God’s compassion for Leah

A sermon shared at St Andrew’s Chapel, Centre for Ministry, North Parramatta
Paul Simpson, Candidate for Ministry, Uniting Church in Australia
July 30, 2014

Jacob Marries Leah and Rachel Genesis 29:14b-31

After Jacob had stayed with him for a whole month, 15 Laban said to him, “Just because you are a relative of mine, should you work for me for nothing? Tell me what your wages should be.”16 Now Laban had two daughters; the name of the older was Leah, and the name of the younger was Rachel. 17 Leah had weak eyes, but Rachel had a lovely figure and was beautiful. 18 Jacob was in love with Rachel and said, “I’ll work for you seven years in return for your younger daughter Rachel.”19 Laban said, “It’s better that I give her to you than to some other man. Stay here with me.” 20 So Jacob served seven years to get Rachel, but they seemed like only a few days to him because of his love for her.21 Then Jacob said to Laban, “Give me my wife. My time is completed, and I want to make love to her.”22 So Laban brought together all the people of the place and gave a feast. 23 But when evening came, he took his daughter Leah and brought her to Jacob, and Jacob made love to her. 24 And Laban gave his servant Zilpah to his daughter as her attendant.25 When morning came, there was Leah! So Jacob said to Laban, “What is this you have done to me? I served you for Rachel, didn’t I? Why have you deceived me?”26 Laban replied, “It is not our custom here to give the younger daughter in marriage before the older one. 27 Finish this daughter’s bridal week; then we will give you the younger one also, in return for another seven years of work.”
28 And Jacob did so. He finished the week with Leah, and then Laban gave him his daughter Rachel to be his wife. 29 Laban gave his servant Bilhah to his daughter Rachel as her attendant. 30 Jacob made love to Rachel also, and his love for Rachel was greater than his love for Leah. And he worked for Laban another seven years.
31 When the LORD saw that Leah was not loved, he opened her womb, but Rachel was barren.

Has anyone here ever felt rejected? Like at school when you’re picking the football team, you all line you up on the wall and you pick one by one, until there is only one person left. Have you ever been that one person? The rejection… Man it’s a horrible thing! We used to do this exact thing at school and I was never last but I got close. It’s a pretty horrible experience isn’t it! Some of those memories of rejection can stick with us for many years. Or maybe when you’re in high school and that girl or boy you like – you ask them out on a date but they shut you down. The emotional scars…

This story in Gen 29 I think is a story about rejection and justice. Justice served for Jacob and rejection of Leah.

Now Jacob. Man he’s a bit of a shifty character isn’t he! It’s always the way in the Old Testament narratives. The hero of the story is often hard to love. The more you find out about them the less you like them. Jacob for me fits into that category. Jacobs name means “grasper”, because he was grasping at his brothers heals at birth. Yet he grasps also for his brother’s birthright – the blessing and the inheritance. His name predicts his future, grasper by name and nature.

Jacob after taking the blessing form Esau flees because he fears Esau wants to kill him. He ends up working for Laban. Laban says “Name your price – you can’t work for free”. Jacob had an eye for one of his daughters.

17 Leah had weak eyes, but Rachel had a lovely figure and was beautiful. 18 Jacob was in love with Rachel and said, “I’ll work for you seven years in return for your younger daughter Rachel.”

And again this theme of the younger inheriting over the older is revisited – a theme in Jacob’s life. The younger daughter usurps the older. It is Leah’s right to be married first. Jacob wants to usurp her rights and take Rachel to be married first, just as he usurped the birth right of Esau. Jacob once again grasps at something that is not his to take, the younger daughter over the older.

But it doesn’t work so well for Jacob.

22 So Laban brought together all the people of the place and gave a feast. 23 But when evening came, he took his daughter Leah and brought her to Jacob, and Jacob made love to her. 24 And Laban gave his servant Zilpah to his daughter as her attendant.

The old switcheroo – the oldest trick in the book. We have all been there, married someone, woke up to someone else. No? What Jacob has done to his brother, is now being done to him. The con-man becomes the conned. Can’t say I have much sympathy for Jacob in this situation.

But the marriage had been consummated, there was no going back. The deed has been done, even Jacob doesn’t try to get out of it, and Leah is now his. Just like it was for Isaac after realising he had given his blessing to the wrong son – he couldn’t take it back.

So Jacob realises what is done is done. I heard in Las Vegas you can get a morning annulment deal with a free breakfast after having a wild night and making some questionable marital decisions. But there are no breakfast annulments in the ancient near east.

Both daughters lose out in this story. Rachel is robbed of her chance to have a wedding week. Leah is married to a man that doesn’t love her.

Jacob then takes Rachel as his second wife and then works for another 7 years for Laban.

30 Jacob made love to Rachel also, and his love for Rachel was greater than his love for Leah. And he worked for Laban another seven years.
31 When the LORD saw that Leah was not loved, he opened her womb, but Rachel was barren.

People can be manipulated but love cannot. Jacob took Leah as his wife but for Leah, marriage and love were two different things. As they say, two is company three is a crowd and Leah is that 3rd wheel in her own marriage. Leah is married not for love but as part of a con played against her husband. Perhaps she was a constant reminder to Jacob of how he was tricked, a thorn in his side that would not go away, reminding him of his greatest humiliation. Jacob always wanting to break the rules for his own benefit, gets a taste of his own medicine.

This story is the fulfilment of God’s promise to Jacob. The promise God made to Abraham passed down to Isaac and now Jacob. For this to be fulfilled Jacob needs offspring. Now he has two wives, one of which is blessed with fertility and has many sons.

But it says more to us than just this.

Because I believe the story of Leah speaks into the life of the church today.

Because in the story of Leah we see the God of the Old Testament elevate the status of an unloved woman, and bring justice for the rejected.

This is a story about the loved and the unloved, and a God who cares about the difference.

Richard Dawkins in his Book “the God Delusion” talks about the Old Testament God as a tribal warrior God that takes land and destroys those not in his tribe. And this is a common perception of the Old Testament God in our society today – a god who savages the enemy and smites all who disobey.

Yet here we see God’s real tenderness to his people. Leah was safe, was in a marriage, had a roof over her head and food in the belly. Yet God’s concern is for her heart, the emotional turmoil of being in a loveless marriage. God has a heart for her pain, as trivial as it might be in the grand scheme of things. But of course this was not trivial to Leah, a disempowered woman, bound to a man that did not love her and who was forced to take her.

Our God feels her sorrow. Here we see a tender God, a God that empathises with an unloved woman. Maybe God can empathise because his bride, Israel, constantly rejects him, makes him feel unloved.

The God of the Old Testament is not just a tribal warrior God, but the revelation we have here is multi layered – a God of texture and depth. We see a God that will wipe out the pagan peoples of the Promised Land, alongside a God that cares for an unloved woman.

What we see is a God that cares for our pain – that empathises with the sorrows of life.

In the Lectionary the reading stops at verse 30, which I find very interesting. I think you have to read to verse 31, to introduce the narrative of God’s redemption of Leah. Because as I read the story I felt like stopping at verse 30 leaves out one of the most important themes of the narrative – the story of God’s empowering of Leah, giving her children, status and power in her marriage.

Leah is subject to the oppression of the patriarchal society, rejected and duped into a marriage where she is not wanted and in our readings we edit out this part of the story.

Don’t we too reject Leah by cutting her story out of the lectionary readings, focusing just on Jacob, the patriarch, the male, focusing on his hardships, ignoring Leah’s. The lectionary jumps from this story to Jacob wrestling with God. In doing so the lectionary silences the plight of Leah.

Are we not treating her voice the same way Laban and Jacob did? The passages we leave out, I think, say more about us than the ones we leave in. When we silence the voices of the women in the Bible we are silencing the revelation of God to us in the lives of these women. And we see a lopsided view of God, only as warrior and punisher not as carer and redeemer.

Because what we see in the life of Leah is Justice for the Rejected.

Later in the narrative, Rachel dies during child birth, but Leah lives on. And at the time of Jacob’s death, it is Leah that is buried with Jacob. At the same place that Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebecca lay, as do Jacob and his wife, Leah.

One commentator said:
“Rachel slept with him in life, but Leah sleeps with him in death. Leah the rejected, becomes chosen and honoured.”

Our God raises the rejected, lifts up the lowly.

Our God is not a God of the rich and powerful and smart and impressive, but a God that cares for the disempowered.

This is a truth that we need to remember in our ministries – to be vigilant for the rejected amongst us that we might find them justice as God did for Leah.

The Uniting Church in Australia leads the way when it comes to women in ministry but there are still time when our practices silence the voice of women. We are a young church but we come from very long traditions and sometimes those traditions have given us bad habits. So there is still work to be done, reclaiming the voice of women in our bible reading and our church practices. When we do justice to those rejected voices, we will be a better church for it.

AMEN

3 Comments on “God’s compassion for Leah

  1. What a great message you have given us from this story. It really helped me understand the whole story from a different perspective. I loved your comment about God caring for the disempowered, not just the smart and impressive.

    Thank

    Lynne Waller
    Mudgee Congregation

  2. Macquarie Darling
    Presbytery in the Central west, are really beginning to bring the voice of women back into the church by using our resource training , and the gift of women’s ministry. I thoroughly enjoye this message and wish our candidate the very best in his ministry for our Lord.

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