The Unloved

By Chuck Griffin
LifeTalk Editor
“Jacob Urging Rachel and Leah to Flee Laban,” Pieter Symonsz Potter, 1638.

Genesis 29:31-35 (NRSV)

When the Lord saw that Leah was unloved, he opened her womb; but Rachel was barren. Leah conceived and bore a son, and she named him Reuben; for she said, “Because the Lord has looked on my affliction; surely now my husband will love me.” She conceived again and bore a son, and said, “Because the Lord has heard that I am hated, he has given me this son also”; and she named him Simeon. Again she conceived and bore a son, and said, “Now this time my husband will be joined to me, because I have borne him three sons”; therefore he was named Levi. She conceived again and bore a son, and said, “This time I will praise the Lord”; therefore she named him Judah; then she ceased bearing.

Desperate sadness surrounds this part of Jacob’s story in Genesis. If you don’t know all the background, I would encourage you to find a plain-English translation and read Genesis chapters 27 through 36—it’s just a good story!

Leah was married only because her father tricked her husband Jacob into taking her, when Jacob really wanted her younger, more beautiful sister, Rachel. Within a week of marrying Leah, Jacob married Rachel, too, making Leah the ultimate third wheel in her own home.

Jacob wasn’t reluctant to use Leah for breeding purposes, but clearly, there was no affection. Undoubtedly, he held her father’s deception against her, even though there was no way in her day she could have defied her father. It’s not hard to imagine Leah weeping over her circumstances, crying out “Why?” to God. All she wanted was to be loved, too.

In this story, we see early evidence of how God notices and blesses the unloved. God gave Leah what a woman needed most in those days to be relevant, male sons, heirs for her husband. And in her case, she ultimately delivered the progenitors of six tribes of Israel, including Judah’s tribe of kings and Levi’s line of priests in the first flurry of four sons. Jacob may have failed to love Leah, but God honored her mightily.

In Matthew 1, the lineage for Jesus’ earthly father, Joseph, traces back to Judah, making Leah very much a part of Jesus’ family memory. I wonder if the boy Jesus, sensitive to the stories of his world, was moved by his ever-so-great grandmother’s need to be loved. Did her story echo in his mind as Jesus reached out to the unloved of his day? Jesus spent a lot of time with untouchably ill people, traitorous tax collectors, prostitutes, and other outsiders, ministering to them in ways supposedly holy people would not.

There’s a lesson here for the church today. Filled with the Holy Spirit, we act on God’s behalf. And there’s no doubt we are called as the church to love the unloved as God loves them. There’s plenty of evidence of this call in the New Testament. Matthew 25:31-46 alone should be enough to convince us.

We are led to a simple question. Do we know the unloved around us?

Lord, give us eyes to see and ears to hear so no one in our community is left unloved and alone. Amen.

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