Rachel and Leah: Pieces in a Game

Want to hear a story?  Once there was a plain, near-sighted matron who lived right beside her beautiful younger sister.  The younger sister had married her first love, the first boy she’d ever kissed.  It was love at first sight and her much older husband had been outrageous in his pursuit of her.  The matron’s husband on the other hand was never fond of her.  Their large and healthy brood seemed to bring her immense joy. The younger sister was infertile and it was source of conflict in her marriage.  Sound like the start of a novel to you?  What if I told you that their husband was the same guy?  Can you imagine what a great episode of Jerry Springer that would be? This story of sibling rivalry taken to its extreme is the story of Rachel and Leah.  I can’t quite decide whose story is sadder.  Rachel had the only thing Leah wanted-Jacob’s love.  Leah had the only thing Rachel wanted-a brood of Jacob’s sons.  Leah does have one advantage over Rachel though.  At some point she quits keeping score.

The names of Leah’s first three sons reflect her intense desire for Jacob’s love and her intent to earn it by giving him children.  Ruben for example is named, "Because the LORD has seen my affliction; surely now my husband will love me." (Genesis 29:32). When we finally reach her fourth son, Judah is named differently.  He is simple called, “I will praise the Lord.”  Leah seems to have learned that her children are gifts from God and not tools by which she can manipulate Jacob’s heart.  She still longs for Jacob’s attention and Jacob’s bed, but she no longer holds out hope that this parade of boys will earn her love. (Genesis 30:14-16)

Rachel however can’t seem to stop competing with her sister.  After she sends Bilhah to her husband’s bed, both boys are given names that reflect the on-going competition. Rachel’s bitterness spills over into her relationship with Jacob and she blames him for her childlessness. When Joseph is finally born she names him, “God will give me another son!”.  To the end of her life Rachel’s competition with her sister is played out in her children.  Even Benjamin is named originally “Ben-Oni”, the son of my sorrow. (For a complete list of sons, mothers, birth orders and the meanings of their names, check out Genesis 29-30 and Genesis 35:18)

I wonder how many ways we can read ourselves into this story?  Have we ever looked at our children and seen them as pieces in a game?  Have we used them to manipulate our husbands, our parents, our in-laws?  Imagined that the birth of a son or daughter would revitalize a marriage?  Thought a grandchild would soothe a grumpy grandfather?  Failed to see our children as precious individuals, gifts from God Almighty, no one’s plaything not a tool or a chess piece, but a newborn soul?

Have we trotted them out in our minds to compare to the children around us?  Is every soccer match a chance to see how they measure up? Every parent’s night a chance to measure their art, their writing, their math against the neighbor’s kid? Every birthday party an opportunity to show off their best dress? Every church service an occasion to see if they can sit as still and behave as well as the rest of the youth group? Every Sunday lunch an opportunity to compare their table manners with the nieces and nephews?  Do we value them only in comparison to others?

Have we ever allowed ourselves to get caught up in a game?  Where our blessings from God got turned into chess pieces?  Especially in a family, these games have no winners.  Rachel never could beat Leah.  In the competition for Jacob’s love she was the clear winner, but she wanted the sons instead.  Leah could never beat Rachel.  Six sons and a beautiful daughter didn’t win her Jacob’s affection. In the end, the relationships that should have brought them joy, with their husband, with their children, with each other, turned to ashes.  In the end Leah was the only winner and she won by quitting.

Our comparisons, so seemingly innocent, are terribly destructive.  They encourage us to dehumanize the people we love the most.  They persuade us to assign value to people based not on their innate worth to God (For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son...John 3:16) but based instead on their comparative value. The only way to win is to stop.

Do you have a sister or a best friend you are tempted to compete with?  Do you allow yourself to compare your kids with others?  Leah has the cure.  See each son or daughter in terms of their value to God.  See each sister, each friend not as an adversary in a game but fellow travelers on a journey.  We win not by being the best, not by having the best.  We win by quitting!  Our victory is in seeing the world through our Father’s eyes.  Our victory is surrendering ourselves and our petty competitions to Him.

About the Author: My name is Helene Smith. I am an ESL teacher living abroad with my husband and two young daughters.  Although we miss our families at home, we have gained a lot by following our Father into another land.  I have a life long love for reading, cooking and learning.  Melissa Baker and I write a blog about women in the Bible and all they have to teach us about being a woman growing in relationship to God at www.maidservantsofchrist.com.