Rebekah’s Struggle

Genesis 25

Alan Lewis
Elon, North Carolina
July 2015

We are doing a study of the Book of Genesis and have been studying the life of some of the matriarchs and patriarchs in Scripture.  Many people have a difficult time reading these OT stories.  These events took place four thousand years ago.  That is a long time ago.  It is hard for us to see them as real people.  What I want to try to do is to make some of these stories come to life by studying these characters in-depth and looking at everything the Bible says about them.  There is a lot we can learn from these patriarchs.

Genesis 25 spans three generations of patriarchs in one chapter.  It mentions gives us some new information about Abraham that we did not know.  He remarried and has six more kids (25:1-2).  It tells us some things about Isaac.  We find out that his wife has a fertility problem.  We see him as a parent for the first time but he only had boys to raise.  He also had to bury his father.

We are also introduced to the next patriarch, Jacob.  Jacob was Isaac’s son and Abraham’s grandson.  He became the father of the twelve tribes of Israel.  If you work out the chronology, Abraham would have been alive when his grandson was born.  Jacob was born when Isaac was sixty and when Abraham was 160.  Abraham did not die until he was 175 (25:7).

Genesis 25 is an interesting chapter. It contains two births and two deaths.  It also contains two prayers (one by Isaac and one by Rebekah).  God speaks to someone in this chapter and it is a woman.  He does not speak to the Patriarch Isaac but to his wife.

This chapter gives us some lessons on parenting.  This is a story of sibling rivalry.  It contains a very important prophecy that God gave to Rebekah about her own kids before they were born.  Wouldn’t it be great if God did that to us before some of our kids were born?

We also learn some things about God here. As we read it, think of what we learn about God in this chapter.  I want to share eight lessons about God from these twenty-six verses.  The chapter is important theologically.  The Apostle Paul quotes Genesis 25 in Romans 9 to make an important theological point.  Some simple statements in this chapter have some profound theological implications, as we will see.

There are two important events in these verses that I want to look at and some lessons we can learn from these events.

Two Important Events

1. Rebekah gives birth

Just a little review before we begin.  Who was Rebekah?  She was the wife of Isaac.  She married Isaac in the last chapter and in this chapter she gives birth to twins, twin boys.  They were not just twins, they were polar opposites.  They looked different.  One was born full of hair and look at red at birth.  They called him Esau.  We would not have called him Esau.  We would have called him Harry or Red.

They not only looked different, they acted different.  One liked the indoors and one liked the outdoors.  One liked to hunt and the other liked to cook.  One was quiet and passive.  He liked to read and meditate.  The other hated to read.  They had completely different personalities and temperaments but before they were born Rebekah had a little test.

Rebekah was very similar to Sarah.  She was a lot like her mother-in-law who she never met.  What did they have in common?  One, they both married a relative.  Sarah married a half brother.  Rebekah married a cousin.  She was the granddaughter of Abraham’s brother Nahor.  Two, they both married older men.  Abraham was ten years older than Sarah.  Isaac was at least twenty years older than Rebekah.  He was forty.

Three, they were both said to be beautiful.  They were very attractive.  Four, they both had difficulty getting pregnant.  They both had to wait a long time to have kids.  They were both infertile.  Five, both had a child by supernatural means.

Notice Genesis 25:20. “Isaac was forty years old when he married Rebekah daughter of Bethuel the Aramean from Paddan Aram and sister of Laban the Aramean” (NIV).  Genesis 25:26 says, “Isaac was sixty years old when Rebekah gave birth to them” (NIV).

Rebekah had to wait twenty years to have a child.  Twenty years went by and they still did not have one.  God was not judging them but he was testing them.  He tested Abraham.  Abraham was given at least ten tests that we looked at in the previous weeks and now he tests Isaac and Rebecca.  Why did he do this?  Why did God give them trials?  He gave them trials for the same reason that he gives us trials (health problems, car problems, financial problems), to increase our faith and dependence on God.

This must have been very hard for Isaac and Rebekah.  She felt unfulfilled for twenty years.  Having a child was considered a sign of God’s blessing but they didn’t have one.  Other people were having kids but not them.  Isaac’s brother Ishmael had twelve kids (25:13-16).  They were coming out like rabbits but Isaac did not have a single one.  Twenty years went by without any child but they had not done anything wrong.

They were perfectly in the will of God.  This was just a test and they passed the test.  When Abraham and Sarah could not have a child, Sarah told Abraham to have an affair to get a child.  “Go sleep with someone else”.  Isaac doesn’t do that.  Apparently, he learned from his dad’s mistake with Hagar.

Isaac doesn’t get a concubine.  In fact, Isaac is the only one of the patriarchs to do this.  Abraham had children from three women.  Jacob had children from four women but Isaac had only one wife and never got a concubine.  They had fertility problems.  They didn’t get a concubine or even go to a fertility clinic. They turned to the Lord.  They prayed.  This child was conceived BY PRAYER.

It was the right response.  God is the one who is in control of conception.  He is the one who opens and closes the womb.  Isaac does not blame Rebekah for the problem.  He prays for her. “Isaac prayed to the Lord on behalf of his wife, because she was childless” (25:21).  This is the only time in the Bible where a husband is specifically said to have prayed for his wife.

Isaac probably prayed more than once for Rebekah.  His prayer was not immediately answered. This seems a little strange.  It may alter your view of prayer.  Isaac was one of the patriarchs.  He was a big shot his prayer was NOT answered.  He prayed for years and his prayer still was NOT answered.

He even prayed according to the will of God and his prayer was NOT answered for a long time. It was God’s will for Isaac to have kids.  God promised Abraham descendants like the stars in the sky and it was to be through Isaac, so he knew that he was praying according to the will of God and his prayer was not answered for twenty years.

Let’s think about this.  Isaac prayed for twenty years without any answer.  Have you ever prayed that long for something?  We want God to answer everything immediately.  Sometimes he does.  We saw this last week, when the servant prayed for God to reveal the woman he appointed for Isaac to marry and, before he had finished speaking, Rebekah came to the well.  The Bible encourages us to pray persistently for things.  We are to pray without ceasing (I Thessalonians 5:17).  Jesus said we should always pray and not give up (Luke 18:1).

This also raises an interesting question.  God promised Isaac children, so why did he have to pray for them?  If God already promises something, why pray for it?  God wants us to pray.  God uses our prayers to accomplish his will.  In fact, one of the best ways to pray is to pray the promises of God.  This will revolutionize the way you pray.  There are many examples of this in the Bible.

Daniel says, “In the first year of his reign, I, Daniel, perceived in the books the number of years that, according to the word of the Lord to Jeremiah the prophet, must pass before the end of the desolations of Jerusalem, namely, seventy years. Then I turned my face to the Lord God, seeking him by prayer and pleas for mercy with fasting and sackcloth and ashes. I prayed to the Lord my God and made confession…

Now therefore, O our God, listen to the prayer of your servant and to his pleas for mercy, and for your own sake, O Lord, make your face to shine upon your sanctuary, which is desolate. O my God, incline your ear and hear. Open your eyes and see our desolations, and the city that is called by your name.

For we do not present our pleas before you because of our righteousness, but because of your great mercy. O Lord, hear; O Lord, forgive. O Lord, pay attention and act. Delay not, for your own sake, O my God, because your city and your people are called by your name.” (9:2-4, 17-19 ESV).

Even though it was promised, Isaac prayed for a child.  God answered his prayer.  In fact, He gave him better than he asked.  Isaac asked for one child.  God gave him two (twins).  There are only two couples in the Bible who had twins and they are both in the Book of Genesis.  Rebekah had twins (25:24-26) and Tamar had twins through Judah (38:27-30).

When she finally gets pregnant, and was very happy.  God finally answered their prayers but then she had a problem.  She had a very difficult pregnancy.  She is in incredible pain, so she prayed about it.  Again Rebekah has a problem and responds correctly.  She didn’t need an ultrasound to find out what was going on.  She received a word from God directly.

The Lord answered his prayer, and his wife Rebekah became pregnant. The babies jostled each other within her, and she said, “Why is this happening to me?” So she went to inquire of the Lord” (25:21-22).

What happened inside Rebekah was a foreshadowing of what would happen in the future.  God gave Rebekah an important prophecy.  There were four parts to it.  “Two nations are in your womb, and two peoples from within you shall be divided; the one shall be stronger than the other, the older shall serve the younger” (25:23 ESV).

God says, “You are having problem because, not only because you are pregnant but because you are having twins and those twins will be at war with each other and their descendant will be divided as well.”  In fact, these two twins were fighting before they were born. They were at war inside her.  Then he dropped the bomb and said, “The older will serve the younger”.

In that day, the first born got the inheritance rights.  The oldest was supposed to get the birthright.  The oldest son became king.  When the dad died, the firstborn son was supposed to take over.  He was supposed to be the head of the family.  God said, that the second born will rule over the first born.

There will be a role reversal.  God doesn’t do things the way we would do them.  His thoughts are not our thoughts (Isaiah 55:8).  Esau was Isaac’s firstborn.  He was his favorite.  He loved Esau (25:28) but the birthright went to Jacob, just as Ishmael was Abraham’s firstborn, but the blessing went to Isaac.

Is this descriptive or prescriptive? Is God saying “This is the way it WILL BE” or “This is the way it SHOULD BE?” The NT gives us the answer. Romans 9:10-13 says, “Not only that, but Rebekah’s children were conceived at the same time by our father Isaac. Yet, before the twins were born or had done anything good or bad—in order that God’s purpose in election might stand: not by works but by him who calls—she was told, “The older will serve the younger.” Just as it is written: “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated” (NIV).

That is interesting.  Why was one son chosen and the other rejected?  Why did one twin get to rule the other twin?  Was it because one son was better than the other?  Paul says that is not the reason.  They were not born yet and had not done anything good or bad, so why was one chosen?  Jacob was chosen solely because of the good pleasure of God.  It was out of sheer grace.  He did not deserve to be chosen.  He was not chosen based on works.

Genesis 25 is not just a prediction or a prophecy.  It tells us something important about the nature of God.  He is completely sovereign. What is interesting is that God did something to us very similar to what He did to Jacob.  Paul said that believers were predestinated for adoption to sonship.

For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love in accordance with his pleasure and will to the praise of His grace” (Ephesians 1:5-6).  In both cases, people were CHOSEN by God.   In both cases, this took place BEFORE they were born. In both cases, it was NOT because of works but solely because of God’s good pleasure and grace.

2. Abraham dies

Abraham lived a hundred and seventy-five years. Then Abraham breathed his last and died at a good old age, an old man and full of years; and he was gathered to his people” (25:7-8).

This is interesting.  Moses says that Abraham lives a good old age and then he dies.  A good old age is 175 years.  We live seventy or eight years, if we have good genes.  Abraham lived twice as long as we do and then he died a peaceful death.  Genesis says that he would go to his fathers IN PEACE (15:15). There is a very important lesson about death here that I do not want you to miss.

Lesson on Death 

Death is not extinction or the end. That is what Jehovah’s Witnesses believe.  They believe in soul sleep.  They believe that when you die, you cease to exist.  They believe that the dead do not think or see or hear.  They base this on a verse Ecclesiastes which says “the dead know nothing at all” which they take out of context.[1]

What do we see in this passage? What happened to Abraham after he died?  He was gathered to his people. That is interesting. Death is not an extinction but a reunion of souls.  You get to be with your people.  You get to see your ancestors.

Abraham was gathered to his people immediately at death. He was gathered to his people before he was buried.  He is not buried until the next verse. Some say that gathered to your people just means joining the family burial plot but that does not make any sense here.

The only person in the tomb was his wife Sarah.  God said that Abraham would be gathered to his people (plural). He said that he would be gathered to his fathers or ancestors.  Sarah was neither.  At death, your spirit joins your ancestors if you are a believer but your body goes to the tomb.  Abraham he died, was gathered to his people and then his body was buried in the cave of Machpelah.

That is very important because it shows that the Bible teaches that there is such a thing as an afterlife.  It was taught even in the OT.  It also tells us that we will be able to recognize people in heaven.  If you are going to join your ancestors, you have to know who they are.  People sometimes ask if we will recognize our loved ones in heaven. As D.L. Moody said, “We will not be dumber then than we are now”

Abraham dies and is buried by his sons (25:9).  This must have been difficult for Isaac because it was the death of his last living parent.  His mom died in Genesis 23 and his dad dies in Genesis 25 but notice that happens at death.  He reunites with his half brother Ishmael as they bury their father.  Isaac has not seen Ishmael for over seventy years.  Remember, Ishmael was sent away from the family in Genesis 21.

The last time they were together Isaac was two or three and Ishmael was sixteen or seventeen.  Now, Isaac is seventy five.  He is married and has two sons.  The sons would have been fifteen.  Funerals often bring together family members that you have not seen in years.

OT scholar John Whitcomb imagines what the reunion was like.  Ishmael gets to see Isaac’s two teenage boys.  Isaac gets to see his kids.  Ishmael probably bonded immediately with Esau.  Why?  They had some things in common.  Ishmael was the firstborn son of Abraham and Esau was the firstborn son of Isaac.  Ishmael liked to hunt (21:20) and so did Esau (25:27).  They were both good with a bow and arrow.

Isaac told Ishmael about the time his dad tried to kill him and offer him as a burn offering but God saved him and provided a ram for sacrifice.  Ishmael told a similar story about how God also saved him.  He was in the desert and was thought he was going to die of thirst when an angel spoke to them and told them where a well of water was located.

Next week, we will be looking at Genesis 26.  Then, we will look at the end of Genesis 25 and Genesis 27 because they go together.  We will see how Jacob got both the blessing and the birthright from his brother Esau.  Before we leave these verses, I want us to see what we learn about God form them.

 Lessons about God 

1. God is in control of conception. 

He is the one who has the power to open and close wombs.  He is in control of childbirth.

2. God knows all things.

He knew not only that Rebekah was pregnant but that there were two babies inside her and that they were boys.

3. God answers prayers.

He answers two prayers in this chapter (one from Isaac and one from Rebekah).

4. God keeps His promises.

Rebekah had a baby because of the Abrahamic Covenant.

5. God is completely sovereign.

He decides who receives the birthright. Abraham had eight sons by three different women.  Only one was the line of the Messiah and God picked out which one that would be in advance and told the parents.  The other children could get saved and could be blessed by God but they were not in the line of the Messiah.  Isaac was the patriarch.  His favorite son was Esau.  He wanted Esau to get the birthright but God chose someone else.

6. God test believers.

He tested Isaac and Rebekah in this chapter.  He made them wait twenty years to have a baby.

7. God does things very differently than we do.

He does not always follow human tradition or social norms.  We think that first-born children should be leaders.  Kevin Lehman says most of them are (so the Birth Order Book). God does things differently than we do.

8. God is not in a hurry to get things done.

We want things done immediately.  God is on a different timetable.  He waited twenty years to answer Isaac’s prayer for a child.

[1]Ecclesiastes 9:5-6 says, “For the living know that they will die, but the dead know nothing; they have no further reward, and even their name is forgotten. Their love, their hate and their jealousy have long since vanished; never again will they have a part in anything that happens under the sun” (NIV).

Does this teach that the dead have no conscious existence?  No.  That would contradict MANY passages which say that the there is an afterlife and that the soul is conscious after death (II Corinthians 5:8; Philippians 1:23; Luke 23:43; Matthew 17:1-8; Revelation 6:5-10).

It also must be interpreted in light of its context.  Solomon says three things about the dead in Ecclesiastes 9:5: they know nothing, have no further reward and their name is forgotten.  When he says “their name is forgotten,” he clearly means ON EARTH. In the same way, when he says, “the dead know nothing” he means about events on earth and not that they know nothing at all.  How do we know?  The third statement (“the dead have no further reward”) can only mean IN THIS LIFE.  How do we know?

In the rest of the book, Solomon makes clear that the dead will receive a reward in the next life.  He says, “You who are young, be happy while you are young, and let your heart give you joy in the days of your youth. Follow the ways of your heart and whatever your eyes see, but know that for all these things God will bring YOU into judgment (11:9 NIV).  That would make no sense if either the dead ceased to exist at death or were not conscious at dead.

Nor is this something that Solomon said once.  He said it three times. Ecclesiastes 3:17 says, “God will bring into judgment both the righteous and the wicked, for there will be a time for every activity, a time to judge every deed” (NIV).  Ecclesiastes 12:14 says, “God will bring every deed into judgment, including every hidden thing, whether it is good or evil” (NIV).  That would make no sense if the dead did not exist.  There would be no one to judge for those deeds.  They would no longer be around to judge.

Furthermore, Solomon taught that at death, “the dust returns to the ground it came from, and the spirit returns to God who gave it” (12:7).  The body goes to the grave at death and the spirit goes to God.  Solomon even speaks of the dead going to “their eternal home” (12:5) which clearly is not the grave.  To find out Solomon’s view on death, you have to read the whole book and not take versed out of context.



One Response to Rebekah’s Struggle

  1. Schereise Jackson says:

    I truly enjoyed this teaching it was awesome and can’t wait to study more of your teaching. Thank you for allowing us to be able to study and receive good teaching.

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