Sometimes a woman of faith can feel unloved by her husband. Leah, the wife of Jacob, experienced this; but God heard her prayers and saw her plight.
Leah’s story starts in Genesis 29. Jacob’s uncle, Laban, had two daughters. Leah, the eldest, had eyes that were “delicate.” Rachel, with whom Jacob fell in love, was Laban’s younger daughter; and she “was beautiful of form and appearance” (Genesis 29:16-17).
Jacob made an agreement to serve Laban seven years for the opportunity to marry Rachel. At the end of the seven years, there was a marriage feast, with its usual eating and drinking. Laban deceptively gave Leah, instead of Rachel, to Jacob.
When this switch was discovered by Jacob in the morning, he demanded of his father-in-law, “What is this you have done to me? Was it not for Rachel that I served you? Why then have you deceived me?” (Genesis 29:25).
Laban responded that it was not the custom to give the younger daughter away in marriage before the older daughter. He told Jacob to fulfill Leah’s week of marriage festivities, and then he could have Rachel for his wife as well. However, in order to have Rachel for his wife, Jacob had to give Laban seven more years of service (Genesis 29:26-27).
After Jacob celebrated his marriage with Leah for one week, he then also took Rachel as his wife, and we’re told about a very important dynamic in this marriage in verse 30: “Then Jacob also went in to Rachel, and he also loved Rachel more than Leah.”
Laban thought he had succeeded in making a good bargain in these deals, but what impact did all this have on Leah? She was now the wife of Jacob, a man who had not desired her nor expected her to be his wife. Jacob had been in love with her younger sister Rachel all along!
Imagine how that must have felt to Leah to have her husband for one week and then have him snatched away by her younger sister! Leah knew that she was the unloved wife. Sometimes women suffer from feeling unloved. Sometimes they are victims of unhappy marriages through no fault of their own.
But God was aware of this unfortunate situation, and He had compassion on Leah. “When the LORD saw that Leah was unloved, He opened her womb; but Rachel was barren” (Genesis 29:31). Leah was not overlooked or unloved by God. God rewarded her with children, which was a highly important honor for a wife in those days. The names that Leah subsequently chose for her sons demonstrated that she had faith, trust and hope in God.
“So Leah conceived and bore a son and she called his name Reuben [meaning ‘See, a Son’]; for she said, ‘The LORD has surely looked on my affliction. Now therefore, my husband will love me’” (Genesis 29:32).
God does look upon the affliction and suffering of women who have faith in Him. Leah hoped that her husband would now love her, for she had borne him his firstborn son. She believed that Jacob would no longer ignore her.
God blessed Leah again: “Then she conceived again and bore a son, and said, ‘Because the LORD has heard that I am unloved, He has therefore given me this son also.’ And she called his name Simeon” (meaning “Heard,” Genesis 29:33). Leah had faith that God heard her plight of being unloved and had given her this son as well. Leah was still the only mother of Jacob’s children.
In verse 34, Leah “conceived again and bore a son, and said, ‘Now this time my husband will become attached to me, because I have borne him three sons.’ Therefore his name was called Levi” (meaning “Attached”). Leah was hoping that by now, having three sons, Jacob would be even more attached to her. Leah also knew that God was helping her.
“And she conceived again and bore a son, and said, ‘Now I will praise the LORD.’ Therefore she called his name Judah. Then she stopped bearing” (Genesis 29:35).
Leah was so joyful to God for this fourth son that she named him “Praise.” One should always praise God for blessings. Leah gave God the credit for her happiness and joy by praising the Lord. This tells us a lot about the mental state of Leah at this time. Things had changed for the better for Leah!
Leah bestowed this wonderful name of “Praise” on her son Judah, and it became a name of prophetic blessing to him. At the end of Jacob’s life, notice the blessing he pronounced upon Judah: “You are he whom your brothers shall praise. Your hand shall be on the neck of your enemies; your father’s children shall bow down before you” (Genesis 49:8). Jacob’s blessing of Judah was inspired of the Holy Spirit and was a prophecy by God.
A royal scepter of kingship was to be established in Judah’s family line, to the praise of God. Jacob’s blessing on his son Judah continued in Genesis 49:10: “The scepter shall not depart from Judah, nor a lawgiver from between his feet, until Shiloh comes, and to Him shall be the obedience of the people.”
King David was of the tribe of Judah, and he praised the Lord. From his line came our Lord and King, Jesus Christ, whom all on the earth will worship with praise!
Leah stopped bearing children for a time, and Rachel had not yet borne any children; so the two sisters presented their maids, Bilhah and Zilpah, to Jacob, and from the maids more sons were born to Jacob.
Afterwards, Leah bore a fifth son, named Issachar, meaning “Wages.” What is interesting to note is that prior to her conception of Issachar, she had prayed to God, and God heard her prayers (Genesis 30:17-18). Leah also conceived again and bore Jacob a sixth son, Zebulun, meaning “Dwelling” (verse 20).
Leah now had borne six of Jacob’s 12 sons, and she made the following statement in Genesis 30:20, in which she gave God the credit and glory: “God has endowed me with good endowment; now my husband will dwell with me, because I have borne him six sons.”
The word for “endowment” in this passage implies a “gift” or “dowry.” Leah knew that God had bestowed on her a substantial gift or dowry in giving her six sons. Leah also bore a daughter named Dinah.
It was after God had finished filling up Leah’s life with children that “God remembered Rachel, and God listened to her and opened her womb” (Genesis 30:22). The timing was significant. Jacob’s growing family, with Leah’s numerous children, had brought joy to Leah and humbled Rachel.
Now God answered Rachel’s request, and when Rachel bore her firstborn son, Joseph, Rachel said, “God has taken away my reproach” (Genesis 30:23). Joseph means “He Will Add,” for Rachel believed, “The LORD shall add to me another son” (verse 24). And Rachel was right; she would yet have one more son, whom Jacob would call Benjamin.
Did the rift between the sisters ever become healed? The Bible doesn’t say. But when Jacob wanted to leave Laban, both Rachel and Leah answered Jacob together in unison, indicating that they thought alike about their father Laban and about Jacob’s plan to leave:
“Is there still any portion or inheritance for us in our father’s house? Are we not considered strangers by him? For he has sold us, and also completely consumed our money. For all these riches which God has taken from our father are really ours and our children’s; now then, whatever God has said to you, do it” (Genesis 31:14-16).
Lessons from Leah’s life
What can we learn from Leah’s story? For one, a well-known blessing, which all Israel knew, was later pronounced upon Ruth: “The LORD make the woman who is coming to your house like Rachel and Leah, the two who built the house of Israel” (Ruth 4:11).
Leah and Rachel (and their maids) did indeed build the house of Israel—12 sons and a daughter! God can work His will in spite of human imperfections, motives and emotions. Rachel and Leah had imperfections, as all men and women do. But in spite of those, God used them to build the house of Israel.
We can also learn a lesson from Leah’s faith in God and from her trials. God is the giver of all good gifts, and Leah always gave credit to God and God’s providence. When she felt alone and unloved, she prayed and trusted in God, and God was there to help. She held on to hope and saw that God was blessing her. God was faithful in giving her an endowment of children—an inheritance. Leah’s husband, Jacob, did indeed dwell with Leah—in the land that the children of Israel would inherit.
As an epilogue to this story, how did Leah’s life turn out in the end? After Rachel’s death, Leah carried on as the wife of Jacob, and the mother of his many children, living in Canaan. The Bible does not say when she died, but Leah is buried in the cave of Machpelah, along with her husband Jacob (Genesis 49:29-31).
In the family tomb are her husband’s father and mother, Isaac and Rebekah; and her husband’s grandfather and grandmother, Abraham and Sarah. Leah will awaken in a resurrection to life in the future and will find out how many children she truly has!
God will hear our prayers and will intervene for us. Leah, the wife of Jacob, understood that, and we need to have faith similar to that of Leah.
For further examples of women of faith, please read the other articles in this section on the “Women of Faith.”