Daughters in the Bible: Leah and Rachel, Used by Their Father

Last year, we took a look at the lives of Leah and Rachel as mother’s and the wife of Jacob.  However, before marrying and having children, they were the daughters of Laban.  Even throughout the first part of their marriage with Jacob, their father continued as a prominent member in their life.

Leah and Rachel from Wikipedia

We do not know a lot about their relationship with their father, but there are a few clues when we search the scriptures.

“Women in the Ancient Middle East were born in a man’s world. During childhood and early adolescence, a woman “belonged” to her father and was under her authority. When a woman married she “belonged” to her husband.”   {Every Woman in the Bible}

In Genesis 29, Jacob is asking local shepherds if they know Laban.  They reply, “yes…and here comes his daughter Rachel with the sheep.” {v.6} “and Rachel came with her father’s sheep, for she was a shepherd.”  {v.9}

When we meet Rachel, it is as a shepherdess.  We discover that she is there with her father’s sheep.

Jacob met {and eventually married} Leah and Rachel

“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.”   {Genesis 29:16-17}

Scripture makes it clear that Rachel is beautiful.  She clearly took after her great-aunt, Sarah, and Aunt Rebekah and was a knock out.  Little is said about Leah, other than she has weak eyes.  There is much speculation about what this means and that this takes away from her beauty.  But, given the good looks in her family, Leah was probably beautiful also.  We learn that she definitely had a beautiful heart.

Jacob falls in love with Rachel and agrees to work seven years for her hand in marriage.  We are told that those years seemed like a day.  We know nothing about Leah and Jacob’s relationship before they are married.  Was she envious of her sister?

Jacob believed he married his Rachel in the wedding feast, but it was in fact Leah

I kept help but wonder and speculate that she secretly loved Jacob.  Maybe she saw his goodness and heart and the kindness and love with which he treated her sister.

“But when evening came, he took his daughter Leah and brought her to Jacob, and Jacob made love to her.  And Laban gave his servant Zilpah to his daughter as her attendant.”  {Genesis 29:23-24}

“It’s hard to imagine Leah obeying her father unless she thought she could make Jacob love her, and she wanted to try.”  {Every Woman in the Bible}

Jacob discovered he had married Leah the morning after their wedding ceremony

We all long for that fairy tale and happily ever after.  Although those terms did not exist at that time, that is exactly what Leah hoped for and what her heart longed after.  She hoped that in time Jacob would come to love her, as he did her sister.  She was willing to do whatever necessary to try and win his heart.

Laban replied, “It is not our custom here to give the younger daughter in marriage before the older one.  Finish this daughter’s bridal week; then we will give you the younger one also, in return for another seven years of work.”  {Genesis 29:26-27}

Leah “had little choice but to obey her father, Laban, in the matter” of marrying Jacob.  {Women of the New Testament}

Laban used the custom of the day to marry Leah to Jacob, before giving Rachel in

Jacob loved Rachel best

marriage.  Did he consider how Jacob or either daughter would feel?  To some extinct, both Leah and Rachel, had agree with the arrangements.  Leah to go through with the festivities and wedding night without revealing herself and Rachel to stay out of the way.

“Rachel’s day of happiness dissolved the moment Laban instructed her older sister, Leah, to disguise herself in Rachel’s wedding garments.”  {Women of the Bible}

One can imagine that Leah was apprehensive about the plan.  Would it work?  How would Jacob react?  Would he love her?

Leah and Rachel from Wikipedia

But, Rachel’s happiness was pierced.  Now she had to share her love with her sister.  Her and Jacob’s plans were thwarted by her father.

“Rachel felts undone, her blessing seized by stealth. Laban’s convoluted plan was still unfolding…So now the two sisters lived uneasily together, Leah’s sons a grating reminder that Rachel, the second wife, was cheated still.”  {Women of the New Testament}

The narrative then focuses on Jacob, Leah and Rachel until Chapter 31 when Jacob flees from Laban, who pursues him in anger.  These chapters are filled with the heartache of all three of them.  Leah at longing to be loved, as she provides Jacob with seven children.  She grows closer to God, but not her husband throughout this period.

“In her time a woman’s chief duty, purpose and worth were defined by childbearing.”  {Women of the Bible study Bible}

God blessed Leah with sons

Rachel in her struggle and jealousy to become a mother.  Even to the point that both women give Jacob their handmaidens, who also provide children for Jacob.

“It is curious to note that Rachel, who had captured the devotion that Leah so desired, was as jealous of Leah as Leah was of her!  Neither woman had all she wanted.”  {Women of the Bible study Bible}

“Knowing well that Jacob’s heart was too cramped a space to harbor both Rachel and Leah, he made Leah a mother, not once, but seven times, extending her influence in Jacob’s household.  With the birth of each child the unhappy Leah hoped to secure her husband’s affection.  But each time her disappointment grew.”

Rachel longed for a child, especially as Leah continued to have children

We fast forward to Chapter 31 when Jacob and his wives and children leave Laban.  About twenty-one years have passed.  Laban has been a constant {maybe even weekly—we know Jacob and his clan were gone for three days before Laban was aware} presence in their lives.  Has he continued to manipulate them?

We don’t know, but probably.  Jacob is eager to get away from him.  He has definitely cheated his son-in-law.

Before leaving, when Jacob tells his wives how their father cheated them they reply, “Then Rachel and Leah replied, “Do we still have any share in the inheritance of our father’s estate?  Does he not regard us as foreigners? Not only has he sold us, but he has used up what was paid for us.  Surely all the wealth that God took away from our father belongs to us and our children. So do whatever God has told you.””  {Genesis 31:14-16}

Jacob took his sons and wives and left

The daughter’s words show that there is no love lost.  Their father has hurt and betrayed them.  Clearly, they feel as if he sold them into marriage, as one would sell cattle at the market.  He has treated them as foreigners and “used up what was paid for us”.

The girls are willing to do what Jacob, on God’s advice, has suggested.

But, Rachel goes even a step further.

“When Laban had gone to shear his sheep, Rachel stole her father’s household gods.”   {Genesis 31:19}

Laban bid his daughters and grandchildren goodbye

“Having learned a trick or two from her crafty father, Rachel tucked the idols into a saddle and then sat on it.”  {Women of the New Testament}

Rachel is willing to leave, but also wants to get back at her father.  What’s more by taking her father’s idols, she is staking a claim on her inheritance in case things do not work out wherever they are going.

Laban is angry and ready to kill whoever has the idol.  But in his pursuit, God appears to him in a dream and tells him not to say anything good or bad to Jacob.  {Genesis 31:24}

When Laban catches up with Jacob he says,” You didn’t even let me kiss my grandchildren

and my daughters goodbye. You have done a foolish thing.  I have the power to harm

Rachel dies, leaving Jacob with their son, Benjamin

you; but last night the God of your father said to me, ‘Be careful not to say anything to Jacob, either good or bad.’”   {Genesis 31:28-29}

Laban come upon Jacob and his entourage and begins to search for his missing idols.

“So Laban went into Jacob’s tent and into Leah’s tent and into the tent of the two female servants, but he found nothing. After he came out of Leah’s tent, he entered Rachel’s tent.  Now Rachel had taken the household gods and put them inside her camel’s saddle and was sitting on them. Laban searched through everything in the tent but found nothing. Rachel said to her father, “Don’t be angry, my lord, that I cannot stand up in your presence; I’m having my period.” So he searched but could not find the household gods.”   {Genesis 31:33-35}

Rachel comes up with a ploy to keep from being searched.  “We see in her a woman who is never able to rise above her own self-interest to find the joy of loving others.  Instead, her need to be affirmed consumed her.”  {Women of the Bible study Bible}

Leah was left to comfort Jacob when Rachel died and help raise her sister’s children

“Laban answered Jacob, “The women are my daughters, the children are my children, and the flocks are my flocks. All you see is mine. Yet what can I do today about these daughters of mine, or about the children they have borne?”   {Genesis 31:43}

 Early the next morning Laban kissed his grandchildren and his daughters and blessed them. Then he left and returned home.”  {Genesis 31:55}

Laban kisses his daughters and grandchildren goodbye.  He will never see them again.

As we know, Rachel dies in childbirth before the journey is over.

Leah becomes both the first and last wife.  We do not know if Jacob ever learned to love her or not, but he did ask to be buried with her, not his beloved Rachel, and his forefathers when he was dying.

“Perhaps Jacob eventually recognized Leah’s worth, her strong relationship with God and the respect due her as his wife, because just before he died in Egypt, he instructed his sons “Bury me with my fathers in the cave in the field…and there I buried Leah.”  {Women of the Bible study Bible}


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