A Cry For Justice

Awakening the Evangelical Church to Domestic Violence and Abuse in its Midst

Rebekah: The Guardian and Protector of Israel – by Anne Vyn

I’ve grown up in the church all my life and have always heard Rebekah talked about in a negative light. Teachers and leaders have called her manipulative, deceptive, and lacking in submission to God and to her husband. Tradition has not been kind to Rebekah and I believe she is one of the most misrepresented and misunderstood women of the Bible.

I hereby dedicate this post to my hero and to my mentor, Rebekah. This is my tribute to how I believe the biblical story intended her to be seen, not as a symbol of perfection but as a woman who, like King David, panted after the heart of God. She was a woman who longed to live before an Audience of One and who actually served one of the most significant roles in protecting the nation of Israel (Jacob) in its very formative stages.

 

Here are 8 observations about Rebekah that have captured my heart:

Observation #1: Where God imparts knowledge, he also imparts responsibility

The word of the Lord comes to the very pregnant Rebekah: ”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.”

Important point to notice here: It’s Rebekah who hears from the Lord, not Isaac. The biblical pattern reveals that whoever hears the word of the Lord is directly responsible to the knowledge He gives. Rebekah can’t delegate responsibility or simply ignore this information. The living God had chosen to speak to her and, like Jesus’ mother Mary, Rebekah hid these words in her heart and waited. The narrative doesn’t tell us whether Rebekah actually told Isaac what God told her…perhaps she did…perhaps she didn’t. But the story does reveal Isaac as being a father who favoured Esau. Esau, the older son, who willfully chose pagan wives, the son who was a sexually immoral and profane man ,”who sold his inheritance for a single meal”. (Heb. 12:16)

Observation #2: God has a long-standing-tradition of turning TRADITION upside down

In Matthew 15:9 , Jesus rebukes the religious leaders for “teaching as doctrine the traditions/commandments of men.” Rebekah clearly didn’t have an infatuation with “Tradition.” Primogeniture (the tradition which ensured special rights to her firstborn) did not prevent her from approving of God’s choice to give the inheritance blessing to her second-born son. For whatever reason, Isaac, the father of the twins, was intent on holding fast to tradition. He favoured his oldest son and set his heart on blessing his firstborn. But he was wrong and needs to be seen as going against what God had decreed!! Genesis 25- 27 reveals Isaac’s ongoing resistance thereby setting the stage for the necessity of Rebekah’s intervention.

Observation #3: The Providence of God is working on behalf of Jacob and Rebekah

It’s important to notice the subtle little clues that point to how God is providentially assisting Rebekah. Just like in the story of Esther, the author of the Genesis narrative strategically drops implicit clues which reveal how God is at work behind the scenes. A huge “providential” moment occurs in Genesis 27:5 when the narrative mentions “Rebekah was listening as Isaac spoke to Esau” about going out to kill some game. She hears the final instructions in Isaac’s plan as he determines to give the blessing to Esau. If Rebekah had not overheard Isaac’s words, this story would have unfolded quite differently so it’s important that we attribute this moment of “knowledge” as coming from God himself. It confirmed to her that Isaac was still refusing to see Jacob as the son of God’s choosing. If she had been prone to giving Isaac “the benefit of the doubt”, this knowledge was a game changer and it immediately mobilized her into action.

Observation #4: Isaac the manipulator and Rebekah the facilitator

It’s important for the reader to recognize how it was actually Isaac who was trying to manipulate God’s blessing onto his favourite son. Even if Isaac was not aware of what God had spoken to Rebekah, he would have known about Esau’s wicked behaviour which would have been obvious to the whole community. Isaac’s favouritism had completely blinded him (in more ways than one) from seeing the truth. By the time we reach Genesis 27, Rebekah’s role of waiting, listening, and observing had come to its awaited end. Now it was time for her faith to take an active role of facilitating and overseeing the purposes of God by ensuring that the rightful recipient, of God’s choosing, received God’s blessing.

Observation #5: Biblical women of courage and valour were not afraid to take risks and get their hands dirty

As we follow Rebekah through Genesis 27: 5-13, as she dresses Jacob with the hairy skin of 2 young goats, it’s helpful to interpret her actions through the lenses of other OT stories like Abigail, Jael, Deborah, and Rahab. These are all unconventional women who did extraordinary things for God and his people. All of these women had undivided hearts. They knew what it meant to serve only ONE Master and to look beyond the faces of husbands, family, and society in order to listen to the voice of their King.

Observation #6: The name “Jacob” does not mean “deceiver”

It’s important to qualify the meaning of Jacob’s name, which means to “supplant, undermine, the heel.” Tradition has often dictated to us that Jacob’s name means “deceiver”, thereby implying what he and his mother did was wrong. However, once we can rightfully define his name beyond the label of “deceiver”, we are free to see the actual meaning: how God “supplanted” Esau with Jacob, how God “undermined” Isaac’s intent with Rebekah’s plan, and how the “heel” of Israel (Jacob) would crush the serpent’s head(Gene. 3:15).

Contrary to what tradition has taught us, nowhere is Jacob, or Rebekah, ever rebuked for doing what needed to be done. In fact, the very opposite is true (as will be seen in observation #7.) The only accusatory definition of “deceiver” that seems to gets quoted and retweeted as “truth” are the words of a very angry and disappointed Isaac when he realizes that his dream of blessing Esau has come to naught: ”Trembling violently”, Isaac spits out these words with bitterness and defeat: “Your brother came deceitfully, and he has taken away your blessing.” And notice that Isaac calls it “your” blessing….another reminder that after all is said and done, Isaac still doesn’t get it!

Observation #7: Rebekah’s greatest honour is given by the apostle Paul as he affirms her actions and claims her words as his own

It’s not until we read the New Testament version of Rebekah’s story that we can see how God’s plan has unfolded. Paul will help us connect the dots in order to see the dominant role Rebekah has played in accomplishing God’s purposes for Israel. Paul bathes her story with redemptive insights as the mystery is unveiled before our very eyes.

But before we jump to what Paul says about Rebekah, let’s look at what Rebekah says to Jacob when they are just about to execute the plan of securing the blessing from Isaac. Jacob asks his mother, (in 27:12), “What if my father touches me? I would appear to be tricking him and would bring down a curse on myself”.

But Rebekah responds by saying: ”My son, let the curse fall on me. Just do what I say…”

Now listen to what Paul says in Romans 9:1-13, the passage directly connected to Genesis 27:13:

“For I could wish that I myself were cursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, those of my own race, the people of Israel.…”

Notice how Paul and Rebekah are both willing to take “the curse” for Israel. Do you see the connection? Paul is talking about Rebekah’s Jacob here!! It’s HER son, and Jacob’s people, who will inherit the blessings “of Israel”. Jacob’s name would be changed to”Israel” and it would be from his lineage that the Saviour was born. Can you begin to understand why Rebekah was SO intentional in making sure the blessing went to Israel, and not to Esau?

When Paul takes on Rebekah’s language, wishing that he could be cursed so that Israel might be blessed, he is intentionally reaching back into Rebekah’s story. Here is a summary of what I believe his declaration would have sounded like to the New Covenant Community:

“I would have done exactly what Rebekah did. She knew what needed to be done and she did it!!! Courageously!! Sacrificially!! Lovingly!! If I had been in her shoes, knowing what she knew, I would have done anything to make sure that Jacob received God’s blessing. I, too, would have risked being cursed. She had the same love for Israel that I have. She had the same love that Jesus had when he took the curse for sinners upon the Cross. This was her finest moment! Rebekah was willing to be cursed so that her son would walk in God’s blessing. There is no greater love than this!!!”

And then Paul wraps up his accolades for Rebekah in verse 10 when he endearingly calls the twins “Rebekah’s children”. If Paul had wanted to rebuke her for her actions, or reprimand her for insubordination, this would have been the place to do it. But not so. Instead Paul sings her praises with every mention of Israel upon his lips.

Observation #8: Rebekah’s strong desire to see Jacob/Israel walk in God’s blessing

Returning to Genesis 27, there is one more significant detail in the narrative that demonstrates Rebekah’s protective oversight for the son whom God had chosen. Once again, as God’s “providence” would have it, Rebekah hears (from an unmentioned source) of Esau’s plans to kill Jacob as soon as Isaac dies. Rebekah shifts quickly into protective mode as she notifies Jacob that he is danger and must prepare to leave home.

Not only is Rebekah aware of Jacob’s physical danger but she is also aware of the spiritual dangers he will face if he remains. She takes her concerns to Isaac in 27: 46: “I’m disgusted with living because of these Hittite women. If Jacob takes a wife from among women of this land, from Hittite women like these, my life will not be worth living.”

This was not an offhand comment made by a depressed and grumbling wife. Rather, these words reflect a holy hatred for the same behaviours that God hated. Her words reflect a zealous heart that yearned for Jacob to marry “in the Lord”, that he might choose a wife with a godly heritage so that the blessings and promises of God would NOT be hindered by disobedience and ungodliness.

In conclusion:

As I reflect upon the amazing courage and spiritual leadership displayed by Rebekah throughout this story, I am convinced the church needs to read this story with new eyes. Our voices need to join with the apostle Paul in affirming Rebekah, not condemning her. Traditional interpretations must never have the final say!

Like Wilberforce, Martin Luther King, and Bonhoeffer, Rebekah has brought surprising clarity to what it means to live courageously, obediently, and radically as a woman who loves the Lord. She is a patient revolutionist who continues to inspire me to live for the glory of God alone.

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We are grateful to CBE for giving us permission to republish this post.
Find it at CBE here: Rebekah: The Guardian and Protector of Israel

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26 Comments

  1. LH

    I had an “aha” moment reading this article: I remember in a Bible study on 2 Kings years ago, the pastor pointing out that Satan was working thru Athaliah, when she tried to kill all her grandsons, to thwart God’s promise to David and that he would always have a son on his throne, and thereby kill Jesus’s family line. In the story of Esau wanting to kill Jacob we see similar thing happening – God had promised Abraham that the whole world would be blessed thru his family (ultimately Jesus), and that family is to be continued thru Jacob, but Esau wants to kill off the chosen family line.

  2. TuffEnuff

    I have never ever thought of Rebekah in this light before. And it is so true. And this post is an answer to the doubts I have been having.

    Having separated from my spouse but not yet filed paperwork, my adult children have disfellowshipped me because “God hates divorce” and the marriage covenant is permanent, and only for adultery. And my spouse immediately went running to the elders of our church and they responded as he hoped they would. After a three-hour meeting with one elder and him telling me his heart broke over what I had lived through, the only question he had for me was: Do you think you can reconcile? This elder continues to text me and wants him and me and the spouse to have lunch, what do I see as the outcome of my relationship, and checking on my whereabouts every Sunday (I have attended other congregations to avoid the spouse).

    I am feeling very beleaguered despite being “ready” for what was coming my way. Always the doubts of am I doing God’s will. Am I causing my adult children to stumble. Do I have anything left to live for if my children disappear from my life and my church turns it back on me. And so, reading examples of women who followed God rather than tradition helps me to continue pressing on.

    • Hi TuffEnuff, we call this ‘running the gauntlet’ of post-separation abuse from the abuser and the Pharisaic church. You are running well, and I encourage you to not be hard on yourself for feeling beleagured. You ARE being beleagured, especially by that elder and your adult children. They are all in the fog about the nature and dynamics of abuse.

      Really, society as a whole is in this fog, and the church moreso than many other sectors of society. Even workers in the domestic abuse field (shelter workers, counselors, court officials, etc) are very often in the fog, or only partially out of the fog. For myself, even though I’ve been immersed in this field for years as a writer and voluntary victim-advocate, I am still finding that the fog is being cleared away more in my own mind. It’s an ongoing process.

      You’ve very likely looked at a lot of the stuff on our blog site already, but you might like to re-check our FAQ page, especially for topics that you might want to use to bolster yourself against those false accusations your children are making at you, and the weasel words that elder is saying to you. You might also find stuff there which you might decide to use to actively rebut their arguments, i.e. to tell them in no uncertain words that their thinking and their judgements are wrong.

      • Raped By Evil

        TuffEnuff, I want to reiterate what Barbara said and to assure you that you are running well –and in the right direction– away. Also what Barb said about how the fog continues to clear as time goes by and we continue to willingly stay away from known abusers. Thank you again Barb!

        Just a few things to think about. In my life, once God started waking me up and once I was fully awake to the truth about evil in human form, and as I looked back at things I’d read by people who were years ahead of me regarding this truth, I was SO GRATEFUL FOR THEM AND SO PROUD OF THEM TOO! These people spoke the truth and left marriages and stood alone for quite a while when they knew they could no longer live shackled to the devil, pretending to be in a give-and-take relationship with him, even though they knew many would blame them or not help them.

        You’re worried about your children’s walk with Jesus being harmed by your leaving your marriage. YOU are following JESUS when you leave an abuser and as such you are walking hand in hand with Him (Jesus). Jesus himself will direct your precious feet as He will open their eyes to His truth — if they are His and if they want to see it. (People who are wilfully blind can’t see anything.) Like me looking back at those beautiful people who walked in my footsteps years before me, who wrote it down for me to let me see the truth more clearly, you are doing right and good and beautiful things (and oh so BRAVE) and in time, if they are His, they will see it too and be SO PROUD AND GRATEFUL FOR YOU — because they’ll see that it was actually biblically right to do. (Don’t count on this happening anytime soon or with everyone–this is hardcore truth that many refuse to see.)

        You are not alone as you venture forth and this website is a great place to come to be reminded of God’s truth and to be refreshed.

        As most of us here know, it is not a symbiotic relationship we have with an abuser and it ONLY WORKS if WE are willing to give up OUR ENTIRE LIFE AND SOUL EVERY MINUTE OF EVERYDAY OVER AND OVER AND GROVEL AT THEIR FEET. This is what the evil one asked Jesus to do in order to “have it all” but Jesus KNEW what the devil asked of him was nothing more than an evil lie and that there would be NO LIFE for him if he acquiesced to him. Just as you realize there will be no life worth living for you if you remain.

        …the devil….showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor. “All this I will give you,” he said, “if you will bow down and worship me.” Matthew 4:8-9.

        “All will be well if you stay with a child who belongs to the devil…all you have to do is bow down and worship him……,” and it’s the same principle here and Jesus was brave and right to say “No!” to this just as those of us who leave the abusers in our lives are doing what is right and good in God’s eyes. I pray that you see that you are not harming your children’s walk with Jesus but actually representing Him beautifully!

        You are loved, and you are not — even for one second — alone when you belong to Jesus…

      • TuffEnuff

        Thank you, Barbara and Raped by Evil for your enormously insightful comments.

      • Thanks TuffEnuff 🙂

        We didn’t publish the link you gave because in our view it teaches several things we don’t agree with.

        You might like to check out our pages about projection, codependency, and this comment I made to Flo.

    • Sorrowful

      I spoke to a good friend about my situation for the first time the other night. She is also friends with my husband and she and her husband have looked up to us over the years. She listened and believed, but her heart is so set on reconciliation. I would not be against it if I felt God’s leading there, but being in the wasteland now, reconciliation is not at all on the horizon. I dread being viewed as the hard-hearted deserter if that’s where it ends up. But my heart is likewise panting after God. I will do what he shall have me do. I am just waiting to see what that is, exactly. It’s unfortunate that so many people will not see that.

      • Dear Sorrowful, it is quite likely you will end up being viewed as the hard-hearted deserter. But I encourage you to remember this: Those who view you that way will be blind allies of abusers who are in the fog — the fog that the abusers of this world have put the whole world in. And some of those who depict you as the hard-hearted deserter will be abusers themselves.

        Your female friend doesn’t sound like she is an abuser, she sounds like she is just in the fog like most people are — not seeing that they are in a fog that, collectively, the abusers have created so that the decent people of this world do not see how intentionally and covertly abusers exercise power and control over the minds of others — including the minds of the bystanders.

      • Sorrowful

        Yes, she most certainly is not an abuser. She was broken by the things I told her and she cried her heart out to God in a most wonderful prayer. I feel blessed to have her as my prayer ally, if nothing else.

    • Renewed Spirit

      Similar situation here except I am under church discipline for refusing to reconcile.

      I’m coming to the conclusion in the long run it is better for the children to see you set boundaries. It’s natural they want the ‘brokenness’ to ‘stop’ but the lessons learned will benefit them.

  3. Lily

    Thank you so much for this. I have long been cringing when people say Isaac and Jacob are such deceivers (and David, etc.). It seems to be in style in the churches to diss the heroes of the faith as much as possible. Is that to make us feel better that maybe we’re not as bad as THAT guy? It says clearly twice in the Bible, “Jacob have I loved, Esau have I hated”. And that Esau valued his birthright so little that he nearly gave it away. Yet people feel sorry for him because ‘the poor guy was SO hungry. Jacob took advantage of him.” Apparently God doesn’t think that.

    Have we become so entitled to not being uncomfortable that we make excuses for people on that basis? Several years ago the Lord said to me, “No more excuses”, that I shouldn’t accept excuses from him nor make excuses in my mind for him, or for myself, in not doing what is right. That in itself has made a huge difference around here, as well as in our other relationships.

  4. Leah

    This is excellent! I see this Biblical record with new eyes. This blessed me. Thanks!

  5. Dave

    Thank you for posting this article to address an often-misunderstood story. It has always concerned me how many people misinterpret the narrative. Over the years I have occasionally taken a Sunday school class to teach that the villains of this story are not a controlling mother (Rebekah) and a deceiving son (Jacob), but rather a selfish father (Isaac) and a spiritually disinterested son (Esau).

    God made it clear from before birth that Jacob was to inherit the promise to Abraham’s descendants, not Esau. So in God’s eyes, Jacob should have received the blessing, which should have settled the issue for Isaac. Additionally, as a young man, Esau sold his birthright to Jacob for a pot of stew, so by human convention Jacob should have received the blessing as well. That should have reinforced the issue for Isaac.

    However, Isaac still planned to give the blessing to Esau anyway, because he favored Esau for solely selfish reasons, enjoying eating the game that Esau hunted. This was wrong in God’s eyes and wrong by human measuring. It was disobedience by Isaac. Rebekah acted faithfully to honor God’s plan and to prevent this wrong from occurring, and instructed Jacob what to do.

    In this story, Rebekah acted righteously, and stepped in to keep her husband from sinning against God and to prevent a significant wrong from occurring. In no way did she “overstep her bounds.” She should be praised and remembered for her faithfulness.

    • Thanks Dave! How wonderful to know that a man’s been teaching this interpretation in Sunday School classes!

      And what does it say about the majority of church leaders and teachers who have failed to see how righteous (and brave!) Rebekah was? I think it is one more piece of evidence that the church has been dominated by blind and biased leaders – (mostly men) who think that the selfish Isaacs of this world are fine, and who think that the brave, godly, Rebekahs of this world who resist selfish men are being controlling and manipulative.

      • Dave

        The unfortunate thing is, I wouldn’t even call this an “interpretation” of the passage per se. I simply take it as the clear meaning when one does a plain reading of the entire text, and considers everything that led up to this point. In fact, I think one would have to do some expository contortions to turn things around to where Rebekah would be put in a negative light.

    • Oh and Dave, welcome to the blog 🙂

      We like to encourage new readers to check out our New Users’ Info page as it gives tips for how to guard your safety while commenting on the blog.

      And after reading the New Users’ Info page, I suggest you look at our FAQs.

  6. David

    Everett Fox translates “Yakov” (Jacob) as meaning “heel-sneak” referring to his being born holding his brother’s heel, NOT to him being a deceiver.

    Messianic Rabbi John Fisher also put a nail in the coffin of him being a “deceiver” in reference to the transfer of the birthright. While Jacob prepared a lentil soup, his famished brother came in and wanted the “red stuff” probably thinking it was a blood soup, the food of hunters. Their bargain was COMPLETELY above board with Esav knowing EXACTLY what he was trading away. The birthright mandated the care for elderly parents, and Esav was not a home-body.

    As to Rivka’s (Rebekah) part in the blessing “deception,” it was following the transaction already done between Jacob and Esav. (which Isaac may not have been aware of) That made it entirely proper.

  7. Kay

    Wow! What a profound interpretation of this old story! I agree with LH. This was aha moment for me too.

  8. Eagerlabs

    Great article thank you!:)

  9. Raped By Evil

    I cried when I read this. I was SO GRATEFUL!

    I’m always so grateful when God’s word is opened up more deeply to me and this comes from those who truly belong to him sharing what He’s shown them through His word and in their lives.

    So, SO GOOD! Thank you so much for posting this!

  10. Clockwork Angel

    I think you will all be interested to know that you are not alone in interpreting Rebekah and Jacob’s actions as noble and in obedience to God. This was the common interpretation going back to both the Jewish expositors and the church fathers (Chrysostom, Jerome, etc.), and stretching all the way to the Reformers (Luther and Calvin included). At some point, this once common interpretation was displaced with Jacob being an evil liar and Rebekah being a manipulative mother. I think it would be interesting to see when that shift in interpretation occurred and became popularized. Who made it so trendy, and why? Did no one challenge this new interpretation when it arose? At any rate, I am glad to see it challenged now. Great post!

  11. healinginhim

    Thank you for posting this. Much needed untwisting of Scriptures, again!

  12. BreatheAgain

    All I can say is THANK YOU for posting this. One of the most encouraging and affirming things I have EVER read.

  13. BreatheAgain

    This especially affirms me in my role of protecting my son from abuse by his dad. Wow…it brought me to tears immediately. What a huge blessing.

  14. Gany T.

    I never heard this view before – so helpful! Thank you for publishing it.

  15. Thank you for posting this enlightening and truth filled article. Yes, she has always been painted as a deceiver not as a spirit led guardian of Israel and the lineage of Christ! That is right that God’s word came to her! Fascinating and yet in keeping with the biblical theme of God chosing a separate people for his own, blessing them & fulfilling the promise to send a redeemer to his own through her line! So amazing is Emmanuel’s love toward us shown through Rebekah!

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