Rebekah: Surprisingly important

I admit it. I’ve overlooked Rebekah (wife to Isaac and mother to Jacob and Esau) like an apple on the kitchen counter that sits there day after day; I reach for dark chocolate instead. Yet she is one of the most important women in the Bible. Here is why:

Without her actions, through which she suffered great loss, the story of God’s people might have ended very differently. Much like Mary, Jesus’ mother, the future of a people was in her hands.

As the story goes (after her leaving home on a day’s notice to meet and marry Isaac), she becomes pregnant with twins, Esau and Jacob. They fight so much in her womb that Rebekah can barely stand it. She goes to God for help. And here is the key part: God converses with her. Such a two way street between God and individual women in the Old Testament is exceedingly rare. God spoke with Eve, Hagar, and Rebekah. Not to them, but with them. (He also spoke with Miriam and Lot’s wife, but in the company of others, without the dialogue.)

Despondent, Rebekah asks: “If it is to be this way, why do I live?”

God answers: “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. (Genesis 25:23)

She understood. And she, like Sarah before her, is committed to do all she can to help God’s vision come true. When it’s time for the aging Isaac to give his blessing, tradition demands that he give it to Esau, the firstborn. But with Rebekah’s help — and some would say trickery — Jacob receives the all-important blessing. That action will eventually lead him to be the father of no less a man than Joseph, the future of Israel.

I used to think that Rebekah was young and shallow and full of deceit. I was right — but only about the first thing.

Rebekah actively helped God’s promise come into being. She was kind and generous and had heard straight from God that her younger twin would be served by the older one. She must have been on edge for years, wondering when that moment would occur. When it finally does, when she finally helps makes it happen and then must hustle Jacob out of town, she loses her son forever, for she dies before he returns some twenty years later. Helping God’s world come into its own forces a huge toll on the woman who had once been the gentle, spirited girl at the well, the girl that made a decision to leave home and not look back.

See here for Rebekah’s actual words.

Other highlights about Rebekah:

She was the first human in the Bible to receive a blessing from another human — in this case, her mother and brother.

She was one of two girls in the Bible to have a conversation with her mother. This is hard to believe, but true: the other was Salome, asking for John the Baptist’s head on a platter.

Her relationship with Isaac was monogamous; unusual for that time.

Isaac loved her; also unusual for that time. She seems to have brought him much joy after the trauma of Abraham almost killing him on the mountain and his despair after his mother, Sarah, died.

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