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“Jacob answered his mother Rebekah, “Behold, Esau my brother is a hairy man and I am a smooth man. “Perhaps my father will feel me, then I will be as a deceiver in his sight, and I will bring upon myself a curse and not a blessing.” But his mother said to him, “Your curse be on me, my son; only obey my voice, and go, get them for me.”” – Gen. 27:11-13
Rebekah has just laid out her plan to assist Jacob in obtaining the blessing instead of Esau. Jacob does not appear to be opposed to this plan at all, surprisingly, but rather, as I mentioned in my previous post, his main concerns are not getting caught, and tarnishing his reputation with his father Isaac, if he is found out. Rashi points out that the sages teach that their voices were similar (they are, after all, twins) which may explain why Jacob’s main concern is not the obvious – that his voice would give him away.
This scene, together with the scene regarding the birthright, shows us that Jacob vehemently desired the favored and sacred position of firstborn in the family, and was even willing to do questionable things to attain this.
Rebekeh’s response is likewise fascinating. Now that she knows Jacob understands her plan, and is on board with it aside from these reservations, she appeases her son by stating she will take the blame, even the curse, if they are caught. In essence, Jacob would be guilty of ‘obeying his mother’s voice’ – which in itself is an honorable thing to do.
The oracle concerning her sons’ birth – that the older will serve the younger – may have given Rebekah the confidence to move forward with this plan. Though, Everett Fox points out that after this chapter, Rebekah eerily disappears from the narrative, and her death is not specifically mentioned in the scriptures. We may have a small inkling as to her death, as when her nurse, Deborah, dies in Genesis 35:8, and it refers to her being buried underneath an oak tree which was referred to as the ‘tree of weepings’ (plural). Some scholars believe that Rebekah was buried at the same time as Deborah.
“Rebekah was listening while Isaac spoke to his son Esau. So when Esau went to the field to hunt for game to bring home, Rebekah said to her son Jacob, “Behold, I heard your father speak to your brother Esau, saying, ‘Bring me some game and prepare a savory dish for me, that I may eat, and bless you in the presence of the LORD before my death.’ “Now therefore, my son, listen to me as I command you. “Go now to the flock and bring me two choice young goats from there, that I may prepare them as a savory dish for your father, such as he loves. “Then you shall bring it to your father, that he may eat, so that he may bless you before his death.”” Gen. 27:5-10
When read closely, Genesis 27 reveals many near-truths and half-lies. Familiarity with the story causes this to go almost completely unnoticed, but as with many passages in scripture, careful attention is warranted for us to get a full picture of the personalities of those involved. In this passage, several neutral or ambiguous statements are made and it is up to the hearer to understand what the motive is. First we see this with Rebekah, and later with Jacob.
When you read the verses above, Rebekah does not actually say anything indicating a deceitful plan. Read plainly, the narrative simply states:
Your father just asked your brother Esau to go hunt some food to prepare a meal for him, so your father can bless him before he dies. Go get me two goats, and I will cook them up. Then you can give them to your father, so he can [also] bless you before he dies.
In saying these things, she likely hoped Jacob would obey her without question; it is up to Jacob to infer the ramifications of what she intends to do. She even began her request with “my son, listen to me as I command you.” (v. 8)
Jacob, however, has shown himself to be more shrewd than what we originally learn of him (Gen. 25:27) such as in the case with commandeering the birthright (25:31). Jacob knows that Esau was technically the firstborn, and that he would be first in line for the blessing; Jacob also knows that Esau is favored by Isaac, whereas Jacob is favored by Rebekah (25:28) This causes Jacob to know his mother is up to something.
The very next words Jacob utters indicate not only that he understands the full extent of the plan his mother has concocted, but also that he is all-in. Surprisingly, his only concern is getting caught, and what that would cause his father to think of him.
“Now it came about, when Isaac was old and his eyes were too dim to see, that he called his older son Esau and said to him, “My son.” And he said to him, “Here I am.”” Gen. 27:1
Genesis 27 is a fascinating chapter because we see history change as the narrative unfolds. Isaac is old and thinks he may be near death, and so decides it is time to bestow his blessing. We are told he is near blind, and as such gets tricked into blessing Jacob rather than the intended son Esau, even though Isaac tries to rely on all five senses.
Several elements mentioned earlier in Genesis will come into play in this chapter: The parent-child favoritism between Isaac and Esau, and Rebekah and Jacob; The implications of the sale of the birthright from Esau to Jacob; and ultimately, the oracle given to Rebekah when the twins were yet in her womb.
Ultimately passages such as this can be puzzling to the reader, leaving us wonder if Isaac was really deceived, if Jacob, or even Rebekah are ultimately guilty of lying, or if God’s hand was at work the whole time, steering the events through even questionable means to accomplish His purpose with the blessing.
“Now Isaac loved Esau, because he had a taste for game, but Rebekah loved Jacob.” Gen. 25:28
Favoritism of a child by the father is a running motif in the the book of Genesis. Here we see that Isaac loves Esau. Looking back to Abraham, it appears he favored Ishmael (Gen. 17:18 “Oh that Ishmael may live before you!” and Gen. 21:11 where Abraham did not want to send Hagar and Ishmael away, “on account of his son”). Even going back as far as Cain and Abel, God had regard for Abel’s offering, but not Cain’s. Not that God was necessarily being partial, but it was perceived that way by Cain. Looking forward we see Joseph with his coat of many colors.
In the original Hebrew it is not clear as to who had a “taste for game”, it may have been Esau. Another rendering may be ” he had a taste for trappings in his mouth”. Thus, because Esau liked to hunt and Isaac liked to eat it, Esau was the favorite in his eyes.
We must note the Hebrew play on words in the phrase “a taste for trappings in his mouth.” which may indicate deceitful words of Esau that were pleasing to Isaac’s ears. There are rabbinical stories about Esau pretending to be pious to his father.
“Isaac prayed to the LORD on behalf of his wife, because she was barren; and the LORD answered him and Rebekah his wife conceived. But the children struggled together within her; and she said, “If it is so, why then am I this way?” So she went to inquire of the LORD. The LORD said to her,
“Two nations are in your womb;
And two peoples will be separated from your body;
And one people shall be stronger than the other;
And the older shall serve the younger.”” Gen. 25:21-23
Many of our English translations tell us that Isaac prayed on behalf of Rebekah, however the Hebrew word used is “nokach” which means “opposite“, or “in the sight of”, indicating they were likely praying together.
During the pregnancy the children are struggling in Rebekah’s womb, and she questions God “What good is life if I have to suffer like this?” (Plaut). We see a similar questioning of God in disbelief in Sarah’s words in Gen. 18:13, “Shall I indeed bear a child, when I am so old?” There are many such parallels and similar aspects between narratives in the Genesis scriptures.
Everett Fox notes that this struggle in the womb foreshadows Jacob wrestling with God in Genesis 32. The original Hebrew could be translated as there being two “kingdoms” in the womb. Some Rabbis believe that the reason the children are struggling are for superiority but with different aims; Esau for power in the things of this world, Jacob for the inheritance in the world to come (Olam Ha-Ba).
This is said because of what transpires with the birthright; the holder of the birthright was sort of a preface to the Levitical priesthood – the child with the birthright (by birth order) was to perform the service of God in the household; in essence, Jacob was fighting for this.
“Then Rebekah arose with her maids, and they mounted the camels and followed the man. So the servant took Rebekah and departed. ” Gen. 24:61
We can see from verse 59 that Rebekah had a nurse, and now we see in verse 61 that she also has some maids which will be making the journey as well. So in all there will be a caravan of fourteen or more* making the journey to Canaan, to Isaac.
What is worth pointing out is that Rebekah, despite having maids, went out to draw the water herself (v. 15). Indeed if she did not, would the whole betrothal scene have transpired anything like it did?
From the text it is fairly obvious that Rebekah’s family was financially well off: multiple homes were mentioned; several men on short notice were accommodated with food and lodging, including their camels, etc. Add to it the fact that Rebekah has maids and we can determine that she did not need to draw the water that day, or any day. But still she chose to.
If we look back to Abraham, whom was known to be wealthy in all the land – we shall see this same thing. In Genesis 22 Abraham was awake early, preparing the donkeys for the journey to Moriah, and even splitting the wood himself (v. 22:3). Abraham had many servants – over 100 – and was even bringing two of them with him; yet he burdened himself with a large portion of the work though he did not need to lift a finger.
Followers of God are called to be servants; consider the words of Christ in Matthew 20:26-28:
“It is not this way among you, but whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you shall be your slave; just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.”
*Abraham’s servant and his men, upwards of nine; Rebekah herself, her nurse, and at least two maids.
“They blessed Rebekah and said to her,
“May you, our sister,
Become thousands of ten thousands,
And may your descendants possess
The gate of those who hate them.”” -Gen. 24:60
Rebekah’s mother and her brother Laban pronounce these wonderful blessings upon her as she decides to leave her home and marry Isaac. Astoundingly and unbeknownst to them, this blessing is almost identical to the one God gave to Abraham after he offered Isaac in Gen. 22:16-17 (emphasis mine):
“By Myself I have sworn, declares the LORD, because you have done this thing and have not withheld your son, your only son, indeed I will greatly bless you, and I will greatly multiply your seed as the stars of the heavens and as the sand which is on the seashore; and your seed shall possess the gate of their enemies.”
The similarity of the blessing is merely further confirmation that the marriage between Isaac and Rebekah was divinely arranged. Further, we see that such blessings are meant to carry down through the generations, and they do so.
The phrase “possess the gate of their enemies” may seem obvious in its meaning; to be successful in battle, to win decisive victories, etc. However it may, on the other hand, mean that they hoped Rebekah’s offspring would have such integrity and wisdom that even their enemies would seek their advice (Haamek Davar). This interpretation seems more in line with seeking peace before resulting to war. Ultimately we see instances of both in scripture.
“So now if you are going to deal kindly and truly with my master, tell me; and if not, let me know, that I may turn to the right hand or the left.” Gen. 24:49
Abraham’s servant has now spoken his business, explaining his desire to take Rebekah back to Isaac to be his wife. He has journeyed long, he is tired and hungry, but everything is hanging on what Laban is about to say, thus the servant’s words here may seem a bit curt.
What he is essentially saying is “Let me know your decision now, because your answer will determine my next steps.” Now we know Abraham had told his servant that he would be free from the oath if the woman would not follow him; but Rebekah is not necessarily the only choice; it could be any woman from Abraham’s family.
Utilizing the concept that the default direction in scripture is always east, Rashi’s commentary notes that Lot lived to the north, while Ishmael lived to the south. Thus when the servant said “that I may turn to the right hand or the left” he may well have been saying that he needed to move on to other prospects for Isaac.
The Mystery of Salvation as Seen in Genesis 24
The debate between the doctrines of free will and predestination still rage as they have for years. Some believe God’s sovereignty overrules human free will in all regards; some only in the matter of salvation (i.e., man is inherently evil and unable to initiate the salvation process with God). Yet others believe God has truly given us free will – including the ability to reject Him. That argument is that if we do not come to God by our own free will, we are ‘robots’ and true love is not illustrated in the relationship. Many of us we struggle with this because somehow both predestination and free will appear to be at work simultaneously.
In the story of Rebkah’s betrothal, we see symbolic elements foreshadowing future events. This betrothal scene is unique when compared to others in scripture, as the bridegroom is not physically present (as was the case with Jacob, Moses, etc.). Here, Isaac is the bridegroom, who, as a type of substitute sacrifice, is a picture of the Christ. His bride-to-be, Rebekah, represents the church; in the New Testament scriptures the church is referred to as the bride of Christ (Eph. 5:22-33)
Isaac’s absence is fitting; the church becomes engaged, so to speak, with Christ while we are still here on earth; He is to be our new master though we will not see His face until the marriage is consummated. The question at hand is, was Rebekah given a choice to marry Isaac?
Abraham’s servant had concerns that she might not:
“Suppose the woman is not willing to follow me to this land; should I take your son back to the land from where you came?” (Gen. 24:5)
This phrase was echoed again when re-telling the narrative to Laban in v. 39. So Abraham made a provision just in case she would not:
“…if the woman is not willing to follow you, then you will be free from this my oath;” (Gen. 24:8)
If everything was completely pre-ordained, did the oath the servant took mean anything? That is to say, if it was all going to come to pass exactly as God planned, what was the point of an oath? If there is no free will, no chance the potential bride may refuse the offer, then the oath is in vain; it’s importance greatly diminished.
But, what are the chances that the very first people the servant meets end up being the people he was seeking, after traveling hundreds of miles toward the city of Nahor? The servant specifically acknowledges this in v. 48:
“And I bowed low and worshiped the LORD, and blessed the LORD, the God of my master Abraham, who had guided me in the right way to take the daughter of my master’s kinsman for his son”
And so it is obvious that some elements of the story appear to be divinely arranged; and divine favor was given on the assistance for signs to the servant. One thing that is fascinating is that the blessing given to Rebekah by her family (her offspring possessing the gates of their enemies) perfectly echoes the promises given to Abraham. In this sense we see that the marriage appears pre-arranaged by God.
So all of this leads up in anticipation of what Rebekah’s answer will be directly from her mouth when the question is asked. Unfortunately this never actually happens. Instead, the family willingly gives her away without even asking her:
““Here is Rebekah before you, take her and go” (v. 51)
The answer eludes us as to whether or not Rebekah actually had any choice in the matter!
After this, the servant blesses the Lord and the exchange is made, gifts are given and the marriage is now on. In those days, once a marriage was arranged, it was customary for the woman to spend approximately one final year with her family before going off to marry her new husband. Though the translation is not completely obvious, the family suggests that Rebekah stay for “ten days”, however given the context and what we know of the time, we ascertain this actually means ten months – hence, slightly less than the standard yearlong wait. The servant will have none of it; it appears it is either now or never, as he replies:
“Do not delay me, since the LORD has prospered my way. Send me away that I may go to my master.” (v. 56)
Laban then decides to consult Rebekah to make or break the deal. Will she go so suddenly, leaving her family and home behind to marry a man she’s only heard about and never met? Now we see the element of free will appear to come into play, as they ask Rebekah her choice. In the original Hebrew, her answer is more telling than the standard translations. Her response isn’t just “I will go”, but rather defiantly, such as “I will go whether you like it or not, you can’t stop me!”
So is this free will manifesting itself? Or is the spirit inside of Rebekah pulling her along to her pre-ordained fate – to marry Isaac, to become one of the progenitors of the Israelites and ultimately a prophetic picture of the church?
Perhaps it is not so much mystery as it is paradox. The reason that the arguments are just as heated today as ever between free will and predestination is because depending on how you read the narrative, you can effectively make the case for either one. Yet both are present, simultaneously and without conflict.
“But when food was set before him to eat, he said, “I will not eat until I have told my business.” And he said, “Speak on.”” – Gen. 24:33
Abraham’s servant has just traveled quite a distance, and is likely tired and hungry. But, rather than readily accept the food offered, he states that the business at hand is more important. The issue of whether or not Rebekah would be allowed to leave this place and become the wife of Isaac – was regarded more highly than his own physical sustenance. Clarke’s Commentary says it quite aptly: “Here is a servant who had his master’s interest more at heart than his own.”
In the Gospel of John, the words of the Messiah make a markedly similar statement after His disciples were urging Him to eat:
“My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me and to accomplish His work.” (John 4:34)
If Laban and family would have refused, would the servant have eaten? Would he have accepted any hospitality? It was quite a long journey back and they may not have been able to even carry enough provisions for the return, we simply do not know.