Domestic life comes to the front again and once again family life is not harmonious. Esau, now forty, has two wives Judith, the daughter of Beeri the Hittite and Basemath the daughter of Elon the Hittite. His parents are united in their unhappiness. Their older son’s choice of wives from among the local non-One God fearing people causes much quarrelling. Perhaps this helps to set up the next part of the story – the popular shorthand for which is Rebekah’s trickery wins Jacob the blessing which should go to the older son.
So let us turn to consider that episode, with that background hint that Esau is not pleasing his parents with his choice of wives. Isaac is now old and blind and knowing that his end is coming he wishes to give him his blessing before he dies. He calls Esau and asks him to go out and hunt for the game which he loves and Esau has endeared himself to his father by his delight and skill in hunting. During his favourite meal which will follow, he will give Esau his blessing before he dies. Fortuitously Rebekah overhears – this is her chance to ensure that the prophecy made before her children were born is enacted. Again, we see that glimpse of a woman of firm decision. She calls Jacob, her favoured son, and explains her plan he is to go and get two kids from the flock and she will prepare the meal in the way his father likes and Jacob will take the food into his blind father and pretend to be Esau, thus obtaining the blessing. Jacob objects what if his father touches him, his brother is hairy and he is not. Rebekah has thought about that – she’ll take the blame for unpleasantness afterwards. When he returns, she cooks the food just in the way his father likes. She then gives Jacob, Esau’s fine garment which she happens to have handy (despite him having two wives and presumably a tent of his own). Genesis 27v16-18 (Nicholas King translation):
“And she put on his arms the skins of the kids and on the uncovered bits of his neck. And she gave the delicacies and the loaves of bread which she had made into the hands of her son Jacob. And he brought them to his father.”
Isaac is at first suspicious because he recognises the voice of Jacob, but when he touches him, he feels hairy as Esau. He gives him the blessing. Esau then comes home and goes into his father and they realise that they have been tricked. He can’t give the blessing for the first born now to Esau. Somewhat understandably Esau is angry and makes threats to kill his brother once his father dies.
Rebekah hears about this and again takes action. She goes to Isaac, who must have realised her part in the deception, and uses an argument with him that will work. They had both been unhappy with their elder son’s choice of wives and the situation has been getting her down and she can’t bear the thought of Jacob too choosing a wife from amongst the locals. She suggests, that (as his father did) they send him back to their kin – that is Laban her brother, who they must have heard has daughters.
Isaac agreed to this request and he called Jacob to bless him and send him on his way. Genesis 28 v1-4:
“Do not marry a Canaanite woman. Go to Paddan-aran to the house of Bethuel, your mother’s father and choose a wife for yourself from the daughters of Laban, your mother’s brother. May God Almighty bless you and make you increase to become a group of nations. May he grant you and your descendants the blessing of Abraham so that you may take possession of the land where you live now as an alien, the land that the Lord gave to Abraham.”
Thus Jacob is sent off. We don’t hear any more of Rebekah as the narrative now moves on to Jacob’s family. Her trickery may have obtained the promised-blessing but the personal cost is great – she loses her son and we do not hear of her ever seeing him again. Although she tells him she will send for him when his brother’s anger dies down, circumstances don’t work that way.
We do hear though about her burial place – she is buried in the family cave at Hebron that Abraham negotiated when Sarah died. In death these early Patriarchs and Matriarchs are buried together.
Our next episodes of “Woman of the Bible” will take us to the entwined lives of the sisters Rachel and Leah, wives of Jacob.