Saturday, September 03, 2005


[Yahweh favors the weaker vessel]

I’ve been called many things in my day and many more in yours: Schemer, Trickster, Liar, Cheater. Some are kinder, thinking of me as strong, impulsive, gracious, clever, self-sufficient, and independent. The truth lies somewhere in between. I wasn’t perfect but I didn’t have much control over my life, either. When I met Abraham’s servant, I can’t say what came over me, but somehow I knew that he was my ticket out of obscurity. I “felt the pull of God.”[1]

So I arrived in a field and fell flat on my face in front of Isaac! Luckily, he seemed eager enough to meet me that my clumsiness wasn’t a deterrent. Took me right into his mother’s tent, he did! And then…we…talked. About Mommy. Yes, what a fun consummation that was. “Is it any wonder that [we] didn’t have children for twenty years?”[2]

Actually, we spoke of many things that day…or at least Isaac did. I learned of his horrible childhood – losing his best friend and older brother, his mother’s nearly manic control over the household (and then one day she just went off and died), and the last secret to come out, the darkest of all, the one which almost robbed me of a husband long before either of our parents thought of marrying us.

I heard enough to know that I did not want history to repeat itself. I grabbed on to one thing Isaac told me about and never let it go – and that was God’s covenant with his father and now with him. Suddenly I found my purpose in life: with my womb, I controlled the destiny of God’s people.

God gave us women a vital place in his story, rescuing and elevating us from inconsequence. God made not only land but a people vital to his means of reconciliation with humanity – and how could a people exist without women? Daughters become as important as sons for their power to bring forth chosen life. Despite being the weaker sex, we are indeed remembered by God.

It was a difficult pregnancy. Oh, those babies kicked! They tore at my insides. And not just physically: I was terrified of losing these children that I wanted so badly. I was not going to lose them to chance or any sort of false “test,” and I prayed for them earnestly. God heard my prayer and sent me a revelation: I recognized that the normal order of things could be usurped in favor of a better plan.

God wasn’t interested in the firstborn son who was valuable in the world’s eyes. God shows his might through the weak. Jacob was unlike the leaders of other peoples and therefore was clearly the one God would choose. Esau was powerful, and God doesn’t usually like to deal with powerful people, who are given to pride or rivalry with God.[3] Later, Jacob’s children would learn this when God smote Pharaoh, and when they themselves poorly selected their first king.

And so I loved Jacob, because of the promise, and because he reminded me of my own beloved Isaac, who was also the second son and was so vulnerable (I secretly believe that Isaac preferred Esau because he reminded him of Ishmael).[4] I guess, with all my attentions, I did repeat one of Sarah’s mistakes and doomed Jacob’s poor wives to my fate of being married to an incurable Mama’s boy. (sighs happily)

As Isaac aged, I knew he needed to pass on his powerful blessing. I stayed close to his bedside, listening for any clue to his plans. Had he also caught God’s vision? What if he hadn’t? His bond with Esau was so strong. Throughout the history of the patriarchs, “the father's favoritism for the firstborn repeatedly leads to trouble – as in the case of Ishmael, Esau, and Reuben. It is the mother who discerns God's design and helps the son destined to carry it on – as in the case of Isaac and Jacob. As in the case of all socially inferior people, women understand more about power and survival than those in power, and so are in a position to see more clearly than their husbands.”[5] “If we must channel our influence through our children or through our ‘deceit’ (I prefer to call it ‘imagination’) or through our sexuality, because we do not have a public forum to speak out for ourselves straightforwardly, then let it be so. We will not stand by passively and watch God’s word go unfulfilled when we could have done something about it any way we can.”[6]

I changed the plan – and history – as I saw fit. Please, don’t look so shocked. You all know how my brother Laban later treated my own son! I obviously come from nakedly ambitious stock. I knew how God ultimately wanted things to turn out, and I just gave Jacob a little “push.”

I probably should have just talked to Isaac – told him about the oracle – instead of misleading him. But I did pay for my rash behavior. God allowed our little game, but also made me live with the consequences (and I accepted the curse willingly). Because of what I did, Esau hated Jacob with a fatal anger. I lost Esau’s respect and love. I had to send Jacob away. Oh! It tore my heart to pieces, that day! I know I did right by my family and followed the way of the Lord. But I never saw my dearest son again. I never met my many grandchildren. I never saw my sons reconcile.

In the end, I paid a price. Not for being weak and powerless, but for being ambitious and asserting power. In the end, I learned my own lessons by living them.

[1] Visotzky, 153.
[2] Ibid, 154.
[3] Shaw, 42.
[4] Visotzky, 137.
[5] Frankel, 21.
[6] Shaw, 41.


Aschkenasy, Nehama. Woman at the Window: Biblical Tales of Oppression and Escape (Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1998), pp. 103-106.

Clines, David J. A. What Does Eve Do to Help? and Other Readerly Questions to the Old Testament (Journal for the Study of the Old Testament Supplement Series 94: Sheffield Academic Press, 1990), pp. 78-84.

Frankel, Ellen. The Five Books of Miriam: a Woman's Commentary on the Torah (New York: Grosset/Putnam, 1996).

Rosen, Norma, “Rebekah and Isaac: A Marriage Made in Heaven,” from Out of the Garden: Women Writers on the Bible, edited by Christina Buchmann and Celina Spiegel (New York: Fawcett Columbine, 1994), pp. 13-26.

Shaw, Suzanne, “Letters to the Editor of Genesis” from First Person: Essays in Biblical Autobiography, edited by Philip R. Davies (Sheffield Academic Press, 2002), p. 41-43.

Visotzky, Burton L. The Genesis of Ethics (New York: Three Rivers Press, 1996), pp. 121-155.

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