The Bible has a remarkable story about a woman named Leah who discovered that finding true love was difficult. Leah was the daughter of a wealthy and manipulative man named Laban. Leah also had a sister named Rachel, one of the most beautiful women in the whole region. Leah was described as, “weak in the eyes.” We do not know exactly what that phrase means, but it is not hard to guess. Even without the side-by-side comparison to her beautiful sister, Leah was not drawing much attention.
One day, Rachel was herding the sheep when a young man named Jacob came to the well. His journey’s purpose was to find a wife, so it did not take him long to notice beautiful Rachel approaching. He rolled away from the stone over the well and watered the sheep for her. Learning he was her father’s nephew, she ran home to tell Laban the news. Already head-over-heels in love, or call it love-at-first-sight if you wish, Jacob stayed on with Laban. When asked what his wages should be, he immediately asked to marry Rachel. Laban made Jacob an offer. “Work for me, seven years without pay, then I will give you my daughter.”
“What makes love so hard, and sometimes painful, is the vulnerability that always seems to accompany it.”
It is starting to sound like a romantic story for the ages! Jacob was so madly in love that he did not hesitate. Seven years he worked, every day focused on his prize. One day he would finally be able to marry the woman of his dreams, Rachel. The Bible records the event with all of the poetry we would expect from a great love story. “Jacob served seven years for Rachel, and they seemed to him but a few days because of the love he had for her.”
After seven years of labor, the wedding day finally arrived. The party must have been massive. When night came, Jacob and his new bride, probably wearing her wedding veil, went into their tent.
The next morning Jacob awoke, the Bible says, “and behold it was Leah!” Jacob had been tricked. Laban had switched his daughters on the wedding night and tricked Jacob into marrying his oldest, Leah. Why? Laban wanted another seven years of free labor before he would allow Jacob to actually marry Rachel. Still madly in love with Rachel, Jacob agrees and works another seven years to marry this younger daughter.
We like the image of Jacob! He was willing to submit himself to over a decade of manual labor as an act of love for Rachel whom he considered to be his soulmate. Like a great Shakespearian tragedy, we want desperately to find that kind of love, too. We want to know that someone would make such a sacrifice for us. This expression of love is the deepest craving of our hearts. But allowing ourselves to be quickly carried off in the ecstasy of the moment misses the real heart of the story for Leah.
Leah had never been able to draw much attention. She had always been a hopeless romantic. But now things were much worse. Leah was married to a man who never for a moment loved her, and manipulated by a father as payment for help around the farm. Leah was not loved by her husband, nor even her father. She was used and discarded. When she was most vulnerable she was rejected.
“Each of us wants to find a way to open up our hearts and lives and know that in that moment of honesty we will be accepted and not rejected.”
What happened next is subtle, but important for us to understand our own struggle with love and rejection. In Leah’s first century world, women cared deeply about building a family, especially having sons, to which they could pass on their family name. A father’s proudest moment was the birth of his first son. Soon after being married, Jacob wanted a son. Leah saw an opportunity! If she could be the first to give Jacob a son, surely then he would love and appreciate her. Leah must have been excited to find out she was pregnant, and even more excited when she gave birth to the family’s first son, Reuben.
Leah believed in her heart that God had blessed her with this son so that now her husband would finally love her. But nothing changed. Leah gave birth to a second son, she named him Simeon.
Again she believed God had seen her rejection. Now, surely her husband would love her. But nothing changed. Leah had a third son, who she named Levi. She honestly hoped that now her husband would care for her and love her. But again, nothing changed.
Leah’s story teaches us that finding true love is difficult. True love goes beyond the passion of romance and even finding a partner for the sake of being married. While romance and having our needs met for provision and security are important, there is more that we must discover.