October 26, 2014 Genesis Sermon # 3
Rebekah: “Why Is This Happening to Me?” (Genesis 25-27)
Maple Glen BFC Pastor Louis Prontnicki
I’m sure all of you, in the midst of everything wrong happening to you, have uttered these six words, “Why is this happening to me?” Right? You think, “What did I do to deserve this mess?” “Why does it have to be MY life that is always falling apart?” This morning I’d like to look at the life of Rebekah in the book of Genesis, because she’s a woman who asked that very question – in fact she probably asked it dozens of times, with all that happened to her, and see what answer we can get from God’s Word.
Two Sundays ago, when most of you were away, we saw from Gen. 24 that God had prepared and transformed Rebekah to be the person that He wanted her to be. That included:
1. She was beautiful, yet remained morally pure
2. She was a hard working girl, with a generous and humble spirit
3. She was God’s perfect match for Isaac as his wife; in fact, Rebekah was exactly who Isaac needed to complete him as a man.
4. She submitted herself completely to the Lord’s will, doing what He wanted her to do.
5. She was blessed in the Lord’s covenant of grace, as she trusted in Him.
So far, her life seems pretty good, right? She’s in the center of God’s will for her; she’s happily married to a man who loves her; and she’s part of the Lord of the universe’s amazing covenant, which includes having countless descendants and being a blessing to all the nations of the earth! The Lord gives Rebekah a great promising beginning… And then things seem to fall apart! Let’s see what happens.
1. Rebekah despaired: she was unable to have children for 20 years: (25:21b) What might Rebekah have been thinking for those two decades? Perhaps it was something like this: “Lord, I was obedient to your call to leave my home and travel along way to marry this man I had never met. Thank you that he loves me (Gen. 24:66), but I want to be a mother. I am so tired of “disappointing” my husband every month when I see that I am not pregnant. Lord, your answer to me these 20 years has been “No,” again and again, and I don’t understand why! And Lord, do I need to remind you that all your covenant promises concerning Abraham’s descendants are resting on me! All the promises you made to my father-in-law Abraham are riding on whether I can bear children or not! Lord, it’s a heavy burden that I cannot carry anymore! So I am again crying out to you for a child! Oh, why is this happening to me?”
But we read in Gen. 25:21 that Isaac prayed to the Lord on behalf of his wife (Husbands, do you do that?), because she was barren. “The Lord answered his prayer, and his wife Rebekah became pregnant.” One commentator wrote that: “The seed of the promise was to be prayed for from the Lord, that it might not be regarded merely as a fruit of nature, but be received and recognized as a gift of grace.” Derek Kidner commented: “God’s way of prefacing an exceptional work with exceptional difficulties was often to take this form: such men as Joseph, Samson, and Samuel came into the world only after sorrow and prayer.” Application: When you despair and cry out, “Why is this happening to me?,” recall that God’s answer to you might be, “Because I am doing an exceptional work of grace, both IN you and THROUGH you. I will turn your despair into hope; I will change your anguish into anticipation. Often God will stretch us, even for decades, in order to get us into the right shape!
2. Rebekah suffered: she had a terrible pregnancy (25:22) During her pregnancy Rebekah feels an unusual amount of movement within her womb, as if there’s a wrestling match going on. Now I realize that some of the mothers here would say that’s nothing unusual for a pregnancy, but this kicking and pushing within Rebekah’s womb was far from normal. The Hebrew word for “(the babies) jostled within her” is the word RASAS, which appears some 20 times in the OT. It can be translated “oppressed” “splintered” “crushed” “bruised” even “smashed to pieces”! In other words, there’s a kick-boxing fight going on in Rebekah’s womb, and she’s crying out: “Why is this happening to me?” (v. 22b) Perhaps she interprets this fighting as an evil omen, that this pregnancy which was so long desired and prayed for, might instead bring misfortune and suffering? Perhaps she wonders: “Why has God’s smile now turned to a frown?” She doesn’t know that she is carrying twins (Remember: there’s no sonograms or ultrasounds back then!) So she prays to the Lord “Why is this happening to me?” or “Why am I alive?” Literally: “If so, why (am) I…?” [A great question to ask the Lord!]
But the Lord graciously answers Rebekah: “Two nations are in your womb, and two peoples from within you shall be divided; the one shall be stronger than the other, the older shall serve the younger.” (v. 23). Notice what God is saying to Rebekah in this prophecy: “Rebekah, the struggle you feel within you now is part of an eternal conflict between peoples and nations; but I am sovereign over these sufferings and conflicts. I will work them out for my purposes of election in salvation. Rebekah, the enmity between these two sons in your womb is part of the ongoing enmity prophesied back in Gen. 3:15. Likewise, the crushing going on in your womb is a fulfillment of that same promise in Gen. 3:15, where I promised that the seed of the chosen one would crush the head of the evil one. And one day, Rebekah, from your balcony seat in heaven, you will see how my own Son will suffer and be oppressed onto death, on a cross, so that through His atoning death and his glorious resurrection, He can bring victory over Satan, over sin, and over the grave! (Romans 16:20 “The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet.”) Application: When you cry out in prolonged times of suffering (physical, emotional, or spiritual), “Why, Lord, is this happening to me?” remember how God is working out His amazing and eternal purposes, even through our suffering and terrible times. Christ has redeemed our suffering. Christ’s suffering gives meaning to our suffering.
3. Rebekah grieved: she saw her marriage drifting and her son rebelling (25:27-27:4) Almost every Christian wife and mother hopes and prays for an ideal marriage and family, where her husband’s love for her grows and her children grow up to be men and women of God. Rebekah was no different. But as her twin boys grew up, and the decades of her marriage went by, she undoubtedly was disappointed, even grieved, by what she saw happening.
There were five ways this was happening:
First she saw her two boys divided and separated from each other. The two of them were so different that they were incompatible with each other and often antagonistic to one another. Esau grew up to be “a skillful hunter, a man of the open country” (25:27) while Jacob was a quiet man, staying among the tents. And this difference seemed to cause a rift in her marriage, as Isaac loved Esau (who satisfied his taste for wild game dishes), while Rebekah loved Jacob (as he preferred staying home.)
You have to wonder: Did Rebekah resent the fact that her husband preferred her son Esau’s food to hers? Did Isaac think less of his son Jacob, as he was more comfortable being with his mother? I get the impression that Isaac and Rebekah were drifting apart in their marriage. I am guessing that each of them is living out their hopes and their dreams through different sons: Isaac is betting on Esau, while Rebekah is looking to Jacob.
Second, I also think Rebekah might have been wounded by what happened when she and Isaac had to spend some time in the foreign land of Gerar. We read in Gen. 26:7-9 “When the men of that place asked him about his wife, he said, “She is my sister,” because he was afraid to say, “She is my wife.” He thought, “The men of this place might kill me on account of Rebekah, because she is beautiful.” 8 When Isaac had been there a long time, Abimelech king of the Philistines looked down from a window and saw Isaac caressing his wife Rebekah. 9 So Abimelech summoned Isaac and said, “She is really your wife! Why did you say, ‘She is my sister’?” Isaac answered him, “Because I thought I might lose my life on account of her.” Ladies, here’s a question for you: “How do you think Rebekah feels when her husband lies about her identity, in order to save his own skin?” My guess is that she is disappointed in her husband for failing to protect her and to stand up for her as her husband. ‘Why is my husband doing this to me?” Rebekah is grieved by her husband.
Third, Rebekah has further reasons to grieve over her older son, Esau. In Gen. 25:29-34 we read of Esau selling his birthright to Jacob for the price of a meal! The birthright was the status of the firstborn; it meant the headship of the family and possibly a double share of the estate (Dt. 21:17). More than that, it meant the inheritance of the covenantal promises of God; the promise of God’s blessing to His grandfather Abraham! And though Esau knew that, he disregarded, even despised it, because these spiritual blessings had no value for him; he sought only material blessings. What a grief that must have been to Rebekah, to see her adult child throw away his spiritual treasure!
Fourth, there was more grief that Esau brought her: Gen. 26:34-35 “When Esau was forty years old, he married Judith daughter of Beeri the Hittite, and also Basemath daughter of Elon the Hittite. 35 They were a source of grief to Isaac and Rebekah.” Once again she sees one of her sons throwing away his godly heritage, but the problem is compounded by the fact of the family’s history: why, Esau’s grandfather, Abraham, had gone to great lengths to ensure that his son, Isaac, would only marry a woman from the godly family tribe, and not take a pagan wife from among the local Canaanites. But here is Esau doing that very thing! Furthermore, if Esau and his two wives were living together with Isaac and Rebekah (or at least in a tent nearby), you can image the daily grief that Rebekah suffered when she saw these two daughters-in-law, probably worshipping their pagan idols, and then, when the grandchildren came, how hard it was to see these little ones not being raised in the ways of the Lord! “Why is this happening to me?”
Fifth, later on, after Esau threatens to kill Jacob (for stealing his father’s blessing), Rebekah complains to Isaac in Gen. 27:46 “I’m disgusted with living because of these Hittite women. If Jacob takes a wife from among the women of this land, from Hittite women like these, my life will not be worth living.” Once again she is saying “Why is this happening to me?”
Rebekah’s Story So the story of Rebekah is one that starts with a promising beginning… and then continues to drift away into despair, suffering and grief. We might wonder; “Is Rebekah the patron saint of all those who ask, “Why is this happening to me?” No, that’s not the bottom line for Rebekah’s life. For how is Rebekah to be remembered by us? How would she look back and remember her life?
4. Rebekah remembered: she was God’s instrument in His sovereign plan of salvation. For God always has the last word, and His last word on Rebekah is found in Romans 9:10-12: “And not only so, but also when Rebekah had conceived children by one man, our forefather Isaac, though they were not yet born and had done nothing either good or bad—in order that God’s purpose of election might continue, not because of works but because of him who calls— she was told, “The older will serve the younger.”
So how is Rebekah to be remembered? Not so much as a godly woman who despaired, suffered and grieved…. but rather as a chosen instrument in God’s sovereign hand. She received one clear word from the Lord, and that word was to show her that though her barrenness – and through her suffering- and through her disappointment and griefs – God’s purpose of election might continue. God’s purpose of election might stand, not because of works, but because of Him who calls. That is what Rebekah was remembered for, by God! And why is that important?
Consider how John Piper puts it: “God’s purpose in election is to be known and enjoyed and praised; God’s purpose in electing sinners is to be seen and savored and sung about as infinitely glorious in his free and sovereign grace. This is the purpose that governs all the works of God. He elects, predestines, calls, redeems, justifies, sanctifies, and glorifies to this end – for this purpose: to be seen and savored and sung as infinitely glorious in his free and sovereign grace.”
Rebekah was called to be part of God’s glorious process of election and salvation.
And if you are in Christ, you, like Rebekah, are also called to participate in it; to be part of that amazing process!
So instead of you complaining about your hardship and crying out “Why is this happening to me?” we should instead say with wonder and amazement:
“Lord, why was I a guest? Why was I made to hear Your voice and enter while there’s room, when thousands make a wretched choice, and rather starve than come. (The answer:) “Twas the same love that spread the feast that sweetly drew us in, else we had still refused to taste, and perished in our sin.”
The real question is “Why is God’s love and salvation happening to me?!”