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Rebekah: The Strong-Willed Mom

Genesis 27

Every mom says it:

"Do what I tell you." Rebekah, the biblical mother of Esau and Jacob, uttered that phrase three times in one high-drama day.

The first time was the worst. When she overheard her husband, Isaac, promise to bless Esau, Rebekah told Jacob, "Now, my son, listen carefully and do what I tell you" (Genesis 27:8). Had she advised her son to eat a healthy meal or pray to the Lord, we'd applaud her good mothering skills. Instead, Rebekah demanded Jacob impersonate his brother to their blind father, "so that he may give you his blessing before he dies" (Genesis 27:10).

What was Rebekah thinking, deceiving Isaac like that? She was thinking about her favorite son, and the rich financial and spiritual inheritance that would be his—if she intervened.

Rebekah no doubt remembered God's vow, spoken before the birth of her twin boys—"the older will serve the younger" (Genesis 25:23)—and decided to act on God's behalf. Heaven knows the Lord couldn't manage without her! To Rebekah's way of thinking, she wasn't tricking her husband; she was helping him do God's will.

Most strong-willed wives and mothers (such as me) have a ready excuse for our actions. "This isn't about me," we insist firmly. "I'm doing this for your sake." Right. And if things turn out well, guess who takes credit? However selfless our motives may seem to us, our methods—push, prod, pull—often feel like manipulation to those on the receiving end.

Running Interference

Jacob protested his mother's plan, but not on moral grounds; he was afraid of getting caught. "What if my father touches me? I would appear to be tricking him and would bring down a curse on myself rather than a blessing" (Genesis 27:12). Like mother, like son: The outcome, not the means, mattered.

Rebekah's answer is classic steamroller-mama: "My son, let the curse fall on me" (Genesis 27:13). We think we can stand up to any adversary on our children's behalf and weather any fallout.

But Rebekah was challenging the God of the universe. The Lord demonstrates his love for all such rebellious children when, rather than a curse, he offers a blessing: "Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us" (Galatians 3:13). By law, Esau deserved his father's inheritance; by God's redemption and grace, Jacob received the blessing instead.

With a loving God in charge of our life, why do we feel compelled to run the show? Pride, mostly. Uncertainty, maybe. And, at the center, fear: What if God forgets about his promises to me? Yet his Word assures us, "For the Lord your God is a merciful God; he will not abandon or destroy you or forget the covenant with your forefathers" (Deuteronomy 4:31). Meaning these forefathers—Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. God blessed Jacob because God said he would, not because Jacob's mother stepped in.

The Backlash

Like Rebekah, I saw my control tendencies escalate when I became a mom. Our children need us to be in charge during the early years. But the habit is hard to break and often extends well beyond the nursery. "Just do what I say" (Genesis 27:13), Rebekah told her grown son Jacob. Again.

So Jacob obeyed her command. Again. He dressed in Esau's clothes, spoke what should have been Esau's words, and absconded with Esau's financial and spiritual blessing.

When Isaac learned the truth, he "trembled violently" (Genesis 27:33). When Esau learned the truth, he vowed, "I will kill my brother" (Genesis 27:41). And when Rebekah learned of Esau's threat, she again instructed Jacob, "Now then, my son, do what I say" (Genesis 27:43). Groan.

She sent Jacob running for the safety of her brother's home, intending to send word for his return. But Rebekah never saw her beloved Jacob again. That's the problem with barking out orders: Sometimes they come back to bite us.

Rebekah teaches us by reverse example. We should trust God, rather than take charge. Honor our husband, rather than deceive him. Instruct our children, rather than run interference for them. And throw ourselves at God's mercy whenever we stumble, knowing he'll guide our steps, even as he gently reminds us, "Do what I tell you."

Liz curtis higgs is the author of 26 books, including Slightly Bad Girls of the Bible  (WaterBrook Press). She lives with her husband in Kentucky. Visit her website: www.LizCurtisHiggs.com.

Read more articles that highlight writing by Christian women at ChristianityToday.com/Women

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