During the first 20 years of marriage, Isaac and Rebekah had no children. Isaac prayed to God on behalf of Rebekah because she was barren, and God answered Isaac’s prayer. Rebekah became pregnant (Genesis 25:21- ); however, the pregnancy was difficult. When Rebekah asked God why the baby was so active, God told her that she was having twins. From the twins would come two nations and “the older will serve the younger” (Genesis 25:23). Rebekah gave birth to twin boys named Esau and Jacob.
As Esau and Jacob grew, they developed two different temperaments. Esau enjoyed spending time in the open country; he became a skilled hunter. In contrast, Jacob was a quiet man, often staying among the tents. Isaac had a taste for wild game and loved Esau who provided the meat for him. In contrast, Rebekah loved Jacob. This is the first time that the Bible recorded that Rebekah loved anyone. Her love was given not to her husband, nor to her first born son, but to her second born son, Jacob. Perhaps Rebekah’s preference was related to Jacob being a “homebody” or his resemblance to Isaac whom she first saw in a field meditating. Alternatively, Rebekah’s preference may have been related to God’s revelation that her older son would serve the younger. Whatever the reasons Rebekah created to or added to a family environment where favoritism and partiality reigned.
Jacob envied Esau’s right of the first born. One day, Esau returned to camp after a time away in the open fields, probably hunting. Esau saw Jacob cooking red lentil stew. Identifying that he was famished, Esau asked his brother for some stew. Jacob’s response was that he would give Esau the stew only if Esau swore an oath to trade his birthright for the stew. In ancient near east cultures, the law of primogeniture prevailed (Deuteronomy 21:17). This law allocated a double portion of the father’s wealth to the first born son who would be the next head of the family or clan. As the first born, Esau was to receive two-thirds of Isaac wealth. More importantly, Esau would have been the ancestor of the Messiah. Apparently, Esau could care less about his birthright and willingly traded it for something to eat. At no point did the Bible record that Rebekah influenced Jacob proposal that Esau trade his birthright for lentil stew; however, as we learn how she connived to get Isaac’s blessing for Jacob, we see her handprint in the birthright exchange. Perhaps it was she who suggested the exchange to Jacob; both knew that Esau returned from his hunting trip famished.
When old and his sight diminished, Isaac determined to pass his blessing to Esau. He called Esau to him and directed Esau to hunt for wild game, then to prepare a stew. As Isaac and Esau shared a meal, Isaac planned to pass his paternal blessing to his first born son. Rebekah overheard Isaac directions to Esau and cunningly devised an alternative plan. She instructed Jacob to bring her two choice young goats. From the goats, Rebekah planned to prepare a savory stew. Jacob – rather than Esau – could take the stew to Isaac. As they ate together, Isaac would give his blessing to Jacob rather than Esau. When Jacob heard Rebekah’s plan, he pointed out its flaws, i.e., Esau was hairy while Jacob’s skin was smooth. If Isaac touched Jacob, he would know that the man eating with him was not Esau. Jacob reluctance to masquerade as Esau to get Isaac’s blessing was not because of any sense of right and wrong. Instead, Jacob was afraid that Isaac would catch him in the deception and curse rather than bless him.
What happened next shows the depth of Rebekah’s determination that Jacob, rather than Esau, obtain the privileges of the first born son. Rebekah declared, “My son, let the curse fall on me. Just do what I say” (Genesis 27:13). Rebekah was willing to accept any negative consequences or curses that resulted from Jacob’s deception. Jacob obeyed Rebekah and brought her two goats to cook into stew. Rebekah put Esau’s clothes on Jacob and covered his hand and neck with goat skins. She handed Jacob the tasty food and bread to take to Isaac.
Although Isaac felt something was not right, he ate the stew and drank some wine. To his discredit, Jacob played the role which Rebekah drilled into him with masterly skill. The deceived Isaac bestowed his unalterable blessing upon Jacob. By fraud, Jacob became the father of Israel’s race. Soon after Jacob left Isaac, Esau came to Isaac with wild game stew. Both Isaac and Esau realized Jacob’s deception; but, neither identified that Rebekah was in any way culpable for Jacob’s devious act in taking Isaac’s blessing from Esau. Although Isaac may not have been able to conceive that his wife had a role to play in Jacob’s action, likely Esau considered the possibility, abet silently.
As expected Esau held a grudge against Jacob. He was so angry that he determined to kill Jacob after Isaac died.
When Rebekah heard Esau’s plan to kill Jacob, she devised still another plan i.e., she would have Isaac send Jacob to her brother in Paddan Aram. Rebekah implemented her plan by complaining to Isaac that she could not stand Esau’s Hittite wives. She told Isaac that if Jacob married a Hittite woman, her own life would not be worth living. In response to Rebekah’s complaint, Isaac sent Jacob to Paddan Aram and told him to marry daughters of Laban, Rebekah’s brother. Paddan Aram was over 500 miles away from Beersheba where Isaac made his home, a distance too far away for Esau to have ready access to Jacob to cause him harm or kill him.
Jacob’s destiny and behavior was strongly influenced by Rebehah’s strong mindedness. Her love for him was more important than any feelings for her husband Isaac, Isaac’s preferences, or Isaac’s plans. Although she could not displace Esau in Isaac’s regard, she had no reluctance to act to get Isaac’s blessing for Jacob. Her plan was disloyal to her husband and hazardous to herself, i.e., she willingly took any curse that Isaac would issue onto her.
Some writers have suggested that Rebekah was justified in her actions because God told her that her older son would serve the younger (Zondervan 1988). After all, Rebekah actions furthered God’s declaration. In reality, God didn’t need help from Rebekah to achieve his ends. By using deceit to obtain Isaac’s blessing for Jacob, Rebekah may have lost or lessened her husband’s love and regard. Certainly, Rebekah lost Esau’s affection and desire to please his mother by her obvious preference for Jacob.
Rebekah’s craftiness caused the hasty departure of Jacob from the family home. Sometime in the 20 year period when Jacob lived in Paddan Aram, Rebekah died. This autocratic matriarch died without seeing her favorite son again. Isaac was in his eighth decade when Jacob returned from Paddan Aram. Rebekah, about 25 years younger than her husband, would have been no more than 55 years of age. Perhaps part of the reason for her early death was loss of her favorite child.
If you are interested in reading about other Mother-Son relationships in the Bible, please check out my book Lesser Known Bible Characters at http://www.RootedinGod.com.
Copyright: March 20, 2016; Carolyn A. Roth