3. Talk to Me - The Story of Isaac and Rebekah
God promised Abraham he would be the father of a great nation. In order to enjoy that privileged position, he obviously had to have a son, and we have traced the struggles of faith that finally brought Abraham and Sarah their son. His birth was the highlight of their eventful and exciting walk with God. What happiness Isaac brought to their home! And he was such a good boy—dutiful, obedient, and submissive to his parents. Submissiveness would seem to be the only way to explain how old Abraham could bind the young man and lay him on the altar of sacrifice. God substituted a ram in that suspense-packed drama of obedience and faith; Isaac was delivered and the three of them were joyfully reunited as a family.
There is every indication that it was a close family unit. They loved each other dearly. Isaac mourning for his mother three full years after her death would be some indication of the love they felt for one another (Gen. 24:67).
With Ishmael gone, Isaac was the only child at home and his parents’ lives revolved around him. He never wanted for anything. Abraham had grown to be fabulously wealthy by this time, and the record reveals that he gave it all to Isaac (Gen. 24:35, 36). Perhaps there was even a trace of smother love and overindulgence in their relationship.
It is doubtful that Abraham and Sarah realized they may have been affecting Isaac’s personality and making him poor marital material by the way they were raising him. In fact, they had not even thought about marriage. They were enjoying him so much they seemed to forget that he needed a wife if they were to become the progenitors of a great nation. But after Sarah died, Abraham realized that he must take the initiative and make plans to find a mate for his son. That is not the way our children find their marriage partners, but for that time and culture it was a beautiful love story.
For Isaac and Rebekah, it was a tender beginning. Abraham was old when the story began. He called for his senior servant, the manager of his entire household, and said to him, “You shall not take a wife for my son from the daughters of the Canaanites, among whom I live, but you shall go to my country and to my relatives, and take a wife for my son Isaac” (Gen. 24:3, 4). The Canaanites were a vile race, cursed by God and doomed to destruction. God would not be pleased for Isaac to marry one of them. Although Abraham’s relatives in northern Mesopotamia had their idols, they were at least a moral people who knew about God and respected him. And they were descendants of Shem who was blessed of God.
It was the only logical place to find a wife for Isaac. While we do not choose our children’s mates for them anymore, we must teach them from their earliest days the importance of marrying believers (cf. 1 Cor. 7:39; 2 Cor. 6:14). It will help them find God’s choice of a life partner when the time comes for that important decision to be made.
So the old servant began the toilsome trip to the vicinity of Haran, where Abraham’s brother had remained after Abraham migrated to Canaan sixty-five years earlier. Abraham had assured the servant that the angel of the Lord would go before him. With that sense of divine direction, he stopped at a well in the town of Nahor, which happened to be Abraham’s brother’s name. And he prayed that God would bring the right girl to that well and lead her to offer water for his camels. It was a very specific request for exactly the proper mate for Isaac. And there is a lesson in it for us. The best way for our children to find God’s choice of a mate is to pray about it. They can begin as children to pray about the one whom God is preparing for them. Praying through those years will help them keep their minds on the one most important factor in their choice—the will of God.
Before the servant got to the “Amen,” God had the answer on the way. Rebekah, who was the granddaughter of Abraham’s brother, came out with her jar on her shoulder. Scripture says she was very beautiful, and a virgin. When she came from the well with her jar filled with water, the servant ran to meet her and said, “Please let me drink a little water from your jar.” She said, “Drink, my lord” and she quickly gave him a drink. When he finished drinking she said, “I will draw also for your camels until they have finished drinking.” So she emptied her jar into the drinking trough and ran back to the well for some more, and she drew enough water for all ten of his camels (Gen. 24:15-20).
What a girl she was—beautiful, vivacious, friendly, outgoing, unselfish, and energetic. And when the servant found out that she was the granddaughter of Abraham’s brother, he bowed his head and worshiped the Lord: “Blessed be the Lord, the God of my master Abraham, who has not forsaken His lovingkindness and His truth toward my master; as for me, the Lord has guided me in the way to the house of my master’s brothers” (Gen. 24:27).
It becomes obvious from the outset of this story that God is the real matchmaker in the marriage. When the servant related to Rebekah’s family the indications of God’s guidance, her brother and her father agreed. “The matter comes from the Lord,” they said (Gen. 24:50). No matter what kinds of problems a marriage may encounter, they will be easier to solve if both husband and wife have a settled assurance that God has brought them together. Difficulties can be overcome without it, and must be if God is to be glorified. But the nagging notion that they married out of the will of God will make them less than enthusiastic about working at their relationship with self-sacrificing diligence.
Rebekah faced an immense decision in her life—leaving the home and family she would never see again, traveling nearly five hundred miles on camelback with a total stranger, to marry a man she had never met. Her family called her in and said, “Will you go with this man?” And she said, “I will go” (Gen. 24:58). It was her assurance of God’s sovereign direction that motivated her decision, and it revealed her courage and trust.
Certainly the hours of travel were filled with talk of Isaac. The old servant described him honestly and completely. Isaac was an unassuming, mild-mannered, peace-loving man. He would go to any lengths to avoid a fight (cf. Gen. 26:18-25). He was also a meditative man, not a quick thinker, but rather quiet and reserved. He was not the great man his father was, but he was a good man, with a steadfast faith in God and a sense of divine mission. He knew that through his seed God would bring spiritual blessing to the whole earth (Gen. 26:3-5). He was different from the radiant, quick-witted Rebekah—far different. But the experts tell us that opposites attract. And Rebekah could feel her heart being drawn to this one whom she would soon meet and give herself to in marriage.
Isaac was out in the field meditating at evening time when the camel caravan approached carrying his precious cargo. Rebekah dismounted from the camel when she saw Isaac, and covered herself with a veil as the custom was. After he had heard all the exciting details of the eventful trip and the providential guidance that had found him a bride, we read, “Then Isaac brought her into his mother Sarah’s tent, and he took Rebekah, and she became his wife; and he loved her; thus Isaac was comforted after his mother’s death” (Gen. 24:67). It was a tender beginning.
But somewhere along the way, this marriage began to sour. Look, secondly, at the tragic decline in their relationship. We are not absolutely certain what the problem was. It certainly was not lack of love, for Isaac truly loved Rebekah, and unlike some husbands, he openly showed it. About forty years after they were married he was seen tenderly caressing her in public (Gen. 26:8). That might lead us to believe that they had a good physical relationship. And that is important to a marriage. But a husband and wife cannot spend all their time in bed. They must also build a deep and intimate communion of soul and spirit. They must honestly share what is going on inside of them, what they are thinking and feeling. And there is not much evidence that Isaac and Rebekah did that.
One problem may have been their lack of children. Isaac could have resented that and yet not ever admitted it. Having children was far more important in that day than it is today, and they tried for about twenty years without success. Much bitterness can build inside of a person in twenty years. But Isaac finally turned to the right place with his problem. “And Isaac prayed to the Lord on behalf of his wife, because she was barren; and the Lord answered him and Rebekah his wife conceived” (Gen. 25:21).
Having babies does not solve problems, however. The twins who would soon be born were only going to agitate a problem that already existed in their relationship. It seems to have been a problem of communication. Rebekah with her bubbling personality loved to talk. Isaac with his retiring personality preferred solitude and silence. He was so hard to talk to. They shared less and less with each other through those years. And Rebekah’s bitterness grew because of that lack of communion and companionship for which every woman longs. Her voice probably took on a caustic tone. Her face may have developed lines of disgust and disdain. And her scornful glances and spiteful comments only drove Isaac farther from her to find his precious peace. He may even have become tone deaf to the frequency of her voice. Modem experts tells us that it can actually happen.
When Rebekah conceived, she had a violent pregnancy. Isaac was little help to her, so she cried out to the Lord for answers, and he spoke to her: “Two nations are in your womb; and two peoples shall be separated from your body; and one people shall be stronger than the other; and the older shall serve the younger” (Gen. 25:23). There is not one hint in Scripture that she ever shared with her husband this unusual divine prophecy that Jacob, the younger, would receive the blessing of the firstborn. In the only mention of Rebekah’s name outside the Book of Genesis, that promise is still exclusively hers. “It was said to her, ‘The older will serve the younger’” (Rom. 9:12). Why couldn’t she tell him even this amazing word from God? Why was it so hard for her to talk to Isaac about anything?
Marriage counselors estimate that fully half of all their cases involve a silent husband. In some instances, like Isaac’s, it may be genuinely difficult for the husband to talk. Maybe he does not think very deeply and does not have much to say. Maybe he has always been quiet and does not know how to communicate. In other instances, a normally communicative man may neglect sharing things with his wife because he gets preoccupied with other things and does not realize how important it is to talk to her. If she nags him about it, he may build a protective shroud of silence around himself and withdraw even more.
But whatever the cause of his quietness, he needs to work at communicating. His wife needs that verbal communion and companionship. God made her that way. And God can help a husband improve in this area if he wants to be helped and seeks that help from above. Whether or not he ever becomes a great talker, he can learn to be a good listener. His wife needs him to listen with undivided attention, not one ear on television and the other on her, but both ears aimed in her direction and wide open. That may be all she is really asking for. Men, love enough to listen!
There may be some cases where the problem is reversed. The husband may like to talk and the wife finds it difficult to communicate. Whichever the situation may be in your house, you can make it easier for your mate to talk by remembering a few simple principles. For one thing, don’t push; let your mate choose the time he feels most free to talk. Accept him without judgment when he does express his feelings and frustrations. When you must disagree, do it kindly and respectfully, not sarcastically or condemningly. Try to understand the other person instead of trying only to be understood. Don’t jump to conclusions, but patiently hear him out. And by all means, don’t nag! Nagging is the world’s number one communication killer.
Evidently, nobody ever told Isaac and Rebekah these things. Their relationship went from bad to worse. When the twins were born, as we might expect, their personalities were vastly different from each other. Scripture says, “When the boys grew up, Esau became a skillful hunter, a man of the field; but Jacob was a peaceful man, living in tents” (Gen. 25:27). As often happens when a husband and wife have a poor relationship with each other, Isaac and Rebekah each latched onto one of the children in a substitute relationship in order to fill the emptiness in their souls. “Now Isaac loved Esau, because he had a taste for game; but Rebekah loved Jacob” (Gen. 25:28).
Isaac saw in Esau the rugged outdoorsman that he himself never was, and he learned to enjoy Esau’s sporting exploits vicariously as he savored his delicious venison stew. Rebekah, on the other hand, favored Jacob. He stayed close to home. He probably talked to her, listened to her, and helped her with her chores. And she found with him the companionship she never enjoyed with her husband. It was a pathetic arrangement, and it was bound to have serious repercussions in the lives of the boys.
Psychologists today warn us of the same two problems that were present in this ancient home. They tell us that a dominant mother and a passive father have a tendency to produce problem children, and that favoritism in the family unit tends to cause serious personality defects in the children. While a child may be getting pampered and overindulged by one parent, he is getting criticized and rejected by the other. Neither one does him any good, and both together contribute to low self-esteem and ambivalent feelings that confuse him and burden him with guilt. He grows to disrespect the parent who indulges him and despise the parent who rejects him. Ultimately he may spurn both of them and begin grasping for what he wants from life regardless of whom he hurts in the process.
That is exactly what was happening in the home of Isaac and Rebekah. Jacob showed his self-seeking grasping by stealing his brother’s birthright (Gen. 25:29-34). Esau showed his contempt for his parents by marrying two Hittite women against his parents’ wishes (Gen. 26:34, 35). And peace-loving Isaac sat around eating his venison stew, letting it all happen.
The tragic decline in this relationship was followed, finally, by the treacherous end. “Treacherous” is the best word I can think of to describe the events recorded in Genesis 27. Rebekah, eavesdropping outside the tent, heard old Isaac tell Esau to hunt some venison and make him a savory stew so that he could gain the strength to bless him before he died. Actually Isaac lived for many years after that, but he had become withdrawn and self-absorbed, approaching a state of hypochondria.
It is important to understand that he still did not know that Jacob was supposed to receive the blessing of the firstborn and become the spiritual leader of the family. Scripture later declares, “By faith Isaac blessed Jacob and Esau, even regarding things to come” (Heb. 11:20). Isaac thought he was blessing Esau, not Jacob. The Spirit of God certainly would not have said “by faith” if Isaac had given that blessing in conscious disobedience to the known will of God. Isaac still did not know!
This would have been the perfect time for Rebekah to flee to God in prayer for divine wisdom, then go in and tactfully share with Isaac the promise God had made to her shortly before the twins were born. If ever there was a time to talk it over, this was it. Had she reasoned with him lovingly on the basis of God’s word to her, she certainly could have secured for Jacob the blessing God wanted him to have. But instead of prayer and reason, she chose treachery and deceit.
Concealing one’s true thoughts and feelings can actually be a form of deception, and deception had become a way of life for Isaac and Rebekah. Now it was about to come into full bloom. It would be wise for us to notice this carefully, for this is the kind of thing that a lack of communication can eventually lead to.
Rebekah’s diabolical plan was to help Jacob impersonate Esau so that blind old Isaac would be fooled into blessing him instead of his brother. Jacob did not like the idea because Esau was a hairy man and he was smooth. It was likely that his dad would put his hands on him, feel his smooth skin, and his deceit would be exposed, bringing him a curse rather than a blessing. But Rebekah offered to assume any curse upon herself and urged him to go ahead and do as she said. Her offer sounded so sacrificial, but it was sinful and sick.
Trust is essential to any loving relationship, and trust cannot flourish in a home where there is dishonesty and deceit as there was in this one. Husbands and wives who purposely keep things from each other, who sneak around to hide the truth about finances, the activities they are involved in, the things the children have done, or anything else, can never enjoy the fullness of God’s love in their relationship. Love can only grow in an atmosphere of honesty. Peter exhorts us to lay aside all guile and hypocrisy (1 Pet. 2:1). Paul tells us to speak the truth in love (Eph. 4:15).
Rebekah and Jacob had forgotten what truth was. With the help of some goat skins, the two tricksters pulled off their deceitful plot. Isaac trembled when he later discovered that he had been victimized by his wife and son, but he would not reverse the blessing. He had blessed Jacob, “and he shall be blessed,” he confidently affirmed (Gen. 27.33). Isaac realized that God had overruled his original intentions even though it was by an act of deceit. His willingness to accept it from God was such a significant expression of faith in God’s sovereign control of his circumstances that it earned him mention in faith’s hall of fame (Heb. 11:20).
Esau did not have that much faith, however. He vowed to kill his brother. But as we might expect, Rebekah came up with another ingenious idea. When she heard what Esau intended to do, she called Jacob in and said to him, “Behold your brother Esau is consoling himself concerning you, by planning to kill you. Now therefore, my son, obey my voice, and arise, flee to Haran, to my brother Laban! And stay with him a few days, until your brother’s fury subsides, until your brother’s anger against you subsides, and he forgets what you did to him. Then I shall send and get you from there. Why should I be bereaved of you both in one day?” (Gen. 27:42-45).
In order to get Isaac to agree to her plan, she had to deceive him again. It was another masterful performance. You can almost feel the melodrama as she exclaims, “I am tired of living because of the daughters of Heth; if Jacob takes a wife from the daughters of Heth, like these, from the daughters of the land, what good will my life be to me?” (Gen. 27:46). So Isaac dutifully called Jacob in and instructed him to go to Haran to find a wife. One deception usually does demand another, until the life of the deceiver is a hopeless web of despair.
Poor Rebekah. She thought she was doing what was right, but God never asks us to sin in order to accomplish His will. By her deception, Rebekah further alienated her husband from her; she enraged and totally estranged her firstborn son; and while she thought her beloved Jacob would be gone a few days, she never saw him again, When he returned home twenty years later, Isaac was still alive, but Rebekah lay next to Abraham and Sarah in the sepulcher cave of Machpelah.
Some of the details may vary, but the general pattern of their lives has been repeated in many homes since. Maybe it is being reenacted in yours right now. Communication is at a standstill. You live under the same roof, but you live in your own world, alone. It does not matter who is most at fault, husband or wife. Stop drifting apart; turn around and say, “I need you. I need you to talk to me. I need to know what you think and how you feel. Please share yourself with me. I need you to listen to me and to try to understand.” Then start talking about it openly and honestly. Reach deep down inside of you and share with each other your hurts, your fears, your struggles, your frustrations, your weaknesses, your confusion, your needs, as well as your goals and aspirations. Then listen to one another, patiently, understandingly, and forgivingly, and encourage each other lovingly. New joys will open to you as you grow together.
Let’s talk it over
1. Is there any indication of the same kind of “smother love” in your relationship with your children that caused such unhappy consequences in Isaac’s marriage? What can you do about it?
2. In what ways can you teach your children the importance of marrying a believer and of seeking God’s will in their choice?
3. Why do you think Rebekah never told Isaac about God’s promise concerning their sons?
4. Why do husbands and wives in our day sometimes keep things from each other? What can be done to remedy the situation?
5. Do you feel you can openly share your innermost feelings with your mate? If not, why? Talk over these reasons with your mate.
6. Is what your mate shares with you of great importance to you? Do you really listen? How can you correct any shortcoming in this area?
7. What specific things can you do to encourage more open communication and more intimate communion with each other?
8. Are you sensitive to your mate’s needs or do your thoughts generally dwell on how you can best be served? How can you avoid a selfish desire to have your own needs met and dwell instead on the needs of your mate?
9. How do people sometimes use their relationship with their children as a substitute for a good relationship with their mates? What are the underlying reasons for this and how can it be corrected?