Back in London before I started writing Favored One, I thought, even though it’s kind of been done already, I’d write a book of little vignettes of all the women in the Bible. These were actually written later than some of my other Biblical retellings, and I got through six of them before I realised that they were all about the ability or inability to have children. (I hadn’t gotten to Deborah yet.) And I thought–well, nothing wrong with that, but maybe an entire book like that was going to sound pretty same-y after a while, and besides, I didn’t have children and didn’t anticipate having any, and in my culture that’s okay. So I wrote maybe six and then stopped. Until I started writing about Miryam, who’s kind of about having children, too, but it’s a bigger story with a broader focus.
All that to say, if you’re getting sick of reading stories about women and their child-bearing dramas . . . well, we’re halfway there? After that it’ll be people who got miracled and stuff. Here’s the fourth of six in the Women series:
Genesis 24-27 (NRSV) [Linked to CJB]
He was older than I expected, but I knew it was he the moment I saw him walking across the field, silently mourning his mother. His name was Isaac, and I like to think I made him laugh again.
My name is Rebekah. I am the daughter of Bethuel, Nahor’s son, whom Milcah bore to him. Nahor and Isaac’s father were brothers. Everyone said I was appointed by the Lord. Isaac said I was beautiful. He loved me. I loved him, too.
We loved each other for twenty years, without anything to show for it. Apparently Isaac’s mother had had the same problem, but I did not think it fair that I should have to suffer, too, simply for being her daughter-in-law.
Isaac didn’t think so either. He prayed for me, and God heard him, and after that I realized that maybe it wasn’t barrenness which could be called suffering. I felt like there was war inside me, and I said, “If it is to be this way, why do I live?”
But I did live, so the next thing to do was to ask God the same question. This time I didn’t have Isaac do it for me; I went myself.
The Lord heard me, too, because He answered, and told me it really was a war inside me. He said,
“Two nations are in your womb,
and two peoples born of you
shall be divided;
the one shall be stronger than the other,
the elder shall serve the younger.”
Maybe I did wrong then. I kept the word to myself. God had said it to me after all. But when the twins were born—the red hairy one, Esau; and the smooth lovely one, son of my heart and home, Jacob—their father preferred the wrong one. It was because of food. Esau learned to hunt, and Isaac, in spite of being a herdsman himself, loved the taste of wild meat. They were nearly two of a kind, that man and his son. It didn’t seem to matter to him that this son of which he was so proud was smelly and hairy and loud and stupid. A mother should not say such things, but Isaac loved that boy enough for us both.
Jacob, my Jacob, was handsome and quiet and clever. He looked after our flocks with such care and diligence that his father should have given him more credit. And the blessing. His father should have given him the blessing. God had said the elder would serve the younger.
But the father had a blessing to give, and he was planning on giving it to the elder. It is always for the elder. The words of that blessing would have power to make things happen—and maybe keep things from happening. One could never be too sure. But I had not told Isaac in the beginning why the blessing must be Jacob’s. I could not tell him now. Now he would say it was a story I concocted because Jacob is my favorite.
But I knew who was worthy, and I knew what God had said, and I knew what to do about it. Sometimes you have to do something about it. If Isaac had prayed for me but we had not come together, I would never have conceived. This was something like it, I thought, even if I had to deceive my husband to help God’s will to happen.
Esau was hunting the game that would preface his blessing. His father was old even then, and since he was blind he thought he was dying. To die without giving the blessing would leave too many questions to the descendants, and so he was ready to give it immediately.
I was ready, too. While Esau hunted, I cooked goat-meat, just the way game-meat would be cooked. Jacob, meanwhile, dressed the part of his brother, putting the goats’ skins on his smooth arms and neck, so that if his father doubted, he could feel what Esau felt like, smell what Esau smelt like.
Poor old man. He never knew until afterwards, and meanwhile, when Jacob stepped out of the tent again, he was a blessed man, wealthy with crops and flocks, ruling over nations. Of course we could not see any of it yet, but we knew it would happen. The words of a blessing in the name of the Lord always come true.
Jacob was blessed, and then banished. Esau would have killed him. I have not seen him since. I do not know if he found my family, back in my homeland. I cannot see the blessing coming true.
But I still see Isaac. The shock of deceit didn’t kill him, but he does not laugh much anymore. He still loves me, but now he cannot see me to call me beautiful. I hide from him now, even in his blindness, because I have hidden too much from him already. I did not tell him of the word of the Lord, and now I cannot tell him of the hand I had in Jacob’s treachery. I did not even tell him of Esau’s plot to kill his brother. Too many revelations for such an old heart would break it. I do not want to have that on my conscience.