Tuesday Scripture - Genesis 29:31-33 31 When the Lord saw that Leah was hated, he opened her womb, but Rachel was barren. 32 And Leah conceived and bore a son, and she called his name Reuben,[c] for she said, “Because the Lord has looked upon my affliction; for now my husband will love me.” 33 She conceived again and bore a son, and said, “Because the Lord has heard that I am hated, he has given me this son also.” And she called his name Simeon.
As we have been working our way through the First Testament we didn't spend any time with Jacob, so perhaps we will begin with a quick review of his story today.
Jacob is the son of Isaac and Rebecca (Isaac the favorite son of Abraham and Sarah, who rejected Ishmael you will remember). The story of Jacob is complicated. The story tells us that Jacob will be the son to bear the blessing and the promise of God as did Isaac his father. But he is a twin, the second twin. So technically his brother Esau is the first-born son and the one to receive the blessing and the promise of God. Rebekah, his mother receives word from God that Jacob is the one to receive the blessing and thus begins the family drama and the interpretive error that has plagued the church. The family drama includes the stories of the ways that Rebekah and Jacob conspire against Esau to steal his birthright, the blessing, and the way Jacob manipulates him for the same end. The church has often overlooked the how ugly Jacob and Rebekah's behavior is to Esau because 'God ordained it.' (One of the points of these stories being to remind Israel that their status as God's chosen and beloved children does NOT make them superior to others.) Jacob treats the blessing of God as a possession to be grasped and hoarded AND as an excuse to treat others poorly.
Much happens between these stories and today's, but the fact that Jacob treats his blessing as a possession to be grasped and excuse to treat others poorly ties the opening episodes and todays. Jacob flees from his brother Esau (who wants to kill him). He flees to his uncle's home and falls in love instantly with Rachel. But his Uncle Laban is just as sneaky and conniving as Jacob is and he tricks Jacob into marrying Rachel's sister Leah. Eventually, Jacob marries his beloved Rachel. But the narrator tells us that Leah is hated. I think it safe to assume that when Jacob looks at Leah, he does not see another human being, another child of God. Instead, he sees Laban's manipulation. He sees that he has been bested at his own manipulative game. So Jacob favor's Rachel and 'hates' Leah.
The point for us today is that God sees all of this drama from Leah's perspective. God does NOT side with Jacob, the bearer of the God's blessing, the person God has and will continue to keep covenant with. God sees this through Leah's eyes and takes Leah's side. We are never really told whether or not God had intended for Jacob to marry Leah, but much like Ishmael, God hears the weeping of the vulnerable and mistreated, sees their suffering and responds to them, whether they were part of the plan or not. Leah's life matters to God. That is what makes today's story so important. In a time when women are still paid less than men for the same work, when so many are caught in systems of slavery and exploitation and forced prostitution around the globe, when a major presidential candidate is recorded bragging about assaulting women, when a young man can be so readily excused from rape because of his bright athletic future, this is an important story. Women's stories, perspectives, and experiences are still woefully, sinfully dismissed. Today's story is a subtle but powerful interruption of a systematic dismissal of women as children of God created to be powerful agents cooperating with God in the mission of recreation and redemption. Leah's life-giving potential is lifted up for us to see in this story. And it challenges us to confront the many ways that women are ignored and silenced.