When God realized that Leah was unloved, he opened her womb. But Rachel was barren. Leah became pregnant and had a son. She named him Reuben (Look-It’s-a-Boy!). “This is a sign,” she said, “that God has seen my misery; and a sign that now my husband will love me.”
She became pregnant again and had another son. “God heard,” she said, “that I was unloved and so he gave me this son also.” She named this one Simeon (God-Heard). She became pregnant yet again—another son. She said, “Now maybe my husband will connect with me—I’ve given him three sons!” That’s why she named him Levi (Connect). She became pregnant a final time and had a fourth son. She said, “This time I’ll praise God.” So she named him Judah (Praise-God). Then she stopped having children.
Matthew 1:2-6, 17
Abraham had Isaac,
Isaac had Jacob,
Jacob had Judah and his brothers,
Judah had Perez and Zerah (the mother was Tamar),
Perez had Hezron,
Hezron had Aram,
Aram had Amminadab,
Amminadab had Nahshon,
Nahshon had Salmon,
Salmon had Boaz (his mother was Rahab),
Boaz had Obed (Ruth was the mother),
Obed had Jesse,
Jesse had David,
and David became king
There were fourteen generations from Abraham to David,
another fourteen from David to the Babylonian exile,
and yet another fourteen from the Babylonian exile to Christ.
Most of the time when we are thinking of the women who were part of Jesus birth story, we go directly to Mary. Maybe we give Elizabeth a little love, but we rarely dip into the First Testament* to give props to some of the ancestral ladies. I had this thought of looking at them more closely in terms of their relationship to the narrative thread and to Jesus’ ministry, so I’m going to start at the way back with Leah.
If you aren’t familiar with the story, Leah was married to Jacob, of Jacob & Easu, son of Isaac, grandson of Abraham, the father of the Jewish people. Jacob was a bit shady and scammed Esau out of Esau’s inheritance, so he fled to his uncle Laban’s to let Esau cool down. While there he fell for Laban’s daughter Rachel – his cousin, I know. A bit Appalachian, but a common practice. He makes a deal to work for Laban in return for Rachel’s hand in marriage. After the end of the 7 years, he gets married, but when he picks up the veil, it’s her older sister Leah – psych! Laban was all, “She’s the oldest and she has to get married first, duh.” Totally scammed him – a family trait. Jacob says, “Good one, Uncle. But seriously. Can I have Rachel?” Uncle says, sure, but work for me another 7 years. Awesome. Interesting that a lot of traditional stories say Leah was “ugly” but really the scripture says she had “nice eyes, but Rachel was stunningly beautiful.” So she was just less beautiful. Rude of us to then make her ugly. But I digress.
So, Leah is in a loveless marriage and is competing with her sister-wife for the affection of their husband. Where is TLC because this would be an amazing reality show? When God sees her situation God decides to give her children. Not just children, SONS. She hit the offspring jackpot. However, Ms. Leah is so discouraged by her loveless marriage that she gives her sons some pretty Debbie Downer names, names that mean “maybe now my husband will love me” and “God has seen that I am not loved”. Yikes. Leah continues to bear sons to Jacob and there seems to be a shift in her perspective when she gets to the 4th one. She calls him Judah, which means “This time I will praise the Lord.” Leah’s proclamation is not only indicative of internal spiritual growth but it is also the first time we have recorded someone verbally praising God out loud. This is prior to the law being written down, prior to organized worship of the God of Israel, prior to the pomp and circumstance of temple worship.
Fast forward to John 4. Jesus encounters the Samaritan woman at the well. Uncomfortable with Jesus candid assessment of her romantic life, the woman turns the conversation to a major sticking point between the two cultures – the appropriate spot for worship. Jesus blows right past the formalities of location and structure and breaks it down to the heart of the matter – “Those that worship God will worship in Spirit and Truth.” Bam. There it is. Stripped down, without regulations, without tassels, incense and music. Spirit and Truth. Jesus brought it all back to Leah when he told this unknown, unloved woman that worship transcends circumstance, location and ethnicity and is all about life, attitude and heart.
Not unlike Leah, giving birth in a birthing hut, no temple, no band, no priest.
This time I will praise the Lord.
*I had an OT prof in seminary who insisted we refer to the OT as the “First Testament” because she felt “Old” was pejorative. I kinda dig it.