Rebekah

So last week we talked briefly about Isaac. Who remembers who Isaac is? [Let them answer]. Yes, Abraham's son, the chosen one who God's covenant would go through. So Isaac grows up to be a young man and Abraham is getting very old. Basically Abraham begins thinking, "Hmm, it's time for my son to settle down and get a wife and this whole "Abraham will be the father of many nations" thing to begin!" And of course the first step to that is Isaac needs a wife.

But who remembers where Abraham is living? [Let them answer.] That's right he's living in the land of Canaan. Now who else lives in Canaan? Does anyone know? [Let them answer.] Basically there is a bunch of people who generally we can just refer to here as "Canaanites" but they're not all....pleasant people. Does anyone know the story of Sodom and Gomorrah? [Let them answer.]

Basically Sodom and Gomorrah were towns in Canaan that were so full of sin that God destroyed them. We didn't go over that story in this class, but it took place before the events of this one. You guys remember that Abraham had a nephew, Lot? He was living in Sodom when God sent some angels to see if the city was worth saving. These angels get there and Lot's family is literally the only family to offer them hospitality. The rest of the city basically only offers them violence--like basically tries to murder these angels and Lot for not giving the angels up. So God tells Lot's family to flee the city, and then destroys the place with fire from heaven.

That is how bad some of the surrounding area is. So it's no wonder Abraham doesn't want his family to marry into these other people. Not to mention these other people wouldn't believe in God. So Abraham tells one of his servents to go alllll the way back to Abraham's home town and find him a girl from there--preferably from among his family. Like cousins and second cousins.

Yeah marrying a cousin seems weird to us, but back then, it wasn't considered wrong to marry a cousin, unlike it is today. In fact it really wasn't considered wrong to marry a first cousin until like 100 years ago, and that's because we didn't know the genetic repercussions of this sort of intermarrying. Basically marrying your cousin can causebirth defects because you guys likely would have the same recessive genes, which means while you may not be sickly even though you have some recessive gene for a sickness, if you and your wife have the same recessive gene, your kid might be. However, back then, this wasn't really a concern. Because they didn't understand about genetics, and possibly because the population was so small there may have been less genetic abnormalities.

So yes, Abraham basically wanted his servant to go find a cousin for Isaac to marry. So the servant travels alllll the way back to Ur.

Can someone read Genesis 24: 10 -14

10 Then the servant took ten of his master’s camels and departed, taking all kinds of choice gifts from his master; and he set out and went to Aram-naharaim, to the city of Nahor. 11 He made the camels kneel down outside the city by the well of water; it was toward evening, the time when women go out to draw water. 12 And he said, “O Lord, God of my master Abraham, please grant me success today and show steadfast love to my master Abraham. 13 I am standing here by the spring of water, and the daughters of the townspeople are coming out to draw water. 14 Let the girl to whom I shall say, ‘Please offer your jar that I may drink,’ and who shall say, ‘Drink, and I will water your camels’—let her be the one whom you have appointed for your servant Isaac. By this I shall know that you have shown steadfast love to my master.”

So what's happening here? The servant has made it al the way back to Ur and he's finally at the town and he's basically like "HOW AM I GOING TO CHOOSE FROM ALL THESE WOMEN?" How will I know which one God wants me to bring back?

Now as we've discussed before, hospitality back in the day was a big thing. So this servant guy is not crazy to ask these random women for water. Basically according to the hospitality ethics of the time, if a stranger asked you for water you were honor bound to provide it. However, she would NOT be required to provide water for the animals. Basically this servant is looking for God to point him to a girl with a kind heart who is willing to go the extra mile and hoping that God will allow that to be the girl he's supposed to bring home for Isaac.

So can someone now read Genesis 24:15-20

15 Before he had finished speaking, there was Rebekah, who was born to Bethuel son of Milcah, the wife of Nahor, Abraham’s brother, coming out with her water jar on her shoulder. 16 The girl was very fair to look upon, a virgin, whom no man had known. She went down to the spring, filled her jar, and came up. 17 Then the servant ran to meet her and said, “Please let me sip a little water from your jar.” 18 “Drink, my lord,” she said, and quickly lowered her jar upon her hand and gave him a drink. 19 When she had finished giving him a drink, she said, “I will draw for your camels also, until they have finished drinking.” 20 So she quickly emptied her jar into the trough and ran again to the well to draw, and she drew for all his camels.

Bingo! This is the girl! Not only did she give him water, but she offered water to his camels. But even though the Bible already told us in verse 15 that she's the grand-niece of Abraham (draw the family tree up so they can see how it all works together), the servant didn't know that. He has to ask to make sure. Can someone read verses 23 - 28

 23 and said, “Tell me whose daughter you are. Is there room in your father’s house for us to spend the night?” 24 She said to him, “I am the daughter of Bethuel son of Milcah, whom she bore to Nahor.” 25 She added, “We have plenty of straw and fodder and a place to spend the night.” 26 The man bowed his head and worshiped the Lord 27 and said, “Blessed be the Lord, the God of my master Abraham, who has not forsaken his steadfast love and his faithfulness toward my master. As for me, the Lord has led me on the way to the house of my master’s kin.” 28 Then the girl ran and told her mother’s household about these things.

So she confirms she is indeed in the family of Abraham and offers him a palce to stay, and what does he immediately do? He praises God! And what does she do? She runs home to tell her family!

So Rebekah has a dad and a brother who are still alive. And basically as soon as Rebekah brings this servant there they offer him hospitality. But the servant immediately wants to get to business and explains the whole situation--how Abraham sent him to find a bride for his son Isaac and how the servant thinks Rebekah is that bride.

Now back then Rebekah's dad and brother, who's name is Laban, would have been perfectly within their rights to make this decision without consulting Rebekah at all. Women were basically considered property, to only be transfered to a new house upon marraige. And basically they do tentatively agree with the servant upon hearing this story, because they are not about to go against what it clearly God's will. But let's read how exactly this goes down. Can someone read verses 54 through 61.

4 Then he and the men who were with him ate and drank, and they spent the night there. When they rose in the morning, he said, “Send me back to my master.” 55 Her brother and her mother said, “Let the girl remain with us a while, at least ten days; after that she may go.” 56 But he said to them, “Do not delay me, since the Lord has made my journey successful; let me go that I may go to my master.” 57 They said, “We will call the girl, and ask her.” 58 And they called Rebekah, and said to her, “Will you go with this man?” She said, “I will.” 59 So they sent away their sister Rebekah and her nurse along with Abraham’s servant and his men. 60 And they blessed Rebekah and said to her,

“May you, our sister, become

    thousands of myriads;

may your offspring gain possession

    of the gates of their foes.”

61 Then Rebekah and her maids rose up, mounted the camels, and followed the man; thus the servant took Rebekah, and went his way.

So Rebekah's family agrees she should go off and marry Isaac but they ask for ten days, probably to say goodbye and maybe prepare some stuff for her to take into her new life. But the servant is antsy and is basically like "I need to get back to Abraham now." This makes the family hesitant, because remember that's super faraway. As we discussed before, they're basically marrying their daughter off to someone who lives on Mars--some place for them that is that far away. Basically they will never see her again if they send her off there. So while they were willing to do it with the appropriate amount of time to say goodbye and emotionally prepare everyone, they're not willing to do it just all of the sudden. So they decide to ask Rebekah.

Now if you were Rebekah how would you feel about this? Going off with a strange servant who claims to be the servant of a grand uncle you've never met to marry a guy you've never met? Would you be willing to do that? [Let them answer.]

Yeah, I wouldn't be super comfortable with that either. But Rebekah, she says she's willing to go! She realizes this is God's will and knows that sometimes God asks us to do stuff that doesn't always seem that fun--like move far far away from your family. But she's willing to do it since it's what God asks of her. That's a large amount of faith Rebekah must have!

So her family quickly says goodbye but doesn't send her off along. They send a nurse and some maids with her.

So needless to say when Rebekah gets all the way back to Canaan, she and Isaac get married. And eventually she also gets pregnant! Can someone read chapter 25:24-26

24 When her time to give birth was at hand, there were twins in her womb. 25 The first came out red, all his body like a hairy mantle; so they named him Esau. 26 Afterward his brother came out, with his hand gripping Esau’s heel; so he was named Jacob. Isaac was sixty years old when she bore them.

27 When the boys grew up, Esau was a skillful hunter, a man of the field, while Jacob was a quiet man, living in tents. 28 Isaac loved Esau, because he was fond of game; but Rebekah loved Jacob.

So Rebekah gives birth to twins! Fun fact this is the first set of twins in the Bible, but not the only set. But there is a lot going on here. First off the first son, Esau. He is described as "red" and "hairy." When the Bible describes someone as red it's more they're saying a "ruddy complexion" which is synomous with a healthy complexion [1]. This same word was used to describe King David  [1 Samuel 16:12]. So it could also mean handsome. "Hairy" as well would not necessarily be derogatory for hair growth is valued, and once again a sign of health [1].

So the whole Jacob grabbing the heel thing. This is more than just a baby being born grabbing another baby's heel. This is a Biblical omen. Jacob's grabbing Esau's heel is an attempt to superseed him and also "conveys the idea of deception, betrayal, and opportunism" [1]. It's used sometimes in the Bible to indicate a trusted friend's deception which we can see in Psalm 41:9 [1]. I won't make you turn there. I'll read it:

Even my bosom friend in whom I trusted,

    who ate of my bread, has lifted the heel against me.

So this idea of Jacob grabbing Esau's heel may not be literal, I mean Jacob may not actually have been born holding his brother's heel. He may have been. I'm not a doctor. I don't know if that's physically possible or not. But regardless this symbolizes that from the day they were born Jacob was wanting to be the oldest--even though Esau was born first--and foretold that Jacob was going to turn against his brother.

So how does this relate back to Rebekah, their mother? Flip back to Genesis and read the next two verses: Genesis 25:27-28.

27 When the boys grew up, Esau was a skillful hunter, a man of the field, while Jacob was a quiet man, living in tents. 28 Isaac loved Esau, because he was fond of game; but Rebekah loved Jacob.

Isaac loves Esau but Rebekah loves Jacob. Basically there is blatant favoritism in this story. Do you guys ever feel like your parents have a favorite? [Let them answer. They probably do sometimes feel that way.] Well let's see what the Bible thinks about this favoritism, how it's going to go for Jacob and Esau.

Can someone read Genesis 27:1-4

When Isaac was old and his eyes were dim so that he could not see, he called his elder son Esau and said to him, “My son”; and he answered, “Here I am.” 2 He said, “See, I am old; I do not know the day of my death. 3 Now then, take your weapons, your quiver and your bow, and go out to the field, and hunt game for me. 4 Then prepare for me savory food, such as I like, and bring it to me to eat, so that I may bless you before I die.”

Okay so Isaac is old and basically going blind. And since he knows he might die soon he basically wants to give his blessing to his oldest and favorite son. So what is a "blessing?" You know I scoured the internet, looked in my commentary, and read all the footnotes in my Bible and I'm still not entirely sure. What I do know is that it's not quite a birthright or inheritence. It's probably something more spiritual, more to do with passing down Abraham's legacy from Isaac to one of his son's. Just like Abraham's legacy of being God's chosen people only went through Isaac and not Ishmael, it seems like the blessing might be Isaac's choosing of which of his son's would be the chosen one through him God's convenant would continue. Now did he only have to bless one of them, couldn't he have blessed both?

Honestly I don't know. We do know that Jacob later blesses all of his son--all TWELVE (Genesis 49:28)--and they are all pulled into the covenant of God and that the Jewish people descended from those twelve sons. However, maybe Isaac didn't know he could split up his blessing? Maybe God told him he could only choose one? Or maybe he just preferred Esau so much he didn't want Esau to share it? I don't know. But what we do know is that he only picks one, and of course he picks his favorite son.

Can someone continue reading verses 5 - 10?

5 Now Rebekah was listening when Isaac spoke to his son Esau. So when Esau went to the field to hunt for game and bring it, 6 Rebekah said to her son Jacob, “I heard your father say to your brother Esau, 7 ‘Bring me game, and prepare for me savory food to eat, that I may bless you before the Lord before I die.’ 8 Now therefore, my son, obey my word as I command you. 9 Go to the flock, and get me two choice kids, so that I may prepare from them savory food for your father, such as he likes; 10 and you shall take it to your father to eat, so that he may bless you before he dies.”

Rebekah hears what Isaac is going to do, and since Jacob is her favorite son, if she gets to choose who the Abrahamic tradiation goes to, of course she's going to choose Jacob! So she concocts a plan. She's basically going to have Jacob pretend to be Esau and steal the blessing from his brother.

This is a huge coup. Like huge. Rebekah is basically going behind her husband's back to do what she thinks is right without talking to him. Now Rabbinic tradition holds that Rebekah being not blind and as old as Isaac saw more than he did. That Isaac's blindess was not just literal but also metaphorical in that he was blind to Esau's faults. That Esau was in fact wicked and she saw that, and that's why she did this, so that the blessing would go to the good son. But the Bible doesn't really tell us that. All we really know about Esau is that well he's a bit of jock--likes to go hunting and is a strong man--and that he has a bit of a temper on him.

Regardless, Jacob was Rebekah's favorite son and she made a decision here--a decision that affect the future irreplacably, for good or for ill.

Next time you think maybe women don't have a lot of agency or don't affect things in the Bible, that most of these stories seem to revolve around men, I want you to remember Rebekah. Because it's Rebekah's actions that shaped everything else that is to come. It is Rebekah who determined which son God's chosen people would be descended from.

And it's Rebekah who saved Jacob when his father and brother heard of what had happened. Basically Jacob gets the blessing from Isaac--who remember is old and blind and can't really tell--and Esau comes home and reveals that he never got a blessing, which makes Isaac realize what happened. Both are furious. Can someone read Genesis 27:41-45?

41 Now Esau hated Jacob because of the blessing with which his father had blessed him, and Esau said to himself, “The days of mourning for my father are approaching; then I will kill my brother Jacob.” 42 But the words of her elder son Esau were told to Rebekah; so she sent and called her younger son Jacob and said to him, “Your brother Esau is consoling himself by planning to kill you. 43 Now therefore, my son, obey my voice; flee at once to my brother Laban in Haran, 44 and stay with him a while, until your brother’s fury turns away— 45 until your brother’s anger against you turns away, and he forgets what you have done to him; then I will send, and bring you back from there. Why should I lose both of you in one day?”

So Rebekah sends Jacob away to her brother Laban, probably saving his life but as we'll see next week also giving Jacob the opportunity to meet the woman he would love.

This is the reason when I asked myself whether I wanted to focus on Isaac or Rebekah this week, I chose Rebekah. Because even though it was Isaac who was the son of Abraham whom God's convenant went to, it's Rebekah who determined the future of all the Hebrew people. Rebekah who through her faithfulness followed a strange man to a strange land to marry a stranger. Rebekah who took her children's destiny into her own hands, not letting a man make that determination for her--for good or for ill.

And if we go by the idea that Scripture should interpret Scripture, then Rebekah's decision is a good decision. Paul talks about this in Romans 9 and says that Rebekah's decision here was as God would have had it. If you read Romans 9:10-14, which I'll read for you it says:

Nor is that all; something similar happened to Rebecca when she had conceived children by one husband, our ancestor Isaac. 11 Even before they had been born or had done anything good or bad (so that God’s purpose of election might continue, 12 not by works but by his call) she was told, “The elder shall serve the younger.” 13 As it is written,

“I have loved Jacob,

    but I have hated Esau.”

14 What then are we to say? Is there injustice on God’s part? By no means!

Paul is saying that this is all by God's design. That Rebekah made the choice God wanted her to make.

So next time someone tells you that women in the Bible have no power, that God never uses women, remember Rebekah. Rebekah always took the initiative, whether it was offering to water camels or choosing which one of her sons would carry his father's legacy. She was a headstrong woman who did what she thought was best for not just for herself but in God's eyes. And nothing after this chapter in the Bible would be the same without her decision. Because God used her to change the course of history.