Meet Leah: First Wife of Jacob

Jacob's first wife was second in his heart

Rachel and Leah
Rachel and Leah, painting by James Tissot. SuperStock / Getty Images

Leah in the Bible is the older daughter of Laban and Jacob's first wife. She is also someone many people can identify with. Through no fault of her own, she was not one of the "beautiful people" and it caused her a lifetime of heartache.

Relevant Lessons From Leah's Life

God does not love us because we are beautiful or handsome, brilliant or successful. Neither does he reject us because we don't meet the world's standards for being attractive. God loves us unconditionally, with a pure, passionate tenderness. All we have to do for his love is accept it.

Leah's Story in the Bible

Jacob traveled to Paddan-Aram to find a wife from among his relatives. When he met Rachel, he fell in love with her at first sight. Scripture tells us Rachel was "lovely in form, and beautiful." (Genesis 29:17, NIV)

In the same verse is a description of Leah that scholars have been arguing about for centuries: "Leah had weak eyes." The King James Version renders it as "tender eyed," while the New Living Translation says "There was no sparkle in Leah's eyes," and the Amplified Bible says "Leah's eyes were weak and dull looking."

Many Bible experts say the verse refers to Leah's lack of attractiveness rather than her eyesight. That seems logical since a contrast is made with her beautiful sister Rachel. Leah fell short of the conventional standard of beauty in the ancient world.

Jacob worked for Rachel's father Laban seven years for the right to marry Rachel. Laban tricked Jacob, however, substituting the heavily-veiled Leah on the dark wedding night. When Jacob found out he had been tricked, he labored another seven years for Rachel.

The two sisters competed throughout their lives for Jacob's affection. Leah bore more children, a highly honored achievement in ancient Israel. But both women made the same mistake as Sarah, offering their maidservants to Jacob during times of barrenness.

Leah and Rachel
Leah and Rachel. Photo: Getty Images

In the long run, Leah was recognized by the Jewish people as an important person in their history, as this verse from the book of Ruth shows:

Then the elders and all the people at the gate said, “We are witnesses. May the Lord make the woman who is coming into your home like Rachel and Leah, who together built up the family of Israel. May you have standing in Ephrathah and be famous in Bethlehem." (Ruth 4:11, NIV)

At the end of Jacob's life, he requested to be buried beside Leah (Genesis 49:29-31), suggesting that he'd come to recognize the virtue in Leah and had grown to love her as deeply as he loved Rachel. This great honor Leah received in death illustrates Matthew 19:30: "But many who are first will be last, and many who are last will be first." (NIV)

Biographical Sketch

Leah's story in the Bible is told in Genesis chapters 29-31, 33-35, 46, and 49. She is also mentioned in Ruth 4:11. Leah was born in the town of Paddan-Aram, the oldest daughter of Laban, sister of Rachel, and niece of Rebekah. Leah's name is variously said to mean "wild cow," "gazelle," "wearied," and "weary" in Hebrew.

As Jacob's wife, Leah bore him six sons: Reuben, Simeon, Levi, Judah, Issachar and Zebulun. These men were among the founders of the 12 tribes of Israel. As the mother of Judah, Leah was part of the ancestry that led to the birth of Jesus Christ, the Savior of the world.

Leah was a loving and faithful wife. Even though her husband Jacob favored Rachel, Leah remained committed, enduring this unfairness through faith in God.

Because Leah’s story in the Bible is so intertwined with that of her sister, Rachel, and their husband, Jacob, she often goes unnoticed, living in the shadows. Her story illustrates that God often chooses to fulfill his plans and purposes by using those who are overlooked by others.

Leah tried to make Jacob love her through her deeds. This fault of hers is a symbol for those of us who try to earn God's love rather than simply receive it.

Key Bible Verses

Genesis 29:23
But when evening came, he (Laban) took his daughter Leah and gave her to Jacob, and Jacob lay with her. (NIV)

Genesis 29:31
When the LORD saw that Leah was not loved, he opened her womb, but Rachel was barren. (NIV)

Genesis 49:29-31
Then he gave them these instructions: “I am about to be gathered to my people. Bury me with my fathers in the cave in the field of Ephron the Hittite, the cave in the field of Machpelah, near Mamre in Canaan, which Abraham bought as a burial place from Ephron the Hittite, along with the field. There Abraham and his wife Sarah were buried, there Isaac and his wife Rebekah were buried, and there I buried Leah. (NIV)

Sources

  • "Leah." Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary (p. 1021).
  • "Leah, Daughter of Laban." The Lexham Bible Dictionary.