Rebekah was the mother of two twin boys. Their names were Esau and Jacob. Esau was the elder and Jacob the younger. Esau was the beloved of his father and Jacob the beloved of his mother. When I first started studying the Bible many years ago, it was drawn to my attention how couples back in the day always met at the well. It was where women would go to fetch water.
Rebekah–Issac’s future wife–met the servant of Abraham at the well. Abraham had specifically asked for a girl who would offer both his servant as well as their camels a drink of water. Lo and behold, Abraham’s future daughter-in-law would do exactly that.
It was the turning point that would lead to her betrothal to Issac.
After marriage, Rebekah experienced barrenness–much like her mother-in-law Sarah before her. Isaac prayed for a child and Rebekah soon conceived. It was a special conception for she was carrying twins. It was then prophesied that two nations were in her womb. The wording of the prophesy, however, was vague.
Despite the fact that Esau and Jacob were twins, the Biblical narrative describes them as polar opposites. One had a rough and rumble way about him; and the other was refined and listened to his mother.
And that’s where the story begins to turn once more.
The Tricks of the Trade
First, Jacob tricks Esau to give up his birthright over a bowl of stew. It was Jacob’s first trick and it was a ‘small’ one. The second trick was slightly more elaborate and involved tricking his father, Isaac.
Jacob gets dressed up in Isaac’s hairy clothes and pretends to be Esau while his brother is out on a hunt. While Isaac is initially suspicious, he was blind by this stage; and whatever senses he had left did end up deceiving him. He thought Jacob was Esau and ends up giving Jacob the blessing that was meant for Esau.
By the time Esau arrives, he is livid; for he has had both his birthright and his blessing taken away from him. But the story doesn’t end there, either. This deception prompts Jacob to leave and before we know it; the trickster has been tricked. He is forced to pay for his deception–not indefinitely, though. He is tricked into marrying Leah instead of Rachel.
There are many different themes running through this story. Favouritism, deception, trickery, greed, sibling rivalry and so on. But what intrigued me was Rebekah’s conduct. Esau and Jacob were both her children. So why did she favour Jacob? And secondly, why did she encourage Jacob to be deceptive and take what was rightfully meant for his brother?
Families like this are not unheard of. At the same time, this is not the role model we like to work with when trying to create a healthy family. Could Rebekah not see that she was setting Jacob a trap–one that would eventually come to haunt him as he travelled away from home?
The deception in this Genesis story is significant; for it subverted the natural order of how things were supposed to be. It created chaos and set up intergenerational conflict.
But why, Rebekah, why? Why did you do it?
Rebekah The Matriarch
Rebekah thought she knew what was best for her family. The first mistake she made was not to consult Isaac regarding the plans she had for the next generation. She went behind his back and deceived him. The second mistake she made was not to discuss her thoughts with Esau. She not only deceived her husband, but also her own son.
Rebekah’s conduct created a rift within the family that would not be healed for generations. Jacob would go on to get tricked by Laban–Rebekah’s brother. This would then lead to another conflict between Rachael and Leah; and it would continue on through their sons Reuben and Joseph.
Rebekah must have been a highly individualistic person. That’s the sense I got as I read this story. There is no real sense of the collective. She lives for herself by her own laws and her own rules. She carries them out without considering the big picture. Despite how premeditated Rebekah’s trickery is–it is clear that she has not thought through the repercussions of her actions. When she discovers how angry Esau is, her solution is to send Jacob away; which will ultimately only end up making things worse.
Rebekah was unhappy with Esau’s choice in his wives. Jacob had not yet married and from what we can tell, he did listen to his mother. Jacob did not object when Rebekah tells him to trick his own father. It seems, then, that Rebekah’s criteria for selecting an heir was her own sense of authorial superiority.
Due to her conduct, it is sometime before Jacob becomes a man in his own right. It is also Rebekah who sends Jacob to stay with Laban when she realises how angry Esau is. Shortly after Jacob arrives, he himself is tricked on the night of his wedding. He is forced to work for Laban for seven years before he can marry Rachel.
Do the ends justify the means?
Decades pass before Esau and Jacob forgive each other. They both end up achieving their respective destinies and receiving what they were due. Rebekah’s conduct, if anything, reminds us that those we love may not always know what is best for us.
And on that note, we may not always know what is best for the ones whom we love.