I am partial to Anand Mahadevan, the author of the book Grace of God and Flaws of Men. Apart from being my pastor, Anand and his wife, Ajitha, have mentored my husband and I, and we're enjoying the fruits of their labour in every area of our lives. This book was originally part of a sermon series Anand preached at New City Church in Mumbai. This series really touched my heart and helped me see the depths of God's grace over me in a new light.
This book is a must-read for anyone who wants to understand the heart of God. Written below is an extract which I hope will stir you to read the book in its entirety.
This is an edited excerpt from Anand Mahadevan’s book Grace of God and Flaws of Men.
Beauty, Ugliness and True Blessing
Anyone who reads the account of Rachel and Leah in the book of Genesis in the Bible will wonder why God created Rachel beautiful and Leah ugly? Wasn’t God unfair? These questions reverberate even in our culture. Why did God create some men and women beautiful and others ugly?
Think about this for a minute. Who would you rather be? If you had a choice, would you rather be Leah or would you rather be Rachel? Who is more blessed? Who is more likely to have a happier life?
I bet all of us will shout out the answer loud and clear – Rachel! Physical beauty is a definite asset in the modern world. It shouldn’t be that way. But it is.
I bet no one would say I would rather be Leah in this story and not Rachel. Some of us may have felt like Leah at different points of time in our lives – unloved, rejected and lonely. But none of us would prefer to be Leah over Rachel.
Human definition of beauty is so fickle. It changes from spring to fall. So when we say that someone is beautiful and someone is ugly, those words are highly relative. Who is the better judge of true beauty? Transient humans or a transcendental God?
If you research “beauty across centuries,” you will find videos of what beautiful men and women looked like across centuries. The contrast through the ages is incredible. Men and women who were considered attractive at a certain point in time in history and culture wouldn’t be found attractive now.
The problems of the human heart are far deeper than mere physical beauty.
Rachel had the love of Jacob. But she perhaps desired children more than she desired God.
Leah had children, but desired the love of Jacob more than she wanted God.
Neither of them wanted God for Himself. Both were merely using God as a means to an end. And God deals with both women very differently.
When the Lord saw that Leah was not loved, he enabled her to conceive but Rachel remained childless. Genesis 20:31
God was drawing Leah to himself by giving her child after child, and God is drawing Rachel to himself by not giving her a child for a long time. God is drawing both Rachel and Leah to Himself, but He is drawing them in two very different ways.
Let’s look at Leah first. When her first son is born, she says, “Surely, my husband will love me now.” The second son is born, and Leah says, “The Lord heard I am not loved, so he gave me another son.” The third son is born, and Leah says, “Now at last my husband will become attached to me.”
“If only Jacob loves me,” Leah thinks, “everything will be great.” Leah is pining away for Jacob and the birth of three sons does absolutely nothing to change Jacob’s disposition toward her.
Well, one thing is very evident from this passage. Jacob is having a lot of sex with Leah. How else are they having so many babies?
Sadly, this combination of a lot of sex, but no genuine love from Jacob, is pushing Leah towards depression. She is longing to be loved and be cherished by Jacob. Leah wrongly assumes that the love of Jacob is the ultimate love in life. She is praying to God merely to get to that love.
What about us? Don’t we all also use God as a means to an end?
Leah put God second. She ignored God. Yet, God was attentive to her and her prayers. God gave her child after child. And when the fourth child came along everything changed. At the birth of the fourth son Judah, Leah said, “This time, I will praise the Lord.” This was a big change.
What changed? I will answer this crucial question at the end.
If God is wooing ugly Leah by blessing her womb, God is wooing beautiful Rachel by shutting her womb. Ugly Leah is broken. Beautiful Rachel is proud and arrogant. Ugly Leah never got anything in her life. She never got any man’s attention as she grew up. She doesn’t count herself worthy. So, when she starts having son after son after son, she doesn’t believe she earned it. She doesn’t believe it is to her credit and she immediately sees this as grace and attributes it to God.
Beautiful Rachel always got everything in life. She always had everybody’s attention. And so, if she would have had babies immediately after she got married, she may have proudly and arrogantly assumed that her beauty and her health had earned her these children.
Having children made Leah turn to God and the lack of children made Rachel return to God. God made Rachel wait before he gave her a child. This wait was absolutely necessary for her spiritual health.
The lives of Rachel and Leah throw up another question that’s worth some reflection. Who was the sadder of these two? Whom does your heart go out to the most?
Leah, of course.
But this is where we sometimes miss the mystery and essence of the Gospel.
In the absolute worst period of her life, Leah experienced Jesus more intimately than Rachel. Where on earth did I get that notion from?
If you recollect, I left one question unanswered at the beginning. When her fourth son Judah was born, Leah cried out: “This time, I will praise the Lord.” What changed for Leah even though she was ugly, lonely, rejected, despised and unloved? What did the fourth son change?
God had promised Abraham that out of his Seed, nations would be blessed. This Seed was Christ Jesus (Galatians 3). Of the twelve sons Jacob had, Jesus had to descend from one of them.
Jesus descended from Judah, Leah’s fourth son.
Leah, I am sure, didn’t quite understand the full significance of this. But she did feel deeply fulfilled in God when Judah was born.
Figuratively speaking, Leah carried Jesus in her womb. Ugly, unloved, rejected, depressed and lonely, Leah carried in her womb Christ Jesus, the one who would show the greatest love in the entire universe.
The ugliness of Leah pointed to the ugliness of Jesus.
When Jesus was hanging on the Cross he took upon himself the ugliness of every despicable act we have done in our lives. When God saw Jesus on the Cross, He didn’t see His perfect Son. He saw our sins covering the perfection of Jesus. Jesus took our sin upon Himself and gave us His righteousness. So, on the Cross Jesus became ugly, so that for the rest of eternity God can look at us who believe in Him as beautiful.
So how does the story of Rachel and Leah end? Rachel died first. Sadly, she died giving birth to her second son Benjamin. Jacob was on a journey at that point in time. Jacob grieved for Rachel, and he buried her. It was a lonely and undistinguished grave. (Genesis 35:19)
Leah died many years later. Jacob buried her in a cave where Abraham and his wife Sarah and Isaac and his wife Rebecca were buried. Later, when the time came for Jacob to die, he called his 12 sons and instructed them to bury him next to Leah. (Genesis 49:29-32)
Who would you rather be? Rachel or Leah?
Anand Mahadevan is an author, church planter and business journalist. His first book, Grace of God and Flaws of Men (LifeWay, June 2018), comes recommended by Ravi Zacharias and Tim Keller and is now available on Amazon: https://goo.gl/1Q8mVx. He is the lead church planter at New City Church, Mumbai. He is married to Ajitha and they have two children Varun and Varsha.