Abraham’s future daughter-in-law had to make a choice. In faith, Rebekah followed Abraham’s servant back to the land of Canaan to become Isaac’s wife.
The biblical story about Rebekah begins with the request by Abraham to his oldest servant: “You shall go to my country and to my family, and take a wife for my son Isaac” (Genesis 24:4).
The servant, though, had a very logical concern: “Perhaps the woman will not be willing to follow me to this land” (verse 5). Abraham reassured him that God would send His angel before him, making it possible for Isaac to marry a wife from there (verse 7).
When Abraham’s servant arrived at a well just outside the city of Abraham’s brother in Mesopotamia, he prayed to God. “Please give me success this day, and show kindness to my master Abraham. Behold, here I stand by the well of water, and the daughters of the men of the city are coming out to draw water. Now let it be that the young woman to whom I say, ‘Please let down your pitcher that I may drink,’ and she says, ‘Drink, and I will also give your camels a drink’—let her be the one You have appointed for Your servant Isaac. And by this I will know that You have shown kindness to my master” (Genesis 24:12-14).
Before the servant of Abraham had finished speaking, Rebekah, the daughter of Isaac’s first cousin, had arrived at the well. When Abraham’s servant asked her for a drink, she gave the requested response: “Drink, my lord.” Then she said, “I will draw water for your camels also, until they have finished drinking” (verses 18-19).
This act of kindness was the sign to the servant of Abraham that God had indeed answered his prayer and had shown kindness to Abraham in directing him to the chosen wife for Isaac.
This miraculous story of what happened at the well was repeated to Rebekah’s family. It provided the needed sign to Bethuel, Rebekah’s father, and Laban, Rebekah’s brother, that the proposed marriage of Rebekah and Isaac was of God’s doing. That is why they were willing to let her go with Abraham’s servant to be Isaac’s wife, “as the Lord has spoken” (verses 50-51).
The next morning the servant of Abraham wanted to leave immediately with Rebekah! For a young bride preparing to become married and leave her family, this was considered a hasty send-off. Rebekah’s family asked him to let her stay a few days. So, in concern for Rebekah, the family said: “We will call the young woman and ask her personally” (verse 57).
Rebekah was given a choice in the matter: “Then they called Rebekah and said to her, ‘Will you go with this man?’ and she said, ‘I will go’” (verse 58). Rebekah had a choice—she could have said no! But this was a decisive answer in the affirmative.
How many women would be truly willing to give up their family, friends and country and go to live far away in a foreign land? It was so far away that she would never see her family again. How many women would be willing to marry a man they had never met? It would take a very special woman, one who had faith in God, to be willing to do so. (Of course, this was a unique situation where she knew God was guiding events. Ordinarily people should not marry someone they have never met, whom they do not know well first.)
The blessing that Rebekah’s family pronounced upon her when she left was a prophetic blessing inspired of God’s Spirit, and the words would be fulfilled by God: “Our sister, may you become the mother of thousands of ten thousands; and may your descendants possess the gates of those who hate them” (verse 60).
This was similar to a prophecy given to Abraham in Genesis 22:17: “Blessing I will bless you, and multiplying I will multiply your descendants as the stars of the heaven and as the sand which is on the seashore; and your descendants shall possess the gate of their enemies.”
When Rebekah first saw Isaac, she dismounted from her camel. It would have been inappropriate for her, as a woman, to have remained astride her camel, towering over Isaac, a man.
Upon finding out that it was Isaac who was walking up to meet her, she took a veil and covered herself (verse 65). One commentary explains this action as follows: “The veil is an essential part of female dress. In country places it is often thrust aside, but on the appearance of a stranger, it is drawn over the face, as to conceal all but the eyes. In a bride it was a token of her reverence and subjection to her husband” (Jamieson, Fausset and Brown Commentary on the Whole Bible, p. 32).
So Rebekah covered herself. The wedding was simple. Isaac brought her into his mother Sarah’s tent. He took Rebekah to him, and she became his wife. He was a 40-year-old groom, and he loved his beautiful wife and was comforted after the death of his mother (verse 67).
Isaac and Rebekah were happily married for many years, yet were without children. Rebekah was barren. This must have been a surprise and a trial to Rebekah, for she had been told that she would be the mother of thousands of ten thousands.
Isaac prayed to God for his wife, and God heard the prayer and request, and Rebekah became pregnant.
The Bible says that Isaac was 60 years old when Rebekah bore his sons (Genesis 25:26), which meant that Rebekah was not exactly young either. There is always concern whether a pregnancy is going well or not. During her pregnancy, she felt struggling going on in her womb and was concerned about it. She said, “If all is well, why am I like this?” So Rebekah “went to inquire of the LORD” (verse 22).
Rebekah had a personal relationship with God, and He responded to her: “Two nations are in your womb, two peoples shall be separated from your body; one people shall be stronger than the other, and the older shall serve the younger” (verse 23). This was a very personal answer from the Lord of the universe to Rebekah. She never forgot it.
Isaac and Rebekah’s firstborn son came out red and hairy. They called him Esau (“hairy”). The second son took hold of his brother’s heel with his hand. They called him Jacob (“supplanter”).
As the boys grew, the differences between the two became apparent. Esau was a skillful hunter and a man of the field. Isaac loved Esau his firstborn because he ate of his game. Jacob was a mild man, dwelling in tents. Rebekah loved Jacob. This situation led to some very interesting family dynamics!
Isaac and Rebekah prospered in their lives and were blessed by God. God reiterated to them the promises He had given to Abraham and told them to stay in the land of Canaan (Gerar). God would take care of them and bless them and their descendants (Genesis 26:2-6, 12-13).
Isaac and Rebekah believed God’s promises. They lived lives of faith, as strangers and pilgrims in the land. They were even given honor by Abimelech, king of the Philistines (verse 11).
Then trouble from Esau arose. Esau took two women as his wives. “And they were a grief of mind to Isaac and Rebekah” (Genesis 26:34-35). In this matter, Isaac and Rebekah were of the same mind and opinion. Abraham had not wanted a Canaanite wife for his son Isaac, and Isaac and Rebekah did not want Canaanite wives for their sons. Canaanites believed in different gods.
Now time passed. Isaac became old and his eyesight dim, and he wanted to confer his blessing on his oldest son, Esau. Rebekah knew this was about to happen, and so she went and told Jacob what Isaac planned to do. Rebekah conceived a daring plan to deceive Isaac that Jacob was Esau.
One might ask: Why did Rebekah resort to deceiving her husband in order for the blessing to come upon Jacob? She knew that Isaac’s mind was set on conferring the greater blessing of national prominence on his firstborn, Esau. She probably remembered what God had once told her, that the elder would serve the younger.
So, instead of inquiring of God at this time, she motivated her son Jacob to deceive Isaac and grab the blessing. It was not the right thing to do—to deceive. Sometimes the human mind comes up with a quick plan of human devising to try to achieve our ends.
Esau was furious with Jacob for taking his birthright and wanted to kill him. So Rebekah encouraged Jacob to flee back to her family to escape any death attempts from Esau.
Rebekah approached Isaac with the following words: “I am weary of my life because of the daughters of Heth; if Jacob takes a wife of the daughters of Heth, like these who are the daughters of the land, what good will my life be to me?” (Genesis 27:46).
Isaac heeded Rebekah and told Jacob to go to Rebekah’s family in Padan Aram to take a wife of the daughters of Laban, Jacob’s uncle. Isaac then conferred upon Jacob the inherited blessings God had promised Abraham. Then Jacob obeyed his parents and departed (Genesis 28:1-2).
When we consider that Rebekah loved and preferred Jacob over Esau, we must remember that the Bible says that God loved and preferred Jacob as well. Jacob was given the birthright and the blessing because it was the will of God for him to have them. The will of God always stands, no matter what actions people choose to take of their own devising.
Notice Romans 9:10-16 to see the rest of the story from God’s perspective: “And not only this, but when Rebecca also had conceived by one man, even by our father Isaac, … it was said to her, ‘The older shall serve the younger.’ As it is written, ‘Jacob I have loved, but Esau I have hated.’ What shall we say then? Is there unrighteousness with God? Certainly not! For He says to Moses, ‘I will have mercy on whomever I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whomever I will have compassion.’ So then it is not of him who wills, nor of him who runs, but of God who shows mercy.”
Jacob valued the birthright. He repented of his ways of cunning trading and supplanting his brother. He became an overcomer, a prevailer and a prince with God. His name was changed to Israel. God showed mercy on him.
But what can we learn about Rebekah, the mother of Esau and Jacob? She was selected by God for Isaac. She was a beautiful woman of faith, who was willing to come and live in the Promised Land, and she believed in the promises of God. She had courage and daring and ability. Isaac loved her, and they had a good marriage.
Both she and her husband disapproved of Esau marrying pagan Canaanite women. Both she and her husband believed in the promises of Abraham being passed on to their descendants. Both she and her husband enjoyed the blessings of God in their lives and lived in peace and prosperity.
Rebekah was a matriarch in Israel and was buried in the cave of Machpelah (Genesis 49:31). She became the mother of thousands of ten thousands. Her elder son did serve the younger. Rebekah believed these things because God had told her so.
Do we believe God as Rebekah did? Learn more about growing in faith in the other articles in this section on “Faith.”