Now Laban had two daughters; the name of the older was Leah, and the name of the younger was Rachel. Leah had weak eyes, but Rachel had a lovely figure and was beautiful. Jacob was in love with Rachel and said, “I’ll work for you seven years in return for your younger daughter Rachel.”
Laban said, “It’s better that I give her to you than to some other man. Stay here with me.” So Jacob served seven years to get Rachel, but they seemed like only a few days to him because of his love for her.
-Genesis 29:16-20 (NIV)
|Rachel and Leah, by Abel Pain|
It’s a painful thing to be not wanted.
It’s something we start to experience at a young age. If you’ve ever been the last one chosen for a team, or if you’ve been the kid the other kids didn’t want to play with, you know what it feels like. Romantic rejection is such a part of the landscape of our lives as teenagers and young adults that every popular song, every movie, every standup comic in every comedy club in every city and town deals with it. We even have a TV franchise, The Bachelor and all its spinoffs, to allow us to feel better about our own rejections by watching others get rejected.
Of course, every time someone gets a job or a promotion, someone else doesn’t. Every time someone gets into a prestigious university, someone else goes to their fallback school. Husbands reject wives and vice versa. Engagements end. Even in families and churches, sadly, people find themselves rejected.
You’ve probably suffered rejection a time or two in your life. Maybe you’re feeling its sting right now. If so, then you need to be introduced — or re-introduced — to Leah.
Leah was the first wife of Jacob, but he didn’t want her to be. He had it bad for her younger sister, Rachel, who “had a lovely figure and was beautiful.” Leah — well, it’s hard to know what to make of Leah’s description. Literally, the text says she had “weak” or “soft” eyes, but we don’t really know what that means. Probably, that Leah had pretty eyes. Nice enough but, up against Rachel’s description, it sort of feels like a backhanded compliment, something similar to “she has a good personality.”
So Jacob was really, really into Rachel. Rachel’s and Leah’s father, Laban, agreed to marry Rachel off to him. But the morning after the marriage celebration, Jacob wakes up, looks over, and finds that it’s Leah in bed with him. When he asks, understandably, for an explanation — after all, he’s worked for his new father-in-law for free for seven years to earn the privilege of marrying Rachel — Laban brushes him off by saying, “Around here, we don’t marry off the younger sister before the older.” Laban arranged it this way, you see. A heavily-veiled bride, a rowdy celebration, some wine, a darkened bedroom — presto-chango, Jacob is married to the other sister.
Laban suggests that, if Jacob still wants Rachel, he could work another seven years — and Laban will even marry her off to him in advance. Good arrangement for Laban. For Jacob, at least the situation is resolved.
Not so good for Leah.
So, a week after being foisted off on Jacob — which doesn’t say a lot for her father’s confidence that she could find her own husband — she’s now a co-wife of Jacob with her younger sister. (If you get irritated with your younger sister borrowing your stuff or tagging along with you and your friends — umm, it could be worse.)
All of this is actually in the Bible, by the way. Genesis chapters 29 and 30. Next time you feel like watching The Bachelor, you might consider reading this story instead.
These events all kicks off what a Sunday school teacher of mine when I was a kid called “The Great Baby Race.” Leah leaps out ahead with a flurry of little ones. She names the first three Reuben, Simeon, and Levi. There’s some sadness, though: the text says that God had something to do with making Leah the early leader in the race because he “saw that Leah was not loved.”
That’s the first thing to take away from this story: rejection by other people — however much their acceptance might mean to you — is not the same as rejection by God. To be “not loved” by other people is in some way or another to be especially loved by God. He sees Leah’s pain and offers a sign of his grace and acceptance to her. He notices and cares when we feel rejected as well, and if we’re open to it maybe we’ll see the signs of his care in those moments.
Leah, admittedly, has some trouble with that. The names she chooses sound like the Hebrew words for look, hearing, and joined, and the explanations she gives all revolve around her hopes that God has seen and heard her rejection and that Jacob will love her and be joined to her because of these children. She’s harboring hope that maybe God’s plan for her will involve a husband who cares for her and dotes on her the way she sees Jacob doting on her little sister.
By the fourth son, though, look at the difference; she names him Judah — he will be praised — and explains her choice by saying, “This time I will praise the LORD.” It’s as though she finally accepts how things are, but also recognizes that she can still praise God even though her husband doesn’t love her and will never love her like he loves her sister, not even if she gives him a thousand sons.
Rejection by people, whoever they are, doesn’t negate the good God has done in your life. Sometimes we get stuck on winning the approval of that one person or those specific people who never gave it to us. We hope this accomplishment or that new circumstance will make it happen, finally. But maybe instead we should know that we can’t control whether or not people approve of us or reject us. At some point we have to come to the place where we can say, “I’ll praise the Lord. I’ll praise him for all the blessings he’s poured out on me, and I’ll stop looking for approval that might never come from someone who might not even be able to give it.”
One other thing. For this, you’ll have to go to the other end of your Bible. To the book of Matthew. Matthew begins his Gospel, his telling of the good news of Jesus, with these words:
This is the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah the son of David, the son of Abraham: Abraham was the father of Isaac, Isaac the father of Jacob, Jacob the father of Judah and his brothers…”
Look, Jacob had eight more sons, two of them through Rachel. But he brings the Messiah, the Savior, the one who embodies the good news of God’s love, grace, compassion, and redemption, into the world through one of Leah’s sons. I kind of think of that as a final nod of approval for Leah, the wife who wasn’t loved.
Maybe to you this story seems hopelessly tangled up in outdated notions of what makes a woman successful. I get that. But I hope you can see that, whether you’re a man or a woman and whatever the nature of the rejection you might be feeling, God doesn’t reject you. Look for the signs of his love and approval all around you. I hope you can let go of the need for that approval you’ve never received and thank him for his blessings — especially the gift of his Son, Jesus. And I hope you’ll let your imagination run away with you as you think about the amazing things he will do in your life and the lives of those touched by you, down through generations.
If you’ve ever been “not loved,” then be comforted in the deep and faithful love God has for you.