Frymer-Kensky, Tikva Reading the Women of the Bible: A new Interpretation of their Stories. (Shocken Books, New York, 2002).
REBECCA / RIVKA
Prologue: Genesis 22:20-24
20 Some time afterward, the news came to Abraham: “Milcah too has borne sons to your brother Nahor: 21 Uz, his firstborn, his brother Buz, Kemuel the father of Aram, 22 Chesed, Hazo, Pildash, Jidlaph, and Bethuel.” 23 Bethuel became the father of Rebekah. These eight Milcah bore to Nahor, Abraham’s brother. 24 His concubine, whose name was Reumah, also bore children: Tebah, Gaham, Tahash, and Maacah.
Scene One: Genesis 24:1-9
1 Abraham was old, having seen many days, and the LORD had blessed him in every way. 2Abraham said to the senior servant of his household, who had charge of all his possessions: “Put your hand under my thigh, 3 and I will make you swear by the LORD, the God of heaven and the God of earth, that you will not take a wife for my son from the daughters of the Canaanites among whom I live, 4 but that you will go to my own land and to my relatives to get a wife for my son Isaac.” 5 The servant asked him: “What if the woman is unwilling to follow me to this land? Should I then take your son back to the land from which you came?” 6 Abraham told him, “Never take my son back there for any reason! 7 The LORD, the God of heaven, who took me from my father’s house and the land of my relatives, and who confirmed by oath the promise he made to me, ‘I will give this land to your descendants’—he will send his angel before you, and you will get a wife for my son there. 8 If the woman is unwilling to follow you, you will be released from this oath to me. But never take my son back there!” 9 So the servant put his hand under the thigh of his master Abraham and swore to him concerning this matter.
Scene Two: Genesis 24:10-14
10 The servant then took ten of his master’s camels, and bearing all kinds of gifts from his master, he made his way to the city of Nahor in Aram Naharaim. 11 Near evening, at the time when women go out to draw water, he made the camels kneel by the well outside the city. 12 Then he said: “LORD, God of my master Abraham, let it turn out favorably for me today and thus deal graciously with my master Abraham. 13 While I stand here at the spring and the daughters of the townspeople are coming out to draw water, 14 if I say to a young woman, ‘Please lower your jug, that I may drink,’ and she answers, ‘Drink, and I will water your camels, too,’ then she is the one whom you have decided upon for your servant Isaac. In this way I will know that you have dealt graciously with my master.”
Scene Three: Genesis 24:15-27
15 He had scarcely finished speaking when Rebekah—who was born to Bethuel, son of Milcah, the wife of Abraham’s brother Nahor—came out with a jug on her shoulder. 16 The young woman was very beautiful, a virgin, untouched by man. She went down to the spring and filled her jug. As she came up, 17 the servant ran toward her and said, “Please give me a sip of water from your jug.” 18 “Drink, sir,” she replied, and quickly lowering the jug into her hand, she gave him a drink. 19 When she had finished giving him a drink, she said, “I will draw water for your camels, too, until they have finished drinking.” 20 With that, she quickly emptied her jug into the drinking trough and ran back to the well to draw more water, until she had drawn enough for all the camels. 21 The man watched her the whole time, silently waiting to learn whether or not the LORD had made his journey successful. 22 When the camels had finished drinking, the man took out a gold nose-ring weighing half a shekel, and two gold bracelets weighing ten shekels for her wrists. 23 Then he asked her: “Whose daughter are you? Tell me, please. And is there a place in your father’s house for us to spend the night?” 24 She answered: “I am the daughter of Bethuel the son of Milcah, whom she bore to Nahor. 25 We have plenty of straw and fodder,” she added, “and also a place to spend the night.” 26 The man then knelt and bowed down to the LORD, 27 saying: “Blessed be the LORD, the God of my master Abraham, who has not let his kindness and fidelity toward my master fail. As for me, the LORD has led me straight to the house of my master’s brother.”
Scene Four: Genesis 24:28-52
28 Then the young woman ran off and told her mother’s household what had happened. 29 Now Rebekah had a brother named Laban. Laban rushed outside to the man at the spring. 30When he saw the nose-ring and the bracelets on his sister’s arms and when he heard Rebekah repeating what the man had said to her, he went to him while he was standing by the camels at the spring. 31 He said: “Come, blessed of the LORD! Why are you standing outside when I have made the house ready, as well as a place for the camels?” 32 The man then went inside; and while the camels were being unloaded and provided with straw and fodder, water was brought to bathe his feet and the feet of the men who were with him. 33 But when food was set before him, he said, “I will not eat until I have told my story.” “Go ahead,” they replied.
34 “I am Abraham’s servant,” he began. 35 “The LORD has blessed my master so abundantly that he has become wealthy; he has given him flocks and herds, silver and gold, male and female slaves, and camels and donkeys. 36 My master’s wife Sarah bore a son to my master in her old age, and he has given him everything he owns. 37 My master put me under oath, saying: ‘You shall not take a wife for my son from the daughters of the Canaanites in whose land I live; 38 instead, you must go to my father’s house, to my own family, to get a wife for my son.’ 39 When I asked my master, ‘What if the woman will not follow me?’ 40 he replied: ‘The LORD, in whose presence I have always walked, will send his angel with you and make your journey successful, and so you will get a wife for my son from my own family and my father’s house. 41 Then you will be freed from my curse. If you go to my family and they refuse you, then, too, you will be free from my curse.’*
42 “When I came to the spring today, I said: ‘LORD, God of my master Abraham, please make successful the journey I am on. 43 While I stand here at the spring, if I say to a young woman who comes out to draw water, ‘Please give me a little water from your jug,’ 44 and she answers, ‘Drink, and I will draw water for your camels, too—then she is the woman whom the LORD has decided upon for my master’s son.’
45 “I had scarcely finished saying this to myself when Rebekah came out with a jug on her shoulder. After she went down to the spring and drew water, I said to her, ‘Please let me have a drink.’ 46 She quickly lowered the jug she was carrying and said, ‘Drink, and I will water your camels, too.’ So I drank, and she watered the camels also. 47 When I asked her, ‘Whose daughter are you?’ she answered, ‘The daughter of Bethuel, son of Nahor, borne to Nahor by Milcah.’ So I put the ring on her nose and the bracelets on her wrists. 48 Then I knelt and bowed down to the LORD, blessing the LORD, the God of my master Abraham, who had led me on the right road to obtain the daughter of my master’s kinsman for his son. 49 Now, if you will act with kindness and fidelity toward my master, let me know; but if not, let me know that too. I can then proceed accordingly.”
50 Laban and Bethuel said in reply: “This thing comes from the LORD; we can say nothing to you either for or against it. 51 Here is Rebekah, right in front of you; take her and go, that she may become the wife of your master’s son, as the LORD has said.” 52 When Abraham’s servant heard their answer, he bowed to the ground before the LORD.
Scene Five: Genesis 24:53-61
53 Then he brought out objects of silver and gold and clothing and presented them to Rebekah; he also gave costly presents to her brother and mother. 54 After he and the men with him had eaten and drunk, they spent the night there.
When they got up the next morning, he said, “Allow me to return to my master.”
55 Her brother and mother replied, “Let the young woman stay with us a short while, say ten days; after that she may go.” 56 But he said to them, “Do not detain me, now that the LORD has made my journey successful; let me go back to my master.” 57 They answered, “Let us call the young woman and see what she herself has to say about it.” 58 So they called Rebekah and asked her, “Will you go with this man?” She answered, “I will.” 59 At this they sent off their sister Rebekah and her nurse with Abraham’s servant and his men. 60 They blessed Rebekah and said:
“Sister, may you grow
into thousands of myriads;
And may your descendants gain possession
of the gates of their enemies!”
61 Then Rebekah and her attendants started out; they mounted the camels and followed the man. So the servant took Rebekah and went on his way.
Scene Six: Genesis 24:62-67
62 Meanwhile Isaac had gone from Beer-lahai-roi and was living in the region of the Negeb. 63 One day toward evening he went out to walk in the field, and caught sight of camels approaching. 64 Rebekah, too, caught sight of Isaac, and got down from her camel. 65 She asked the servant, “Who is the man over there, walking through the fields toward us?” “That is my master,” replied the servant. Then she took her veil and covered herself.
66 The servant recounted to Isaac all the things he had done. 67 Then Isaac brought Rebekah into the tent of his mother Sarah. He took Rebekah as his wife. Isaac loved her and found solace after the death of his mother.
Scene Seven: Genesis 25:20-26
20 Isaac was forty years old when he married Rebekah, the daughter of Bethuel the Aramean of Paddan-aram and the sister of Laban the Aramean. 21 Isaac entreated the LORD on behalf of his wife, since she was sterile. The LORD heard his entreaty, and his wife Rebekah became pregnant. 22 But the children jostled each other in the womb so much that she exclaimed, “If it is like this, why go on living!” She went to consult the LORD, 23 and the LORD answered her:
Two nations are in your womb,
two peoples are separating while still within you;
But one will be stronger than the other,
and the older will serve the younger.
24 When the time of her delivery came, there were twins in her womb. 25 The first to emerge was reddish,and his whole body was like a hairy mantle; so they named him Esau. 26 Next his brother came out, gripping Esau’s heel; so he was named Jacob. Isaac was sixty years old when they were born.
Scene Eight: Genesis 27: 1-13
1 When Isaac was so old that his eyesight had failed him, he called his older son Esau and said to him, “My son!” “Here I am!” he replied. 2 Isaac then said, “Now I have grown old. I do not know when I might die.3So now take your hunting gear—your quiver and bow—and go out into the open country to hunt some game for me. 4 Then prepare for me a dish in the way I like, and bring it to me to eat, so that I may bless you before I die.”
5 Rebekah had been listening while Isaac was speaking to his son Esau. So when Esau went out into the open country to hunt some game for his father, 6 Rebekah said to her son Jacob, “Listen! I heard your father tell your brother Esau, 7 ‘Bring me some game and prepare a dish for me to eat, that I may bless you with the LORD’s approval before I die.’ 8 Now, my son, obey me in what I am about to order you.9Go to the flock and get me two choice young goats so that with these I might prepare a dish for your father in the way he likes. 10 Then bring it to your father to eat, that he may bless you before he dies.” 11 But Jacob said to his mother Rebekah, “But my brother Esau is a hairy man and I am smooth-skinned! 12 Suppose my father feels me? He will think I am making fun of him, and I will bring on myself a curse instead of a blessing.” 13 His mother, however, replied: “Let any curse against you, my son, fall on me! Just obey me. Go and get me the young goats.”
Epilogue: Genesis 27:42-28:5
42 When Rebekah got news of what her older son Esau had in mind, she summoned her younger son Jacob and said to him: “Listen! Your brother Esau intends to get his revenge by killing you. 43 So now, my son, obey me: flee at once to my brother Laban in Haran, 44 and stay with him a while until your brother’s fury subsides— 45 until your brother’s anger against you subsides and he forgets what you did to him. Then I will send for you and bring you back. Why should I lose both of you in a single day?”
46 Rebekah said to Isaac: “I am disgusted with life because of the Hittite women. If Jacob also should marry a Hittite woman, a native of the land, like these women, why should I live?”
28:1 Isaac therefore summoned Jacob and blessed him, charging him: “You shall not marry a Canaanite woman! 2 Go now to Paddan-aram, to the home of your mother’s father Bethuel, and there choose a wife for yourself from among the daughters of Laban, your mother’s brother. 3 May God Almighty bless you and make you fertile, multiply you that you may become an assembly of peoples. 4 May God extend to you and your descendants the blessing of Abraham, so that you may gain possession of the land where you are residing, which he assigned to Abraham.” 5 Then Isaac sent Jacob on his way; he went to Paddan-aram, to Laban, son of Bethuel the Aramean, and brother of Rebekah, the mother of Jacob and Esau.
Patriarchy the norm in Israel and other nearby societies then and for millennia after. Decision-making for the clan (few nuclear families back then) rested in a particular father. Even so, matriarchs could play a big role – influencing, guiding, arranging, and more.
“Rebecca is the only woman of the bible whose birth is recorded.” (Frymer-Kensky p. 5)
Allows the narrative which comes later to proceed without interruption at that point to explain who she was and how she was related. This exceptional mention establishes that Rebecca will have an important role in transmitting the divine promise of descendants. Links to Abraham’s birth family, not to “foreign women”.
Bringing her into the story at this point creates an overlap with Sarah – in a sense she is “groomed” (or we are “groomed” to be ready for her) to take over the matriarchal role in Israel’s history.
Abraham and Sarah have been promised descendants as numerous as the stars and a land. If Isaac goes back to the homeland and fails to return the promises are for naught. Can a girl be found who will come / leave all behind, as Abraham and Sarah did, to go to this distant place? If she DOES – another link to the matriarchal Sarah role. In some ways the whole future of Israel hangs in the balance.
“The sign is not random: it will also show that the girl has a willing heart. Abraham has described the characteristics of an ideal woman for his son: she must be from the homeland and be willing to come. The servant wants more: she must be hospitable and strong.”…”Like the mighty wife of Proverbs 31, she must be both caring and industrious.” (Frymer-Kensky p. 8)
Rebecca appears at the well (an important location throughout the Bible) and meets the criteria: beautiful, old enough, a virgin, and very generous/strong (to water camels until they are finished drinking).
Frymer-Kensky p. 9 notes that virginity as a state values not only “purity” but discipline in her and her family.
The text notes that she went down to the well and came up again (verse 16). Some wells were vertical shafts with a bucket to lower and draw up, while other wells were approached by going down a slope or path and then walking back up with the filled bucket. Apparently the second is what is envisioned here – and therefore Rebecca does an enormous amount of work for this stranger and his camels!
So far, so good – it appears that the LORD has brought Rebecca forth so that she might be a part of the divine plan. Will she and her family agree? (Note that this is the same important question that Mary faces in the NT.)
“…it is indeed very important that she be Bethuel and Milkah’s daughter rather than someone else. There are three reasons for this: the facts that the family worships Yahweh, that Rivka’s father is descended from Terah, and that Rivka’s mother is also descended from Terah. The family’s devotion to YHWH is immediately apparent.” … “Rivka, like Isaac, is doubly Terahite. A marriage between them will keep the lineage as pure as possible. The genealogy of the mothers is important to preserve the intensity of this same lineage. The genealogies repeatedly mention Milkah’s name, and God reminds Abraham that Abraham’s covenant must come through a child of Sarah (Gen. 17:15-19). In the same way, Rivka is destined to be the one to bear a child to Isaac, who will inherit YHWH’s covenanted promise.” (Frymer-Kensky p. 12)
“We do not often hear of the consent of children in an arranged marriage. Abraham and his servant do not consult Isaac before the servant tenders his offer. But Rivka has to move far away, cut her ties to her birth family and go out to what is essentially a pioneer country.” … “Her “I will go” answers the four times the issue of going has been raised in the story (verses 4, 7, 38, and 40) and echoes God’s command to Abraham to “Go!” in Gen. 12:1” (Frymer-Kensky p. 13) And also Mary in Luke.
Frymer-Kensky p. 14 parallels between Abraham and Rebecca:
- · Both models of hospitality (they run / hurry to be kind)
- · Both go way beyond normal kindness / generosity
“”her decisiveness, her strong will, and her embrace of her destiny make her a strong active link between Abraham and Jacob.” Frymer-Kensky p. 14
She veils herself before meeting Isaac. May have been the regional custom. Movement from being a “young girl” to a “young, marriageable woman”? Custom idea – later story of Rachel / Leah and marrying the “wrong” one shows that the veil is ancient. Modern issue: recent cartoon in which a fully covered and veiled Muslim woman and a scantily clad young American woman look at each other and both think “what a victim of male society and chauvinism”.
“The reader has been given two clues that God has a special interest in Rivka. Both the announcement of her birth and the providential nature of her marriage indicate that she is woman of destiny with a divinely ordained role to play. But first, she must become a mother. And this is neither easy nor ordinary. Like Sarah before her, and Rachel after her, Rivka has to undergo a period of infertility.” Frymer-Kensky p. 15
Text not provided indicate that she spent 19 years trying to get pregnant (based on age of Isaac at marriage and at birth of child)
Twins! The natural problem of sibling rivalry compounded, a big theme in biblical tradition presumably because it was a recurring problem in society. Prodigal son story of gospels, “tell my brother to give me my inheritance” etc.
“Rivka takes a prominent role in fulfilling her birth oracle, acting to guarantee that her younger son will achieve his destiny as the preeminent heir. That moment comes as it is time to transfer the family heritage from Isaac to the next generation.” Frymer-Kensky p. 17 IT WASN’T UP TO HER !!!!
“In the world of the ancestors, a father could determine who was going to be his “firstborn,” his chief heir, and could change his mind even on his deathbed.” Frymer Kensky p. 18 Not up to Jacob and Esau despite their “deal”.
Rivka’s motives unclear. The birth oracle? Preference for the home-body son over the hunter? In any case God works out God’s plan despite human twists and turns and free will.
Shepherds used skins of dead lamb around another lamb to get the mother of a dead lamb to nurse.
“Rivka knows that once uttered, a curse cannot be easily removed, but it can be deflected, and Rivka offers to take the consequences of the cuse upon herself. She is the first woman to do so, but not the last. … This is a very persuasive technique, and it works.” Frymer-Kensky p. 18
“The deception of the blind elderly Isaac is a bizarre episode, verging on both the tragic and the burlesque. It rests on a premise alien to contemporary thinking, that a blessing unwittingly bestowed is still a blessing. And it assumes that trickery is not automatically immoral. Many heroes of the Bible, including Moses and David, use trickery when frontal assaults will not work, and the Jacob cycle has quite a few trickster stories.” Frymer-Kensky p. 19 Isaac – wife/sister even.
“The biblical world valued cunning in the underdog. Only the powerful value honesty at all costs. The powerless know that trickery may save their lives. Early interpreters, both Jewish and Christian, praised Rivka, as did medieval and reformation writers.” Parallels in our day? Welfare / food stamp “cheaters” trying to survive?
Again – did the oracle provide divine “cover” for her actions?
“Is the storyteller hinting that Isaac realized what was happening, while at the same time casting aspersion on Esau and the Edomites that they smell like goats? Rivka’s plan and Jacob’s execution of it may have brought Isaac to realize that, come what may, Jacob would be superior over Esau. Or not, and Isaac was simply tricked.” Frymer-Kensky p. 20
If Esau killed Jacob, he himself would have to be executed, and Rivka would lose both her children. To prevent this, Jacob must flee, and her brother’s house, she intimates, would be sanctuary.” F-K p. 21
To Jacob – flee for safety. To Isaac – go get a good wife
“Rivka, moreover, has devoted her life to the promise. To her, the future of her son is bound up with the promise. The promise brought Abraham from Mesopotamia, and her after him. Rivka wants her own successor to make the same journey.” F-K p. 22
Sarah (harsh treatment of Ishmael) and Rebecca (Jacob over Esau) – both are doing things only to ensure the future / the promise / the will of God.
Women in patriarchal societies LOOK powerless, and to a great extent are hindered and boxed-in, BUT they also in ways small and large manage to influence and direct
F-K on p. 23 makes the point that it’s precisely when the matriarchs are absent (Rachel for Jacob) that things fall apart. (battles between the 13 sons etc.)