LEAH le’ ə
[?], wild cow
[?]). The eldest daughter of Laban (Gen 29:16
), Jacob’s uncle. Abraham and Nahor were brothers. Nahor remained in the homeland in Haran and married Milcah (11:29
). Nahor and Milcah had eight children of whom one was Bethuel (22:22
). Bethuel, in turn, had two children who are named in the Bible: Rebekah (24:15
) and Laban (24:29
). Rebekah married Isaac and bore Jacob. Laban begat two daughters, Leah and Rachel. Therefore, Leah and Jacob were first cousins.
Leah is described as tender-eyed, which may mean that her eyes were weak (29:17). She was contrasted in appearance with her sister who was beautiful to behold.
Laban craftily gave his eldest daughter first in marriage to Jacob, although Jacob had bargained for Rachel (29:23).
Jacob, resenting the deception, evidently made Leah feel unloved (29:30). To compensate for this, the Lord favored her by giving to her four sons, while her sister remained barren. Her sons were Reuben, Simeon, Levi and Judah. Leah hoped to gain Jacob’s favor over her sister by these sons (29:32).
Later Leah claimed two other sons by her handmaid Zilpah, Gad and Asher (30:10, 12).
The evidence of Leah’s craving for Jacob’s love and feeling spurned by him is seen in her bargain with Rachel for the privilege of lying with her own husband (30:14-18). In this period, Issachar and Zebulun were born. In all, she bore him six sons and one daughter named Dinah.
When faced with a decision between staying with her father or going to Canaan with her husband, Leah showed her willingness to leave her homeland and go with Jacob (31:14). Still Jacob favored Rachel, putting Leah ahead of Rachel in the caravan to keep Rachel as far as possible from Esau whom he feared (33:1, 2).
Possibly the burial of the two wives of Jacob is more significant than anything else. Rachel, whom he had seemingly favored throughout his life, was buried in a tomb near Bethlehem. The place is still marked today. But Leah was buried in the family burial site at Machpelah, where Jacob himself chose to be buried (49:31). Thus perhaps Leah won out in the end over her sister.
Leah certainly was favored as far as God is concerned. Judah, the fourth son, was ultimately the one through whom Israel’s greatness came. Both David and the Christ were of the line of Judah.
A. Edersheim, Bible History, I (1890), 125, 126, 128, 143; Margolis and Marx, History of the Jewish People (1958), 9; D. Thomas, Documents From Old Testament Times (1958), 9; J. Bright, A History of Israel (1960), 125ff.; G. von Rad, Genesis (1961), 284ff.; C. Pfeiffer, Patriarchal Age (1961), 55, 72, 78, 81, 83, 110; National Geographic Society, Everyday Life in Bible Times (1967), 102.
International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)
(le’ah; Leia, "weary," "dull"(?), "wild cow"): Rachel’s sister, and the elder daughter of Laban (Ge 29:16). We are told that her eyes were "tender" rakkoth). Gesenius renders it "weak," Septuagint astheneis; accordingly, she was weak-eyed, but by no means "blear-eyed" (compare Vulgate). Her eyes were lacking that luster which always and everywhere is looked upon as a conspicuous part of female beauty. Josephus (Ant., I, xix, 7) says of her, ten opsin ouk euprepe, which may safely be rendered, "she was of no comely countenance."
Leah became the wife of Jacob by a ruse on the part of her father, taking advantage of the oriental custom of heavily veiling the prospective bride. When taken to task by his irate son-in-law, Laban excused himself by stating it was against the rule of the place "to give the younger before the first-born" (Ge 29:21-26). Although Rachel was plainly preferred by Jacob to Leah, still the latter bore him six sons: Reuben, Simeon, Levi, Judah (Ge 29:31 ), Issachar, Zebulun, and a daughter, Dinah (Ge 30:17-21). Up to this time Rachel had not been blessed with children of her own. Thus the lesson is brought home to us that Yahweh has a special and kindly regard for the lowly and despised, provided they learn, through their troubles and afflictions, to look to Him for help and success. It seems that homely Leah was a person of deep-rooted piety and therefore better suited to become instrumental in carrying out the plans of Yahweh than her handsome, but worldly-minded, sister Rachel.
When Jacob decided to return to the "land of his fathers," both of his wives were ready to accompany him (Ge 31:4,14). Before they reached the end of their journey their courage was sorely tried at the time of the meeting between Jacob and his brother Esau. Although Leah was placed between the handmaids in the front, and Rachel with her son Joseph in the rear, she still cannot have derived much comfort from her position. We may well imagine her feeling of relief when she saw Esau and his 400 men returning to Seir (Ge 33:2,16).
According to Ge 49:31, Leah was buried at Machpelah. We cannot know for a certainty that she died before Jacob’s going down to Egypt, though it is very likely. If she went down with her husband and died in Egypt, he had her body sent to the family burying-place. Ru 4:11 discloses the fact that her memory was not forgotten by future generations. When Boaz took Ru for a wife the witnesses exclaimed, "Yahweh make the woman that is come into thy house like Rachel and like Leah, which two did build the house of Israel."