Her life, personality, and legacy is intricately and irretrievably woven within the fabric around the Bible’s most extraordinary men: Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Yet it is Rebekah herself who is chosen as God’s instrument, ensuring that His protection and blessings are bestowed upon Jacob and the nation of Israel. Israel, as we know it now, may not have existed without Rebekah’s intervention. She, like Esther and so many other women in the Bible, is born for a purpose, and chosen for a reason.
Rebekah was born in Haran (northeastern Turkey), a prominent village in Mesopotamia, during the Middle Bronze age in approximately 2066 – 1886 B.C. She lived during a time when Egypt’s Middle Kingdom pyramids were built and weapons were forged from bronze and tin. Urban life was revived, palaces were built, and villages vied with one another for power. Rebekah was privileged to live in an ancient Mesopotamian land renowned for its prolific warfare, trade, building projects and fine crafts. Yet it was also a land known for its pagan worship and multiple gods.
Years earlier, Abraham, her future father-in-law was born in the powerful city-state of Ur (modern-day Iraq near the Euphrates River). Yet Abraham’s growing missionary zeal and voice for God against pagan idolatry nearly had his family killed (Gen 11:27-31). He, along with his wife Sarah and his nephew Lot, leave Mesopotamia and eventually relocate in Canaan under the command and direction of God. His brother Nahor, however, remains in Mesopotamia, strongly adhering to their shared faith in Yahweh.
Nahor, Rebekah’s grandfather, immerses her into their Faith with the same zeal, passion and love for God as her great-uncle Abraham. Rebekah is reared as a chaste, pious, faithful, loving, strong, hospitable, God-loving woman – a woman wholly suited and trained to become the matriarch of Israel. Most importantly, she lives in a land surrounded by idolatry, yet steadfastly remains faithful to God.
Rebekah’s husband, of course, is Isaac. The Isaac whose father Abraham nearly sacrificed him on the altar at Mt. Moriah when he was 25 years old. The Isaac whose name literally means “laughter” since he was miraculously born to parents of extreme old age (Abraham was 99, and Sarah was 90). The Isaac, whose half-brother Ishmael, is the ancestor of the Arab nation. The Isaac, whose son becomes Israel and father of God’s Chosen People.
Isaac’s character is that of a passive, gentle, unassuming, mild-mannered, peace-loving man. He goes to any lengths to avoid a fight, as evidenced when he negotiates his people out of a war with Abimalech (Gen. 26:18-25). He is also a meditative man, quiet and reserved. He does not have the outgoing, assertive, forceful, warrior-like personality that his father Abraham has, yet Isaac, too, shares his absolute steadfast faith in God and a sense of divine mission. He knows that through his seed God would bring spiritual blessing to the whole earth (Gen. 26:3-5).
Isaac is a great prince, born of God’s promise, and is grandly doted upon, cherished, spoiled, and loved. Isaac has everything done for him – his food brought to him without having to hunt it himself, houses built for him, and servants to provide for his every need. He never marries because he never needed to. His father is extremely wealthy, and Isaac is his heir apparent. Josephus relates that Isaac was “the child [who] endeared himself to his parents still more, by the exercise of every virtue, and adhering to his duty to his parents, and being zealous in the worship of God.” Isaac is virtuous. Isaac is a dutiful son. Isaac is a passionate follower and worshiper of God.
Growing up, Isaac is subjected to abuse by his half-brother Ishmael until the time he was weaned (approximately 4 years old). Ishmael, then seventeen, hardened his heart against him, teasing and spitefully injuring Isaac out of his intense jealousy towards the new favorite son. As Josephus states, “[Sarah] was not willing that Ishmael should be brought up with him, as being too old for him, and be able to do him injuries when their father should be dead.” Given Abraham’s pronounced old age of 117, this event was likely to happen soon.
Sarah, much like Rebekah will be, is fiercely protective of her son, and ensures that Isaac is not subjected to harassment at the hands of a wild, wicked brother. She takes control of the situation when Abraham does not, and directs what needs to be done. It is through Sarah’s forceful words and justifiable outrage that God commands passive Abraham to act in their family’s best interests.
Though Isaac’s family decision-making was similarly passive, his faith was anything but lackadaisical. At twenty-five years old, Isaac’s father tells him to climb upon the altar, for he is the sacrifice that God desires (a distinct precursor to God sacrificing his only son Jesus). According to Josephus, Isaac knows, “That he was not worthy to be born at first, if he should reject the determination of God and of his father, and should not resign himself up readily to both their pleasures; since it would have been unjust if he had not obeyed, even if his father alone had so resolved. So, he went immediately to the altar to be sacrificed.”
Isaac does not go kicking and screaming; he immediately obeys his father, climbs the altar, and willingly lays down his life as a sacrifice to God (Gen 22:8-9). This is the man Rebekah marries, a man who is unquestionably willing to die for God. Only a woman of equal faith and resolute, determined action for God could marry this great man of supreme faith.
At thirty-seven, Isaac’s mother passes away – the only woman Isaac has ever known – and he grieves tremendously. In fact, Isaac’s grief is so deep that his father must act fast in finding him a wife. As both Abraham and Isaac are quite aware and God Himself says, “it is not good that man should be alone” (Gen 2:18).
However, Abraham wisely does not want a woman from the Canaanites whom they were living amongst, because they were a vile race, cursed by God and doomed to destruction. God would not be pleased for Isaac to marry one of them. Abraham saw clearly one great threat to future generations: their mingling with the Canaanite people who surrounded them. The Canaanites were idol worshipers, given over to reprobate minds, practicing all manner of perversion akin to that of Sodom and Gomorrah.
Keep in mind that Abraham’s uncompromising desire to avoid co-mingling with other corrupt cultures is KEY to Rebekah’s fateful decision years later as she intervenes when Isaac’s bestows blessings upon their sons.
Abraham, as such, wants Isaac’s wife to be from his family in Mesopotamia (now northeastern Syria) because at least they were a moral people who remained faithful to God and continued to worship Him despite Abraham’s absence. Abraham is keenly aware that his passive son would need a strong wife. Yet Abraham can’t travel to Mesopotamia where his brothers live because he is too old. So Abraham sends his most reliable, trusted, faithful servant Eliezer to go in his stead.
He gives strict instructions that Eliezer NOT to take Isaac with him. In fact, Abraham repeats it twice (Gen 24:6-8). He cannot take the risk of placing his grieving son in a land of pagan, adulterous women, especially those who would jump at the chance to “comfort” and marry a wealthy, weak, and sorrowful man searching for a wife. Even worse, Isaac may choose not to come back to Canaan, and so negate the promises of God that were laid out for him at birth.
The most essential characteristic that Eliezer was to look for in a potential wife was “chessed” – boundless lovingkindness, that which was ingrained in – and part and parcel of – the family of Abraham. What made Sarah’s “chessed” unique was not that Sarah welcomed and catered to guests in the most generous and impeccable manner, but rather that she actively searched for the opportunity to do such deeds. She wasn’t happy to serve merely those who came to her; she would go out to the crossroads, anxious to be of service. Sarah was an initiator, treasuring the chance to help another. This was the quality Abraham looked for in a future wife for Isaac, and that Eliezer would see in Rebekah.
And so Eliezer’s search begins. The actual story Rebekah’s wooing unfolds in Genesis 24 – the longest chapter in the Book of Genesis. As Eliezer reaches the city of Nahor in Mesopotamia, he stops and fervently prays to God for guidance. And while he is still praying, God immediately answers his prayer. Rebekah, a beautiful, strong, 15-year-old, faithful virgin suddenly appears, coming to fill pitcher. Eliezer asks for a drink, which she dutifully provides.
But she doesn’t stop there. As a true servant of hospitality, Rebekah draws water for his camels, too. She passes the infamous “camel test,” and proves her “chessed.” Rebekah is a woman of action. She runs, draws water, fills jars, and rides a camel – all which contribute to a sense of her individuality and vitality much akin to that of Abraham and Sarah. Rebekah is everything that Abraham is searching for in a daughter-in-law.
And so the negotiations ensue. In Mesopotamia, a marriage arranged by a brother – and Eliezer acts as Abraham’s proxy – is only valid if the woman gives her full consent. This is why the biblical text mentions consultation with Rebekah. Even before their marriage, Rebekah asserts her confidence and strength as woman, wife and mother. Rebekah agrees to the marriage, leaves her family, and travels to Canaan to wed the man she has never met.
When she sees her future husband for the first time, she immediately dismounts from her camel and modestly covered herself with a veil, an endearing, submissive act that continues as an ongoing tradition during religious wedding ceremonies. Then, “Isaac brought her into his mother Sarah’s tent; and he took Rebekah and she became his wife, and he loved her. So Isaac was comforted after his mother’s death” (Gen. 24:67).
Rebekah, here, is the first woman in the Hebrew Bible for whom marital love is proclaimed. It is a tender beginning. At their wedding, Isaac is 40 and Rebekah is approximately 15 years old. Their romantic story never dwindles, as Isaac is seen publicly showing endearment to his bride even forty years later (Gen 26:8). Unfortunately, it takes the wedded couple a longsuffering twenty years before Rebekah is able to become pregnant. As such, “Isaac [like his father] pleaded with the Lord for his wife, because she was barren; and the Lord granted his plea, and Rebekah his wife conceived.” (Gen 25:21)
True to God’s promise, Rebekah not only conceives, she is doubly blessed with twins. It is a difficult pregnancy, however, one that causes Rebekah much discomfort and anxiety. Praying to her Comforter, God visits her in a dream. He explains her discomfort, telling her that “Two nations are in your womb; and two peoples shall be separated from your body; and one people shall be stronger than the other; and the older shall serve the younger” (Gen. 25:23). God has not only given her a prophecy regarding her sons, He has just made her the only Jewish matriarch to receive a direct message from God.
Yet, Rebekah keeps this prophetic dream a secret from Isaac. Her Godly women’s intuition and wisdom knows the problems this would cause between not only her marriage, but also between the relationship between her unborn children. Isaac, though he was the younger son that inherited his father’s blessings, knows firsthand how the older, displaced jealous son – especially one inherently wild by nature – would treat the younger. Rest assured, Rebekah knows his childhood story all too well. Rebekah decides never to share with her husband God’s prophetic announcement. She trusts implicitly in God, knowing that His Divine Will shall be accomplished, though she is completely unaware that her hand in it will be involved.
Notice God doesn’t give the dream to Isaac; He gives it to Rebekah, because Rebekah is instrumental to His plan. She is the person chosen to carry out God’s will upon Isaac’s deathbed and ensure the establishment of God’s nation. It is Rebekah, not Isaac, who has the courage, fortitude and wherewithal to act when God’s provision is most needed.
The twins, as foretold, are born. Esau comes out first, all hairy and red, with Jacob coming out second, holding onto Esau’s heel. “And Esau was a skillful hunter, a man of the field; but Jacob was a mild man, dwelling in tents. And Isaac loved Esau because he ate of his game, but Rebekah loved Jacob.” (Gen 25: 27-28) Isaac was passive, and as such lovingly admired Esau’s wild, adventurous, outdoor spirit. And too, he simply couldn’t resist his son’s mouth-watering game. Isaac thoroughly enjoyed the aroma and taste of venison roasted over an open fire.
Jacob, on the other hand, had a temperament very similar to his dad, and that’s what Rebekah loved. The two couldn’t be any more different. Jacob was the thinker; Esau was the hunter. Jacob was patient; Esau was impetuous. Jacob was dutiful; Esau was rebellious. Jacob was wise; Esau was foolish. Esau was wrapped in a raiment of hair, a rough man of the wilderness, a clever hunter with something of the wild daring spirit of the modern Bedouin. Jacob preferred a fixed abode, to dwell in his tent rather than roam the desert. Jacob, at birth, was the finer character, and on the whole truer to the Lord and more fitted to possess the blessing of the birthright.
The chasm between their characters is wholly evident when Esau trades his birthright – two-thirds of Isaac’s wealth – to Jacob for a bowl of stew (Gen 25:29-34). Esau thinks so little of the birthright that he is willing to sell it for a mess of pottage, and is guilty, thereby, of the sin of profanity (Hebrews 12:16). Jacob, however, recognizes the solemnity of the birthright and wishes to possess it; he knows the sacred significance of the birthright and is therefore a more fit channel through which the blessing of God could flow to the seed of Abraham.
True to form, peace-loving Isaac sits around eating his venison stew, letting it all happen. Not only does Isaac fail to confront his son over this egregious act, he effectively blazes the trail for Esau’s further rebellion as he gets older. Isaac leaves the situation alone when he should have taken action. Yet he does nothing, because, according to Josephus, Isaac “was not caring to be uneasy to his son by commanding him to be put away these wives, and he resolved to be silent.”
This passive parenting though, is not limited to just these two men. Even the great King David fails to deal with the brutal rape/incest of his own son Amon against Tamar (Amon’s half-sister). A winding dysfunction of murder, betrayal, and cabalism from David’s son Absalom ensues, and unresolved bitterness and unforgiveness embeds itself in David’s heart. And again, it takes another woman (from Tekoa) to persuade King David of the consequences of his inaction, all of which could have been avoided if David had only disciplined Amon in the first place.
King David’s other son Solomon – blessed with David’s succession and the Lord’s wisdom – pens this famous Proverb:
He who spares his rod hates his son,
But he who loves him disciplines him promptly. (Prov 13:24)
Solomon has a front-row seat watching the affects of his father’s lack of discipline. In similar fashion, like Jacob, Solomon is also crowned King instead of his older brother…with God’s guiding hand over Bathsheba in the background. (1 Kings 1:29-31)
The inherent, dominant personality traits of Cain, Ishmael, Esau, Amon, to name a few, are only exacerbated by a lack of discipline on the part of the father. It is a father’s responsibility to teach them, guide them, and instruct them in the ways of the Lord, which includes correcting them when needed. The responsibility for the child’s actions is squarely put on themselves, but it can be argued that their lack of parental guidance has a definite part to play. God’s Ultimate Design, though, is not thwarted by the evil actions of men or the virtual lack of parenting skills.
Esau continues to plummet further into wickedness. At forty years old, he marries two hedonistic Hittite women – Beeri and Basemath – “and they were a grief of mind to Isaac and Rebekah.” (Gen 26: 34-35) Though apparently grieved in spirit, Isaac again says nothing and does nothing. These two Hittite women are from the descendents of Ham, whose tribe was cursed by God for shaming his father Noah. In fact, because of Isaac’s neglectful intervention, Esau’s descendants give rise to the Edomites, who become infamous for their incest, adulterous liaisons, and are permeated with illegitimacy.
To add insult to injury, Esau later marries an Ishmaelite, the same nation begun by Isaac’s half-brother who abused him so severely as a child. As a result, Esau intermixes his lineage with the corrupt, pagan neighbors of both the Hittites and the Ishmaelites, something that Abraham was adamant to avoid. Esau’s son begets the Amalekites, who are a people bent on obliterating Jacob’s Israelite nation. In fact, a notorious Amalekite is none other than Hamon, the one who signs the edict for all Jews to be slaughtered in the book of Esther.
Much focus is given about Esau’s exploits in the Bible, because God clearly wants it understood that Esau give away any legal claim of his birthright to his brother Jacob of his own free will. Esau also rebels against his father and grandfather, intermarrying with idolatrous, pagan nations.
Esau is obviously not a man fit to inherit or lead the nation of Israel.
The time has come for Isaac to bestow his blessings his sons. Isaac is on his deathbed – blind, weak and dying. The birthright, which is the wealth, has already been thrown away by Esau, leaving Jacob to inherit Isaac’s entire estate. The blessing, however, is a gift of God by which the patriarch passes on his position as ruling power over the family.
As is the custom, he calls his firstborn Esau to his bedside, and yet before he blesses him, Isaac asks Esau for one last sumptuous venison meal – a delay used by God whereby He opens the door for His Divine Will – revealed in Rebekah’s dream – to come to fruition.
Keep in mind that Rebekah is not the only woman used for God’s purpose: Esther is, when she is placed inside the palace of King Xerxes and comes against Haman’s vicious creed of slaughtering the entire Jewish nation. Jael is, when she kills General Sisera who was about to slaughter Israel. (Judges 4:21-22) Rahab is, when she hides Joshua’s spies before their overtaking of Jericho (Joshua 2:8-13). Pharoah’s daughter is, when she plucks Moses out of the river so that he eventually frees the Israelite slaves in the Book of Exodus. Bathsheba is, when she arranges to have Solomon declared King over Adonijah (1 Kings 1:29-30). ). Even an unnamed woman is, when she drops a millstone upon the head of Abimilech, an imposter King (Judges 9:53-55). Women throughout the Bible are used as instruments of God, according to His Perfect purpose.
And Rebekah is no exception.
Rebekah places a goatskin on Jacob, instructing him to pretend he is the elder twin. Isaac demands that Jacob come close so he could feel him, but the goatskins feel just like Esau’s hairy skin. Confused, Isaac exclaims, “The voice is the voice of Jacob, but the hands are the hands of Esau!”
Still trying to get at the truth, Isaac asks him point-blank, “Are you really my son Esau?” and Jacob answers simply, “I am” (which can be taken as “I am me”, not “I am Esau”). Isaac ignores the niggling doubt, not wanting any confrontation, and proceeds to eat the food and drink the wine that Jacob gives him, and then he blesses him:
“Therefore may God give you
Of the dew of heaven,
Of the fatness of the earth,
And plenty of grain and wine.
Let peoples serve you,
And nations bow down to you.
Be master over your brethren,
And let your mother’s sons bow down to you.
Cursed be everyone who curse you,
And blessed be those who bless you.” (Gen 27:28-29)
God’s will is done. Jacob has received the birthright and the blessings, and Esau is left with nothing.
For Esau, Isaac could only bless:
“Behold, your dwelling shall be of the fatness of the earth,
And the dew of heaven from above.
By the sword you shall live,
And you shall serve your brother;
And it shall come to pass, when you become restless,
That you shall break his yoke from your neck.” (Gen 27:40)
Esau’s utterly predictable reaction upon hearing Isaac’s words is consistent with his entitled personality: “So Esau hated Jacob because of the blessing with which his father blessed him, and Esau said in his heart, “The days of mourning for my father are at hand; then I will kill my brother Jacob” (Genesis 27:41). The Edomites and the Amalekites fight the Israelites for years, until as Ezekiel predicts, the Edomites become desolate (Ezek 35:15), and the Amalekites are defeated by King David and the Simeonites. (1 Chron 4:43) As God promises the nation of Israel: “For the nation and kingdom which will not serve you shall perish, and those nations shall be utterly ruined.” (Isaiah 60:12)
Rebekah’s legacy as God’s chosen instrument, and one of the greatest matriarchs in Jewish history, is complete.
Rebekah is scarcely mentioned again in the Bible. When Jacob is sent to Mesopotamia to secure a spouse (like his father Isaac), Jacob identifies himself to his future bride (and cousin) Rachel not as the son of Isaac, but rather as Rebekah’s son (Gen 29:12). Upon her death, Rebekah is buried with honor and dignity in the cave of Machpelah together with the Patriarchs, Sarah, and Leah (Gen 49:31).
The apostle Paul sums it up completely in Romans 9:10:
“And not only this, but when Rebecca [sic] also had conceived by one man, even by our father Isaac (for the children not yet being born, nor having done any good or evil, that the purpose of God according to election might stand, not of works, but of Him who calls), it was said to her, ‘The older shall serve the younger.’ As it is written, ‘Jacob I have loved, but Esau I have hated.’”
Remember, if you are a parent, it is your responsibility to raise your child up in the commands and faith in the Lord. Be the strong hand that guides their choices, and don’t be afraid to step in when they go astray. Some children will need a stronger hand than others, because God has blessed them with a dominant personality. Yet we are all fearfully, wonderfully made in His image.
Still, there comes a time when we have to stop blaming others, especially our parents, and start taking responsibility for our own actions. Repent for what we’ve done, and lay it upon the throne of His mercy and grace.
Choose a better course of action. Choose life in Jesus, as He chose life for you. Choose an eternity with your Father in heaven and choose to believe that Jesus Christ, the Son of God born through the seed of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, is your Savior. Choose to believe that He took your place, died for you even amidst all your wrong choices. For despite what you’ve done, God loves you, and redeemed you so that you could spend eternity with your Him.
Of all the choices that you have to make, choose to believe this. For God desires for ALL to be saved, including you.