The Bible does not say when Leah was born, or when she died, except that she died before Jacob did. When she married Jacob, she would bear children for an additional nine years.
Leah first heard about Jacob when her younger sister Rachel brought back word of a helpful stranger whom she met at the community well. Jacob stayed with Laban for a month, in Laban's service. At the end of that month, Laban asked Jacob to name his price.
Of the two sisters, Rachel was the more beautiful, and both sisters likely knew it. Jacob indeed named Rachel as his price, and offered Laban seven years of service. Laban accepted that price.
As was the custom of the day, Jacob waited a week to marry Rachel. But on the night of the wedding, Laban sent Leah to the marriage tent in Rachel's place. When Jacob discovered the switch, he protested. Laban answered that local custom did not permit a younger sister to marry before the older sister. Laban immediately said that if Jacob would serve him for an additional seven years, he could marry Rachel as well. Jacob agreed to this, and so married both sisters.
Flavius Josephus relates, as do many modern commentators, that Jacob actually served seven years before he was allowed to marry Leah, and then served seven years more before he was allowed to marry Rachel. But this would imply that Leah waited fourteen years to have children, and also postpones many other events in the lives and careers of Jacob and his sons. Floyd Nolen Jones insists, as did James Ussher, that Jacob married Leah and Rachel in the same year, which was the year of his arrival.
Though Rachel had Jacob's favor, Leah was fertile. During the next four years, she bore four sons: Reuben, Simeon, Levi, and Judah. After she bore Judah, she discovered that she had become sterile. She then gave Jacob her handmaid, Zilpah, following Rachel's example. Zilpah bore two other sons, Gad and Asher, who were considered Leah's legal sons.
In Sivan of 2251 AM (May-June 1754 BC, or literally, "in the days of the wheat harvest"), Reuben went into the field and gathered mandrakes (Mandragora officinarum) for his mother Leah. Rachel asked Leah for a portion of them, and Leah protested that Rachel already had the favor of Jacob, and now was asking for a supply of the one thing that each woman supposed would make her fertile. Rachel then offered to allow Leah to lie with Jacob that evening. Leah agreed, and when Jacob returned from the field, Leah told him directly that she had "hired" him for the evening, at the price of a few mandrakes.
Flight from Laban
Jacob served Laban for a total of twenty years, and then he and Laban fell out. Leah and her sister Rachel took Jacob's side in the quarrel, saying that Laban had squandered their inheritance. Jacob led his entire household, now quite large, away by night. Three days later, Laban caught up with Jacob and his party and accused Jacob of stealing his household idols, or teraphim. Rachel had stolen these, but neither Jacob nor Leah knew anything about it. (If they ever found out about the theft, the Bible does not say this, though one might reasonably ask how Moses, the author of Genesis, could have found out about who stole the teraphim.) Laban searched Jacob's camp but did not find the teraphim. Later Jacob would command all the people of his camp to put away all such things that they possessed.
Death and burial
Leah died before Jacob did, but the Bible does not record the year of her death. Perhaps she died before Jacob entered Egypt, because the Bible does not say that Leah lived in Egypt. Jacob buried her in the Cave of Machpelah. (Genesis 49:30-31 ).
Leah in fiction
Leah appears occasionally in motion picture and television projects that depict the life and career of Jacob. The portraits of her tend to agree with the Biblical narrative. But no project thus far has mentioned the episode of Reuben gathering the mandrakes.
- Konig, George. "Leah." AboutBibleProphecy.com, 2001. Accessed November 13, 2008.
- James Ussher, The Annals of the World, Green Forest, AR: Master Books, 2003, pghh. 113, 115-116
- Josephus, Antiquities, 1.19.7