Rebekah is the first of a number of women in the bible whose story involves leaving their home in order to marry a suitor they’ve not yet met. It is a story that involves camels, nose rings, a family feud and troublesome twins. I’ll try and tell it briefly.
Rebekah, beautiful, wealthy and privileged, lived with her family in the City of Nahor. The daughter of Bethuel of Arameus (Abraham’s nephew), granddaughter of Milcah and Nahor, her brother was Laban. We are told she had a nurse (Deborah) and several lady’s maids.
Abraham was an elderly patriarch and wanted to find a wife for his son Isaac from his own home country, rather than from Canaan where they now lived. He sent his estate manager, (often known as Eliezer) to Nahor (now Syria) on a quest to find someone suitable, with numerous camels carrying bags of jewels as a dowry. Eliezer promises to bring back a wife for Isaac.
He spots Rebekah by a well at the city gates and she offers to fetch water for him and his camels. He takes this as a sign that she’s the one and gives her a nose ring and two gold arm bracelets. She invites him back to her father’s house.
After some negotiation over plentiful hospitality and more gifts (jewels, gold and cloth), the family concluded that the Lord indeed intended for Rebekah to marry Isaac. Rebekah was asked if she was willing to go (which was nice of them!), and she gave her consent with a simple:
The very next day she leaves her home, her family and all that she knows to marry a man she’s never met before.
She marries Isaac and eventually, after a difficult pregnancy (I can relate to that!) she gives birth to twin boys, Esau and Jacob. Her boys were very different to one other, Esau being a rugged hunter, Jacob being a quieter home-based type.
Families are rarely simple and straightforward and often jealousies, feuds and rivalries are formed early on. This family was no exception and perhaps it began here:
Isaac loved Esau… But Rebekah loved JacobGenesis 25.28
The family rift grew when she disapproved of Esau’s choice of wives (he married two Hittite women, Judith and Basemouth). She plotted to make sure that Jacob would gain his father’s blessing over and above his slightly older twin.
This plot led to Jacob tricking Isaac, a fraternal feud which lasted many years, and Jacob having to flee into exile to Rebekah’s brother Laban. The blessing however, even though brought about by rather dubious moral means, is given to Jacob and he becomes the ‘father of many nations’.
We don’t know if Rebekah lived to see her beloved son Jacob again, or if she ever saw his eventual reconciliation with his brother. The last we hear of her is that she is buried alongside Isaac, Abraham and Sarah in the cave near the Oaks of Mamre.
Rebekah was a courageous and bold woman of God, not afraid to take risks, to speak her mind, to use the power she had to secure what she wanted for those she loved.
Her actions caused conflict within her family though and her sons’ rivalry was perhaps partly due to their parents’ favouritism. Research in the UK came out this week which reveals that 30% of people thought their parents had a favourite child (but only 10% of parents admitted it), and believed this had had a lasting impact on family relations. (1)
Parenting isn’t easy, and so let’s pray for all those who navigate this tricky path, and who get it wrong at times. And for ourselves that we wouldn’t let old wounds fester.
A prayer of Evelyn Underhill
Lord, grant us to love You with all our heart, mind and soul and our neighbour for Your sake: that the grace of charity and kindly love may dwell in us, and all envy, harshness and ill will may die in us. Fill our hearts with patience, kindness and compassion; that, constantly rejoicing in the happiness and good success of others, and putting away the spirit of criticism and envious thoughts, we may follow You, who are Yourself the true and perfect love. Amen
(from Evelyn Underhill’s Prayer Book)
(1) research conducted by a YouGov Poll of 6,242 British adults for The Times, reported on Saturday 29th February 2020