Rebekah (Hebrew: רִבְקָה, Riḇqāh, "to tie, to bind, captivating") was the wife of Isaac and mother of Esau and Jacob.
Rebekah's ancestry is tied directly to the House of Shem. Her father was Bethuel, who himself was the son of Nahor the brother of Abraham, and Nahor's wife Milcah the daughter of Haran. Bethuel's brother Kemuel was the progenitor of the Aramites, which is to say, the Syrian nation. (In fact, the land in which Rebekah and her family lived was called Padan-Aram at the time, and in the next generation.) Rebekah had a brother named Laban, who would himself figure prominently in the life of her son.
The Bible does not tell us when Rebekah was born, or even how old she was when she married Isaac. The only clues available are that Abraham was her great-uncle, and therefore she and Isaac were first cousins once removed, with Rebekah belonging to the younger generation. In addition, Rebekah's father was the youngest of eight sons born to Nahor and Milcah.
On a winter day in 2148 AM (1857 BC), as Rebekah came to the community well to fill her water pitcher, a stranger asked her for a drink. She offered him one, and then offered to water the camels he had with him. He offered her some generous presents: an earring weighing half a shekel of gold, and two bracelets each weighing ten shekels of gold. He then asked who she was, and whether he might lodge at her house. She told him her name and about her family, and invited him to stay.
At once she returned home and told her father and her brother what had happened. The expensive jewelry that the stranger had given her impressed them, especially Laban. Laban immediately led the stranger back to their house and fed and watered the stranger's camels, but the stranger himself refused to eat until he had described his mission.
He identified himself as Abraham's steward and said that he had come to procure a wife for Abraham's son Isaac. But he also said that, shortly before Rebekah had met him at the well, he had prayed to God for the specific sign that the first woman to offer him a drink of water at the well would be the wife whom God had chosen for Isaac.
In reply, Laban said that the matter seemed to be God's doing, and that he, Laban, should speak neither well nor ill of it. He gave his consent to the marriage. The stranger, whose name was Eliezer, gave more presents to Rebekah and to the family, and then announced that he needed to return in some haste. Laban and Bethuel asked Rebekah directly whether she was willing to go immediately with Eliezer.
Rebekah decided in an instant that she was. And so she, along with several maids, rode the camels that Eliezer had brought and traveled with him, southward, into the land of Canaan. Eventually she saw a man running through a field to meet the party. She asked Eliezer who this was, and he said that it was his master's son Isaac. She alighted from the camel and covered herself with a veil. Thus covered, she met Isaac, who took her into his camp. They were married that day.
Birth of Esau and Jacob
For nineteen years, Rebekah had no children, and conceived none. Isaac prayed earnestly to God on her behalf, and she did conceive.She realized early in her pregnancy that she was carrying twins. Moreover, these twins seemed to be fighting inside her, to the point at which she asked herself how she could even survive the combat. So she prayed to God herself about it, and God gave His answer:
Two nations are in thy womb, and two manner of people shall be separated from thy bowels; and the one people shall be stronger than the other people, and the elder shall serve the younger. Genesis 25:23 (KJV)
The first twin was red all over, and hirsute, and so was named Esau, which means "red." The other came out holding the first twin's heel, and so was named Jacob, which means "holds the heel."
Sojourn in Philistia
One of several famines struck the land of Canaan at about this time, so Isaac moved his family to a place where food was available. God had specifically enjoined Isaac not to go to Egypt, so they went to Gerar, a city-state of Philistia, whose king was Abimelech. Isaac asked Rebekah to represent herself as Isaac's sister instead of his wife. But Abimelech realized the truth and asked Isaac about it. Isaac confessed that he had employed the ruse in fear that he might be killed for her sake. Abimelech then made a royal edict that none of his subjects was to touch Rebekah, on pain of death.
Isaac's household did not stay in Philistine country much longer, because they were in continual dispute over water rights.
Forty years after the twins were born, Esau married two Hittite women, much to Isaac and Rebekah's displeasure. Still, Isaac was partial to Esau, because of the savory venison that Esau prepared, but Rebekah was partial to Jacob.
When the twins were seventy-seven years old, and Isaac was getting old and going blind, Rebekah and Jacob hatched a plot to secure the patrimonial blessing for Jacob instead of Esau. They probably need not have worried, given that Esau had earlier thrown away his birthright for a bowl of stew. Nevertheless, Rebekah coached Jacob in how to approach Isaac and even how to dress—in goatskins, to make him seem as hirsute as his brother. When Jacob expressed his fear of discovery, Rebekah said that she would take the blame, and the danger, upon herself in that event.
Isaac did not discover the plot until after Jacob had secured the blessing. Rebekah, sadly, had to counsel Jacob to leave, to get well away from Esau. This he did. She would not see either man again.
The Bible gives no date of her death or even her life span. Presumably she died before Isaac did. She is buried in the Cave of Machpelah, as Jacob would later attest.