Forty women: 7. Leah

It’s hard not to compare yourself to other people. They say it’s particularly hard for women, but I don’t know. I think it’s hard for all of us. Especially when the comparison is obvious. Visible.

One look at the beautiful sister, the pretty one whom everyone has always loved, and of course Jacob is smitten. Of course he is. So smitten he’ll do anything for her. Work seven years? No problem! Work seven more? It’ll be his pleasure.

He doesn’t even notice the other sister. The older sister. The one whose eyes aren’t sparkling and whose hair doesn’t fall into pretty waves and who isn’t petite in the right places and curvy in the other right places. But her father notices. Her father notices that all through those seven years no other man has come and asked for his older daughter. No one has seen past her plain outward appearance. No one has thought that perhaps, even though her younger sister is spoken for, Leah might still be worth having.

He notices and so he plans. And when he tells Leah his audacious plan, I expect she felt a moment of triumph. A little thrill that just for once, she was going to get what her little sister wanted, and not the other way round. Leah would be Jacob’s wife, and not Rachel, and there would be nothing that she could do about.

It doesn’t work out like that, of course. Jacob doesn’t meekly accept the swap that’s been forced upon him. He’s not satisfied with one sister instead of the other. He’s a man of honour, so he won’t send Leah away. But he still wants Rachel. He still loves Rachel.

Leah gets seven years head start. Seven years to make her husband fall in love with her. Seven years to make him forget her sister. Seven years of watching Jacob work patiently for the woman he loves, while bearing politely with the woman he’s married to. Seven years of that knife being twisted a little further each day. Seven years and four sons and nothing has changed. Nothing. He still loves Rachel more.

It’s hard not to compare yourself to other people. It’s hard to look at your prettier, younger, more beloved sister and not compare yourself to her. It’s hard to look at your husband’s prettier, younger, more beloved wife and not compare yourself to her. It’s hard to be Leah.

And yet. And yet it’s Leah who continues to be blessed. A daughter and two more sons while Rachel still has none. Two more sons from Leah’s servant (also by Jacob), and Leah gives the younger of those the name Asher, saying “Happy am I! For women have called me happy.” (Genesis 30:13). But it’s also Leah who calls her own sixth son Zebulun, with the words, “God has endowed me with a good endowment; now my husband will honour me, because I have borne him six sons.” (Genesis 30:21).

Jacob does honour Leah. And God blesses Leah, both with children and with contentment. So much so that now it’s Rachel who compares herself to her older, plainer sister and finds that she is lacking.

Forty women: 8. Rachel