Disparate Housewives in Genesis; Part Two: REBEKAH

As I've read through Genesis this last month or so, I've been struck by some interesting observations about the women of Genesis. (Perhaps I owe much of that to the insights gained from my recent reading of "Her Name is Woman" , books 1 & 2, by Gien Karssen- an amazing pair of books!) First, we looked at HAGAR: a rejected servant protected and guided by God.

This time, we'll take a look at Rebekah:

When we are first introduced to Rebekah, we are told she is a relative of Abraham's, and is a "young woman", "very attractive in appearance"... and is a virgin. (24:16) God affirms the choice of Rebekah as the right bride for Isaac when she offers water for Isaac's servant's weary & thirsty camels. In this action, she seems to be a generous and selfless woman.

She then agrees to move away to marry a man she's never met (Isaac) on the word of a servant she just met... which, to me, seems like a huge act of faith. She may have had other motivations, or she may have had no other choice, but still, this act seems to set Isaac up with a faithful bride. But as we will learn, appearances can be deceiving.

When Isaac meets her, she soon becomes his wife and she comforts him after the death of his mother. We are told that Isaac "prayed to the LORD for his wife, because she was barren. And the LORD granted his prayer, and Rebekah his wife conceived." (25:21) Surely Isaac must've been told countless times that it was God Who opened his own mother's womb so that she could conceive him. When his own wife is barren, his natural inclination is to look to God, and God grants children to the childless. It seems, again, that Rebekah would be learning from this faithfulness of God and from the love and wisdom that comes from her husband. But things are not always as they seem to be.

Later, though Rebekah has been given a family and could have been a beloved and admirable example to us all, she chooses deception and trickery to control her family's heir (chap. 27), and to usurp her husband's authority as the son of Abraham. Instead of protecting her husband in his weakness and the frailty of old age, she takes advantage of his blindness and uses it to trick him; she is clearly not the faithful wife she may have seemed to be. Without any hint of regret or trepidation, she manipulates her husband and even works against one of her own children in order to play favorites and hand-select her own favorite as the heir.

What I noticed reading through these stories this time is that Rebekah derives all of her self-image and joy from her children. How many moms I have known like this! Her whole identity is in her children, and she occupies herself more with their concerns than with her husband. She was willing to deceive and encourage her child to disrespect the man she was one with, all because she was overly concerned with her children. She was wrapped up in their affairs, rather than being a helpmate and lovingly seeing to her husband's needs.

In the end, we find that her choices have not made her happy. The last substantive thing we hear about Rebekah is this: she herself says, "I loathe my life", and asks, "what good will my life be to me?" because her son's choices for a wife are so limited. (27:46) Perhaps it is her keen awareness of her own LACK of faithfulness to her own husband that causes her to be so disheartened by the lack of faithfulness in the young women around her.

Rebekah seemed to be a woman with so much faith and promise, and yet, in the end, she chose to deceive her husband, use his weaknesses against him, and encourage her son to use trickery as a means to get what he wanted. Not a faithful wife, not a godly parent, she is left in our eyes as an unhappy woman, whose favorite son ended up moving away from her because of her choices. I think it is interesting that in her effort to "bless" and "favor" her beloved son, she ended up losing fellowship with him, as he had to move far, far, away... and she spent the rest of her days with the man she had deceived and the son she had worked to steal a blessing from. What a pitiful end to what could have been a beautiful life.

Though she was physically beautiful and even blessed by God (despite her initial barrenness) with the gift of children, she did not look to God in faith with her concerns, and instead took matters into her own hands, which resulted in her ultimate sadness and lack of fulfillment in life. She chose to be wrapped up in her children rather than delighting in her husband, and in the end, she loathed her life and counted it a waste. What a lesson Rebekah's sad life is for us as wives and mothers!

[Ed.note: Lest you think me a bad speller or somehow mistaken about the title of the popular TV show that has a similar ring to the title of this series, I just wanted to share with you the definition of disparate: Fundamentally distinct. This series is about distinctive women in Genesis (examining the ways in which they are different from one another) and gleaning what we can learn from them. So, yes, the play on words is intentional; it is not misspelled or random. Hope that makes the title a bit more clear, in case anyone was wondering! :) ~Jess]


Anna S said...

Jess, that's a very interesting post. Indeed, I could never find a satisfactory explanation of how Rebekah could justify deceiving Isaac.

Cahleen 何凱琳 said...

Very interesting! I love the way you lay everything out. I remember reading the Bible when I was a new Christian and thinking that everyone in the Bible was perfect because, after all, they were in the Bible. Not so! It's nice that we can learn from their mistakes as well as their successes.

Buffy said...

Having just read this story quite recently I thought you did a good summing up. I just wanted to add that one of the reasons that Rebekah acted badly was because Isaac himself was in the wrong in his treatment of his two sons. He should not have attempted to withhold his blessing from one of them. While this does not excuse Rebehah's behaviour it illustrates how, if the patriarch fails to act rightly it can have a knock-on ruinous effect on his family.

Anonymous said...

As I was reading this blog about Rebekah, I kept thinking about Isaac. I am not excusing her in any way. She was absolutely wrong in deceiving Isaac and getting Jacob to go along. I often wonder how God would have worked out the heir thing if she had left well enough alone. She didn't trust God even though He had told her that the older would serve the younger. But then she was raised in a pagan society, unlike Isaac who was raised by Abraham. Even so Isaac was a very fleshly man as we can see by his appetites. I have to agree with Duffy, God will hold Isaac accountable in the final judgement for all the wrongs done. Just like Adam and all men he is/was the head of that family.
Women tend to be "fixers", in general we find it very difficult to WAIT. And to make things worse we want to be in CHARGE. Just look at Eve and Sarah and Rebekah and Rachel and Leah and on and on and on... In fact, few women in the Bible were good at waiting and following And God wanted to show us the pitfalls of not waiting and not following. Here we are today thousands of years laters still in the same mess. And lest we should overlook our spouses a lot of what we do is because they are still not LEADING.
The hardest thing I have had to learn is to stop "helping" God fix things and to just sit back and wait on Him and my husband. Sometimes my hands and feet just ache "to do something" and my tongue is bloody from biting it. I think I have all the answers but God has shown me so many times that I didn't have a clue. His way is so much better than ours if we can just move over. I am so very sorry for the things I thought I was doing that would help and instead have made terrible messes. In some instances God has restored messed up lives and broken relationships and sometimes He has let me suffer the consequences. I guess that is why I have such a curiosity about how He would have fulfilled Genesis 25:23 without Rebekah's "help".