Four Sons for Leah
Introduction: Israel as a people has existed for close to 4000 years. They stem from one man who set out on a journey from his home in order to find a wife. While looking for one, he got two. They are sisters and rivals for his affections. And in the process, he unwittingly gained two concubines as well.
In their struggles to have children and gain his favor, he became the father of 12 sons, but unlike his father and grandfather who were known through one son of promise, these 12 sons of Jacob will become an assembly of people, united in a unique way.
This family journey begins in today’s passages with the birth of four sons to the first wife, Leah. How the children are born and the order in which they come can teach us lessons about our own lives, as well as how God’s plans are being worked out for us.
Text Verse: Why are you cast down, O my soul? And why are you disquieted within me? Hope in God; For I shall yet praise Him, The help of my countenance and my God. Psalm 42:11
Leah was the lesser loved wife of Jacob and her heart probably never stopped feeling the sadness of being rejected for her younger, more attractive sister, but in today’s verses we will see her go from desire of attention to praise of God.
As we grow stronger in our faith and in our understanding of God’s care, we can and should follow the same path. We should learn to leave our desires behind and look to God in praise of what He has done for us and in anticipation of what lies ahead too. And so… May God speak to us through His word today and may His glorious name ever be praised.
I. See, A Son
In Genesis 32:10, it says this – “I am not worthy of the least of all the mercies and of all the truth which You have shown Your servant; for I crossed over this Jordan with my staff, and now I have become two companies.”
Jacob left his home and traveled north with no real possessions except the staff in
his hand. He didn’t travel alone, but he didn’t take along a caravan full of worldly stuff either. Saying he crossed over with his staff is comparable to us saying that we left with the shirt on our back.
In other words, he left with little, but not necessarily alone. It’s been over 7 years since then and he has no more than when he started, with the exception of two wives and their possessions.
As of today’s verses, he will begin to increase his family even if he isn’t increasing his wealth. He still has a 7-year period of working off the debt of Rachel, but as he does, he starts having children. This is where we begin today.
31 When the Lord saw that Leah was unloved, He opened her womb; but Rachel was barren.
Here we have Jacob with his two wives which he earned for 14 years of work. Depending on the translation you use here, it may say that Leah is either “hated” or “unloved.” The translations are technically correct, but our understanding is probably wrong.
The last verse we saw from last week said that Jacob loved Rachel more than Leah. This is the state of the relationship. The very fact that Jacob is about to have four children in a row from Leah shows us that she is loved, but it is less love than what he has for Rachel.
I get bothered by commentators that find fault in Jacob for this. We love everyone around us differently and in different degrees. We also love the same person more or less depending on the time of day, the color of their hair, or how our mood is at the moment.
Jacob has done nothing wrong by loving Rachel more than Leah. This is the girl he wanted to marry and it’s not his fault that Leah came into the picture. It’s merely a fact of what happened and he is living with it as any of us would.
Despite this, the Lord looks with mercy upon the one who suffers and He is attentive to their hearts. Just because Jacob loves Leah less in no way implies the Lord feels the same. And so it says He, the Lord Jehovah, opened her womb. In the same verse it says that Rachel was barren. This implies that the also Lord directed this.
As the Lord is introduced, it is showing us that the covenant He made with Abraham is being attended to by these actions. Leah’s ability to bear and Rachel’s inability to do so are both designed by the Lord to continue His plan in a direct and purposeful way.
Whether Leah is loved or whether she isn’t, she bears the Lord’s favor in many ways. As the Geneva Bible says – “They who are despised by men are favored by God.”
We can’t assume that when someone is out of favor with somebody – no matter how important they are, that they are likewise out of favor with God. Leah isn’t and so good things are coming her way.
We can go home and think about the people who look down on us. Here we are, seeking out God at church and trying to learn about Him and how our lives are, or should be directed to Him. A lot of people, even the important people of the world, would look at us as wasting our time.
And yet I assure you that the time you spend here, or at another church, or Bible study will never be wasted and the Lord will look upon you in the same way as Leah. You may be unloved by your boss, or the people you work with, or the politicians, but the Lord isn’t going to forget you or your efforts.
I absolutely assure you of this. Leah was unloved, but God tended to her in an exceptional way. You may feel unloved, but you aren’t. You are truly the pride and joy of God’s heart. Your time spent for Him is time well spent and what you may lose now will be rewarded beyond your wildest dreams in the days ahead.
32 So Leah conceived and bore a son, and she called his name Reuben; for she said, “The Lord has surely looked on my affliction. Now therefore, my husband will love me.”
Jacob’s first child is born to Leah. As with all of the 12 sons and 1 daughter who are mentioned, their names reflect what is happening in the story. Leah names the child and the name she gives reflects the condition of her heart. His name is Reuben, a name which comes from two words ra’ah meaning to see and ben meaning son.
Reuben then means, See a son. And she explains the name’s choice – ki ra-ah Yehovah beyani. “The Lord has surely looked on my affliction.” In other words, my sad state didn’t go unnoticed by Jehovah and because of it, He has granted me a child.
Something to note though, which we’ve seen several times in the past, is that Leah may be thinking of the coming Messiah in this name. Jacob is the son of promise from Abraham and Isaac, and Leah probably knows this.
She may be thinking that because this is the firstborn, he may be the next son of promise. If so, “See a son” may be her way of saying to Jacob, her friends, and her family “Come and see the son. Behold, God’s plan is being worked out in this child.”
In what is a sad follow up, she says in either victory or desperation – we know not which, “Now therefore, my husband will love me.” She is probably thinking “I am the mother of the firstborn and this will certainly change his heart toward me.”
And quite often we will have the same attitude. When we accomplish something, it is often less for one reason than another. Maybe we have a hidden, alternative reason. Leah is looking for love in her husband and hoping it will come because of her son.
We may be doing something to draw others’ attention as well. We go to parties and get drunk in order to be accepted. We may sleep with someone in hopes of them loving us. Maybe we wear clothes a certain way to draw attention to ourselves.
I look back on my old photos and I see that I’ve worn headbands all my life. They used to be rolled up and worn like an Indian, but then I got bald and so I wear them open like a pirate. But I’ve always worn them and have them in every color you can imagine.
I must have been looking for attention and to stand out, but now I feel dorky without one. These things might be necessary to us in hopes of pleasing others, but they’re not necessary in order to please God. He looks internally not externally, when evaluating us.
One of the most important things He looks for is a reverence of His word. In Isaiah, we read this amazing thought –
Thus says the Lord: “Heaven is My throne, And earth is My footstool. Where is the house that you will build Me? And where is the place of My rest? 2 For all those things My hand has made, And all those things exist,”
Says the Lord. “But on this one will I look: On him who is poor and of a contrite spirit, And who trembles at My word. Isaiah 66;1, 2 EXPLAIN
II. He Who Hears
33 Then she conceived again and bore a son, and said, “Because the Lord has heard that I am unloved, He has therefore given me this son also.” And she called his name Simeon.
Leah is again the one to bear a son for Jacob, but by this time she sees that being granted the honor of bearing the firstborn didn’t change Jacob’s heart toward her. Again she chooses a name showing the condition of her heart – Simeon.
The name comes from the Hebrew shama which means “to hear.” Again she explains the choice, ki shama Yehovah ki senuah. “Because the Lord has heard that I am unloved.” What was missing in the birth of Reuben will be partially fulfilled in another way in the birth of a second son.
What she craves is love of husband, but in her craving, the Lord grants her a child to love. Again, we have a divine lesson from the Creator of our hearts and the One who understands our desires. We may not always get what we want, but we will always be given what we need.
There is no thing lacking in the life of God’s people, even if it means starving in a foreign land as a missionary. What we lack in a friendly location and food is temporary, but what we gain in glory for our patience is an eternal home and everlasting abundance.
If you want promises of health, wealth, and earthly prosperity, I can direct you to a lot of churches right here in Sarasota or to some flashy TV evangelists – maybe they can help you.
But if you want true contentment in a world which isn’t always fair or kind, stick it out with God’s word and He will reveal to you blessings that you could never have imagined. I know the struggles and trials of many of you, but I also know that what you face now is temporary and already defeated because of the Lord.
He knows that you might be unloved, poor, facing trials of whatever kind, but He does hear, just as Leah knew and showed us by naming her son Simeon. Yes God does hear, so let your voice be made known to Him. He who hears is faithful and will respond in due time.
III. Attached to Each Other
34 She conceived again and bore a son, and said, “Now this time my husband will become attached to me, because I have borne him three sons.” Therefore his name was called Levi.
Now, for the third time in a row, Leah conceives a child. Even if she isn’t emotionally loved, she is receiving physical love. Jacob is being a good and faithful husband to her, regardless of his greater love for Rachel.
In another heartfelt and open plea to her sad state, she names this third child Levi and states, ha’paam yelahve ishi eley. “Now this time my husband will become attached to me.” Levi means “attached.”
With three sons comes hope for a stronger bond than before. Three in the Bible stands for that which is solid, real, substantial, complete, and entire. In the book of Ecclesiastes, Solomon uses the number three to show us its strength –
“Though one may be overpowered by another, two can withstand him. And a threefold cord is not quickly broken.” (4:12)
Leah sees this one as the son who will bring her what she has desired – a strong bond with Jacob. Interestingly though, in the five verses we’re looking at today, this is the only one in which the name of the Lord isn’t mentioned.
She never invokes His name. Her expected attachment to Jacob has caused her to leave the Lord out of the picture. If I can find an equivalent in us, it would be “getting what we want and forgetting who gave it.”
This is the unappreciative side of us. Always, always when I type a new sermon, I first pray and ask the Lord for His guidance. The day before I started this one, I thanked the Lord for getting me through another sermon and I asked Him to be with me the next day as I started this one.
On that Monday, I got up and started typing and was going along until noon when I got hungry. I got some food, sat down, and started eating and typing when I realized that I’d never prayed about the sermon that morning, nor thanked the Lord for the food.
I was so busy with my personal efforts that I forgot to include Him. We ask for health, we get it, and then we forget to thank Him. We pray for a promotion, it comes, and we don’t bother to return to Him any gratitude. Leah has been given a third son while Rachel has none and yet she takes the blessing without giving the thanks.
Maybe in the future when we hear the name Levi we’ll remember to give the Lord thanks for all the things He’s given us each and every day. There may be bad, there may be trials and frustrations, but certainly the blessings are there and are deserving of thanks.
IV. Now I Will Praise the Lord
35 And she conceived again and bore a son, and said, “Now I will praise the Lord.” Therefore she called his name Judah.
For a fourth time Leah receives the Lord’s favor and conceives. This time, in a truly resounding note of victory, she calls out ha’paam odeh eth Yehovah. “Now I will praise the Lord.” And therefore his name is Judah, meaning “praised,” or even “Let Him be praised” which would then be referring to The Lord.
It is from the tribe of this fourth son of Jacob and Leah that the Messiah, Jesus, will come. Interestingly, and as an ancient clue to this, the divine name Jehovah is spelled Yud Hey Vav He. The name of this fourth son Judah is adds in one letter, Dalet. YHVDH
This fourth letter, Dalet, means “door.” And so the name Leah gives her son is a veiled reference to where the Messiah would come from. Judah being the “door to Jehovah,” the physical manifestation of God on earth.
This is seen in Jesus’ words in John 10 –
“Then Jesus said to them again, “Most assuredly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep. 8 All who ever came before Meare thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not hear them. 9 I am the door. If anyone enters by Me, he will be saved, and will go in and out and find pasture.”
He is the Door by which we are saved and which restores us to our covenant keeping Lord. This is symbolized by the name Judah, where the Door to Jehovah is revealed.
It may be, and we can only speculate on this, that she somehow realized that this son would be the one leading to the Messiah. At first she thinks it is Reuben, but somewhere along the line she realizes it isn’t so.
With each new child she looks in hope of this promise that Jacob has spoken about. Instead of looking to her husband as in the last three boys, she goes to the Lord in praise for this one.
Just as Rebekah the mother of Jacob and Esau, knew the outcome of their lives before they were born, it seems that somehow Leah knows the outcome of Judah – that this one would lead to the Messiah.
Later in the history of Israel, after receiving the law at Mount Sinai, the 12 tribes will encamp around the tabernacle and move when directed by God. Whenever the camp sets out, the first to do so will be Judah. And there is a reason for this.
In the same way, when the armies of Israel had gathered together to go to battle in Judges chapter 20, they inquired of the Lord which tribe should go first. The divine response came back in verse 18 which reads –
“Then the children of Israel arose and went up to the house of Godto inquire of God. They said, “Which of us shall go up first to battle against the children of Benjamin?” The Lord said, “Judah first!”
In these instances, the tribe of Judah set out first as a lesson to Israel and a lesson to us – when we proceed, let praise go first. God is giving us real life instructions in real life examples. It doesn’t matter what the issue, what the challenge, or what the prayer, in all things let the praise of the Lord go first.
The term “Jew” as we use it today comes from this son as well. Israel, after the time of Solomon, divides into two separate nations – the northern tribes become known as Israel and those in the south will be called Judah. After the Babylonian exile, the returnees were often collectively known as Israel and individually as Jews.
But being a Jew isn’t based as much on a physical trait as it is on a spiritual one. Paul explains this in Romans 2 –
“For he is not a Jew who is one outwardly, nor is circumcision that which is outward in the flesh; 29 but he is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the Spirit, not in the letter; whose praise is not from men but from God.”
Paul’s use of a pun in these verses is meant to highlight the nature of the Jew. The same is found in the book of John. In the sad commentary of chapter 12, we read these words –
37 But although He had done so many signs before them, they did not believe in Him, 38 that the word of Isaiah the prophet might be fulfilled, which he spoke: “Lord, who has believed our report?
And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?”
39 Therefore they could not believe, because Isaiah said again:
40 “He has blinded their eyes and hardened their hearts,
Lest they should see with their eyes,
Lest they should understand with their hearts and turn,
So that I should heal them.”
41 These things Isaiah said when he saw His glory and spoke of Him.
42 Nevertheless even among the rulers many believed in Him, but because of the Pharisees they did not confess Him, lest they should be put out of the synagogue; 43 for they loved the praise of men more than the praise of God.”
The name Judah has a special significance and it asks us to think on what is praiseworthy. Leah, after three previous attempts to get her thoughts straight, finally comes to the realization that it is the Lord and not men to whom praise is due.
She was looking for praise from her husband but it is only to be found in the Lord. The failure of Israel as well as the church is that time and again, we love the praise of men more than the praise of God. When we give, we hope the one we give to will notice. When we help, we hope for a note of thanks.
When we put forth effort and nobody notices, we let our feelings get hurt. But there is a better reward when we do things in secret that we will never receive when we do them in the open – for the praise of men. Jesus said in Matthew 6 –
“Take heed that you do not do your charitable deeds before men, to be seen by them. Otherwise you have no reward from your Father in heaven. 2 Therefore, when you do a charitable deed, do not sound a trumpet before you as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have glory from men. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward. 3 But when you do a charitable deed, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, 4 that your charitable deed may be in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will Himself reward you openly
Another thing we do too often is to make showy prayers in front of others. Some people love to have everyone around them hear their prayers and they make a point of making them long and complicated.
But God would rather hear the short and simple prayer of a person from a valley than a loud and showy one from the mountaintops. Jesus continues in Matthew 6 –
“And when you pray, you shall not be like the hypocrites. For they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the corners of the streets, that they may be seen by men. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward. 6 But you, when you pray, go into your room, and when you have shut your door, pray to your Father who is in the secret place; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly.
Leah was rewarded with a fourth child and you too will receive your reward for the things you do in Jesus’ name. Don’t worry if no one else notices. Someone far greater and with a much better reward does.
This reminds me of a guy I’ve hear of who was a rabbi in Israel. He knows 17 languages and is obviously a very intelligent man. Eventually he came to know Jesus. He is now a Greek Orthodox pastor in Jerusalem. My friend Sergio told me about him.
He has a teeny church and he goes and does his services faithfully even if nobody comes. His heart is set on the Lord and although it probably breaks to walk into an empty church, he continues on with his chants and devotions because the ears that do hear are pleased with his service.
35 (con’t) Then she stopped bearing.
The term here is taamod milledeth and means that she stood still from bearing. This doesn’t mean that she has now become barren or unable to have children, but rather that for a time she stopped. No explanation is given, but it could be because of Rachel’s jealousy and what comes about in the next chapter.
What is more probable is that, even if it was directly because of Rachel, it was indirectly because God had other plans for the coming sons of Jacob. He will become an assembly of people as Isaac prophesied, but it will come about from several mothers.
Leah has now stopped bearing in order to grow Jacob’s name in a new way. For whatever reason, Leah will now have a period of rest from her labors (pun intended). Of these four children who have been born, the first will eventually lose his birthright due to what we would consider as an inexcusable action.
The second two will lose their chance at the birthright because of their fierce and uncontrolled anger – together they will kill an entire town of people because of the action of only one person in the town.
The preeminence will move to Judah, and so the line of the Messiah will continue through him. Despite this, there will be some notoriety in both Simeon and Levi. Simeon will disperse into the tribe of Judah and will become absorbed by them. And from Levi will come the priestly class of people, known as the Levites.
They will continue to minister to the people of Israel throughout the time of Jesus. The Gospel of Matthew comes from the hand of a Levite – his full name being Matthew Levi. Today in Israel it is claimed that the gene identifying them has been isolated and in particular the gene of the Kohanim, or the high priestly class.
If you’ve ever known a Jewish person with the name Cohen, this is the group who can most readily trace their DNA all the way back to the line of Aaron, the son of Levi.
It seems God has ensured that this tribe of people will be ready for the final portion of a prophecy given by Daniel about 2700 hundred years ago and which encompasses the 7 years of tribulation. It is a time when a temple will again stand in Israel and the Levites will minister there.
Four sons for the unloved wife and the honor of one of them leading to the Messiah of the world. It is a high honor for a woman who was overlooked as a suitable wife. I have to tell you that Leah is simply a picture of a lot of us. We get passed by in life for whatever reason, but there with us is the Lord.
He open her womb and showed her favor while the younger, prettier wife remained barren. Don’t waste your time trying to compete with beauty or money or status. All of these may be nice, but they can flee away in a moment.
However, the favor of the Lord lasts forever. There will never be a time that Leah isn’t the ancestor of the Lord, but it wasn’t long before Rachel’s beauty disappeared. Keep your eyes on the Lord and fix your thoughts on that which is noble and good.
Don’t worry about the things you can’t control. The Lord has you exactly where He wants you and where He can best use you. Nothing is left to chance with this wonderful Creator.
Let me please take just another moment and tell you how you can have a close and personal relationship with Him if you have never been told the way before…
Closing Verse: But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; 10 who once were not a people but are now the people of God, who had not obtained mercy but now have obtained mercy. 1 Peter 2:9, 10
Next Week: Genesis 30:1-13 (Two More Wives and Four More Sons) (70th Genesis Sermon)
The Lord has you exactly where He wants you and He has a good plan and purpose for you. Call on Him and let Him do marvelous things for you and through you.
Four Sons for Jacob
When the Lord saw that Leah was the unloved one
He opened her womb but Rachel was barren
So Leah conceived and bore a son
And she called his name, this firstborn, Reuben
For she said, “The Lord has surely looked on my affliction
Now therefore, my husband will love me like and addiction
Then she conceived again and bore a son and said
Because the Lord has heard that I am the unloved one
He therefore has given me this son for which I pled
And she called his name Simeon
She conceived again and bore a son
And said, “Now this time my husband will become attached to me
Because I have born three sons, not just one
Therefore His name was called Levi, you see
And she conceived again and bore a son
And said “Now I will praise the Lord
Therefore Judah is what she called this one
Then she stopped bearing, so says the word
Four sons for Jacob from his lesser-loved wife
And from her will come the Giver of life
It is from her fourth son Judah that the King would come
The one to rule over all of the nations
It is from the tribe of praise that Jesus would become
The Savior of the world, the hope of all generations
O God your plan is perfect and your word is sure
Your splendor is marvelous and your holiness pure
And so to You we will shout out our resounding praise
Giving You alone glory and honor for all of our days
Hallelujah and Amen…