Rebekah, “Rebekah came out, who was born to Bethuel the son of Milcah, the wife of Nahor, Abraham’s brother, with her pitcher upon her shoulder.”
Rebekah is counted among the four matriarchs (the second) in the Bible.
She was born in Haran to Bethuel, the son of Nahor, Abraham’s brother.
She is the sister of Laban (father of Leah and Rachel).
Rebekah married Isaac and became the mother of Jacob and Esau.
Her name is mentioned 30 times in the Scriptures.
Summary and Overview of the Story
Rebekah’s birth is mentioned: “And Bethuel begat Rebekah.”
Abraham, who is old, sends his servant to seek a wife for Isaac in his homeland, Aram Naharaim. Abraham’s servant arrives at a well, prays, and requests a sign from the God of Abraham. He asks that the first woman who not only offers him water but also offers to water his camels would be the chosen one for Isaac. Rebekah arrives at the well, and the servant approaches her, asking for water. Rebekah responds, “And she said, “Drink, my lord”; then she quickly lowered her jar to her hand, and gave him a drink.19 Now when she had finished giving him a drink, she said, “I will also draw water for your camels until they have finished drinking.” (Genesis 24:18-19)
Abraham’s servant presents gold jewelry, a nose ring, and two bracelets to Rebekah and asks for her identity. Rebekah identifies herself as the daughter of Bethuel, and the servant realizes that she is from Abraham’s family. He thanks the God of Abraham for guiding him.
Rebekah rushes home to tell her family about the encounter. Laban, her brother, sees the jewelry she received and runs to Abraham’s servant (who is at the well). Laban invites him and his camels to their house. The detailed description of welcoming the guests includes providing straw and fodder for the camels, foot washing, and presenting a meal suitable for Abraham’s family.
After introducing himself, the servant requests to explain his purpose before eating. He recounts the oath that Abraham made him swear, the events at the well, the miracle of meeting Rebekah, the jewelry he gave her, and Rebekah’s acknowledgment of God. Then, the servant asks for Rebekah to become the bride of Abraham’s son, Isaac.
Laban and Bethuel agree, stating that this is clearly God’s will, and they consent to Rebekah’s marriage to Isaac. The servant expresses gratitude by bowing down to God and presenting gifts of gold and precious items. In the morning, the servant seeks to depart with Rebekah, but her family wishes to delay. They ask Rebekah for her decision, and she replies, “I will go.” (Genesis 24:58)
The servant and Rebekah set out, accompanied by her maids. Upon their arrival, they see Isaac returning from the well of Beer-lahai-roi. When Rebekah sees Isaac, she dismounts from the camel and covers herself upon realizing his identity. The servant recounts all the events to Isaac. Isaac brings Rebekah into his mother Sarah’s tent, loves her, and finds comfort after his mother’s passing.
It is stated that Isaac was forty years old when he married Rebekah. Rebekah is barren, and Isaac entreats God on her behalf, and she becomes pregnant.
Rebekah senses something unusual in her womb and seeks God’s guidance. God tells her that there are two nations within her womb, and from each of them, a great nation will emerge. The stronger will serve the younger, indicating a future conflict between the brothers.
Rebekah gives birth. The firstborn is reddish all over and is named Esau. After him comes his brother, Jacob, holding onto Esau’s heel, and he is named Jacob. Isaac was sixty years old at the time of their birth, and Rebekah’s barrenness lasted for twenty years.
The brothers grow up. Esau becomes a skilled hunter, a man of the field, while Jacob is a mild-mannered dweller in tents, tending to the flocks. Isaac favors Esau, and Rebekah favors Jacob.
One day, Jacob is cooking a stew, and Esau returns hungry from the field, asking Jacob to give him some of the red stew. Jacob offers to give Esau the stew in exchange for his birthright. Esau focused on his immediate needs, says, “Look, I am about to die,” Esau said. “What good is the birthright to me?” (Genesis 25:32). Jacob makes Esau swear to him, and Esau sells his birthright for a bowl of lentil stew.
Later, a famine strikes, and Isaac contemplates bestowing the blessing of the firstborn upon Esau before his death. Rebekah overhears and devises a plan for Jacob to receive the blessing instead. She instructs Jacob to bring her two young goats, which she will prepare as a dish to imitate Esau’s game. Jacob is to wear Esau’s clothing and put goat skins on his arms to simulate Esau’s hairiness. Despite initial reservations, Jacob complies.
Isaac, with poor eyesight due to old age, is deceived by Jacob’s disguise and blesses him, believing he is blessing Esau. Isaac bestows upon Jacob the blessing of prosperity, dominion over nations, and family blessings. When Esau arrives and discovers the deception, he pleads for his own blessing, but Isaac states that Jacob’s blessing will remain.
Esau becomes furious and plans to kill Jacob after Isaac’s death, prompting Rebekah to urge Jacob to flee to her brother Laban’s house in Haran for safety and to find a wife from her family. Rebekah uses the pretext that she does not want Jacob to marry a local Canaanite woman.
Jacob departs for Haran to seek refuge and fulfill his mother’s wishes.
There is a famine in the land, and Isaac goes down to Abimelech, the king of the Philistines, under the guidance and blessing of God. The people of the place inquire about Rebekah, and Isaac explains that she is his sister due to the fear that they might kill him to take his wife.
Abimelech observes Isaac “laughing with Rebekah,” which indicates their marital relationship. Abimelech confronts Isaac, revealing that it is clear Rebekah is his wife, not his sister. Isaac’s deception is addressed, and he is reprimanded for the potential danger it posed. Abimelech commands his people not to harm Isaac or Rebekah.
Isaac sows in the land of Gerar, and he receives a blessing and abundance. He reaps a hundredfold harvest, and his prosperity becomes evident. He also prospers in livestock and flocks, causing jealousy among the Philistines. Abimelech instructs Isaac to leave Gerar.
Isaac settles in the valley of Gerar and redigs the wells that his father’s servants had dug but were filled in by the Philistines. He has disputes with the local shepherds over the wells. Despite these conflicts, he names the wells to signify the disputes and resilience.
From there, Isaac moves to Beersheba, where God appears to him, reaffirming the promise given to Abraham and Isaac. Abimelech, accompanied by his men, approaches Isaac and proposes a covenant due to recognizing that God is with him.
Esau, at the age of forty, takes two wives – Judith, the daughter of Beeri the Hittite, and Basemath, the daughter of Elon the Hittite. Rebekah and Isaac are not pleased with Esau’s choice of wives.
The chapter showcases Isaac’s journey of prosperity and challenges, including his encounter with Abimelech and the Philistines, as well as the continuing tension between Esau’s choices and the desires of his parents.
Isaac has grown old and his sight has faded. He calls Esau, his firstborn, and instructs him to go hunting so that he can prepare a meal for Isaac and receive his blessing. Rebekah overhears this conversation and immediately takes action. She calls Jacob, her younger son, and instructs him to bring her two young goats from the flock. She will then prepare a dish for Isaac, which he loves, and Jacob will present it to Isaac to receive the blessing. Jacob expresses concern that his father might recognize him as Jacob instead of Esau since Esau is hairy and Jacob is not. Rebekah reassures Jacob, telling him to listen to her and follow her instructions.
Rebekah quickly prepares the dish, dresses Jacob in Esau’s clothes, and covers his hands and neck with goat skins to imitate Esau’s hairiness. Jacob then approaches Isaac, and Isaac questions his identity. Jacob replies that he is Esau. Isaac remains puzzled by the haste in obtaining the game and inquires how he managed to do so so quickly. Jacob replies that God helped him. Isaac then asks Jacob to come closer, so he can touch him and confirm that he is indeed Esau. Isaac’s touch and Jacob’s voice convince Isaac that he is blessing Esau, so he blesses Jacob.
After receiving the blessing, Jacob leaves Isaac’s presence. Soon after, Esau arrives with the food he has prepared for his father. Isaac realizes that he has been deceived and that he has blessed Jacob instead of Esau. Isaac trembles in the realization of his error and learns that Jacob has obtained the blessing through cunning.
Esau pleads with Isaac to bless him as well, but Isaac explains that Jacob has already received the blessing and that he will also prosper, but his relationship with Jacob will be marked by servitude and eventual independence.
Esau becomes furious and contemplates killing Jacob after their father’s death. Rebekah hears of Esau’s plan and tells Jacob to flee to her brother Laban’s house in Haran until Esau’s anger subsides.
Rebekah expresses her disappointment to Isaac over Esau’s marriage to Hittite women, and she emphasizes her discomfort with their presence. Isaac acknowledges Rebekah’s concerns, realizing that their choice of wives does not align with their family’s values.
Rebekah advises Jacob to flee to her family in Haran to avoid Esau’s wrath. Jacob departs and has a dream of a ladder connecting heaven and earth. God reaffirms the covenant with Jacob.
Deborah, the nurse of Rebekah, passed away and was buried beneath the “House of God,” under the terebinth tree, and its name was called “Allon Bacuth.”
Rebekah is buried in the cave of Machpelah alongside Isaac.
In chapter 22, Rebekah is first mentioned in the list of descendants of Milcah and Nahor. The text specifically highlights Rebekah among all their descendants, omitting even the mention of Laban, the elder son. This matter hasn’t escaped the attention of commentators, and as Rashi wrote, “All these genealogical connections were mentioned only for the sake of this verse.” Rebekah’s uniqueness is already evident here; she is the only mother whose childbirth is recounted immediately after the story of Isaac’s binding. Midrashically, her birth is linked to Isaac’s binding, with Abraham pondering how Isaac will marry, “And why are all these genealogical connections mentioned here? Because of the birth of Rebekah, the daughter of Bethuel, who was born in the same year that Isaac was bound.” As Abraham was contemplating, he said, “Is he, not my only son?” and wondered how Isaac would either find a wife or bring one from the daughters of Canaan. Until he stood on Mount Moriah, he was informed. (Midrash Tanhuma, Toledot 4)
Chapter 24 is the longest in Genesis and is considered one of the most detailed narratives in the Bible. Most of it is presented in the form of dialogues, with the events retold repeatedly by the characters themselves. Abraham refers to the chosen bride in his words to his servant, who then reports his encounter with God, followed by Rebekah’s account of the meeting with her brother, the servant’s explanation to Laban and Bethuel, and the servant’s description of the events to Isaac.
In the midst of these repetitions, the reader can discern differences between the various versions and compare the descriptions to the actual events. The servant’s words, as described in the different versions, indicate his resourcefulness and how he succeeded in his mission. He expands and shortens as needed, omitting and adding details that were not said, such as emphasizing Abraham’s wealth as one of the great men of the East to persuade Rebekah’s family to accept the proposal. This expansion can be read further in N. Leibowitz’s “Iyunim B-Sefer Bereshit” pages 180-207, 1973.
Rebekah is portrayed as beautiful, agile, and intelligent. The text emphasizes her decisive actions. The words “hurry” and “run” used to describe her actions are also found in the story of Abraham’s hospitality (Genesis 18). She, not the stranger, draws the water, and already in their first encounter, she exhibits a dominant nature. Ya’el Shamsh, in her article “Rebecca’s Choice,” paints a unique picture of Rebekah’s character. She is not only chosen but also makes choices. She chooses to respond generously to Abraham’s servant’s request, even going above and beyond, offering to water the camels as well. She is the only mother about whom it is said that she chose one of the patriarchs. In her maturity, she chooses to seek God during her difficult pregnancy, and she chooses the son who will receive the blessing, favoring Jacob over Esau. According to Ya’el Shamsh, Rebekah’s choice of Jacob is based on her understanding of their temperaments and their culinary preferences, not just on God’s words. She chooses to send Jacob away to her brother Laban to save his life, thus rescuing him from Esau’s anger.
Rebekah stands alone in the trial (facing Abraham’s servant). The narrative highlights her choice, as she answers the servant’s request and even goes beyond, offering water to his camels. Drawing water demonstrates her generosity, keenness, and agility. This characterization foreshadows Rebekah’s future dominant role in her relationship with Isaac.
Menakhem Perry, in his article, examines the interaction between Abraham’s servant and Rebekah during their encounter at the well. He first notes the way the servant is referred to in the text. Initially, he isn’t named, referred to as a ‘servant.’ Rebekah directly addresses him as ‘my lord,’ and from then on, he is referred to as ‘man.’ The servant’s true identity as a servant is hidden from Rebekah’s family until he reveals it to Laban and Bethuel. Only when he presents himself to Isaac does he use the title ‘servant’ This title switch suggests a transformation from ‘servant’ to ‘man’ in the eyes of Rebekah, underlining her dominance.
The story of the encounter between Abraham’s servant and Rebecca at the well, as a ‘Biblical Type Scene’.
The scene of the encounter between Abraham’s servant and Rebecca by the well follows a familiar pattern in biblical narratives: “The template for the engagement scene necessitates the event occurring after the prospective groom, or his delegation, has traveled to a foreign land where he encounters a young woman or women at a well. Subsequently, the young woman hastens home to relay the news of the stranger’s arrival… Eventually, an agreement is reached for the engagement between the stranger and the young woman, in most cases not before he is invited to partake in a meal.” (A. Alter, “The Art of Biblical Narrative,” p. 66)
This narrative template is also recognized in the encounters of Jacob and Rachel, Moses and Zipporah, Ruth and Boaz, and according to Alter, it fits the story of Saul’s search for the lost donkeys and the discovery of the monarchy.
In Midrash Pirkei DeRabbi Eliezer, Chapter 3-4, there is a reference to the biblical parallels of the well story: “Rabbi Akiva says, whoever enters a city and finds maidens going out before him, his way shall be prosperous before him… And from whom did you learn? From our teacher Moses, peace be upon him, who had not yet entered a city and found maidens going out before him, as it says, ‘And to a priest of Midian were seven daughters,’ and his way was prosperous, and he redeemed Israel from Egypt. And from whom did you learn this? From Saul. Before he entered the city, he found maidens going out before him, as it says, ‘They were ascending in the ascent of the city,’ and his way was prosperous, and he was elevated to kingship. And from whom? From Jacob, before he entered the city, he found maidens going out, as it says, ‘And behold, Rachel, his daughter, is coming.'”
The story of the meeting between Abraham’s servant and Rebecca at the well is remarkable in that it diverges from the usual pattern. Here, it is not the groom who encounters the maiden but his envoy, and it’s the woman who draws the water. Furthermore, she takes the initiative and saves the stranger from his thirst, rather than the groom.