Sermon preached on Genesis 25:19-28; 27:1-46 by Rev. W. Reid Hankins during the Morning Worship Service at Trinity Presbyterian Church (OPC) on 8/25/2013 in Novato, CA.
Rev. W. Reid Hankins, M.Div.
Genesis 25:19-28; 27:1-46
Rebekah: “So She Went to Inquire of the LORD”
We are continuing our sermon miniseries dealing with certain key women of the Bible. And we are also continuing to trace down through the line of promise. So far, the women we’ve studied have all been a part of fulfilling that promise given in Genesis 3:15, that one of the seed of the women would bring forth a man to conquer the devil and to be our savior. We studied Eve and then Sarah to that end. Jesus would through both of them. And that line now continues with the next generation after Sarah. Sarah had given birth to Isaac, and Isaac marries Rebekah. Today we will study the life of Rebekah as we see God’s continuing story in the Scriptures to bring forth the promised savior.
As we begin our reflection today on Rebekah, let me point out that our Scripture readings did not cover an important chapter about Rebekah. For the sake of time, we won’t be reading or covering Genesis chapter 24. But I will summarize it briefly. Basically, Abraham goes and sends his servant to find a wife for Isaac. But Abraham is adamant that his servant must not find a wife for Isaac among the Canaanites. Instead he was to go back to Abraham’s former land and find one there. The point is clear, that the paganism of the Canaanites would not provide the sort of godly wife fitting for Isaac, this child of God’s promise. So, Abraham’s servant goes back to Abraham’s former home and find his family and the long story short is able to find a godly wife for Isaac, Rebekah. But something that stands out in the story is that Rebekah is also a women of noble character. The servant offers a sort of test at the town well to find a wife who would show kindness and hospitality to a sojourner in need. Rebekah essentially passes with flying colors. Other indicators in Genesis are suggestive as well of Rebekah’s noble character. I point this out right now, because in much of our sermon today, we’ll see an element of her character that is not so noble, and we would do well to remember a fuller account of her past as well. Most of all, the Genesis 24 account really brings out how God orchestrated things so that Rebekah and Isaac end up married. It is very clear to all that God was joining them together.
So, with that introduction, I’d like to begin now with our first point for today. I want us to see how Genesis shows that Rebekah is the one to continue the line of promise, through her giving birth of Jacob. Remember that in our last sermon we saw that God had particularly called Abraham and Sarah out in a special way. God entered into a special covenant relationship with them. A big part of God’s promise to them was that he would make a great nation through them. And that through their offspring, there would come blessing to all the families of the earth. And yet the big concern was that they were childless. Sarah was barren. God did eventually work in a miraculous way to give Isaac, but that was part of the tension and call for faith. Well, here, lo and behold, something similar at first happens with Isaac and Rebekah. Genesis 25:21 tells us that Rebekah was barren. And yet it says that Isaac prays for her to the LORD, and the LORD answered the prayer. Rebekah conceives! And so the line of promise would continue!
And yet, the story gets more interesting there. As Rebekah is pregnant she starts to feel turmoil within her womb! She had twins inside her, Jacob and Esau, and they were evidently struggling together within her, per 25:22. At that point she shows her faith in God and it says in 25:22 that because of this she went and inquired of the LORD. God then proceeds to answer her in a most amazing way. He gives her the prophecy of Genesis 25:23, telling her that she has two nations in her womb, and that the older shall serve the younger. The clear point that we learn about this is that there are two sons in her womb, but God was only choosing one of them through which to work his line of promise. Romans 9:10 references this, even mentioning Rebekah, and saying that this is God’s election at work. And so, Jacob and Esau would be born to Rebekah, but it would be through the younger Jacob that God would continue his covenant line of promise. The line that would ultimately bring forth Jesus, through which all the families on the earth could find blessing. And so this was God’s answer to Rebekah’s inquiry of God. It was commendable for her to seek God on this. Surely at some point she told Isaac about this oracle, but we are not told that explicitly. And it seems clear that Rebekah held on to this oracle and that it colored the way she thought about the boys’ future from that point on.
And so Genesis 25 then records the birth of the twins. Even on the way out of the womb, Jacob is grabbing Esau’s heel. There is already conflict between them. Jacob is already grasping for Esau’s position of firstborn. Well, as the boys grow up, something interesting is told to us in Genesis 25:28. The parents had favorites. Isaac loved Esau, and Rebekah loved Jacob. Now, I’d like to suggest at this point, that Rebekah’s love for Jacob over Esau here, is reflective at least in some way of her faith in God’s prophecy he had given her. It’s hard to make a strong case for that, since the text doesn’t tell us that explicitly. But it does seem implied that this prophecy to Rebekah, that elder Esau would serve younger Jacob, influenced her. She surely believed that was to be the case. She seems to act from it. Her love of Jacob here surely expresses that in some sense.
Just look at what the text does tell us. Genesis 25:28 tells us the reason why Isaac’s love favored Esau. It was not for some grand and glorious purpose of God. It was because Esau was a hunter and Isaac liked to eat what Esau caught! But there is no reason given to us about why Rebekah loved Jacob. Surely the reason in part is because she was operating in light of the prophecy about the two boys. Because that’s what her actions show going forward; this intention by her to make sure her beloved Jacob secures the special blessing as heir of these promises. In case you need any other perspective on this, you can realize that someone else weighed in on their love for Jacob versus Esau. God said in Malachi 1:2-3, “Jacob I have loved; but Esau I have hated.” Clearly that reflects in part on this. Rebekah’s love was lined up with God’s electing love. That’s the right side to be on. And surely it was faith in God’s prophecy given to her that at least in some way influenced this love.
So then, that brings us now to our second point for today. I have titled this point Rebekah’s “hasty zeal”, though I have to credit Calvin for that title. Calvin in his commentary on Genesis refers to Rebekah’s actions in Genesis 27 in this way. That is the chapter where she works to insure that Jacob gets Isaac’s deathbed blessings instead of Esau. That is what we’ll consider next then today. Let’s look at how Rebekah takes the initiative to make sure Jacob is blessed over Esau. At this point in Genesis, Isaac has grown old and weak, and his health is failing, including his eyesight. Isaac wants to pass on a formal blessing to his son before he dies. Interestingly, Isaac proceeds to try to put this upon Esau, not Jacob. Isaac tells Esau to go hunt some of that tasty game, bring it back and prepare it, and then he’ll eat it and bless Esau before he dies. But Rebekah overhears it, verse 5. And surely then from some of this hasty zeal, she goes into action to try to thwart this. In verse 5, Esau goes off to hunt, and so in verse 6 she calls for Jacob. She then explains her plan to Jacob. A plan to deceive Isaac into thinking Jacob is Esau and get him to bless Jacob instead of Esau. They must act quickly before Esau gets back with his wild game. So here Rebekah is clearly plotting a sinful deception. And Jacob clearly recognizes this, because of the concern he raises to her in verses 11-12.
You see, in verses 11-12, he basically says, “But Mom, if we want this blessing, it could backfire and I get instead get a curse.” His specific concern here is that his brother is hairy and he is not. His father’s eyesight had failed, but not his sense of touch. Realize that Jacob didn’t make a moral argument here against the plan. He didn’t tell his mom that this would be morally wrong. Jacob shows in his life that he and his mother Rebekah both know how to deceive. Later we’ll see that it runs in the family as Rebekah’s brother Laban shows skills to deceive, when he tricks Jacob into marrying Leah before Rachel. But for now, realize that Jacob is not making a moral argument against Rebekah’s plan. He just presents an obstacle that Rebekah hadn’t addressed yet in her plan. But Rebekah would deal with that. She thought quickly and would dress him up with Esau’s clothing and some animals skins. That would make him feel hairy and also smell like Esau.
But not only does Rebekah address the specific concern that Jacob raised. She also addresses any other possible concerns too by what she says in verse 13. Verse 13, “Let your curse be on me, my son.” See, Jacob had been concerned this could backfire. That instead of getting this blessing, his deception could be discovered and he would receive curse instead of blessing. What she basically says it, “Let me worry about that. If you get caught, I’ll take the blame. I’ll bear the curse myself. You just obey your mother. You just do what I’m telling you, and I’ll take on the curse so you can get the blessing.” Again, there is a noble sense to this, by all means. And the larger plan had the right desire to see Jacob receive the blessing promised to him already by God himself. But, that doesn’t excuse the sinful deceptions, however.
And so Jacob agrees to go through with it. And Jacob himself will certainly step up to the plate and pull it off at the end of the day. But don’t miss how Rebekah was really the instrumental one behind it all. Rebekah’s the one who learned of Isaac’s intention to bless Esau instead of Jacob. Rebekah’s the one who put this whole plan into action, inciting, even pressuring, Jacob to do this, playing the “obey your Mom, card”. Rebekah’s the one who cooks the food like Esau would have. Rebekah’s the one who goes and takes Esau’s clothing for the deception. Rebekah’s the one who puts the goatskins on Jacob’s hands and neck. She’s leading the way the whole time. This is Rebekah’s thing even more than it’s Jacob’s thing.
And then after the whole ordeal, she’s then the one playing “cleanup”. She had told Jacob, “Let your curse be on me,” and so even after the whole deception ordeal she seems to be acting to protect Jacob from any recrimination. For again, she hears some privileged information. Rebekah learns about Esau’s wrath toward his brother Jacob. She learns of his intent to kill Jacob. So she goes into cleanup mode. She initiates with Jacob to go and have him head to the far away town of Haran. Just “for a few days.” Until she calls for him to come back. Just until Esau’s fury subsides. Haran of course is where Rebekah is from and her family is still there. And then Rebekah continues the clean up. She gets Isaac on board with this too, but states a different reason. She laments to Isaac that Jacob might end up marrying a local Canaanite women and how horrible that would be, verse 46. By the way, this is not really that far from the truth. In last chapter, chapter 26:34-35 Esau married two local Hittite girls and it says they were a source of grief to both Isaac and Rebekah. Remember, Abraham said that Isaac must not marry one of those pagan girls. That’s what Esau did. Rebekah says we must not let Jacob make that same mistake. He needs to go back to Haran to find a godly wife there. And so Rebekah doesn’t tell all of her motivations to Isaac, but this certainly was a situation where she could kill two birds with one stone!
And so I mentioned how Calvin called this “hasty zeal”. He points out how she does some sinful things here. But that surely is because she was acting from her faith in God’s promise. She knew God had promised that Jacob, not Esau, was to be the one to receive the blessings of the promise given to Abraham. She knew God had said it would be through Jacob, not Esau, that this promised nation was to come forth. She had the right motivations to see that come to pass. She had zeal for that promise to be realized. But unfortunately in her haste and rashness she sinned along the way. And so did Jacob. To further highlight the sinfulness, just notice the extent of it. Both of them impugned God’s good name in the process of their deceptions. In verse 7, Rebekah acknowledges that this blessing is going to be done in the presence of the LORD, but she nonetheless is prepare to commit this deception right in front of the LORD. And as for Jacob, in verse 20 when his father asks how he could find the game so quickly, he takes God’s name in vain in his lie, saying, “Because the LORD your God brought it to me.” Both Jacob and Rebekah sinned in this deception. There were some good desires here. Especially for Rebekah, she was acting in line with God’s explicit special revelation. But how she went about it was not in line with God’s revelation on righteousness.
And so I’d like to turn now to our third point and offer some further reflection on this under the topic of blessings and curses. This is a big part of this story. Rebekah wants Jacob to get this blessing. She says she’s willing to take on the curses. How effective was she? Well, she did take on some bit of curse in some sense in all of this. If Jacob was her favorite son, this whole ordeal had a major ramification for her. She has to send her favorite son away, and not just for a few days. He ends up in Haran for some twenty years. Presumably Rebekah never gets to see her son again. There is no record in the rest of Genesis of Jacob ever getting word from her that it was safe for him to return. In fact, when he does eventually return home, he’s still afraid Esau is mad at him. When he does get back, amazingly his father Isaac is still alive, but there is no mention of his mother. There is a strange mention of Rebekah’s nurse Deborah’s death and burial in Genesis 35 when Jacob’s return. The point there is probably to allude to the fact that Rebekah herself was already dead. The only thing else we hear of Rebekah is in Genesis 49 it mentions as a historical reference that Isaac and Rebekah had been buried in the same place as Abraham and Sarah. The point then is simply that her leading of this deception against Isaac for Jacob to be blessed, did mean she took on some kind of curse. She had to basically lose the fellowship of her favorite son Jacob from her life.
But of course, her stated intention was for her to take on the curse. In a sense she did this, at least in part. But in a sense she didn’t. You see, Jacob essentially had to flee his home. And this wasn’t just his home, it was the Promised Land. The very blessings that he was wanting to received was tied up with this Promised Land, and now he had to flee from it like a fugitive. He would then go and face Laban, Rebekah’s brother, who would deceive him like he did his own father through the marriage incident of Leah and Rachel — more on that next week. And we know that his extended flight from the Promised Land was reflective in some sense of a bad thing because when he heads out toward Haran, he has an amazing experience along the way at Bethel. There God appears to him in a dream, the Jacob’s Ladder dream. And something God emphasizes to him is that God will be with him to make sure that he ends up making it back to the Promised Land.
So, the point then is Rebekah offered to take any curse that would come to Jacob on herself. She did that, in part, but only to a degree. It’s worth asking if she could have lived that out more fully? If she really meant to fulfill this idea of the curse coming upon her, she could have gone to Esau herself. She could have told Esau that it was all her plan, and that she demanded Jacob to do it. Of course, she didn’t do that, and we can’t get lost in over speculation. But the point is nonetheless, that she could only bare this curse, so to speak, in part. Their deception of Isaac left ramifications upon Jacob too. Jacob would later tell the Egyptian Pharaoh in Genesis 47:9 that the days of his life have been few and evil. Certainly this would describe some of his life during this extended flight to Haran. Rebekah wasn’t able to fully take on all the curses in his place.
Well, what then about the blessings? Did she at least succeed in making sure he got the promised blessings? Well, that is an interesting question. Was it so necessary for Rebekah and Jacob to deceive Isaac in order to get his blessing? Was this so necessary in order for God’s promise of Jacob’s blessing to be realized? The text of Genesis definitely goes on to beg that question. Now don’t get me wrong, clearly Isaac’s blessings to both Jacob and Esau were true and came to pass. Even Hebrews 11:20 could speak about how in faith Isaac invoked future blessings on Jacob and Esau. What Isaac spoke about those two clearly came to pass. But Isaac’s blessings upon them are kind of like how a sacrament works. We really need the inward reality. The outward reality of a sacrament should reflect the inward reality. In other word’s Isaac’s blessings only are of any value and truth if God so truly blesses.
And so, should Rebekah and Jacob feel the necessity to deceive Isaac in order to try to secure the blessings already promised by God? Should we sin, so that grace may abound? Of course not! If Isaac’s actual blessing was so necessary for Jacob to get over Esau, then surely God could have done something like he did with Balaam. Remember, Balaam was hired by God’s enemy Balak to curse God’s people. But God changed Balaams words of curse into blessing for God’s people. God could have certainly constrained Isaac words to not give away to Esau the blessing he promised for Jacob. That’s just an example, but the point is that there is never a time where God requires us to sin in order for his good promises for us to come to pass. Though, amazingly, God sometimes uses other’s sins in bringing about his promises, nonetheless. That’s God’s grace in spite of man’s sinfulness, however, not as a reward for man’s sinfulness.
And so at best, Isaac’s blessing was the outward words of blessing from above. Did Jacob truly get from this God’s blessings? Well, interestingly, it seems that is what Jacobs flight to Haran and back is really all about. It was to break Jacob of this attitude that said I need to secure divine blessing with my effort, no matter how. We see this because Jacob’s flight from the Promised Land and back are both marked by God appearing to him. In Bethel where he appears with the Jacob’s Ladder dream, and at Peniel where Jacob wrestles God. And in both cases, what does God do? He blessed Jacob — no deceptions by Jacob needed! And at Bethel particularly God reaffirms the covenant promises he had made to Abraham and Isaac. He promises those to Jacob and his offspring.
And so the point here is that Rebekah and Jacob didn’t need to deceive Isaac in order to get God’s blessings. Isaac’s words of blessings on their own, in fact, would have been meaningless anyways if God hadn’t actually blessed Jacob. But God had promised. God had promised Eve and he promised Sarah, and he had promised Rebekah. One of your offspring will fulfill my promises. For Rebekah he even singled out which one — Jacob! But like God had done before, he used this all to teach the same kind of lesson. God has to bring the savior and God has to bring the blessing. Man can’t get it by their own strength and efforts. That comes out as you think of Rebekah’s efforts here. As much as she had some good intentions, God taught through this that he’d be the one to see his promises fulfilled. This is a lesson for us all. Even Rebekah who had noble attributes, she too is a sinner as we see in this passage. She too needs a savior provided by God. She too needs to be saved from the curse of sin and inherit blessing from above.
And so it’s in that, that her well-intentioned words of verse 13 reminds us of the gospel. “Let your curse be upon me.” Here we see another typology in the Old Testament. Here Rebekah is someone who says she is willing to take on the curse of her beloved so he could be blessed. Such a wonderful intention. But we’ve noted how she couldn’t fully deliver on this. But it surely looks forward to another who could and did deliver on such a promise. That is what Jesus Christ is all about. Galatians 3:10-14 says that Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, so that in him the blessing of Abraham might come to us. Galatians 3:10-14 says Christ did for us what Rebekah could not do for Jacob herself. She wanted to take on the curses for their sins so that Jacob could receive the blessings of Abraham. But she couldn’t succeed in that. She’s a type of Christ in some sense with that intention. But like all good types, they show a good thing that falls way short. Nonetheless, this is what we’ve all needed. One to bear the curses for us, so we could get the blessings. That is what Christ did. That is what Christianity is all about. Trust in faith in Christ, and you will be saved. It’s even what’s seen from a distance in Isaac’s blessing of Jacob in verse 29. Bless this seed of Rebekah and Isaac, bless Jesus, and you will be blessed. Reject him, though, and you will be cursed.
So then, brothers and sisters, by way of final application, let us rejoice in how God worked in the life of Rebekah. And let us learn from that life as well. She had been given special revelation. That Jacob would be the child of promise over Esau. But her actions remind us that there are wrong ways and right ways to live in light of the special revelation that we have. One wrong way is to say that the end justifies the means. Rebekah acted believing God would bless Jacob, but she sought to bring it about in a wrong way. Yet, another wrong way though would be for someone to disregard the special revelation they have and not do anything to try to advance its cause. Rebekah had a right heart here to act for Jacob’s blessing, even though she was rash in how she went about it. So the right way then of how to live in light of special revelation that we’ve been given, is simple. Use all the special revelation to dictate how to live. We live according all God’s revealed will. In the case of Rebekah she had this promise about Jacob. She should have sought it’s coming to pass, but not in a way that broke God’s laws along the way. In the same way, we have certain special revelations that we hold dear. Things like that Christ is coming again, and that we will reign victorious with him forever. But there are right and wrong ways to live in light of that. For now, we are told to live righteously. That we are to look to overcome God’s enemies via the sword of the Spirit and not a physical sword. We don’t put a physical sword and say become a Christian or die, for example. But apply this now in all areas of our Christian life. God says we have blessing in him, but that doesn’t mean we secure external worldly blessings at the expense of doing the right thing. The applications here are endless.
So then, see the zeal of Rebekah and recognize it did express faith in God’s promises. Rejoice in that and seek that yourself. But let us also trust that God’s way is best and look for righteousness to be our guide as we seek his gracious promises. Amen.
Copyright © 2013 Rev. W. Reid Hankins, M.Div.
All Rights Reserved.