Monday, November 2, 2015
Rebekah - don't play favorites!
Last week, we studied the "first chapter" of Rebekah's life that is detailed in the Bible. We saw that she was willing to serve others, and willing to go where God leads. This week we will see a different Rebekah -- one who is not quite on the same track that she was before. This Rebekah wants to take her future in her hands and make sure it turns out the way she wants it to!
First, we'll look at the background for our story . . . when she became Isaac's wife, how did things go?
Let's look at chapter 25 of Genesis:
Isaac loved Rebekah, but for the first twenty years of their marriage, they had no children. Isaac turned to God for help. He prayed, and God answered his prayer. During her pregnancy, Rebekah began to suspect something unusual was happening: there was more movement in her womb than would be expected. It was so unusual that she went to ask the Lord about it. (We don't know if she went to a prophet or if she simply prayed to the Lord herself. We don't know how God chose to answer, either; it could have been a prophet's words, or a vision or dream.
God told the expectant mother that she was going to have twins -- twins with very different personalities. They would end up going in different directions and founding two different nations. (She had advance warning of family conflict, no?) One of the two would be stronger, but the most important part was this: the older child would serve the younger. In other words, control of the family, leadership, would pass on to the second-born. The right to lead the family is generally referred to as "the blessing." That's different from the "birthright." The birthright is the double portion of the inheritance when the father dies.
Sounds a lot like what happened between Ishmael and Isaac, right? Even though Ishmael was Abraham's first-born son, the birthright and the blessing both went to Isaac. The general rule of the day was that the blessing went to the first-born, but it didn't happen that way all the time. God, in His omniscience, looks at things differently from the way humans do. (You might want to check out Romans 9:10-16 to see more of this story.) God foresaw that the blessing would need to follow the second-born son.
Rebekah must have told this to Isaac, after she received this message from God. Isaac would have been aware of God's choice, but over time, he began to favor his eldest son. Perhaps because of her knowledge that the younger son was God's choice for the blessing, or perhaps to counterbalance her husband's favoritism, Rebekah favored the second-born. (Cue the ominous music here.)
The first boy to be born was covered with reddish hair, so he was named "Esau" which means "hairy." The second boy was born holding onto his brother's heel, and they named him "Jacob," which means "grasping the heel." As the boys grew, Esau became an outdoorsy kind of guy, and a famed hunter. Unfortunately, the fame must have gone to his head a bit, because he also started sleeping around, as they say. He treated righteous living with contempt, according to Hebrews 12. Jacob, on the other hand, was described as a plain and peaceable man; the Hebrew word means a "complete" man. He grew up to be spiritually mature.
Surprisingly, in spite of these traits that he could easily see, Isaac is partial to Esau. Apparently it's not because of his habits with the ladies, but because of the taste of the food that Esau brought him after a hunt. At the same time, Rebekah was partial to Jacob. In this era, we have seen that the eldest son was the one who would receive that double portion of the birthright. The eldest would also receive the blessing which signaled the leadership role after the father's death. It was even more important in this family, for it was the line of the covenant that God made with Abraham. Keep that in mind . . .
One day, Esau comes back from the hunt, and he is really hungry. Perhaps this has been one occasion that he did not have a successful hunt. Seeing the red-bean stew that Jacob was cooking, he begs his brother for a bowl. (The Hebrew words here are very interesting, for they mean that Esau asked to gulp down some of that red stuff!) He is so impatient that he doesn't care what he has to eat; he just knows that he wants something right now! Whether in earnest or as a joke, Jacob offers him a bowl in exchange for Esau's birthright. Here's the shocker -- Esau says OK!
Isaac is an extremely prosperous man. Esau's birthright must have been worth millions in today's dollars, but he casually gives it away for a bowl of stew. Either he thought Jacob was joking, or he had a total disregard for his own life - maybe he figured with his bad habits, he wouldn't live long. At any rate, when Jacob realizes that his twin is serious, he makes Esau take a vow: a formal, you-can't-get-out-of-this agreement. Many people condemn Jacob for this, and say that Jacob took advantage of his brother. Perhaps Jacob should not have asked for the birthright, but Esau should not have disrespected the privilege, and sold it for a bowl of food.
Because of this incident, Esau picks up a nickname: Edom. It means red, and was a constant reminder of his despising his own inheritance enough to sell it for a bowl of stew. He never lived it down, either. The nation that was formed from his descendants was known as Edom. Later the family moves to a different location because of the search for a good water supply. Esau chooses two wives from the idolatrous Hittites, and they are a source of grief and worry to Rebekah and Isaac.
Next time we'll see that even though God has told them that the older shall serve the younger, Isaac tries to give the blessing to his favorite. And Rebekah overhears, and is determined for her favorite to be blessed.
We'll see how that worked out for them.