The Lord Saw That She Was Not Loved

The genealogy of Jesus found in Matthew 1 lists five women. And as many have pointed out before, these women are interesting in that they are either Gentiles or are implicated in sexual scandals. Thus, in the highlighting these women Jesus's genealogy tells a tale of grace

But there is another women in this story, one not mentioned directly, and her story is also a story of grace.

In Genesis 29 we get the love story of Jacob and Rachel. And it seems to have been love at first sight. Upon seeing Rachel Jacob kisses her and weeps aloud (29.11). We're told that Rachel had "a lovely figure and was beautiful" (29:17). And the text just directly comes out and says in 29.18: "Jacob was in love with Rachel."

In short, this is the very first love story in the bible.

So in love with Rachel was Jacob that his seven years of labor to earn her hand in marriage flew by (29:20): "So Jacob served seven years to get Rachel, but they seemed like only a few days to him because of his love for her."

It's all very, very romantic.

But as we know, Rachel's father Laban pulls a trick on Jacob. Instead of marrying Rachel after seven years of service Laban sneaks Leah into the bedroom, Rachel's older and less attractive sister. Discovering he consummated a marriage with Leah instead of Rachel Jacob finds out that he has to work for Laban another seven years to win the hand of Rachel.

So that's what Jacob does. And finally, seven years later, the love story reaches its fitting consummation. Rachel and Jacob are wed.

Hollywood ending. Rachel and Jacob ride off into the sunset. The most romantic love story in the bible.

But the underside of the story is that Leah is kicked to the curb. As the text says, Jacob's "love for Rachel was greater than his love for Leah."

So then what happens?

When the Lord saw that Leah was not loved, he enabled her to conceive, but Rachel remained childless.
Interesting, isn't it?

The Hollywood script would have privileged the love story, right? Think about it. This is the very first love story in the bible. And what happens?

God loves the one not loved. This is, suddenly, a very different and unexpected sort of Love Story. The script of the Hollywood romance is turned upside down.

Grace interrupts the Cinderella story. Or, rather, grace begins a new sort of Cinderella story in picking and privileging the ugly one, the forgotten one, the unloved one.

God's love fills the space in the heart that human love leaves empty and aching.

The Lord saw that she was not loved.

The Lord sees those who are not loved, all those left out of the Cinderella story.

Which brings us back to Jesus's genealogy, a family tree where the stories of women tell a tale of grace. The genealogy starts of this way:
A record of the genealogy of Jesus Christ the son of David, the son of Abraham:
Abraham was the father of Isaac,
Isaac the father of Jacob,
Jacob the father of Judah...
And who was the mother of Judah? Rachel, the beautiful one loved by Jacob? Rachel of the Hollywood love story script?
Genesis 29.35
Leah gave birth to a son...

she named him Judah.
It was Leah, the ugly, unloved one.

It was the woman unloved by a man but loved by God.

It was Leah who was the mother of Judah.

It was Leah who was the Mother of the Kings.

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21 thoughts on “The Lord Saw That She Was Not Loved”

  1. Very interesting as today in my devotional reading i was struck by the discovery that when Jacob is to be buried, he is buried in the tomb alongside Leah, not Rachel.

  2. It is excellent: 1) that this narrative is there; 2) that you highlight it; 3) how and why you highlight it (do you see this blog as a service? as a ministry?) In any case, thank you.

  3. I would add one more thing: Judah was the son wherein Leah stopped hoping for love from her husband, but realized that the love she was experiencing came from God. Look at the meaning she gives for the names.

  4. You're very welcome. I do share to encourage others, as a ministry. But I also share because I need a place to share. A few months ago I came upon this insight about Leah, the one not loved, being the mother of Israel's kings. And I found that fascinating. But where was I going to turn to share that insight? I'm not a preacher. Nor am I a bible professor. So the only place where I can share insights like this is here, on the blog.

  5. This push-and-pull continues down through the generations, as much of the Old Testament reflects the rivalry between Israel (Samaria, Joseph, Ephraim) and Judah (Jerusalem), as to which branch is the bearer of the REAL favor of God. Israel: "Our ancestor was the beloved one, the child of the beloved Rachel, the beloved child Joseph, the one who was sold away but prevailed in Egypt and came back and showed his brothers they could not put him down. Our ancestor was Saul, of the tribe of Benjamin -- the beloved child of Jacob's old age. Our ancestor was the first king of Israel." Judah: "Our ancestor was Judah, the lion, the son of Leah, the fruitful one, to whom God gave children because she was not her husband's favorite. Our ancestor was David, the one who slew Goliath, and who displaced Saul of Benjamin, the one whom God rejected. Our ancestor was David, the king of the Golden Age of Israel." And so on ... and on ... and on.

    And God gives grace to ALL, if they would just stop bickering long enough to notice.

    In fact, go back two generations, and the whole dynamic is prefigured in the Abraham-Sarah-Hagar-Ishmael-Isaac story. And God imparts greatness to BOTH Isaac and Ishmael: "As for Ishmael, I have heard you; I will
    bless him and make him fruitful and exceedingly numerous; he shall be
    the father of twelve princes, and I will make him a great nation." (Genesis 17:20)

    If the followers of the Abrahamic religions could just get their heads around "both-and" instead of "either-or," God's will might be done and the Kingdom might just come.

  6. Or, as this post I saw on Facebook not long ago put it...

    "I just think this whole fiasco (Middle East) could have been avoided, had good ol Abraham maintained his faith and kept his parts in his cassock. But nooooo! He and Sarah let their faith lapse....and now we have a s***storm on our hands." Linda Apodaca ::)

  7. Thank you for this Richard!

    1 small detail. Gen 29:27-30 appears to imply that Laban allowed Jacob to marry Rachel prior to Jacob competing the additional 7 years of service. Thus Leah only had one week as Jacob's only wife (not 7 years). I don't think that this changes the story in huge ways, but it's an interesting detail. It seems a bit surprising after Jacob's previous dishonesty that he sticks around and honors his 7 year commitment to Laban. Maybe this is a demonstration of his growing character?

  8. I've wondered about that too.

    Through a western romantic lens, I'd like to say that he eventually learned to love Leah (the wife of his age rather that the wife of his youth), but I wonder if it's more likely that at Rachel's early death Jacob was too grieved to make sure her burial rites were done appropriately or whether the status of Leah's sons (as explored in this post) were the reason that he desired to be buried with her.

  9. Yes, lovely, thank you.

    But we shouldn't forget the narrative after "Rachel and Jacob walk off into the sunset." For there is no happily-ever-after to this real-life folktale. After bearing Joseph, Rachel will bear another son -- but she will die in labour. "Benoni" she names her boy, "son of my sorrow" (a name Jacob changes to Benjamin, "son who will be fortunate").

    And the narrative of pain continues. In Jeremiah 31, Rachel is the the mother of her first-born Joseph's descendents who loose their freedom at the hands of violent power: on the way to exile in Babylon, the captives were paraded along the highway past Rachel's tomb, a road of humiliation and sorrow. But the Lord hears Rachel wailing (v. 15): "There is hope for your future; your children will come back home" (v. 17). And home from exile Rachel's children will come.

    But this biblical narrative of suffering and hope is not yet over. Fast-forward, yes, to Matthew, but past Leah in chapter 1 to chapter 2, the massacre of the innocents -- and Rachel again, and again as a figure of maternal tears and trauma.

    Rachel, the mother who dies in childbirth; Rachel, the mother of dead children, murdered, disappeared. Luther saw in Rachel's story a link between the Nativity and the Cross. So God turns in love to the rejected Leah, and God turns in love to the dying and grieving Rachel. God is love.

  10. Having followed Experimental Theology from the beginning, I've learned much more of scripture from you than from many who make six figure annual incomes centering their lives being a "Bible teacher" - this let alone all the other fascinating musings presented by your expertise as a Psychology professor. Thanks again Dr. Beck!

  11. Beautiful, indeed. And what moves my heart within this story is Leah's heartbreaking AWARENESS that she was not loved. I find this enlightening and empowering, not simply seeing it as a romantic rejection, but in understanding how all of us face rejection is so many ways though out our lives; understanding that all persons within our worlds, from fellow church members, to co-workers, even those of our own families, hear "No" time and time again from those whose acceptance mean so much. And they, we, feel the pain of these rejections. But as you point out in your conclusion how Leah became the Mother of Kings, I believe that God uses each rejection, if we are open and waiting, to strengthen our passion, sometimes in another direction, even through another vein, to give birth to something this world needs.

  12. Oh yes, it's not that love story with Rachel is erased, just interrupted to include Leah. After Leah God moves to open Rachel's womb. God expands the love story, including the unloved ones. Both Rachel and Leah are brought along together.

  13. Well, that rather flippant post implies it would be better for all of us if all the descendants of Ishmael had never been born. Which is also not what the Bible is saying: its perpetual Good News, in both the Old and New Testaments, is that there is enough and more than enough for all, and that all who are born on this earth are God's children and under God's care, even if we have cast them as our enemies. To God they may be "sheep of another fold," but the Good Shepherd's will is that we all be "one flock" with "one shepherd."

  14. Yep, for sure, the Lord is always expanding his love story by interrupting ours -- by giving us other people to love.

  15. I actually take a lot of pride in being a "progressive" Christian blogger who talks a whole lot about biblical texts.

    I like to think of myself a being a bit of a bible-thumper, but with a wildly large vision of the love and grace of God.

  16. "...I believe that God uses each rejection, if we are open and waiting, to
    strengthen our passion, sometimes in another direction, even through
    another vein, to give birth to something this world needs."

    John, I can't pretend to know all of which you might be "inAwe," but I find myself in awe of your comments frequently enough; the one I copied here a particularly stunning example of what I mean and why I say it. Thanks for this great thought and the hope it contains.

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