Bridging Over Potential Dispute
Lessons from Isaac-Rebekah Interactions
Rebekah avoided potential dispute with husband Isaac while getting him to implement a course of action she believed in for their family. In one case, she redirected him to implement God’s instruction regarding relationships among their children by taking advantage of his failing site. In another case, she secured Isaac’s approval of Jacob fleeing to Haran, using a concern they shared to bridge over potential disagreement regarding her immediate concern of fratricide among their children.
Interactions between Isaac and Rebekah indicate unwavering commitment to their marriage and acceptance of Isaac as leader in family affairs. Evidence for their marital commitment arises from the fact they lived for twenty years without a child but did not seek alternative solutions to childlessness. Instead, they prayed and believed God will give them children through the marriage. He did. Regarding the acceptance of Isaac as family leader, the evidence can be derived from two key events that we discuss in more detail presently.
However, in contrast with what we learned from the Shunammite couple, where family leadership was shared between the man and his wife through an informal division of responsibilities, Isaac’s leadership of family affairs appears total and unyielding with little if any room for Rebekah’s choice. His style of family leadership, though probably in keeping with customary practice, resulted in the unpleasant situation of his wife Rebekah deceiving him in order to implement an instruction from God regarding important family relationships. Additionally, at least one other significant event in their life shows Rebekah concealing a point of disagreement from her husband in order to arrive at a resolution acceptable to both of them. She bridged over potential dispute by focusing on a concern they shared.
We can learn from Isaac-Rebekah interactions that God may assign to a husband or his wife the responsibility to lead an aspect of family life. For example, as we discuss in more detail presently, God assigned to Rebekah the responsibility to safeguard and see to the implementation of his choice for the propagation of family inheritance.
Irrespective of whether God calls the husband or his wife, the guiding principles are the same. As we discuss in a previous bible study under Right Heart for Strategic Alliance, God expects the husband and wife to work together to accomplish the assigned objectives.
The Shunammite Couple lived according to this principle as we saw in a previous study. They shared family leadership amicably and assisted each other to accomplish family goals. God blessed them abundantly. In contrast, Isaac-Rebekah interactions provide an example of potential dispute due to unyielding family leadership by the husband. However, Rebekah devised ways to bridge over the potential dispute. In one case, she redirected her husband to implement God’s instruction regarding relationships among their children, by taking advantage of his failing site. In another, she secured Isaac’s approval of Jacob fleeing to Haran by presenting a concern they shared, thus bridging over potential disagreement regarding possible fratricide among their children
Exemplary Love, Marital Commitment
But Dominant Husband
Isaac-Rebekah interactions likely rank high among love stories in the bible. Isaac was forty years old when he married Rebekah [Genesis 25:20] and sixty years old at the birth of their children Esau and Jacob [Genesis 25:26]. That means they lived for twenty years without a child at a time and in a society where men faced with childlessness would readily seek alternative ways to have a child. The prevailing custom included marrying multiple wives or converting maids to wives. However, there is no indication that Isaac tried any of these alternatives. He was committed to having a child through his wife Rebekah. For twenty years, he prayed for Rebekah to bear a child: “Now Isaac pleaded with the Lord for his wife, because she was barren; and the Lord granted his plea, and Rebekah his wife conceived” [Genesis 25:21].
Both Isaac and Rebekah accepted Isaac’s leadership of the family in all matters. However, their interactions suggest Isaac might have adopted an unyielding leadership style, maybe in keeping with customary practice. He apparently did not provide sufficient opportunity for his wife to contribute to directing family affairs. Such stiff-handed leadership could explain Rebekah’s apparent habit of concealing potential disagreement with her husband while finding an acceptable resolution of a family issue. Two examples. First is when she took advantage of her husband’s failing site to deceive (and redirect) him into conferring blessing on Jacob instead of Esau. The second is her taking advantage of their shared concerns with Canaanite women to get her husband to send Jacob away to Haran without mentioning the real reason she wanted Jacob to leave. We discuss the two examples in more detail presently.
Revelation to Rebekah
Brings Mandate and Dilemma
God revealed to Rebekah his choice of which child should be entrusted with their family inheritance. The revelation occurred while she was pregnant with the children. She was concerned about unusual activity in her womb and took her concern to God, who informed her that she was pregnant with two children that will become two separate nations. More important, God revealed to her through the interaction that the “older shall serve the younger” [Genesis 25:23], which means the family inheritance will be passed to the younger child.
The family inheritance of significance here is God’s promise to Abraham that was passed to Isaac and now should be passed to Isaac’s offspring. In keeping with their custom, Isaac expected to pass the blessing to his older male child. However, God has revealed to Rebekah, but not to Isaac, that the blessing should be passed to the younger of two male children in her womb.
REBEKAH’S MANDATE AND DILEMMA God entrusted Rebekah with his choice of which child should receive the family inheritance and the responsibility to see to the implementation of the choice. The responsibility raised a dilemma for her because of her husband’s stiff-handed leadership of their family and duty to uphold their custom. She needed to convince him but probably feared she couldn’t. She needed to accomplish two conflicting objectives: (1) Ensure implementation of God’s choice that was revealed to her and (2) do so without overturning her husband’s authority.
RESOLUTION BY DECEIT Her approach to resolving the conflict was to take advantage of her husband’s failing site to deceive him into conferring the blessing on Jacob. As we discuss in a previous bible study under Instruction to Parent for Child, she devised a way to substitute Jacob for Esau so her husband blessed Jacob thinking he was blessing Esau. She redirected her husband by deceiving him, apparently because she did not believe she could convince him to go along with her and implement the instruction that God revealed to her.
Bridging Over a Disagreement—
Jacob Sent Off from Canaan
Esau was determined to kill his brother Jacob who he believed stole blessing that he (Esau) considered rightfully his. Their mother Rebekah learned about Esau’s plan for revenge and decided that Jacob should be sent away to a refuge, her brother’s home in Padan Aram. She knew that only her husband had the authority to send Jacob away but apparently was not confident she could convince him of the possibility of Esau killing Jacob. First, she discussed the problem with Jacob [Genesis 27:42–43]: “…Surely your brother Esau comforts himself concerning you by intending to kill you. Now therefore, my son, obey my voice: arise, flee to my brother Laban in Haran.” Second, she needed to present the matter to Isaac to secure his decision.
She knew that she and Isaac shared a concern about keeping Jacob from any possibility of marrying a Canaanite. Therefore, she presented the concern they shared but suppressed her other concern [Genesis 27:46]: “And Rebekah said to Isaac, ‘I am weary of my life because of the daughters of Heth; if Jacob takes a wife of the daughters of Heth, like these who are the daughters of the land, what good will my life be to me?’” Isaac agreed with her that he needed to send Jacob out from Canaan immediately to keep him away from Canaanite girls and expose him instead to girls of their family line. She used a concern they shared to bridge over a potential disagreement regarding possibility of fratricide among their children.
Summary of What We Learned
Stiff-handed family leadership by a husband could discourage his wife from discussing with him directly to seek resolution of a potential dispute. The same applies to the wife when God calls her to lead a specific aspect of family life.
If a dispute appears inevitable, a path to resolution could be found by focusing on points of agreement to bridge over potential disagreements.
We find excellent examples from Rebekah-Isaac interactions. Rebekah avoided potential dispute with husband Isaac while getting him to implement a course of action she believed in for their family. In one case, she faced a dilemma of fulfilling God’s choice regarding family inheritance without overturning Isaac’s authority. God had revealed to her his choice that family inheritance be passed to their younger son Jacob. Isaac would have passed the inheritance to their older son Esau in accordance with customary practice. Taking advantage of his failing site, Rebekah redirected him to bless Jacob instead, thus implementing God’s instruction without discussing directly with her husband. In another case, she secured Isaac’s approval for Jacob to relocate, by presenting a concern they shared regarding Jacob’s exposure to Canaanite girls. Thus, she bridged over potential disagreement with her husband regarding her immediate concern of fratricide among their children.