Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Rebekah's Birth Story: Counsel With the Lord

"Birth of Jacob and Esau" by Benjamin West (1738-1820)

Genesis 25: 2o-26

Mother of Esau and Jacob

Rebekah's birth story is unique because she is the first women we know of who sought out God and asked him for direct revelation concerning her pregnancy. For almost twenty years she struggled with bareness and finally at around forty-years-old she became pregnant for the first time. By any standard, modern or ancient, forty is getting a little old to have a first baby and one can imagine that she was excited, overjoyed and probably a bit terrified. It also sounds like she had a difficult pregnancy because we read that "... the children struggled together within her." (Genesis 25:22) We don't really know what is meant by the world "struggled". It could possibly mean that she was literally feeling strange and strong movements and was worried about what she was feeling. This was her first pregnancy and she may have been feeling overwhelmed by all the sensations, the unknowns, and the fears that come with carrying a child. Also pregnant women are very connected to their babies, not only physically but also emotionally and spiritually, and they often receive promptings about their unborn children. It may have been that she was very in tune with her body and with her unborn children and felt premonitions about what sort of future awaited them. Whatever it was she was feeling it was enough to make her feel confused and turn to the Lord for guidance. In Genesis 25:22 it says that she asked Lord, "...If it be so, why am I thus.? And she went to enquire of the Lord."

I think it is a testament to Rebekah's great faith and strength of spirit that when she had a question about her pregnancy she turned to the Lord for answers and direction. She very easily could have relied on the opinions and advice of other women or accepted the predominate cultural explanation. Yet because she was a woman of great faith, she didn't. She turned to the Lord and asked him for guidance and understanding concerning her body and pregnancy. In reply to her question the Lord gave her a direct and personal revelation, not only about her current condition but also about the future missions of her children. Genesis 25:23 says,
"And the Lord said unto her, Two nations are in thy womb, and two manner of people shall be separated from thy bowels; and the one people shall be stronger than the other people; and the elder shall serve the younger."
Remember that these were the days WAY before ultrasounds and very often women didn't known they were carrying twins until they gave birth. I can imagine that it gave Rebekah, the woman who had waited for children almost twenty years, great joy to know that she was being blessed with two children. Also in a day when maternal and child mortality rates were very high it probably brought her great peace to know that both her children would that be born safely and live to fulfill their divine missions from God. She was also prepared with knowledge that would help her mother these children. She knew that her twins would always "struggle" with each other and that they would become separated, which would a have been unusual for that day in age when families were very close. She also knew that one twin would be stronger than the other and that the older would serve the younger.

"Issac blessing Jacob" by Govert Flink, 1636

Apparently, after her initial questioning, the rest of her pregnancy and labor went well and she bore two sons, Esau and Jacob. Genesis 25:25-26 says,
"And the first came out red, all over like an hairy garment; and they called his name Esau. And after that came his brother out, and his hand took hold on Esau’s heel; and his name was called Jacob."
The reference to "took hold on Esau's heel" may have meant that Jacob was born quickly after his brother. Also, the name Jacob which means "supplanter" and shares the same Hebrew root, Eikev, as the word "heel" or sole of the foot (source). Jacob's name is a clever combination, and since it was mothers who commonly named their children it may have been Rebekah's way of teaching him and testifying to him about the revelation she had received about him before he was born. Later on in Genesis 27 we read about how Rebekah helps Jacob trick Issac into giving him, the younger son, the birthright. This story can sometimes make Rebekah seem like a conniving, tricky, mother favoring one son over another. Yet when we remember the revelation the Lord had given her during her pregnancy we see that she was acting upon the revelation God had given her before her son were even born. She was a woman who had the faith to ask for guidance and who had the faith to follow it; because of her faith she was able to be a great instrument in the hands of God and influence the whole course of history.

"The birth of Esau and Jacob" Master of Jean de Mandeville, French, Paris, about 1360-1370.

What we can learn from her birth story:
  • Women can receive direct revelation from God concerning their bodies, their pregnancies and their children's futures;
  • Women can trust the feelings and promptings they get about their children, even their unborn ones;
  • If a woman "enquires" of the Lord He will give her the knowledge and reassurance she needs to bear her children into this world in the right way and manner;
  • Children have personalities in the womb and women can often learn much about their children by paying attention to how they move, feel, and act in utero;
  • Ancient women didn't expect labor and birth to happen all in one day. The phrase used in Rebeka's story is "And when days to be delivered came” (Genesis 25:24) an indication that they realized and accepted that birth can go on for multiple days.
Questions to think about:
  • Have you or someone you know ever "enquired of the Lord" concerning your body or your pregnancy and labor? How did God answer?
  • Why do you think Rebekah had to wait twenty years to bear children? How did this trial influence what type of mother and woman she was?
  • We know that Issac was the heir to the Abrahamic covenant and that he would need to have children to carry it on. Faced with the apparent fact that Rebekah was barren, why didn't Issac take another wife? Did they both know, even though Rebekah was getting older, that God would eventually bless them with children?


  1. You know, I am sooooo glad I found your blog. Have you ever taught a gospel doctrine class? You would be amazing!:)

  2. Katy, No I've never taught a gospel doctrine class. That would be my DREAM calling, but I think that God knows that. He never gives you the callings you want... just the ones that are going to stretch you and make you grow. But I can still hope and dream ;)

  3. Heatherlady, that was, as always, a very interesting and inspiring post. I'm glad I found your blog.

  4. "Why do you think Rebekah had to wait twenty years to bear children?"

    It's possible that their births had to be synched with that of Rachel and Leah. Just think, if Esau had been faithful, Rachel and Leah might have been married to Jacob and Esau respectively.

  5. Michaela,

    Wow, wow, wow. I'd never thought about Leah being Esau's intended wife. That gives me a whole new perspective on things-- really, wow. Thanks for that insight!

  6. One other thing to remember is that the blessing given to Jacob under disguise was the birthright but not the Abrahamic Covenant. Isaac, when he learns of the trickery, gives Esau almost the identical blessing as Jacob, even allowing that he "shalt break his yoke from off thy neck." It was when Jacob was sent to find a wife that Isaac knowingly gave him the blessing of Abraham. Isaac could have given the covenant blessing to Esau as well (Jacob passed it on to all 12 of his sons), but Esau must have never qualified for the blessing. We can never "trick" the Lord into blessing us. This ploy must have awakened Isaac to what was indeed right as we read that Jacob was afraid that when his father discovered the truth he would be cursed. This didn't happen. Isaac left the blessing of the birthright where he must have known it belonged.