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Leah and Rachel of the Old Testament

By Edited Jan 12, 2016 1 2

Did the love between two sisters stay strong even through all of their trials?


Leah and Rachel of the Old Testament

Would jealousy destroy their family?  Because of their father, they both ended up married to the same man, Jacob.  Known as the mothers of the twelve tribes of Israel, Leah and Rachel worked together as a family unit to obey God’s commands. 

Their story began when Jacob made a journey from Beersheba to Haran, about 850 miles.  As he came to the end of his journey, a beautiful woman was approaching a well with her flock of sheep.  Jacob knew he was there to meet the woman he was supposed to marry and surmised this was the going to be his future wife immediately.  His future father-in-law, Laban, was not so sure and needed to be convinced.  He knew his daughters would be the key to his financial gain and success. 

Leah, meaning “young cow,” was the oldest sister and Rachel, “female sheep,” was the youngest and the most beautiful.  There is no suggestion in the Bible, however, that there was any jealousy between the two sisters before they married.  It seems they might have been very close and not only sisters, but friends as well.

Jacob was in love with Rachel but was told by Laban that he would have to work to pay the bride-price before he could be married to her.  Laban insisted that Jacob work for seven long years to earn his bride.  During this time, poor Leah had no offers of marriage.

At the end of the seven years, the weeklong wedding celebration began with a feast attended by members of the whole family and community.  No one knows for sure whether Leah had the role of the bride during this week before the official ceremony.  Most likely, the dark of night and the bride’s veil prevented Jacob from finding out what Laban had planned.  His plan was to substitute Leah for the younger sister, Rachel, as the bride until after their first night was spent together.

Jacob was angry and upset at the deception, but we have no idea how Leah and Rachel felt about the whole situation.  Did the sisters have a choice or were they forced to go along with this deception?  Where was Rachel during the ceremony?  Was she locked away or was this an act of unselfishness on her part to allow her older sister the blessing of marriage? 

The sisters became confused and unsure of the men who were closest to them.  Only through their trust and love of the Lord would they be able to endure the pain and disappointments they faced. 

Laban, when faced with Jacob’s anger, offered him a deal for the hand of Rachel.  Laban proposed that Jacob give Leah her due attention during the full bridal week and then he could also marry Rachel.  Laban also endowed each daughter with her own handmaiden and servant. Zilpah was given to Leah and Rachel received a servant named Bilhah. 

We are not sure whether Jacob actually “hated” Leah or rather she was just “unloved.”  Perhaps he just ignored her existence and discounted her in Rachel’s shadow.  Because of her disfavor with her husband, perhaps God was sensitive to her rejection and gave her the blessings she so richly deserved. 

Leah eventually bore six sons and one daughter.  She chose names for her sons that reflected her growing realization that she needed the Lord’s grace and enduring love more than her husband’s attentions and an elevated position in the family.  Her sons’ names also serve as a reminder of our need for Christ, the Son (Reuben) who opens our communication so that God hears (Simeon) us, joins (Levi) us to the Father with His Atonement, and deserves our eternal praises (Judah) for His sacrifice on our behalf.

Unfortunately, the beautiful Rachel was surrounded with Jacob’s love and attention but bore him no children.  She made the cry, “Give me children, or else I die.”  This cry shows her pain and the void she must have felt with no children in her life.  Even with the gifts showered on her by a loving husband she felt serious disappointment and experienced trials in her faith. 

With all of the turmoil, uncertainties and adversities that Rachel, Leah, and Jacob all faced, they discovered that God was the foundation of their lives. 

Rachel wanted to have children and even though she was barren she found a way to become a mother, by giving her handmaiden Bilhah to her husband as his third wife with the idea that any child that she might have would actually be hers.

Leah, thinking at the time, she would have no more children because she had bore four sons, also gave Jacob her handmaiden, Zilpah.  Because of the high infant mortality rate of the times and the early death of the men due to warfare, polygamy was accepted and not considered unusual. 

Rachel still continued to yearn for a child of her own as both of the handmaidens each bore two sons.  She saw Reuben take mandrakes to his mother, Leah, and pleaded with her to give them to her.  Mandrakes were roots from the mandrake plant and were believed to contain fertility-inducing powers.  In exchange for the plants, she promised to have Jacob spend a night with Leah.  Unfortunately for Rachel, the trade resulted in anther son from Leah and disappointment for Rachel. 

Rachel waited for years to have her righteous desires for children to become fulfilled.  Rachel eventually gave birth to two sons and died in giving life to her last born.  Her two sons were Joseph and Benjamin. 

Both sisters learned to rely on their God rather than on status, appearance, or family circumstance, and they developed strength and wisdom beyond their natural abilities.  They became the ancestresses of many of Israel’s leaders.  Rachel would have Deborah, Samuel, Gideon, Jephthah; and Saul, the first king of Israel.  Leah’s posterity was every bit as impressive.  She was the ancestress of Moses and Aaron and more importantly, through her son Judah, Leah was an ancestress of Jesus Christ.



Mar 9, 2011 2:19am
Very good read. Thanks!
Mar 17, 2011 8:11pm
Thanks for writing about Leah and Rachel, two strong women in Biblical history.
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