February 28-March 6
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Leah, Rachel, Bilhah, and Zilpah. The mothers of the House of Israel, all plagued with their own trials, and none of them were easy trials. Rachel lived through infertility and none of her previous advantages could take that away from her. Bilhah and Zilpah were viewed as less than human, and their children were claimed by other women. Though their trials were no less severe than Leah’s, I want to focus on Leah today for a specific reason.
Leah was probably known as less pretty than her sister for her entire life. Her father tricked a man into marrying her, potentially because he didn’t think there was another way to get her married. After spending the night with him, knowing that everything was actually meant for her sister, she truly gets rejected the next morning when Jacob is upset that he married the wrong sister. It never really gets better either; she bares sons, but her husband openly and obviously prefers Rachel. She sells some plants in order to get her husband to come spend a night with her, and wow, my heart aches for that poor girl.
Even though I’ve chosen to focus on Leah, let it be known that the principle I’m choosing to teach applies to all of their situations. It’s also important to note that it can apply to our’s.
A hint from Leah
The names of Jacob’s sons were all extremely important, and they can teach us what the mothers were feeling or thinking at the time they were born. There are a couple of specifics that I want to share about the names of Leah’s sons.
32 And Leah conceived, and bare a son, and she called his name Reuben: for she said, Surely the Lord hath looked upon my affliction; now therefore my husband will love me.
33 And she conceived again, and bare a son; and said, Because the Lord hath heard that I was hated, he hath therefore given me this son also: and she called his name Simeon.
34 And she conceived again, and bare a son; and said, Now this time will my husband be joined unto me, because I have born him three sons: therefore was his name called Levi.
35 And she conceived again, and bare a son: and she said, Now will I praise the Lord: therefore she called his name Judah; and left bearing.
So Reuben’s name means “see, a son.” In other words, Leah is asking Jacob to come and look that she bore him a son so that he will love her. Simeon’s name means “hearing.” Simeon was named because the Lord heard how Leah was not as loved and blessed her with another son. Levi’s name means “joined.” Leah talks about how her husband will finally be joined to her because she has borne three sons.
All of these names reflect how deeply Leah yearned for her husband’s attention. No one can really blame her for that. We all yearn for some tenderness and care and connection; deep relationships are essential to our health and happiness, and Leah was not receiving what she desperately needed.
The last name of this group of children was interesting. She named her last son Judah, which means “praise.” In the verse where she bears and names Judah, she talks about how she will praise the Lord, despite the fact that nothing has changed with her husband. It is extremely significant that this change of heart (even if it is still a work in progress for her) occurred with Judah. There’s a symbolic lesson that we can learn here.
Yearning for connection
We have all yearned for some kind of attention, encouragement, support, affection, and connection at one point in time. It is a universal feeling across mankind. Loneliness is part of being human. We have all felt like Leah to one degree or another. I don’t know that I’ve ever felt it to Leah’s degree, but I have felt it to an extent.
Like Leah, we put up offerings, hoping that someone specific (or sometimes anyone) will take the hint and love us. Leah tried it with her sons. Maybe if she could simply have enough sons, Jacob would appreciate her and see her. Our offerings may look different than Leah’s, but we try it nonetheless. Good grades for a parent’s approval. Altering our appearance for an apathetic spouse. Perhaps even rebellion in a desperate attempt for someone to notice.
There is nothing wrong with trying to do well and please your parents. There’s nothing wrong with putting on mascara or deodorant to attract somebody. I wouldn’t necessarily recommend rebellion in order to get attention because I’ve never known that to work out positively, but in general, there’s nothing wrong with bringing good into the world and seeking some level of goodness from it. There’s nothing wrong with finding satisfaction in our mortal relationships. In fact, the Lord encourages it. We were meant to find joy and learn from our relationships.
However, no matter how good your relationships may be, they will always fall short. Just as joy can be a huge part of relationships, disappointment will come right along as well. It’s inevitable. People are imperfect.
And this is where we learn from Leah.
A relationship with the Savior
All of Leah’s “offerings” did not make Jacob see her. Her sons did not encourage his affection for her. It was not until Judah came along that Leah was able to simply count her blessings from the Lord.
Now here is where the symbolism comes in. It is through Judah’s line that the Savior comes into the world. It is through Judah’s lineage that the Savior is able to come into the world and save Leah, even if it occurs later than she might have hoped. It is Judah’s birth that Leah finds some contentment despite the hard relationships that surround her.
It is through a relationship with the Savior that we can find contentment as well. Whether our relationships are mostly good or immensely heavy like Leah’s, our lives can be fuller as we come unto Christ. It is through the descendants of Judah (One in particular), that we can praise the Lord in the midst of difficult circumstances or relationships.
So Jacob worked seven years and was deceived by Laban into marrying Leah, rather than Rachel. He had to work another seven years for Rachel.
In Jacob’s time, seven years was a hefty price to pay for a wife. I attempted some research of the time period, and I found two different facts. One site told me that men paid about ten shekels for a wife, and another website told me that men worked about three years for a wife. Either way, Jacob must have really loved Rachel. Here is what the bible says about it.
Genesis 29:20 And Jacob served seven years for Rachel; and they seemed unto him but a few days, for the love he had to her.
That was the kind of love Leah had been looking for. Jacob worked and worked in unfair circumstances, but it didn’t matter because he loved Rachel. He was simply grateful that she was going to be his.
There is Another who paid a heavy price and worked through unfair circumstances. Interestingly enough, He volunteered to pay the price. It doesn’t say it directly in any verses that I know, but I believe that despite the immense toll, it was a “small” thing to pay because of how badly He wanted us to return to Him. It was “small” because He wanted to hang out with us again.
There was a time in my life where I couldn’t comprehend this. I didn’t understand why He would do that. When I made mistakes, I pictured Him looking down in frustration. I imagined that I was a burden to Him in the Garden of Gethsemane, and I believed that I became more of a burden every time I failed. If you had asked me outright, I think I would have testified that He loved me, but I didn’t really know it. I didn’t comprehend His love very well. I felt that I was just some charity case, that He performed the atonement because of who He was rather than because He loved me.
Since then, I have learned how He actually feels. The atonement was a real price, and I do not diminish it as a “small” thing, but I know He would pay it again.
If you find yourself in pain from a relationship, whether it’s fleeting or generally difficult, I promise that the love and acceptance you’re desperately seeking can come from Christ. You have to dig deep and practice and learn about Him, and it’s a long process. Leah praised the Lord with Judah, but she still found herself desiring Jacob’s attention. I don’t fault her for that; I merely point out that finding satisfaction in your relationship with the Savior is not something that happens overnight. It is a series of experiences with Him that you find it.
Sometimes we think we have an accurate picture of the Savior’s love, but we don’t. Instead of carrying around His loving acceptance, we carry around our imagined god, the one who frowns down upon us. That false god (whom we think is Christ) is heavy. It’s no wonder that when some people leave the church, they feel lighter. They didn’t have an accurate view of Him. When we don’t really know Him, we can’t have that deep and abiding relationship with Him. It’s impossible because anyone less than the real Christ is imperfect.
I testify that we can have deep satisfaction and contentment and peace in the midst of uncertainty, upheaval, and difficult circumstances. I testify that when our human relationships are painful, there is a Savior who is looking down upon us with real love and real compassion. He can’t help Himself. He’s a sucker for us. I love Him, and I’m so grateful that He has taught me about who He is.