01 December 2006

Leah's Eyes

I constantly learn from my Dad. This Thanksgiving was no exception. In the middle of some meal together (although not the Thanksgiving meal), my Dad asked me, “What do you think about Leah?” Now, this sounds out of context, but I know my Dad, and I know that he loves to talk about the Bible. I know only one Leah in the Bible, so I answered, “With her tender or nice or fine eyes?” Bingo! And we were off.
You see, several translations of the Bible call her eyes weak, giving the impression that she was homely or needed Coke bottle glasses, as my Dad said. But, with all of the newer lexicon tools and studies, the translations are changing to call them tender or delicate or pretty. Gentle eyes. (Cf. Gen. 18:7; 33:13)
This is where my Dad took it even further, did his own studies with the Hebrew and how it is used other places in the Bible. The Hebrews often used body parts to symbolize inner features or character. (A familiar one: the heart = will.) Here, my Dad said, the eyes show mental qualities like anger, arrogance, humility, pity, etc (cf. Deut. 7:16; 15:9; 28:54, 56). Rachel was outwardly beautiful; Leah held inner beauty. Jacob chose on outward beauty. Here’s where it gets really interesting, and scary. It seems that Leah was God’s choice for Jacob, and God used Laban’s manipulation and deceit to accomplish that much as God used Jacob’s manipulation and deceit in previous stories with Esau and Isaac. Remember, Leah mothered Judah, the line of David and Jesus, the son of the promise. And, if it is true the polygamy is indeed wrong (which, I think, we all would affirm – although, technically the Bible never explicitly says it’s wrong), then Rachel should have never been Jacob’s wife.
This messes with my Western romance sensibilities. Jacob worked seven years in love with this woman. What do you mean, she should have never been the wife?
Look at the literary clues, my Dad said. (My Dad loves literary clues. Hmm. Do you think that’s where I got it?) Moses points out that Leah was buried with Jacob and Isaac and Rebekah and Abraham and Sarah. Rachel was buried somewhere else entirely. She didn’t belong.
But what about Joseph and how he saved his family from famine?
God uses even our mess-ups for His glory.
But, but, but. This just doesn’t feel right. (Aren’t we glad that God’s character is not based on how we feel something should go?)
Then I remembered a story from my life. I had a first love in college. He broke my heart. Now I am married to the most incredible man in the world. Isn’t that similar to Jacob’s story? Could he not have chosen to love Leah? And, yes, things could have gone down differently. Laban could have tried honesty.
Some thoughts to think about courtesy my Dad, a wise man.


Jeanne Damoff said...

Wow, Heather. Great thoughts on some difficult concepts. I'd heard the different takes on Leah's eyes, but not the symbolism regarding her character or the further extrapolation regarding God's plan for Jacob. Very interesting.

Like you, I labor to wrap my mind around God's ways, but more than anything I'm comforted with the assurance that He brings His purposes to pass with perfect faithfulness--in spite of our selfish, manipulative, deceitful schemes. We are not excused, of course. And that's very sobering. But the good news is, no one in heaven or on earth can stay His hand. Makes me want to dance.

I like your dad! :) Your family sounds a lot like ours. (Only you'd be one of the kids. *wink*) With Grace's degree in theology and Luke being a senior philosophy major, we plow into similar conversational territory often. I love it!

Maybe some day we can gather our families around one big table and solve all the theological problems known to man. Or just laugh a lot. Either works for me.

Erin said...

Maybe HE'S your muse.

Pamela said...

I'd never heard the Eyes thing. Although we have studied that whole twisted triangle several times.

The Bible is so full of God's choices being abandoned for our own.
.... and I'm so thankful we always get the 2nd chance.

Tender eyes ? I'm going to ask my pastor about this.

Maybe you are correct in that it was more how she "looked" upon things. The one who was tender and sensitive to others around her.

Mirtika said...

I would not want to have to marry the brother of the man I love. I find that cruel.

However, I see in the story God's plan, yes. God wanted a great nation, and that requires many Patriarchs. With Leah, Rachel, and the two servants, you get 12 sons to found tribe within a great nation.

I also see mercy. Elder daughters were supposed to marry first (and this tradition carried on to modern times in various countries, even in our hemisphere.) Laban's deceit proved to be a mercy to Leah. And Jacob and Rachel still got to love one another. A srange arrangement, but those born of sin (deceit) usually are.

I do not think too highly of a woman who would cheat her sister--but I understand the cultural and can sympathize with the emotional motivations. Still, how would you feel if your sister lay sexually with your beloved in your place, taking on her hand your wedding ring? Let' snto go to easily on Leah.

Jewish tradition says Leah's eyes were weak from weeping, for she did not wish to marry Esau, an unrighteous man. Her preference was to marry the tzadik, Jacob, and increase her own spirituality in doing so, and and bearing him sons out of righteousness. One could see then God granting her earnest and right-feeling petition.

Stories of that sort also credit Rachel for her humility in remaining silent as she was supplanted, and even, one story says, giving her sister the secret signs so that Leah would be accepted on the marriage bed.

There are stories, as you probably know, that explain why Rachel was buried where she was, and it's purpose was good, not "outcasting."

Whatever the meaning of weak/tender/soft, Rachel was the least to blame in that complex marital scenario. Leah agreed to a deception (a just payback for deceiver Jacob, who tricked his brother: poetic justice). Laban was a greedy twit with idols, mammon first among them, surely. Rachel merely loved a man and wanted to be his wife. She worked, she wasn't a layabout. She was patient. She didn't trick her sister. She didn't lie to Jacob to nab him. She didn't connive with her father. She just loved Jacob. There would have been no polygamy had Laban and Leah not conspired to deceive.

So, sorry, I ain't buying any interpretation that makes Leah better Rachel or a loveless marriage better than a loving one. I will buy that God can choose whatever vessel he wishes for his purposes, and that he does take pity on the suffering and neglected more often than we know. And two women at the mercy of the manipulations of men end up remembered thousands of years later due to the grace of God.
Not bad.


Jennifer said...

Interesting! What a fun little family discussion. I like your dad's research. If he reads, "Hi, Dad."

Last year when I studied Genesis (through BSF and Beth Moore's Patriarchs' study), I really came to see Leah differently. Not just a leftover, but perhaps a love, but I like what your dad says--God's chosen one for Jacob. Some of this was probably colored by the theologically inaccurate, but culturally relevant and interesting The Red Tent, which I read last summer.

Gina said...

This post gave me {shivers}. Never thought of Leah as God's chosen! Great insight and much food for thought!

Gina said...

Hum! I'm still thinking on this one since we're studying the very subjects in homeschooling now (though not in this in depth).

Not sure now if God really had a chosen wife for Jacob, but simply a chosen "family" (Though if I'm remembering this right the servant did ask for a sign from God and then came Rachel.)

One thing is certain, God can use anyone he chooses and Leah, though thought to be least among the two wives, became a great in the lineage!!!

Her story give us a glimpse of God's love and redemption for the hurting people of the world.

Heather said...

Gina - that servant sign story is with Jacob's parents, Isaac and Rebekah.
There are so many layers to this story. First, the deceiver is deceived. Much like the youngest took the oldest's birthright and blessing, Jacob again tried to supplant the rightful order by taking the youngest first. He knew the custom. Did he not suspect anything? But the manipulator was out-manipulated.
Even if Jacob loved Rachel and ended up with Leah, shouldn't he have honored her, his wife, to whom he was now bound? God works all things for good and for His glory.
Mir and Pam - versions that use some form of tender or delicate: NRSV, HCSB, NET, NLT. Also check out Moses' usage of the same hebrew phrase in Dt. 28:54, 56. But there are also usages of the Hebrew rakak which are "weak." A lot of scholars take both routes.
It's a hard issue, but it is what it is, and God used both wives. Both wives manipulated (Jacob for the mandrakes, please). Rachel stole household gods then lied about it. Leah was upheld as an example in Ruth 4:11. Gives me hope, as all those old testament characters who lie, cheat, and steal. God may even use me.

Anonymous said...

I would have chosen Leah. I love those kind of eyes. Makes me want to just gather that women in my arms and kiss her tenderly.

Heather said...

Anon--I love the connection you made with that song!

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Anonymous said...

Been a long time since you posted this. I do not know you but I wanted to thank you for posting the results of your dad's studies of Leah's eyes. I thought that maybe her eyes were "dull" or "weak", another meaning of the original Hebrew in the text, making me think that perhaps she was good looking but had no life in her eyes. Perhaps there was fear. I saw it as a lesson to develop an inner trust in God that will shine through. That's just from this morning based on a passing thought during worship service. With your dad's study, I have yet another interpretation that is of help in my faith journey. Thanks.

Anonymous said...

I don't know you or follow your blog, I was just looking at the same subject and happen here by chance. I really appreciate your entry and much of it makes a lot of sense. Joseph is another interesting note. I have never ever thought about Leah being God's choice, but it sure does make sense. Thanks! Your dad sounds like someone I could talk to for hours, even days. I have been studying scripture since I was 6 and I am still busy at it.