Second place is familiar territory for many of us. Perhaps favoritism, rampant in the childhood home, continues into adulthood as a sibling retains dibs on parental attention. Could be the trophy for MVP or Best Performance passed to another. The sought-after promotion, despite the extra effort and hard work, went to a coworker. Leah understood the painful sting of second place, and her story resonates with hope for others who missed out on the blue ribbon.
Born with eyes of a color not popular in her society, Leah was considered defective. Could her eyes decide her worth as a person or her suitability as a bride? Prospective husbands thought so. Her father, Laban, viewed her as a liability and eventually employed trickery to marry her off. Leah’s tears dampened her pillow each night as she wondered what the future might hold.
Wed to Jacob who did not love her Leah faced competition from her sister, Rachel, who joined Jacob’s household as the second wife. Scripture states (Genesis 29:30) that Jacob “loved Rachel more than Leah” yet God had His eye on Leah. Leah was not forgotten. Second place was not oblivion.
God saw Leah’s plight (Genesis 29:31), “Now the LORD saw that Leah was unloved…” God heard her prayers (Genesis 29:33). He opened Leah’s womb and blessed her with sons, four strapping boys—Reuben, Simeon, Levi, and Judah. Surely Jacob’s heart would bind fast to a wife who bore him sons in a culture that prized male heirs above all else. The sons gave Leah an edge in the competition with childless Rachel.
Leah chose names for her sons that reminded everyone of God’s work, and His favor on her life.
Table 1 – Leah’s Faith Expressed in the Names of Her Sons
|Reuben||Behold a son||Because the LORD has seen my affliction; surely now my husband will love me.|
|Simeon||Heard||Because the LORD has heard that I am unloved, He has therefore given me this son also.|
|Levi||Joined to||Now this time my husband will become attached to me, because I have borne him three sons.|
|Judah||Praised||This time I will praise the LORD.|
The conflict between the sisters mushroomed as peace fled Jacob’s household. Rachel, desperate for a child, offered her maid Bilhah to Jacob. Rachel hoped the maid would conceive and bear sons who might be adopted as Rachel’s own. Dan and Naphtali entered the world, raising Jacob’s total to six sons. Naphtali means wrestling and Rachel acknowledged (Genesis 30:8) the struggle with Leah for Jacob’s attention.
Leah, not to be outdone, passed her maid, Zilpah, to Jacob who fathered two additional sons, Gad and Asher. Did Jacob have any concern for the damage the rivalry caused for his home and his sons? How could he live out God’s plan (Genesis 1:24) to become one flesh with his wife (singular)? His thoughts remain a mystery, but the destructive force of favoritism eroded Jacob’s home and family.
Table 2 – Leah’s Second Round
|Gad||To cut or invade||How fortunate!|
|Asher||Happy||Happy am I! For women will call me happy.|
|Issachar||There is recompense||God has given me my wages because I gave my maid to my husband.|
|Zebulun||Exalted||God has endowed me with a good gift; now my husband will dwell with me, because I have borne him six sons.|
Rachel resorted to a folk remedy for fertility using mandrakes, which were viewed as an aphrodisiac. Her desperation for a child of her own further alienated the sisters. Leah leveled the charge that Jacob belonged to her, and Rachel’s desires for Jacob equated to stealing another woman’s husband. Leah bore two additional sons, Issachar and Zebulon, and a daughter, Dinah. Rachel consoled herself with adopted sons, Dan and Naphtali.
Table 3 – Rachel Plays Catch Up
|Dan||Judge||God has vindicated me, and has indeed heard my voice and has given me a son.|
|Naphtali||My wrestling||With mighty wrestlings I have wrestled with my sister, and I have indeed prevailed.|
|Joseph||Let Him add||May the LORD give me another son.|
|Benjamin||Son of my sorrow||Rachel died in childbirth|
Jacob gathered his family, flocks, and possessions and departed for his homeland. He remembered the deception he played on his brother, Esau. The report that Esau was coming to meet him with 400 men forced Jacob to devise a survival plan. Caravans of gifts including goats, ewes, rams, camels, cows, and donkeys preceded Jacob as he hoped to placate any anger Esau retained.
What about the wives and the children? How would Jacob secure their safe passage? The ladies were sent out in groups with Bilhah and Zilpah in the front. Next, Jacob dispatched Leah with her sons and daughter. Then came Rachel with her son, Joseph, and last in line was Jacob. In the event of a battle, Jacob considered Leah and her sons of less value than Rachel.
God’s hand was upon Leah though her circumstances seemed unimproved. Scripture is silent on the remainder of her life. Jacob dropped a final clue from his death bed. The patriarch gave instructions for his burial in the cave where Abraham and Sarah along with Isaac and Rebekah were laid to rest. Jacob uttered four simple words, “There I buried Leah.” His intent was to rest beside his wife.
Consider these words from another of Leah’s descendants.
Do not fret because of evildoers, Be not envious toward wrongdoers. For they will wither quickly like the grass And fade like the green herb. Trust in the LORD and do good; Dwell in the land and cultivate faithfulness. Delight yourself in the LORD; And He will give you the desires of your heart. Commit your way to the LORD, Trust also in Him, and He will do it. He will bring forth your righteousness as the light And your judgment as the noonday. Rest in the LORD and wait patiently for Him; Do not fret because of him who prospers in his way, Because of the man who carries out wicked schemes. Cease from anger and forsake wrath; Do not fret; it leads only to evildoing.
How does one survive and thrive in second place? Note the commands in this short passage.
- Do not fret (repeated 3 times).
- Be not envious toward wrongdoers.
- Trust in the LORD (repeated twice).
- Do good.
- Dwell in the land.
- Cultivate faithfulness.
- Delight yourself in the LORD.
- Commit your way to the LORD.
- Rest in the LORD.
- Wait patiently for Him.
- Cease from anger.
- Forsake wrath.
Pay special attention to the tiny word dwell. Among its meanings are: to settle down, abide, tabernacle, and reside. Our time in second place may be short…or we may occupy the spot for years. Every effort on our part to move up may be thwarted, but we resolve to settle down and milk every ounce of life from our current position.
Did Leah matter? Did her life make a difference? The answer is most assuredly, “Yes!” Messiah came through the lineage of her son, Judah.
- Ever felt as though life holds you in second place? What advice would you share with Leah?
- What do the names of Leah’s sons and her comments at their birth tell us about her relationship with God?
- What tangible evidence exists in your life to show that you delight in the Lord?
- In the list of commands given in Psalm 37:1-8 why is “Do not fret” repeated 3 times?
- Which of these commands is hardest for you, and what steps can you take to strengthen that behavior in your life?