Isaac and Rebecca – Study Guide
I. Isaac - Introduction
He was identified with strength (gevurah), his form of loving-kindness (chesed). This was of pure spirituality, self-transcendence, purity, and prayer.
A. His name in Hebrew means, “he will laugh!”
Was this due to the fact that his mother was 90 and his father was 100 when he was announced as coming?
Was it due to humor happening mostly in surprise?
That there was here an inversion of expectations and is essential to humor?
Endurance is the essence of it. And for it to happen, every birth is a miracle. A delightful inversion is fundamental to continuation.
Mouth filled with laughter is a response to the challenge of surviving. Especially after awful travails and challenges in the life of a people.
B. A retiring, private figure. He keeps to himself. He speaks less than his father or son, including at important times, such as his binding, his mother’s death, his first moments with Rebecca, his blessing of his sons.
1. He saw and accepted what is valued most – his and his family’s duty to serve God, devoted to God.
2. When his wife is infertile, he doesn’t take up with a maidservant. When there’s draught, he doesn’t depart for Egypt. He’s “an unblemished sacrificial offering,” for whom taking such steps don’t fit. He has seen the “other side,” then dedicates himself to sanctity, as if he’s already on the Other Side. He’s strong enough to be holy, always.
He remains in Israel his whole life – the only ancestor.
3. His silence is praise of God, submission to God – the power to place sanctity above all temptation.
4. His chesed is less in the doing and more in him and his personality – who he is, as a powerful integrated personality. He teaches us to become the most profound person of faith we can be, though his challenges with his boys remain of great interest and worthy of our study.
Read Genesis 26:18-22
18 And Isaac dug anew the wells of water that had been dug in the days of Abraham his father, which the Philistines had blocked up after Abraham’s death, and he gave them names, like the names his father had called them. 19 And Isaac’s servants dug in the wadi and they found there a well of fresh water. 20 And the shepherds of Gerar quarreled with Isaac’s shepherds, saying, “The water is ours.” And he called the name of the well Esek, for they had contended with him. 21 And they dug another well and they quarreled over it, too, and he called its name Sitnah. 22 And he pulled up stakes from there and dug another well, and they did not quarrel over it, and he called its name Rehoboth, and he said, “For now the LORD has given us space that we may be fruitful in the land.”
1. What does it mean to open back up the wells dug by Abraham that had been plugged by the Philistines?
2. What do you make of the story of the three wells.
II. Rebecca’s Role – as Wife, Mother, and Prophet of God
Read Genesis 25:21-23.
21 And Isaac pleaded with the LORD on behalf of his wife, for she was barren, and the LORD granted his plea, and Rebekah his wife conceived. 22 And the children clashed together within her, and she said, “Then why me?” and she went to inquire of the LORD. 23 And the LORD said to her: “Two nations—in your womb, two peoples from your loins shall issue. People over people shall prevail, the elder, the younger’s slave.”
Question: What do we make of the dilemma that faced Rebecca? What would we do?
III. Isaac, Rebecca, Jacob, and Esau – Roles and Blessings
Read Genesis 26:34-35; 27; 28:1-5; 35:27-29
34 And Esau was forty years old and he took as wife Judith the daughter of Beeri the Hittite and Basemath the daughter of Elon the Hittite. 35 And they were a provocation to Isaac and to Rebekah.
1 And it happened when Isaac was old, that his eyes grew too bleary to see, and he called to Esau his elder son and said to him, “My son!” and he said, “Here I am.” 2 And he said, “Look, I have grown old; I know not how soon I shall die. 3 So now, take up, pray, your gear, your quiver and your bow, and go out to the field, and hunt me some game, 4 and make me a dish of the kind that I love and bring it to me that I may eat, so that I may solemnly bless you before I die.”
5 And Rebekah was listening as Isaac spoke to Esau his son, and Esau went off to the field to hunt game to bring. 6 And Rebekah said to Jacob her son, “Look, I have heard your father speaking to Esau your brother, saying, 7 ‘Bring me some game and make me a dish that I may eat, and I shall bless you in the LORD ’s presence before I die.’ 8 So now, my son, listen to my voice, to what I command you. 9 Go, pray, to the flock, and fetch me from there two choice kids that I may make them into a dish for your father of the kind he loves. 10 And you shall bring it to your father and he shall eat, so that he may bless you before he dies.”
11 And Jacob said to Rebekah his mother, “ Look, Esau my brother is a hairy man and I am a smooth-skinned man. 12 What if my father feels me and I seem a cheat to him and bring on myself a curse and not a blessing?” 13 And his mother said, “Upon me your curse, my son. Just listen to my voice and go, fetch them for me.” 14 And he went and he fetched and he brought to his mother, and his mother made a dish of the kind his father loved. 15 And Rebekah took the garments of Esau her elder son, the finery that was with her in the house, and put them on Jacob her younger son, 16 and the skins of the kids she put on his hands and on the smooth part of his neck. 17 And she placed the dish, and the bread she had made, in the hand of Jacob her son. 18 And he came to his father and said, “Father!” And he said, “Here I am. Who are you, my son?” 19 And Jacob said to his father, “ I am Esau your firstborn. I have done as you have spoken to me. Rise, pray, sit up, and eat of my game so that you may solemnly bless me.” 20 And Isaac said to his son, “How is it you found it this soon, my son?” And he said, “Because the LORD your God gave me good luck.” 21 And Isaac said to Jacob, “Come close, pray, that I may feel you, my son, whether you are my son Esau or not.” 22 And Jacob came close to Isaac his father and he felt him and he said, “The voice is the voice of Jacob and the hands are Esau’s hands.” 23 But he did not recognize him for his hands were, like Esau’s hands, hairy, and he blessed him. 24 And he said, “ Are you my son Esau?” And he said, “I am.” 25 And he said, “Serve me, that I may eat of the game of my son, so that I may solemnly bless you.” And he served him and he ate, and he brought him wine and he drank. 26 And Isaac his father said to him, “Come close, pray, and kiss me, my son.” 27 And he came close and kissed him, and he smelled his garments and he blessed him and he said, “See, the smell of my son is like the smell of the field that the LORD has blessed.
28 May God grant you from the dew of the heavens and the fat of the earth, and abundance of grain and drink. 29 May peoples serve you, and nations bow before you. Be overlord to your brothers, may your mother’s sons bow before you. Those who curse you be cursed, and those who bless you, blessed.”
30 And it happened as soon as Isaac finished blessing Jacob, and Jacob barely had left the presence of Isaac his father, that Esau his brother came back from the hunt. 31 And he, too, made a dish and brought it to his father and he said to his father, “ Let my father rise and eat of the game of his son so that you may solemnly bless me.” 32 And his father Isaac said, “Who are you?” And he said, “ I am your son, your firstborn, Esau.” 33 And Isaac was seized with a very great trembling and he said, “ Who is it, then, who caught game and brought it to me and I ate everything before you came and blessed him? Now blessed he stays.” 34 When Esau heard his father’s words, he cried out with a great and very bitter outcry and he said to his father, “Bless me, too, Father!” 35 And he said, “Your brother has come in deceit and has taken your blessing.”
36 And he said, “ Was his name called Jacob that he should trip me now twice by the heels? My birthright he took, and look, now, he’s taken my blessing.” And he said, “Have you not kept back a blessing for me?” 37 And Isaac answered and said to Esau, “Look, I made him overlord to you, and all his brothers I gave him as slaves, and with grain and wine I endowed him. For you, then, what can I do, my son?” 38 And Esau said to his father, “Do you have but one blessing, my father? Bless me, too, Father.” And Esau raised his voice and he wept. 39 And Isaac his father answered and said to him,
“Look, from the fat of the earth be your dwelling and from the dew of the heavens above. 40 By your sword shall you live and your brother shall you serve. And when you rebel you shall break off his yoke from your neck.”
1 And Isaac summoned Jacob and blessed him and commanded him and said to him, “You shall not take a wife from the daughters of Canaan. 2 Rise, go to Paddan-Aram to the house of Bethuel your mother’s father, and take you from there a wife from the daughters of Laban, your mother’s brother. 3 And may El Shaddai bless you and make you fruitful and multiply, so you become an assembly of peoples. 4 And may He grant you the blessing of Abraham, to you and your seed as well, that you may take hold of the land of your sojournings, which God granted to Abraham.” 5 And Isaac sent Jacob off and he went to Paddan-Aram to Laban son of Bethuel the Aramean, brother of Rebekah, mother of Jacob and Esau.
27 And Jacob came to Isaac his father in Mamre, at Kiriath-Arba, that is, Hebron, where Abraham, and Isaac, had sojourned. 28 And Isaac’s days were one hundred and eighty years. 29 And Isaac breathed his last, and died, and was gathered to his kin, old and sated with years, and Esau and Jacob his sons buried him.
Questions on all of these readings
1. Why does Isaac act as he acts? Is he aloof? Does he mistakenly think a man of the earth is what’s needed to shore up what he was not and was not able to provide?
2. Does he come to see what’s happening? Is he really fooled? Make the case that he was not. It’s possible that Rebecca orchestrated all this to fulfill God’s will, with Isaac’s slowly coming to understand the truth.
3. Does he try to help build up Esau, not understanding, as does Rebecca, his too-serious deficiencies, that he was simply corrupt?
4. Does he seek peace among the boys, for now and/or the future?
5. Make the case for Isaac’s getting the blessings for his sons right all along.
6. With all the enmity associated throughout time with the descendants of Jacob and Esau, what do you make of the final verses in our reading?
IV. Concluding Thoughts on Rebecca
This mother of our people comes right in the middle of the seven of the ancestors. She’s the pivot. She’s thought to house the traits of all of them – Abraham’s foundation, Isaac’s kindness, Sarah’s holiness, Jacob’s truth, Rachel’s sensitivity, and Leah’s gratitude.
When people think the Bible is gender-stacked against women, I like to come back with Rebecca. Without her, there never would’ve been a people characterized by, and committed to, God’s ways, as we learn in this stretch of the Bible regarding the founding of ethical monotheism. She’s a vessel. She is whole and integrated.
V. Introduction to Jacob – the Patriarch identified with truth (emet), his form of loving-kindness (chesed).
A. He lived in constant touch with Reality. He learned how to commune with God from within every limitation.
B. He did this through all 3 ways in which God finds existence in our finite world:
1) the way of mysticism leading to ethics, from the light of God to me, requiring a righteous person to cut through surfaces of deception to achieve ethical truth,
2) the way of philosophy, leading to psychology, a path from the mind of God to the mind of man, to pierce layers of suffering, to penetrate Essence, to perceive truth in evil, to get to self-knowledge
3) the way of existentialism, leading to spirituality, from separation from God to relationship with God, to pierce the causality of our world on existential loneliness to get to God, to truth, to spiritual truth.
4) In ethics, did he fall short, tricking his brother out of his birthright and getting his father’s blessing, or is it revealing of a deeper lesson?
Read Genesis 25:29-34.
29 And Jacob prepared a stew and Esau came from the field, and he was famished. 30 And Esau said to Jacob, “ Let me gulp down some of this red red stuff, for I am famished.” Therefore is his name called Edom. 31 And Jacob said, “ Sell now your birthright to me.” 32 And Esau said, “Look, I am at the point of death, so why do I need a birthright?” 33 And Jacob said, “Swear to me now,” and he swore to him, and he sold his birthright to Jacob. 34 Then Jacob gave Esau bread and lentil stew, and he ate and he drank and he rose and he went off, and Esau spurned the birthright.
1. What’s the Important takeaway here?
2. But was this a case of the end justifying the means?
(3. We’ll later examine the relevance of the suffering Jacob experienced and endured (including being cheated by Laban)?)
1. What’s the Important takeaway here?
(This ends up being a tale about Esau’s incapacity to put anything beyond his own material self-interest.
The story of his anxiety and urgency to eat the lentils even before they’re fully cooked and trade away his birthright to satisfy his cravings. And why, if he were such a successful hunter, didn’t he bring home a kill? Some say it was all about killing.
Jacob knew, as did Rebecca, that carrying on the commitment and tradition Abraham established required that corruption in the world be withstood, and then eliminated. This is something Esau could not and would not do.
2. But was this a case of end justifying the means?
(He was not holding Esau back from the task. Esau never would’ve taken it on at all. Only Jacob would take on the mission.
Jacob pierced the truth – the limitations of his family and his world – to continue to bring forward the order God had envisioned through Abraham. This was his chesed.)
4. A full exercise can be done on all the suffering Jacob experienced and endured (including being cheated by Laban)?
(Does it have to do with his maturation?
Or does it have to do with his being “paid back” or being punished for the wrong he did Esau (as in trick for trick)?
Or is it that suffering is its own reality to pierce, obstacles to endure, as would his people throughout time, to set a moral order on its path to perfection?)
5. As to Rebecca’s scheme with Jacob, it’s convoluted to be sure. One thing we know: she was living out God’s wishes, as a prophet. This is crucial.
Conclusion – What are the major takeaways from our study today?