Finding Fulfilment in an Unfair Life
In the first few chapters of Ecclesiastes, Solomon describes some of the various ways that people attempt to find or derive meaning out of their lives. People seek meaning in work, in the acquisition of wisdom, in the multiplication of things or money, in the attempt to establish a legacy on this earth. Ecclesiastes has a fairly dim view of such things: “all is vanity and a striving after the wind” (2:17b).
Even though Solomon tells it to us plain in the Bible, it’s almost like we don’t want to believe it. It seems most people (myself included) at some point in our lives pursue one or more of these things on earth, as if it will give us the meaning we desire. We can even find examples of people who pursued fame and fortune in the present and found that there is nothing at the end. I recall a quote from the comedian Jim Carrey: “I think everybody should get rich and famous and do everything they ever dreamed of so they can see that it’s not the answer.” Jim Carrey followed the same path as Solomon and came to the same answer.
Perhaps it’s how we’re wired. Solomon does say we have eternity in our hearts (Ecc. 3:11). We need meaning, and we try to find it in the place it seems to be. One of the other places I see that pattern play out so clearly is with Leah, the first wife of Jacob.
If there was one person in the Bible that I felt the most sympathetic toward, Leah would probably have to be that person. Leah is introduced to us in the 29th chapter of Genesis. Leah did not have much going for her, at least compared to her sister.
Rachel, the younger of the two, apparently got all the good looks. When Jacob’s eyes fell on Rachel, he fell in love at first sight. He even agreed to work for her father, Laban, for seven years for the opportunity to marry her. The Bible says that those seven years only “seemed to him but a few days because of the love he had for her.” (Gen. 29:20) And even after being tricked into marrying Leah, Jacob agreed to work for Laban another seven years so he could have the woman he had wanted in the first place, Rachel.
Where was the man that was willing to work for Leah for seven years? Where was the man so in love with Leah that he would compare seven years to only a few days? It’s awfully romantic language describing how Jacob felt for Rachel. Leah never got to experience such romance. Not only was she married to a man that did not love her, but that same man was married to her sister, whom he did love.
The Bible goes on to say that God blessed Leah, and allowed her to have children. Rachel was not able to have children, and especially in that day in time, a wife able to bear children and heirs was greatly honored. You can see that desire Leah has to finally be appreciated by her husband in how she names her children.
Reuben for “the LORD has looked upon my affliction; for now my husband will love me.” Simeon for “the LORD has heard that I am hated, he has given me this son also.” Levi for “Now this time my husband will be attached to me, because I have borne him three sons.” (Genesis 29:32-34)
Leah was looking toward Jacob for fulfillment in her life. She had been denied beauty, she had been denied romance and love, she had been denied a husband all to herself. But Leah surmised that perhaps by bearing sons, Jacob would finally come around to loving her. This was not the case. Jacob continued to love Rachel more than he did, Leah.
Does this not mirror how we feel when we pursue the things of this world, whatever they may be? It’s not necessarily that those things are bad in themselves. In Leah’s example, children are a very good thing, and the text says that God was blessing Leah by giving them to her. But things, even good things, can get in the way of us finding true meaning and fulfilment in this life. We think that if everything does not go the way we think it ought to, then something has to be wrong.
Leah found herself in a situation she had little to no control over. She could not help that Rachel was prettier than she was. She could not help that she was married to a man that did not love her. And for a time, she desperately tried to find love and acceptance from him.
But for whatever reason, Leah had changed her attitude by the time it came to the fourth child. She named him Judah because “This time I will praise the LORD” (Gen. 29:35) Leah finally started looking to God for the fulfillment in her life, rather than to Jacob.
We all find ourselves in situations that we have no control over. What we look like, who our parents are, someone close to us dies, we contract a chronic disease of disability, life doesn’t go our way. Or perhaps life goes exactly our way. We still find the same thing at the end: the fact that the things of this world, as good or as wonderful as they can seem, cannot sustain us.
Leah discovered that the only place she could place her hope in was God. She learned to praise Him even though life hadn’t turned out the way she had hoped. I am still on that journey myself, learning to let go and praise the Lord no matter my circumstances. I pray you find strength on that same journey as well.
“Know therefore that the LORD your God is God, the faithful God who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep his commandments, to a thousand generations.” (Deut. 7:9)