Rebekah (Rebecca)

Isaac's wife was known for her kindness and beauty--and deception.

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Reprinted with permission from Who's Who in the Hebrew Bible (The Jewish Publication Society).

Rebekah daughter of Bethuel, Abraham's nephew, was the wife of Isaac and the mother of the twins Esau and Jacob. When he saw that his son Isaac was already forty years old and still unmarried, Abraham decided that the time had come to find a bride for his son.

He sent his trusted servant Eliezer to his relatives in Haran in Mesopotamia with instructions to bring back a bride for Isaac, because he didn't want his son to marry any of the local Canaanite girls.

Giving Water to the Camels

Eliezer took with him ten loaded camels and set out for the city of Nahor. On his arrival, he made the camels kneel down by the well outside the city and said to himself:

"O Lord, God of my master Abraham, grant me good fortune this day, and deal graciously with my master Abraham: Here I stand by the spring as the daughters of the townsmen come out to draw water; let the maiden to whom I say, 'Please, lower your jar that I may drink,' and who replies, 'Drink, and I will also water your camels'--let her be the one whom You have decreed for Your servant Isaac. Thereby shall I know that You have dealt graciously with my master (Genesis 24:12–14)."

He had scarcely finished speaking his thoughts aloud when Rebekah came carrying a jar on her shoulder. She descended to the spring, filled her jar, and climbed back up. Eliezer ran to her and asked her if he could drink a little water from her jar. "Drink, my lord," she said. After he drank, she said, "I will also draw for your camels, until they finish drinking (Genesis 24:18–19)."

Eliezer gazed at her silently while she gave water to the camels. He then gave her a gold earring and two gold bracelets and asked her, "Pray tell me, whose daughter are you? Is there room in your father's house for us to spend the night?"

She replied, "I am the daughter of Bethuel the son of Milcah, whom she bore to Nahor. There is plenty of straw and feed at home, and also room to spend the night (Genesis 24:23–25)." The man bowed low and blessed the Lord for having guided him to the house of his master's kinsmen.

Rebekah ran to her mother's house and told her relatives what had happened. Her brother Laban saw the earring and the bracelets on his sister's hands and ran to the well to invite the man to come to the house.

Eliezer entered the house while his camels were un­loaded and given straw. Water was brought to bathe Eliezer's feet and the feet of the men that came with him. Food was set before him, but he refused to eat until he told them that Abraham had send him to find a bride for his son and heir and how he had realized that Rebekah was the intended one.

Laban and Bethuel answered, "The matter was decreed by the Lord; we cannot speak to you bad or good. Here is Rebekah before you; take her and go, and let her be a wife to your master's son, as the Lord has spoken (Genesis 24:50–51)."

Eliezer, hearing these words, bowed low to the ground before God. Then he took out more objects of silver and gold and clothing and gave them to Rebekah. He also gave presents to Laban and to his mother. After this, he and his men ate and drank, and they rested in the night.

Early next morning, they announced that they wanted to depart. Rebekah's mother and Laban asked Eliezer if Rebekah could stay with them for another ten days.

"Do not delay me, now that the Lord has made my errand successful. Give me leave that I may go to my master," answered Eliezer (Genesis 24:56). They called Rebekah and said to her, "Will you go with this man?" Rebekah answered, "I will (Genesis 24:58)." Then she, her nurse Deborah, and her maids arose, mounted the camels, and followed Eliezer, while her relatives blessed her.

Jacob and Esau

Isaac was strolling in the field toward evening when he saw camels approaching. Rebekah raised her eyes and saw Isaac. She alighted from the camel and asked Eliezer, "Who is that man walking in the field toward us?"

Eliezer answered, "That is my master (Genesis 24:65)." Rebekah took her veil and covered herself. Isaac brought her into the tent of his mother, Sarah. They married, and Rebekah became a great comfort to Isaac, who had felt very lonely after the death of his mother.

For twenty years, Rebekah was not able to conceive, until Isaac, then sixty years old, prayed to God on her behalf. During Rebekah's pregnancy, she felt the babies struggling in her womb and was told by the Lord that each of the boys would become the progenitor of a nation and that the older would serve the younger. Esau was born first, red and hairy. Moments later, Jacob came out, holding Esau's heel.

Esau, his father's favorite, grew up to be a skilled hunter, a simple fellow, and an outdoors man--impetuous, impatient, and easily manipulated by his shrewd brother. Jacob, his mother's favorite, was completely his opposite: a patient, thoughtful, stay-at-home type.

Esau married at the age of forty, the same age of his father, Isaac, when he married Rebekah. His wives, two Hittite women called Judith and Basemath, did all they could to make life miserable for Isaac and Rebekah.

Years went by and Isaac, now grown old and blind, decided to bless his elder son; but first, he wanted to eat. He called Esau and told him, "I am old now, and I do not know how soon I may die. Take your gear, your quiver and bow, and go out into the open and hunt me some game. Then prepare a dish for me such as I like, and bring it to me to eat, so that I may give you my innermost blessing before I die (Genesis 27:2–4)."

Rebekah overheard the conversation and devised a plan by which Jacob would receive Isaac's blessing. She instructed Jacob to disguise himself as Esau by putting on his brother's clothing and covering his arms and neck with the skin of a goat to simulate Esau's hairiness. She prepared a savory dish of meat and sent Jacob with it to his father.

Furious at Jacob's trickery, Esau vowed that he would kill Jacob as soon as Isaac passed away. Rebekah, to protect Jacob from Esau's revenge, decided to send him away to her brother Laban in Haran. She went to Isaac and complained that she was weary of her life because of Esau's Hittite wives, adding if Jacob also married one of the local girls, she would have no wish to continue living.

Isaac called Jacob, blessed him, and said, "You shall not take a wife from among the Canaanite women. Up, go to Paddan-aram, to the house of Bethuel, your mother's father, and take a wife there from among the daughters of Laban, your mother's brother (Genesis 28:1–2)."

Years passed and Deborah, Rebekah's nurse, died and was buried near Beth-el under an oak. Rebekah died and was buried in the cave of Machpelah, where Abraham and Sarah were buried and where Esau and Jacob would eventually bury Isaac, who died at the age of 180.

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David Mandel studied at the University of Pennsylvania under Bible scholar Moshe Greenberg, and moved to Israel in 1970, where he founded Computronic Corporation, an Israeli software development company that specializes in biblical software.