Genesis 29:17, Leah’s Eyes

Leah was tender eyed; but Rachel was beautiful and well favoured.

//You know the story. Jacob has gotten ahead in life through trickery, deceiving both his brother and his father at different times, and now he gets a taste of his own medicine. He agrees to serve a man named Laban for seven years in exchange for his daughter, Rachel. Laban had two daughters; Leah was “tender eyed,” but Rachel was beautiful, and Jacob loved Rachel.

“Tender eyed” is the King James translation. Other translations are not so kind. The most common translation is that Leah had weak eyes, though other versions call her eyes blue (apparently a real turn-off), or dull, or soft, or lacking sparkle. Bishop John Shelby Spong interprets the text to mean she had “eyes that popped out of her head like those of a cow.” Whatever the true meaningthe text is indeed difficult to translateits clear there was no compliment intended.

As the story goes, Jacob works seven years for Laban, who then awards him his daughter, and Jacob consummates their marriage, only to wake up next to his wife in the morning to find … Leah! He has taken to wife the daughter with ugly eyes! This bit of chicanery on the part of Laban is taken in stride by Jacobafter all, deception is only the way of life he knowsand he agrees to serve Laban another seven years for the second daughter. We’re told she was worth it.

(p.s., Don’t be distressed about poor Jacob. In the end, he devises a nasty plot to steal the best of Laban’s herds, and thus gets the best of Laban after all.)

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5 Comments

  1. I would like to offer you another way of looking at the term “weak eyes.” Think about the last time you REALLY had a long hard cry. Now recall what your eyes looked like after you looked in the mirror. They were probably red, puffy, dull and dreary. Now imagine what they would look like if you were crying both day and night, EVERY day. Some commentators say that Leah’s eyes were weakened from having cried so much after learning that her father, Laban and her aunt (Rebekah) had arranged for her to marry, Esau, who and because like she, was the oldest. While Rachel, being the younger sister, had been arranged to marry the younger, more ideal mate and brother, Jacob. Leah feared for what her life might be like being married to Esau who she knew, by word of mouth more than likely, was wild and untamed. As a result, because Leah spent so much of her time weeping about what was to come-an unpredictable life being married to a wild and unpredictable man, the youthfulness, fire & desire and twinkle in her eyes had “weakened.” It was not that she was drop dead unattractive. She merely lacked the allure, liveliness & vigor in her eyes AND her demeanor that her sister obviously possessed, of course though, knowing she was getting the better deal in terms of a husband.

  2. Interesting, thank you! How did Esau get into the story?

    One would wonder if Jacob is really the better find, though! Sneaky little brother that he is.

    • Anonymous

      they get it from midrash, but the question is, where does the midrash get it from? It could be a possibility, but I might have a better suggestion. I’m not sure though, I’m about to look into it more in depth, but it could be possible that her eyes were easily irritated by things such as weather or dust etc. or like one who is in need of prescription lenses. But its also good to note what the above says about ‘blue eyes or some kind of light colored eyes other than blue which if you google images for Lebanese people you will find that they have eyes like none I’ve ever seen, some are blue, light blue, very light light blue as if they looked platinum or silver, & even a weird light yellow color. Almost looks as if they wore contacts, but natural, its kind of cool

  3. Janelle

    You don’t become unattractive by crying a lot . Even attractive women look attractive when they cry. Leah didn’t cry her whole life twenty four hours a day. She did become Jacob’s wife, and if she was attractive her beauty would have shown when she didn’t cry anymore. The Bible makes it clear that she was not considered an attractive woman. Blue eyes are not ugly, but they do give people that creepy factor when it comes to meeting someone. Jacob was after beauty more than he was the heart. Leah had a big heart.

  4. Janelle

    Also maybe her face was a little uneven giving her a cockeyed look.

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