December is a story time of year.
Mostly about a baby, a star, and those who came to see the prophecies of history fulfilled.
But recently, I read a story, not about three wise men, but about three people in a love triangle. Jacob, Leah, and Rachel.
You may know the story, but here’s a recap: Jacob, the son of Isaac, grandson of Abraham, sets out on a long camel ride to find a wife. He also happens to be outrunning the murderous rage of his brother, Esau, after stealing Esau’s inheritance.
“Jacob” is a word for “deceiver” in Hebrew. So far, Jacob is living up to his name.
When he arrives at his kinsman’s home, Jacob agrees to work for the man. He sees the man’s younger daughter, Rachel, and immediately falls in love and wants to marry her. He has also seen Rachel’s older sister, Leah, and, for whatever reason, he is not interested.
The girls’ father, Laban, agrees to allow Jacob to marry Rachel if he will work for him for seven years. So Jacob does, and seven years pass. The wedding day arrives.
But–and this is where it gets tricky–on the wedding night and unbeknownst to Jacob, Laban somehow substitutes Leah in Rachel’s place as the bride.
Jacob discovers the switch in the morning when the sun comes up.
After pondering this one for some years, I have decided it does not pay to ask many questions here. There are only sordid and potentially embarrassing answers for everyone involved. I’m planning to ask God to explain how this is all completely edifying when I get to Heaven. Leaving it at that for now.
But, the point is, Laban deceived Jacob.
Jacob goes to Laban, understandably angry, and says “What is this you have done to me? Why have you deceived me?”
Laban says to Jacob, like it all makes perfect sense, “Oh. It’s not our custom to marry the younger daughter first, so I gave you Leah. Wait a week, and you can marry Rachel, too, if you will work for me another seven years.”
So, without feeling like he has much choice, Jacob agrees.
For years I heard this story taught as a morality tale of sowing deception and reaping deception.
Jacob deceived Esau and stole his birthright–scandalous! How dare he! And so, he got what he deserved when Laban deceived him with Leah for a bride, instead of the woman he loved.
Leah, the weak-eyed, unmarriageable, older daughter. Leah, given as some kind of cosmic punishment to Jacob the Deceiver.
I’ve always felt a kind of camaraderie with Leah. Whatever “weak-eyed” means in scripture, some scholars have suggested that she was cross eyed with poor vision.
I was a cross eyed kid.
I have worn glasses since I was four, and I had two surgeries as a child to correct my eyes. But over the years, if I forgot a contact, or if I’m very tired, one eye might drift a little at times. I don’t know if anyone else notices, but I do.
I remember being at a family reunion and seeing an older cousin with the same crossed eyes. She was tall and slender, very fashionably dressed in a tailored yellow top and a green pencil skirt. Her hair was thick and dark and wavy, and she wore spectacular red cateye glasses with little jewels on the frames.
But her standout feature was, unfortunately, those extreme crossed eyes.
It’s so hard to know where to look when someone has an eye off, how to know which eye is looking at you. And your own eyes dart back and forth, trying to find the active eye, like a Poe novel come to life.
I can say that, because I am sometimes that girl with the wandering eye. And, for the record, I can tell you, just pick one. They are both working fine, most likely.
Just pick one.
I’ve always kind of felt for Leah, this weak-eyed woman. Handed around like property, an unloved wife, accused as a man-stealer for the rest of time.
In the story, God brings sons from Leah and Rachel. He uses this strange setup to fulfill the prophecies over Abraham, that his descendants would be as numerous as the stars. From these women come twelve sons, the twelve tribes of Israel.
And these sons, the majority of them come, not from Rachel, but from Leah. At that time, children were considered proof that a wife was a good one, that she was pleasing to God Himself.
The sons were a vindication.
Reading this story today, I went back with the same old perspective. Jacob the deceiver meets his match in his sneaky old uncle, Laban, and gets stuck with this unbeautiful, unlovable bride.
For a minute I wondered if Laban had had faith that God would provide a husband for Leah, could she have married someone who loved her? And Rachel and Jacob, could they have had their fairy tale?
And then, I was arrested by this thought.
God did it.
As wacky and sad as it seems for one minute, God did it just like that.
It hit me. If Jacob got two wives for his “punishment,” that’s a strange punishment indeed, especially for that time. Leah was no punishment.
Leah was Jacob’s double blessing.
Leah was abundance.
Jacob comes out of this deal with two wives instead of one. In the context of the time, God Is blessing Jacob in spite of his failure, not punishing him for it. Aside from the inherent blessing of companionship, wives were a sign of wealth. And a source of sons. The more wives, the more sons. And more sons and more wives meant increased standing in the community.
Jacob did not get what he “deserved,” some kind of Bride-from-Hell-Smackdown from On High. No.
Jacob got mercy. He got grace. He got a heavy portion, pressed down and running over. He got abundance for his sin, rather than devastation.
That’s more like the God I know.
And Leah had more retribution than just bringing forth many sons. Leah was not born to bring punishment. She was not born for another man or lineage. She was born for this one. She was born to fulfill a prophecy and give birth to nations. And to a saviour.
You may remember this part of the story, too. Leah’s fourth son was called “I will praise the Lord,” or “Judah.”
Judah, through many generations, brings forth Jesus Christ.
And Rachel has her sons, too. Both women were exactly where they needed to be. The great Joseph comes from Rachel, a man who saved Israel in Egypt, a man who foreshadows the coming of his even greater cousin, Jesus.
Jesus, the Lion of the Tribe of Judah.
Leah the Weak, through God’s grace, becomes Leah the Lioness.
The mother of a lion.
The mother of The Lion.
God loves to use the weak to bring forth strength.
There are many women like this in the lineage of Christ. Tamar, the seductress. Bathsheba, the exhibitionist. Rahab, the prostitute.
Women despised by their culture. But redeemed and honored by time and by scripture.
Sometimes we do not always see our vindication, our reparations. We don’t always get to see the full fruit of our labors.
But these things are coming. Our sacrifice is not wasted. Our efforts are not in vain. Our pain and tears and weakness do not go unseen. And they do not go unredeemed.
Leah, Rachel, Jacob, Laban. Small figures in an epic tale. A huge plan that spans millennia to bring love to all mankind in the form of one tiny child.
One little lion. In a manger. Leah’s son, and Rahab’s, and Bathsheba’s, and Tamar’s.
The unspeakable beauty of a God who takes a thing that the world calls weak and ugly to bring forth the greatest miracle.
The beauty of a God who might even sometimes ask us to endure some embarrassment or inconvenience–after all, what is a lazy eye in the scheme of things?
He might sometimes ask us to lay down our pride and our ease for something greater. For the ones that come after.
Leah was willing.
Jesus Christ was willing.
And I am thankful.
Thankful for eyes to see this Christmas.
Thankful for His coming and His sacrifice and His strength in our weakness, in my weakness. So thankful.
But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. 2Cor12:9