Heroes of Faith 2 - Leah message by guest speaker David Brickner. For more information, visit cornerstone-sf.org
Thank you, it’s great to be here this Labor Day weekend. It seems to become a tradition the last couple of years, to be able to share and be invited. It’s great to be here with the Mission Campus and the Lake Merced Campus. I hope you have a great Labor Day tomorrow as well. The hero of faith that I’ve chosen for us to explore together today is Leah. She was the first wife of the patriarch, Jacob, the man who came to be known as Israel. I love Leah. First of all, because my mom is named Leah. You have to love your mom, right? She lives in Jerusalem and in Hebrew, it’s pronounced L-EE-uh. That’s what they call her in Israel. For me, it always reminds me of a certain princess from Star Wars.
For our purposes here today, we’re going to call her Leah. I love Leah, not just because it’s my mom’s name, but because Leah is a character in the scriptures who confronted pain. The pain of rejection. As we all live and breathe, I believe we’ve all had to confront this pain of rejection. Whether it’s not being chosen until the last person in the kickball team at elementary school, or hearing those mean girl kinds of cuts and humiliations concerning our appearance, or whatever it is growing up to the more painful things that happen throughout life. Friends, love, and family dysfunction. We’ve all had to experience rejection.
When I mentioned the word rejection, where did your mind go in terms of your own life experience? It takes many of us to a very tender, fragile, and broken place. It’s my hope and prayer that as we look at how Leah, in her life, confronted painful rejection. How she lived and triumphed through it, that we’ll gain hope for our own lives. This story that we’re going to read continues a narrative that Pastor Terry spent three weeks with us on the story of Eliezer of Damascus. Eliezer traveled from Israel to Haran up in Northern Syria to find a wife for his master, for Abraham’s son Isaac. It’s a beautiful story. We focused in and saw some very different cultural things that were happening when Eliezer finally found Rebecca and brought her back to meet Isaac. What a beautiful picture the story ended with where they embraced and were married. It says Isaac was comforted by Rebecca in the death of his mother, Sarah.
The story continues. From that point of beauty, it takes a shift downward. Rebecca and Isaac love each other and have two boys, twin sons, that bring some real dysfunction within the family. Jacob and Esau are the twins. Isaac prefers Esau. Jacob is preferred by Rebecca. This contention manifests itself in lots of different ways until finally, Rebecca helps Jacob to snatch away the blessing from his brother, Esau. There’s this sense in which it becomes a broken, broken family. Esau is so enraged that he and his father had been deceived by Jacob and by Rebecca, his mother, that he swears he’s going to kill his brother. Jacob has to flee. He runs all the way back to where Rebecca was found by Eliezer, to the north, to Haran. Jacob comes to meet Rebecca’s brother, Laban, his uncle Laban with nothing but the clothes on his back. Fleeing dysfunction, fleeing this kind of pain.
That’s where we pick up the story. Pastor Terry reminded us as we were looking that these stories contain cultural things that we’re unfamiliar with. Sometimes it’s easy for us to sit in judgment on the Scriptures. People sometimes get mad at God when they read these Bible stories because we see women being mistreated, unfair things happening, and people’s lives being snatched away. We blame God for it, but the Bible is not a book of fairy tales or a book of virtues. It’s a book that divinely unfolds the human drama and shows what life is really like, warts and all. It then helps us to see how through the grace of God we can overcome some of the pain of the brokenness we experience in this world.
That’s what we’re going to see as we look at this story now. We see now that Jacob is with Laban. Penniless, Jacob is invited to work and to live with his uncle Laban. Verse 16, “Now, Laban had two daughters. The older daughter was named Leah and the younger one was Rachel. There was no sparkle in Leah’s eyes, but Rachel had a beautiful figure and a lovely face. Since Jacob was in love with Rachel, he told her father, “I’ll work for you for seven years if you give me Rachel, your younger daughter, as my wife.” “Agreed,” Laban replied, “I’d rather give her to you than to anyone else. Stay and work with me.” So Jacob worked seven years to pay for Rachel, but his love for her was so strong that it seemed to him but a few days.
It’s quite an exceptional introduction to this drama that we’re going to go through today. I want us to understand the introduction of these two daughters. It says, “Leah had no sparkle in her eye.” The actual Hebrew, rakak, means that she had weak eyes. It is not that she could go and get glasses and be okay. There was something of a Hebrew euphemism that speaks to us in contrast to the way Rachel is described. Leah has weak eyes, but Rachel is beautiful of form and face. In reality, that euphemism is basically saying, “Leah is not so good looking.” Painful to be introduced to a world in that context. Isn’t that what we often see? The Bible says that people look on the outward, God looks on the inward. My granddaughter, Nora, has a children’s Bible storybook. It tells a story that basically says Leah was ugly and Rachel was beautiful. Nora says, “Does God love ugly people too?” I said, “Yes, God loves everyone.”
Here’s the situation that certainly must have set up a competition, maybe some bad feelings between the two sisters. We don’t know. We know that because of this, it’s very clear that Jacob, maybe he’s shallow or for whatever reason, loves the younger sister, Rachel, not the older sister, Leah. He has a problem. It’s that he’s come to his uncle Laban with nothing but the shirt on his back. So he doesn’t have a dowry. He is not able to pay the bride price. That’s something we don’t understand in our culture, but it’s still alive in other cultures in the world. If you want to marry a woman, you have to be able to show that to her family by giving a sizable gift to her father. I was taking a group of college students to Israel once. We were out wandering around and this man came up and said, “I’d like to offer 5 goats and 20 chickens for one of the girls in the group.” Needless to say, we didn’t take the offer, but it provided quite a conversation for us. This is the drama of what’s going on here. Jacob says, “I’m going to work seven years. I’m willing to do it if I can marry Rachel.” That’s a long engagement. I don’t recommend it, but that’s what happened. We continue with the story in verse 21.
Finally, the time came for Jacob to marry Rachel. “I fulfilled my agreement,” Jacob said to Laban. “Now give me my wife so I can sleep with her.” So Laban invited everyone in the neighborhood and prepared a wedding feast. But that night, when it was dark, Laban took Leah to Jacob and he slept with her. Laban had given Leah a servant, Zilpah, to be her maid. When Jacob woke up in the morning, it was Leah. “What have you done to me?” Jacob raged at Laban. “I worked seven years for Rachel. Why have you tricked me?” “It’s not our custom here to marry off a younger daughter ahead of the firstborn,” Laban replied, “Wait until the bridal week is over. Then we’ll give you Rachel too, provided you promise to work another seven years for me.” So Jacob agreed to work seven more years. A week after Jacob had married Leah, Laban gave him Rachel too. Laban gave Rachel a servant, Bilhah, to be her maid. Jacob slept with Rachel too, and he loved her much more than Leah. He then stayed and worked for Laban for the additional seven years.
What a tragic development. We read this story and say, “How is it even possible that this could come about?” It can and it did because of what we need to know about the ancient Near Eastern custom of weddings, Jewish weddings in particular. First, there was a big party that everybody held. When people party late into the night, it’s dark. In the midst of the party, they would set up a wedding tent. The marriage was consummated inside the tent in the midst of the crowd. It’s the chuppah, that Jewish people do to this day. The canopy under which Jewish marriages are brought about is a reminiscence of that ancient ceremony of the marriage tent. The bride would wait in that tent with a veil over her face. The husband would not see the face of his bride until after the wedding was consummated. So you can see how this could happen.
The amazing thing is, if you understand from Jacob’s previous life, how he deceived his father and tricked his brother, you can see the chickens coming home to roost here. The deceiver was deceived by someone more deceptive than him. He’s enraged. But Laban has an answer, which probably has some truth to it. “Hey, we don’t marry off the younger before the older in our custom, in our culture.” I’ve seen some remnants of that in our society too. It becomes a problem if the younger gets married before the older one. There’s jealousy and tension.
Here’s this amazing situation. Jacob only had to wait one more week. Think about the trauma that brought. One week after she marries her husband, her sister, the beautiful one gets invited into the marriage tent. They’re both together with the same man. It says that Jacob loved Rachel much more than Leah. Talk about experiencing pain. Talk about rejection. Talk about continuing this dysfunction in the family. It did create a horrible animosity between the two sisters. If we hadn’t seen it up until now in the following chapters, we see that unfolding. It’s tragic. The story continues in verse 31. “When the Lord saw that Leah was unloved,” it’s not like the Lord said, “Hey, would you look at that?” God knows all things and he sees all things, but we’re reminded that when He sees, it means that He is with us and understands what’s going on. He is going to do something about it.
“When the Lord saw that Leah was unloved, he enabled her to have children, but Rachel could not conceive.” More attention. “Leah became pregnant and gave birth to a son. She named him Reuben for, she said, “The Lord has noticed my misery and now my husband will love me.” She soon became pregnant again and gave birth to another son. She named him Simeon for, she said, “The Lord heard that I was unloved and has given me another son.” Then she became pregnant a third time and gave birth to another son. He was named Levi for, she said, “Surely this time my husband will feel affection for me since I have given him three sons.” Once again, Leah became pregnant and gave birth to another son. She named him Judah for, she said, “Now I will praise the Lord.” Then she stopped having children.”
There is an amazing picture that is portrayed here of Leah giving birth while Rachel cannot and giving names to the children. It was a very important function in the ancient Near Eastern culture because it not only expressed some sensibility about what would happen to that child, but it especially gave context for what was happening with the parents or parent in that situation when the child was born. We can see this amazing unfolding of this progression. Remember, this didn’t just happen in the few verses we read. It happened over a few years, four or five years certainly, to have four sons being born. All along, Leah is trying to find the love that she hasn’t experienced. She’s trying to win the love of her husband. She expresses that with the names of her sons.
Reuben is the firstborn son, Re’uven. “The Lord has seen. I’ve got a son. Surely my husband will love me.” The second Simeon, Shimon. “The Lord hears two is better than one. I’m sure he is going to love me,” but he doesn’t. Third son, Levi, Le’vi. Attached. “The Lord has attached a third son so that my husband will be attached to me.” That didn’t happen. Finally, four years into this painful odyssey, Judah is born. “I will praise the Lord. I will praise the Lord.” This process, this anguish of heart. Then something happens, doesn’t it? Something of God’s grace. That’s what I want us to unpack together.
From looking at this story, there are going to be three principles that we can see from Leah’s life to help us when we have to confront this kind of pain and rejection. The first is to accept what is true; accept what is true about ourselves, others, and situations. If we want to be honest and confront that rejection in a healthy and positive way, we need to be willing to accept what is true. The plain spokeness in the way the Bible describes Leah is painful. Yet it’s not anything that she’s to blame for. Or anything that she could do anything about. It’s the way she was. The simple fact is that life is that way. We’re not living in Lake Wobegon where all the women are strong, the men are good-looking, and the children are above average. Life has dealt out different varying gifts to people; looks, intelligence, capability. We carry pain sometimes for things that we had no choice in, in just the way we were born, or the family that we were raised in.
That’s true. We need to accept that. When I mentioned that word, rejection before, where did your mind go in terms of your own life experience? We need to see that there’s a reality in our lives. It’s best for us to accept and not to try to pretend it isn’t. I remember the time when I became convinced that an NBA career was not in the cards for me. I grew up with a basketball hoop on the garage. I practiced my shot and my dribbling and even made the eighth-grade team. During the practice before the season started, I remembered making the shots from the outside. One day, when I drove for the basket and went to make the layup, I was looking in the chest of big John Dahlstrom who was blocking me. I realized this is going to be a problem. The coach realized it too. I spent most of the season on the bench. The last-minute substitutes
I realized, “Okay. That’s a problem. The sport has outgrown me.” It’s a reality I have to deal with. It’s not my choice, but that’s the way it is. Sometimes it gets even more painful and we joke about it. My mentor and the founder of Jews for Jesus, Moishe Rosen, was a very large man. He was about 6’2″, but he was over 350 pounds. Moishe used to joke about his weight. He’d say, “I’m not fat. I’m just too short for my weight.” He’d smile and people would laugh. But I knew. There was a bit of pain behind that joke. We all figure out ways to deal with things that we can, or many times, can’t do anything about.
The point is we need to not allow that pain to dictate how we begin to behave. There are some really self-destructive behaviors when our self-image and self-esteem are at stake. Instead, what we need to do is look to the Lord to find out what is the truest and best thing that God has said about who we really are. Remember, people look at the outward appearance, but God looks at the heart. That’s where the most important thing is. God has given gifts to each and every one of us. What are those things? We need to focus on those things and find those things to be a blessing for our lives. Sometimes, it’s not that people are trying to hurt us when they respond. I think about Jacob and Leah. It wasn’t really his intention to cause pain. He loved Rachel, but Leah was brought into his life unexpectedly. He did his best with the situation, but it wasn’t his intention to cause her pain.
Maybe even Laban, though he was a deceiver, was thinking, “My daughter, I need to take care of her. I hope that she can get married. I’m going to make sure she does. It’s our custom. It’s our culture.” I don’t think he intended to cause pain to his daughter, but he did. Even the relationship between Leah and Rachel. There’s this sense in which Rachel was reacting out of her own pain. Her older sister was given to the man she loved and who loved her. She had to deal with that. Then her older sister was able to give birth to children and she was not, at least for a while. She eventually does, but there are many times when the experience we receive from other people is simply because they’re acting out of their own pain and rejection. When we can understand that, we can accept the truth of those realities. It helps us to get past that pain and embrace the reality of God’s love for us and the things God has done for us.
This leads to the second principle for dealing with rejection; find our identity in God. Leah was hoping to overcome rejection and gain the love of her husband through the birth of children, through giving him sons. She is a picture of all of us who seek to find love and acceptance in life in the wrong places. We think, “If we can only change our circumstances,” it’s within our grasp to remove ourselves from whatever it is that’s causing us pain. We end up living with the “if only’s” of life. If only I could get that one job that I’ve been looking for. If only I could find the love of this one person. If only I could have children. This would solve my problem.
Instead, we need to find our identity in God and not in these things or other people. We need to find out, first of all, what he says about us. God says some wonderful things about us. First, if we know Him, we’re His children. You’re a child of the creator of the universe. He made you fearfully and wonderfully. His love and affection are with you regardless of how others have responded or how you feel. His love is with you. I’m a child of God. Jesus called us His friends. “If you follow me, you’re my friend.” We’re friends of the king. That should change how we think about ourselves because we would find our identity in these realities that are not just for now, but for all time and eternity.
We’ve been accepted by God and the person of Jesus Christ. We are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which He created before the foundation of the world. These are all things that are true about us and what God says about us. Learn those things, confess those things, believe those things, and watch what God does. To paraphrase Esau Denison, ‘we have to embrace the idea that God had when he made us. God said, ‘Very good.’ Look for the things that God says about us and look for the things that God wants to do for us.’
Leah was looking for love and affection from her husband and she didn’t get it. So she tried to get it by having children that would certainly change the circumstances. The Lord saw Leah’s rejection. He did give Leah children, but not for the reasons she thought. It was not so she could win the love of her husband, but so she could discover the love of God. That’s what came when finally after four or five years, she said, “Judah. I will praise the Lord.” Don’t you see that the grace is in the praise? When we’re finally able in the midst of whatever pain or rejection we’ve experienced to just say, “You know what? I’m going to praise the Lord. I’m going to have joy in Him.” That changes everything. That gives a spiritual power and a dynamic that made a difference in Leah’s life. God will help us and provide us with situations that will help us to endure the pain of rejection and overcome it.
My most painful experience in life was when my wife of 26 years said to me, “I don’t love you anymore.” It was devastating. In the midst of all of this, my son, Isaac, who grew up in this church, married his sweetheart, Shayna. They had an August wedding. It was a difficult time because the following month, my wife left. They were both students at Biola University at the time and had two years to go to finish. They were not planning on having children and did what you’re supposed to do to not have children. But the following June, my granddaughter, Nora, was born. Oh, the joy that Nora brought into our lives.
Just recently, I was in Southern California talking with my son about this reality and how much I love her. We were talking with some friends about how she was born before Isaac and Shayna were prepared to have her come into our lives. Isaac said, “You know? I’ve come to believe that God intended for Nora to be born when she was because He knew how much our family needed her.” God did that for us, for me. I see that now. I praise Him for His grace. Look for the things that God will do for you to compensate for whatever pain you might be enduring. He does that because He loves us. This leads me to the third and final principle; leave the rejection at the foot of the cross. Leave it. Just leave it there. We have to do that. That spiritual discipline will make it all a reality for us. This is a principle that is perhaps the most powerful from the story. Though the least apparent because it has to do with this child that was born named Judah. “I will praise the Lord.”
We’ve already understood that praise is a decision we make. It’s not based upon circumstances, but because we know God is in the midst of it. Judah was an important person. He was one of the 12 sons of Jacob. Not many chapters after this, Jacob was dying and says a blessing over each of his children. Concerning Judah, he says in Genesis 49, “The scepter will not depart from Judah, nor the ruler’s staff from his descendants until the coming of the one to whom it belongs.” It’s a strange phrase. The word is shylh in Hebrew. It’s a bit mysterious. “Until the coming of the one to whom it belongs. The one whom nations will honor.”
This is a prophetic word concerning Judah. What does it mean? First, it tells us that of the 12 sons who will become the fathers of the nation of Israel, the kingly line is Judah. But more than that, this is going to be the king whom all the nations honor. There’s a powerful truth here. That God had a plan all along with Leah and the birth of this son, Judah, that she perhaps didn’t even see, but it was God’s intention. “Your son is going to be the one from whom all the kings of Israel are born.” That was true about King David, the line of Judah. Solomon? Line of Judah. Jesus, line of Judah. He’s the King of Kings. In that sense, Leah becomes the great, great, great, great, great, great grandmother of the Messiah Himself. What an amazing thing that God had in store. Leah couldn’t have known, but we can look back and see. Learn to trust God in our circumstances because we know He knows better than us what He’s doing.
There’s more to it than that. Leah’s life and her experience of rejection foretold, not just the coming of the King, but the work of the King. Isaiah 53 predicts an amazing turn of events in the coming of the Messiah. It says concerning Him, “He was despised and rejected; a man of sorrows acquainted with deepest grief. We turned our backs on Him and looked the other way and He was despised and we did not care. We all have a share in this reality that He experienced.” It is one of the most powerful realities because Leah’s experience of rejection foreshadowed the work of the Messiah Himself. Think about all the rejection that Jesus endured on His way to the cross. The Bible tells us that Jesus now understands our pain, rejection, and weakness because He faced the same thing in His own life. Because He understands our pain and rejection, we can leave that pain at the foot of His cross. Leave it at the foot of the cross.
One more thing. Because Jesus experienced rejection, we are now accepted. Isn’t that amazing? His life provides access for those of us who embrace Him, access into the very presence of God, forgiveness, life, and light. He had to experience that rejection on our behalf so that we could experience the acceptance of God because of His grace. Leah didn’t know that for sure, but God did. The amazing thing is that we live a life that is still painful. I think in one sense, the pain and the rejection we experience helps us to long for a future life too. A life where there will be no more sorrow, no more tears, and no more rejection because we’ll be in the presence of the one who loves us more fully than even ourselves. We don’t have to wait until then to begin to experience His grace. When we just say, “Okay, Lord, I will praise you because I know you’ve got it figured out even if I don’t. I will find my identity in you. Whatever pain I’m carrying, I’m going to lay it down at the foot of the cross.” When we can do that, we will experience His healing. We will know His acceptance. We will have His embrace. Praise the Lord.
In a moment, we’re going to have our time of giving and the band’s going to come up for a final song. There are a few words in there. When the difficulties of life are contemplated, the lyric goes, “Man of sorrows looks with joy upon the crystal sea.” What irony. Man of sorrows looks with joy. “My heart will hang on that until the Dawn appears.” Until the dawn appears. Let’s pray. Jesus, we love you. We know that you love us and that should be enough. But sometimes it feels like it’s not because we carry wounds. We recognize, Lord, that you are the wounded savior, you experienced sorrow so we could find in you the joy that overcomes all of the difficulties of life. Help us, Lord, to do these things. Help us, Lord, to trust you. Help our hearts to cling to these truths until the dawn arises. In Jesus’ name. Amen.