When Isaac was old, his eyes were so dim that he could not tell his sons apart by sight, he prepared to bless the elder son — Esau. Rebekah hatched a plot so that Jacob would receive the blessing. Isaac and Rebekah had been told by God before the birth of their twin sons that “the older shall serve the younger” (Genesis 25:23). Was Rebekah’s deceit an act of motherly love?
Isaac and Esau’s Secret
Rebekah responded to a scheme by her husband to bless Esau in secret. Isaac’s intention was to “convey his blessings upon Esau to the exclusion of Jacob altogether.” Although the law of primogeniture sanctioned this move because Esau was the older brother, the blessing was usually conducted in public. God had already told the couple that the blessing would go to Jacob. Rebekah was alarmed by her husband’s scheme and felt the need to act quickly for Jacob’s sake.
Since Jacob was smooth and Esau was hairy, Rebekah told Jacob to wear a fur, which Isaac would mistake for the older boy’s hairy skin. “Rebekah took the best garments of Esau her older son, which were with her in the house, and put them on Jacob her younger son” (Genesis 27:15). She disguised him with “the skins of [...] young goats” (Genesis 27:16) and now the boy was ready to deceive his father.
The clothes would fool what was left of Isaac’s vision and also tricked his sense of smell, since “Isaac smelled the smell of his garments” (Genesis 27:27). The furs would fool his hands. Although Isaac said, “the voice is Jacob’s voice,” (Genesis 27:22) he was willing to believe Jacob was, in fact, Esau and gave him the blessing.
Both parents, and their sons, would have benefited if Rebekah and Isaac formed a unified front. While many children are raised by supportive, loving single parents, if there are two parents in the home, they must work together in order to supply children with a sense of security, unity, and moral direction.
One must wonder how this family became so disconnected. They had no confidence to communicate openly and honestly with one another. They were not unified. Charles Spurgeon points out that Rebekah and Isaac lacked confidence in God, in doing the right thing, or in their respective spouses.
Isaac was gentle, “too gentle to encounter opposition.” Both he and Rebekah were “true believers” according to Spurgeon, but Isaac “sinned in that he was forgetful of the mind of God.” Both of them were guilty of this sin. Yet, the father (and husband), should have been the spiritual leader of the family. Ephesians 5:22 says, “Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord.”
Isaac avoided conflict by avoiding honest conversation, so Rebekah had made a habit of eavesdropping. “The Hebrew form that is used in the original text suggests that this was a habit, a pattern of behavior, not a happenstance.” Had Isaac stood up for righteousness, Rebekah might have realized that “the most Isaac can do is recognize God’s call and blessing on Jacob. Only God can truly bestow the blessing.”
But then they would not have been in this position if he had respected God’s will. The family “seem[s] to regard the blessing as ‘magical,’ as something detached from God's wisdom and will” as though God’s plans could be overcome by parental preference.
Rebekah’s Maternal Mistakes
The fracture in this family did not happen in a vacuum — it had been coming for some time. Here are some mistakes Rebekah made:
1. She should have trusted God. We know she didn’t trust Him, not just in this emergency, but generally. When a parent believes God needs help establishing His plans and carrying out His will, her children learn that God is not Almighty.
Esau “despised his birthright” (Genesis 25:34). He had not learned to cherish the blessing of being one of God’s chosen people, and even though they knew a role reversal was coming, Esau’s lack of self-control was symptomatic of a larger problem.
His choice of Canaanite wives, which brought pain to Isaac and Rebekah (Genesis 26:34-35), also mocked the Lord. As for the younger son, “Jacob’s objections” to this mother’s plot “deal with pragmatics rather than principle.” He learned to be more concerned about the consequences than what was right.
2. She should have confronted Isaac in response to what she had overheard long before tricking him with furs and borrowed clothing. God’s people are supposed to gently but firmly speak truth “even to those in authority over us.” Instead, she had been prepared with the “props” to trick Isaac for a long time.
Spurgeon said cunning “seems to have been stamped in them by their progenitors.” The family was deeply entrenched in a cycle of generational deceit. Abraham and Isaac told their wives to pose as their sisters (Genesis 12:11-12; Genesis 26:6-7). Laban later tricked Jacob in marriage and Jacob and his family would leave Laban secretly. Laban even accused his son-in-law of conniving and kidnapping (Genesis 31:26-27).
Psalm 119:111 says of God, “Your statutes are my heritage forever; they are the joy of my heart.” Parents leave an inheritance for their children: Rebekah and Isaac both inherited the skills to connive, and Rebekah’s twin boys were beneficiaries of the interest earned on generations of deception.
3. Rebekah should have fostered unity and brotherly affection. “A house divided against itself cannot stand” (Matthew 12:25). Jacob shows no attachment to Esau or vice versa. Jacob does not respect Isaac, the Lord, or even his mother.
At this point, Jacob could have told Rebekah “this is the wrong thing to do,” but self-interest won the day. Esau and Jacob would reunite one day, but the mistrust and lack of foundational affection was evident.
In Genesis 33, even after Esau forgives Jacob, neither man will accept a gift from the other. When one is accustomed to mistrust, other people’s gifts seem to have strings attached. Look at Jacob taking advantage of Esau at his most vulnerable.
Perhaps neither man was prepared to trust the other. Rebekah (and Isaac) did a poor job of modeling or teaching support, unity, and affection. They used their children as pawns and established teams, winners, and losers.
One cannot blame Rebekah for the choices her children made or lay all parental blame on her. Obviously, Isaac engaged in underhanded operations as well. Meanwhile, “parents are not to be put to death for their children, nor children put to death for their parents; each will die for their own sin” (Deuteronomy 24:16).
Each person must own and repent of his or her sin individually. But Rebekah’s actions were still pivotal and led to certain consequences. If Isaac and Esau had been permitted to bring their plan to fruition, a different set of consequences would have been unleashed.
The Consequences of Rebekah’s Plan
While Jacob received the blessing, he found himself stuck in the cycle of deceit which had followed him and would continue within his household, but which started with fleeing for his life from an enraged brother, Jacob would never see his parents again.
Neither brother would see the other for many years. The events which followed were only partially her responsibility, but Rebekah was the brains behind the scheme. Her son did as he was told (Genesis 27:13).
Did Rebekah Do Anything Right?
A good mother wants the best for her children. She will do what it takes to ensure her children have what they need. Charles Spurgeon points out that she made a tremendous sacrifice in order to ensure her son received Isaac’s blessing — she never saw her son again. Rebekah (unlike Esau) understood what the blessing was worth.
Spurgeon suggests that the reader not be too hard on Rebekah for her misguided actions. She remembered God’s word, although she forgot God’s power. A good mother wants her children to obey God and seeks to raise morally upright children who rely on God first.
Fortunately, while we cannot trust human beings to bring God’s purposes to fruition in their own strength (not Rebekah, and not any mother), we can rely on God to bring his good works to completion. He will have victory because, through His Son Jesus, He has already conquered every sinful scheme of man.
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Candice Lucey loves Christ and writing about His promises brings her much pleasure. She lives in the mountains of BC, Canada with her family.