Leah and Rachel were sisters. Even though Leah was the firstborn, we almost always hear her mentioned last. Usually we hear them referred to as Rachel and Leah, not the other way around. Probably it is because we tend to think of Rachel as being a very virtuous woman. Let’s take a look at both sisters and you judge for yourself if that is true or not.
The Bible tells us that Rachel was very beautiful while Leah was tender eyed. “Leah was tender eyed; but Rachel was beautiful and well favoured” (Gen 29:17). Was Rachel so exceptionally beautiful that no one paid much attention to Leah’s beauty?
What is meant by tender-eyed in relation to Leah? Was her eyesight weak? Could Leah have worn glasses by today’s standards? According to the dictionary the word “tender” can mean a number of things: delicate, weak or feeble; compassionate, gentle or mild. The Bible does not give an explanation.
We may believe that it had nothing to do with her eyesight but instead with her personality. Leah was very compassionate and had a delicate spirit. She was easily hurt, but she never let anyone know it. Even though she was the elder of the two sisters, Rachel received all the attention. Yet, we can believe that Leah was not the jealous type. Let’s look at the two sisters and see what we’ll discover.
We can only imagine the beauty of Rachel. The Bible says in Genesis 29:20,“And Jacob served seven years for Rachel; and they seemed unto him but a few days, for the love he had for her.” Here was a man who was so taken with the looks of this girl that he was willing to be a servant of her household for seven years in order to have her as his wife. He only saw what was on the outside. The world has a saying, “beauty is only skin deep.” The Bible puts it this way in 1 Samuel 16:7, “But the LORD said unto Samuel, Look not on his countenance, or on the height of his stature; because I have refused him: for the LORD seeth not as man seeth; for man looketh on the outward appearance, but the LORD looketh on the heart.” Jacob would have been wise to look at Rachel’s heart and not at her face.
Jacob, whose name means “deceiver”, was deceived himself. He fell for Rachel’s looks but knew nothing of her personality until after they were married.
Jacob didn’t take the time to learn the tradition of the people. It was customary for the eldest daughter to be married first before any of her sisters could be married. And then they were usually married in order of their birth. Jacob should have worked for Leah in the first place and he would have saved himself a lot of trouble down the road.
To his surprise, Jacob worked for Rachel but he was given Leah instead. The Bible records this in Genesis 29:25-29, “And it came to pass, that in the morning, behold, it was Leah: and he said to Laban, What is this thou hast done unto me? Did not I serve with thee for Rachel? Wherefore then hast thou beguiled me? And Laban said, It must not be so done in our country, to give the younger before the firstborn. Fulfill her week, and we will give thee this also for the service which thou shalt serve with me yet seven other years. And Jacob did so, and fulfilled her week: and he gave him Rachel his daughter to wife also.”
God’s Favor vs. Man’s favor
Jacob showed favouritism in dealing with the two sisters. “And he went in also unto Rachel, and he loved also Rachel more than Leah, and served with him yet seven other years” (Gen 29:30). Can you imagine how Leah must have felt? All of her life since she was born her sister Rachel got all the attention. When Leah marries and thinks she has found some happiness of her own, she finds out that her husband prefers her sister instead. So, she not only has to share her husband but continue to take second place to her sister for the rest of her life.
But God is merciful to her and intervenes on Leah’s behalf. “And when the LORD saw that Leah was hated, he opened her womb: but Rachel was barren”. And Leah conceived, and bare a son, and she called his name Reuben: for she said, Surely the LORD hath looked upon my affliction; now therefore my husband will love me. And she conceived again, and bare a son; and said, Because the LORD hath heard that I was hated, he hath therefore given me this son also: and she called his name Simeon. And she conceived again, and bare a son; and said, Now this time will my husband be joined unto me, because I have born him three sons: therefore was his name called Levi. And she conceived again, and bare a son: and she said, Now will I praise the LORD: therefore she called his name Judah; and left bearing” (Gen 29:31-35).
That’s a minimum of at least 4 years that she bore children for her husband and she still did not feel that she had his love. How sad that must have been for her. Yet we never read anywhere that she complained. She continued to love her husband despite his feelings toward her.
Jealousy and Selfishness
Rachel on the other hand starts to show her true nature. She becomes jealousof her sister. This is Rachel’s first sin. ”And when Rachel saw that she bare Jacob no children, Rachel envied her sister; and said unto Jacob, Give me children, or else I die. And Jacob’s anger was kindled against Rachel: and he said, Am I in God’s stead, who hath withheld from thee the fruit of the womb?”(Gen 30:1-2). We have already learned in our study of Sarah how much of a reproach to a woman it was to be barren. And Rachel did not want to be outdone by her sister.
So Rachel makes the same mistake that Sarah made. Like Sarah, Rachel gives her husband her handmaid to have children by her. Rachel’s next sin is “playing” at being God.
“And she said, Behold my maid Bilhah, go in unto her; and she shall bear upon my knees, that I may also have children by her. And she gave him Bilhah her handmaid to wife: and Jacob went in unto her. And Bilhah conceived, and bare Jacob a son. And Rachel said, God hath judged me, and hath also heard my voice, and hath given me a son: therefore she called his name Dan”
She now adds a third sin; selfishness. “And Reuben went in the days of wheat harvest, and found mandrakes in the field, and brought them unto his mother Leah. Then Rachel said to Leah, Give me, I pray thee, of thy son’s mandrakes”(Gen 30:14).
Rachel wants only what is best for her. She does not care about anybody else or is interested in their feelings, even those of her own sister or husband.
“And she said unto her, Is it a small matter that thou hast taken my husband? and wouldest thou take away my son’s mandrakes also? And Rachel said, Therefore he shall lie with thee tonight for thy son’s mandrakes. And Jacob came out of the field in the evening, and Leah went out to meet him, and said, Thou must come in unto me; for surely I have hired thee with my son’s mandrakes. And he lay with her that night. And God hearkened unto Leah, and she conceived, and bare Jacob the fifth son. And Leah said, God hath given me my hire, because I have given my maiden to my husband: and she called his name Issachar. And Leah conceived again, and bare Jacob the sixth son. And Leah said, God hath endued me with a good dowry; now will my husband dwell with me, because I have born him six sons: and she called his name Zebulun. And afterwards she bare a daughter, and called her name Dinah” (Gen 30:15-21).
After six sons and one daughter, Leah is still looking for real heartfelt love from Jacob. What devotion and faithfulness Leah had toward her husband!
Meanwhile, God finally gave Rachel a son. “And God remembered Rachel, and God hearkened to her, and opened her womb. And she conceived, and bare a son; and said, God hath taken away my reproach: And she called his name Joseph; and said, The LORD shall add to me another son” (Gen 30:22-24).
For a while, after Joseph was born, Rachel finally stopped whining and complaining and concentrated her efforts on raising her child. But it is not long before we see her in action again.
Consider her sins of stealing and lying. When Jacob took his family back to the land of his birth, Rachel takes her father’s idols. “And Laban went to shear his sheep: and Rachel had stolen the images that were her father’s” (Gen 31:19).1 In the book of Jasher (Jasher 31:40, 44) it specifies that she stole the images because she didn’t want her father to know, through them, where Jacob and the family were going. Instead of relying on Jacob’s God, she took matters into her own hands.3
“Now Rachel had taken the images, and put them in the camel’s furniture, and sat upon them. And Laban searched all the tent, but found them not. And she said to her father, Let it not displease my lord that I cannot rise up before thee; for the custom of women is upon me. And he searched, but found not the images” (Gen 31:34-35). She lies to her own father about what she did.
Jacob was not entirely blind to Rachel’s faults. Look at what he said when she pestered him about not having children. “And when Rachel saw that she bare Jacob no children, Rachel envied her sister; and said unto Jacob, Give me children, or else I die. And Jacob’s anger was kindled against Rachel: and he said, Am I in God’s stead, who hath withheld from thee the fruit of the womb?”(Gen 30:1-2).
Yet when Leah bargained with her sister over the mandrakes and told Jacob about it, he did not rebuke her. “And Jacob came out of the field in the evening, and Leah went out to meet him, and said, Thou must come in unto me; for surely I have hired thee with my son’s mandrakes. And he lay with her that night”
The mandrakes take on a new meaning in this story because it shows other characteristics of Rachel that are not pleasing to the Lord.3
The mandrake has to do with false beliefs, superstitions, and witchcraft. It is still used in the same manner today. The mandrake root is still sold all around the world, including this country; And for the same reasons that Rachel wanted the mandrakes from Leah. The mandrakes second name is “Love Apple”. The mandrake plant was, and still is, believed to be an Aphrodisiac, (induces or causes one to desire sex) when properly prepared as a “love potion”.2
It was the belief that the mandrakes would cause, through magical properties, the fertility and conception of a child for Rachel, that’s what caused Rachel to ask for the mandrakes. Leah tells Rachel that since she stole Leah’s husband, Jacob, that she couldn’t have the magical fruit that would cause Rachel to have the child that Rachel wanted so badly.2
Rachel then offers to pay a price for them that she knows Leah wants, for she believes that if she has Jacob eat of them that she will become pregnant. Leah then agrees to sell her the mandrakes and accepts the price offered, of Leah having one night of love making with Jacob.2
The mandrake root is still sold in America from several companies in both chopped and powdered form. It is listed in many magical formulas and witchcraft potions.2
Both the root and fruit has a substance which produces Hallucinations, including altered perception of time and space and of the color, detail, and size of objects; also the experience of imaginary conversations, music odors, tastes, and other sensations.2
The Bible shows us the foolishness of believing in and relying on superstitions and magic. Rachel did not become pregnant. On the contrary, Leah conceived that night with Jacob and bore his fifth son, Issachar.3
Honor of Burial
When Rachel died after the birth of Benjamin, they were travelling from Bethel and nearing Ephrath and Jacob buried her there. “And they journeyed from Bethel; and there was but a little way to come to Ephrath: and Rachel travailed, and she had hard labour. And it came to pass, when she was in hard labour, that the midwife said unto her, Fear not; thou shalt have this son also. And it came to pass, as her soul was in departing, (for she died) that she called his name Benoni: but his father called him Benjamin. And Rachel died, and was buried in the way to Ephrath, which is Bethlehem. And Jacob set a pillar upon her grave: that is the pillar of Rachel’s grave unto this day” (Gen 35:16-20).
But when Leah died he buried her with his grandparents and his parents. At long last Jacob showed his love for Leah. “And he charged them, and said unto them, I am to be gathered unto my people: bury me with my fathers in the cave that is in the field of Ephron the Hittite, In the cave that is in the field of Machpelah, which is before Mamre, in the land of Canaan, which Abraham bought with the field of Ephron the Hittite for a possession of a burying place. There they buried Abraham and Sarah his wife; there they buried Isaac and Rebekah his wife; and there I buried Leah” (Gen 49:29-31).1 He recognized the importance of his first marriage to Leah and honored her by burying her with the patriarchs.3
Leah certainly was more congenial than Rachel. She was more devoted to her husband than her sister was. Rachel seemed to only care about herself. Rachel was a bitter, jealous, deceitful and conniving woman all her life. She was a child that never grew up. Leah was hated but loved her husband anyway. She knew that she could not compete with her sister with her looks so she just took care of Jacob like a good wife should. She was more mature than her sister. God always blesses someone who is humble and someone who is faithful; Leah was both. She may not have been very attractive but her heart was right with God and with her husband. Rachel died young but Leah lived a long life.
Even though Leah grew up with idolatry, she must have known about God. Her actions towards her husband showed how a Christian woman should act. On the other hand, Rachel tried every trick in the book to get her way in any situation.3
God blessed Leah in that two of her sons were important in Jewish history. From Levi came the priestly line and from Judah came the Messianic line.
Examples of God’s Promises – Three Cycles God takes us through in response to receiving God’s promises made in faith.
Leah is included in the promise that was given to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. But instead of Jacob trusting God for his future, he lusts with his eyes and gets himself in a heap of trouble. Not, only, does he suffer the consequence but so does his family. He marries two women that begin the battle of the “sisters”.
God loves all His children and He will give justice when is deserved. Leah kept steadfast and was a good wife and mother. She tried to do the best she could with the ability the Lord gave her. Because of this, the Lord blessed her abundantly.
In Summary, we could be like Rachel, who has all the beauty and fancies of the outside appearance, or we can be like Leah, who not much of an attractive woman, but knows the importance of living God’s way. When we follow God and allow Him to lead, guide, and protect us, we are assured that God will do everything in His power to get us through our trials and tribulation, build our faith, and bring us into the next level in our lives. When we look back, we can surely say, “That was the hand of God.”