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Authentic :: Rebekah

When I was a child, my best friend and I used to play ‘house’ and inevitably we would always want good husbands to be a part of the pretend game. For my imaginary future, I would always say a boy in my class at school who I had a crush on at the time was my “husband”. It would change pretty much weekly because, well even as I child I had commitment issues, but also I was young and didn’t really know what I wanted. All I knew was for a perfect, imaginary future I needed a husband.

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In middle school I made a list of what I wanted for my future—an assignment in class. A list of goals, we’ll call them (and yes, outdated as they are I still have this list). My teacher asked us to highlight our top ten then she collected the list, read the top ten aloud, and had the rest of the class guess to whom the list belonged. When it came to mine, a boy I only knew by name (and because he was pretty cute) piped up and said, “that’s gotta be Ashley. It’s all about God.” I remember at the time being kind of mortified because the disdain in his tone was palpable and he may or may not have rolled his eyes. The teacher returned the list to me and I sat quietly, my face radiating a bright red thought only possible in on a Crayola crayon.

Now, I think back on that list and that moment when everything was clear. I rarely talked to this boy, but he knew my reputation and in some ways, my heart. In my heart, even when I didn’t fully see I myself, my perfect imaginary future was not about a husband, but about a life filled with God’s glory and grace—and hopefully, one day, a husband who shares my heart desires in the same way. This life is not about me, or a man, or a family, it’s ALL about God.

Sought After

Although Rebekah is not mentioned in Genesis 24:1-9, it’s pretty cool that the text shows she was an answer to a prayer. There is something beautiful about being sought after–pursued–it gives one value on a spiritual level. Abraham had just lost his beloved, Sarah, whom he buried in a cave in Hebron. She was 127, and they had spent over 100 years together on this earth. Abraham was hurting, to say the least, and he looks at his son Isaac, who was single at the age of 37, and knows that his son is hurting too. Knowing what it feels like to hurt and have no one to comfort you for the loss, Abraham comes up with a plan.

First, Abraham asked his servant to put his hand under his thigh and swear an oath. Let’s think about this gesture for a moment—there are very few people in this world who I would allow the intimacy of touching me under the thigh. It’s a vulnerable and private place, which adds to the importance and seriousness of the request: go find my son a wife–not just any wife either, a God-fearing wife.

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Sure. No problem.

And no pressure, right?

Abraham is certain this is the right plan; after all, God promised him the land he was living in would belong to his offspring–the servant is not quite as sure. He asks a couple of questions, makes a contingency plan, clarifies instructions, and then he is willing to swear his oath. I’m not criticizing the servant by any means; no, I’m rather empathetic to the fact that the servant has more faith in his master, Abraham, than he does in the Lord. At least at first. Sadly I do this more than I’d like to admit–I place faith in something or someone when really all I need is to trust the Lord’s plan for my life. It’s embarrassing, but thankfully God is really patient with me in my struggle.

So, the servant makes his way to the “town of Nahor” in Genesis 24:10-14. Nahor just happens to be Abraham’s brother. So far he has done all that his master has asked, and I just love what his first inclination is once he arrives: pray to Abraham’s God (again, a display of faith in Abraham more than the God he is praying to)…but the prayer is….different. He asks for a specific response from the girl he approaches. He wants her to be hospitable, not just to him but to all the camels with him too. Did you know that “a camel that has gone a few days without water can drink up to 25 gallons? That’s up to 100 drawings from the well for ALL the servant’s camels!” (Archeological Study Bible footnote p.40). That’s a tall order, so either the servant has some trust issues, or he is honestly looking for the right woman and doesn’t want to get it wrong. Be specific, Lord, he asks. And I don’t think that is wrong as long as his heart was in the right place.

I may not be quite so demanding for specifics in my prayers, but I ask for validation and confirmation from the Lord pretty frequently, and sometimes my heart is not exactly in the right place. Have I mentioned my control issues? That’s why. My prayer can often go something like this: Dear Lord, please give me everything I want in exactly the way I want it. Just being honest. But the reality is, God’s not really a genie, and often what I want and when I want it is not His plan and if I’m really going to get real I’ll admit that it’s better when I stop trying to tell God what to do and simply let Him move in my life.

The fact that God answered the servant’s request almost immediately proves that this servant had a good heart–he didn’t ask because he wanted God to prove himself, he asked because he wanted to get it right.

Rebekah’s Story

I have read Rebekah’s story a number of times and I’ll be honest sometimes I sincerely sit in awe of this woman who left everything she knew because a man revealed it was her God-given destiny. I am amazed by her strength, her courage, and even her wit; though sometimes a little misguided, her destiny brought about the ultimate perfect not-so-imaginary future—a Savior who would change the world. 

No wonder the servant wanted to get it right. 

Genesis 24:15-21 finally introduces us to Rebekah—who is quite remarkable. First, she is related to Abraham. It says she is “the daughter of Bethuel son of Milcah who was the wife of Abraham’s brother.” That would make Bethuel and Isaac first cousins, making Rebekah Isaac’s first cousin once removed, in case you care to track the relationship.

I adore this interaction as it shows us Rebekah’s heart in an astounding way. 

  1. She is hospitable and caring to the servant, immediately taking care of his needs. 
  2. She sees a need and doesn’t hesitate to be the one to fill the need–even if it means spending the rest of the afternoon doing a back-breaking job of drawing water from the well to water the camels of a stranger. 
  3. She is both strong, yet humble, accepting praise from the servant, but returning to her family for advice and guidance. 
  4. She is wise, confiding in her mother immediately after the exchange–no secrets!
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Let’s back up a second and picture this scene with the servant and many camels coming to the well in mid-day when all the ladies are out and about. His arrival would have caused quite a stir! Camels would have immediately indicated great wealth, but then he places a nose ring AND bracelets of gold on Rebekah. Now, I’m not saying she’s a gold digger…no really she’s not, but I’m not sure I’d say the same for her family…

Genesis 24:22-31 shows Rebekah running to her mother’s household, and yet it is her brother (not her father) who runs out to meet the stranger. Odd, especially since later we see that her father is still alive. At any rate, Genesis 24:32-49 recaps all that has happened–from the orders of the servant’s master, Abraham, to the prayer, to Rebekah’s action and basically ends with…so, what do you think? It’s a total God thing, right?

In Genesis 24:50-53 Rebekah’s male relatives, brother and now father, respond with a resounding…if it’s from the Lord then who are we to argue? Especially since you come bearing those dolla, dolla bills, ya’ll. I feel pretty justified in this judgment consider Laban will later trick his sister’s son, Jacob, into marrying both his daughters and working for him for free for 14 years. Laban is interested in the bottom line, with a little God-speak thrown in to cover the stench of his greed. But that’s another story.

We don’t actually get Rebekah’s reaction to this proposal until we read Genesis 24: 54-61. This interaction is fascinating. The servant is eager to return to his master, but Laban and momma dearest aren’t so keen to say good-bye to baby girl (or all the wealth of the servant’s entourage). Especially worthy of note is the request that Rebekah stay 10 days or so…

Now I get why Momma wants her to stay–it’s her baby and they’re obviously close (remember, no secrets). But the brother’s motivation I question. Maybe I’m being unfair and he will really miss his sister when she leaves…or maybe he’s still thinking how to profit from this arrangement. I don’t know which it is, but either way it’s the fact that they ask Rebekah for her opinion is unusual.

But here’s the thing, asking Rebekah fulfills the rest of the promise the servant made to Abraham in Gen. 24:8. She’s not only willing, she’s determined. Along with all her other qualities, I can’t help but admire her. And given the cultural context–this points straight back to God again.

Genesis 24:62-66; 25:20 shows a brief encounter with meeting Isaac, who is not sad about this woman being brought to him (he might think she’s pretty hot). But more importantly, it reveals an important character trait of Rebekah.

Modesty. 

In a day where modesty has gone out of fashion, I find Rebekah’s response to meeting her husband to be refreshing. Her modesty didn’t change his reaction. If anything he admired her even more, and I think that’s true about the right kind of men today. God-fearing men don’t really want to see women’s bodies on display for the world. Sure, it can biologically set a few things in motion, but often those things are better saved for private settings anyhow, so being modest is a way to respect yourself, and your partner (or future partner) in more ways than one.

Decidedly Human

Like Sarah before her, Rebekah was barren (Genesis 25:21-24 ) but didn’t have to wait quite as long for the answer to her prayer. I even note that God responded directly to Rebekah, which tells me she didn’t rely on her husband’s faith but continued to grow in her own relationship with the Lord. As tempting as it is to use others’ faith as a crutch for our own faith, we will see more amazing things if we personally pursue a relationship with God and trust in Him more than those around us. After all, humans are only human.

And Rebekah was human too. She made her share of mistakes. In fact, the biggest mistake she made was in trying to make God’s plan happen in her own time and way (just as Sarah did…oh and me too).

God can use our mistakes to create great things, but it doesn’t negate the consequences that inevitably result when we prove time and again that we are only human.

In Genesis 27:5-17 Rebekah plays favorites with her sons just as Jacob would play favorites with his son, Joseph in the future! The consequences of her actions include losing her son…forever. There is no record of Rebekah ever seeing her son again (and I believe she probably died in the 14 years Jacob worked for Laban, her brother). We can choose our sin, but we can’t choose the consequences. I truly believe she had the best of intentions, but she lied and manipulated her husband and children to fulfill a prophecy that she didn’t have enough faith in God to bring about in a less deceitful way. And while God can use our mistakes to still create great things, it doesn’t negate the consequences that inevitably result when we prove time and again that we are only human.

Sought by God

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Rebekah was sought after and valued as a treasure once she was found. A gift from God. Genesis 24:8 paired with Genesis 24:57 casts an important light on ancient culture marital rituals vs. God’s will. Wives were not, as was cultural ritual, to be treated as possessions, but rather involved and respected. Then, with their consent, accepted as treasures. This is God’s will. Marriage, though the focus of Rebekah’s story, is not to be the center of our world. Significant others will not bring you ultimate joy and happiness. That’s not even really the point of marriage. No, marriage is meant to be a reflection of God’s relationship with his people. He seeks after us, and like Rebekah loves nothing more than our response to be an immediate “I will go.” Not in 10 days, but now.

All we have to do is say “I will go.”

Eliezer the servant did not have the same quality of faith as Abraham, but as he learned to trust his master and God, his faith grew. Rebekah leaned on this faith of Eliezer to help her be resolute, but she was more confident, probably because she had a personal faith to begin with. It might not be easy to trust God; we all have our own stories that affect how we interact with God, but God promises that if we seek him, we will find him. All we have to do is say “I will go.”