Isaac & Rebekah: Failure to Communicate
How can you practice positive interactions in your marriage this week?
The marriage of Isaac and Rebekah is a study in the challenge of relational communication. Over the next few days, we look at this marriage that started out strong then headed down a trail of deceit and manipulation due to poor communication. Unique communication challenges can arise in a Military marriage. We have lessons to learn from Isaac and Rebekah that will help us build stronger marriages.
About This Journey
God says that it is not good for man to be alone. Life is better with the buddy system—in the Military and especially in marriage. It gives us a greater reward for our work, someone to help us when we fall, and a shoulder to rest on. In “Devoted to My Husband”, we journey with six women through intimacy, trust, communication, healthy boundaries, generosity, and teamwork.
This Week's Readings
Isaac & Rebekah: Failure to Communicate
Now Abraham was old, well advanced in years. And the Lord had blessed Abraham in all things. And Abraham said to his servant, the oldest of his household, who had charge of all that he had, “Put your hand under my thigh, that I may make you swear by the Lord, the God of heaven and God of the earth, that you will not take a wife for my son from the daughters of the Canaanites, among whom I dwell, but will go to my country and to my kindred, and take a wife for my son Isaac.” The servant said to him, “Perhaps the woman may not be willing to follow me to this land. Must I then take your son back to the land from which you came?” Abraham said to him, “See to it that you do not take my son back there. The Lord, the God of heaven, who took me from my father’s house and from the land of my kindred, and who spoke to me and swore to me, ‘To your offspring I will give this land,’ he will send his angel before you, and you shall take a wife for my son from there. But if the woman is not willing to follow you, then you will be free from this oath of mine; only you must not take my son back there.” So the servant put his hand under the thigh of Abraham his master and swore to him concerning this matter.
Then the servant took ten of his master’s camels and departed, taking all sorts of choice gifts from his master; and he arose and went to Mesopotamia to the city of Nahor. And he made the camels kneel down outside the city by the well of water at the time of evening, the time when women go out to draw water. And he said, “O Lord, God of my master Abraham, please grant me success today and show steadfast love to my master Abraham. Behold, I am standing by the spring of water, and the daughters of the men of the city are coming out to draw water. 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. By this I shall know that you have shown steadfast love to my master.”
Before he had finished speaking, behold, Rebekah, who was born to Bethuel the son of Milcah, the wife of Nahor, Abraham’s brother, came out with her water jar on her shoulder. The young woman was very attractive in appearance, a maiden whom no man had known. She went down to the spring and filled her jar and came up. Then the servant ran to meet her and said, “Please give me a little water to drink from your jar.” She said, “Drink, my lord.” And she quickly let down her jar upon her hand and gave him a drink. When she had finished giving him a drink, she said, “I will draw water for your camels also, until they have finished drinking.” So she quickly emptied her jar into the trough and ran again to the well to draw water, and she drew for all his camels. The man gazed at her in silence to learn whether the Lord had prospered his journey or not.
When the camels had finished drinking, the man took a gold ring weighing a half shekel, and two bracelets for her arms weighing ten gold shekels, and said, “Please tell me whose daughter you are. Is there room in your father’s house for us to spend the night?” She said to him, “I am the daughter of Bethuel the son of Milcah, whom she bore to Nahor.” She added, “We have plenty of both straw and fodder, and room to spend the night.” The man bowed his head and worshiped the Lord and said, “Blessed be the Lord, the God of my master Abraham, who has not forsaken his steadfast love and his faithfulness toward my master. As for me, the Lord has led me in the way to the house of my master’s kinsmen.” Then the young woman ran and told her mother’s household about these things.
Rebekah had a brother whose name was Laban. Laban ran out toward the man, to the spring. As soon as he saw the ring and the bracelets on his sister’s arms, and heard the words of Rebekah his sister, “Thus the man spoke to me,” he went to the man. And behold, he was standing by the camels at the spring. He said, “Come in, O blessed of the Lord. Why do you stand outside? For I have prepared the house and a place for the camels.” So the man came to the house and unharnessed the camels, and gave straw and fodder to the camels, and there was water to wash his feet and the feet of the men who were with him. Then food was set before him to eat. But he said, “I will not eat until I have said what I have to say.” He said, “Speak on.”
So he said, “I am Abraham’s servant. The Lord has greatly blessed my master, and he has become great. He has given him flocks and herds, silver and gold, male servants and female servants, camels and donkeys. And Sarah my master’s wife bore a son to my master when she was old, and to him he has given all that he has. My master made me swear, saying, ‘You shall not take a wife for my son from the daughters of the Canaanites, in whose land I dwell, but you shall go to my father’s house and to my clan and take a wife for my son.’ I said to my master, ‘Perhaps the woman will not follow me.’ But he said to me, ‘The Lord, before whom I have walked, will send his angel with you and prosper your way. You shall take a wife for my son from my clan and from my father’s house. Then you will be free from my oath, when you come to my clan. And if they will not give her to you, you will be free from my oath.’
“I came today to the spring and said, ‘O Lord, the God of my master Abraham, if now you are prospering the way that I go, behold, I am standing by the spring of water. Let the virgin who comes out to draw water, to whom I shall say, “Please give me a little water from your jar to drink,” and who will say to me, “Drink, and I will draw for your camels also,” let her be the woman whom the Lord has appointed for my master’s son.’
“Before I had finished speaking in my heart, behold, Rebekah came out with her water jar on her shoulder, and she went down to the spring and drew water. I said to her, ‘Please let me drink.’ She quickly let down her jar from her shoulder and said, ‘Drink, and I will give your camels drink also.’ So I drank, and she gave the camels drink also. Then I asked her, ‘Whose daughter are you?’ She said, ‘The daughter of Bethuel, Nahor’s son, whom Milcah bore to him.’ So I put the ring on her nose and the bracelets on her arms. Then I bowed my head and worshiped the Lord and blessed the Lord, the God of my master Abraham, who had led me by the right way to take the daughter of my master’s kinsman for his son. Now then, if you are going to show steadfast love and faithfulness to my master, tell me; and if not, tell me, that I may turn to the right hand or to the left.”
Then Laban and Bethuel answered and said, “The thing has come from the Lord; we cannot speak to you bad or good. Behold, Rebekah is before you; take her and go, and let her be the wife of your master’s son, as the Lord has spoken.”
When Abraham’s servant heard their words, he bowed himself to the earth before the Lord. And the servant brought out jewelry of silver and of gold, and garments, and gave them to Rebekah. He also gave to her brother and to her mother costly ornaments. And he and the men who were with him ate and drank, and they spent the night there. When they arose in the morning, he said, “Send me away to my master.” Her brother and her mother said, “Let the young woman remain with us a while, at least ten days; after that she may go.” But he said to them, “Do not delay me, since the Lord has prospered my way. Send me away that I may go to my master.” They said, “Let us call the young woman and ask her.” And they called Rebekah and said to her, “Will you go with this man?” She said, “I will go.” So they sent away Rebekah their sister and her nurse, and Abraham’s servant and his men. And they blessed Rebekah and said to her,
“Our sister, may you become
thousands of ten thousands,
and may your offspring possess
the gate of those who hate him!”
Then Rebekah and her young women arose and rode on the camels and followed the man. Thus the servant took Rebekah and went his way.
Now Isaac had returned from Beer-lahai-roi and was dwelling in the Negeb. And Isaac went out to meditate in the field toward evening. And he lifted up his eyes and saw, and behold, there were camels coming. And Rebekah lifted up her eyes, and when she saw Isaac, she dismounted from the camel and said to the servant, “Who is that man, walking in the field to meet us?” The servant said, “It is my master.” So she took her veil and covered herself. And the servant told Isaac all the things that he had done. Then Isaac brought her into the tent of Sarah his mother and took Rebekah, and she became his wife, and he loved her. So Isaac was comforted after his mother’s death.-Genesis 24
Over the next few waypoints, we will encounter in the marriage of Isaac and Rebekah a case study in the challenge of relational communication. Their marriage began with a noteworthy journey—but it was not a journey the couple made together. In an ancient-world precursor to mail-order brides and online dating, Abraham sent his servant to find a wife for his son Isaac. God had promised to bless Abraham and make his descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and the sand on the shore (Genesis 15:5; 22:17). The blessing would continue through Isaac and on down the family line. But Abraham was now a very old man and Isaac was not married. Abraham wanted to be sure that Isaac married someone from his own country, so he took matters into his own hands and sent his servant to find Isaac a wife.
The servant spotted a woman named Rebekah at the community well. Her kindness to him—and his weary camels—was impressive (Genesis 24:10–22). She communicated through word and action that she would make a good wife for Isaac, and they met after the servant asked God to lead him to the right girl. He explained the story of his quest to Rebekah and her family and she agreed to return with him (v. 34–58). She showed great courage by her willingness to leave her country, travel to a foreign land, and marry a man she had never met.
Arranged marriage was common in Rebekah and Isaac’s culture, but even though the Bible tells us that the couple fell for each other, they did not establish good communication practices before becoming man and wife. Most of us today personally select our own spouses-to-be and arrange our own marriages, but it is still easy to fall into poor communication habits.
Over the next few days, we will look at this marriage that started out strong with God’s confirmation, Rebekah’s willingness, and Isaac’s love. These two soon made choices that led their marriage down a trail of deceit and manipulation. Their later challenges were due in large part to poor communication. We have lessons to learn from their challenges in communication that will help us build stronger marriages.
What are some of the communication challenges that can arise in a military marriage? Take time to list the strengths and weaknesses of your marriage in the area of communication. Make this list a focus for your prayer over the next week.
Lord, I pray my husband and I will listen to one another. Give each of us a heart to hear even if we do not speak with words. Show us the things that disrupt the lines of communication in our marriage. Amen.
These are the generations of Isaac, Abraham’s son: Abraham fathered Isaac, and Isaac was forty years old when he took Rebekah, the daughter of Bethuel the Aramean of Paddan-aram, the sister of Laban the Aramean, to be his wife. And Isaac prayed to the Lord for his wife, because she was barren. And the Lord granted his prayer, and Rebekah his wife conceived.-Genesis 25:19-21
Isaac and Rebekah seemed like the perfect couple. Their future looked bright. They started their relationship with love. But something went missing. God had promised the blessing of children through Isaac, and there were none. Do the math after reading on a few verses to Genesis 25:26 and you will discover that Isaac and Rebecca had been married twenty years before Rebekah became pregnant. This was not what either of them expected.
We have a somewhat better understanding of conception now, but in ancient days if there were no children, people would conclude that something was wrong with the woman. Scripture records nothing to indicate whether Rebekah communicated the disappointment of her barrenness with Isaac, nor does it indicate if Isaac offered understanding support. But twenty years is an extremely long time and it is safe to conclude that Rebekah suffered because of her childlessness.
Think of the pressure Rebekah must have felt. When you consider that Isaac knew of God’s promise to his father Abraham that a great nation was to come through Isaac, the expectation on Rebekah to produce a son had to be overwhelming. Tension between these two built up over the years, leading to poor communication between them.
Consider your military marriage. What did you expect when you married a military man? Kay expected to see the world, but her husband’s first assignment was three hours from her hometown. Annie thought that since her husband did not have to punch a time card anymore, and worked a mile away, he would be available 24/7. Carrie thought she would be able to have her pick of any of the houses on her military installation. Melinda thought filling out a military dream sheet meant her family would have their pick of assignments. Shanna thought she would be the most important priority of her husband—and then duty called.
Unfulfilled expectations may leave us feeling disappointed and resentful. As we replace hopes and dreams with sadness, tension, anger, or conflict, we can become trapped in the breeding ground of poor communication. It may encourage us to realize that Isaac and Rebekah, whose marriage was a part of God’s divine plan, struggled with unfulfilled expectations too. We can choose to respond differently than they did, for sharing disappointments honestly with our spouse can actually enhance our understanding of each other and strengthen our relationship.
What were some of your preconceived expectations of marriage? What expectations did you have for life as a military wife? How do you manage unfulfilled expectations?
Lord, protect my marriage from the disappointment of unfulfilled expectations. Help us to identify any issue that keeps us from communicating with honesty. Amen.
A Recipe for Disaster
When Isaac was old and his eyes were dim so that he could not see, he called Esau his older son and said to him, “My son”; and he answered, “Here I am.” He said, “Behold, I am old; I do not know the day of my death. Now then, take your weapons, your quiver and your bow, and go out to the field and hunt game for me, and prepare for me delicious food, such as I love, and bring it to me so that I may eat, that my soul may bless you before I die.”
Now Rebekah was listening when Isaac spoke to his son Esau. So when Esau went to the field to hunt for game and bring it, Rebekah said to her son Jacob, “I heard your father speak to your brother Esau, ‘Bring me game and prepare for me delicious food, that I may eat it and bless you before the Lord before I die.’ Now therefore, my son, obey my voice as I command you. Go to the flock and bring me two good young goats, so that I may prepare from them delicious food for your father, such as he loves. And you shall bring it to your father to eat, so that he may bless you before he dies.”-Genesis 27:1-10
Bobbi Ann Finley was dubbed the “Military Mistress” after she married 14 different U.S. military service members and stole their money. The state of Alabama sentenced her to three years in prison for theft by deception. She moved from one military installation to another collecting husbands as others collect travel souvenirs. That is serious deception! Obviously, Bobbi Ann failed to share some important details when she said “I do” 14 times.
Isaac and Rebekah also faced deception in their marriage. Rebekah withheld the information that God planned the younger son to inherit the blessing, so Rebekah favored Jacob and Isaac favored Esau. Genesis 27 begins with Isaac preparing to deliver the patriarchal blessing to Esau—and presumably he did not discuss his plan with Rebekah. He had to know it would upset her. They would not agree, so why bother? But Rebekah overheard and devised a plan of her own.
The picture of Rebekah eavesdropping is unflattering, and gives credence to her next deceptive actions. As the oldest son, Esau was the rightful heir to his father’s blessing—and such a blessing was like a legally binding will today. Blessing Esau would have been legal, yet it was not what God planned. But family dysfunction was not God’s plan either.
We can recognize the results: Distrust over time led to deception and manipulation—communication at its worst. Instead of sharing the truth of our fears, hopes, and dreams, we can use our words and actions to manipulate circumstances in our favor. Isaac and Rebekah became master manipulators. Isaac maneuvered so Esau would be the only son present to receive a blessing; Rebekah outmaneuvered Isaac so her favored Jacob would be the one blessed. She left nothing to chance. She even disguised Jacob to make him appear as Esau and prepared food that Esau would have prepared from game killed while hunting (Genesis 27:11–40). Rebekah’s meal was a recipe for disaster.
Participants in a study on communication in military marriage claimed more intentional communication than did non-military couples. Why could that be true? Have you practiced manipulation or deception in your marriage? What should you change?
Lord, strengthen military marriages today. I pray for chaplains and counselors to have wisdom and insight as they counsel couples in challenging circumstances. Amen.
From Facts to Feelings
As soon as Isaac had finished blessing Jacob, when Jacob had scarcely gone out from the presence of Isaac his father, Esau his brother came in from his hunting. He also prepared delicious food and brought it to his father. And he said to his father, “Let my father arise and eat of his son’s game, that you may bless me.” His father Isaac said to him, “Who are you?” He answered, “I am your son, your firstborn, Esau.” Then Isaac trembled very violently and said, “Who was it then that hunted game and brought it to me, and I ate it all before you came, and I have blessed him? Yes, and he shall be blessed.” As soon as Esau heard the words of his father, he cried out with an exceedingly great and bitter cry and said to his father, “Bless me, even me also, O my father!” But he said, “Your brother came deceitfully, and he has taken away your blessing.” Esau said, “Is he not rightly named Jacob? For he has cheated me these two times. He took away my birthright, and behold, now he has taken away my blessing.” Then he said, “Have you not reserved a blessing for me?” Isaac answered and said to Esau, “Behold, I have made him lord over you, and all his brothers I have given to him for servants, and with grain and wine I have sustained him. What then can I do for you, my son?” Esau said to his father, “Have you but one blessing, my father? Bless me, even me also, O my father.” And Esau lifted up his voice and wept.
Then Isaac his father answered and said to him:
“Behold, away from the fatness of the earth shall your dwelling be,
and away from the dew of heaven on high.
By your sword you shall live,
and you shall serve your brother;
but when you grow restless
you shall break his yoke from your neck.”
Now Esau hated Jacob because of the blessing with which his father had blessed him, and Esau said to himself, “The days of mourning for my father are approaching; then I will kill my brother Jacob.” But the words of Esau her older son were told to Rebekah. So she sent and called Jacob her younger son and said to him, “Behold, your brother Esau comforts himself about you by planning to kill you. Now therefore, my son, obey my voice. Arise, flee to Laban my brother in Haran and stay with him a while, until your brother’s fury turns away— until your brother’s anger turns away from you, and he forgets what you have done to him. Then I will send and bring you from there. Why should I be bereft of you both in one day?”-Genesis 27:30-45
Alienation from and between their children was the result of the deceptive practices of Isaac and Rebekah. Who was to blame for their communication fiasco? Looking at the story as a whole, we can conclude that Isaac failed to share his goals with his wife while Rebekah was not forthright with her husband.
When it came to their physical interaction, however, the Bible indicates they communicated very well. Midway in their marriage, Isaac and Rebekah moved for a time to Gerar where we get a glimpse of the physical passion they shared (Genesis 26:8). You may have heard the joke, “What’s the second thing your military husband takes off when he comes in from field duty? His rucksack.” Your husband might be quick to communicate physically, but it may take more time to share his feelings.
The goal for healthy marriage communication is to complete the journey from facts to feelings. The most basic level of communication is sharing facts and ideas. Think small talk. This is not deep—on the order of “How was your day?”—but such communication connects you to one another as you inform each other about life outside of your relationship.
Sharing facts can only take you so far; you must be willing to share thoughts and ideas. This level of communication becomes more risky and could lead to disagreement and judgment. Trust grows as a couple is willing to hear opinions, discuss differences, and remain open to hearing another view.
The most effective communication is to be able to share feelings and needs. Communication on this level opens the door to understanding. Marriage experts Gary and Barbara Rosberg compare this to exploring a cave “with a vast labyrinth of underground caverns someone could spend a lifetime exploring … every step, every turn in the labyrinth, every new day of exploration yields surprises and challenges too good to miss.” The journey to deep, heartfelt communication will not be easy, but the discoveries will be worth the effort.
Consider these sure communication killers. Check any you have used with your husband in the last month:
☐ overgeneralizations (always, never)
☐ derogatory names
☐ ridicule and sarcasm
☐ offensive comments
☐ the silent treatment
Relationship specialist John Gottman instructs couples to work toward a ratio of five positive interactions to every one negative. Positive interactions include such relationship builders as a smile, a touch, changing the course of negative conversation, and positive, affectionate, encouraging comments. Consider the ratio of communication killers to relationship builders in your marriage. How does your marriage math add up?
Lord, help my marriage to be built on wisdom and established through understanding (Proverbs 24:3). Amen.
I Should Have Told You
The children struggled together within her, and she said, “If it is thus, why is this happening to me?” So she went to inquire of the Lord. And the Lord said to her,
“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.”
When her days to give birth were completed, behold, there were twins in her womb.-Genesis 25:22-24
Consider OPSEC (Operations Security), the process to protect even unclassified information that an adversary can use to harm us. We consistently observe safety measures to minimize risk to our husband and family. A military wife may also purposely withhold details from her husband during a deployment so that he can focus on his mission. But in normal life, withholding information from a spouse is not best practice for a successful marriage.
In Genesis 25:21 we learn that Isaac prayed for Rebekah to conceive. He did not lose hope in the promise of God. God heard Isaac’s prayer and Rebekah finally—after twenty years of marriage—became pregnant with twins. The pregnancy was extremely difficult, and her own prayer reveals her feelings: “why is this happening to me?” God’s response was a message of insight for the future nation of Israel. The word was not simply to comfort her, it revealed the disturbing destiny of her sons. Her two babies would become two nations—and the older would serve the younger!
She prayed and God answered. Not only did God answer, the passage tells us: God spoke to her. Put yourself in that situation. What would you do if “the Lord said” something to you about the future of your children? I would find my husband and relay every word of the message to him—in detail! And I would repeat it to myself several times for emphasis. Rebekah, however, kept the Lord’s words to herself. Why would she withhold this significant information from Isaac? Did she feel inferior to Isaac, unable to express herself freely? Did she not want to trouble Isaac with the knowledge that there would be lifelong strife between their children? Did she simply choose to deceive?
We do not know the reason. Scripture simply informs us of the devastating result. Isaac favored the older child Esau and Rebekah favored the younger child Jacob (Genesis 25:27–28). God let Rebekah know Esau was unsuited for the promised blessing, but she did not share that information with Isaac. Her inability or unwillingness to communicate with her husband led to a series of tragedies to the family.
Honesty and openness are fundamental to a strong and healthy marriage. OPSEC within a marriage means not withholding information pertaining to your relationship or family, but sharing despite fear and insecurity.
Write your husband a note to communicate your gratitude and love for him. Consider reading the book The Five Love Languages: Military Edition with your spouse. The authors propose that we each have an emotional love language, and knowing this about our spouse can help us better navigate communication in marriage.
Lord, use my words today to bless and encourage my husband. Build our relationship as we learn to communicate better. Help us not make assumptions that lead to misunderstanding. Amen.
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