Back when the daily reading schedule was going through Genesis, I found myself profoundly affected by the story of Leah. She was essentially used as a pawn by her conniving father, she was disrespected by her husband Jacob, and she was apparently not as attractive as her sister Rachel. Leah couldn't win.
Making matters worse, she was put in a cruel competition with her sister as one of the wives of Jacob, a competition she could never win. No woman should have to live in such a frustrating and unjust relationship. In the OT, although many men practiced polygamy, nowhere did God condone, and frankly, nowhere did it ever produce loving, stable homes.
So today while reading through Leviticus, I was struck by this statute: "And you shall not take a woman as a rival wife to her sister, uncovering her nakedness while her sister is still alive" (Lev. 18:18). I had never noticed this law before, but since the story of Leah was still fresh on my mind, I guess it made a bigger impression than other times I have read through this chapter.
What this legislation illustrates is that God permitted certain things in the days of the patriarchs that He no longer permitted when He entered into covenant with Israel. And in the same way, by the time of the new covenant, God no longer accepts certain practices that He did under the Law of Moses (such as divorce - see Matthew 19:1-9). God's standards of holiness intensify rather than weaken as His plan unfolds.
Perhaps it is the sappy romantic in me, but I really hope that when this statute was revealed to Israel, the descendants of Leah reflected back on what their ancestor suffered, and rejoiced that God intended to make sure no woman would ever be put in her position again. And of course, all of us need to make sure we treat women with the dignity and respect that those living under the blessing of the new covenant are expected to (1 Peter 3:7).