Leah – The Unloved Mother

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Famous Mothers in the Bible Series

Genesis 29:14-35

INTRODUCTION: We are continuing with our series on Famous Mothers in the Bible for Mothers Day. As with all these messages, even though the messages are about mothers and mostly directed towards mothers, because they deal with basic Biblical principles, they are applicable to us all – whether mothers or father, sisters or brothers, daughters or sons.

The next two mothers in our series are Leah and Rachel, the two wives of Jacob. Leah and Rachel go together, and so we will actually be having two Mother’s Day messages this year, one on Leah this week and the other on Rachel next week.

So, today we come to Leah, the unloved mother. Her story is found in Genesis 29:14-35, but we will just read verses 31-35 as we get started. (Read Genesis 29:31-35 and pray.)

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We all want and need to be loved. We especially expect to be loved within the context of marriage and family. But unfortunately, we live in a sinful, fallen world where we do not always love as we ought to love, and where others do not always love as they ought to love. Even family can fail when it comes to love, and that’s probably when life hurts the most.

This is when it’s important to remember that God loves you when no one else does. People may fail you, even members of your own family, but God will never leave you nor forsake you.

And so, we come to Leah. Leah was an unloved mother, and it caused her great personal anguish and pain. Perhaps you are an unloved mother today. Or an unloved father. Or an unloved husband, wife or single. You can benefit from Leah’s story today.

We are going to look at Leah’s story and learn some valuable lessons to help us with our family and other relationships. And we are especially going to look at three things to avoid in life when it comes to relationships: 1) Don’t put all your emphasis on physical appearance; 2) Don’t let anything interfere with the marital bond; 3) Don’t base your identity on your children.

I. Don’t put all your emphasis on physical appearance (Genesis 29:14-20)

So, let’s get started. The first instruction is this. Don’t put all your emphasis on physical appearance. Look at verses 14-20 with me:

After Jacob had stayed with him for a whole month, 15 Laban said to him, “Just because you are a relative of mine, should you work for me for nothing? Tell me what your wages should be.”

16 Now Laban had two daughters; the name of the older was Leah, and the name of the younger was Rachel. 17 Leah had weak eyes, but Rachel was lovely in form, and beautiful. 18 Jacob was in love with Rachel and said, “I’ll work for you seven years in return for your younger daughter Rachel.”

19 Laban said, “It’s better that I give her to you than to some other man. Stay here with me.” 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. (Genesis 29:14-20)

So, Jacob goes to work for his uncle Laban, and Laban tells Jacob to name his wages. Laban has two daughters, Leah and Rachel. The younger daughter, Rachel, apparently was prettier than her older sister, Leah, and we are told that Jacob was in love with Rachel. Jacob tells Laban he will work seven years for Rachel. Laban agrees, and so Jacob works seven years to get Rachel as his bride, but they seemed like only a few days to him because of his love for her.

Now we do not know for sure if Jacob chose Rachel over Leah because she was prettier. It is interesting that the physical description comes first, and then we are told that Jacob was in love with her, but it’s possible that Jacob fell in love with her for other reasons. Nevertheless, Scripture warns us about putting too much emphasis on physical appearance.

   A. Godly character is more important than physical beauty
      – Proverbs 31:30; 1 Peter 3:3-4

The Bible makes it clear that godly character is more important than physical beauty. For example, we read these instructions to wives in 1 Peter 3: “Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as braided hair and the wearing of gold jewelry and fine clothes. Instead, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight.” (1 Peter 3:3-4) Peter’s not saying there’s anything wrong with outward adornment, but that your focus should be on the inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit.

Proverbs 31:30 says: “Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting; but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.” (Proverbs 31:30) That’s the big problem with putting all the emphasis on physical appearance. Physical beauty is fleeting. It fades away. Our youthful, outward beauty eventually gets stolen by time or accident or death or disease.

And so, your focus should be on the unfading beauty of the inner self. Physical beauty is fleeting, but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised. Godly character is more important than physical beauty.

   B. Man looks on the outside, but God looks at the heart
      – 1 Samuel 16:7

We have a tendency to look at the wrong things. The Bible tells us that man looks on the outside, but God looks at the heart. Look at 1 Samuel 16:7: “The Lord does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” (1 Samuel 16:7)

And so, men, when you are looking for a wife, when you are looking for the future mother of your children, don’t put all your emphasis on physical appearance. Don’t pick out your spouse by the world’s standards. Find someone who is beautiful on the inside. And you know what? When you find someone who is beautiful on the inside, they’re going to be beautiful to you on the outside as well.

And women, don’t put all your emphasis on physical appearance either. Physical appearance is important. Take care of yourself. Learn to present yourself well. But it’s far more important to focus on your inner self. Ask God to work in you the fruit of the Holy Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. (Galatians 5:21-22) And that will make you far more beautiful than any Hollywood actress or model out there today.

So, this first instruction is for both the men and women who are here today. Don’t put all your emphasis on physical appearance. It’s a false measure. If you only look for what the world defines as beautiful, you are going to miss out on some truly beautiful people in this world. Godly character is more important than physical beauty. Man looks on the outside, but God looks at the heart.

II. Don’t let anything interfere with the marital bond (Genesis 29:21-30)

The second instruction is this. Don’t let anything interfere with the marital bond. Back to Genesis 29, we see this in verses 21-30:

Then Jacob said to Laban, “Give me my wife. My time is completed, and I want to lie with her.” 22 So Laban brought together all the people of the place and gave a feast. 23 But when evening came, he took his daughter Leah and gave her to Jacob, and Jacob lay with her. 24 And Laban gave his servant girl Zilpah to his daughter as her maidservant.

25 When morning came, there was Leah! So Jacob said to Laban, “What is this you have done to me? I served you for Rachel, didn’t I? Why have you deceived me?” 26 Laban replied, “It is not our custom here to give the younger daughter in marriage before the older one. 27 Finish this daughter’s bridal week; then we will give you the younger one also, in return for another seven years of work.”

28 And Jacob did so. He finished the week with Leah, and then Laban gave him his daughter Rachel to be his wife. 29 Laban gave his servant girl Bilhah to his daughter Rachel as her maidservant. 30 Jacob lay with Rachel also, and he loved Rachel more than Leah. And he worked for Laban another seven years. (Genesis 29:21-30)

So, the seven years are completed, and Jacob asks Laban for his wife, Rachel. Laban brings everyone together for a big feast, but when night comes, he sneaks Leah into the tent instead of Rachel. When morning came, there was Leah!

Jacob complains, rightly so, and Laban explains that it is not their custom to give the younger daughter in marriage before the older daughter. He tells Jacob to finish the bridal week with Leah, and then he will give him Rachel as well – in return for another seven years’ work. So, Jacob finishes his week with Leah. And finally, Laban gives him Rachel. Jacob lies with Rachel, and we are told that Jacob loved Rachel more than Leah.

Now that’s a problem. Jacob is married to Leah, and yet he loves someone more than his wife. He has let something come between him and Leah, in this case, a second wife, Rachel.

Now, having two wives at the same time is not usually a problem in our current culture. But there is a related application we can make from these verses, which is, don’t let anything interfere with the marital bond.

   A. Husband and wife share a one-flesh relationship
      – Genesis 2:24

The Bible tells us that husband and wife share a one-flesh relationship. We read in Genesis 2:24: “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh.” (Genesis 2:24)

When you marry, God joins you to your spouse in a special way. You leave your old families, and you are united to each other. You become one flesh, and you should not let anything interfere with that marital bond. Your most important relationship outside of God is your relationship with your husband or wife.

This is why adultery is wrong. This is why divorcing your spouse to marry someone else is wrong. What God has joined together, let man not separate and you are interfering with the marital bond.

But it doesn’t have to be full-blown adultery or divorce to interfere. An emotional attachment to someone at work, putting friends or other family before your spouse, letting the children come between you and your spouse – all of these interfere with the marital bond, the one flesh relationship you share as husband and wife.

   B. The husband should love his wife as he loves his own body
      – Ephesians 5:28

The Bible says that the husband should love his wife as he loves his own body. We read this in Ephesians 5:28: “Husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself.” (Ephesians 5:28) And, I would add, he who hates his wife, hates himself.

Husbands, how many of you love your own bodies this morning? All of us, right? We all love ourselves. We all want our bodies, our needs, our concerns to be taken care of. Well, husband, you need to apply that same attitude to your wife. You need to make her needs and her interests your primary concern.

I read about a man who came to his pastor for counseling and said, “Pastor, I just don’t love my wife anymore.” The pastor responded, “Then you need to repent!” You see, loving your wife is not just a feeling. It’s a command. Loving your wife is not an option for you as a husband. It is a matter of obedience to Christ.

Jacob loved his wife, Rachel, more than his wife, Leah, and that’s a problem. The Bible tells us that husband and wife share a one-flesh relationship, and the husband should love his wife as he loves his own body. So, that’s our second instruction from our passage this morning. Don’t let anything interfere with the marital bond.

III. Don’t base your identity on your children (Genesis 29:31-35)

1) Don’t put all your emphasis on physical appearance. 2) Don’t let anything interfere with the marital bond. And 3) Don’t base your identity on your children. Back to Genesis 29, let’s look at verses 31-35 now:

When the Lord saw that Leah was not loved, he opened her womb, but Rachel was barren. 32 Leah became pregnant and gave birth to a son. She named him Reuben, for she said, “It is because the Lord has seen my misery. Surely my husband will love me now.”

33 She conceived again, and when she gave birth to a son she said, “Because the Lord heard that I am not loved, he gave me this one too.” So she named him Simeon.

34 Again she conceived, and when she gave birth to a son she said, “Now at last my husband will become attached to me, because I have borne him three sons.” So he was named Levi.

35 She conceived again, and when she gave birth to a son she said, “This time I will praise the Lord.” So she named him Judah. Then she stopped having children. (Genesis 29:31-35)

And so begins a long, tragic cycle of Leah trying to win back her husband’s affection through the bearing of children. God was not pleased that Jacob loved one wife more than the other, and so God sovereignly opened Leah’s womb, but Rachel was barren. We will talk more about barrenness and the pain of infertility when we get to Rachel next week.

Leah gave birth to a son and named him Reuben, saying: “It is because the LORD has seen my misery. Surely my husband will love me now.” The name Reuben is a double pun here. The name literally means, “Behold, a son!” But it also sounds like the Hebrew for, “He has seen my misery.” This whole section is actually full of puns. As Leah names each of her sons, each name has a special meaning.

Leah gives birth to a second son and names him Simeon, saying: “Because the LORD heard that I am not loved, he gave me this one too.” The name Simeon sounds like the Hebrew word for “heard.” Leah is confident that God has heard that she is still not loved, and so he has blessed her with this second son.

Next, she gives birth to a third son and names him Levi, saying: “Now at last my husband will become attached to me, because I have borne him three sons.” The name Levi sounds like the Hebrew word for “joined” or “attached.”

We looked at Genesis 2:24 earlier which says, “A man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh.” (Genesis 2:24) Jacob is failing in his primary responsibility as a husband here, because according to Genesis 2:24 he is supposed to be united or joined or attached to his wife. It’s a different word in Genesis 2 but it carries the same idea or meaning.

Apparently having the first two sons did not change Jacob’s attitude towards her. So, Leah is hoping a third son might do the trick, and Jacob will finally become united or joined or attached to her.

But do you see what Leah is doing here? She is basing her identity on her children. She is actually imposing her identity on her children here. She is literally naming her children based on her own personal pain as an unloved mother.

It’s not until she gets to her fourth son that she finally breaks the cycle. Verse 35 tells us, “She conceived again, and when she gave birth to a son she said, ‘This time I will praise the Lord.’ So she named him Judah. Then she stopped having children.” (Genesis 29:35) The name Judah sounds like the Hebrew word for “praise,” and with her fourth son, instead of focusing on her personal pain, Leah focuses on praising the Lord. Incidentally, it was through the line of Judah that Jesus Christ was eventually born into our world. Isn’t it interesting that it is at Judah’s birth that Leah stops to praise the Lord?

   A. Children are a gift from the Lord, not a means to an end
      – Psalm 127:3

There are some important lessons we can learn from Leah’s experience here. First of all, children are a gift from the Lord, not a means to an end. Psalm 127:3 says: “Sons are a heritage from the Lord, children a reward from him.” (Psalm 127:3)

At first, Leah saw her children as a means to an end. She hoped that having children would cause Jacob to love her. She even named her children after her own personal experiences. But we can’t view our children this way. We don’t own our children. Our children don’t exist for us. They are wonderful, unique human beings, and God has his own plans for them that he will fulfill in his time. Children are a gift from the Lord, not a means to an end.

   B. Find your identity in Christ alone
      – Philippians 1:21

A second lesson we can learn from Leah is to find your identity in Christ alone. The apostle Paul writes in Philippians 1:21: “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.” (Philippians 1:21) Paul found his identity in Christ alone. His life was focused on Christ. For Paul to live was Christ. And to die was to go and be with Christ. And so even death could not take away the thing he loved the most.

If you live for your children or for anything else in this world other than Christ, then to die will be loss for you rather than gain. The only way to know gain in both life and death is to live for Christ alone. Yes, part of your identity is being a mother or father or husband or wife or single or child. But that cannot be your primary identity, or it will let you down. That’s the second lesson we learn from Leah this morning. Find your identity in Christ alone. In fact, one of the best things you can do for your children as a mother is to root your identity in Christ rather than in them.

   C. Trust God’s sovereignty and praise his name
      – Genesis 29:35; Job 1:21

And then, finally, trust God’s sovereignty and praise his name. That’s what Leah did when Judah was born. “She conceived again, and when she gave birth to a son she said, ‘This time I will praise the Lord.’” (Genesis 29:35)

Job said something similar when he lost his children. He said in Job 1:21: “The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised.” (Job 1:21) Job mourned the loss of his children, but he chose to trust God’s sovereignty and praise his name. And Leah learned to do the same.

Did you notice the Bible tells us that after Judah, Leah stopped having children? Leah finally begins trusting God and praising his name, and God stops giving her children. What’s up with that?

I’m so glad that the Bible includes this final detail for us. So often we think that once we start trusting God and praising him that everything else in life will work out perfect for us. But it doesn’t work that way. You will continue to struggle and have troubles in life, but now you will have God to help you as you go through those struggles. Trusting God and praising his name doesn’t lead to a trouble-free life. It does bring you peace and assurance during those struggles because you know God is with you.

Leah’s long struggle to win her husband’s affection through bearing children teaches us an important lesson as mothers and fathers. Don’t base your identity or worth on your children. Children are a gift from the Lord, not a means to an end. You need to find your identity in Christ alone. You need to trust God’s sovereignty and praise his name.

CONCLUSION: Leah was an unloved mother. Jacob loved Rachel more than Leah. This was a sin on Jacob’s part which caused Leah great personal pain in her life.

When you are unloved in your life, especially by family members who should love you best, remember that God loves you when no one else does. Even with Leah who was unloved by her husband, God saw her situation and responded with love, compassion and care.

The good news is that when God is in the picture there’s no such thing as an unloved person. Mothers, fathers, husbands, wives and children – please know this morning that you are loved. The Bible tells us God is love and all love comes from God. (1 John 4:7-8) God says in Jeremiah 31:3: “I have loved you with an everlasting love.” (Jeremiah 31:3) We read in 1 John 4:10: “This is love: not that we loved God, but that God loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.” (1 John 4:10)

My prayer for you this morning is that after hearing this message you will know that God loves you. You will seek to love others as God has loved you. You will receive children and family as gifts from the Lord, and you will not base your value or identity in anyone or anything other than Jesus Christ.

© Ray Fowler

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