re-bek'-a (ribhqah; Septuagint and New Testament Rhebekka, whence the usual English spelling Rebecca):
Daughter of Bethuel and an unknown mother, grand-daughter of Nahor and Milcah, sister of Laban, wife of Isaac, mother of Esau and Jacob.
Her name is usually explained from the Arabic, rabqat, "a tie-rope for animals," or, rather, "a noose" in such a rope; its application would then by figure suggest the beauty (?) of her that bears it, by means of which men are snared or bound; The root is found in Hebrew only in the noun meaning "hitching-place" or "stall," in the familiar phrase "fatted calf" or "calf of the stall," and in view of the meaning of such names as Rachel and Eglah the name Rebekah might well mean (concrete for abstract, like riqmah, chemdah, etc.) a "tied-up calf" (or "lamb"?), one therefore peculiarly choice and fat.
Rebekah is first mentioned in the genealogy of the descendants of Nahor, brother of Abraham (Genesis 22:20-24). In fact, the family is there carried down just so far as is necessary in order to introduce this woman, for whose subsequent appearance and role the genealogy is obviously intended as a preparation. All this branch of the family of Terah had remained in Aram when Abraham and Lot had migrated to Canaan, and it is at Haran, "the city of Nahor," that we first meet Rebekah, when in Genesis 24 she is made known to Abraham's servant at the well before the gate.
That idyllic narrative of the finding of a bride for Isaac is too familiar to need rehearsal and too simple to require comment. Besides, the substance both of that story and of the whole of Rebekah's career is treated in connection with the sketches of the other actors in the same scenes. Yet we note from the beginning the maiden's decision of character, which appears in every line of the narrative, and prepares the reader to find in subsequent chapters the positive, ambitious and energetic woman that she there shows herself.
Though the object of her husband's love (Genesis 24:67), Rebekah bore him no children for 20 years (Genesis 25:20,26). Like Sarah, she too was barren, and it was only after that score of years and after the special intercession of Isaac that God at length granted her twin sons. "The purpose of God according to election," as Paul expresses the matter in Romans 9:11, was the cause of that strange oracle to the wondering, inquiring parents, "The elder shall serve the younger" (Genesis 25:23).
Whether because of this oracle or for some other reason, it was that younger son, Jacob, who became the object of his mother's special love (Genesis 25:28). She it was who led him into the deception practiced upon Isaac (Genesis 27:5-17), and she it was who devised the plan for extricating Jacob from the dangerous situation into which that deception had brought him (Genesis 27:42-46). When the absence of Jacob from home became essential to his personal safety, Rebekah proposed her own relations in Aram as the goal of his journey, and gave as motive the desirability of Jacob's marrying from among her kindred. Probably she did not realize that in sending her favorite son away on this journey she was sending him away from her forever. Yet such seems to have been the case. Though younger than Isaac, who was still living at an advanced age when Jacob returned to Canaan a quarter of a century later, Rebekah seems to have died during that term. We learn definitely only this, that she was buried in the cave of Machpelah near Hebron (Genesis 49:31).
Outside of Genesis, Rebekah is alluded to in Scripture only in the passage from Romans (9:10-12) already cited. Her significance there is simply that of the wife of Isaac and the mother of two sons of such different character and destiny as Esau and Jacob. And her significance in Gen, apart from this, lies in her contribution to the family of Abraham of a pure strain from the same eastern stock, thus transmitting to the founders of Israel both an unmixed lineage and that tradition of separateness from Canaanite and other non-Hebrew elements which has proved the greatest factor in the ethnological marvel of the ages, the persistence of the Hebrew people.
J. Oscar Boyd
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