Motherhood & Sanctity

Motherhood, with its joy and toil, is a useful instrument in God's hand for our sanctification. And yet the Word of God remains the primary means of God's work in us (John 17:17).  

Rebekah & Submission in Marriage

Isaac, the son of promise, buries his mother Sarah at the age of 37 (Genesis 23:1). God had brought life from Sarah’s dead womb at age 90. Only imagine the tender affection showered on her boy in those 37-years. No doubt, Isaac was greatly affected by the passing of his mother.

In Genesis 24, a chapter after Sarah’s death, Abraham tasks his chief servant with the mission of finding a wife for his son. The servant was to travel to Abraham’s native country and family in search of Isaac’s bride (Genesis 24:1-9). He journeys hundreds of miles to the city of Nahor – Abraham’s brother (Genesis 22:20) – and arrives precisely at the time when the women are drawing water from the town’s spring--God is sovereign, even in His timing.

The servant--most likely Eliezer of Damascus (Genesis 15:2)--is careful with his duty and prays, asking God to reveal His choice of a wife from among the women. His prayer follows:“Let the young woman to whom I shall say, ‘Please let down your jar that I may drink,’ and who shall say, ‘Drink, and I will water your camels’—let her be the one whom you have appointed for your servant Isaac” (Genesis 24:14).

Before he has finished praying, Rebekah, a granddaughter of Nahor, comes walking. The servant requests a drink and Rebekah offers water without hesitation. She also proceeds to water his camels (Genesis 24:15-21). Now a single camel can hold up to 25-gallons of water. Rebekah quenches ten of these creatures. Certainly, the extent of her willingness and hospitality ought to challenge us!

The young woman is immediately chosen for Isaac and–like her uncle Abraham before her, she willingly leaves home, country and family for an unknown land (Genesis 12:1). She is escorted to her husband who receives her with love. Isaac takes Rebekah into the tent of Sarah and he is comforted by his wife after the death of his mother (Genesis 24: 67).

And in some ways, Rebekah does resemble Sarah. Isaac marries at the age of 40 but will not embrace children until he is 60-years-old. Barrenness, Sarah’s despair, plagues Rebekah for twenty long years. In the end, Isaac prays for his wife and the LORD blesses them with twin sons–Esau, the eldest (Isaac’s favorite), and his brother, Jacob (Rebekah’s pet) (Genesis 25:19-27).

During her pregnancy, God tells Rebekah that her firstborn would serve his younger brother. God’s elective purposes would prevail over custom. The Abrahamic blessing of land and descendants would be granted to Jacob, not Esau (Romans 9:10-13).

Did Rebekah share this word with her husband? If so, Isaac seems to ignore it. Isaac is said to have prayed for his wife, did he also pray concerning this message? Or perhaps disregarding common custom was simply too strange--particularly when it deprived his favorite son? Whatever his reason, Isaac resolves to bless Esau rather than Jacob. When Rebekah overhears the decision, she quickly formulates a plan to overrule her husband. She disguises Jacob as Esau and the younger son is blessed in place of the elder (Genesis 27:1-29).

Rebekah had a husband who–in this instance–either did not know or did not trust God’s word. And while Rebekah appears to believe God concerning the election of her younger son, she certainly didn’t look to God Himself  to prove His word. Had the LORD been her confidence, prayer, and not deception, would have been her answer to Isaac’s plan.

Perhaps God would have displayed His glorious providence in some majestic way had Rebekah called Jacob for prayer rather than for scheming. Certainly, Scripture (see the Book of Esther!) gives evidence of God’s prevailing word over man’s determination. But alas, Rebekah seeks to bring God’s word to pass by her own wisdom and as a result, she never sees her favorite son again (Genesis 28:1-5). Jacob is forced to flee the family at the threat of scornful Esau and he returns to Canaan after Rebekah’s death.  

There is a lesson for us here on biblical marital submission. Submission in marriage can be complex. What do you do if, for instance, your husband vacillates or appears passive in some decision-making? What if, like Rebekah, you have greater knowledge in some area or in general, feel more equipped in God’s word? Does the man remain the ultimate leader in those instances? I believe that the answer is yes and reasons follow.

Genesis 1:27-31 tells us that the man and the woman are “one humanity in two kinds, both equally made and delighted in by God. Both equally bear the divine image. Both are charged with filling the earth and subduing it as God’s representatives.”[1] The two are equal in worth and purpose and yet Genesis 2 reveals distinctions in their God-given roles. Claire Smith, writing in the Word-Filled Women’s Ministry, explains:

[The man] has responsibilities of authority and leadership arising from his temporal and relational priority [in other words, he was made first], which is seen, for example, in his task of naming, in his receiving God’s commands, and in his initiating a new family with the woman God brings to him. She is a helper fit for him...There is order in their relationship, and their roles and responsibilities are not interchangeable.[2]

Genesis 2 precedes the fall. As such, a marriage of equal yet distinct complements, displays God’s wisdom from the beginning. In Genesis 2, the man is called to sacrificially love, protect and lead his wife and the woman is called to willingly submit to her husband. The image-bearing man and woman--unified in purpose yet different in their roles, reflect--to some degree--the Triune Godhead--one God in three persons, equally divine yet distinct in their functions.  

Sisters, the Lord is glorified in the willing submission of a wife to her husband. Sin in our world manifests itself in tragic ways that include misogyny and abuse of all kinds against women. Knowing this, we guard against potential mistreatment--even in our own homes.[3] And like Rebekah, there is also the tendency to simply maneuver things our own way. Yet God’s wisdom for godly relationships pre-dates the fall and has the power to restore “us as [image-bearers] and [transform] us into the likeness of God through the renewing work of the Spirit.”[4] We are safest when in God’s will.

Let’s pray then for the grace to submit willingly as image bearers of God, lavishly loved by the Father (1 John 3:1); made alive in Christ (Ephesians 2:1-10), and empowered by the Spirit to walk in righteousness (Romans 8:1-17). May we submit with our eyes ultimately fixed on the Bridegroom of our affections, the One to whom we will give an account; the One we yearn to please in this life and for all eternity (2 Corinthians 5:9-11).

May our submission be that of women who encourage, plan with and even advise our husbands, and yet our ultimate confidence is the Lord Himself. And so we trust our husbands, families and ourselves to Him and willingly follow the One who calls husbands to lead (Ephesians 5:22; 1 Peter 3:1).

*Thanks for reading! This post is part of my Mothers in the Bible Series; we are looking for glimpses of the gospel in the lives of biblical women--from Eve to Mary, the mother of Christ. Click here to see other writings. And please let me know your thoughts!

[1] smith, Claire. "The Word on Women: Enjoying Distinction." Word-Filled Women’s Ministry: Loving and Serving the Church. Ed. Gloria Furman and Kathleen B. Nielson. Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway, 2015. 43.

[2] Ibid, 46.

[3] As a former intake counselor for a domestic violence shelter, I’m familiar with the face of violence in the home and understand that God hates abuse (Psalm 11:5; Malachi 2:16). I write this not to women in some totalitarian abusive relationship (if that’s you, get help!). The article is directed to sisters seeking biblical guidance on the topic of godly marital submission.

[4] Ibid, 50.