Devotional & Reflection
Gen 27: Rebekah – From Helpmate to Stalemate to Checkmate
Gen 27:46 Then Rebekah said to Isaac, “I’m disgusted with living because of these Hittite women. If Jacob takes a wife from among the women of this land, from Hittite women like these, my life will not be worth living.”
If ever there were a woman suited to be the “perfect” bride for a patriarch it had to be Rebekah. We are told that Rebekah was domestically proactive and hospitable. She also possessed great beauty and charm that eventually captivated Isaac’s heart. Her sense of energy in service, her quiet self-possession and her considerate courtesy made her to be the chaste and suitable bride for Isaac. We are also told that Rebekah won Isaac’s heart and was a source of comfort to him after his mother’s death (24:66). But more importantly, from a spiritual perspective, Rebekah was God’s choice as she was the answer to the prayers of Abraham and his servant.
However happily married was Rebekah to Isaac, their marital relationship was not what it was at the tail end of their lives. In fact, the narrative in chapter 27 seems to suggest that the couple was no longer communicating, and that a distancing of the couple was already present. This distance would culminate in the usurping of the blessing.
If Isaac was the most passive of all the patriarchs, then Rebekah by contrast was the antithesis. As a contrast to other betrothal scenes (compare this with Jacob’s and Moses’), this is the only scene where the girl and not the bridegroom drew water from the well. The narrator, through explicit description of the scene, presented Rebekah as an energetic and proactive girl with a continuous whirl of purposeful activity even before Abraham’s servant had finished his prayers.
In four short verses, cf. Gen 24:16, 18-20, we see Rebekah as the subject of eleven action verbs and one of speech - going down to the well, drawing water, filling the pitcher, pouring, giving drink, etc. - and this rapid and successive bustling round of actions was recapitulated in the servant’s report to Laban (24:45, 46). When the crux of the matter came for her to leave her family, she decidedly and hurriedly declared “I will go” (24:58) without lingering even for a moment. The narrator is telling us that Rebekah was to become the shrewdest and most portentous of the matriarchs, and so it was appropriate for her to take control of the betrothal scene.
Rebekah’s maternal solicitude, however, was not without its troubling side. We shall soon see how both the passive husband, Isaac, and the passive and timid son, Jacob, were briskly manipulated and maneuvered about by this woman in the blessing scene.
In chapter 27, we are told that Rebekah was listening to the conversation between Isaac and Esau. It would seem strange for a mother to listen to the conversation between her husband and son, unless of course she is not privy to the contents of the conversation. As we have already noted, Isaac’s intention of blessing of Esau was carried out in stealth and this secrecy must have given rise to the occasion for Rebekah to eavesdrop. Furthermore, Isaac’s preferential treatment of Esau became the bane of Rebekah’s attitude towards Isaac for she loved Jacob. However, implicit behind the relationship is an attitude of suspicion and manipulation fuelled by the distance that separated the couple. Even when the plot was exposed, there was little evidence that the couple was communicating.
When we come to the blessing scene, we see a shrewd and manipulative Rebekah hard at work, for she was only moments away in losing the promise and inheritance to her other son, Esau. If she were to guard the promise and inheritance for her favourite son, she must act quickly and decisively. So Rebekah hurriedly instructed Jacob to impersonate Esau, for Isaac was about to “give you my blessing in the presence of the Lord, before I [Isaac] die” (28:7). The adding of the phrase “in the presence of the Lord” by Rebekah was to stress the importance of the event that would determine the future and destiny of Jacob. She then scurried hurriedly to prepare the stew, dressed Jacob to smell like Esau, covered his smooth skin with animal skin and handed the stew to her son Jacob. The rest is history.
However, in the narrative, we see another occasion when Rebekah manipulated her husband, Isaac, by sending Jacob away for fear of Esau. She did this by hiding her guilt, and with a mighty sword put the blame on Esau for causing her misery so that if Jacob followed in his footsteps, she would die (Gen 27:46). So Isaac, not knowing the motives of the wife, sent him (Jacob) away to find a wife for himself. This is a classic case of deception and manipulation between husband and wife.
After this episode, nothing about Rebekah was ever mentioned. Her instruction to Jacob: “when your brother is no longer angry with you and forgets what you did to him, I’ll send word for you to come back from there” (27:44) ended in silence. In fact, the silence was so deafening that it spoke as loudly as any instructional teaching. No burial memorial was mentioned in memory of her except for Rebekah’s nurse in 35: 8 “Now Deborah, Rebekah’s nurse, died and was buried under the oak below Bethel.” Out of nowhere, an introduction of Deborah was inserted. So why was the insertion made? Sadly, Rebekah’s life did not contribute to the overall redemptive story after this segment and the insertion was significant to bear on the deafening silence.
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