am I God? He’s the One responsible for you not getting pregnant, not me!”
So because Jacob wanted what HE wanted rather than the heart of the one God favored, he ended up dealing with a lot of strife because of his wives. This also though should encourage us because it’s a reminder that God can work through us even when we (possibly) don’t get it all exactly right or when our personal preferences override (perhaps) our willingness to follow His direction. This feels like a permissible vs. beneficial thing. He is bigger than we know! We can trust His will to be accomplished in and through us as long as we are willing. Thankfully we don’t have to be perfect, just willing. 🙂
Thanks to Chaim Bentorah Ministries for the great article that gave me some great insights on this topic I’ve spent many years pondering. 🙂
Additional thoughts (4 February 2017)
As I was reading Genesis 31 today, it occurred to me that additional fodder for why Leah could be considered God’s choice potentially could be found here in the story of Rachel stealing the household gods.
The reasons for why she stole them isn’t completely clear so it isn’t conclusive evidence, but rather more food for thought. First off was the fact she stole at all (and then lied about it). Would God be ok with stealing and lying because we’re talking about idols which are sin also? Not for me to judge, but perhaps the motivation behind why she stole them may be the most provocative.
Two of the theories as to why she stole them speak to her belief in them, which would clearly be displeasing to God. First is the possibility that she saw the fortune surrounding their home as being attributed to the household gods rather than to the favor YHVH bestowed on Jacob, and wanting to keep that good fortune, she took them with her when they left.
The other theory was a concern the household gods would cause harm to them in recourse to them causing “harm” to Laban by leaving, which ascribes power to them and shows a lack of belief in YHVH’s ability to protect His children, which clearly is displeasing and shows a lack of faith (and understanding in who He is).
Another theory, which could be viewed either neurally or even as a discounting YHVH’s ability to provide (depending on how you look at it), is that it appears there were rules surrounding inheritance of an adopted son, which Jacob may have been viewed as. Rather than get into all that I’ll simply link to Moshe Greenburg’s paper on this topic so you can read for yourself if you’re interested. But essentially, in this case Rachel would’ve taken the gods as proof of Jacob’s entitlement.
In the end, most of these potential “whys” don’t paint a favorable picture of Rachel and could support the theory that tender-hearted Leah was God’s choice and favored one. We can’t know this for certain given the lack of full details, but the evidence makes an interesting argument! Definitely worth pondering 🙂