Tag Archives: leah

Grief through the eyes of Rachel

October is Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month. So in honor of that, I want to highlight some of the women in the Bible who experienced grief and loss, particularly surrounding children or family.

Last week, I talked about Leah, so I thought it was only fair to talk about Rachel’s grief this week. I don’t know what kind of relationship the two sisters had before being married to Jacob, but it turns into a bit of a train wreck afterwards.

Rachel’s relationship with Jacob started in a much more romantic, much less problematic way. She meets Jacob at a well, he cries and kisses her when meets her. After a month, he bargains for her in exchange for seven years of labor for her father. And then things take a solid turn for the worse.

We all know where Leah was that first night of the wedding party, but I wonder where Rachel was. For seven years, Jacob was wooing her and then Leah takes her place when the wedding day finally comes. As with Leah, I think Rachel was grieving the seemingly lost chance at love. That is, until Jacob signs up for another seven years of labor to ensure that she is his.

But still, even though marrying more than one wife was pretty common at the time, I doubt Rachel had in mind to share her husband with her older sister. Then, when Leah starts having children, she doesn’t. And her grief is recorded. Even though she is loved more, she blames Jacob for her infertility.

When Rachel saw that she was not bearing Jacob any children, she became jealous of her sister. So she said to Jacob, “Give me children, or I’ll die!”

Genesis 30:1

She becomes obsessed with finding her place in this family. She uses her maidservant to produce two sons, both of which are named to reflect the competition she feels with her sister. Then, when she hears that Leah’s oldest son has found a mandrake root (which was supposed to help with conception), she bargains with the one card she has, Jacob. Eventually, she gives birth to Joseph and immediately asks for another son.

But there is more to the story of Rachel than just her ability to have sons. After she gives birth to Joseph, Jacob packs up her family and leaves after an altercation with Laban. Both Leah and Rachel agree that it is time to go, but it still must have been hard to leave. In fact, Rachel takes her father’s household idols (which was more than just a religious artifact in that culture, whoever had the idols would inherit the family’s fortune). She is crafty and quick on her feet when Laban pursues them and investigates. She hides the idols underneath her seat and claims she cannot get up because she is on her period. He never finds them.

They leave on good terms with her father, and when Jacob reaches his brother, they reconcile as well. Jacob continues on to settle in a place called Ephrath (which is called Bethlehem), but on the way Rachel dies giving birth to Benjamin. She doesn’t get to see her sons grow up. She is buried on the way to Bethlehem, not with Jacob in the family tomb, but her tomb is honored as a place in 1 Samuel 10.

Rachel was an incredibile woman, beautiful and smart and honored by her husband. She competed with her sister, left her homeland, and died giving life to a son that would represent a tribe that includes people like King Saul and the Apostle Paul. She was loved by God. And she is a great reminder that while our life might not look the way we think it should, God is working in the details to bring about his great legacy.

Grief through the eyes of Leah

October is Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month. So in honor of that, I want to highlight some of the women in the Bible who experienced grief and loss, particularly surrounding children or family.

When I think about the women of infertility, I am drawn to Leah and her sister Rachel (don’t worry, Rachel will be later this month). Growing up, I thought Rachel got the short end of the stick. Now as an adult who has experienced my own griefs and now sees the world is a little more complicated, I see how much Leah was hurting.

When Jacob shows up in Paddan Aram, he is running from his brother who wants to kill him, but also so that he will find a wife. He meets Rachel first at the well and it is love at first sight. After a month of highly probable googly eyes, he makes the proposition to Laban that he will work for seven years in return for Rachel.

And here is where Leah enters the story. She isn’t just the older sister who probably had to endure the puppy love Jacob had for Rachel, but she is mentioned to have weak eyes, or delicate eyes. Maybe she was nearsighted, maybe she had a lazy eye, not really sure, but the main fact remains that Rachel was more beautiful.

Seven years pass and Laban throws Jacob a party to honor the union of Jacob and his daughter. But not the daughter Jacob had in mind.

But when evening came, he took his daughter Leah and brought her to Jacob, and Jacob made love to her.

Genesis 29:23

I thought it was Leah that had the weak eyes. After seven years, Jacob couldn’t tell the difference between the two sisters? How dark was it, and how drunk was he? Also, you have to admit, it kind of feels like he had it coming considering this is a very familiar to the trick Jacob played on his father.

When Jacob wakes up in the morning, and sees Leah there and not Rachel, he confronts Laban. Laban explains a loophole that the older daughter has to be married first. But if Jacob agrees to another seven years, then after this bridal week for Leah, Jacob can have Rachel as well.

This brings up three things. First, Leah has been on the sidelines with no prospects for seven years. Second, Jacob finished the bridal week, which means he continued to consummate this loveless marriage with Leah for a full week. And third, Leah was only married to Jacob for one week before Rachel entered the picture. I don’t know if Leah had a say in this trick, but I do know that she was unwanted and unloved, a pawn used and thrown away by her own father.

But now she was married, and God seeing that unloved status, decides to give her honor among her society. While Rachel wasn’t able to conceive, Leah has four sons. And as she names those sons, she reveals her internal struggle. With Reuben, “The Lord has seen my misery.  Surely my husband will love me now.”  With Simeon, “Because the Lord heard that I am not loved, he gave me this one too.”  With Levi, “Now, at last, my husband will become attached to me because I have borne him three sons.  And with Judah, she stops hoping and says, “This time I will praise the Lord.”

And right there, right when her focus returns to the Lord, she enters a time of infertility. There is a false belief that if we just do everything the Lord asks of us, turn our face to him, that we will get everything we desire. For Leah, that is not the case. But that doesn’t meant that God wasn’t working in her life, walking with her in this new grief of infertility on top of the grief of be unwanted and unloved.

Rachel and Leah then use maidservants (much like Sarah did, but this time it doesn’t seem as controversial to God’s plan since these sons are also added to the tribes of Israel). But then there is this whole conversation about a mandrake root. Reuben finds it and gives it to his mother which brings me to another thought. Everyone knows. The only reason Reuben would have sought out and gotten this particular plant for his mother seems to be for the aphrodisiac qualities and conception qualities. Even her own son knew her infertility troubles, possibly even the love troubles.

But Rachel gets the root and Leah gets pregnant with two more sons and a daughter. The final two sons reflect an acknowledgement of God’s glory. Leah doesn’t stray in her walk with God, even through being unloved, infertile, and watched by those in her community. Her life never quite reached the level of her own expectation, but her legacy would go on to King David and Jesus Christ.

Maybe you grieve the life you thought you would have some day, but didn’t turn out how you thought it would. Maybe you feel like your grief is in a fishbowl, being watched by your community (maybe with a little added unsolicited advice or judgement). But like Leah, God sees you. He sees what you are going through. He sees all of the injustice and is willing to redeem you. But in all the distractions, all the missteps, all the changes to your path, the truth remains and can never be taken away. You are wanted. You are loved. You are worthy.