LESSONS TO BE LEARNED FROM WOMEN IN THE BIBLE
PART 7: REBEKAH
The name Rebekah (or Rebecca) has always had a magical ring for me. I named my eldest daughter Rebecca – though I must admit it was more due to my love of the Daphne Du Maurier book of the same name than the Biblical character…
I came to my study of this “Daughter of Eve”, therefore, with a strange sense of awe and wonder. How shocked I was to discover that many – if not most- of modern commentators on this woman are actually pretty negative and critical – citing her as an example of how NOT to live!
Throughout my investigation I confess that I have not been comfortable with this conclusion…and so, perhaps radically, I am going to give a very different slant on the lessons that we can learn from this amazing woman – not in the first two lessons maybe, but certainly with the third lesson.
And this is the message that I believe God wants me to bring to you today…it is for you to judge…
TO START – A BIT OF BACKGROUND
Rebekah was born, it is believed, as an Aramean in Padan Aram (that’s northern Mesopotamia – part of Turkey today) around 1700 BC.
She was Abraham’s great niece; granddaughter of his brother Nahor. Her father was Bethual. She was the sister of Laban. So, she was related to the man whom she was later to marry – Isaac, the son of her great uncle, Abraham.
We are told she was very beautiful (Genesis 24: 16) and she was certainly working as a shepherdess.
Let’s now delve into the Word of God to learn lessons from this “daughter of Eve”…
LESSON 1: CALLED TO BE HOSPITABLE AND KIND
The Bible tells us that:
Abraham was now very old, and the Lord had blessed him in every way. 2 He said to the senior servant in his household, the one in charge of all that he had, ‘Put your hand under my thigh. 3 I want you to swear by the Lord, the God of heaven and the God of earth, that you will not get a wife for my son from the daughters of the Canaanites, among whom I am living, 4 but will go to my country and my own relatives and get a wife for my son Isaac.’ (Genesis 24: 1-4)
So, his servant went, taking with him 10 camels loaded with treasures, to the town of Haran in North West Mesopotamia where he stopped at a well – tired and thirsty after such a long journey.
12 Then he prayed, ‘Lord, God of my master Abraham, make me successful today, and show kindness to my master Abraham. 13 See, I am standing beside this spring, and the daughters of the townspeople are coming out to draw water. 14 May it be that when I say to a young woman, “Please let down your jar that I may have a drink,” and she says, “Drink, and I’ll water your camels too”– let her be the one you have chosen for your servant Isaac. By this I will know that you have shown kindness to my master.’ (Genesis 24: 12-14)
Immediately, Rebekah arrived, and we are told:
17 The servant hurried to meet her and said, ‘Please give me a little water from your jar.’
18 ‘Drink, my lord,’ she said, and quickly lowered the jar to her hands and gave him a drink.
19 After she had given him a drink, she said, ‘I’ll draw water for your camels too, until they have had enough to drink.’ 20 So she quickly emptied her jar into the trough, ran back to the well to draw more water, and drew enough for all his camels. 21 Without saying a word, the man watched her closely to learn whether or not the Lord had made his journey successful. (Genesis 24: 17-21)
There is a wonderful lesson for us to learn from this. Rebekah was a woman of great hospitality. Abraham’s servant was a total stranger to her. Yet, without hesitation she cared not only for his needs but also for the needs of his animals. She did not “check him out” first – she “quickly” got to work in looking after him.
And this was no easy task! According to National Geographic, camels can drink about 30 gallons of water in 13 minutes. The servant had TEN camels (Gen. 24:10). She was not offering to put a bowl of water out for a thirsty puppy dog! Rebekah volunteered to WORK. She had one jar that she had carried out on her shoulder. Water needed to be drawn up from the well. No matter how large her jar was, it certainly did not hold 300 gallons of water. In verse 20 we see the word “quickly” again, and she “ran back to the well to draw”. She did so until all of his camels were watered. Rebekah showed a good work ethic, a kind heart, and a servant’s attitude.
She showed hospitality with no expectation of reward. He promised her nothing – and yet rewarded her kindness with a gold nose ring and gold bracelets. God rewards the one who shows kindness sincerely.
The servant is convinced that this is the woman God wants him to choose for Isaac. He asks who she is and if it is possible for him and his group to lodge within her father’s household. She assures him that they have plenty of room and then she RUNS to let the family know.
We live in an age where selfishness is rife – we want others to give to us. And if we do something for others we want to know “what’s in it for me?” Rebekah is the type of person that we should emulate. Clearly, Rebekah was raised to be hospitable. Here is another value that seems to be on the wane today—and another reason to imitate the faith of this kind-hearted young woman. Faith in God should lead us to be hospitable. YHWH is hospitable, for he is generous to all, and he wants his worshippers to follow suit. When we are hospitable even to those who may never repay us, we please our heavenly Father. (why not look at Matthew 5:44-46; and 1 Peter 4:9).
Finally, on this lesson, remember that it is so easy to show hospitality and care to someone whom we know and love. She is the example of showing kindness to a complete stranger…THIS is the challenge to us all.
LESSON 2: WHEN YOU JUST “DON’T KNOW” THEN ENQUIRE OF THE LORD
Rebekah’s family agreed to the marriage to Isaac and Rebekah willingly chose to leave her family immediately, rather than wait 10 days, to go back with the servant to Canaan. Here she modestly veiled herself before Isaac, was taken into his late mother’s tent, and there she became his wife.
21 Isaac prayed to the Lord on behalf of his wife, because she was childless. The Lord answered his prayer, and his wife Rebekah became pregnant. 22 The babies jostled each other within her, and she said, ‘Why is this happening to me?’ So she went to enquire of the Lord.
23 The Lord said to her,
‘Two nations are in your womb,
and two peoples from within you will be separated;
one people will be stronger than the other,
and the elder will serve the younger.’
24 When the time came for her to give birth, there were twin boys in her womb. 25 The first to come out was red, and his whole body was like a hairy garment; so they named him Esau. 26 After this, his brother came out, with his hand grasping Esau’s heel; so he was named Jacob. Isaac was sixty years old when Rebekah gave birth to them. (Genesis 25: 21-26)
Isaac loved his wife (Genesis 24: 67) but they were childless. Rather than seek the advice of doctors his first instinct was to pray to the LORD on behalf of his wife. There’s a lesson here – prayer should be our “first port of call” rather than our “last resort”.
But it is what Rebekah did that challenges me: she was not sure what was happening inside her. Things were physically bizarre with the foetuses “jostling” inside of her. So, she went to “enquire of the LORD” who told her (this is significant – He spoke to HER and not to Isaac) that it was to be the younger son (Jacob) who was to be the child of the Promise and not the older son (Esau).
Rebekah is therefore the example to us that we should ALWAYS enquire of the LORD when we just don’t know what is going on. We are to do this in faith and in trust. He WILL answer the prayer of hope. We must listen and learn and apply.
She knew what the will of the LORD was. And she was committed to obeying him in His will – no matter what!
LESSON 3: JUST LIKE REBEKAH, I AM NOT PERFECT…
- GOD SEES OUR HEART, OUR ATTITUDE:
God sees the end from the beginning. He understands what we do not understand.
Isaac’s favourite son was Esau – partly this was because his character was attractive to Isaac – a tough, outdoor, hunter type of character. But also, it was the norm for the legacy, the blessing, the succession, to be passed down to the eldest son. Rebekah knew better.
But why was Jacob, rather than Esau, the chosen one? God sees the heart – the “person rather than the profession”. It is felt that Esau was never fully committed to God, was prone to being led astray by his Hittite wives (the example from Abraham down through Isaac had always been to marry into God’s people), didn’t even value his birth-right which he sold to Jacob for the price of a bowl of stew! He was not the man to take God’s line and plan forward.
Now, that’s not to say that Jacob was perfect. Far from it – as we shall see. But God sees the heart. And Jacob’s heart was for the LORD – even though he constantly messed things up.
And Rebekah knew this. It could be argued that in all this, SHE was the spiritual one, SHE was the one who was ensuring that the family were living in God’s will.
- WHAT HAPPENED NEXT:
Isaac was now old, and nearing death. It was important for him to pass the blessing of God onto his son who would lead God’s people after he, himself, had died. He saw this son as being Esau…he was so wrong!
He called Esau to him and said:
‘I am now an old man and don’t know the day of my death. 3 Now then, get your equipment – your quiver and bow – and go out to the open country to hunt some wild game for me. 4 Prepare me the kind of tasty food I like and bring it to me to eat, so that I may give you my blessing before I die.’
5 Now Rebekah was listening as Isaac spoke to his son Esau. When Esau left for the open country to hunt game and bring it back, 6 Rebekah said to her son Jacob, ‘Look, I overheard your father say to your brother Esau, 7 “Bring me some game and prepare me some tasty food to eat, so that I may give you my blessing in the presence of the Lord before I die.” 8 Now, my son, listen carefully and do what I tell you: 9 go out to the flock and bring me two choice young goats, so that I can prepare some tasty food for your father, just the way he likes it. 10 Then take it to your father to eat, so that he may give you his blessing before he dies.’
11 Jacob said to Rebekah his mother, ‘But my brother Esau is a hairy man while I have smooth skin. 12 What if my father touches me? I would appear to be tricking him and would bring down a curse on myself rather than a blessing.’
13 His mother said to him, ‘My son, let the curse fall on me. Just do what I say; go and get them for me.’
14 So he went and got them and brought them to his mother, and she prepared some tasty food, just the way his father liked it. 15 Then Rebekah took the best clothes of her elder son Esau, which she had in the house, and put them on her younger son Jacob. 16 She also covered his hands and the smooth part of his neck with the goatskins. 17 Then she handed to her son Jacob the tasty food and the bread she had made.
18 He went to his father and said, ‘My father.’
‘Yes, my son,’ he answered. ‘Who is it?’
19 Jacob said to his father, ‘I am Esau your firstborn. I have done as you told me. Please sit up and eat some of my game, so that you may give me your blessing.’
20 Isaac asked his son, ‘How did you find it so quickly, my son?’
‘The Lord your God gave me success,’ he replied.
21 Then Isaac said to Jacob, ‘Come near so I can touch you, my son, to know whether you really are my son Esau or not.’
22 Jacob went close to his father Isaac, who touched him and said, ‘The voice is the voice of Jacob, but the hands are the hands of Esau.’ 23 He did not recognise him, for his hands were hairy like those of his brother Esau; so he proceeded to bless him. 24 ‘Are you really my son Esau?’ he asked.
‘I am,’ he replied.
25 Then he said, ‘My son, bring me some of your game to eat, so that I may give you my blessing.’
Jacob brought it to him and he ate; and he brought some wine and he drank. 26 Then his father Isaac said to him, ‘Come here, my son, and kiss me.’
27 So he went to him and kissed him. When Isaac caught the smell of his clothes, he blessed him (Genesis 27: 2-27)
And so the blessing was given to Jacob. He was the one who was to lead God’s people and God’s plan forward. Most of us know what happened after this: Esau arrived back; the deception was uncovered; Isaac told Esau that it was too late – his blessing had been given and could not be changed; Esau said he would kill Jacob who was advised by Rebekah to flee to her family in Haran…and so the Biblical story unfolds.
- JUDGEMENT ON REBEKAH:
OK…now here is where things get controversial. Most – if not ALL – of the modern commentators that I have read in my study of Rebekah are critical and judgemental of what happened here and of her role in it. The lessons that they say we must learn are to NOT BE LIKE HER!
Now I cannot argue with what they point out: Her family were dysfunctional – Esau was a spiritual disappointment who hated his brother. Jacob was happy to grab the birth-right from his brother. They had their favourites – Isaac preferred Esau and she favoured Jacob. Her marriage was one where secrets were kept from each other. Rather than submit to Isaac’s headship, she acted against his wishes and chose to deceive him and lie to him. Wasn’t she meant to submit to him? Wasn’t she meant to obey him? The lessons here, we are told by commentators, are to NOT BE LIKE HER!
You know – it seems to me that there is only one writer who does NOT condemn or judge Rebekah for what she did…and that is the writer of Genesis! What Rebekah did is written without comment. It is written without judgement. It is written as a simple “this is what happened”. I think that God is trying to teach us something here…
- THE LESSON I LEARN FROM REBEKAH’S ACTIONS:
Rebekah knew God’s will for Jacob. She had known it since before he was born.
She knew that Isaac couldn’t pass the blessing on to the other son Esau. And, yes, she interfered. Yes, she took matters into her own hands. Yes, she did just what Abraham had done when God promised a son – and had a son by Hagar to “help God out”. Yes, she should have trusted God to deal with the problem. But she didn’t. She used deception and lying to ensure that the right son got the blessing. And, NO, we are not being encouraged to do the same.
I relate to Rebekah! I know that rather than trust in God’s divine handling of situations that I too often jump in with both feet and try to sort God’s will out in my own way. And I mess up and interfere and probably delay things – because God would have done them much better.
In trying to co-labour with God I often blunder through life with mistake after mistake.
But maybe, just maybe, the Bible does not judge and condemn Rebekah because God saw her heart. Maybe it was that God saw that her actions were wrong, but her attitudes were right. Just like with Rahab the prostitute God saw the person and not the profession (who she was rather than what she did). Rebekah had listened to God all those years before and knew God’s will and in her own foolish way was trying to work for God. And He most certainly blessed Jacob who became Israel and the father of the 12 tribes of the Jews.
And I realise that rather than judge me for my mistakes; and rather than judge you for your mistakes; our merciful God, our loving God, our grace-full God, who sees the sincerity of our heart in what we do, “works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose” (Romans 8: 28).
I am utterly amazed and so very, very grateful: rather than condemn me for messing up yet again, He graciously takes what I do and uses it for His good purposes. It is so much more than I deserve.
Does this mean that I shouldn’t bother about “getting it right” in what I do? Of course not! I should always endeavour to trust and obey – for there really is no other way. But the story of Rebekah gives me the joy of knowing that even when I do it my way, the wrong way, yet He will sort things out if my motives are right.
SO THIS IS MY CONCLUSION…DECIDE WHETHER IT IS THE CONCLUSION FOR YOU…
When she started out, Rebekah seemed perfect – beautiful in body and beautiful in character and listening to God by His Spirit. But it was too good to be true. She was not perfect – and I am so glad about this – because I am not perfect either – and so I have hope.
I think that this woman who had sought understanding from the LORD over what was going on in her womb was the same woman who in later years put the LORD’s will before her love and submission to her husband. I believe that she was a woman who loved her husband but knew that the direction he was going in was wrong. And she had the courage to do something about it. Now…whether she went about it the right way or not is another question. She might have seen herself as co-labouring with God while others might see her as not trusting in God enough – a “He would have sorted it all out without you doing all this deceiving”. I just don’t know…there is no suggestion of condemnation of her methods. Maybe this is another case of life being less clear than we would like it to be.
For me, the wonderful lesson that I get out of all this is God’s Mercy and Grace towards fallible people who “screw up”. I am encouraged because I am not reading about a perfect person who gets it right all the time, but I am reading about an imperfect person just like me! I’m reading about a person who is trying their best to do what is right and often gets it wrong and yet God sorts it all out in the end. I can identify with this! I am helped to believe that I can get it soooo wrong and yet God does not condemn me! Instead, God sorts it all out – so that “all things work together for good”.