In the middle of a faithful man’s silent prayer, a young woman approached a well. She was God’s answer to the prayer.

The chosen bride

Our first encounter with Rebekah shows her as a beautiful, happy young girl, intent on her everyday task of watering the cattle. That she was kind is clear in her offer of drink to Eliezer, and willing to work hard in her offer to water his camels. She was able to assure Eliezer of his welcome at her home; her family culture must have been hospitable, and she hurried home to prepare for his coming.

It is in the everyday tasks of life that our work for Christ is done, and in the midst of our ordinary round of cares that our call will come. Will our lives show the constancy that Rebekah’s did? Do our homes openly show such generosity? These small kindnesses, done as unto the Lord, are the things by which our characters will be judged. For young sisters, Rebekah’s example in Genesis 24 is a bold standard against which to measure oneself.

Both Rebekah and her family were aware of God’s guiding hand. Though they, like Abraham, were worshippers of the one true God, perhaps they had never seen His will so clearly and expressly shown as now, when Eliezer proclaimed her to be the answer to his specific prayer. God had pointed directly to her! Rebekah had been shaped throughout her childhood to be the bride of Abraham’s son. Without hesitation, she responded to Eliezer’s invitation, against the wall of her family’s doubts, with the simple words, “I will go.”

So Rebekah went, accompanied by her retinue, her nurse Deborah, her tokens of betrothal, and with eagerness and hope in her heart. Ringing in her ears was her family’s final blessing, “Thou art our sister, be thou the mother of thousands of millions, and let thy seed possess the gate of those which hate them.” Yes, in course of time she was to be the mother of thousands of millions, and her seed would possess the gate of their enemies: but she was also to remain their sister, a Syrian.

A commitment like Rebekah’s was given by each of us at the time of our baptism. Like Rebekah, we follow our bridegroom’s call without having seen his face, and yet we know him. “Whom having not seen, ye love; in whom, though now ye see him not, yet believing, ye rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory” (1 Pet 1:8). Surely Eliezer must have talked to Rebekah during the journey about her prospective husband, and she would have grown to know and love him for his character alone, described by one who loved him.

Rebekah modestly veiled herself when they came upon Isaac in the field. She understood that her place was not to catch Isaac with her attractiveness, but rather to entrance him with her inner beauty, to draw him to her with the noose of love and devotion. Rebekah’s name means “a noose or snare”, and implies that those about her were bound to her in some way. We see this in Isaac’s love of her, and later in Jacob’s obedience to her. Now, however, Rebekah, though wearing the jewellery proclaiming her acceptance of the marriage to come, covered herself. Her heart is shown in 1 Peter 3:3–5, where Peter exhorts sisters about the common concern with appearances: “let it not be that outward adorning of plaiting the hair, and of wearing of gold, or of putting on of apparel; but let it be the hidden man of the heart, in that which is not corruptible, even the ornament of a meek and quiet spirit, which is in the sight of God of great price. For after this manner in the old time the holy women also, who trusted in God, adorned themselves, being in subjection unto their own husbands.”

The young wife

We read next that “Isaac brought her into his mother Sarah’s tent, and took Rebekah, and she became his wife; and he loved her: and Isaac was comforted after his mother’s death.”

To give Rebekah his mother’s tent is a tender point, for until now, Sarah, his mother, had been his ideal of womanhood. She had been a woman of outstanding beauty, of faith and great strength of character. She had been loyal and courageous in the face of trials we shudder to contemplate. She had nurtured this, her only son, and poured into him the love of her ninety years of childlessness. Isaac grieved for her, but now, with the entrance into his life of a young woman, his wife whom he loved, he was comforted.

There followed now with this couple a period of domestic bliss. The Son of Promise, and his Godgiven wife, who shared a love of God, and a great love for each other, undertook the daily duties of life together. We are told of Isaac’s activities, and of his relationship with his neighbours. God blessed him in material things. Isaac and Rebekah waited now for the fulfilment of God’s promise for them of children, the seed to become the great nation of which the promises to Isaac’s father are so full, and which they knew was God’s plan for them. “In Isaac shall thy seed be called” (Gen 21:12).

The years of barrenness

But no children came. Rebekah was barren. The natural longing for children was heightened by the spiritual longing to fulfil God’s plan. Here, Isaac and Rebekah differed from Abraham and Sarah. There was no thought in Isaac’s mind of taking another wife, of going outside his marriage relationship, or of taking control of circumstances God appeared to have overlooked. Rebekah was the wife God gave him. Rebekah filled his desires. Rebekah was inextricably entwined in his heart. It would be through Rebekah that the seed would come. So Isaac intreated Yahweh for his wife, continually, and they waited on Him for twenty slow years.

How, in a time when polygamy was accepted and normal, and men were able to take to themselves as many women as they were inclined to, was Rebekah able to totally captivate and hold the full affection of her husband? There are many ways in which a woman can delight her husband, and Rebekah held Isaac firmly within the noose of her charm. For each married couple those ways may be different, but each wife is wise to discover what will charm her husband, and keep their own marriage as a garden, and seal her husband to her, exclusively, for life. “Set me as a seal upon thine heart, as a seal upon thine arm: for love is strong as death; jealousy is cruel as the grave: the coals thereof are coals of fire, which hath a most vehement flame. Many waters cannot quench love, neither can the floods drown it: if a man would give all the substance of his house for love, it would utterly be contemned” (Song 8:6–7).

The birth of Esau and Jacob

Finally Yahweh deemed the time to be right for the conception of the heir to the promises, and Rebekah now suffered terribly. Those who experience illness and difficulty during pregnancy and childbirth can empathise with Rebekah, whose cry of anguish effectively means, ‘If the blessing of God comes in this way, why did I ask?’ A mother feels that not only her own health but that of her unborn child is at risk, and the distress can be great indeed. Rebekah here showed a little of her Syrian thinking, the human thinking that comes naturally to each of us, for how else have the blessings of God ever come except by great trial, by pain and anguish? Happiness we may have without great suffering, but deep abiding joy is born from wrenching agony: “weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning” (Psa 30:5). God ordained that it be so. We are shown Christ’s tears in the garden of Gethsemane, and remember his thrashing, and his crucifixion, to bring us the greatest of all blessings, the forgiveness of sins. God is working in the lives of each of us to develop our characters. It is a painful process, but may we never question God’s wisdom. To ask “Why?” is unwise. Instead, faith and patient waiting upon the unfailing mercy of God will bring us courage to endure to the end (Matt 24:13).

Rebekah was also feeling within her the tremendous turmoil between the mind of the flesh and the mind of the spirit. The enmity that would arise between these two boys would be because of divine principles. Yahweh said to her, “Two nations are in thy womb.” This was not merely telling her that she would give birth to twins, but that the two would be distinctly different, each representing the opposing forces first seen in Eden. When Esau was born, he appeared red and hairy, as though fully mature. He was a man of the flesh, and there was no other influence that developed his character. Jacob, however, appeared as a child, and was able to grow and mature through the family that surrounded him to be the Prince with God.

With two growing boys in the house, we would expect to read of Isaac and Rebekah bringing up both of them in ways of faith and humility: but the two parents formed different attitudes to their children.

Isaac loved Esau, perhaps because Esau’s natural abilities mirrored Isaac’s private dreams. Isaac, the quiet, unassuming, God-fearing man, loved the wild man of the field, the great hunter. Rebekah loved Jacob because of the promise, “the elder shall serve the younger.” Her agony was never forgotten. These preferences created friction, and in one of the loveliest marriages recorded in the Bible, their children nearly tore them apart.

Rebekah deceives Isaac

The time came when Isaac’s health was failing, and although in fact he had many more years to live, he thought he was soon to die. He wished to bless his son Esau. Rebekah “heard” Isaac’s instructions to Esau. In fact, she was listening in. They were at a point in their marriage where the friction between them made open conversation difficult. Rebekah was still Syrian: she didn’t miss anything going on in the household. Esau sauntered off to hunt, Isaac settled down to wait patiently, and Rebekah now frantically plotted against her husband. This is surely the lowest point in their relationship. How could she forget Yahweh’s overriding hand? How could she justify deceiving her own husband, and implicating her son in this dishonour? Intense love produces intense jealousy. “Every wise woman buildeth her house, but the foolish plucketh it up with her hands”, and Rebekah’s actions helped to destroy the family unit for ever.

When Rebekah called Jacob to her she trapped him, also, in her noose. She instructed him in the cleverness of Syria, and told him to obey her. No reasons are given, and in fact Rebekah herself may have struggled to justify her actions had she stopped to think about it. Suddenly it seemed imperative to help God bless the right son.

Although we are not obliged to give our children reasons for our decisions regarding them, it is wise to be sure ourselves that we do have valid reasons. Children who know that their parents are directing them carefully along God’s path will learn to trust and obey.

Rebekah heard Isaac speak to Esau, his son, and she in turn spoke to Jacob, her son. She told him of Isaac’s conversation. Not the exact words of the conversation – just enough of it, and told, twisted in just the way to make it sound urgent, and to appeal to Jacob’s emotions. Isaac never offered to bless Esau “before Yahweh” – that would have been meaningless to a godless man – but Rebekah used this phrase to snare Jacob. Yahweh’s blessing could go the wrong way! It was perhaps not exactly a falsehood, just not exactly true either.

An exaggeration, or embellishment, or a twisting of the truth is so easy when we are emotionally charged over an issue, but how much wiser we would be, and Rebekah would have been, to allow God to determine the course of events. God had sworn by Himself. He would fulfil His promises. Trust Him! “Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?” (Gen 18:25). When we get anxious about a matter about which the Scripture is plain, or feel an urge to take personal control in a crisis, we should remember the words of Hosea, as the prophet reflected on Jacob’s life: “Therefore turn thou to thy God: keep mercy and judgment, and wait on thy God continually” (Hos 12:6). God loves people to wait upon Him in full confidence. “Say not thou, I will recompense evil; but wait on Yahweh, and he shall save thee” (Prov 20:22).

We know what happened at this point. Rebekah prepared the kids (her excellent culinary skills were able to disguise goat as venison), and Isaac, though perplexed, blessed Jacob: not, we may note, with the full Abrahamic promise but with a natural blessing, and with the promise of lordship over his brother.

When the deception was revealed, Isaac uttered no words of incrimination against his wife or son. He realised that God had caught him in his sin, and he feared and trembled, humbled completely by the unexpected turn of events which he had also tried to mastermind.

Rebekah then heard words which Esau spoke only in his heart. It was written on his face. She was perceptive in things of the flesh, and her motherly intuition made her urge Jacob to flee for his life. Again she told her son to obey her unquestioningly.

Isaac and Rebekah reconciled

With Isaac humbled, Esau nursing his bitterness, and Jacob watching his every step, Rebekah took a step towards reconciliation with Isaac. Any marriage can experience times of sharp disagreement, and one partner needs to swallow their pride and bridge the gulf. Rebekah could have said, “You were wrong”, and with that sort of accusation ringing in one’s ears, who could help retorting in kind? But Rebekah searched and found the things on which they agreed. They were both passionate in their love of God and in wanting the best for their sons. They were both in despair about Esau’s wives. The Canaanite women had grieved them to the soul. This was not to be for Jacob: on this they were in absolute unison. Once they had got to a point of agreement, the tensions lessened, and they were finally united again, pulled together by their shared love of God and His purpose. Together they determined to press forward toward its fulfilment.

Isaac took the lead, and calling Jacob to him, told him to go. Jacob went: and we know that his devoted mother never saw her beloved son again. Her dishonouring of her husband had twisted the family to breaking point, and now she had to live with the consequences.

Rebekah was the raw material of Syria, worked upon by God’s hand, nurtured by her husband, and matured by faith. She lies in the Cave of Machpelah with Abraham and Sarah, with Isaac her beloved husband, and finally with Jacob and Leah, awaiting the coming of her greatest son, the true seed of the promise, our Lord Jesus Christ.