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Leah was Jacob’s first wife. It is generally not a good sign when a person’s name means either “weary” or perhaps “wild cow.” More than once, Leah found herself a pawn in someone else’s scheme, unloved and unwanted. But God made her a pillar of His chosen people, the Hebrews.
Leah’s misfortune began when her father, Laban, used her to trick Jacob. Jacob had grown smitten with Laban’s younger and more beautiful daughter, Rachel, and agreed to work seven years in order to marry her. On the wedding night, Laban switched brides without Jacob realizing it until the following morning. When Jacob saw Leah—whom the Jewish historian Josephus described as “devoid of beauty”—he was furious.
For the rest of his life, Jacob never loved Leah the way he loved Rachel.
In response, God blessed Leah, enabling her to bear six sons and a daughter while her sister, Rachel, remained almost completely barren.
Fertility was seen as a sign of divine favor in the ancient world.
Still, Jacob remained indifferent toward Leah. Initially convinced that the birth of her sons would win Jacob’s affection, Leah came to terms with her situation by the time Judah was born. She contented herself with being the recipient of God’s favor instead.
Years later, as Jacob prepared to meet his estranged brother, Esau, Leah received another reminder of her status. Fearful that Esau would attack, Jacob arranged his family in reverse order of importance— sending the servants and their children first, Leah and her children second, and Rachel and her son, Joseph, last. Leah was at least more valuable to Jacob than his servants, but she was still clearly the second favorite.
God’s favor, however, secured an important place for Leah in Israel’s history. One of her sons, Levi, became the ancestor of the Jewish priesthood, while another, Judah, was the father of Israel’s lone dynasty.
Leah’s name, along with Rachel’s, was invoked in a blessing at the marriage of Ruth and Boaz—the great-grandparents of King David. The elders of Bethlehem prayed that God would make Ruth “like Rachel and Leah, who together built up the house of Israel” (Ruth 4:11).