Magazine article The Christian Century

Rebekah, Mother of Thousands

Magazine article The Christian Century

Rebekah, Mother of Thousands

Article excerpt

GENESIS offers us the stories of the patriarchs--of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, the 12 sons of Jacob, and Joseph. Through these men, we are told, God's promises were actualized. Yet here in the midst of all those stories about the patriarchs, the spotlight is on a woman, Rebekah, our matriarch in the faith.

Although her husband Isaac is a patriarch, Genesis tells us little about him: he is really not much more than a cipher linking Abraham and Jacob. He is born at the beginning of chapter 21, his father narrowly misses offering him up as a sacrifice in chapter 22, and he is married to Rebekah. We hear of the birth of his twin sons Jacob and Esau. We hear that he palms Rebekah off as his sister just as his father Abraham had done with Sarah, and that he digs a well just as Abraham had done. At the beginning of chapter 27, he is an old man ready to be duped by Jacob. By contrast, Rebekah takes center stage in chapter 24.

Of course, Rebekah's story still reflects a patriarchal world. Abraham sends his male servant back to the ancestral homeland to seek a wife for his son Isaac, a wife chosen beforehand by God, of course; it would be unthinkable for Rebekah to seek a husband for herself.

But within these patriarchal conventions we recognize a lively personage. Watch Rebekah in verses 16-20 and follow the verbs: she goes down to the spring, she fills her jar, she comes up. She lowers her jar from her head, gives Abraham's servant a drink, quickly empties her jar in the animal trough, then runs to the well to draw water for his camels. Just in case we didn't notice all this activity, we hear a reprise of it in the servant's report to her brother Laban.

Rebekah's importance is underlined by the elaboration of the gifts Abraham's servant has brought her, an inventory that includes the weight of the gold (the implication, of course, is that the gifts are valuable), and the elaborate conversation between Rebekah and the servant. …

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