Poor Leah, it seemed she was always second best. She was the oldest daughter and yet we can assume no eligible suitors had claimed her hand in marriage for the last seven years. Have you ever thought of yourself as second best? Maybe you had a beautiful younger sister who attracted everyone’s attention, like Leah. Or maybe you always came in second to a friend or other relative and you have felt the hurt of being second best. Perhaps you were involved in athletics and rarely came in first. We have all experienced the sting of second best.
The Bible describes Leah as “weak eyed” in Genesis 29:17 (we don’t know exactly what that means except that it made her less attractive); her sister, Rachel, is described as lovely in form and beautiful! She seemed to always get the attention of potential suitors.
Let’s use our sanctified imaginations and think about the competition that may have arisen between these two. What normally happens between sisters when one is attractive and beautiful and the other not so much? It’s not difficult to imagine the jealousy and competition which would have developed between them. Why should Rachel get all the attention, Leah may have thought. After all, I’m the older sister. I’m supposed to be married first!
And that competition may have intensified when Jacob came into their lives. Having met Rachel at the well, Jacob offered to work seven years for her hand in marriage. “Jacob was in love with Rachel and said, [to her father, Laban,] I’ll work for seven years in return for your younger daughter, Rachel” (Genesis 29:18). Jacob made it very clear he would work for Laban’s younger daughter. Ouch, Leah was second best.
We can safely assume in the first seven years that Jacob worked for Rachel’s hand, no eligible suitor had asked for Leah’s hand, since she was still very much available and willingly obeyed her father in substituting herself as Jacob’s new bride. Is it possible that she too loved Jacob, after all he was a potentially wealthy relative who seemed to sweep Rachel off her feet?
Daughters were expected to simply obey their fathers in these days with little discussion, but Leah may have eagerly obeyed, thinking, why shouldn’t she have a chance at being loved by a man like Jacob? He would have been an exciting husband, full of personality and zest for life, one who offered riches and security. Why should Rachel get Jacob and not her? Leah may have wondered. Why should good looks always win? She was tired of being second best. And how humiliating to be the unmarried older sister! She would willingly risk the displeasure of Jacob. Everyone would know that no one had asked for her hand in marriage! And wasn’t it better to share a husband than live out your life with no husband? In that day it probably was. Husbands were security for a woman. Unmarried women in those days were vulnerable to unsavory men. They needed to be protected and provided for by either their father or their sons.
So–at the last minute on the wedding night–Leah was substituted as Jacob’s bride. Leah may have been heavily veiled and likely because of the darkness and too much wine, in his eagerness, Jacob didn’t realize he had the wrong bride! This is truly amazing! Can you imagine the humiliation for Leah when they both awoke the following morning?
When Jacob complained to Laban his excuse was simply stated in 29:26, “It is not our custom to give the younger daughter in marriage before the older one.” The question begs to be answered, why didn’t Laban tell Jacob this long before he had consummated the marriage? Obviously, Laban knew it would be too late for Jacob to back out knowing he was an honorable man. And Laban was a shifty, conniving man which is revealed by further study in Genesis.
So here is Leah, already feeling second best. But this was even worse. She was now a rejected bride. She knew Jacob didn’t love her and he would now work seven more years for Rachel. Can you imagine the pain and the hurt she must have felt? She had a week of being Jacob’s only wife, but seven days later, Jacob took Rachel as his second wife. Oh, the competition which must have resulted from not only being competitive sisters, now they were competitive wives, married to the same man!
Jealousy and competition are like a cancer that continues to thrive and grow as long as they’re fed. And Leah’s and Rachel’s jealousy and competition resulted in rivalry between their sons, which resulted in Joseph being sold as a slave to Egypt. And this resulted in consequences for years to come!
Think about these scenarios:
You’ve been in a family gathering and what you did in the last six months occupies the attention of the group for a polite three minutes, but what your brother did in the last ten days occupies twenty minutes! Consistently. Running second.
Your older sister consistently does just a little better than you and because she is older and always does things first, she is normally the center of attention. Running second.
You’re on a committee and your ideas are rarely adopted, but another member’s ideas are normally accepted and praised. Running second.
How did things work out for Leah? First, seeing she wasn’t loved by her husband, God compensated her with many children (Gen. 29:31 through 30:21); six sons and one daughter. Second, Because Rachel died prematurely giving birth to her second child, Benjamin, and was buried near Bethlehem on the family’s way home from Bethel, after all their competition, Leah ended up raising Rachel’s sons. Rachel had beauty but Leah had influence! And third, Leah was buried next to Jacob in the family burial cave. Where one was buried was very important in this ancient culture. For instance, both Jacob and Joseph insisted their bones be carried back to the Promised Land as a testimony that Canaan (future Israel) was their God given land (Genesis 50).
When we run second, maybe God is trying to mature our attitudes; We need to see the bigger picture when we’re feeling second best. Maybe He has better things in mind for those of us who often feel this way:
- Learning to have patience with others
- Learning to empathize with others who don’t seem to perform as well
- Developing sympathy for others and learning to enter into their lives because of what we have gone through
God has a way of working things out. God used Leah so much that her sons (and those of the handmaidens as well as Benjamin and Joseph’s sons,) became the 12 tribes of Israel! And that’s quite an honor! Let’s determine to see the bigger picture when we’re feeling second best!