Biblical Portraits: Rebecca (3)

 

My dear readers, you probably think that by now, the most exciting part of our story is over: our heroes have now met, and this initial meeting went very well—the girl even fell down from the camel when she saw her bridegroom for the first time—clearly she was very impressed by him, so what else could we expect from this story? But I can assure you that there are still some very interesting details to be found here, so let’s continue drawing our biblical portrait—let’s keep watching Isaac and Rebecca.

The Story of Love

We already know that this story, before it became a story of love, was first a story of faith, and now we can really witness this amazing transformation: the story of faith becomes the story of love. The whole of Genesis 24 expressed the faith of different people—Abraham, his servant, Rebecca—but at the end of this long and eventful chapter, after everything that has transpired so far, we read:

Then Isaac brought her into his mother Sarah’s tent; and he took Rebekah and she became his wife, and he loved her (יֶּאֱהָבֶ֑הָ). So Isaac was comforted after his mother’s death.[1]

ֱIt is very important to note that in a romantic sense, as referring to a relationship between a man and a woman, the verb “love” (in Hebrew ahav) occurs here for the first time in the Torah (and for the second time overall: the first time we find this root is in Genesis 22, where God says to Abraham, “Take now your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love”).  Isaac’s feelings for Rebecca must have been very strong if the Torah finds it necessary to use this verb here. It’s also interesting to note that on both occasions, the verb “to love” is attached to Isaac: he was the one who was loved in Genesis 22, and he is the one who loves in Genesis 24.

There is something else we can learn from this verse: Isaac was not only an affectionate husband, he was also a tender and loving son. He was 40 when he married Rebecca, and he was 37 when his mother died (Sarah died at the age of 127). It’s worth mentioning, by the way, that Jewish tradition connects the death of Sarah in chapter 23 with Aqedat Itzhak, with the events of Genesis 22, which means that Isaac was 37 when he was led to Mount Moriah, and not a teenager as is often depicted in Christianity. But even if Sarah’s death was not connected to Aqedah, the math is still the same: Isaac was 37 when his mother died, and he was 40 when he married Rebecca – and Scripture tells us that it was only after he married her, was he comforted – so for three years he had been grieving his mother’s death.

Godly Marriage

Before we say anything about this marriage, it’s important to point out that Isaac was the only patriarch who remained monogamous (unlike Abraham or Jacob): Rebecca was his only wife for his whole life! I think this fact by itself speaks volumes. However, there is more:

There is a verse in Genesis 25 that invariably touches my heart: Isaac prayed to the LORD on behalf of his wife, because she was childless. The LORD answered his prayer …[2]    This verse provides us an insight into this marriage, into the very close and intimate relationship of this couple, because there are several things, especially in Hebrew, that make this verse special.

First of all, the very fact that Isaac prayed for his wife is very significant. Both Sarah, Abraham’s wife, and Rachel, Jacob’s wife, were also barren for a time, yet we don’t hear a single word in Scripture telling of Abraham praying for Sarah. It was even worse with Jacob: when Rachel complained about her barrenness, Jacob became angry and said, “Am I in the place of God”?[3]    Maybe they also prayed, but the Scripture tells us explicitly only about Isaac “praying to the LORD” on behalf of his barren wife.

Second, the choice of words in Hebrew in this verse is very remarkable. The word “prayed” here (in many translations it’s “pleaded”) renders the Hebrew word יֶעְתַּר (ye’etar), which has the connotation of a passionate commitment to continue until the desired result is achieved. Even more remarkable is the fact that both phrases: “Isaac prayed to the LORD” and “The LORD answered his prayer”, use the same Hebrew root: when Isaac pleaded (וַיֶּעְתַּ֙ר יִצְחָ֤ק) with the LORD, the LORD pleaded back and answered his plea (וַיֵּעָ֤תֶר לוֹ֙ יְהוָ֔ה).

This whole dynamic between Isaac’s plea and the Lord’s answer is completely lost in translation, because both phrases are translated with absolutely different verbs. And yet we understand that it is this dynamic, this commitment to continue and press in, that brought the desired result: the LORD answered him and Rebecca his wife conceived. Rashi writes:  He (God) allowed Himself to be entreated and placated and swayed by him.”

Godly Woman

In the beginning, we spoke of this young girl who came to the well when the servant was standing and praying there.  Even then, Rebecca demonstrated a very kind, humble and serving heart – offering to draw water for ten camels, a huge and exhausting job for a young woman – even though she didn’t grow up in a believing family, as Isaac did, and didn’t know God, as Isaac did. However, God’s touch and God’s call through Eleazer that day were so real that she decided at once that she wanted Him in her life and surrendered her life to him. She didn’t yet know God—nevertheless, she wanted Him in her life.

Twenty years have passed, and now we see Rebecca knowing God and being steady and mature in her faith. When she doesn’t know what going on with her  and her pregnancy, she inquires of the Lord:

And the children struggled together within her; and she said, If it be so, why am I thus? And she went to enquire of the LORD.[4]  

By the way,   ” to enquire of the LORD” translates here the  same Hebrew expression  (אֶת־יְהוָֽה׃ לִדְרֹ֥שׁ  ) that is sometimes translated as to “seek the Lord”. For example, we read in Deuteronomy: “But from there you will seek the LORD your God, and you will find Him if you seek Him with all your heart and with all your soul,[5]   תִדְרְשֶׁ֔נּוּ בְּכָל־לְבָבְךָ֖ וּבְכָל־נַפְשֶֽׁךָ׃. This expression doesn’t often occur in the Bible, and when it does, it never refers to a woman—except here. Once again, Rebecca is a very unique character:  she is the only woman in the Bible of whom it is said explicitly that she went “to seek the Lord”.  It’s no wonder then that she really heard from the Lord—because she went to seek Him. I think we would all be familiar with the Lord’s answer—the prophecy that defined the lives of Jacob and Esau. We will analyze this prophecy next time as we will be speaking about Rebecca’s motherhood and Rebecca’s sons.

[1] Genesis 24:67

[2] Gen.25:21

[3] Gen. 30:2

[4] Genesis 25:22

[5] Deut 4:29

About the author

Julia BlumJulia is a teacher and an author of several books on biblical topics. She teaches two biblical courses at the Israel Institute of Biblical Studies, “Discovering the Hebrew Bible” and “Jewish Background of the New Testament”, and writes Hebrew insights for these courses.

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Join the conversation (29 comments)

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  1. Marina

    Beautiful explanation, lovely narration, simply and very interesting.
    Thank you, Julia

    Regards from Croatia

    1. Julia Blum

      Thank you Marina, for your generous words. Blessings!

  2. Regina pinheiro

    Slalom, amados irmãos. Não sei expressar minha alegria por vocês estarem me enviando essas análises, e inexprimível oque sinto, eu amo aprender a palavra, estou emocionada por ter essa oportunidade, não tenho condições de pagar a universidade, mas, como diz a palavra, o Deus todo poderoso, nos ouve e nos atende e Ele atendeu ao meu desejo de poder estar aprendendo a verdade, através de vocês, que Deus os abençoe, se puderem, gostaria também de saber a história de enoque. Agradeço a todos os mestres e mais uma vez, não sei como exprimir minha alegria. Abraços, cordialmente. Regina pinheiro

  3. Andre Alexander

    This is a very insightful rendering of an important part of The Lord God’s plan of our salvation in the way The Lord established His specially begotten people thru Isaac. What is rather enigmatic of The Lord’s ways is that although He already singled out Rebecca as Isaac’s wife and thus the mother of Jacob who was to father the 12 patriarchs of the Israelites, Rebecca was barren to start of with. Then thru the prayer of faith by Isaac Rebecca’s womb was made fruitful. Rather amazing don’t you think. Thanks for your wonderful work, Julia.

    1. Julia Blum

      Thank you for your kind words. You are so right: in this beautiful story, we see the beauty and the mystery of God’s ways. Even more so, when we read it in Hebrew – or at least, with Hebrew – and it’s exactly what I am trying to do here.

  4. James

    Thank you Julia, these insights shed light and broaden our understanding.

    Shalom.

  5. Joyce-Mary Fryer

    Thank you, dear Julia, for showing Isaac to be such a loving and devoted husband. This love story would make a beautiful film. Rebecca’s growth in faith and her love of G-d is a wonderful portrayal of her spiritual growth which is rewarded with the birth of her twin sons. I look forward to your next blogs. Until then my sincere and continued appreciation. Joyce-Mary.

    1. Julia Blum

      Thank you, Joyce-Mary, it sounds like a great idea: This love story would make a beautiful film indeed. I will certainly think about it.

  6. Walter Angelika

    Thank you, Julia, for enlightening this story for us. Both, Rebecca and Isaac are indeed remarkable persons of faith and great love with a remarkable character – there is so much to learn from their example! I like your observation from Hebrew language, that Isaac prayed for Rebecca with passionate commitment until the result is accomplished – that´s the way Jesus calls us to pray for His kingdom – especially we believers from the nations to pray for Israel, isn´t it ?
    Blessings and peace,
    Angelika

    1. Julia Blum

      Good to hear from you , Angelika! I’ve missed you and missed your comments – always so profound and thoughtful.

  7. Lucy Apio

    I am glad and joined this blog, I am learning everything new each time. I am blessed. God bless you Julia, Shalom

    1. Julia Blum

      I am also glad you joined this blog, Lucy. I hope you will keep finding the articles interesting and educational. Thank you.

  8. Henrietta Wisbey

    Lovely truths, wonderful meanings written here for us to follow.
    Rebecca carved out a path, she sought out an answer to her dilemma.
    Truly she implored the Lord.
    And what an answer!
    Much for us to explore.

    Blessings Henrietta