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Meaning and etymology of the name Leah

Leah Leah

Leah is one of four arch-mothers of Israel. She is one of two daughters of Laban, son of Bethuel, son of Nahor with Milcah. Leah is the sister of Jabob's second wife Rachel (note that in the later Levitical code the marrying two sisters became prohibited - Leviticus 18:18) and the mother of the first four sons of Jacob (Reuben, Simeon, Levi and Judah), and his ninth (Issachar) and tenth (Zebulun), and his only daughter (Dinah).

The story of Leah is one of heartbreak, shown in subtleties that go largely unnoticed by popular Bible students. It shouldn't. Leah became Jacob's first wife through a trick of her father Laban; it was really Rachel who Jacob was after. When Leah gives birth to her first son, she names him after her idle hope that Jacob will subsequently fall in love with her. Her second son she names after her conviction that the Lord has heard (that means understood or taken to heart) her affliction of being unloved. Her third son she names in the conviction that Jacob will now at least become attached to her. When her fourth son is born she seems to undergo an awakening, and she names him after her resolution to no longer aim her zeal at Jacob but at God. The names of the sons of Jacob born from Leah's maid Zilpah (Gad and Asher) she names out of intense bitterness. So too her fifth son. At naming her sixth son, Leah finally seems to express some happiness. Zebulun means Glorious Dwelling Place, but it is highly unlikely that Jacob actually finally moved in with Leah. It's more likely that she recognized her husband in the six sons she had living with her.

A salliant note of consolation: Leah was interred in the family grave, together with Jacob, Isaac and Rebekah, and Abraham and Sarah, while Rachel was buried somewhere by the way to Ephrath, a.k.a. Bethlehem. (Genesis 35:19, 49:30-31).

The name Leah is identical to the verb Leah (la'a) meaning to be weary, grieved, offended (even impatient or slow says BDB Theological Dictionary). HAW Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament sums the meaning of this verb up as, "physical or psychological weariness." It may occur to someone who runs with footmen (Jeremiah 12:5), or folks who vainly try to find a way into a house (Genesis 19:11). It may happen when water has a disagreeable taste (Exodus 7:18) or when a person is so lazy that the mere movement of bring food to his mouth wears him out (Proverbs 26:15).

A derivation of this verb is the word telaa (tela'a), toil, hardship (Exodus 18:8, Nehemiah 9:32).

Probably to complement the name Rachel (meaning Ewe) BDB Theological Dictionary and NOBS Study Bible Name List turn to the cognate Arabic and read Wild Cow. To a Hebrew audience, the name Leah may have resounded her position of grief and offense as she was Jacob's least loved wife.

Jones' Dictionary of Old Testament Proper Names reads Wearied.



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