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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.

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“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.

“When Esau was forty years old he married Judith the daughter of Beeri the Hittite, and Basemath the daughter of Elon the Hittite; and they brought grief to Isaac and Rebekah.”  Gen. 26:34-35

We note that Esau was forty years old when he decided to marry, the same age as Isaac was when he married Rebekah.  (Gen. 25:20).  There are many instances in the scriptures of polygamy (multiple spouses) however we do not see any scriptures that indicate God condones it.

In Genesis 24:3, Abraham was adamant when speaking with his senior servant that the wife to be found for Isaac was not to be from among the Canaanites (of which the Hittites were part).  This ideal of Abraham’s is likely at least in part why Esau’s choices brought grief to Isaac and Rebekah (Gen. 26:35).

The Hittites were derived from Heth, who was referenced in Gen. 10:15:

“Canaan became the father of Sidon, his firstborn, and Heth”

Canaan was the son of Ham, and he was the one cursed by Noah after the incident in the tent after the flood.  Later, Abraham buys the Cave of Machpelah and the adjacent field from the sons of Heth to bury Sarah (Gen. 23).

“Abimelech said, “What is this you have done to us? One of the people might easily have lain with your wife, and you would have brought guilt upon us.”  So Abimelech charged all the people, saying, “He who touches this man or his wife shall surely be put to death.””  Gen. 26:10-11

Rashi points out that the original Hebrew indicates the text implies “the one among the people” as opposed to just “one of the people”, whereby it infers it was Abimelech himself that had considered laying with Rebekah.

Abimelech seems to take seriously the threat of divine punishment for the act of adultery, which is likely because God spoke to him in a dream when he took Sarah from Abraham, and did threaten him and all his people (Gen. 20:3)

The end result of discovering the true relationship between Isaac and Rebekah after this confrontation is protection and favor for Isaac and his wife.  In Genesis 12 with Abraham and Pharoah, Abraham and Sarah were safely escorted out of the land.  In Genesis 20 with Abimelech, Abraham was given land, silver and much property.

It is an amazing picture of God’s grace, as both Abraham and Isaac lied, and after the truth became known, God chose to bless them in various ways despite their actions.

“It came about, when he had been there a long time, that Abimelech king of the Philistines looked out through a window, and saw, and behold, Isaac was caressing his wife Rebekah. Then Abimelech called Isaac and said, “Behold, certainly she is your wife! How then did you say, ‘She is my sister’?” And Isaac said to him, “Because I said, ‘I might die on account of her.’””  Gen. 26:8-9

Robert Alter and others state what Abimilech saw was a sexual playfulness of sorts.  Obviously at the least he saw something that indicated to him that Isaac and Rebekah were not merely brother and sister.  But Abimelech is the king; why did he care at this point, since it had “been a long time” (v.8)?

But Abimelech did care – enough to meet Isaac face to face to get to the bottom of this. I believe there are several things going on here.  For some context we need to go back to the interaction between Abimelech and God when the same scenario happened with Abraham and Sarah in Genesis 20.

First it is worth noting that unlike with Sarah, Abimelech did not have Rebekah taken away upon thinking she was not married, thus Isaac did not have to go through the personal strain Abraham did having his wife taken from him.

Recall that God threatened Abimelech, and his people, with death if he did not let Sarah go, because she was another man’s wife (Gen. 20:3-7).  Abimelech did take Sarah initially, though he does not do this with Rebekah.  It is quite apparent from Abimelech’s interaction with God that Abimilech likey feared God to some extent already, at and the very least had learned his lesson and did not take Rebekah right away.

As king, Abimelech had a responsibility to keep his people safe, and had his own personal moral convictions about the act of adultery.  Isaac repeated the lie of Abraham about the identify of his wife, which now caused a conflict with Abimelech’s responsibilities and morals.  After all, the commandments tell us not to covet another man’s wife, but say nothing about a man’s sister.

Ultimately it comes down to this:  Isaac lied to save himself because he felt the people in Gerar did not fear God enough, or did not have enough moral standing to the extent they would kill a man in order to take his wife.  This lie however, created the potential for worse things to take place.  For one, the people of Gerar (including the king) could have lusted after, or slept with Rebekah, though she was married.  Worse, the king was so taken aback by Isaac being sexual with Rebekah that he confronted him.  Thankfully he gave Isaac the chance to explain himself, otherwise there would be the possibility that the people of Gerar would have put Isaac to death, thinking he was committing incest!  This may be one reason why we are called to “Avoid the appearance of evil.” (I Thessalonians 5:22)

Lastly, if someone from Gerar had slept with Rebekah, there is a strong chance that God would have taken action against the king and the people, as He did before with both Pharaoh and Abimelech in Genesis 12 and 20.  Ultimately this would have been Isaac’s fault, as his lie to protect himself precipitated the entire situation.

Would it have been okay for one man to be untruthful to save himself if many others perish or are afflicted as a result?  And so this confrontation was critical, as the truth needed to come out to neutralize the situation and prevent further damage, as well as ensure reputations were kept intact.  And so we see both wisdom and strong morals exemplified, from a king who was unlikely to be seen as spiritually mature.

“When the men of the place asked about his wife, he said, “She is my sister,” for he was afraid to say, “my wife,” thinking, “the men of the place might kill me on account of Rebekah, for she is beautiful.””  Gen. 26:7

This is the third time we see this ruse in scripture:  first with Abraham and Sarah involving Pharaoh in Genesis 12; then with Abraham a second time, this time involving King Abimilech in Genesis 20; and here with Isaac and Rebekah, again with King Abimilech.

I see the repetition of this recurring theme being recorded as having two possible explanations, of which both may be true.

1 – On one hand it lends to the credence that it was an actual concern; that men would be willing to kill another man in order to take his wife as their own.  This raises a question however, as it infers that such a man would have a stronger conviction about committing adultery than taking someone’s life.  Perhaps this is why in the New Testament contains this interesting passage:

“For He who said, “DO NOT COMMIT ADULTERY,” also said, “DO NOT COMMIT MURDER.” Now if you do not commit adultery, but do commit murder, you have become a transgressor of the law.”   James 2:11

2 – The repetition of the story however, also reinforces the likelihood that neither Abraham nor Isaac were very good at judging the motives of others.  Perhaps in their cases, it was not a valid concern, and their lives may not have been in danger.  In the case of Pharaoh, it becomes fairly clear that Pharaoh would not have taken Sarah in the first place if Abraham had been honest about their relationship:

“Why did you say, ‘She is my sister,’ so that I took her for my wife? Now then, here is your wife, take her and go.”  Gen. 12:19

I explored the incident between Pharaoh and Abraham much more thoroughly in a previous post.

Additionally, what the repetition of this theme helps us to see is the character of those involved.  Isaac had a choice: handle the situation with honesty, or do the same thing his father did, and he chose the latter.  What may be more surprising in this case, however, is the integrity of character shown by Abimilech.

What is important to ultimately glean from the text in my opinion, is that those of us who believe in God often misjudge the moral standing of those we assume do not believe in God.  In doing so, our distrust of others translates into a lack of faith.  Our actions that follow may then be skewed by our perception of those we judge.

In the case of Pharaoh with Sarah, and the case of Abimilech with Rebekah, the actions of Abraham and Isaac nearly caused Pharaoh and Abimilech to sin, but God in His mercy prevented them from such guilt because He knew they were both innocent in the circumstances.  Further, God then saw to it that both Abraham and Isaac were called out on their dishonesty.

“And Jacob said, “First swear to me”; so he swore to him, and sold his birthright to Jacob.”  Gen. 25:33

Though Jacob was born within minutes of his older brother Esau, Jacob seemed determined to usurp him.  I explored the birthright in the previous post, which sheds some light on why Jacob wanted this role.  But even so, at the end of Isaac’s life, Jacob is willing to deceive his father (at his mother Rebekah’s direction) into receiving Esau’s blessing as well!

This seems odd because logically one would think that it is not possible to actually ‘be’ the firstborn if one is not; further if Jacob is not really entitled to the blessing, why does Isaac not recant what was said, prove Jacob a liar, and give the blessing to Esau?  But none of this happens.  Instead it is as if a divinely ordained path was forged for Jacob, even if he used questionable means to stay on that path.

There is a fascinating rabbinical explanation for Jacob’s favor:  That perhaps he was actually conceived first, though he was born second.

Even today we do not know what a child is thinking in the womb, but we know that Jacob and Esau were struggling with one another.  If Jacob knew he was conceived first, this could explain the struggle; further it would explain why Jacob was holding the heel of Esau while being delivered as if to say “Get back here, I’m supposed to be first!”  If Jacob somehow knew he truly was first, it may explain his drive for the birthright, as he actually would have felt it belonged to him.  And the transaction happens without divine intervention to stop it.  Perhaps even more telling, later God acknowledges Jacob as firstborn, in the words of Moses to Pharaoh:

“‘Thus says the LORD, “Israel is My son, My firstborn.”  Exodus 4:22

As we know, Jacob is later renamed Israel by God (Gen. 32:28).  Last of course we see Jacob get away with stealing Esau’s blessing, somehow without obvious divine punishment, though it results in his brother wanting to kill him of course.

And so this is a rabbinical story that cannot be easily dismissed, as if offers plausible explanation to otherwise seemingly disconnected elements of the story.

There is an over-arching theme in the scriptures of the younger son being used mightily by God.   Perhaps this is in part why Jesus said ‘But many who are first will be last; and the last, first.” (Matthew 19:30)

“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.

 

“When her days to be delivered were fulfilled, behold, there were twins in her womb.”  Gen. 25:24

Rashi notes that in the original text, the word for “twins” is missing a letter.  Compare to Genesis 38:27 when the same is said of Tamar’s twins, but the full spelling is present. Though we may merely consider this a scribal error, Rashi believes there is a significance due to how the story of Jacob and Esau ultimately plays out; that perhaps Esau is deficient in some way, morally speaking, as opposed to Tamar’s sons, Perez and Zerah.

We also see an interesting pattern with the birth order between these two stories; with Jacob and Esau we see the struggle in the womb, and though Esau is born first and gets the birthright, it is tricked out of his hands by his brother.  With Perez and Zerah, Zerah’s hand came out first, and the midwife tied a scarlet thread to him so they would know who was who, but ultimately Perez was fully born first.  It is as if there is a shifting of order of things.  Perhaps this has something to do with Christ’s teaching that “the first shall be last and the last shall be first.”

As for the missing letter, consider Ephron, the son of Zohar, who sold the Cave of Machpelah to Abraham for burial at a highly inflated price; Ephron’s name changes in the original Hebrew after that transaction.  Contrast this with Abram and Sara, who were renamed by God, having an “H” added to both of their names:  Abraham and Sarah.

The scriptures speak of a Book of Life in several places in both Testaments; Of names being blotted out of the Book, and names being added to the Book.  Perhaps this is done one letter at a time.

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