Love the Leahs and Rachels in your Life: A sermon on Genesis 29

By the Rev. Anna Doherty

Today’s first lesson from Genesis could be described as one of the great romances of the Bible.

We don’t get the full story in today’s reading, so just in case you need a refresher…

Jacob has just tricked his blind and dying father Isaac into giving Jacob his blessing, instead of Jacob’s older brother Esau.

Jacob disguises himself as Esau at his father’s bedside, and poor Isaac, who cannot see, thinks he is giving the older son his blessing, when instead he blesses the younger.

Fearing that his brother Esau will kill him in revenge, Jacob flees to his uncle Laban, who lives in Haran.

When Jacob arrives in Haran, he sees his cousin Rachel at the well, and falls head over heels in love with her.

The bible says that when he saw her, Jacob kissed Rachel and wept.

It is love at first sight, a great romance.

By the time we get to today’s reading, Laban promises Jacob, that if Jacob works for him for seven years, Jacob can marry Rachel.

And we all know how that turns out.

The morning after the wedding, it is Leah, Rachel’s older sister, who Jacob turns out to have married!

Jacob must work another seven years, before can marry Rachel, the woman who he loves.

I’ve often wondered how Leah felt about all of this.

Leah must have been in on the deception somehow; after all, she is the one who takes Rachel’s place at the wedding.

But how hard it must have been for Leah to be the wife that Jacob didn’t really want, the one he finds it difficult to love.

What is a great romance for one pair is a difficult relationship for another.

All we know about Leah is that, as today’s reading says, she had lovely eyes.

The Hebrew word for “lovely” can also mean “tender” or “weak”, so she may have had beautiful eyes, or she may have had an eye complaint, we do not know.

We do know, that in the end, Leah bears Jacob six sons and a daughter.

When Jacob is reunited, years later, with his brother Esau, Leah and her children are one of the first ones presented.

Leah is recognized respectfully and publicly, as a valuable part of the family.

But how much, in the end, does Jacob learn to love Leah?

And what does all this mean for us, Jacob’s marital mix-up, his two wives, the woman he loves and the woman he finds it difficult to love?

We all have people in our life who we love dearly, the Rachels in our life.

These are the people who we enjoy being with, the ones who mean the world to us, the ones for whom we would gladly give anything.

Just as seven years of labor seems like a few days to Jacob, because of his love for Rachel, these are the people who inspire us to generosity and greatness of spirit.

We give thanks to God for our Rachels; they are blessings indeed.

And then we have people in our lives who we find it more difficult to love, the Leahs.

They might be hard to love for many different reasons.

Maybe they disappoint us, they are not the people we want them to be or think they could be.

The morning after the wedding, the woman Jacob had hoped was Rachel, was someone completely different in Leah.

No doubt, Jacob was disappointed!

Maybe we find our Leahs difficult to love, because they show us things about ourselves that we would rather not see.

Ironically, just as Jacob deceived his father Isaac—tricking his father into thinking he is the older son…

So Leah deceives Jacob—tricking him into thinking that she is the younger sister.

In Leah, Jacob gets a taste of his own medicine.

He sees firsthand what it means to be on the receiving end of deception.

Leah holds a mirror up to Jacob’s own bad behavior—and it can be difficult to love people who do that.

Now, it is important to note that we are talking about loving our Leahs, not our Labans.

Our Leahs are the people for whom it is difficult, but not impossible, to learn to love.

We’re not talking about people who have physically harmed us, who hurt us in ways that really damage.

We’re talking about the difficult people, not damaging ones.

The thing about Leah is, even if she is difficult to love, she is still worthy of love.

And learning to love her, even when it is hard, can help us to grow as human beings.

Leah shows Jacob some of the hard truths about his own life.

Leah shows Jacob his own tendency towards trickery, to be overcome with desire, to be easily dismissive and disappointed in people.

It’s difficult to love people who tell us, or reveal to us, who show us our own flaws, but when we learn to love them, ironically, they make us better.

Interestingly, we can see some of what is to be learned from Leah, in how she names her children.

Her own legacy of the difficult love she and Jacob share.

All of Leah’s children are named for how she learns to love and how others learn to love her.

The name of her oldest son Reuben, means “Behold a Son”, praising God for what God can do through and with even the people who are difficult to love.

Leah’s second son, who is conceived after Leah has been on the receiving end of her sister Rachel’s jealousy, is named Simeon, which means “Hearing”.

God hears Leah’s cry because of Rachel’s hatred, but it is also through hearing and listening to each other that hatred can be overcome.

And we can learn to love even the difficult people.

Leah’s third son is named Levi, which means “joined”, in response, perhaps, to the fact that Jacob and Leah are learning to love each other.

Her fourth son, Judah, means “Praise.”

Praise for what God can do, when we learn to love the Leahs in our life.

It is worth noting that Rachel’s two sons with Jacob, Joseph and Benjamin, save a nation.

Joseph saves his family from famine in Egypt, but it is through Joseph’s legacy, unfortunately, that the Hebrew people also become slaves in Egypt.

Just because we have people in our lives who it is easy to love, it does not mean that our lives will always be easy.

And in those times, perhaps it is the love that comes with more difficulty, which gives us the stability to see us through the hard times as well as the easy ones.

How much, in the end, does Jacob love Leah?

It is worth noting, that, at the time of her death, Leah is buried with honor in Jacob’s family tomb in Hebron.

She is numbered among his ancestors, the beloved dead.

In the end, Jacob learns to love Leah.

And Leah’s children with Jacob, are the descendents of the house of David.

Leah’s son Judah is an ancestor of David, and Scripture even alludes to this,

when King David is described also, like his great-great-great, ever so great grandmother Leah, as having lovely eyes.

And the House of David, as we know, is the ancestry of Jesus Christ, our Messiah.

Leah, the one whom it is difficult to love, is Jesus’ ever so great grandmother.

Through Leah comes the redemption, and the saving, not just of a nation, but of all humanity.

Ironically, it is through learning to love Leah that we have Jesus, the greatest symbol of what it means to be loved.

Loved by God.

So, learn to love the Leahs in your life, along with the Rachels.

Our lives will be richer for it.

Love is love, and even when it comes with difficulty, it comes from God.

For God loves all of us, the Rachels and the Leahs alike.