Once again Leah became pregnant and gave birth to another son. She named him Judah, for she said, “Now I will praise the Lord!” And then she stopped having children. (Genesis 29:35)
Sometimes things can happen quickly. Within a few years after getting married, Jacob had two wives and thirteen children from four mothers. Rachel was beautiful and Jacob’s favourite wife, but Leah is the one who shows us what living in relationship with God looks like.
Unwanted by her husband, Leah was miserable. But when she gave birth to Jacob’s first child, she thought that then her husband would love her. That didn’t happen.
Still feeling unloved, Leah gave birth to a second son, whom she believed was an answer from God to her prayers. But still no love from Jacob.
When her third son was born, Leah thought for certain that now her husband would feel affection towards her because she was the mother of his only three children who were all sons, which were highly valued in that culture. But even though Leah was producing progeny for Jacob, something precious no one else was doing for him at that time, Jacob did not feel any affection towards Leah.
Like all of us, Leah wanted to be loved. When Jacob became her husband through her father’s manipulations, she hoped that he would be the one to love her with the unconditional love she desired. Instead, Jacob’s disdain for her only deepened the emptiness in her heart. Jacob and the love he could provide became an idol to Leah, and God and her children became the means by which she thought she would get what she wanted from her idol. But it didn’t work out the way Leah had hoped. Idolatry never does.
Usually when we think of idolatry, we think of gilded statues in ornate temples and disregard the possibility that idolatry could ever be a problem for us. But the human heart is an idol-making factory, so idolatry exists wherever there are human beings. The idolatry in our culture is much more subtle than fancy statues in special places.
Leah’s idolatry is much more like ours. Leah wanted to be loved by her husband, and that is a very good thing. Ideally everyone should be loved by their spouse. But Jacob and his love became an idol when Leah took a good thing and made it into an ultimate thing. She loved Jacob’s love more than anything else, and that is when it became a problem for her.
Something shifted in Leah’s heart between her third and fourth son. She was able to turn away from her powerful desire to be loved by Jacob and receive the unconditional love and acceptance that Yahweh, the God-who-saves, had for her. When her fourth son was born, she praised Yahweh for the gift of that child and for the gift of Yahweh’s gracious love. To mark her new perspective, she named him Judah, which is related to the Hebrew word for praise. God’s gracious love toward Leah continued to abound for it would be through Leah and through this child in particular that God would bring forth his promised Messiah who would bless and save the world.
Loving relationships, family, good health and a good home are all good things. We do what we can to make them happen and when they do, we give thanks to God. But when we love them more than anything else, things go awry in our lives.
You are already loved with all the love that you will ever need by God. God the Father gave his Son, Jesus, to the world to pay the full cost of reconciling the world to himself. There is nothing that separates you from Jesus and his great love for you.
Loved and accepted by the High King of Heaven, we drop our idols and come to him with open hands to receive the good things that he wants to give us. Set free and loved, we receive and give thanks.
Dear Jesus, please help us to become aware of whatever we may be loving and valuing too highly. Help us to come to you with open hands to receive and rest in your love. Amen.