When Isaac spoke these words to Esau, it was not to his ears alone that they came. “Rebekah,” Isaac’s wife, “had been listening while Isaac spoke to his son Esau” (Genesis 27:5). Apparently, she was rightly alarmed at what she had heard. When Isaac, who had been marked as the bearer of the divine covenant that had first come to Abraham, spoke to Esau about blessing him, Rebekah knew that, because of Isaac’s use of “bless,” that it was the blessings of the Abrahamic covenant to which he referred. Isaac was intent upon passing the blessing on to Esau.
Before we contemplate the way that Rebekah responded to what she had heard, we should take a moment to consider what it is that Isaac is doing, and whether or not he can actually do what both Isaac and Rebekah (and most likely Esau) know that he is about to attempt to do. Can Isaac actually pass along the Abrahamic covenant? No, he cannot. That is the prerogative of the God that enters into covenant. Isaac did not have the covenant passed along to him by Abraham, but rather, the Scriptures inform us that it was the Lord who spoke to Isaac and informed him that he was to be the bearer of the divine covenant. This lined-up with what Abraham had been told about the son that would be born to he and Sarah. Here, Isaac, fully aware of his plans and intentions, is presuming to usurp the promise that had come to him, while presuming to encroach upon an area that belonged to God alone. So though it is unlikely that Isaac’s actions are going to be effectual in relation to the bearer of the covenant, his completing the task to which he had set himself would only prove to be problematic down the road, especially in the area of family relations and positions of honor within the extended household.
This is only a part of what it was that prompted Rebekah to take action. What was that action? Well, it was deception. Rebekah, in full awareness of the family’s history of deception, jumps right into the family “business,” doing what she believes to be an absolute necessity. Just as Isaac figured that deception had worked for him and his dad in the past, so too could Rebekah reach the same conclusion. So “Rebekah said to her son Jacob, ‘Look, I overheard your father… Now then, my son, do exactly what I tell you!’” (27:6a,8) With that, she proceeded to unfold a plan and give Jacob instructions that would allow him to go before his father in his brother’s place, telling her son that in this way his father would “bless you before he dies” (27:10b).
Why would she go to such trouble? It is because she had a promise from the Lord. That promise came to her when she was pregnant with both Jacob and Esau. She was told that “Two nations are in your womb, and two peoples will be separated from within you. One people will be stronger than the other, and the older will serve the younger” (25:23). Because Rebekah was married to the younger son of Abraham, and because it was he that bore the divine covenant in the world, this would naturally lead to the belief that her younger son (the one that came out second) would also be the recipient of the covenant that the Lord had made with Abraham and was carrying out at that time through Isaac. One would think that it would be foolish to believe that she did not make this promise known to Isaac. However, it might very well be the case that she did not do so. So naturally, as the boys grew, Isaac would have favored the older son, which would not have been surprising, and we are told that “Isaac loved Esau because he had a taste for fresh game” (25:28a). However, it is specifically said that “Rebekah loved Jacob” (25:28b).
While it is quite natural for the older son to be favored, we can probably attribute this special love for her younger son to the promise that she had received, and the knowledge that it was he that was going to receive and bear forth the blessings of the Abrahamic covenant. Viewed in this light, it would not be terribly difficult to believe that Rebekah kept the Lord’s message to herself, though this would carry the risk of Isaac attempting to do what he was now doing, which is what has now prompted Rebekah’s actions. As we remember that Isaac himself was the younger son of Abraham, it is doubtful that he would have difficulty accepting the receipt of a report from Rebekah dealing with what she had been told by the Lord, so his actions to bless the older son further indicate that he had not been made aware of this promise.
When Rebekah speaks to Jacob, he responds with a protest, indicating that he didn’t see how it was possible for him to carry out this deception, due to the physical differences between he and his brother. Within his protest, we get a glimpse of the notion that Rebekah has shared the knowledge of her promise with Jacob, as he says, “My father may touch me! Then he’ll think I’m mocking him and I’ll bring a curse on myself instead of a blessing” (27:12). It is with this that Jacob reveals the fact that he is aware of the promise concerning his position, but is simply concerned with how his mother is suggesting he go about receiving the blessing that would affirm this in the eyes of his brother and the whole of his father’s household. Along with this, by use of the language of blessing and cursing, he demonstrates his awareness of the covenant that his father carries. We should expect this of him, as Isaac would have made this well known to his sons. Rebekah’s response has her taking up the language of covenant as well, saying “Any curse against you will fall on me, my son! Just obey me!” (27:13b). She was confident that the deception would be successful, and that it would result in blessing, as such things (deceptions) had so often done for her husband and her father-in-law.