Let’s look at the story of Leah and Rachel, two sisters whose envy gets the best of them

Monday, November 26, 2012

IDEA: Envy doesn’t get us what we lack, but it does make us miserable.

PURPOSE: To help listeners understand the self-defeating nature of envy.

“Those whom the gods would destroy, they first make mad with envy.” Does that ring true?

If we think about it, we realize that envy makes us miserable.

I. We see this in the misery of two sisters who each envied the other. Their story is found in Genesis 29–31.

Jacob (fleeing the wrath of his brother, Esau) married both daughters of his uncle Laban. But his marriage to the elder sister, Leah, came not by choice but by trickery (Genesis 29:16-30).

Leah, the pawn in someone else’s trickery, must live out her life married to a man who did not love her, did not choose her, did not want her. Every day she faced the fact that her husband loved her younger sister, not her.

Rachel, the younger sister, appeared to have everything going for her except her ability to bear children. Leah, her older sister, seemed to have no problem getting pregnant. Every day for more than a decade she heard the sound of her sister’s children outside her tent, and she yearned for a child of her own.

The rivalry between the two sisters existed because each one wanted what the other had.

Leah wanted Jacob’s love, expressed in the naming of her sons:

“Now therefore my husband will love me” after firstborn Reuben’s birth (Genesis 29:32).

“Because the Lord has heard that I am unloved. He has therefore given me this son also” after Simeon’s birth (Genesis 29:33).

“Now this time my husband will become attached to me, because I have borne him three sons” after Levi’s birth (Genesis 29:34).

“Now I will praise the Lord” after Judah’s birth (Genesis 29:35).

“God has given me my hire, because I have given my maid to my husband” after Issachar’s birth (Genesis 30:18).

“God has endowed me with a good endowment; now my husband will dwell with me, because I have borne him six sons” after Zebulun’s birth (Genesis 30:20).

“Now when Rachel saw that she bore Jacob no children, Rachel envied her sister, and said to Jacob, ‘Give me children, or else I die!’ ” (Genesis 30:1). Jacob became angry with Rachel, insisting that her problem wasn’t his fault. When Rachel saw Leah’s son Reuben bringing mandrakes (love apples) to his mother from the field, she bargained with Leah for them, hoping that the “magical” fruit would enable her to conceive. Leah retorted, “Is it a small matter that you have taken away my husband? Would you take away my son’s mandrakes also?” (Genesis 30:14-15). But even the mandrakes Leah gave Rachel (in exchange for sleeping again with Jacob) did not produce a son for Rachel.

II. Envy does not solve our problems or get us what we want. It makes us blind to what we have and miserable about what we lack.

Rachel conceived only when “the Lord opened her womb,” not before. Her envy of Leah in no way changed her barrenness. It merely made her miserable.

Leah had to find contentment in the sons she bore. Her marriage did not change. Jacob loved Rachel most, even at the end of her life. When preparing to meet Esau and his 400 men, Jacob put the maids and their children first in line, then Leah and her children second, and Rachel and Joseph as far back as possible to protect them. Leah never knew the affection from Jacob that she yearned for.

Horace has called envy “the worst of all tortures” because it changes nothing but merely makes us miserable.