Some readers have accused both Isaac and Rebekah of equal fault in favouring their sons (Esau and Jacob respectively; Gen 27:1–10). But in the context of the entire book of Genesis, the motives of the two parents were quite different. Isaac favoured Esau, the elder son (25:25; 27:4), but the history of the whole patriarchal line showed that God did not always choose the elder son (21:12; 49:3–4). Paternal favouritism produced problems (37:4); Jacob himself finally learned and practiced this in his old age (48:14–20).
What were Rebekah’s motives? The clearest clue the text itself provides is in 25:22–23: she had sought God, and God had told her that Jacob, the younger son, would prevail. In contrast to Isaac, Rebekah acted on the basis of a word from God. Further, Esau had married pagan wives and sold his birthright, with apparently no sense of responsibility for the call on this family to be God’s blessing to the earth (25:31–34; 26:34–35). Isaac was blind to God’s choice and, in a culture where the husband’s will was law, Rebekah took the only route she knew to secure God’s promise.
Genesis is full of accounts that underline for Israel the miracle of their blessing and existence: three barren matriarchs (18:11; 25:21; 30:22); royal abduction or threatening of matriarchs (12:13; 20:2); Isaac’s repetition of his father’s example (26:7); and so on. Elsewhere in Genesis, others than the patriarch made choices, which nevertheless left the right land to the patriarch (13:9–13; 36:6–8). In the context of the themes the entire book emphasises, it is consistent to believe that God worked through Rebekah’s deception, just as he worked through a variety of other means.
This is not to say that the deception was God’s preferred means to accomplish his will, though he sometimes blessed deception when it would save human life from unjust oppressors (Ex 1:18–21; Josh 2:5–6; 1 Sam 16:1–3; 2 Sam 17:19–20; 2 Kings 8:10; Jer 38:24–27). As Jacob stole his brother’s birthright through deception, so he was deceived by two sisters. When Isaac asked Jacob his name, he lied to get the blessing (Gen 27:18–19), and hence incurred his brother’s murderous anger (27:41). His mother promised to send for him when it proved safe to return (27:45), but apparently she died in the meantime. She did not send for him, so when he was returning he expected that Esau still desired to kill him (32:11). Jacob struggled all night with the Lord or his agent, and he was confronted with his past. This time, before he could receive the blessing from God, he was asked his name and required to tell the truth (32:26–27); he then was given a new name (32:28), in contrast to the time he sought his father’s blessing (27:18–19). But God was with Jacob even in spite of himself; he met angels both going from and returning to the land (28:12; 32:2). In this story, though Isaac outlived Rebekah, she was the one with the greater perception of God’s purposes for their descendants.