WHAT WAS WRONG WITH LEAH’S EYES?
by Shawn Brasseaux
The Bible says in Genesis 29:17: “Leah was tender eyed; but Rachel was beautiful and well favoured.” What does Scripture mean that Leah was “tender eyed?” It is a difficult verse at first glance. English Bible readers have wondered if this is another way of saying her eyes were deformed (cross-eyed, lazy-eyed, or the like). Even some translators have confessed trouble with this expression. Exactly what was wrong with Leah’s eyes?
As a general rule of thumb, friend, whenever we struggle with a particular Bible word or phrase, we should scan the surrounding words and/or verses. The conjunction “but” in the middle of this verse actually provides us with context clues to grasp the meaning of “tender eyed.” Rachel is said to be “beautiful and well favoured.” “But”—opposite of Rachel’s appearance—Leah is “tender eyed.” That is, Leah had eyes that were not special looking. Unlike her younger sister Rachel, Leah was ordinary looking, what we might call a “plain Jane.” There were no striking features about Leah’s face or appearance, with particular emphasis on her eyes. (Perhaps she had dull or pale-colored irises instead of striking dark ones?) Whatever the case was, Leah was unattractive, so Jacob preferred to marry her (beautiful) sister Rachel.
By the way, let me point out that, through elaborate scheming of Laban, these sisters’ father, Jacob ended up marrying both women (Leah and Rachel were also Jacob’s first-cousins). Leah gave birth to six of the 12 tribes of Israel—Reuben, Simeon, Levi, Judah, Issachar, and Zebulun. Rachel became the mother of two other tribes—Joseph and Benjamin. See Genesis chapters 29-30. It is interesting to realize that the “ugly” wife actually contributed more to the formation of the nation Israel than the beautiful one! Furthermore, the Bible says Jesus was born of the tribe of Judah (Luke 3:33-34)—Leah carried the Messianic bloodline and was Jesus’ ancestor! (Physical appearance is irrelevant in God’s eyes.)
SUPPLEMENTAL: MODERN ENGLISH VERSIONS AND “DIFFICULT” GENESIS 29:17
Modern English versions actually disagree on how to translate the Hebrew word for “tender.” Some translations contradict each other—“lovely,” “nice,” “attractive,” “ordinary” versus “didn’t sparkle,” “tender,” “delicate,” “weak!” Behold the confusion! They would rather change the “offensive” precious words of God than “insult” Leah! Another example of typical, modern-day, watering-down of God’s Word within “scholarly” circles!
- American Standard Version: “And Leah’s eyes were tender; but Rachel was beautiful and well-favored.”
- Amplified Bible: “Leah’s eyes were weak, but Rachel was beautiful in form and appearance.”
- Contemporary English Version: “Leah was older than Rachel, but her eyes didn’t sparkle, while Rachel was beautiful and had a good figure.”
- God’s Word Version: “Leah had attractive eyes, but Rachel had a beautiful figure and beautiful features.”
- Holman Christian Standard Bible: “Leah had ordinary eyes, but Rachel was shapely and beautiful.”
- The Living Bible: “Leah had lovely eyes, but Rachel was shapely, and in every way a beauty.”
- The Message: “Leah had nice eyes, but Rachel was stunningly beautiful.”
- New American (Catholic) Bible: “Leah had lovely eyes, but Rachel was well formed and beautiful.” (Footnote: “Lovely eyes: the adjective modifying eyes is often translated as ‘weak,’ but ‘lovely’ is the more probable word.”) ?!?! If that be the case, Leah and Rachel both having nice eyes, then why have the contrasting conjunction “but?”
- New American Standard Bible: “And Leah’s eyes were weak, but Rachel was beautiful of form and face.”
- New Century Version: “Leah had weak eyes, but Rachel was very beautiful.”
- New International Version: “Leah had weak eyes, but Rachel had a lovely figure and was beautiful.”
- New King James Version: “Leah’s eyes were delicate, but Rachel was beautiful of form and appearance.
- New Living Translation: “There was no sparkle in Leah’s eyes, but Rachel had a beautiful figure and a lovely face.”
- New Revised Standard Version: “Leah’s eyes were lovely, and Rachel was graceful and beautiful.”
- Revised Standard Version: “Leah’s eyes were weak, but Rachel was beautiful and lovely.”
- The VOICE: “There was no brightness to Leah’s eyes, but Rachel had a beautiful shape and was lovely to look at.”