Leah, A Resented Wife

LeahLeah was the older daughter of Laban, Jacob’s uncle. It was to Laban that Isaac and Rebekah sent Jacob to find a wife. Laban was the brother of the mother who coddled Jacob. Likely, it never occurred to Jacob that his mother’s brother would do anything to disadvantage Jacob or what Jacob wanted. However, what transpired in Laban’s camp opened Jacob’s eyes to the realities of life.

Jacob arrived in Paddan Aram around 1929 BCE. About a month after Jacob was in Laban’s home in Haran (Northwest Mesopotamia), Laban suggested that he pay Jacob wages for his work. He averred that just because Jacob was kin, he should not work for Laban for nothing.  Jacob and Laban made an agreement that Jacob would work seven years for Laban for the right to marry Rachel. Rachel was Leah’s younger sister. Normally, in ancient Mesopotamian cultures, an older daughter was married before a younger daughter. Perhaps Jacob was unaware of this marriage custom. Alternatively, both Jacob and Laban may have anticipated that in the seven years that Jacob worked for Laban to earn the right to marry Rachel that Leah would receive a marriage offer. Apparently, Leah was still unmarried after the seven years that Jacob toiled for the right to marry Rachel.

The Bible described Leah as having weak eyes. I heard two different interpretations of Leah’s “weak eyes.” One was that Leah’s eyes were her most beautiful or notable feature. The second interpretation was that Leah’s vision was impaired. Likely, the second interpretation is accurate because the Bible contrasted Leah’s weak eyes to Rachel’s lovely figure and beauty. Further, Laban did not receive an acceptable marriage proposal for Leah, despite her being of marriageable age. In the Harran community, men may have not wanted to marry woman with partial blindness.

After Jacob worked for Laban seven years, he said to Laban, “Give me my wife. My time is completed, and I want to make love to her” (Genesis 29:21). Seemingly, Laban agreed; he gave a large marriage feast; often marriage feast lasted a week or more. Laban took Leah as the bride—not Rachel—to Jacob. Frequently, marriage custom in Mesopotamia had the bride wearing a veil. Surely, that must have been the case when Jacob took his bride into the darkened tent.  Thinking his bride was Rachel, Jacob made love to Leah. My husband believes that Jacob may have been drunk on his wedding night did not or could not look at his bride too closely. When morning came, Jacob realized that the woman he made love to was not his beloved Rachel; it was Leah her older sister. Jacob married Leah, not Rachel and consummated the marriage with her.

What could Leah have been thinking to be complicit in her father’s deception to Jacob? Why did not she speak up and tell Jacob that she was Leah as soon as they entered the tent. Leah knew that Jacob spent seven years working for Rachel not for her. Several factors could have been at play in Leah’s complicity in marrying Jacob. First, perhaps she did believe that the elder daughter in a family should be married first. To this point Laban received no marriage offers for her and she was feeling desperate to marry. Second, Leah was used to obeying her father as was the custom in father-daughter relationships in Mesopotamia. Third, Leah was attracted to Jacob and wanted to marry him.

Leah was Jacob’s first wife and as such should have had substantial standing in the ancient near eastern culture; however, Jacob did not love Leah. He resented her, and perhaps justifiably, because of Laban’s fraud. At the same time Jacob’s behavior made it obvious to the extended family that not only did he not love Leah, he did not esteem her as the first wife. In Mesopotamia, legally a husband could have a second wife, a concubine, or slaves for a variety of reasons to include his sexual desire and to ensure descendants if his wife was barren or ill. Unswervingly self-centered, Jacob took a second wife at the end of the first week of marriage to Leah. Jacob did not wait to take a second wife until he determined Leah was barren. Essentially, Jacob announced that Leah did not meet his sexual needs and as a wife she was not sufficient. Jacob spent most nights with his second wife, Rachel.

God saw that Jacob did not love Leah so God enabled Leah to conceive. From the time Leah married Jacob until Jacob’s clan left Paddan Aram to return to Canaan was approximately 13 years. In those 13 years, Leah conceived and gave birth to seven children. Leah, Jacob’s first wife, had an irrefutable impact on Jacob’s wealth and power by giving him six sons. Without Leah’s fertility, the 12 tribes of Israel would have been six tribes at most.

After Jacob lived in Paddan Aram for about 19 years, he heard Laban’s sons complaining that Jacob took everything from Laban their father; that is, Jacob became rich from the proceeds of Laban. Jacob noticed that Laban’s attitude toward him changed in a negative direction. Then, God told Jacob to go back to the land of his fathers. Even though God told Jacob to leave Paddan Aram and go to Canaan, Jacob consulted his wives.

Jacob sent word to Leah and Rachel to meet him out in the field. He put his case before them to include that God told him to go back to Canaan. He asked the opinion of his wives. Leah and Rachel were in agreement. They both encouraged Jacob to do what God told him to do – to leave Paddan Aram and return to Canaan.  Jacob’s wives declared that their father sold them to Jacob and used up the money paid for them.  According to Mesopotamian law, the money or property a son in law gave to the bride’s father at the time she  married, was to be set aside for the daughters use should she need it later or even given to her children (Reference). However, Laban did not keep the value of seven years of Jacob’s work for each of his daughters. Laban spent the money.

Copyright: April 13, 23016; Carolyn A. Roth

 

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