Leah Wrestles with God
By AJ Kandathil• Genesis 29:20–25
If I could, I’d wrestle with God over one truth in my life: my father had to lie to get me a husband. My father, Laban as he was known, thought if he got his nephew Jacob drunk enough, if it was late enough, and if my face was veiled enough, Laban could fool him into mistaking one daughter for the other. That’s who I was then—the other daughter. I was older, but Rachel had the kind of beauty that put her ahead of me in every way.
Author A.J. Kandathil crafted this short story inspired by the theme of "Lies" from Genesis 29:20-25, the story in which Jacob marries Leah.
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20 And Jacob served seven years for Rachel; and they seemed unto him but a few days, for the love he had to her.
21 And Jacob said unto Laban, Give me my wife, for my days are fulfilled, that I may go in unto her. 22 And Laban gathered together all the men of the place, and made a feast. 23 And it came to pass in the evening, that he took Le´ah his daughter, and brought her to him; and he went in unto her. 24 And Laban gave unto his daughter Le´ah Zilpah his maid for a handmaid. 25 And it came to pass, that in the morning, behold, it was Le´ah: and he said to Laban, What is this thou hast done unto me? did not I serve with thee for Rachel? wherefore then hast thou beguiled me?
When I chose “lies” as the theme I’d be working with, it took some time to settle on a certain passage, as the Bible is littered with liars. There’s the moment when Abraham denies that Sarah is his wife because he fears the consequences, then there’s the lying serpent, and of course there’s also Peter’s famed denial of Christ, just to name a few.
But I decided to focus on the story of Jacob, Laban, and Leah because Jacob was someone God undeniably favored, despite his tendency to use and deceive people (and, therefore, to be used and deceived). Although I chose to tell the story from the perspective of Jacob’s first wife, Leah, I can identify with Jacob as well—with his propensity for twisting God’s arm, with the ambition that defines him. In the Bible’s account, the story belongs to Jacob, and he is—by many measures—a hero. But what of the people who became little more than detritus on his journey to father the nations? What of the wife he didn’t love? Though the traditional American ideal of the biblical “hero” can lean toward the simplistic, I prefer the ancient Greek notion of the hero, one that’s much more troubled, and thankfully, much more human. The Greek hero has the capability to hurt those he’s meant to protect, and even those he loves.
In the often told story of Jacob’s wrestling match with God, we know the outcome. Jacob wrestles with God for His blessing, and he gets it, though he walks away with a limp that will last the rest of his life. But what isn’t often talked about is the fact that Jacob got to wrestle with God. The very notion suggests an equality between partners, an occasion for an intimate fight, as one sometimes engages in with a beloved. Can you imagine it? Having that kind of access?
Much of the women’s inner lives in the Bible are excluded from scripture. Even if we don’t know much about Leah other than her role in the master narrative, God knows the smallest details of Leah’s life—her secrets, her disappointments, her triumphs. In some ways, Leah’s whole life may have been a wrestling match with God. Who’s to say? So this is my imagined account of it, told from Leah’s point of view.
A.J. Kandathil is a Pushcart Prize nominee whose work has appeared in Burner Magazine, Newfound Journal, Hippocampus, and The Tottenville Review. She currently writes about the cross-sections between literature and television for Ploughshares, and she is at work on her first book. You can find her on Twitter at @ajkandathil.