I want to begin with an illustration from Preaching Today called, The Quest For Love Endures: “PBS’s The Great American Read is an eight-part series that explores America’s 100 best-loved novels. The series notes that one theme emerges often in these novels—the quest for love, especially a romantic love that will endure. Here are a few quotes from literature experts commenting on the series and the novels: “Love is the driving force behind everything that we do. So I think reading about all these different types of loves and the ways in which they present, is one of the great human questions.” “I love a good love story. I think everybody wants love. If you don’t have it you’re trying to get it. If you have it, you’re trying to keep it.” “Every book on this list is about love and death. And finding love that transcends death. I mean, who’s not going to love a love story?” “We are fascinated by the fact that things can go wrong in love. We don’t want to go there and we don’t want this sort of thing to happen to us.”
That brings us to unrequited love which is the title of the message. Unrequited love is love that is not mutual or reciprocated; one person loves someone who does not love them back. The word “requite” literally means to return or to repay. The term unrequited love, in particular, carries an intentionally dramatic or romantic connotation to it, in part because the phrase appears so often throughout classic literature and poetry and continues to be a popular theme in books, movies, and music today. Unrequited love can be deeply painful for the person who's in love, in part because it often means they will not get to share life with that person as fully or deeply as they want and they may also feel like it’s a rejection or condemnation of their worth.
This morning we are going to be in Genesis 29:31-35 and what we will see is really a story of unrequited love. Last week, Pastor Stuart in his sermon titled, Love is Blind, told us about Jacob who was so blinded by his love for Rachel that her father, Laban, was able to deceive him into marrying the older sister Leah. From last week, we know that Jacob loved Rachel more than he loved Leah and this morning we will see that Leah knew this and felt this. She felt unloved, unwanted, afflicted and neglected and her love for Jacob was not reciprocated. And, yes, we will see that Leah does have children to Jacob but she doesn’t have his heart and that is what she really wants. She will cry out in her unloved and afflicted state and someone will hear and see her and that someone is God. This is where God will step into Leah’s life. When you feel that no one loves you, when you feel unwanted and neglected that is when God will step into your life as well. And you can know that God hears you, sees you and loves you deeply. That brings us to our big idea this morning which is: God sees and hears the cries of the unloved and the afflicted and loves them deeply. We see time and time again in the Bible where both God and Jesus see and hear those that feel this way and comes to their rescue.
Before we jump into our scripture this morning, let’s pray: Dear Heavenly Father, your Word says you are close to the broken-hearted and those would include the unwanted, afflicted, and neglected. We see in your word that you come to their rescue over and over again. Lord, there may be those here this morning or online who feel that very way and we pray that they would feel your presence and that they would feel your love that is right now already surrounding them. Give us eyes to see and ears to hear the cries of those around us that are feeling this way this morning and help us to come alongside them and provide love, comfort and peace in their time of need. In Jesus name, Amen.
The first point this morning is “Seen” found in Genesis 29:31. This is what God’s Word says, “Now the Lord saw that Leah was unloved, and He opened her womb, but Rachel was unable to have children.”
If we go back a few verses, we see that after finishing the wedding week with Leah, Jacob received Rachel as his wife and they immediately had their wedding week. We are told that Jacob had relations with Rachel but are never told that he had relations with Leah. And as I just mentioned we know that “Jacob loved Rachel more than he loved Leah.” That is the background for what we see in verse 31, “The Lord saw that Leah was unloved.” The word for “unloved” is the same word for “hate” but actually means “to love less.” We don’t know how Jacob treated Leah but commentators agree that he didn’t abuse her. But he probably spent all of his time with Rachel, the wife he loved more, thereby neglecting Leah. Now we may not want to think too harshly of Jacob because he was tricked into marrying Leah but we know what God thought about his treatment of her. God saw how Jacob was treating Leah and opened her womb so she could have his children. These children would be a divine provision fulfilling God’s promise to Jacob that he would have descendants like the dust of the earth. This is the first time God has taken an active part in the narrative since his appearance to Jacob at Bethel. God’s silence and inactivity is probably because of Jacob’s lack of praise after being led by God to his mother’s brother Laban and his family and the subsequent treachery and deception by Laban. A lot of times in the OT, God’s silence shows his disappointment or disapproval in what is going on.
And then almost as an aside, we are told that Rachel was unable to have children. We know from verse 30 that Jacob and Rachel were having relations so why couldn’t she have children? The reason she couldn’t have children is because God closed her womb just as he opened Leah’s. In chapter 30:1-2 we see Rachel confront Jacob about not being able to have children and Jacob replies, “Am I in the place of God, who has kept you from having children?” So Rachel can’t have children and Leah will be able to have children because of an act of God. These two acts together would have been an implied rebuke of Jacob’s blatant favoring of Rachel and neglect of Leah.
God was pouring out his grace on Leah by opening her womb. The Jewish people believed that children were a gift from God. Psalm 127:3-4 says, “Behold, children are a heritage from the Lord, the fruit of the womb a reward. Like arrows in the hand of a warrior are the children of one's youth.” It is possible that Jacob had been neglecting his marital duties with Leah. Whether he ever thought about divorcing her or not it must not have been an option. It wouldn’t have made sense for Laban to trick him if Jacob could have just divorced Leah afterwards. It is probable that Jacob was only having relations with Rachel because he wanted her, the one he loved, to have his firstborn son. But God saw that Leah was unloved, unwanted, afflicted and neglected and he opened her womb and closed Rachel’s. God in his infinite love and compassion saw Leah’s pain and because of his deep love for her he graciously blessed her. God also sees us when we feel unloved, unwanted and neglected and just like Leah we can trust that he deeply loves every one of us and wants to be in relationship with us. (Big Idea) This is brings us to the first next step on the back of your communication card: Trust that God loves me deeply even when I feel like no one else does.
Now Jacob was smart enough to know that Rachel was barren and since children were a gift from God he decided to have relations with Leah. But this didn’t seem to have the desired effect that Leah was looking for as we will see that in the next section, called “Sons” found in verses 32-35. This is what God’s Word says, 32 Leah conceived and gave birth to a son, and named him Reuben, for she said, “Because the Lord has seen my affliction; surely now my husband will love me.” 33 Then she conceived again and gave birth to a son, and said, “Because the Lord has heard that I am unloved, He has therefore given me this son also.” So she named him Simeon. 34 And she conceived again and gave birth to a son, and said, “Now this time my husband will become attached to me, because I have borne him three sons.” Therefore he was named Levi. 35 And she conceived again and gave birth to a son, and said, “This time I will praise the Lord.” Therefore she named him Judah. Then she stopped having children.
It seems that as soon as God opened Leah’s womb, she conceived and her firstborn was a boy. The formula we will see with these four births is that the child will be given a name followed by a comment by Leah or vice versa. In fact with the firstborn child, it is the only time that Leah names the child before making the comment about them. This was probably to differentiate the firstborn from the following three sons. Leah’s comments on the births of these four children will be a play on words connecting the children’s names to the comments made by her. Her comments will give us insight into what she is feeling and going through at the time of their births.
Rachel called her firstborn son, Reuben, which means “see or behold, a son.” Then she makes two comments. First, “it is because the Lord has seen my affliction” and second, “surely now my husband will love me.” These two sentiments expressed both a lament and a wish. The name Reuben sounds like the Hebrew word for “to see” and in naming him she was expressing her faith in God who saw her affliction. We also see how she was feeling and what her true wish or desire was. She was feeling unloved and unwanted and what she truly desired was for her husband to love her. She wanted Jacob’s heart even though his heart was with another. Leah was suffering from an unrequited love; a love that was not reciprocated by Jacob.
With the birth of the second son, before naming the child, Leah makes the comment, “Because the Lord has heard that I am unloved, He has therefore given me this son also.” Then she names him, Simeon. The name, Simeon, sounds like the Hebrew word for “to hear” and she comments that because the Lord has “heard” her he has given her a second son. This suggests that Leah had been talking with God about her unloved and afflicted state. She continues to be bitterly disappointed in the fact that despite the birth of Reuben she is still “unloved” by Jacob. He still would not reciprocate the love that Leah desired to have. She still expresses her faith in God though and she truly believes that these children were from God. He was pouring out his grace and mercy on her because he saw and heard she was unloved and afflicted by her husband. Simeon’s name would be a reminder that God hears his people in the time of their need.
We don’t know what Jacob was thinking because he is silent during these births. He seemingly doesn’t even have a hand in naming these children. It is interesting that as we look ahead he doesn’t seem to have had a hand in naming any of the twelve children born in this chapter or the next. This would have been unusual in that time as the father usually took part in naming their children. In Genesis 16:15, Abraham named Ishmael and in Genesis 21:3 he names Isaac. And in Genesis 25:25-26, Isaac and Rebekah named Jacob and Esau.
We see many times in God’s Word that he sees and hears the cries of the unloved, unwanted and afflicted. We have already seen this in the book of Genesis when we studied the story of Hagar and Ishmael. Genesis 16:11 says, “The angel of the Lord said to her further, “Behold, you are pregnant, And you will give birth to a son; And you shall name him Ishmael, Because the Lord has heard your affliction.” God heard Hagar’s affliction and she would give birth to a son called Ishmael which means “God hears.” Later in verse 13 & 14, we see these words, “Then she called the name of the Lord who spoke to her, “You are a God who sees me”; for she said, “Have I even seen Him here and lived after He saw me?” “Therefore the well was called Beer-lahai-roi, which means “the well of the living one who sees me.” God saw and heard Hagar’s cries and he still sees and hears the cries of the unloved and afflicted, today.
There is another story in the Bible of God hearing the affliction of others found in Exodus 2:23-25. “Now it came about in the course of those many days that the king of Egypt died. And the sons of Israel groaned because of the bondage, and they cried out; and their cry for help because of their bondage ascended to God. So God heard their groaning; and God remembered His covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. And God saw the sons of Israel, and God took notice of them.” Not only did God hear the Israelites in their affliction but he also took notice of them. God sees and hears the cries of the unloved and afflicted (big Idea).
The third son born to Leah and Jacob is Levi. Again we see that Leah comments on the birth before he is named. She says that “now this time my husband will become attached to me, because I have borne him three sons.” The name Levi sounds like the Hebrew word for “joined” or “attached.” Leah believes because she has now borne three sons to Jacob that he will want to be “joined” with her. Every Jewish father wanted sons and Leah was certain that the birth of Levi would cause Jacob to truly love her and her love would now be reciprocated. But of course this is not what happens. Jacob still loves Leah less than Rachel as Jacob is just fulfilling his duty as a husband and not sharing his affections with her. And Leah still feels unloved, unwanted, and neglected by her husband.
The fourth son born to Leah and Jacob is Judah. Leah comments, “This time I will praise the Lord.” Judah’s name means “he (God) will be praised.” We notice that this time she doesn’t mention being unloved, afflicted or neglected by Jacob instead she praises the Lord. She stops focusing on Jacob’s love which was not forthcoming and focuses on God’s love for her that had always been there. She has always known that these children were from God but seemingly never praised Him for them. She has become more and more aware of God working in her life, so when Judah was born, she decides not to dwell on the negative but to dwell on the Lord and his love and goodness for her. Leah decided to stop seeking the love and approval of her husband and instead God the glory and the praise. She had realized that her identity and worth came from the Lord not Jacob. (Big Idea) Maybe you are doing the same thing as Leah, this morning, in seeking love and approval from human beings instead of God. If so the second next step on the back of your communication card is for you: Stop seeking the love and approval of human beings and instead find my identity and worth in the Lord. Then you too will be able to praise the Lord for his love and goodness to you.
Lastly, we see that Leah “stopped having children.” We aren’t told explicitly that God had anything to do with it but we saw that God opened her womb and I believe he closed it. Why? Because he had a sovereign plan and purpose for the twelve sons of Jacob that would become the nation of Israel and his chosen people. And this part of the plan had been fulfilled and the next one was about to begin. Later in chapter 30 we will see that God listened to Leah and she became pregnant again. God is the one who opens and closes wombs. We may not understand why or why not but we can trust his sovereign plan in the Bible and in our own lives as well.
My conclusion is adapted from a sermon by Pastor Charlie Garrett. With the birth of the last two sons, Levi and Judah, Hamilton says, “two of the major OT institutions, priesthood and kingship, have their origin in an unwanted and unplanned marriage.” That is the sovereignty of God. The preeminence will move to Judah, and so the line of the Messiah will continue through him. 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 and the Gospel of Matthew will be written by a Levite. Today in Israel it is claimed that the gene identifying the Levites 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 years ago 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. Leah is simply a picture of a lot of us. We don’t feel we are anything special and may get passed by in life for whatever reason, but the Lord is always with us. God opened Leah’s womb and showed her favor while the younger, prettier wife remained barren. We don’t need to waste our time trying to compete with beauty or money or status. All of these may be nice, but they can disappear in a moment and we can’t take it with us. 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. We must keep your eyes on the Lord and fix our thoughts on that which is noble and good. We can’t worry about the things we can’t control. The Lord has all of us exactly where He wants us and where He can best use us. He has a good plan and purpose for us. Nothing is left to chance with our wonderful Creator. As we daily and totally surrender ourselves to the Lord he will do marvelous things for us and through us.
As the praise team comes forward, let’s pray: Heavenly Father, we thank you for this time to go deeper into your Word. We praise and thank you that you see and hear our cries no matter what they are for and that you love us deeply. Help us through your Holy Spirit to trust that you love us even when we feel like no one else does. And help us to stop seeking love and approval from others and to find our identity and worth in you. In Jesus’ name. Amen.