(As a reminder, read the corresponding chapter in Fear and Faith and the passages listed below. The study will be written in such a way that assumes you’ve read the Scripture references. Please note, this is a book study, not a traditional Bible study. Instead of focusing on one particular book of the Bible, we will skip around to highlight various biblical characters and texts. To learn more, visit the Book Study page at http://www.trillianewbell.com/fear-and-faith-small-group-study/.)
The Story of Leah
Have you ever felt as if your world was crumbling and all things were stacked against you? That no matter what you do or even could think to do, there was no way to turn things to your favor. You can’t make yourself be smart enough, attain a certain status, receive the desired attention or change your appearance to look a certain way—even when you know that much of these desires are driven by worldliness. In Genesis 29, we’re introduced to the story of Leah and I imagine she felt as if her world was crumbling and all things were stacked against her.
We are told that Leah, the eldest daughter of Laban, was unattractive as compared to her sister, Rachel who was “beautiful in form and appearance” (29:17). We also learn that it is customary in the culture at that time for the firstborn to marry first (29:26). This begins a story of heartache, comparison, envy, strife, jealousy, and, miraculously, the faithfulness of God.
Leah and Measuring Up
Leah didn’t have the option of being pursued by a man who loved her. On the contrary, Jacob came to her father interested in marrying her sister, Rachel. Jacob was in love with Rachel and vowed to work for Laban, the girls’ father, seven years for her hand in marriage (29:18). Laban agreed to Jacob’s request but when the seven years were up and it was time to marry Rachel, the father brought him Leah instead. Naturally, Jacob was upset—he was deceived into marrying the wrong sister. Jacob and Laban entered into another seven year agreement so he might have Rachel too. Jacob was able to marry Rachel and the Word says that he loved her more than Leah (29:30).
Leah would spend her whole life trying to win over her husband. Leah bore children in hopes of gaining his affection. After her first three, she believed that Jacob would change. He did not. By the fourth son, it would seem that something changed in Leah’s heart. Instead of hoping in and focusing on Jacob, this time she would praise the Lord for his gift of a son (29:35). Though we are focusing on Leah, it’s worth noting that things weren’t a perfect fairytale for Rachel either. Besides having to share her husband, she was barren for many years and also desired to please her husband through providing a son (30:23). Both women ended up giving their servants to their husband in an effort to conceive more children. And Leah, so desperate to be with her husband, even paid Rachel for a night with Jacob (30:14-16).
Talk about the fear of not measuring up! As I read this familiar story again, I was struck by how clearly we can see the torture and pain these women experienced as they vied for the love of one man. Leah, in particular, was at a great disadvantage because she was thought to be less attractive and wasn’t desired from the beginning. Leah didn’t measure up to the Israelite standards of beauty at the time (sounds familiar, eh?). Leah didn’t gain the attention and affection of her husband based on her faith in God, which is made evident by her continued proclamation that the Lord had heard her (29: 31-35). Truth is, she couldn’t measure up to those standards and she would never be able to force Jacob to love her especially since he was already in love with her sister and hadn’t been interested in her from the start.
God is proven time and time again and throughout all of Scripture to be faithful and good. The Lord loved Leah and continually poured out grace and blessing upon her as evidence of his love towards her. I find it interesting that after Leah’s fourth child, she stopped mentioning the effect that his birth would have on her husband and instead and only praised the Lord (29:35). The Lord then closed her womb for a season. The Lord didn’t change her circumstances with her husband, but he did help her to see that her measures of worth did not depend on outward appearance for His affection. The Lord did not favor and love Leah because she was beautiful, he loved her because he is God, the One who looks at the heart and has great compassion.
You and Me
I’ve felt this sort of fear and pressure to measure up to what I perceived were standards I needed to meet. I’ve also been a part of enough competitions (sports and other activities) to realize that there are times when you simply don’t measure up. And as a new wife, I remember fearing that I wouldn’t be enough for my husband. I wasn’t Betty Crocker and keeping a home wasn’t something I learned much about growing up. Even as a mother, this fear can loom large in my mind if I don’t take my thoughts captive. Will I be able to sufficiently care for my children? There are numerous ways you and I can be tempted to fear we won’t measure up to others standards, societies standards, or even our own standards.
Oh the pressures can be great, but our God is much greater! And our Great God has determined that we don’t and can’t measure up to his standards. Why is this good news? Because he also provided his son who does measure up. Jesus is our substitution. Jesus is our measure. Jesus is our righteousness. We won’t measure up to our silly, worthless standards, and we won’t measure up to the holiness that is required from the Lord. But we can rest because God takes hearts of stone and makes them flesh (Eze 36:26). God gives new life. Our Lord gave his only son to be the payment that we could never pay (1John 2:2). We don’t measure up but he does. Praise the Lord!