Toldot – Generations

Parasha Toldot (Generations) Gen. 25:19–28:9; Mal 1:1–2:7; Luke 3:1–18

In this Torah portion we read something puzzling: In Gen.25:21 it states that: “…when Isaac was 40 years old he took Rebekah as his wife… and pleaded to the LORD on behalf of his wife, Rebekah because she was childless and the Lord granted his plea and Rebekah his wife conceived.” (in this instance she didn’t pray but Isaac). To be childless was considered a curse due to sin and ungodliness and Rebecca probably internalised this with self-condemnation in additions to feelings of failure and worthlessness – she was convinced that God was punishing her for something she had done and that her barrenness was all her fault. She had nothing but remorse for something she was not responsible for. 

It had been no different for Sarai the wife of Abram except that Sarai had faced an even more impossible situation than Rebecca because of her old age. Either way, Rebekah had given up all hope of conceiving, yet God who was always in full control. Sometimes, it is when all vestige of hope has evaporated that God steps in because He wants to teach us something very special and important – that He is always faithful,  our all-sufficiency and will never fail us.

The name Rebekah means ‘bound up,’ and it describes very well how Rebecca felt due to her barrenness. Isaac also well understood what it meant to be bound up but in a different sense through a memory deeply etched in his mind when many years before his father, Abram, offered him as a sacrifice (Gen.22) in a pivotal moment in Jewish history known as the “Akedah” or “binding.” He understood these things well. Rebecca was bound up in her soul, filled with turmoil and confusion. Isaac had been physically bound and prepared to be sacrificed with absolutely no way of escape yet in both cases God had the last word.

Isaac was 40 years old when he married but he had to wait a further 20 years before Rebekah became pregnant. It’s not an easy thing to wait patiently for God to act but God always has His perfect timing in all things, something that the psalmist describes beautifully: “I waited patiently and expectantly for the Lord; and He inclined to me and heard my cry. He brought me up out of a horrible pit [of tumult and of destruction], out of the miry clay, And He set my feet upon a rock, steadying my footsteps and establishing my path.” (Isai. 40:1-2)

The underlying cause of Rebecca’s barrenness is pure speculation but the underlying meaning is not. Scripture teaches us that no matter how great our imperfections are, it can’t nullify the perfection of God who undertakes to supply ALL our needs according to His riches in Messiah Jesus. So, when in our lives we are confronted with the mystery of barrenness – failing health, disappointments, setbacks, etc, God will use even the negatives for His glory! (Rom. 8:28)

How many times can we bear witness how God, the Author of Creation, makes the impossible, possible, as in the case with Rebekah. He makes a way where there seems to be no way. Although He may sometimes appear to close His hands there will come the times when He opens them again to reveal an abundance, but often in a different shape and form to what we may have expected. He is a God who always provides the best solutions!

As related to barrenness, this is a mystery, but so are countless many other things. However, many of Yeshua’s statements and parables focused upon something very different which is spiritual barrenness something that occurs when we neglect to walk in relationship with Yeshua. This is a situation which no-one need experience, but if so it can be easily rectified. But, God has equipped us to engage the enemy and be more than conquerors through Him who loves us. And for this, we need to repent and surrender our lives once more to Him, trim our lamps and allow Him to take full control of our lives to shine brightly for His glory. 

In a sense we all have areas of barrenness and are a work in process which is why God desires to change us from glory to glory by His Holy Spirit which dwells within us. For this, the Master Potter uses every circumstance to lovingly bring about change, to mould and shape our lives. He is able to transform the barren places of our lives into wellsprings, even as His Word declares: “I will make rivers flow on barren heights, and springs within the valleys. I will turn the desert into pools of water, and the parched ground into springs.” (Isai 41:18)

A diamond is just a piece of charcoal that handled stress exceptionally well and so God wants to birth within us the same thing; a deeper walk with Himself, a deeper knowledge, a deeper relationship. May God propel us to places beyond our dreams as we invest our trust in Him to have His perfect way – not my will but Thine!

In early biblical times, it was a shameful thing to be found barren, which is how polygamy emerged as was frequently practiced. It ensured the preservation of future generations which superseded all other moral considerations. However, this is not what God originally had designed it to be, or He would have made three Eves instead of just one: Eve, Eva, and Evita. 

If we fast track to the very end times when God’s wrath will fall upon the earth, Yeshua warned that those who are barren will be considered blessed (Isai.54:1, Luke 23:29). This is a statement of comparison, meaning that the joy of having children will be like deep mourning in comparison to the judgements which mankind will be facing in those days.

A 2nd theme I would like to touch upon from our Torah passage is Isaac and Rebecca’s love which they demonstrated to their children. The identical twins were ironically opposites both physically, emotionally and spiritually. We read that, “…The boys grew up. Esau became a skilful hunter, a man of the outdoors; but Jacob was a mild man who stayed at home among the tents. Isaac, who had a taste for wild game, loved Esau, but Rebekah loved Jacob” (Gen. 25: 27-28).

Isaac loved Esau more than Jacob but Rebekah loved Jacob more than Esau. Favouritism is a dangerous thing but in the case of Rebecca it was because she had received a word from the Lord: “Two nations are in your womb, and two peoples from within you will be separated; one people will be stronger than the other, and the older will serve the younger.” (25: 23). Since Jacob was the younger, Rebekah understood that it would be Jacob and his line who would continue the lineage through God’s covenant and become heirs of His promises.

Not that Jacob (meaning ‘deceiver’ was any more righteous than Esau – at least early on). The difference, was, as we see the lives of both brothers unravelling was that Jacob allowed God (albeit painfully) to transform his life from Jacob (deceiver) to Israel (‘Prince of God’). Esau remained Esau. As we know, biblically, a change of name is hugely significant and signified the equivalent of being ‘born again.’

Esau was an outdoors person, rugged who enjoyed hunting with little time for things spiritual. He left that for the home makers. The real question is why did Isaac want to entrust his legacy to Esau who he knew had sold his birthright for a bowl of soup, because he “despised” the birthright (Gen.25: 29-34). But, even if that did not cause him major concern another incident should have: “When Esau was forty years old, he married Judith daughter of Beeri the Hittite, and also Basemath daughter of Elon the Hittite. They were a source of grief to Isaac and Rebekah” (Gen. 26: 34-35).

Esau had made himself at home among the Hittites, so much so that he had married two of their women, something strictly forbidden by God, which caused the eventual total assimilation of Esau’s ancestors into their pagan culture, religion, and moral values. Esau disregarded any desire to fulfil his godly responsibility to carry forward the promises and covenants of God, something which he despised.

Yet, none of these things bothered Isaac because he viewed his son through speckled sunglasses. Love is blind and to Isaac, Esau could do no wrong. When Isaac instructed: “Prepare me the kind of tasty food I like and bring it to me to eat, so that I may give you my blessing before I die” he did not do so because he was hungry. Rather he desired to be filled with the smell and taste he associated with Esau, his older son before he blessed him because he had become blind both physically and spiritually and consequently with all the amazing things he had experienced in his relationship with God had somehow along the way become barren. 

When Isaac and Esau realised how they had been deceived by Jacob, we read that Isaac “trembled violently” and Esau “burst out with a loud and bitter cry.” It is interesting that the Torah generally says little about people’s emotions which is why when we read how Yeshua wept by the tomb of Lazarus, it was hugely significant as the depths of His love was exposed. 

In contrast, during the incident with the binding of Isaac, there is not the slightest indication of how Abraham or Isaac felt in one of the most alarming episodes in the Bible.

So here, the depth of feeling revealed in the Torah, describing Isaac and Esau at that moment is rare and overwhelming. Both father and son had been betrayed yet were helpless to do anything about it. Isaac never reproached Esau for selling his birth-right to Jacob and Esau never blamed his father for not taking sufficient care to avoid blessing Jacob instead of himself.

The bond with our children may be deeply damaged but need ever be broken beyond repair and so too with our relationship with God. He never gives up on us His love is unconditional and unbreakable though not beyond reproach.

The phrase, “And the older shall serve the younger”  in Hebrew is: “ve-rav ya’avod zayer” which can be translated as, “The rabbi will serve the disciple.”  It relates directly to John 13 at Yeshua’s last Pesach when He washed His disciples feet: “So when He had washed their feet, taken His garments, and sat down again, He said to them, ‘Do you know what I have done to you? You call Me Teacher and Lord, and you say well, for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Teacher, (Rav) have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet.’” v’s 12-14:

We are all commanded to wash one another’s feet even with the Esau’s of this world. And as we see this whole scene in John 13 unravel, it connects with the prophetic promises given to Rebekah.

Although it was Issac who prayed for Rebekah at a low point in her life, eventually God used her, not Isaac to pave the way to establish the ten tribes of Israel from whom would be born the Saviour of the world, through Jacob instead of Esau.

Rebekah may have had a shaky start in life, but it was she who paved the way for God’s blessing to fall upon Jacob to establish the ten tribes of Israel. No matter how many false starts we may have experienced in our lives, what matter the most is how well we finish.