And when the LORD saw that Leah was unloved, he opened her womb: but Rachel was barren. Genesis 29:31 NKJV
As Jacob started serving his seven years of service for Rachel, Leah began having children in rapid succession, maybe within four years or less. But Rachel was barren (29:31). This of course caused tension between them. Leah was more fruitful and Rachel was loved more by Jacob. Each wife wanted what the other had.
Each of Leah’s sons was named for her feelings at the time. Leah became pregnant and gave birth to a son. She named him Reuben, meaning see, a son, for she said: It is because the Lord has seen my misery. So the Lord has seen is the origin of the name Reuben. Then she hoped out loud: Surely now my husband will love me [when he sees what I have given him] (29:32).
Having babies degenerated into a competition between the two wives for Jacob’s affection.
She conceived again, and when she gave birth to a son she said: Because the Lord heard, shamah, that I am not chosen, he gave me this one, too (29:33a). So she named him Simeon, which means hearing (29:33b). Perhaps she was was hoping that when Jacob heard the good news of a second son, his heart would be more inclined to her.
Again she conceived, and when she gave birth to a son she said: Now at last my husband will become attached to me, yilabeh, meaning to join, because I have borne him three sons (29:34a). So he was named Levi, meaning joined (29:34b). Having borne Jacob three sons, she hoped that this would ensure his permanent attachment to her. Your heart cannot help but go out to Leah. She seems so desperate for the love of her husband.
She conceived again, and when she gave birth to a son she said: This time I will praise the Lord. This was the consolation for the wife not chosen. The Hebrew word for praise is odeh from root ydah, meaning to praise. So she named him Judah, meaning praise, or literally He will be praised, or let Him be praised. His name would be the only one of all her sons that does not reflect her personal feelings. Judah was simply an expression of praise to the Lord. Then she stopped having children (29:35).
The births of Leah's last two sons were of great importance. Levi would be the ancestor of the Levitical priests. Moses and Aaron were later descendants of Levi. Judah's posterity would be the tribe of King David, and eventually of the Messiah who would come into the world. Therefore, two of the major Old Testament institutions, the priesthood and the kingship, have their origin in an unwanted and unplanned marriage. Jacob might have favored Rachael, but the Lord had mercy on Leah and allowed her to bear Judah from whom the Savior would descend.
(This post is a combination of several articles.)