Rebekah’s reputation as a trickster who got her youngest son (Jacob) to pose as the older (Esau) in order to steal his birthright, deserves to be considered in new light. What if she did the Bible’s biggest bait-and-switch because she was following the Lord’s directive?
Recall that we left Rebekah (in the last blog) when Isaac’s servant had just negotiated the bridal package with her mother, and they departed for the bride’s new land, Canaan. Gen. 24:28 and 67 are bookend verses that describe Rebekah’s migration story, recalling another critical migration from Haran to Canaan at God’s directive: Abraham. Coincidence or intentional?
The Genesis writer also tells us that Rebekah leaves ‘her mother’s tent’ to find a new life ‘in Sarah’s tent’. We’re already getting the sense that Rebecca is of the same strong tendencies as the first matriarch, Sarah, who endured much before giving birth to Isaac, only to have him almost sacrificed. And Rebecca’s mother is the one that handled the bride negotiation with the servant, not her husband, Laban– missing in action in that part of the story. Is the writer trying to tell us Rebecca is made of the same spirited stuff as these two women?
It’s Rebekah who first spots Isaac faraway and vaults from her camel to see him more closely. Then a brief verse makes the story almost unique in Scripture: “He (Isaac) took Rebekah, and she became his wife, and he loved her.” How contemporary this feels – a love story so rare in a culture of brokered marriages.
Rebekah is cursed with her deceased mother-in-law’s same challenge of barrenness. But after twenty long years she finally conceives. While pregnant, Rebekah – not her husband Jacob – gets the divine message that the twins in her womb are going to be in reverse order of importance. (How rare for male intercession to be absent.)
“Two nations are in your womb, and two peoples born of you shall be divided;
the one shall be stronger than the other, the elder shall serve the younger.” Gen. 25:23
Surely Rebekah shared this ruling with the husband she loved. That knowledge would surely have been remembered in what appears as a death-bed scene in which Rebecca aids her favored son, Jacob, to obtain the coveted birthright but through deception. Is this the ruse of a stage mother wanting success for a favored son? Or is it a mother figuring out how to fulfill the divine requirement she held sacredly all these years? Nothing less is at stake then the continuation of the Lord’s promise and covenant through Jacob.
A classic example of the need to re-examine well-known stories we think we’ve figured out, some scholars now believe Isaac might have secretly known about the deception but let it continue. Because Genesis indicates he lives on for many more years, one wonders just how close to death he really was. Besides, blindness doesn’t affect hearing and he didn’t think the son’s voice was that of Esau. Perhaps Isaac is even testing both Jacob and Rebecca to see if they will go through with the ruse in order to be obedient to the original divine decree. Jacob indeed should be first. In either case, Rebekah does her duty by ensuring Jacob is the heir.
What do you think? Is Rebekah a trickster or obedient servant? Did Isaac know what was really going on? Love to hear your thoughts.