This weekend my church had a guest pastor named Jerome Gay who totally knocked it out of the park with a fresh approach to the character of Leah. He preached on the topic of identity, and offered a reading of Genesis 29 that has some powerful implications for women today.
I don’t know about you, but I’d honestly never given Leah that much thought. She was the ugly, lazy-eyed sister of beautiful Rachel, so unlovable that her father had to trick a man into marrying her. Let’s be honest–I would MUCH rather relate to Rachel. Not Leah. Like the characters in the story, I ignored Leah as the unpopular, undesirable character in the story that I didn’t wanna think too much about.
Well as it turns out, that’s exactly why I SHOULD relate to Leah. Like many women in our world today, Leah was a woman who had been rejected by the most important people in her life: her father, her sister, and her husband. And like most women today, she spent a lot of effort trying to find someone to accept her. Sadly, her efforts were sorely misplaced.
Leah’s first attempt at finding acceptance was in a husband. Unfortunately he wanted a different wife almost immediately. Yes, Jacob had been working towards marrying Rachel all along, but don’t miss the lesson here. Neither Jacob nor Leah would be the last couple to be dissatisfied with their marriage. Throughout the history of humankind, people have gotten married to their own “Rachel,” only to wake up one morning and realize she’s a “Leah.”
Spouses disappoint. They do not satisfy that need for wholeness and acceptance.
So Leah moved on to something new: children. Yet again, the parallels with today’s women are unmistakeable! Many women who are dissatisfied with their marriage will start having kids to fill the void. They know their children will love them them and validate them, and that’s exactly what Leah was seeking after. She named her first Reuben, which means, ” Behold a son.” As Pastor Gray pointed out, this name is symbolic of the many ways we try to validate our identities through production. Some women feel validated by the ability to have children. Others feel validated by their career. Whatever the outlet, we think our value comes from what we contribute or produce.
Inevitably, this mode of acceptance fails us when someone out-produces us or we fail to produce what we want. It’s no longer garnering us the attention we crave. Production does not satisfy, so we look elsewhere.
In Leah’s case, she had another son named Simeon, which means “heard.” Pastor Gray noted that Simeon’s name is symbolic of a second way we seek validation: Recognition. At this point in the story, Rachel is barren but Leah clearly is not. With the birth of Reuben Leah was probably thinking, “Now I’ll get noticed! Look how many sons I’m giving Jacob. Now I will finally be recognized as the good wife that I am.”
But Jacob didn’t notice. He still loved Rachel the best. So Leah kept on searching.
Her next son was named Levi which means “joined to.” Pastor Gray pointed out the significance of sociality to one’s identity–many of us feel validated by how many relationships we have in our lives. That’s what Leah was hoping for. Her husband had rejected her over and over, so she kept having children to compensate.
But no son ever satisfied. No son ever filled the void that had been left by her father and husband. Every time she attained her promised savior, it slipped through her fingers. Proverbs 23:5 describes this frustrating cycle, warning us not to toil after those worldly idols: “When your eyes light on it, it is gone, for suddenly it sprouts wings, flying like an eagle toward heaven.” I love that imagery because that’s exactly how we feel! We can never quite hold onto that perfection we seek.
Leah had trapped herself in an endless cycle. Every time she thought she’d found the answer, it let her down. Every time she thought she’d been blessed with a solution, it escaped her. Ironically, each one of these blessings was actually a message from God. “Behold a son” was a message about God’s provision. “Heard” was a reminder that God was listening. “Joined to” was a statement about God’s faithfulness to her. Each time God was proclaiming His love, and each time Leah missed the message. Instead of looking up, she looked around.
Little did she know that women would continue to follow her example for ages to come. God gives us a boyfriend or a husband and we grab onto it like a life-preserver, instead of looking to the ultimate Life-saver. God gives us a child and we hover over it, as if the world now revolves around our child instead of Him. God gives us a wonderful job and we spend all our energy on it at the expense of service to Him. Time and time again God is trying to get our attention with His goodness, but we mistake the message. Will we ever get it right?
Fortunately, Leah does. In verse 35 she bears Judah, a name meaning “praise.” Finally, Leah has stopped looking at the gift and is now looking at the Giver. Finally she is stepping out of the destruction of her own making and seeking the only One who can truly make her whole. No more searching. No more striving. No more disappointment.
Leah’s example offers us all a challenge. Will we set our hopes and dreams on the things that will simply sprout wings and fly away, or will we choose God? This question is at the heart of women’s ministry as women constantly choose any and every option other than God. But when will the madness end? How long will you allow yourself to be stuck in the cycle? When will you wake up and recognize that all along, it was all about Him?