And she conceived again and bore a son, and said, “This time I will praise the LORD.” (Gen 29:35)
This last verse of Genesis 29 gives me pause every time I come to it.
Leah’s Sin Streak
Leah had it pretty tough. Yes, she married into a good family – Abraham’s. And yes, through her family, she and the nations would be blessed. But still, if you have to trade mandrakes to your husband’s second wife (your little sister!), just so you can have an evening alone with him, your life probably isn’t going as you wanted. Being unattractive and unloved will take its toll on any normal person. It definitely took its toll on Leah.
The sinful favoritism that Jacob inherited from his dad, Isaac, not only afflicted Leah, but provoked her to sins of her own. Leah’s unrequited love eventually led to envy, entitlement and hopelessness. She could not rightly interpret the goodness and glory of God that were before her eyes. Notice how Leah interpreted the “blessings” of God when she gave birth to Jacob’s first two children.
And Leah conceived and bore a son, and she called his name Reuben, for she said, “Because the Lord has looked upon my affliction; for now my husband will love me.” She conceived again and bore a son, and said, “Because the Lord has heard that I am hated, he has given me this son also.” And she called his name Simeon. (Gen 29:32-33)
For Leah, to be blessed was to receive something from God, in order that she might receive her heart’s deepest desire: Jacob’s love. When she received Jacob’s hatred instead, to be blessed was to receive compensation from God for her suffering. However, she would soon find that bearing sons would neither heal her deep emotional wounds, nor compensate her for them. Hence, by the third son, Leah expressed her utter hopelessness.
Again she conceived and bore a son, and said, “Now this time my husband will be attached to me, because I have borne him three sons.” Therefore his name was called Levi. (Gen 29:34)
She might as well have said: “Yup, I’ve born a third son for my husband, who hates me. He’s going to continue to hate me no matter what, but at least this sucker is stuck with me, since I’m the mother of his only three children!” Whereas before, she at least spoke the language of God blessing her, Leah doesn’t even mention Him this third time.
It seems as if Leah hit rock bottom. Her sin streak seems to worsen with each child. But then something interesting happens.
Fourth Time’s a Charm?
Leah gives birth to yet another child. At this point the reader may wonder how Leah will extend her sin streak this time. But “this time,” Jacob’s unattractive, unloved, and utterly unsatisfied wife decides that she will praise the LORD.
Why this time?
Why not the times before?
This is what gives me pause every time I read Genesis 29. What changed in Leah in this particular moment? Why praise the LORD “this time”?
This question is further intensified when one reads on in Genesis 30. It is not as though Leah emerged from chapter 29 a completely transformed woman. The Leah of Genesis 30 does not continue praising the LORD. Instead, she gets caught up again in her insecurities and in competing for her husband’s love. Leah even follows suit with her sister in trafficking her maidservant to continue outscoring Rachel on the baby count.
So the question becomes: Why did Leah praise the LORD at the birth of her fourth son, Judah, but not with her first three births, nor with her subsequent decisions?
What was so special about the “this time” when Judah was born?
Reflecting on this question, I’m not sure I have a great answer. I like to think that it is by the sheer grace of God that Leah came to a momentary, yet authentic realization that there was already Someone who saw her and loved her. There was Someone who did not hate her, nor find her unattractive. There was Someone willing to work far more than seven years to be with her. I like to think that in this particular moment of grace, Leah came to savour the fact that Someone longed to attach Himself to her. It was the LORD, and for that she praised Him.
For us Christ-followers, we all have these precious moments. Moments where the good news sounds particularly good, and the presence of God feels especially present. There is nothing like having our eyes opened to God’s reality as we await Christ’s return.
Leah and Me
If you’re anything like me, though, the sin streaks far outnumber the precious moments. Like Leah, with every precious moment in which we especially sense the grace and glory of God and rightly praise Him, there are 5 to 10 to 100 sin streaks before and after. With every “this time” of praise, we know that we failed last time, and we will probably fail next time too. This reality can have a crippling effect on our spiritual lives. We can begin to doubt the authenticity of our precious moments of illumination. And we can also begin to surrender in hopeless defeat.
But the beauty of the gospel is that neither our “last time” failures, nor our “next time” failures are what define us.
The “present gospel” guarantees that our “this time” moments of praise are genuine. They are glimpses into our future glory in Christ. Our “this time” moments of praise evidence our true identity as slaves to righteousness and the Spirit that’s within us. When we resolve to praise the LORD “this time,” we find evidence of God’s grace. For He who began a good work in us is faithful to bring it to completion. He’s the author and perfecter of our faith.
And regardless of our “last time” and “next time” failures our “this time” moments are not only real, but they also matter. Leah’s certainly did. Despite her previous failures and her eventual failures, when Leah decided in that one particular moment: “This time I will praise the LORD,” she gave birth to Judah, from whom would come the Savior of the world.
The Savior’s whole life was one big “this time” of praise and faithfulness. And what’s His is ours. His commitment to praise the LORD in every “this time” of His life, even to death on a cross, is ours by faith.
In Christ, then, our “last time” failures and our “next time” failures are swallowed up in victory. Therefore, we have every reason to join the fallen, yet forgiven saints of history, resolutely declaring: “This time I will praise the LORD.”