Is your hope in Jesus Christ alone? In this post, we’ll explore what a Christ-centered hope really looks like.
So to get started, let me tell you a weird Bible story.
You know, one of those bizarre Old Testament ones that most pastors shy away from? The kind that you read and you don’t know what to do with so you quickly flip back to Psalms and try to expel it from memory? Yeah, one of those.
The first part of the story is far more popular than the second, but we’re going to cover both. So let’s unfold it bit by bit:
Now Laban had two daughters; the name of the older was Leah, and the name of the younger was Rachel. Leah had weak eyes, but Rachel had a lovely figure and was beautiful. Jacob was in love with Rachel and said, “I’ll work for you seven years in return for your younger daughter Rachel.” - Genesis 29:16-18
The meaning of Leah’s “weak eyes” is up for debate. Some take the phrase as an indication of ugliness or defect, while others argue that it implies tenderness or delicacy. Either way, the text draws a clear comparison between Rachel and Leah. And without a doubt, Jacob favors one over the other.
Laban agrees, and Jacob completes his 7 years.
But when evening came, he took his daughter Leah and brought her to Jacob, and Jacob made love to her. And Laban gave his servant Zilpah to his daughter as her attendant. When morning came, there was Leah! So Jacob said to Laban, “What is this you have done to me? I served you for Rachel, didn’t I? Why have you deceived me?” - Genesis 29:23-25
Although this story is often told in terms of Jacob and his anguish, we can also sympathize with Leah. She’s forced to marry a man who looks at her the morning after, horrified by the fact that she is not her sister. That can’t be a good feeling.
Laban replied, “It is not our custom here to give the younger daughter in marriage before the older one. Finish this daughter’s bridal week; then we will give you the younger one also, in return for another seven years of work.”And Jacob did so. He finished the week with Leah, and then Laban gave him his daughter Rachel to be his wife. Laban gave his servant Bilhah to his daughter Rachel as her attendant. Jacob made love to Rachel also, and his love for Rachel was greater than his love for Leah. And he worked for Laban another seven years. - Genesis 29:26-30
This is where the story usually stops in church. Jacob, having deceived his father into giving away Esau’s inheritance, justly receives a taste of his own deceitful medicine from Laban. What goes around comes around- moral of the story.
But it doesn’t end here.
When the Lord saw that Leah was not loved, he enabled her to conceive, but Rachel remained childless. Leah became pregnant and gave birth to a son. She named him Reuben, for she said, “It is because the Lord has seen my misery. Surely my husband will love me now.” - Genesis 29:31-32
The Lord draws near Leah, the unloved underdog. Can you imagine her agony? I don’t have a sister, but from what I hear, sisters often develop a strong or subtle rivalry enduring throughout childhood.
The good news is that as most sisters grow older, they tend to find their own unique paths. They move away. They pursue different careers. They marry different husbands. They learn to stop competing because they realize that they’re each on their own separate journeys.
But not for Leah and Rachel.
So imagine you grew up in rivalry with a sister, and then the two of you marry the same man, who blatantly loves her and not you. And that’s how you’re going to live out the rest of your life if nothing changes. Just let that sink in.
She conceived again, and when she gave birth to a son she said, “Because the Lord heard that I am not loved, he gave me this one too.” So she named him Simeon. - Genesis 29:33
Leah’s admission that she is still “not loved” implies that the birth of her last son didn’t quite win Jacob over the way she thought it would.
Again she conceived, and when she gave birth to a son she said, “Now at last my husband will become attached to me, because I have borne him three sons.” So he was named Levi. - Genesis 29:34
The third son didn’t do the trick either. Jacob is still not “attached” to her.
Rather than rejoicing in each son as a gift from God, Leah rejoices only in hope of Jacob’s favor. But the tables turn in Genesis 29:35:
She conceived again, and when she gave birth to a son she said, “This time I will praise the Lord.” So she named him Judah. Then she stopped having children.
After this fourth son, Leah no longer expresses hope in Jacob’s affection. She praises the Lord with no mention of her husband.
Here we see God’s pursuit of Leah’s heart. With each son, she attempts to put her hope in an earthly thing: her husband’s love and favor. But each time, she’s disappointed. This disappointment is God’s way of beckoning her to Himself, so she might place her hope in Him alone. And that’s what she does.
And fun fact: It’s from the line of this son, Judah, the one for whom she praised the Lord, that Jesus Christ would eventually come to earth.
But now it’s Rachel’s turn to get jealous:
When Rachel saw that she was not bearing Jacob any children, she became jealous of her sister. So she said to Jacob, “Give me children, or I’ll die!”
Jacob became angry with her and said, “Am I in the place of God, who has kept you from having children?”
Then she said, “Here is Bilhah, my servant. Sleep with her so that she can bear children for me and I too can build a family through her.” So she gave him her servant Bilhah as a wife. Jacob slept with her, and she became pregnant and bore him a son. Then Rachel said, “God has vindicated me; he has listened to my plea and given me a son.” Because of this she named him Dan. - Genesis 30:1-6
When Rachel first succeeds, she gives glory to God. But then she succeeds again:
Rachel’s servant Bilhah conceived again and bore Jacob a second son. Then Rachel said, “I have had a great struggle with my sister, and I have won.” So she named him Naphtali. - Genesis 30:7-8
Rachel has won. She’s “made it.” She has one-upped her sister… at least in her own mind. (Leah still has twice as many sons as Rachel and still has the first born, which would have put Leah in a favorable position at the time.)
With the birth of each son, both Leah and Rachel believe that they’ve “made it.” Leah thinks she’s finally won the love of Jacob. Rachel thinks she’s finally beat her sister. Both make the mistake of placing their hope in earthly glory rather than in God.
Rachel thinks she has reclaimed her place on top. But here’s what Leah does next:
When Leah saw that she had stopped having children, she took her servant Zilpah and gave her to Jacob as a wife. Leah’s servant Zilpah bore Jacob a son. Then Leah said, “What good fortune!” So she named him Gad. - Genesis 30:9-11
Can we talk about how sad this is getting? Leah had four sons. The fourth one would eventually give way to the birth of Jesus Christ.
But because Rachel had two sons, Leah could no longer enjoy her four. Somehow Rachel’s sons cancelled her own sons out. She allows Rachel’s success to steal her joy and launch her back into petty rivalry, thus placing her hope in earthly things again.
Leah’s servant Zilpah bore Jacob a second son. Then Leah said, “How happy I am! The women will call me happy.” So she named him Asher. - Genesis 30:12-13
Leah’s exclamation that “The women will call [her] happy” indicates a vanity and concern with outward appearances.
During wheat harvest, Reuben went out into the fields and found some mandrake plants, which he brought to his mother Leah. Rachel said to Leah, “Please give me some of your son’s mandrakes.”
But she said to her, “Wasn’t it enough that you took away my husband? Will you take my son’s mandrakes too?”
“Very well,” Rachel said, “he can sleep with you tonight in return for your son’s mandrakes.” - Genesis 30:14-15
Even after Leah’s sixth son, she still feels that Rachel is stealing all the attention from Jacob. She still feels the need to compete.
So when Jacob came in from the fields that evening, Leah went out to meet him. “You must sleep with me,” she said. “I have hired you with my son’s mandrakes.” So he slept with her that night. - Genesis 30:16
Jacob does what he’s told. Happy wives, happy lives, right?
God listened to Leah, and she became pregnant and bore Jacob a fifth son. Then Leah said, “God has rewarded me for giving my servant to my husband.” So she named him Issachar. Leah conceived again and bore Jacob a sixth son. Then Leah said, “God has presented me with a precious gift. This time my husband will treat me with honor, because I have borne him six sons.” So she named him Zebulun. - Genesis 30:17-20
Tragically, Leah reverts back to her old ways of putting her hope in her husband’s love. Yes, she praises God, but she only praises Him in hopes of His ability to make Jacob love her- not for who He is or for the blessing He has already placed before her.
Then God remembered Rachel; he listened to her and enabled her to conceive. She became pregnant and gave birth to a son and said, “God has taken away my disgrace.” She named him Joseph, and said, “May the Lord add to me another son.” - Genesis 30:22-24
So what on earth do we make of it all?
At last, our story comes to a restless close. It ends with Rachel hoping for another son, even though she just gave birth to one.
So what do we make of all this back and forth, up and down, sister versus sister tug-of-war? Are we to conclude that Rachel has “won” because she was blessed with the last birth? Not quite.
Leah still had the oldest son. Leah and her servant still had twice as many children as Rachel and her servant.
Where Jacob’s affections end up falling, we can’t be sure. But that’s not the point.
The first time I read this story, I thought, “What was the point of all that?” And then it hit me.
There is no point.
The story doesn’t aim to show us who won and who lost or who got the reward and who didn’t.
The point is that there is no point. There is no point in rivalry. There is no point in putting your hope in anything but God. Earthly hope only leads to disappointment.
The tragic part is that God was using both of these women to create the twelve tribes of Israel. Rachel’s son, Joseph, would become a powerful ruler of faith. And as we already established, Leah’s son, Judah, would give way to the birth of Jesus Christ through his line.
But the sisters never paused to ponder how God might be using them. They didn’t stop to appreciate their blessings. Instead, they charged forth in rivalry, hoping and yearning for the fulfillment of their worldly desires.
I don’t know about you, but I can relate. Not to being a sister-wife, but to having the urge to place my hope in something other than God.
Here’s how it’s playing out in my life right now:
I’ve always wanted to get married. Marriage was never the end-goal for me; the end-goal was having children. But I knew marriage would have a huge role to play.
I’ve been curating a “wedding” Pinterest board since high school. And like many Christian girls, I’ve been praying for my future husband for as long as I can remember.
This past New Year’s Eve, my boyfriend proposed. And suddenly, I found myself smack in the middle of that half-euphoric, half-maddening season of wedding planning that I had been anticipating my whole life.
Sometimes it’s tempting to revel in the worldly pleasure of this milestone. I’m tempted to think that “I made it,” or, “I won,” to borrow Rachel’s words. I may not be in direct competition with a sister, but I do feel like I won something- like I hit the jackpot.
But the story of Rachel and Leah demonstrates that whenever we tell ourselves we’ve “won,” or we’ve “made it,” we’re only going to be disappointed. We’re only going to continue treading the hamster wheel of desire.
I’m learning to hold this blessing with a loose grip and just praise God for it--as Leah did in verse 35--not with the expectation that He’s about to meet all my earthly desires, but rather, for who He is, and for the immediate blessings of this engagement and this man that He has placed in my life.
Of course I’m going to rejoice. But my hope ultimately rests not in my husband’s love or in our future children or future dog or anything of the kind; my hope is in Him alone.
I’m learning to focus not on how my marriage will serve me, but on how God wants to use our marriage for His Kingdom. This usefulness is where my joy resides.
Jesus Christ warns His disciples of a similar trap.
The seventy-two returned with joy and said, “Lord, even the demons submit to us in your name.” He replied, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven. I have given you authority to trample on snakes and scorpions and to overcome all the power of the enemy; nothing will harm you. However, do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.” - Luke 10:17-20
Do not rejoice in your own power, your own fortune, your own glory; rejoice in the fact that you will one day witness God’s glory face to face. Let’s plant our hope in this promise.
Erica is a professional writer and editor, helping ministry leaders and entrepreneurs share their stories.
She is passionate about pointing women to God's Word and empowering them to take fierce ownership of their discipleship to Jesus.