I received the following question:

Why does Leah seem to be more praised than Rachel? Is there something with their burial places (Gen 49:31. There they buried Abraham and Sarah his wife, there they buried Isaac and Rebekah his wife, and there I buried Leah.)?  Or because Rachel stole her father’s gods (did she worship them too)?

It does seem rather odd that Leah seems to be preferred by the Lord. Just looking at the story on the surface, Leah conspires with her father to steal her sister’s fiancé (Genesis 29:23,) not a very nice thing to do to your sister. Then, when Jacob married Rachel as well, she accused her of stealing her husband, as if she hadn’t been the one to try that in the first place (Genesis 30:15.) Overall, she was very jealous of her prettier younger sister, and seemed to live her life in constant, bitter competition with her. She doesn’t seem like the most pleasant person overall.

On the other hand, Rachel seems to respond to her sister the same way, as she is bitterly jealous of her sister when Leah has children when Rachel cannot (Genesis 30:1,) and gloats when her handmaid has children in her place as if she is in a personal struggle with her sister. (Genesis 30:8) Overall, neither of these women seem very impressive, and I personally am rather glad I’m not married to either one of them.

I think the key, however, lies in their attitudes towards the Lord. Leah commonly refers to Him as Yahweh in the bearing of her children (Genesis 29:32, 33, 35). The name Yahweh is God in personal relationship with His people, not just the Creator and Judge, as is indicated by Elohim. However, as time goes on, Leah seems to slip in her relationship with the Lord, for she starts to refer to Him as Elohim as she becomes more consumed by her struggle with her sister (Genesis 30:18,20).

Rachel, on the other hand, refers to the Lord as Elohim more commonly (Genesis 30:5,23,) only finally referring to Him as LORD once she has received the child she wanted (Genesis 30:24).

I suppose we could make too much of their use of these titles of God, for both refer to the same Person. It is interesting, though, that Leah starts out using the title of Yahweh and ends up using Elohim, whereas Rachel starts out using Elohim and ends up using Yahweh. Both apparently use Elohim in Genesis 31:16, however. (Who do you suppose was the spokeswoman?)

Most telling against the character of Rachel, finally, is the record in Genesis 31:19, 30-35, wherein she steals her father’s household gods, and hides them from her father when he comes to search for them. What connection Rachel had to household gods it is hard to say, but it would seem that her father had allowed idolatry into his life, and was worshipping these household gods that the pagans around him worshipped. These gods were something like good luck charms, meant to help with crops, fertility, and things like that. Rachel was brought up in this atmosphere, and it seems that even when leaving her father’s house she clung to the idolatry of her father, whereas we have no indication that Leah ever did this. Perhaps she kept herself from involvement in this kind of worship. At any rate, it is clear that Rachel did not have the kind of relationship with the Lord that she should have had. This probably is why the Lord preferred Leah over her, in spite of the fact that overall Leah does not appear to have the most appealing personality.

As for their burying places, Rachel seems to have been buried where she was because of her dying suddenly (while giving birth to Benjamin,) according to Jacob in Genesis 48:7. Genesis 49:31 does indicate that Leah was buried where Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebekah were buried. Yet this just may have been because her death was less sudden, and it was more convenient to do so. There may be something to this, however. Perhaps when the matter of bearing children was over and the beauty of these two women started to fade, Jacob came to recognize the Godly character of Leah (and perhaps it came out more when she was no longer so focused on jealousy of her sister!) and also the shallow character and idolatry of Rachel. This could also be why Leah was honored in this way, whereas Rachel was not. It would seem that Jacob eventually had to learn where Laban’s household gods went, at any rate!

It is interesting to note that Jacob was 77 years old when he fled to Laban. Although women might not have married in their early teens at this time, as they did in Israel when the Lord was on earth, it would still be hard to imagine women of marrying age as being much older than in their 20s. This would make Leah and Rachel anywhere from 50 (if they were 27 when he met them) to 60 (if they were 17) years younger than him! Of course, that isn’t quite the same as it would seem to us today, since Jacob lived to 147 years old. Interestingly, he outlived both Rachel and Leah!