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God’s People, part 14: Leah

Read Genesis 29:1-30

When the LORD saw that Leah was unloved, he enabled her to have children, but Rachel could not conceive. (Genesis 29:31 NLT)

When we think of God’s people, we tend to think one of two things. We might think of the Israelites who were God’s “chosen people”, or we might think of specific characters in the Bible. Either way, we tend to idealize the people we are thinking about. For instance, we may think that God’s people are super faithful, holy, perform miracles and live wholly devout and righteous lives. Unfortunately, this idealism enables us to distance ourselves from being God’s people, because we feel that we fall short of those ideals. As such, I have decided to write a devotion series on specific characters in the Bible in order to show you how much these Biblical people are truly like us, and how much we are truly called to be God’s people.

leah-1200x800Part 14: Leah. Leah was the oldest daughter of the manipulative and coniving Laban. We do not know too much about her other than what has been written about her in the Bible.  The only description of her, to my knowledge, can be found in Genesis 29:17: “Leah was tender eyed; but Rachel was beautiful and well favoured” (KJV). It is hard to discern what is exactly meant by “tender eyed”, but the King James Version seems to get this translation right.

The Hebrew word for tender is רַךְ (pronounced rak) and means “tender” either literally or metaphorically. By implication, it can also mean “weak”. Thus, to say someone is “tender eyed” might mean that they have weak eyes, as opposed to soft/pleasant looking eyes. With that said, because it can be taken both literally and metaphorically, different translations have rendered it differently. Here are a few more renditions of Genesis 29:17: “Leah’s eyes were lovely, and Rachel was graceful and beautiful” (NRSV), or “And Leah’s eyes were weak, but Rachel was beautiful of form and face” (NASB), or “There was no sparkle in Leah’s eyes, but Rachel had a beautiful figure and a lovely face” (NLT).

Regardless of Leah’s eyes, and the meaning of that, what can be drawn from this is that the only thing she is being measured by is her outward appearance and/or, possibly, her abilities. The New Living Translation really drives home this by translating it to say that Leah had no sparkle in her eyes, “but Rachel had a beautiful figure and a lovely face.” So what does this imply, that Leah was ugly?

This is the problem with English translations, honestly. It is clear that Rachel is being described as beautiful; however, the text does not necessarily call Leah ugly; yet, I have seen some scholars and/or pastors interpret the text to mean just that. Sadly, however, even if it is wrong to categorize Leah as ugly, it is fitting with her lot in life that she is mischaracterized that way. After all, she seems hardly wanted by her father, who uses her like a pawn piece on a chess board, and she seems hardly wanted by Jacob. Ugly or not, Leah was unloved.

Whatever the case may be, Leah does end up married to Jacob as a result of her going along with her father’s deceitful plan (as if she had a choice). God blesses her marriage to Jacob and she bears him six male children, who go on to become the leaders of half of the tribes of Israel. She also has a daughter named Dinah. Her father may not have wanted her, and Jacob may not have wanted her, but God wanted her because God created her. Leah would go down as one of the two mothers of the Israelites! What’s more, she was the first to bear Jacob’s children as Rachel, according to the narrative, was unable to conceive. According to Genesis 29:31, Leah’s ability to conceive was a blessing God gave to her as a result of her being unloved.

The question for you is this: have you ever felt unwanted or unloved? Have you ever felt like you were being used and abused? Have you ever been mischaracterized as “weak”, or “soft”, or even as ugly? I used to get called “fatso” and “tub of lard” when I was a kid, even though I was anything but fat. That was scarring and it tainted my self-esteem and my body-image. Yet, God loved me and has shown me that, despite those scars, I am beautiful.

God doesn’t create ugly! God creates beauty! Bullies beware: God loves the unloved! Whether you have suffered such labels, or you have labeled others in such ways, know that God always stands with the oppressed. The oppressors will meet their maker in the end, as we all do, but the oppressed are are given liberation and the blessing of the Kingdom of God as their inheritance.

Beauty is not defined in the eye of the beholder, but by the love of our Creator.

Lord, help me to see beauty in everything and to love people so that no one around me goes unloved. Amen.