Rebekah told Isaac, “I’m disgusted with these Hittite women. If Jacob takes a Hittite wife, my life will not be worth living.”
In response to her complaint, Isaac called for Jacob, blessed him, and commanded, “Do not marry a Canaanite woman. Go at once to Paddan-Aram (where Rebekah’s father, Bethuel lived) and take a wife for yourself from among the daughters of Laban, your mother’s brother. May God bless you and increase your numbers until you become a might community of people. May he give you and your descendant the same blessings given to Abraham so that you may take possession of the land where you now reside as a foreigner – the land God promised to Abraham.”
As instructed, Jacob left his parents and went to Paddan-Aram to Rebekah’s brother, Laban. Esau heard that Isaac had blessed Jacob with instructions not to marry a Canaanite woman. Realizing how displeasing Canaanite women were to his parents, Esau went to Ishmael and married Mahalath, daughter of Ishmael (son of Abraham).
What the story means to us today
A family plagued with deceit
It is likely that Rebekah’s complaint to Isaac has nothing to do with her disgust for Canaanite women but rather, a ploy to have Isaac send Jacob north to a safe area where his brother Esau (who was angry with Jacob for stealing his blessing) cannot harm him. Rebekah may have been so intent on protecting Jacob that she used deceit to trick her husband into sending him away.
Esau shows deceit too when he marries Mahalath (from the family of Ishmael) in a ploy to gain favor from his father. Esau, whose life has been full of personal losses brought on by ignorance and deceit, still lacks the inherent character required to lead God’s people.
Later in Genesis, we will see events come to fruition and learn that this deceit was for naught. God’s plan will be fulfilled regardless of the actions of the participating characters who in the end, are harmed by their deceitful actions.
Additional thoughts and considerations
The reason for Rebekah’s complaint to Isaac
Likely referring to her two Hittite daughters-in-law (Judith and Basemath, wives of Esau), Rebekah tells Isaac, “I loathe my life because of these Hittite women”. Her complaint prompts Isaac to prohibit Jacob from marrying a Canaanite woman and send him north to Paddan-Aram. We do not know if Isaac was aware of Esau’s anger towards Jacob and his intent to kill him. Regardless, sending Jacob to safety may have been Rebekah’s intent all along.
Esau’s attempt to appease Isaac and gain his favor
Realizing how displeasing Canaanite women were to his father and mother, Esau married Mahalath (his third wife), daughter of Ishmael, in order to gain favor from his father. This marriage however, is unusual. Although Esau followed his parents’ wishes and did not marry a Hittite woman, he married into a family that Isaac’s father had rejected and sent away. In this regard, it is difficult to state absolutely that Esau’s actions were intended to *please* Isaac.
On the other hand, when Ishmael and his mother Hagar were sent away, an angel comforted them, promising a long family line from Ishmael. Ishmael, albeit a “wild ass of a man”, went on to father 12 princes and appears to have led a fairly successful life. In this context, Esau’s marriage into a family of “outcasts” seems to fit his predicament perfectly, a surprising turn of events.
Understanding the importance of the family lines
Several characters and family lines are involved in this narrative which may prove confusing to new Bible readers.
The despised Hittite women
The “Canaanite women” mentioned are descendent daughters of Heth, the son of Canaan and great-grandson of Noah. The family line to Heth looks like this: Noah -> Ham -> Canaan -> Heth.
Ham was one of Noah’s sons (his youngest) present on the Ark and the son whom blatantly insulted his father by looking upon Noah while he slept naked. Noah’s response to this insulting act was to “curse” Ham and his descendants, a curse that carried on through the generations to the Canaanite people. That the Canaanites were so “despised” is simply a continuation of this curse.
Mahalath and Ishmael
Mahalath was the daughter of Ishmael (brother of Isaac), the son of Abraham through his beloved Hagar. Hagar and Ishmael were sent away by Abraham and while on their way to Egypt, were met by an angel who promised Hagar safety and happiness for Ishamel. Ishamel went on to father 12 princes. Historical records often tie his family line to the Nabataeans of the Persian Empire who occupied territory southeast of the River Jordan, a major trade route (Petra was their capital).
Laban was a descendant of Abraham’s brother, Nahor (another “Nahor” was Abraham’s grandfather). Though generous in hospitality, Laban was known for his duplicity and self-serving interests.
The science and history behind the story
Who were the Canaanites?
The despised Canaanites historically inhabited Phoenicia – modern day Syria and Palestine. To this day, people from these areas are hostile towards the Jews, descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
Paddan-Aram is the name given to the Mesopotamian area north of the junction of the rivers Habur and Euphrates. The city of Harran, where Abraham and his father Terah settled after leaving Ur of the Chaldees (on route to Canann), was located in Paddan-Aram, the part of Aram that lay along the Euphrates.
Jacob’s route to Paddan-Aram
Notes on Biblical translation
Most translations mention Rebekah’s disgust with “Hittite” women. The Hebrew term is actually “Heth” as in “daughters of Heth” and not to be confused with the classical Hittites of Turkey (historically known as Anatolia). The Hittites referred to here are ancestors of Heth, son of Canaan and great-grandson of Noah (whom Noah laid a curse upon).
46 Then Rebekah said to Isaac, “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.”
28 So Isaac called for Jacob and blessed him. Then he commanded him: “Do not marry a Canaanite woman. 2 Go at once to Paddan-Aram, j to the house of your mother’s father Bethuel. Take a wife for yourself there, from among the daughters of Laban, your mother’s brother. 3 May God Almighty m bless you and make you fruitful and increase your numbers until you become a community of peoples. 4 May he give you and your descendants the blessing given to Abraham, so that you may take possession of the land where you now reside as a foreigner, the land God gave to Abraham.” 5 Then Isaac sent Jacob on his way, and he went to Paddan-Aram, to Laban son of Bethuel the Aramean, the brother of Rebekah, who was the mother of Jacob and Esau.
6 Now Esau learned that Isaac had blessed Jacob and had sent him to Paddan-Aram to take a wife from there, and that when he blessed him he commanded him, “Do not marry a Canaanite woman,” 7 and that Jacob had obeyed his father and mother and had gone to Paddan-Aram. 8 Esau then realized how displeasing the Canaanite women were to his father Isaac; 9 so he went to Ishmael and married Mahalath, the sister of Nebaioth and daughter of Ishmael son of Abraham, in addition to the wives he already had.
The New International Version. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2011. Print.
46 Rebekah spoke to Isaac, “I’m sick to death of these Hittite women. If Jacob also marries a native Hittite woman, why live?”
1–2 28 So Isaac called in Jacob and blessed him. Then he ordered him, “Don’t take a Caananite wife. Leave at once. Go to Paddan Aram to the family of your mother’s father, Bethuel. Get a wife for yourself from the daughters of your uncle Laban.
3–4 “And may The Strong God bless you and give you many, many children, a congregation of peoples; and pass on the blessing of Abraham to you and your descendants so that you will get this land in which you live, this land God gave Abraham.”
5 So Isaac sent Jacob off. He went to Paddan Aram, to Laban son of Bethuel the Aramean, the brother of Rebekah who was the mother of Jacob and Esau.
6–9 Esau learned that Isaac had blessed Jacob and sent him to Paddan Aram to get a wife there, and while blessing him commanded, “Don’t marry a Canaanite woman,” and that Jacob had obeyed his parents and gone to Paddan Aram. When Esau realized how deeply his father Isaac disliked the Canaanite women, he went to Ishmael and married Mahalath the sister of Nebaioth and daughter of Ishmael, Abraham’s son. This was in addition to the wives he already had.
Peterson, Eugene H. The Message: The Bible in Contemporary Language. Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 2005. Print.
The NET Bible
27:46 Then Rebekah said to Isaac, “I am deeply depressed because of these daughters of Heth. If Jacob were to marry one of these daughters of Heth who live in this land, I would want to die!”
28:1 So Isaac called for Jacob and blessed him. Then he commanded him, “You must not marry a Canaanite woman! 28:2 Leave immediately for Paddan Aram! Go to the house of Bethuel, your mother’s father, and find yourself a wife there, among the daughters of Laban, your mother’s brother. 28:3 May the sovereign God bless you! May he make you fruitful and give you a multitude of descendants! Then you will become a large nation. 28:4 May he give you and your descendants the blessing he gave to Abraham so that you may possess the land God gave to Abraham, the land where you have been living as a temporary resident.” 28:5 So Isaac sent Jacob on his way, and he went to Paddan Aram, to Laban son of Bethuel the Aramean and brother of Rebekah, the mother of Jacob and Esau.
28:6 Esau saw that Isaac had blessed Jacob and sent him off to Paddan Aram to find a wife there. As he blessed him, Isaac commanded him, “You must not marry a Canaanite woman.” 28:7 Jacob obeyed his father and mother and left for Paddan Aram. 28:8 Then Esau realized that the Canaanite women were displeasing to his father Isaac. 28:9 So Esau went to Ishmael and married Mahalath, the sister of Nebaioth and daughter of Abraham’s son Ishmael, along with the wives he already had.
Biblical Studies Press. The NET Bible First Edition; Bible. English. NET Bible.; The NET Bible. Biblical Studies Press, 2006. Print.
King James Version
46 And Rebekah said to Isaac, I am weary of my life because of the daughters of Heth: if Jacob take a wife of the daughters of Heth, such as these which are of the daughters of the land, what good shall my life do me?
28 And Isaac called Jacob, and blessed him, and charged him, and said unto him, Thou shalt not take a wife of the daughters of Canaan. 2 Arise, go to Padan-aram, to the house of Bethuel thy mother’s father; and take thee a wife from thence of the daughters of Laban thy mother’s brother. 3 And God Almighty bless thee, and make thee fruitful, and multiply thee, that thou mayest be a multitude of people; 4 And give thee the blessing of Abraham, to thee, and to thy seed with thee; that thou mayest inherit the land hwherein thou art a stranger, which God gave unto Abraham. 5 And Isaac sent away Jacob: and he went to Padan-aram unto Laban, son of Bethuel the Syrian, the brother of Rebekah, Jacob’s and Esau’s mother. 6 When Esau saw that Isaac had blessed Jacob, and sent him away to Padan-aram, to take him a wife from thence; and that as he blessed him he gave him a charge, saying, Thou shalt not take a wife of the daughters of Canaan; 7 And that Jacob obeyed his father and his mother, and was gone to Padan-aram; 8 And Esau seeing that the daughters of Canaan pleased not Isaac his father; 9 Then went Esau unto Ishmael, and took unto the wives which he had Mahalath the daughter of Ishmael Abraham’s son, the sister of Nebajoth, to be his wife.
The Holy Bible: King James Version. Electronic Edition of the 1900 Authorized Version. Bellingham, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 2009. Print.