Welcome to the third week of our Summer Bible journaling challenge, Women of Valor. Today, we will be studying and journaling Rebekah’s story from the Book of Genesis.
This week’s reading: Genesis 24, 25:19-34, 26:1-5, 27
This week’s journaling focus: Genesis 24:15-21 OR Genesis 24:63-67
Rebekah never meets her mother-in-law, Sarah, but in many ways she lives up to her legacy. Sarah and Rebekah both love Isaac, though in very different ways: Sarah as a mother, Rebekah as a wife. Through Abraham’s blessing as the father of God’s people, Sarah and Rebekah each play a major role in God’s story, becoming mothers of that people through God’s promise. And both Sarah and Rebekah are strong-willed women, who each take the fulfillment of God’s promise into their own hands — for better or for worse.
But Rebekah is also very much her own person. She is unbelievably brave and bold, committing herself to a husband she has never met in a land she had never visited when she herself is still a girl (Gen 24:58). She is beautiful both in appearance (Gen 24:16) and, it seems, in spirit: Isaac loves Rebekah, and Rebekah is able to comfort him after his mother’s death (Gen 24:67). And, though she plays a manipulative part in the fulfillment of God’s promise by tricking Isaac into blessing his younger son, unlike Sarah, Rebekah’s meddling actually plays a role in fulfilling God’s promise. She is imperfect, and there are parts of her story that may make us uncomfortable. But there is no doubt that God uses Rebekah in the telling of His story, and for that reason, she is important to us.
Rebekah’s Story (in Two Parts)
Part one: Rebekah as Wife
A few major things happen between the telling of our last story, that of Sarah, and the story of Rebekah that we read today. The first is the Trial of Abraham, also called Binding of Isaac, a story that you may know well1. The second is Sarah’s death in Genesis 23:1-2.2 This leaves us, at the beginning of Genesis 23, with an adult Isaac and an elderly Abraham. Abraham decides that it is time for his son to find a wife, so he goes to his oldest and most trusted servant and asks the servant to go to “my country and to my kindred” to find a wife suitable for his son. The servant travels to Abraham’s homeland and stops outside the city, at a well. He says a prayer:
“O Lord, God of my master Abraham, please grant me success today and show steadfast love to my master Abraham. Behold, I am standing by the spring of water, and the daughters of the men of the city are coming out to draw water. Let the young woman to whom I shall say, ‘Please let down your jar that I may drink,’ and who shall say, ‘Drink, and I will water your camels’—let her be the one whom you have appointed for your servant Isaac. By this I shall know that you have shown steadfast love to my master.”
Before the servant is even finished speaking, Rebekah appears with her water jug on her shoulder. She is described as a “young woman” and “very attractive in appearance;” some guess that she would have been in her mid-teens, significantly younger than the 40-year-old Isaac.3 The servant asks her for water, and she says “Drink, my Lord,” and quickly takes her jug off her shoulder to offer him a drink (Gen 24:18). When he is finished drinking, she draws water for all his 10 camels; again, quickly. The servant stares at her in silence — or, perhaps, amazement — and knows that she is the one God intends to marry Isaac. We, in turn, know something, too: the character of Rebekah, who as a teenager is quick to help others, generous in her labor, and, as we soon find out, unafraid to make bold choices.
Several verses later, the servant is discussing the purpose of his journey with Rebekah’s brother, Laban. They decide to ask Rebekah whether she would like to go with the servant to meet and marry the son of Abraham, who is a distant relative of hers. “Will you go with this man?” asks Laban in Genesis 24:58. “I will go,” says Rebekah without missing a beat, and she does. Rebekah is not just helpful and generous, but also decisive and brave.
The love story between Rebekah and Isaac is one for the ages. Isaac and Rebekah see each other at a great distance, reminiscent of star-crossed lovers who see each other across a smokey room (Gen 24:63-64). Isaac is told of her deeds, and he takes Rebekah into his mother’s tent and takes her as his wife. We are told that “he loved her” and “was comforted after his mother’s death” (Gen 24:67).
While some might be confused at Isaac taking Rebekah into his mother’s tent, I think it is a beautiful gesture. Isaac is welcoming her into the family. Rebekah is able to comfort him after his mother’s death. It has been almost two full chapters since Sarah’s passing, so we can assume that Isaac has been carrying this pain with him for quite some time. But Rebekah is able to comfort him, soothe his pain, and create a supportive foundation for their marriage. So we now know Rebekah to also be caring and comforting. What an amazing young woman she must have been.
Part two: Rebekah as Mother
Rebekah is barren, but Isaac prays for her to become pregnant, and she does, in fact, conceive (Gen 25:21). The pregnancy is not an easy one, however; Rebekah is pregnant with twins, and they wrestle within her, causing her to inquire with the Lord why this is happening (Gen 25:22). God responds:
“Two nations are in your womb,
and two peoples from within you shall be divided;
the one shall be stronger than the other,
the older shall serve the younger.”
For Rebekah to receive a revelation directly from God is truly amazing. She was not raised to know God; we know that her brother Laban worships idols (Gen 31:19) and we can assume that Rebekah was taught to do the same. However, after marrying into Abraham’s family, she has come to believe in God, and not only that, but rely on Him to answer her questions. She inquires with God, rather than simply complaining or being angry. Rebekah is truly a woman of faith.
This verse is important not only for that reason, however, but also because God appears to Rebekah and not Isaac. God trusts Rebekah with this knowledge, perhaps relying on the fact that certain character traits of hers would play a key role in the telling of God’s story. In the ushering forth of His people, God uses and relies on this woman just as much, if not more so, than He relies on Isaac.
Rebekah does indeed have twins, and the younger, Jacob, is born clasping the foot of the older, Esau; almost as if he is vying for first place (Gen 25:24-26). Just a few verses later, we learn just how true this is, as Jacob convinces a hungry Esau to give up his birthright for a bowl of soup (Gen 25:39-34). To some, this reads as tricky and slimy on the part of Jacob, but it can also be read as a decisive comment on Esau, who was foolish enough to give up his birthright for dinner. Rebekah may have seen these qualities in her sons — Jacob slick, Esau foolish — before this story even occurred, because the Bible tells us that “Rebekah loved Jacob” (Gen 25:28). Or maybe she loved Jacob for another reason, perhaps because she knew God had chosen the older, Esau, to serve the younger, Jacob.
Whatever the reason for her favoritism, its effects were certainly significant, as in Genesis 27 we see Rebekah trick her now-blind husband into bestowing his blessing upon Jacob, rather than his favored son, Esau. This is a moment in Rebekah’s story that makes many of us, myself included, uncomfortable. How could Rebekah trade the success of one son for that of another?
However, it is possible that that was not Rebekah’s intent; that instead, she made a tough choice to help along the future of God’s people. Perhaps she knew her sons well, and knew that Esau may not have had the wisdom or character to carry out what was needed for the family that God chose. Or perhaps she was relying on the one time she heard the voice of God, when she was told that “the older will serve the younger” (Gen 25:23). Whatever her reasoning, her choice is what lead to Jacob leaving home to find a wife, which lead him to marrying Leah and Rachel, which lead him to fathering the ancestors of the seven tribes of Israel.
Rebekah’s actions, though certainly dubious and maybe even an indication of her lack of trust in God’s hand at work, played an important role on the telling of God’s story. Whatever her flaws, we can still respect her for that.
Rebekah and Sarah share many traits, but one of the most interesting is the spirited initiative that they each take in the unfurling of their stories. Sarah tries to procure an heir through Hagar; Rebekah takes deceptive action to further the interests of one child and not the other. As we have seen in the last two weeks, Sarah’s actions were not integral to she herself having a son; as we see in Genesis 18 and 21, it is Sarah’s God, not her actions, that give her a son.
However, Rebekah’s choice is more directly significant to the future of God’s people, because it is through her actions that Jacob meets his wives and eventually becomes father to the sons who become the ancestors of Israel’s seven tribes.
How do Sarah’s and Rebekah’s motives differ when they make these choices? Are they the same? How does God use Rebekah’s personal characteristics to further His purposes? How could God make use of our own strengths, weaknesses, and imperfections?
Questions for contemplation:
- Did Rebekah’s manipulation lack trust in God’s plan, or show her commitment to its fulfillment?
- Which of Rebekah’s character traits are ones that you respect or admire? Are there any that you think less of?
- Rebekah is a strong and decisive woman, acting in her own story. These qualities can be both good and bad. How does God make use of them in both their good and bad applications to tell His story?
Rebekah’s patience, kindness, and generosity at the well are what lead her to be chosen as Isaac’s wife, which in turn made her an important link in the long chain of God’s people, leading from Abraham to Jacob all the way down to David and, eventually, Jesus. For this pivotal moment of Rebekah’s life, you may choose to illustrate her offering a drink to the stranger, or water to his camels. Alternatively, you could choose to draw her and Isaac seeing each other for the first time. Choose the moment which speaks more to you, and reflect on the words and images as you journal. Please don’t forget to share your art with the Seasons Illustrated group!
Art in image courtesy courtesy of N. Hug, K. Bopp, and A. Isaak
If you’d like to read more about Sarah and her story, please feel free to check out these resources. Links to Amazon are affiliate links.
- “Rebecca” in Women of the Bible: 52 Bible Studies for Individuals and Groups by Ann Spangler and Jean E. Syswerda, pages 47-51. This is a great book that I’ll be referencing a lot in this series. It reflects on 52 different women of the Bible and includes context, prayers, and reflection questions. This book is more faith-focused than academic.
- “A Mother Who Played Favorites” in A Faith of Her Own: Women of the Old Testament by J. Ellsworth Kalas, pages 37-48. This is a great book of reflections on women of the Bible, written by famed pastor and professor J. Ellsworth Kalas. It is an easy read and offers new insights. This book is more faith-focused than academic.
- If not, you can read about it in Genesis 22: Abraham is called to sacrifice his son, Isaac, and at the last minute is stopped by God. Isaac lives. ↩
- An interesting side note is that Sarah dies far from Abraham and Isaac, and that Abraham must travel to bury her. According to some traditions, Sarah left Abraham in protest after he almost sacrificed her son. However, this is simply speculation or folklore, and not in the Bible. ↩
- See J. Ellsworth Kalas’ A Faith of Her Own, page 40. ↩