A sermon based on Genesis 29:21-35 – submitted by Susan Moore, Coordinator of Youth and Young Families, The Parish of the Ascension, Mount Pearl, NL.
Page One – Brokenness in the Biblical World.
Leah was unloved. There is nothing more detrimental to one’s heart than being rejected, not being loved in return. So it is with Leah. Her father arranged her marriage to Jacob, a man who worked seven years to secure her younger sister’s hand. He didn’t want her. But her father Laban wanted Leah married first, as was the custom, and sent her, most likely veiled, to the marriage bed. But Leah was unloved. How it must have hurt her when Jacob’s shock was apparent in the morning. He wasn’t attracted, and he wasn’t grateful, for it was Rachel that he loved.
Leah has pretty eyes. That’s it. She was nothing special, and certainly not beautiful. Not like Rachel. You can hear Jacob saying, “She’s okay, but…” certainly not his first choice. Leah was unloved. “How will he ever love me if I’m not beautiful?” She wasn’t beautiful, and thus she had to settle for being second choice. Can there be anything more miserable, more dejecting? No doubt Leah knew that it was her lack of beauty that made her unwanted and unloved.
However, Jacob didn’t mind fulfilling his marriage duties, and subsequently, Leah bore him four sons. With each baby, Leah prays for the one thing she doesn’t have – her husband’s love. She is hated, and she never does procure his love in the account. The chapter gives plenty of examples. “… and he loved Rachel more than Leah”, “the LORD saw that Leah was unloved”, “the LORD has heard that I am hated”, and so forth.
Page Two – Brokenness in our World.
Sometimes we give and give and give, yet we are still unloved. Many people can identify with Leah. She did all she could but it still wasn’t good enough. She would always be less attractive than her sister. So it was in biblical times and so it can be today. We know that in this world one’s looks can open a lot of doors. Oftentimes, we are judged solely on our appearance, and our beauty determines our worth in various spheres, such as the workplace. From television anchors to fitness instructors, people, and women in particular, are taught that they would be “better” if only they were taller, thinner, blonde or curvaceous. We don’t know what was “wrong” with Leah. Perhaps she was a size 16 instead of a 6. Perhaps her nose was unflattering or her hair was too thin. It doesn’t matter – Leah was unloved. She felt Jacob’s lack of love most acutely, and she suffered for it.
So, Leah had to compensate by being the best child-bearing wife she could be. She unfailingly, dutifully slept with a man who would rather be in bed with somebody else. She never complained once, because maybe, maybe, he would love her this one time.
And so, maybe a freckled and plain Anglo-Irish Newfoundland girl can send her picture to Hollywood. But she probably won’t get a response. Maybe she’ll do aerobics and get liposuction and rhinoplasty, buy the airfare, and leave her family, only to wait tables on the elite. Maybe she is dreaming that someone will love her, choose her, just as Leah did. Does anyone out there care?
Page Three – Grace in the Biblical World.
God cares! God blesses Leah in the best way that God can bless a woman in the ancestral biblical world; he blessed her with babies. Jacob’s first four babies, all boys, were born of Leah. God’s best gift to Leah was Leah’s best gift to Jacob.
God cares about Leah. He saw that she was unloved. Did He ignore her? No. He provided. Leah cried out to God, she prayed to God. He answered. She was assured of His presence and His love, as she says in verse 32, “because the LORD has seen my affliction.” In verse 33, she is also certain, “Because the LORD has heard that I am hated.” She knows God’s presence, and by the time the fourth baby comes, she is praising God for being there for her in verse 35.
God saw and God heard. Leah was unloved – but not by God. Because she was unloved by a man, God ensured that Leah knew she was loved by Him. God remembered her. God loved her.
Page Four – Grace in our World.
God remembers us too! How? Just as he gave Leah four babies, he gives us something to be thankful for in our lives. We may not be Hollywood starlets or supermodels, and we may not be on anyone’s A-list. Perhaps nobody would pick us first. But God doesn’t care about our appearance. It’s true! It is affirmed in 1 Samuel 16:7: “Do not look on his appearance”, the LORD says to Samuel, “for the LORD does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart.”
Maybe we are overlooked, unimpressive or unloved. But God would know this, just as he wrote all the days that were formed for us, even before we existed. The author of Psalm 139 attests to that. Just as Leah did, when we cry out, God will answer.
Perhaps you have seen the commercials on television for the new Dove campaign. An eight year old thinks she is ugly. A ten year old wishes she was blonde. A twelve year old thinks she is fat. The campaign phrase answers, “Let’s tell her she’s wrong.” It is not an advertisement to sell their soap. It is to advertise the Dove self-esteem fund, in their Campaign for Real Beauty. The Dove Company is trying to teach people that beauty comes in many different shapes and sizes, ages and weights. The thing is, Leah was beautiful. She was a beautiful mother. She just didn’t know it.
God sees us and hears us too. He knows our hearts, and judges us by them. He is acting to make us feel loved. In biblical times, he gave Leah the highest form of prestige – to mother four boys in succession. In our times, He may do things a little differently, but his message is the same: I hear your cries, and I love you. You are beautiful. You are loved.
Stay tuned for a two part on “Pop Culture and How it Distracts Us from Faith.”
A comment from Matt:
“First, I always thought this story was about Jacob and him been screwed over by Laban, but now I can see that Leah was truly the one who was neglected and duped. It’s sad to see that this sort of body image and prejudice took place in the biblical times but, perhaps, is even more prevalent in our world today. I liked how Susan tied it all together in the second half by returning us to the core of the message, that God cares and that He has a plan for all of us, despite what we or our culture would judge us to be. I mean, how often have I thought about doing something good then second-guessed myself because I feared what others would think of me? Certainly, I can’t fully understand how deep these issues prevail amongst women in our society, but I can understand the feeling of insecurity and rejection. God is love and He loves us, made us each in our own way and, in HIS own image. Keeping that in mind, it gives me confidence that God does have a plan for each of us, and that we are all beautifully created. Keeping that in mind, it’s easier to judge others less on their outward appearance, but on their outward actions.”