Leah's Weak Eyes

Question: “As a line of Bible study could we look at Leah who, among others, had poor eyesight. Why does Genesis even mention it?”

Answer: The text in Genesis mentions that “Leah had weak eyes.” And that’s it. All we know about Leah at this point is her eye weakness. Isaac had almost lost his eyesight, and now another family member is suffering from some sort of eye weakness.

Normally the line from Adam to Christ (in its early stages,) lived long and when they finally got into adulthood they seemed to be strong, robust, beautiful and healthy, but Genesis wants us to know that there was one area where the normal state of affairs was not upheld.

This weakness could have been genetic or there may have been another reason for it. If it was genetic it must have come from Terah’s line because Isaac came from Terah and so did Leah. Eye weakness wasn’t something that Abraham developed, it was earlier than that, because Leah wasn’t from Abraham or Sarah. Terah is the common link between the two people who had something wrong with their eyes. Genesis wants us to note that it’s there and it’s most likely there for a reason.

Jacob was in love with Rachel, Leah’s sister. He’d never felt like this before. Esau, Jacob’s brother had got married years before, but Jacob had shown no interest in women, until now - which was shortly after receiving his birthright.

Jacob was so much in love that the seven years he worked for Laban, Rachel’s father, before being allowed to marry Rachel seemed like a few days to him.

When the wedding came, Laban put on a big feast. We know that Laban had an eager eye for business when, as a younger man, he showed an interest in the gold and jewellery that his sister Rebekah had been given by Abraham’s servant. Laban now saw a way of getting another seven years work out of Jacob, who was strong and ready to work hard. 

Jacob had been feasting with the other guests and there was probably some fine wine consumed, and Jacob may have been feeling slightly the worse for celebrating. There is also a distinct possibility that his eyesight was already slightly weak – we read later that,  “Jacob was half blind because of his age and could hardly see” (Gen 48:10). We can easily work out that Jacob was about 77 years old when he married Leah. 

Leah was veiled and, under Laban’s direction, made to look like her sister and probably given instructions to keep quiet until the union had been made.

Rachel would have been taken, by some ruse or perhaps forcibly, somewhere else but certainly not close by in case her screams could be heard. Laban gave Leah to Jacob when it was night, and in the dark tent he consummated the union, only later did he realize his bride was Leah and not Rachel.

The next morning Jacob went straight to Laban demanding an answer to why he had been deceived. Laban gave him his answer: the local custom, conveniently for Laban, was always to give the older daughter in marriage first. That was Laban’s answer, but there are another two answers to the question. Firstly, Jacob was reaping what he had sown—he had formerly veiled himself with goat skin and deceived his father Isaac, and now he himself was deceived by someone wearing a veil. "Impostors will go from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived" (2 Tim 3:13), the lesson being that those who deceive others are themselves deceived: "with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you" (Matt 7:2).

Secondly, Leah was the chosen route through which the Christ would come, not Rachel. Jacob would not have married Leah if Laban hadn’t seized the opportunity. Laban told Jacob to see out the bridal week, he would then give Rachel to Jacob too, in return for another seven years of work. Rachel became his wife at the end of the seven days and he consummated that union as well. Jacob was disgruntled, but he now had Rachel so things weren’t too bad.

We are told that Yahweh was not pleased with Jacob’s attitude to Leah, “When the LORD saw that Leah was not loved, he enabled her to conceive, but Rachel remained childless” (Gen 29:31), and as a result of Jacob’s lack of love for Leah the Lord saw to it that she became pregnant very quickly indeed, perhaps from that first honeymoon week. She gave birth to Reuben and offered this explanation for his name: “It is because Yahweh has seen my misery. Surely my husband will love me now.” Jacob was probably not spending much time at night with Leah; it was Rachel who had captured his heart. However, when he realized how Reuben got his name and particularly hearing the name of Yahweh invoked, his attitude changed a little. Yahweh was not a name he would hear much of in Haran.

Four generations earlier, Terah had moved away from the God that Adam and Noah knew, and was taken by the idols in Ur and Haran - "Long ago your ancestors, including Terah the father of Abraham and Nahor, lived beyond the Euphrates River and worshiped other gods" (Josh 24:2). Rachel herself highly valued the household gods (terephim), but now Leah was harkening back to the time when her family knew God, her appeal was to Yahweh, not to the moon god Sin, or any other Mesopotamian deity. Yahweh’s name rang true with Jacob and he remembered his dream and the deal he had announced to Yahweh. Jacob decided to spend a little more time with Leah and his newborn son Reuben.

When the Apostle Paul first saw the Lord, he suddenly found himself blind for three days, then Ananias prayed for him and something like scales fell from his eyes, resulting in his sight being restored. However, we get the impression that his eyesight was always a bit of a problem to him after that first occasion.

When Paul wrote his letters he normally dictated them, Tertius wrote the book of Romans under Paul’s dictation. When he wrote the Letter to the Galatians, towards the end of the letter Paul wrote some of it himself saying, “Notice what large letters I use as I write these closing words in my own handwriting” (Gal 6:11).

Paul also referenced his infirmed eyes to the Galatians in chapter 4:13-15, "It was because of an illness that I first preached the gospel to you, and even though my illness was a trial to you, you did not treat me with contempt or scorn. Instead, you welcomed me as if I were an angel of God... I can testify that, if you could have done so, you would have torn out your eyes and given them to me."

We know that Paul had a thorn in the flesh and had prayed for it to go but God wanted it in Paul’s life. Poor eyesight for Paul would always be a reminder of what God had done for him. When he thought he could see, he was blind, and when his eyesight was taken from him, that’s when he truly began to see. Paul spoke about the visions and revelations he had seen. It was because of what he saw in heaven that he was given a thorn in the flesh to stop him from becoming conceited. He could see into heaven but “seeing” on earth would not be so easy.

Seeing into the spiritual world could have physical repercussions: Daniel had a vision and after it he lay exhausted and sick in bed for several days. Moses spoke with Yahweh on Mount Sinai, and when Moses went down the mountain and back to the people his face was radiant and he didn’t even know it. Aaron and the Israelites were afraid to come close to him, but he reassured them and they came close enough to hear the commands that the Lord had given him.

After they had finished hearing the words of the Lord from Moses, he covered his face with a veil. He removed the veil whenever he spoke to the Lord, and he removed it whenever he spoke to the people. Moses may have done this because the veil was the equivalent of sunglasses. He wanted to see the Lord and he wanted to speak to the people properly but the rest of the time he put on his veil. He didn’t want any unnecessary light hitting his eyes when he could protect them.

In Genesis chapter 26 Isaac moved to Beersheba from the valley of Gerar, and that evening Yahweh appeared to him. The first verse of the next chapter tells us that Isaac’s eyes were weak. We know that it was partly Isaac’s failing eyesight that secured the blessing for Jacob. If Yahweh had let just a tiny amount of his glory be seen, Isaac’s eyes could have been affected by it.

Moses asked Yahweh to show him his glory; Moses wouldn’t have been able to withstand the full force of Yahweh’s glory, so he stood in a cleft in a nearby rock and the Lord covered Moses with his hand so that Moses’s eyes would not see his face shining in its glory. As Yahweh moved his hand away Moses was able to see Yahweh’s back, still glorious but not overpowering.

The Scripture makes a point of letting us know that Moses’s eyes were still able to see well even though he was old, perhaps as a result of the hand of God protecting his eyes – “Moses was a hundred and twenty years old when he died, yet his eyes were not weak” (Deut 34:7).

For some reason Leah was reaching out to Yahweh, Rachel was close to her father’s household gods, and Laban also loved those gods and wanted them close. Leah was the chosen vessel through which the Messiah would be born and her weak eyes and her appeal to Yahweh may be a clue that she had had an encounter with Yahweh at some point in her earlier life.

Rachel hung on to the terephim, while Leah looked to Yahweh.

Rachel's eyes were beautiful yet she could not see God's way. Leah's eyes were "weak" and yet she saw clearly whose name should be lifted high.

Rachel was "ever seeing, but never perceiving" (Isa 6:9).

Leah's eyes were weak and yet "out of gloom and darkness the eyes of the blind will see" (Isa 29:18).

Yahweh didn’t always show his glory to those he met, similar to Jesus, who walked around without a number of people realizing who he was. But he did say to his disciples, “I tell you truly, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the kingdom of God.” After six days Jesus took Peter, James, and John and led them up a high mountain by themselves. There he was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as the light. Mark says, “His clothes became dazzling white, whiter than anyone in the world could bleach them” (Mark 9:3).

When the four of them made their way down the mountain, there is what seems a curious verse, “As soon as all the people saw Jesus, they were overwhelmed with wonder” (Mk 9:15).

The people had seen Jesus many times, why now should they be filled with wonder? It’s probably because Jesus, like Moses still had some of the glory of heaven upon him.

When Yahweh was walking around the city of Ur, he may not have stood out in any particular way, and therefore Abraham may not have realized whom he was speaking to at the outset of their friendship. So God may have shown Abraham a touch of his glory to let him know who he was talking to. When the martyr Stephen was talking to the men who were about to kill him he said, “The God of glory appeared to our father Abraham while he was still in Mesopotamia, before he lived in Haran.” So that may be a clue that Abraham got to see some of the glory of God himself.

We don’t read that Abraham had poor eyesight, except for the fact that he didn’t see the ram caught in the thicket until after the voice from heaven had spoken to him. But he was otherwise engaged at that point; also if God touches someone’s eyes so that they are dimmed he is also able to open the eyes of the blind as Jesus demonstrated.

If God’s appearance caused eye weakness he would only leave someone’s eyesight poor for a reason. Either the person themselves would have a reminder of their encounter with the Lord, facilitating humility within their lives, or it would be used as a sign for others.

We come to Scripture asking the Holy Spirit to illuminate its sacred text, we are asked to meditate upon it day and night and the link between human beings 'seeing God's glory and weakened eyes' seems to be there: We read that Jacob/Israel said to Joseph, “God Almighty appeared to me at Luz in the land of Canaan" (Gen 48:3) and a few verses later, "Now Israel’s eyes were failing" (Gen 48:10).

The line from Adam to Christ has been watched over by God, whose prophecy to the serpent was kept on track, despite attempts to derail it. "I will put enmity between you and the woman, And between your seed and her Seed; He shall bruise your head, And you shall bruise His heel" (Gen 3:15).

Since God first breathed into Adam we have seen different aspects of Christ in the genetic links of the chain. The beauty of the women points to the beauty of Christ: he is fairer than ten thousand. The strength of the men and women involved points to the strength of Christ: he was strong and resolute to complete the work he had to do, he set his face as a flint and would not turn back. The “long years” of the people point to him who is alive forevermore, his seed was among them, giving them outward attributes that show us something of the Son that was to be born from their line. Local people noticed that God was with these people in some special way, some of whom may have been seen as chiefs owing to their long years.

Being Hebrew alone put you in a certain position of being revered or even feared: “'Since Mordecai, before whom your downfall has started, is of Jewish origin, you cannot stand against him—you will surely come to ruin!' said Haman's wife and advisors" (Esth 6:13).

When Jonah revealed his heritage his fellow mariners were afraid: “'I am a Hebrew and I worship the Lord, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the dry land.' This terrified them" (Jon 1:9-10).

And let us remember what Jesus said, "salvation is of the Jews" (John 4:22).

Jacob goes on to mention that Judah will have eyes that are darker than wine. Previously we saw Leah with weak eyes, Isaac and Jacob too, and now Judah’s eyes are said to be dark. The character of a judge has to be one of impartiality, bribes and corruption have hindered humankind’s progress toward civilization and the Bible has a lot to say about it. You may have seen the statue of justice outside a law court. The figure is holding a pair of scales and a sword and is blindfolded; a true judge will not look with favouritism on anyone but will judge justly. Isaiah speaks of Christ saying, “Who is blind but my servant?” (Isa 42:19), “He will not judge by what He sees with His eyes” (Isa 11:3), and “He will bring justice to the nations” (Isa 42:1). 

Gradually all the attributes (and negative aspects like weak eyes) of being in the line to Christ faded away. Long life, strength, and beauty faded as Christ’s birth got closer; once Christ was born he was all of those things. The attributes were actors in the drama and now the reality was among us. The signs were no longer needed.

"These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ" (Col 2:17).

The chief priests and council held Jesus while false witnesses spoke against him. Jesus was accused of blasphemy. We read that those guarding Jesus "blindfolded him and demanded, 'Prophesy! Who hit you?'” (Luke 22:64). Those that condemned Jesus as a blasphemer, were the blasphemers, those that blindfolded Christ's eyes revealed themselves to be blind.

Perhaps worthy of note is Justin Martyr's (100 AD) conversation with the Jewish man Trypho. In which Justin said, "Leah was weak-eyed; for the eyes of your souls are excessively weak" (Ch 134). Meaning the Jewish nation at that time failed to see the Messiah even though he was right before their eyes.

We can understand what Justin means if we note that Leah's physical sight was weak and she was the mother of six of the tribes of Israel including Judah through whom Christ's physical descent came. But Leah's inward sight was strong. And the church may not have descended from physical Israel, but Paul tells us that "Not all who are descended from Israel are Israel" (Rom 9:6).

The inward sight of the church of Jesus Christ is strong. "For we live by faith, not by sight" (2 Cor 5:7).