During the Easter season, we are looking at some mothers of the Old Testament who trusted God through good times and bad. Sometimes they struggled to understand why God acted (as in sending a flood), or did not act-by giving a child. Eventually, they each came to believe that, as Paul says, “all things work together for those who Love God,” and certainly for those whom God loves.
Leah was a woman who doubted that she was loved. You remember the story in Genesis. Jacob runs off to his family in Haran to escape the wrath of his brother Esau. The first person he meets is Rachel. In storybook fashion, he falls in love with her and agrees to work for 7 years as an indentured servant to her father Laban in order to marry her. On the wedding night, Laban tricks Jacob and he discovers that he has married her older, and not as attractive (at least to Jacob) sister, Leah. Ultimately, Jacob works for another 7 years to earn Rachel, again. All that is enough to make anyone wonder if they are lovable or loved.
In Beloved Leah, my book in which Leah tells her story, she doubts that she is lovely and lovable for most of her life. Despite bearing Jacob sons and faithfully caring for them, and raising her sister’s two sons Joseph and Benjamin, she never thinks it is enough.
How many of us wonder if we are doing all we can as mothers, wives, women, workers…whatever the titles we give ourselves might be?
It is not until she is nearing death that Leah finally realizes that she has been pushing away the very thing she has desired. Jacob has loved her, and so had God. As they journey toward Egypt and reunion with Joseph, Leah falls ill. We meet her at that moment:
A rustle of movement and the tent flap was pushed aside. The warm breeze from outside brushed across the woman on the pallet.
She roused to call again, “Rachel!”
“Hush, my wife,” Jacob knelt and took Leah’s hand. “Rest and be well. Rachel is not here. We will travel together to her son. I need you, do not leave me.”
The woman tossed her head restlessly and opened her eyes. They softened when she saw the man kneeling beside her. She seemed to return to the present from somewhere far away. His eyes filled with tears as he caressed her weak hands.
“My husband,” her voice was gentle. She tried to lift her one hand to touch the man’s face.
“I never understood,” she murmured.
“Leah, you are the strong, faithful woman I am honored to call my wife,” the old man kissed the hand he held. “Your belief in the One God has strengthened me in the darkest times. I need you now to go with me to Egypt. Together we will find our son.”
A slight smile crossed her lips as she reminded him, “Rachel’s son, my love.” She took a deep, ragged breath. “I never understood your love for Rachel. Through all her childless years and her whining your devotion remained strong. I was angry and bitter for I thought that you had nothing left for me. The God of your Fathers has taught me that love can be boundless.”
Her head moved fretfully against the pillows and Zilpah hurried to adjust them. Bilhah brought a cup of water. Gratefully the woman drank.
Slowly, she turned her hand in her husband’s so she held his fingers. Pleadingly she looked at him.
“Jacob, my husband,” she continued her confession, “my venom taught our sons to hate their brother. God has shown me that He has forgiven me, for Joseph is restored to you. Your God has taught me that even such grievous fury as mine can be forgiven.”
Tears trickled down the old man’s cheeks and he kissed her wrinkled cheeks.
“Leah, beloved Leah,” he whispered, “you too have I loved.”
With a great effort, the woman feebly touched the cherished face behind the graying beard. Her voice was a sigh. “I know that, now. All I ever saw was Rachel, loved by our father and then by you for her beauty. Never could I believe that I was lovable. My jealousy poisoned my sons against their brother. When you see Joseph, ask him to forgive me.”
She fell silent while the man wept unabashedly. Her eyes closed and she seemed to drift into a doze. Then suddenly she opened her eyes.
“Call my sons,” her voice was stronger and urgent, “I must tell them to let go of their hatred before it consumes them as it did me.”
At a nod from Jacob, Bilhah went to the tent flap and ushered in the eleven waiting men. Zilpah helped her mistress sit up. Jacob held his wife cradled in his arm against the mound of pillows. She seemed to gain strength looking at the big men she bore and raised.
“My sons, hear my story,” she said looking at each face in turn. “Give up the anger you hold in your hearts against your brother. It will only destroy you as it consumed my relationship with Rachel.”
Reuben, the first born, leaned forward. His mouth opened on a denial. A slight shake of his mother’s head stopped him.
“Hear my story,” she repeated, “it was always Rachel who was adored by everyone. She received special attention because she was lovely and pleasant. I was envious and my hostility grew.”
The men crouched around the pallet while Zilpah held the cup of water for Leah to take another sip. Then she began …[later, after she finished telling her story]
The old woman looked around at her sons. Tears glistened in their eyes.
“For too long, I raged against Rachel and against Jacob for not loving me,” she said. “I wanted them to love me for being beautiful. Too late I have learned and understand that they loved me for who I am.”
Jacob bent his head to kiss his wife’s forehead. “You are my faithful Leah. You are the strength of the family,” he whispered.
She seemed almost beautiful as she smiled softly up at the man.
“My husband, God is your strength. He will be with you to bring you to Egypt and back. Your God always keeps his promises.”
Turning her head, she admonished the eleven men still crouched near the bed.
“My sons, you are all my sons, though I didn’t bear you all. I have raised you and watched you grow into good men, true husbands and loving fathers. Do not forget the God of Israel, your father, when you are in Egypt. Remember and teach your children how He showed grace by redeeming your anger and restoring your brother to you. Joseph has forgiven you. Accept that gift. My God has forgiven you as he has forgiven me. Do not be afraid. Trust in the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. He has promised to bring you back to this land as a mighty nation. Let go of the remaining fear and grudges against your brother. Do not continue to blame yourselves. The mighty hand of God has turned our evil designs and anger to great good for all.”
Lying back, the woman closed her eyes. A slight smile slid across her lips as a breath sighed, “Rachel, Rachel, I must tell…”
Jacob heard the softly spoken words fade.
“No!” The cry wrenched from him in agony as he gathered his wife close. Unashamed he wept. Zilpah and Bilhah raised the mourning cry. Dinah fell across her mother’s lap wailing and her brothers took up the keening through their tears. Throughout the camp, each person added a voice to the lament.
“We will bury Leah in the cave where Abraham and Sarah and my parents are buried.” Jacob instructed his sons in the morning. He looked very old and the men glanced at each other in concern.
“Leah, my beloved, here next to Abraham and his cherished Sarah you will rest. As Isaac and Rebekah are side by side, so shall I return to be buried beside you, my faithful Leah. My dearest wife, you reminded me of the faithfulness of the One God by your words and deeds. I will go to Egypt but my joy in Joseph is less for I am without you.” Jacob’s words were spoken through tears as he laid his hand on hers for the last time before leaving the cave.
The days of mourning ended and the caravan faced southward toward Egypt. The mood was sorrowful as sons and family missed the gentle hand of the woman. For so many years, she had been the inspiration of the tribe. Jacob was not the only one who missed her guidance and love. Dinah divided her days between her family and her father. Like her brothers, she missed the encouragement of her mother even as she took over the duties of overseeing the camp.
Gradually, however, the excitement of reaching Egypt and seeing Joseph again began to occupy everyone’s thoughts.
“I will see my son.” Jacob told his sons daily. Ten of the men wondered if their half-brother would turn on them after the family was safely settled in Egypt. “We must not be tempted by the ways and gods of this land,” the old man warned his sons. “The children must learn all that the God of our fathers has done. They must learn of the blessings and promises given to Abraham and to my father Isaac and to me.”
Levi nodded when Jacob added, “As my beloved Leah said, ‘God is gracious and has blessed me fully throughout my life.’ The One God will be with us in Egypt and like Abraham the Wanderer, we will return to Canaan a great nation.”
Leah found her long-sought-for love and her real faith in God too late. Each of us can take a lesson from her, and accept God’s love now. We can embrace the love of family and friends, esp. on this Mother’s Day weekend. It is the perfect time to think about our own mothers, and the Mother-like love of God.
Will you, do you, allow God to love you like a mother?
Can you accept the love God offers through the lives of family and friends?
Ann Voskamp offers a challenge: "Share one word of affirmation and one word of advice" [with other women].
(Image: Original cover, Beloved Leah, (c) 2001)
(c) Cynthia Davis 2017