Old Testament Women who appear in the New Testament - Rebecca
Michael Buckbridge, Grantham, England [SEE PROFILE BELOW]
The sovereign hand of God can be seen in all our lives and so it is helpful to look at those who have gone before to see how it worked and their response to it, both good and bad. While in one sense the sovereignty of God may not be any more outstanding in the life of Rebecca than others in scripture, it is interesting that the sole time she is mentioned in the New Testament, Rom. 9. 10 -12, it is in the context of God’s elective purpose in the history of the nation of Israel and especially in relation to the choice of Jacob over Esau. It seems fitting, therefore, to trace through her life a God who moves with authority and purpose in the affairs of this world, impacting the lives of every man and woman.
God’s plans, Rom. 9. 10; Gen. 22. 23
Even those of us who are tempted to skip through genealogies should be stopped in our tracks here, for it is unusual for a woman to be mentioned. In bringing the name of Rebecca into this genealogy, we are given a glimpse that this woman is going to play a significant part in the story to come; that God had already chosen her to be part of that history which also included Abraham, Sarah, Isaac and Jacob, Rom. 9. 7-13.
While perhaps intimidating to the human mind, for the believer, the sovereign work of God in our lives from eternity, Eph. 1. 4; 1 Pet. 1. 2, and His intimate knowledge of us from conception, Ps. 139. 13-16, should bring immense delight and joy. Is it not as part of our blessings in Christ and as an encouragement to suffering believers that such subjects are introduced? Isaiah would remind us that, ‘I am God, and there is none like me, declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times the things that are not yet done, saying, My counsel shall stand, and I will do all my pleasure’, 46. 9, 10. Paul marvelled at ‘the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! how unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past finding out!’ Rom. 11. 33.
Both delighted in the sovereignty of God for they knew that it was governed by His wisdom and nature and is therefore good. Difficult as it may be at times to accept, we can be assured that, whatever the circumstances we are born into, the words of Mordecai to Esther, Esther 4. 14, and of Paul to the Athenians, Acts 17. 26, 27, hold true because our times are completely governed by the knowledge and wisdom of God.
God’s call, Gen. 24
Romans chapter 9 makes God’s right to choose individuals to accomplish His purposes clear. The choice of Isaac over Abraham’s other sons could have been put down to the natural reason of Sarah’s relationship to Abraham, but there could be no such reason in the choice of Jacob over Esau, vv. 9-12. For Rebecca herself, the truth of God’s right to alter the direction of her life must have hit home with breathtaking suddenness. We will never know at what point of the servant’s narrative she realized the implications for her personally. Suffice it to say that, by the time it was finished, she knew that she was, at some point, to head off with this stranger to marry a man she had never met.
This was a real test, for she had no choice in the matter – her father and brother had agreed that she should go. How she spent the intervening night before that question, ‘Wilt thou go with this man?’ 24. 58, we will never know, but the answer, ‘I will go’, displayed a heart of faith that was ready to submit immediately to God’s call upon her life. The previous day she had been going about her usual daily tasks – did she wonder if things would ever change, or did she have plans and ambitions for herself? – the next day she was off to become a bride. ‘God willing’, is often tagged on to the expression of our plans, Jas. 4. 15, but how does our response to an unforeseen change reflect the reality of our submission to that will?
God’s delays, Rom. 9. 10; Gen. 25. 19-28
Do you ever think you know how God’s plan is going to work out? If all we had read was, ‘when Rebecca also had conceived by one’, Rom. 9. 10, we could be forgiven for thinking that Rebecca had been called to follow a smoothly laid path. The reality was painfully different, a twenty-year wait.
That things happen differently to how we had thought or planned is nothing new. Joseph, with a clear revelation that he would be in a position of authority, probably never imagined the problems that would litter the intervening years. 1 Moses, having finally responded to God’s call to return to Egypt to lead His people, was immediately faced with doubt from his own people and opposition from Pharaoh; 2 Mary and Martha expected the Lord to respond immediately to their call. 3 The lessons we learn from the delays and disappointments we encounter are all part of God’s sovereign hand in our lives. The choices we make in response to them will shape us for good or ill.
Disappointment over the delay here led to a positive response. In recognition of God’s hand in all things, first Isaac prays, and then, once pregnant and thinking that all would now be well but feeling the struggle within her, Rebecca too turns to God. As Asaph found in Psalm 73, it is in the presence of God that perspective and clarity is found. Where do we turn in the disappointments and confusion of life?
God’s word, Rom. 9. 12, 13; Gen. 25. 23
In response to Rebecca’s perplexity, God gives a direct explanation, including a prophecy regarding the relative position of the children in the purposes of God. Here again, God was acting sovereignly in decreeing that the elder would serve the younger. That Rebecca believed God seems to be evidenced by the following:
a) ‘But Rebekah loved Jacob’, 25. 28. No reason is given as to why Isaac loved Esau, but possibly it was because she knew that Jacob was the one God had chosen. If so, we would commend the faith but condemn the favouritism, which would later lead to problems in the household.
b) ‘Upon me be thy curse, my son’, 27. 13. Such was her confidence in the fact that Jacob would be the one blessed that she was willing to take the risk of any curse that might be uttered if her plan failed. We will look at the sadness of such an attitude in the next section, but, again, her utter confidence in God’s word seems evident.
That the younger would be the most prominent was against the culture of the day and yet Rebecca had no problem with believing God when He spoke. How willing are we to submit to the word of God in a culture that is generally against it? As men will scoff at the promises and warnings of God, e.g., 2 Pet. 3. 3, 4, let us have confidence as Abraham who was ‘fully persuaded that, what he had promised, he was able also to perform’, Rom. 4. 21.
God’s ways, Gen. 26-27
These two chapters mark a sad decline in the relationship between Isaac and Rebecca. First, they work together to deceive others and then, perhaps following her husband’s lead in considering deception as a suitable means to accomplish her own ends, Rebecca deceives her husband.
God is sovereign and we can respond to this in genuine submission – as Rebecca did in chapter 24 – or we can think that God needs a helping hand! We know, in principle, that God’s ways are higher than our ways and yet sometimes we force things along or use worldly wisdom to sort out an issue. Isaac, out of fear, put Rebecca in a potentially difficult situation by denying she was his wife; 4 Rebecca, possibly using the word of God to justify her actions, thought that she would help God out of another awkward situation by weighing in with her own skilful and energetic planning. How sad that it ended in one case, in the rebuke of the Philistine leader, and, in the other, in hatred and the breakup of the family. We need to learn that not just our ends, but also our means, need to fit in with the will of God. If we seek to accomplish good by means that are evil then we will be held accountable. Paul warns in 1 Corinthians chapter 3 verse 10 that we need to be careful how we build, and in chapter 13 verses 2 and 3 of the fact that we can be the most gifted person in the assembly and yet do nothing that will profit us if we do not have love.
The fact that in chapter 26 Isaac receives a hundredfold blessing and in chapter 27 Jacob receives the blessing does not absolve the responsibility of Isaac and Rebecca’s actions. Rather, it demonstrates the truth of this statement, ‘God is working out his eternal purpose, not only in spite of human and satanic opposition, but by means of them’, A. W. Pink. 5
Beyond Genesis chapter 27, Rebecca receives only fleeting mentions, in relation to Jacob’s visit to her family and the death of her nurse. We could think that, due to her actions in chapter 27, she has been set aside. It is therefore good to see in chapter 49 verse 31 that she is mentioned as buried in the family tomb; she is honoured as one in the great family of God.
Praise God for His grace because it is not our mistakes that need define us, but rather His sovereign choice in bringing us into a relationship with Him, a relationship that, because it is all of Him, can never be broken. T. Brooks says, ‘The sovereignty of God is the golden sceptre in his hand by which he will make all bow, either by his word or by his works, by his mercies or by his judgements’. 6 May we be willing to submit to His word and be a willing part in His infinite purpose, knowing that to do so will bring Him glory and us a share of it!
1 Gen. 37. 23-36; 39. 20; 40. 23.
2 Exod. 5.
3 John 11. 21, 32.
4 Cp. Abraham, Gen. 12. 10-20. Like Father like son!
5 A. W. Pink, The Sovereignty of God, https://chapellibrary.org:8443/pdf/books/sogo.pdf, pg. 167.
6 T. Brooks, quoted by J. Blanchard, Gathered Gold, Evangelical Press, 1984, pg. 123, 124.