OK - I admit it. I've missed it all along.
I have always read Genesis 29 rooting for Rachel. Maybe it's our culture. We want the hero to get the girl - right? And by "girl," we don't mean the homely girl with the "weak" eyes. No way. We want our hero to get his girl, the beautiful girl that captivates him from afar. Yeah, that girl. I'm guilty.
Reading through this chapter using Bob Deffinbaugh's commentary from Bible.org helped to give me a new, and I'm hoping healthier, perspective. How is Moses really depicting Leah here? And what is her importance in Patriarchal history and beyond? Read on, selected Scripture from Genesis 29 with Deffinbaugh's commentary:
Now Laban had two daughters; the name of the oldest was Leah, and the name of the younger was Rachel. And Leah’s eyes were weak, but Rachel was beautiful of form and face (Genesis 29:16-17).
Few women have been so misunderstood as Leah. Even her name does her a great disservice, for it means “wild cow.” The statement that she had “weak eyes” (verse 17) seems to many to portray Leah as a homely girl with pop-bottle glasses, who cannot see three feet in front of her. This kind of thinking is completely unjustified.
First, the word rendered “weak” (rak) is never used in a demeaning way, as is here suggested. Never is the term used with reference to any defect. For example, in Genesis 18:7 Moses used this word, and there it is translated “tender”: “Abraham also ran to the herd, and took a tender and choice calf, and gave it to the servant; and he hurried to prepare it".
Moses used the word again in chapter 33 with reference to the young children, who were too frail to be hurried: “But he said to him, ‘My lord knows that the children are frail and that the flocks and herds which are nursing are a care to me. And if they are driven hard one day, all the flocks will die’” (Genesis 33:13).
If we are to take the word rak, which is rendered “weak” in 29:17, in its normal sense, then, we cannot think in terms of defect but in terms of delicacy. In contrast with Rachel, who may have had fire or a sparkle in her eyes, Leah had gentle eyes.
If you aren't convinced already, some of Deffinbaugh's conclusions might help:
The Consequences of Sin: The tragedy of this chapter is that all that took place was unnecessary. All we need to do is to contrast the acquisition of Rachel with that of Rebekah. The resources of Abraham made it possible for Isaac to have a wife in a very short period of time (cf. 24:54ff.). One reason for this was the fact that the servant had the dowry from the riches of Abraham, Isaac’s father. One of the consequences of Jacob’s sin was that he had to leave Canaan—to flee empty-handed. Since Jacob sinned, he was separated from the wealth of his father and had only the work of his own hands. The fourteen years of Jacob’s labor would have been unnecessary, I believe, had it not been for his deception of Isaac. Perhaps Isaac sent Jacob away without any of his wealth to teach him the value of hard work. Or perhaps it was to force Jacob to stay away a long time by working for a wife. This we do not know, but it does seem that this 14-year delay was unnecessary and purely the result of sin. What a price to pay!
The Grace of God: Some may view the events of this chapter as God’s getting even with Jacob. Others would merely interpret them as a kind of poetic justice. I prefer to understand them as an evidence of the marvelous grace of God at work in the life of Jacob. God did not bring these events to pass to punish Jacob but to instruct him. Punishment has been born by our Savior on the cross, but discipline is the corrective training which furthers us on the path leading to godliness (cf. Hebrews 12).
Jacob learned the value of convention. The agreement which regulated the use of the well (verses 2-3, 7-8) seemed to mean little to Jacob. In the excitement of meeting Rachel he decided to use the well regardless of the rules for its use. He may also have disregarded some conventions in the way that he greeted Rachel (verses 10-12). He certainly chose to disregard the convention of marrying the first-born first. I do not believe that Laban was telling Jacob anything new but reminding him of something that could not, and should not, be taken lightly or disregarded.
In addition to all this, Jacob experienced the grace of God in the delay of 14 plus years. It was this delay which contributed to the preservation of Jacob’s life by keeping him away from the anger of Esau, who had purposed to kill him.
Amazingly, the grace of God was manifested in this event by the gift of Leah as a wife to Jacob. This is probably the last thought to cross our minds, but I believe that it is a defensible position. First, we must acknowledge that, in the providence of God (and in spite of the deceptiveness of Laban), Leah was Jacob’s wife. Furthermore, it was Leah, not Rachel, who became the mother of Judah, who was to be the heir through whom the Messiah would come (cf. 49:8-12). Also it was Levi, a son of Leah, who provided the priestly line in later years. It seems noteworthy that both Leah and her handmaid had at least twice the number of children as compared to Rachel and her maid (cf. 29:31-30:24; 46:15,18,22,25). The firstborn was always to have a double portion; and so it would seem Leah did, so far as children are concerned.
One final factor remains which evidences the superiority of Leah to Rachel. Rachel dies at an early age, yet she was the younger sister. When she died, she was buried on the way to Bethlehem (35:19). Yet when Leah died later, she was buried with Jacob in the cave at Machpelah (pictured; 49:31). Leah was not a blight to Jacob but a blessing.
Guidance: How different was the process by which Isaac obtained Rebekah as a wife from that means through which Jacob acquired Rachel. Isaac was subject to his father, and it was through the wisdom of his father and his servant, through the financial means of Abraham, and through prayer that she was obtained. Jacob went off on his own with none of his father’s resources. He chose the woman with the greatest beauty and bargained with Laban for her.
To me there is no doubt but what Jacob was guided more by his hormones than any other factor. He did not pray about this matter, so far as we are told. He did not give any consideration to matters of character. He did not seek counsel. In fact, he sought to overturn the customs of the day and the preferences of Laban.
We live in a very romantically-oriented day. We find ourselves cheering for Rachel and booing Leah. God seems to have been on the other side. What is romantic is not always right—often it is wrong. Romanticism caused Jacob to use the well when and how he saw fit, regardless of the rules set by the owner. Romanticism led Jacob to chose Rachel, not Leah. Romanticism so controlled Jacob that under its spell he spent an entire night with the wrong woman. We must beware of those decisions which are determined by romantic impressions or feelings.
Wow! I read this and am embarrased to have missed it before. I have to agree with Deffinbaugh that indeed, God seemed to be rooting for Leah.