Pilgrim’s Road Trip #7 – Mama Rebekah

We live as exiles. We’re called to be pilgrims.

I am journeying through Scripture chronologically in order to explore our exile experience. I’ll also offer some helpful thoughts about how Christ can reshape that identity and reorient our journey so we live as pilgrims. To read earlier posts in the series, go to the “Blog Categories” pull-down menu in the right column of this screen and click on “Pilgrim’s Road Trip”.

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When she was pregnant, the rock `em sock `em twins within Rebekah gave her no rest. When she asked the Lord what was happening to her, he told her, “Two nations are in your womb, and two peoples from within you will be separated; one people will be stronger than the other, and the older will serve the younger.” (Gen. 25:23)

There would be no confusion about which twin was which. The older twin was a red, hirsute wild man of a baby given the name Esau, or “hairy”, by his parents Isaac and Rebekah. The younger twin was a milder, paler child who emerged from the womb holding the heel of his barely-older brother. They named number two Jacob, meaning “he grasps by the heel”, supplanter, deceiver.

I wonder if Isaac and Rebekah reflected on that word from God as they were raising these two polar opposites. Surely they must have, though the divide-and-conquer favoritism each parent showed toward a specific son seemed to have

more to do with personality and preference than it did prophecy. Isaac cherished man’s man Esau. Rebekah coddled the less-macho homeboy Jacob. A lifetime of being one parent’s favorite boiled over between the brothers when Esau devalued, then traded his legal rights as heir and executor to Jacob for a bowl of lentil stew. To seal the deal as Isaac was dying, Rebekah coached her younger son in an elaborate scheme that would gain him his father’s blessing. This blessing would be an empowering “yes” over his life he’d carry as a guarantee over his future as head of the family. Rebekah’s scheme makes her a candidate for the stage mother Hall of Fame. (And it isn’t exactly a glowing endorsement about the state of her relationship with her aging husband, either.) He who was named supplanter wasn’t the only heel-grabber here. Rebekah did a little heel-grabbing, too.

When Esau found out that he’d been played by his mother and brother, he breathed threats against Jacob. Though he hadn’t valued his role, and had eroded relationships in the family by marrying two contentious Hittite women, he was understandably hurt and angry. Rebekah, who’d always held her favorite son in clenched fists, realized that the only way to save her Jacob was to send him far, far away:

Now then, my son, do what I say: Flee at once to my brother Laban in Harran. Stay with him for a while until your brother’s fury subsides. When your brother is no longer angry with you and forgets what you did to him, I’ll send word for you to come back from there. Why should I lose both of you in one day?” (Gen. 27:43-45)

She then added a bit of additional commentary to these instructions when she told her frail husband, “I’m disgusted with living because of these Hittite women. If Jacob takes a wife from among the women of this land, from Hittite women like these, my life will not be worth living.” (Gen. 27:46) I’d like to think that just maybe there was an apology or expression of regret for her manipulation that preceded these words, but it is not recorded here.

What is recorded is that Jacob is sent away from his family from Beersheva to Haran, a distance of 500 or so miles (give or take) back to the family’s relatives nto a kind of exile in order to save his life and find a suitable wife. Isaac sent Jacob with a second blessing, which served to further enrage Esau. In response, Esau married a couple of more wives apart from his parents’ blessing as if to underscore his disgust with them both.

Rebekah lost what she’d worked so hard to keep. This would be another story of nothing-new-under-the-sun family dysfunction if it weren’t for the fact that there was a larger story at work in the family, even in the midst of all the conniving and favoritism. It was a story that began years earlier with God’s call to his grandfather Abram, a call that gave him – and all of his generations following him – the identity of pilgrims.

Even if it took exile to live into that truth, God was at work in the mess and manipulation in this family. In spite of who they were, and because of who he is. In the messes of my own life, this is a wonderfully encouraging reality.

Have you ever had to flee a relationship or situation because of favoritism or nepotism? When you reflect on that situation today, how might you see God at work on your behalf in spite of the mess and manipulation of others? 

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