When the Lord saw that Leah was unloved, He opened her womb. (Genesis 29:31 HCSB)
How often in times of trouble, has God seemed indifferent to your pain? Yet, He is keenly aware of your distress, and He works not only to bring you relief, but also to lift you above the mundane circumstances that constrain your life. As we read about God’s dealings with the women in the Bible, we gain an insight into this aspect of His character.
Leah had one goal in life – to be loved by her husband Jacob. In her time, there were few roles for women in society outside their homes. She could not leave her household to serve the poor and suffering, or find a fulfilling job to fill her hours. Unlike Anna at the temple, who spent all her widowed life, praying and waiting for the promised Messiah, her world was constrained by the tents of Jacob.
Within those tents, Leah was handed the cup of rejection. Jacob did not love her. When he set eyes on her, he did not see her need to be loved and appreciated; rather he was reminded of her father, the deceitful Laban, who had tricked him into marrying her. Leah knew nothing about God and had no one to turn to. Her parents, probably, reckoned that she had no reason to complain as she was well provided for. Her loneliness and her tears went unnoticed by those nearest to her.
Jacob was not, at that stage, the godly man he later became; but he may have mentioned his grandfather and father – Abraham and Isaac – and their close walk with God. In moments of desperation, she may have called out to this unknown God. Or perhaps she did not even know enough to do that.
Yet, God saw her silent misery –
‘Leah conceived, gave birth to a son, and named him Reuben, for she said, “The Lord has seen my affliction; surely my husband will love me now.”’ (Genesis 29:32 HCSB)
Leah now had a baby, but not the happy family life that she craved. Jacob was delighted with his son (Genesis 49:3 ESV), but he had no time for Leah, who went on to bear two more boys, each time hoping that her fortune would turn.
‘She conceived again, gave birth to a son, and said, “The Lord heard that I am unloved and has given me this son… She conceived again… and said, “At last, my husband will become attached to me…”’ (Genesis 29:33-34 HCSB)
Each time the happiness of bringing another child into the world would be followed by crushing disappointment and sense of failure. Her love for Jacob remained unrequited. But, during each confinement and labour, she became slightly more aware of Another – the Faithful One who saw her pain and stood with her. The One who was happy to love her. How little she had cared for this God!
Pregnant for a fourth time, things finally took a different turn. God wrought a change – not in Jacob, but in Leah. He turned her eyes away from her immediate circumstances – as the unloved wife of Jacob – to see her true identity as His well-loved daughter. Leah’s exclamation of joy tells us of this profound transformation.
‘And she conceived again, gave birth to a son, and said, “This time I will praise the Lord.”’ (Genesis 29:35 HCSB)
Quietly, Leah appraised her life and her situation. The dusty tents of Jacob did not determine the boundaries of her destiny. Her calling came from above and her place was decided by heaven. God Himself had chosen her to be a builder of the house of Israel – a mother of the patriarchs. The scheming of her father Laban and the neglect by her husband Jacob were merely incidental in the fulfilment of her appointed role.
“May the Lord make the woman who is entering your house like Rachel and Leah, who together built the house of Israel…”(Ruth 4:11 HSCB)
Future generations of Israelites would recall Leah’s role in their history, and in their blessing for new brides, remember God’s faithfulness to her. She had, indeed, become a happy woman, not on account of the hand life had dealt her, but because of what God had worked in her character.
“Father, how often in times of distress, I have forgotten to acknowledge You and to give You praise. I only sought relief from my troubles and had no time for You. How fickle I have been! But You are so faithful – You have never forgotten or abandoned me. Today, I bring You my offering of praise and thanksgiving as You work on my character. You are so good to me and I bless Your holy name.”