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A Trickster or Following the Lord’s Directive? (Founding Mothers – Part 2)

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?

Isaac Blessing Jacob, by Govert Flick

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.


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8 Responses to A Trickster or Following the Lord’s Directive? (Founding Mothers – Part 2)

  1. Diana Davis Butler January 30, 2015 at 6:50 am #

    II have always felt Rebecca was a wonderful example of trying to help God do his job and the problems with that. she knew what the outcome was promised to be but rather than being able to trust God to fulfill his own will she thought she needed to make it so and then effectively lost both of her sons by so doing. The story was a wonderful blessing to me when I was raising my own children to trust God to govern activities rather than thinking I had to somehow make it happen and continues to be an inspiration. thank you Maddy.

    • Madelon January 30, 2015 at 9:56 am #

      Thank you Diana for sharing such a practical way you put this story’s lessons into practice. While studying Rebekah’s life more, she became like a close girlfriend who was trying to do the right thing but couldn’t quite completely trust God. We’ve all been there I suspect. I certainly have and love learning from these stories to build full reliance on God’s love and wisdom to always care for us. Appreciate you writing.

  2. Robin Kadz January 30, 2015 at 8:29 am #

    While I agree that things are not always what they seem, I do think both Rebekah and Jacob were playing God and taking the control into their own hands. They both needed to learn as Mary Baker Eddy, a 19th century Biblical interpreter says in Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, “A great sacrifice of material things must precede this advanced spiritual understanding.”(p16) So Jacob ended up taking quite a detour before reconnecting with the unfoldment God had for him, his true inheritance. I recently had an aha moment which throws light on this situation I think: I’d always thought the disciples at the Garden of Gethsemene were guilty of not supporting Jesus in his most challenging hour; however, without their support he was forced to lean only on God and that enabled him to achieve the resurrection and ascension. Not people but God was his life and the source of all good in his life. “To those leaning on the sustaining infinite today is big with blessings.”(ibid p vii).

  3. Madelon January 30, 2015 at 9:53 am #

    Thank you Robin. You’re demonstrating how these ancient stories have such current meaning when we try to discern their spiritual meaning. Thank you for sharing.

  4. Susan Whittlesey January 30, 2015 at 2:47 pm #

    Well, I’m inclined to give Rebekah the benefit of the doubt here. I’m not generally in favor of deception! but am well aware that we all make mistakes and often don’t get things quite right! But God is always showing us the right path and helps us correct our poor decisions. Although it took some time, these bible characters eventually got it right.

    • Madelon February 4, 2015 at 2:15 pm #

      Isn’t it so true — we all deserve a break. Perhaps we look at Biblical figures through the lens of our own lives when we’ve had to make difficult decisions and listened for divine direction as best we could at the time.

  5. Maryl Walters February 1, 2015 at 8:51 am #

    The message of the elder serving the younger had come to Rebekah. That message was so counter-cultural, I wonder if she did share it with Isaac. She may have simply kept it in her heart–even in wonder if that reversal could possibly be. When it came time for the blessing, and it appeared that the “wrong” son was getting it, she went to work in support of the divine message she had heard, maybe even knowing that her actions would have huge negative fallout. To her limited perception, Jacob couldn’t rule without the blessing. Of course we know that with God all things are possible, so what God told her could have come about whether Jacob got the blessing or not.

    Yes, it does give us a strong contemporary lesson to keep listening even though we are clear we received direction from God…keep listening as it unfolds rather than feel the form of the message is set in stone forever. The substance of the message is changeless, but the forms may change. Rebecca could have trusted the substance of the message, and not tried to make it fit into the cultural forms.

    • Madelon February 4, 2015 at 2:19 pm #

      Maryl, I love what you’re saying here about ‘cultural forms’. That’s the challenge for me — how the message and the forms line up — or don’t sometimes. Thank you for such clear thinking and sharing it with all of us.

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