Three Plus Four: Rebecca

My dear readers, today we are going to talk about one of my favorite characters in the Bible. Of all the four matriarchs (Sarah, Rebecca, Leah, and Rachel), Rebecca’s personality is the most fully defined and described in Scripture. First, we see Rebecca as a young girl; then, she is a wife and a pregnant woman; finally, we watch her in her motherhood—the ultimate test of faith for every mother. Many things could be told and shown here (those interested can read my series about Rebecca on this blog, https://blog.israelbiblicalstudies.com/jewish-studies/biblical-portraits-rebecca-1/) – but today, because of the current format of the blog, we are going to have just a few glimpses into the different stages of her life. What does Hebrew show us here?

Literally Falling… in Love

The story of Isaac and Rebecca’s love is one of the most beautiful love stories in the Torah. But before it became a story of love, it was a story of faith. It took the faith of several people for this story to happen, however, the most amazing part of this story is the faith of Rebecca herself. I can think of no faith stronger than that which Rebecca portrays here. When the servant appears from nowhere and presents before her the choice of her life—whether she will go with him to be a wife for Abraham’s son, she says: “Yes” – and this is another ‘Yes’ to God, another story of entering God’s plan and God’s blessings by surrendering one’s life to Him. She made this crucial choice and left her home in one day. Imagine: they didn’t have phones or internet; they didn’t have cars or planes; and for her to leave her home like this meant leaving it for good and probably never seeing her family again. The fact that she was able to make such a crucial and quick decision to leave behind everything and everyone she knew and loved, bears witness to an absolutely outstanding character!

All of this happens in Genesis 24 – and at the very end of this long and eventful chapter, we witness a fascinating scene. When Rebekah sees Isaac for the first time, coming up out of the desert, she literally falls off her camel. In English, it is usually translated as “alighted” or “dismounted” – however, the English expression, she dismounted from her came[1]l, does not correctly portray the original Hebrew,ותפל מעל הגמל –and she fell down, fell off the camel.  Why did Rebekah fall?

In order to understand that, let us recall the events of Genesis 22 – Aqedat Itzhaq. Aqedat Yitzhaq, the story of the sacrifice of Isaac, contains – among its other enigmas – one more mystery that our sages have long pointed out. After everything that happened on Mount Moriah—after the raised knife was stopped by the voice from heaven—the Torah informs us only about Abraham’s return: “So Abraham returned to his young men, and they rose and went together to Beersheba; and Abraham dwelt at Beersheba.”[2] Isaac is not mentioned here at all. Where did he go? What happened to him after Aqedah?

This is a wonderful example of the things that only Hebrew can show.  In Genesis 24:62, Isaac came from the way of Beer Lahai Roi.  In translation, this name means nothing, one needs to know Hebrew to comprehend its profound meaning: The Well of The Living One Who Sees Me.  So, that’s where Isaac was: it was a time of very close relationship between Isaac and the Lord—a time when not his earthly father, but his Heavenly Father Himself, restored him after the terrible trauma he had gone through. God saw Isaac even when he disappeared from everyone else’s sight: The Living One Who Sees Me.

Back to our original question: Why did Rebekah fall? Rashi writes about Rebecca and this initial meeting: “She saw his majestic appearance, and she was astounded by him.” Probably, after the time he had spent with God, Isaac must have been resplendent with God’s light and shining with God’s glory. Maybe, this is an additional reason why, in Genesis 24:65, we read: “So she took her veil and covered herself.” Of course, she had to cover herself out of modesty, as a token of subjection to her future husband: according to Oriental custom, the bride had to be brought veiled into the presence of the bridegroom. However, the very fact that she fell down from the camel hints that there was even more to it than that. Isaac was dazzling Rebekah as she laid eyes on him for the first time – and both her falling down from the camel, and covering herself make more sense as we think of Isaac radiating God’s glory!

Godly Woman

Twenty years have passed. Rebecca had been barren for twenty years – and finally, she conceived. The Torah tells us that it was God’s response to the emotional and faithful intercession of her loving husband. As some point, Rebecca started to feel strong movements within her womb: But the children struggled together within her… The wordּ “struggled” here renders the Hebrew words וַיִּתְרֹצְצו, but it does not really express the gravity of Rebecca’s situation: the root רצץ communicates the idea of “breaking”, “crushing” and “oppressing”—the movements she felt were extremely strong and unusual.

Rebecca was truly concerned, probably because of a possible miscarriage, first of all.  A modern woman would have an ultrasound; of course, Rebecca did not have this option. What did she do? Once again, we are amazed by Rebecca’s faith:  She went to enquire of the LORD. To enquire of the LORD” renders here the same Hebrew expression that is usually 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”[3] This expression doesn’t often occur in the Bible, and when it does, it never refers to a woman—except here. In this sense, Rebecca is indeed a 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 the prophecy she heard from the Lord defined not only the lives of her sons but the lives of their descendants for many centuries after. She heard from the Lord – because she sought Him.

 Rebecca’s Predicament  

We all know the story of the “stolen blessing,” but there are many hidden details in this story. First, people usually imagine young men contending for the father’s blessing, however, skipping here all the calculations, let me just say that “the boys” were 77 years old at the time of this story – not exactly young men! This means that Rebecca is a very old woman by now, more than a hundred years old. Many, many years before, when she was pregnant, she received a prophecy from God – and all these years she has been patiently waiting for this prophecy to be fulfilled. However, the years went by and nothing happened. By now, not only is she tired of waiting, but she has probably been having haunting thoughts, such as: What if it’s my fault? Maybe God wanted me to do something, and I just missed it!

Sadly, she has no one to share these thoughts with. Her relationship with her husband has obviously been changed, even damaged. In Genesis 25, we still find them being very close: Isaac is faithfully interceding for his wife in this chapter—while in Genesis 27 we see a completely different picture: Isaac is planning to bless Esau,  it’s supposed to be a great family event, and he is not even sharing this with Rebecca. Something had changed dramatically between chapters 25 and 27, and it would be a safe guess to suggest that it happened in Genesis 26, after their sister/wife story. This betrayal of trust, it seems, caused a gradual erosion of that relationship. Consequently, Rebecca is completely alone with her thoughts. I believe, she thinks a lot about those crucial moments of her life: when, as a young girl she said “yes” to the servant and to God so unreservedly and so boldly, and when, 20 years later she finally became pregnant and heard God speaking to her about her sons. Perhaps, she compares these stories: as a young girl, she was very decisive, not afraid to take very bold actions, and maybe now God is again waiting for her decision—for her decisive action. She had been waiting upon the Lord for so long, and perhaps she thinks that God is now waiting for her response – just as He waited then, so very long ago. Aren’t we all struggling at times with this question: should I just wait upon the Lord – or is there something He wants me to do?

Probably, these were the thoughts running through Rebecca’s head when she overheard the conversation between Isaac and Esau. It might have seemed to her that finally, the moment had come for her quick decision and actions; once again, like in Genesis 24, she needed to make a very quick decision; once again, it was a matter of just a few hours for her to make the right choice. Had not God distinctly pointed out Jacob as heir to His promises and to Abraham’s blessing?  She would only be fulfilling the will of God; she would be doing the right thing, trying to prevent her husband from a terrible mistake—from blessing the wrong son. There is no doubt that she loves both sons: Genesis 27:45 shows that very clearly—but she knows God’s will, and once again, as in Genesis 24, she is able to make a very quick decision. She is saying “yes” to God – and although she is choosing questionable means, undoubtedly, her heart is all about pleasing God and fulfilling His will. In this sense, this old woman has the same faith as the young girl who, like Abraham, by faith,  went to a land she did not know.

[1] Gen. 24:64

[2] Gen. 22:19

[3] 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 (10 comments)

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  1. Patricia Schekahn

    Dear Julia,
    I feel the same way as everyone else on this blog. I miss it too.
    It is more than just listening to a lecture. Much more Julia!
    You have a special gift to convey the Word of God from the Jewish root.

    It’s God’s Blessing.
    It’s like the glow of a candle, or still better, an oil lamp, which warms us.

    Thank you very much, Julia.

    Also I’m late: Happy New Year. May God’s guidance and protection be with all of us.
    God bless you, your family, and your colleagues.

    P.S.: I was wondering if your date seeds had sprouted. I’m sorry I neglected to write that you should put them in the freezer (some days) so that they germinate better.

  2. Marcos Roberto Rastrelo

    Meu Deus que coisa linda e extraordinária, louvo ao ETERNO por sua Júlia Blum, que o ETERNO continue te abençoando.

  3. Magdalena

    How do we know that the boys were 77 years old at the time? X

    1. Julia Blum

      Hi Magdalena! Here are the calculations, they all are based on the Scripture. We are told that Jacob was 130 years old when he came to Egypt. How old was Joseph at this time? The Torah says that Joseph was 30 years old “when he stood before Pharaoh” and that there were 5 years of famine left (7 years of abundance had passed) when Joseph called Jacob into Egypt. So, Joseph was about 30+7+(7-5) = 39 years old when Jacob came to Egypt at 130. That means Jacob was about 91 years old when Joseph was born—a “son of his old age” indeed.
      In Padan Aram, after Joseph was born, Jacob asked Laban to allow him to leave. However, Laban did not let him go, and Jacob ended up spending 20 years with Laban: 14 years for his wives and 6 for his sheep and cattle. The time when Jacob asked Laban to let him go, had to be after the first 14 years. This would imply that Jacob came to Padan Aram when he was 91-14 = 77 years old. This means that “the boys” were 77 years old at the time of this story, and even though their 77 years probably felt very differently from how it feels now, still, they were not exactly young men. It also means that Isaac was 137 at that time and that he would live 43 more years – he died when he was 180.
      Hope it helps. Blessings!

  4. Carla Gade

    Thank you, Julia. I was looking forward to this post. I miss the frequency of them so much. Happy Hanukkah and Christmas blessings to you!

    1. Gladys Fox

      Thank you Carla. I feel the same as you ! Happy holidays to everyone !!

    2. Julia Blum

      Thank you, Carla! Thank you, Gladys! I also feel the same: I miss the regular sharing of my heart and my thoughts with my precious readers! Happy New Year! May it be the year of His abundant blessings for us all! Love and Blessings!

  5. Nick

    Thank you Julia for this teaching on Rebecca’s journey! You have shown me things I would not have seen otherwise.Interesting how Moses, Isaac, and Jesus “appeared” differently to others after Divine encounters. Just being in their presence, without words, they had an effect on others.
    Thanks, Nick

    1. Julia Blum

      Thank you for this comparison, Nick. In my book “If you are the Son of God”, I wrote: “There is no better commentator on the Bible than the Bible itself; therefore, while not knowing for sure exactly what so stunned Rebekah, we can look for an explanation in another part of the Scriptures. We now go to a similar scene. In the Gospel of John, when the soldiers come to the Garden of Gethsemane to arrest Yeshua, He says to them, ‘I am He,’ at which point they drew back and fell to the ground. I don’t think that any of us would have difficulty in answering the question of why the soldiers fell in the Garden of Gethsemane. The Son of God standing before them, whose weakness, terror and sorrow we had witnessed just a few moments before, was now filled with such authority from God that they simply couldn’t stand before Him and thus shaken, they drew back and fell. Perhaps it was the same with Isaac”.

  6. Gladys Fox

    Thank you Dear Julia,
    I can certainly understand Rebecca’s problems . Maybe if she had her family to help it might have been easier for her . As you said she might never see them again. Maybe she longed to have the comfort of her mother.
    I have two sons . They are not twins and often times a mother may have to pay attention to one and not the other . Even though she loves them both equally . She will help the one that is weakest .
    I believe Rebecca knew her son’s very well and she knew that Esau would not have made a good leader of the family .
    I was told that the word for stone is made up of two root words . The root for father and the root for son . The message then is about a strong connection between father and son. However I see little of that in Scripture except for The LORD God and His Son Jesus !
    All blessings to you all of the Sacred Family .