Friday, May 9, 2014

Jacob's Mom

The theme of a woman being barren; unable to conceive children is a familiar one in the Bible. We see it with Abraham's wife Sarah, who in God’s timing bore Isaac. Rebekah, Isaac's wife, was likewise afflicted.  A similar circumstance would play out for Jacob’s wife Rachel before she finally bore Joseph. We read another story from ancient Israel about a woman named Hannah, who also prayed for a son, and was answered with the birth of Samuel the prophet. Finally, we read in the New Testament how a woman named Elizabeth was barren, but in her old age bore a son who we know as John the Baptist. 

One common element that we see in all of these situations is how these mothers were instrumental in carrying out Jehovah’s plans for the nation of Israel. With some of them such as Hannah and Elizabeth we hear only of their obedience and faithfulness. In contrast, both Sarah and Rachel, in their impatience, tried to help God out in the area of providing offspring for their respective husbands. Of course God used their interference for his own purpose despite what we might see as their wavering faith. Rebekah's story, on the other hand, played out in a manner that is a little more difficult to label.  In light of the fact that this weekend we celebrate Mother's day, let's consider the motherhood of Rebekah.

Genesis 25:19-26 And these are the generations of Isaac, Abraham's son: Abraham begat Isaac: 20 And Isaac was forty years old when he took Rebekah to wife, the daughter of Bethuel the Syrian of Padanaram, the sister to Laban the Syrian. 21 And Isaac intreated the Lord for his wife, because she was barren: and the Lord was intreated of him, and Rebekah his wife conceived. 22 And the children struggled together within her; and she said, If it be so, why am I thus? And she went to enquire of the Lord. 23 And the Lord said unto her, Two nations are in thy womb, and two manner of people shall be separated from thy bowels; and the one people shall be stronger than the other people; and the elder shall serve the younger. 24 And when her days to be delivered were fulfilled, behold, there were twins in her womb. 25 And the first came out red, all over like an hairy garment; and they called his name Esau. 26 And after that came his brother out, and his hand took hold on Esau's heel; and his name was called Jacob: and Isaac was threescore years old when she bare them.

Now when I alluded to the fact that Rebekah's story seems a bit different, those familiar with the story will rightly guess that I refer to how she was instrumental in Jacob obtaining his father’s blessing.  But to rightly understand all of that, we need to remember a few things about Esau.

If we were to read on in scripture we would find that at one point Esau sold his birthright, that is the benefits he would have as the first born, to his brother Jacob. In doing so, the Bible says that he despised his birthright. Later Esau went against the wishes of his grandfather Abraham who specifically commanded his son not to take a wife from among the Canaanites who were known for their idolatry. This admonition seems to have been passed down by Isaac because Genesis 26:35 tells us that Esau’s marriages to two Hittite women were a "grief of mind" to Isaac and Rebekah. It is very likely that Esau joined his wives in their idolatry, since it is clear that he did not worship Jehovah. Those things, along with God’s promise at the time of their birth that the elder would serve the younger, would seem to be enough to clearly make Esau the black sheep of the family.

And yet, when Isaac was old and thought he may die soon, he still loved Esau enough that he attempted to bestow the ceremonial blessing on him, though Jacob had purchased the birthright. This may have been a case of Isaac’s natural affection getting the better of him. After all, what father doesn’t want his son to be a manly man, and Esau certainly was that. As the Bible tells us, Esau was a cunning hunter, a man of the field; and Jacob was a plain man, or as some translations make it a "simple" or "quiet" man. So, despite all of the strikes against Esau, his father Isaac called him in to bestow the blessing on him. But first, he requested that Esau would bring him a meal of his famous wild game pot roast.

That is where Rebekah stepped in. Knowing God’s words concerning the two boys; that Esau would serve Jacob; knowing the contempt Esau had shown for his birthright in selling it; knowing Esau’s worldliness in marrying idolaters, she decided to make sure her son Jacob received the blessing which Jehovah had declared he would receive.

Rebekah, plain and simple, engineered a way for Jacob to obtain the blessing by deceiving his father Isaac. She instructed Jacob to bring her two young goats which she prepared so that they would taste just like the dish that Esau was known for. No surprise there; who else but his mother would have taught Esau how to cook? Then Rebekah helped Jacob to disguise himself as his brother and instructed him to go in to his father pretending to be Esau and receive the blessing. The trickery was successful, and Jacob obtained the blessing, fulfilling the words of Jehovah at the birth of the two boys.

The question then comes up: was Rebekah justified in using deceit in this instance? Some propose that she should have gone in to her husband and reminded him of God’s promise concerning his two sons; reminded him that Esau sold his birthright; reminded him that Esau turned his back on them to marry idolaters. Certainly she should have been able to reason with him to make him understand that the blessing should go to Jacob!

Well, ...maybe that would have been the right approach, but if we are to give Rebekah the benefit of the doubt we might consider that she probably knew her husband’s disposition better than we do. Scholars seem to agree that Isaac was likely 137 years old at the time of the giving of the blessing. Since the Bible tells us that Isaac was 40 years old when he married Rebekah, that means they were soon coming up on their 100th wedding anniversary! I think by that time Rebekah probably had a pretty good handle on what she could or could not convince her husband to do!

So rather than speculate on whether Rebekah could have, or should have done some things differently, let’s celebrate her faithfulness. Rebekah received Jehovah’s promise that her son Jacob would be blessed. She held on to that promise and did not let natural affection for her other son get in the way of her love for God and respect for his decree. In fact, Rebekah not only respected what God had told her, she did what she could to carry out Jehovah’s decree. 

We each have a mother, and I have no doubt that many of them have also done their best to follow Jehovah’s decrees. Many of them did what they could to fulfill what is written in the book of Ephesians to bring up their children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. Most of our mothers did as the book of  Proverbs teaches and attempted to train up their children in the way they should go, so that when they are old they will not depart from it. Certainly some of our mothers have done what they could to make sure that it could be said of their children what was said of Timothy: that from a child they knew the holy scripture which was able to make them wise unto salvation through faith which is in Jesus Christ. 

All of these are reasons that we honor our mothers.  And all of these are a product of our mothers love for her children , but even more importantly her love for God.