Deborah, Rebekah’s confidante

Bible References: Genesis 24:59, 27:45, 35:8.

Heart of the Story: Deborah, Rebekah’s nurse, was Rebekah’s loyal servant throughout Rebekah’s life. We see Deborah at three separate times in Genesis, only one of the times identified by name.

Story Line: When Abraham sent a servant to Paddan Aram to find a wife for Isaac, the servant brought Rebekah, back to Canaan to be Isaac’s wife. Several servants accompanyed Rebekah. One was Deborah, identified as Rebekah’s nurse. For Deborah to be identified as “Rebekah’s nurse” could mean that Deborah nursed Rebekah when Rebekah was an infant. In this instance, Deborah herself was a wife who had given birth and produced breast milk. Alternatively, Deborah nursed Rebekah in the sense that she cared for and watched over Rebekah from Rebekah’s childhood through her early teen years when Rebekah was taken to Isaac to be his wife. In contrast to these to ways of identifying Deborah as Rebekah’s nurse, rabbinic literature concluded that Deborah accompanied Rebekah to Canaan to be the nurse of her children.

For 20 years after Isaac and Rebekah married, Rebekah was barren. Deborah continued to serve Rebekah. After Rebekah, bore twin sons, Jacob and Esau, likely Deborah helped Rebekah care for one or both of the boys. Apparently, Rebekah’s preference and loyalty, like that of Rebekah’s, was for Jacob rather than Esau. By a bargain and a ruse, Jacob secured Isaac’s birthright and blessing. As a result, Esau was angry at Jacob and threatened to kill Jacob. At that time, Rebekah sent Jacob to her brother Laban in Paddan Aram, determined to keep Jacob safe from Esau’s anger. When Rebekah sent Jacob from the family home, she assured Jacob that she would send (Genesis 27:45) for him when it was safe to return home to Canaan. Ostensibly, this point would be when Esau was no longer angry or threatening toward Jacob.

Esau left the family home in Canaan and settled in Edom. Perhaps, Rebekah concluded that Esau was far enough from Canaan to no longer threaten Jacob’s live.  Rebekah sent Deborah to Jacob in Paddan Aram, possibly, to fetch Jacob home. Alternatively, Rebekah could have died and Deborah preferred to return to her home in Paddan Aram because her tie with Rebekah was gone. A contributing factor in Deborah’s return to Paddan Aram could have been that Deborah wanted to be with Rebekah’s son who Deborah loved.

Pondering Relationships: When Jacob left Paddan Aram with his wives, concubines, and children, Deborah went with him. By this time, Deborah would have been as elderly as 90 – 100 years-of-age. She died on Jacob’s trip from Paddan Aram to Canaan and was buried under an oak tree that Jacob named Allon-bacuth. Interestingly, her death is the first time that Deborah’s name is actually given in the Bible. Rabbinic tradition is that Jacob mourned Deborah and while he was mourning, Jacob received word that his mother Rebekah died. For Jacob to have mourned Deborah implies that he had a personal relationship with her. Perhaps, Deborah did play a large role in caring for Jacob when he was a small child.

Significant individuals in the ancient near east were buried under trees, particularly oak trees. It is noteworthy that Jacob buried his mother’s nurse under an oak tree. From Jacob’s actions it appears that he loved Deborah.

Reflection: Although a servant, Deborah, was loved and honored by both Rebekah and Jacob who she served. Serving can bring honor to God, at times even more honor than being served.

Copyright: February 22, 2018. Carolyn Adams Roth

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