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Genesis 26:7 (KJV) And the men of the place asked him of his wife; and he said, She is my sister: for he feared to say, She is my wife; lest, said he, the men of the place should kill me for Rebekah; because she was fair to look upon.

What is the intended message when Isaac refers to Rebekah as his sister in Genesis 26:7?

  • Welcome to BH.SE! Please take the tour to get a feel for how the site functions. I have rephrased the title of your question, but if you are not asking why, then you can re-edit to specify exactly what you would like to know. – enegue Apr 5 '18 at 12:49
  • Do you know Abram did the same thing in regard to Sarai, his wife? Have you read that account, Genesis 12? – enegue Apr 5 '18 at 13:08
  • @enegue Do you think that was the cause the 480 years of slavery? – Ruminator Apr 6 '18 at 22:18
  • @Ruminator Most family businesses only last around three generations, because the ideals of the father are lost after he is gone. A generation is the age of the father when his son has his first child, so 100 (Abraham when Issac was born) + 60 (Issac when Jacob was born), so 480 years was three generations. Jacob would have known Abraham for around 15 years, since he lived to 175. The fourth generation were in terrible trouble as Abraham's ideals were a distant memory. – enegue Apr 7 '18 at 5:55
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Rebecca was actually related to Isaac; she was the daughter of his cousin (through his fathers' side) Bethuel. It could be considered another instance of the Bible using 'brother' or 'sister' lato sensu, i.e., broadly speaking (and therefore, Isaac wasn't technically lying). The reason why Isaac did this is clearly stated:

for he was afraid to confess that she was his wife, thinking lest perhaps they would kill him because of her beauty. (Gen 26:7, Douay-Rheims)

You can find another instance of a man calling his bride 'sister' in the Song of Songs:

Thou hast wounded my heart, my sister, my spouse, thou hast wounded my heart with one of thy eyes (4:9, Douay-Rheims)

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  • Abraham and Sarah also did the same. – Belinda Apr 6 '18 at 8:11
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The full verse is

וישאלו אנשי המקום לאשתו ויאמר אחתי הוא כי ירא לאמר אשתי פן יהרגני אנשי המקום על רבקה כי טובת מראה היא

And they asked, men of the place, for his wife, and he said "my sister is she," for he was afraid to say "my wife" "lest they kill me, men of the place, upon Rivkah, for good of appearance is she." (translation mine)

Thus, according to the verse itself the message is that he said what he said because of a perceived danger to his life. "Lest they kill me."

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    Nice answer, good to see you contributing here! Consider adding background as to why he might be concerned that he would be killed by the locals (and why saying that she was his sister would alleviate that concern). – רבות מחשבות Apr 3 '18 at 18:48
  • For example, Gill (Genesis 12:12) notes about Avram and Sarah that: "and they will kill me, but they will save thee alive; so great a regard had they in those times, and even in Heathen countries, to the laws of marriage, that they chose rather to be guilty of murder than of adultery, though a lustful people; and therefore would, as Abram feared, take away his life, that it might be free and lawful for them to marry Sarai." – רבות מחשבות Apr 3 '18 at 19:01
  • I prefer to let the verse speak for itself. I am also skeptical of that interpretation. It seems simpler to assume they simply wouldn't want to keep an upset and jealous husband around. – Dov F Apr 3 '18 at 21:29
  • that interpretation works great as well (btw, I upvoted earlier), I just still might include it in the text of the answer... – רבות מחשבות Apr 3 '18 at 22:02
  • As my handle (Baby Christian) implies, I’m just now studying the Bible for the first time. It seems that every line has been scrutinized over the ages. The questions that keep coming up, in my mind, are curiosities of why a certain passage needed to be included. We could assume that, even now, someone might refer to their wife as their sister for the same reason. I guess I’m looking for a deep reason for including that passage. It might just be there to describe the flavor of the times and I might just read and concern myself with symbolisms in the gospel that’s coming. Thanks! – Baby Christian Apr 4 '18 at 12:27
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This story is mirrored in the story of Abram and his wife Sarai. Both couples moved into a foreign land because of famine. Each man chose to lie about his attractive wife, passing her off as a sister, motivated by a fear that he might be killed if it was known she was his wife.

When Isaac's home was first hit by a famine 'besides the former famine that was in the days of Abraham', he was pointedly told:

“Do not go down to Egypt;" Genesis 26:2

Perhaps this was a warning to avoid a repeat of history. Clearly, the point was missed.

While Abram allowed the pharaoh to take Sarai as his wife to maintain the illusion (and got plenty of property in the trade), it's clear that both men were willing to sacrifice their marriage in this way, primarily to protect their own life.

"Say you are my sister, that it may go well with me because of you, and that my life may be spared on your account." Genesis 12:13

When the men of the place asked him about his wife, he said, “She is my sister”; for he feared to say, “My wife,” thinking, “lest the men of the place should kill me for the sake of Rebekah”; because she was fair to look upon. Genesis 26:8

The repeated storyline illustrates a human trait common to these successive generations who 'walk with God'. Despite the promises made to these men regarding their future and their descendants, they were still willing to throw everyone else around them under the proverbial bus to avoid even the possibility of their own death.

From the text in Genesis 12 and 26 we can see that Abraham and Isaac made the best possible choice for themselves only, risking the honour and welfare not only of their wives but also of the people whose land they were visiting:

Pharaoh called Abram, and said, “What is this you have done to me? Why did you not tell me that she was your wife?" Genesis 12:18

Abim′elech said, “What is this you have done to us? One of the people might easily have lain with your wife, and you would have brought guilt upon us." Genesis 26:10

Abraham and Isaac would have been the only ones to benefit from their lies.

This tendency of human civilisation - to assume the harmful intentions of others, and in protecting ourselves from the imagined threat, justify our own harmful actions towards others - began in the Garden and then with Cain's actions towards his brother, and continues to be a factor throughout the Old Testament, only meeting its match in the story of Jesus.

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As José pointed out, Isaac was not actually lying when he said that Rebecca was his "sister." The Hebrew word translated in this verse as sister is אחות (achot), although in the verse it is written in the form אחתי (achoti) meaning "my sister."

Achot, by the way, is the feminine equivalent to the word אח (ach). Ach is often translated as brother, but it has a much broader meaning than the word "brother" does in modern English. Consider the following example:

Genesis 14:16 (KJV) And he [Abram] brought back all the goods, and also brought again his brother Lot, and his goods, and the women also, and the people.

In the Hebrew, Genesis 14:16 uses אחיו, which is ach but with a suffix meaning "his." This illustrates that אח (ach) does not always refer to a biological brother, but it can be used to refer to another relative as well. Lot was Abram's nephew, not his biological brother, but yet is called his ach by the narrator of Genesis. This is akin to Jesus being called the "son" of David in the New Testament even though David was not actually his biological father; his "brothers" might not actually be biological brothers either.

If a male relative can be accurately called an ach, there is no reason why a female relative cannot be called an achot. Rebecca was Isaac's אחות (achot) because they were both descendants of Terah (Abraham's father). See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Abraham%27s_family_tree.


Why did the Author of Genesis include this story? We can only speculate, but my theory is to give an example (which could be imitated by God's followers in the future) of what is called "broad mental reservation" as an alternative to the sin of lying. Isaac would have been lying if he had said "She is not my wife." But by saying "She is my אחות ", he is saying something that is technically true yet leads lustful men to jump to the false conclusion that she is not his wife.

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I have heard many people criticize Rahab of being a liar and not really a hero of faith, because she lied to save the spies.

But one must also look at a few other heroes of faith who also lied and were also rewarded by God.

Abraham and Isaac who are father and son, both lied and said that their wives were actually their sisters in order to stay alive. Abraham lied to the Egyptians about his wife Sarah and then Isaac lied to the Philistines about his wife Rebecca. Both of them did this because they were afraid that the men in those areas would kill them and take their wives from them because they were so beautiful.

Instead of being punished by God for lying, Abraham was rewarded with herds of animals and riches by the Pharaoh for giving Sarah to him as his wife. The only person who was punished by God was the Pharaoh and his family with a plague after the Pharaoh found out that he had married and had been sleeping with another man's wife.

Isaac, Abraham's son also lied about his wife Rebecca being his sister in order to stay alive when God told him to settle in the land of Garar. Isaac was able to live a long life in Garar because of this lie until one day, King Abimelech saw them caressing one another and he then realized that they were actually husband and wife.

King Abimelech was upset with Isaac for lying to him, but after Isaac explained that God had told him to settle there and that he lied about Rebecca being his sister because he was afraid that they would kill him so that they could have her, he sensed the hand of the Lord upon Isaac and told the people not to harm him or his wife Rebecca.

And Instead of God punishing Isaac for this ie, the Lord blessed Isaac so abundantly that his crops reaped a hundred-fold and he became very wealthy.

So when you look at both of these cases, both of these heroes of faith were rewarded by God even though they lied because they were sent to do God's will, and in order to preserve their lives and the life of their wives, they lied about their wives true identity so that both they and their wives could complete God's work, and live with the hope of one day being reunited.

If you think about it, the devil similarly sought to kill Jesus so that he could take his wife, the church because she was "so beautiful." He did it also in the garden of eden when he tried to "take" Eve who is a representation of the Church, by tricking her in order to curse and kill mankind and eliminate any hope of being reunited with God.

But Jesus did something that the devil didn't expect because he couldn't see past his own pride and his own glory. Christ concealed the true identity of the New Israel, the New Church, his NEW bride, under the NEW COVENANT. And in the blindness of his own glory, he failed to see that he wasn't able to take God's wife the church by killing Jesus on the cross. In fact, he would be taking a wife that Christ already divorced in his death, paid for her sins with his blood, and allowed her to be born as a new Israel and a new wife under a new covenant. Just like Abraham and Isaac did before him, he concealed his wife's true identity in order to preserve his work, his resurrection and his wife's new birth as the New Testament church by allowing himself to be killed on her behalf for her sin and her fornication with "the devil." By doing that, he allowed for the sins of his wife, the church, to be atoned for with his blood, allowing her to come to Him, washed of her sins and be born again as a new church comprised of Jews and gentiles because of His sacrifice for her on the cross. In doing this, he defeated the sins of all members of this new church who believed in Him, defeating death and the devil himself.

So looking back at the stories of Abraham and Isaac, we see something similar. The devil probably said...I WON! THEY LIED! THEY DESERVE TO DIE UNDER THE OLD COVENANT! But again, being blinded by his own perceived glory, he couldn't see that they weren't lying, as only the devil can lie. They were PROTECTING THEIR WIVES WHO WERE SYMBOLS OF THE NEW CHURCH WHO WOULD BE REUNITED WITH THEIR HUSBANDS SO THAT GOD'S WORK and the GLORY OF THE LORD WOULD BE PROTECTED AND FOUND ONLY BY THOSE WHO HAD THE SPIRIT AND THE FAITH AND THE LOVE OF THE PROMISE WHO WAS JESUS CHRIST.

This is why there is such a difference between concealing a matter to protect others, which is the glory of God, and lying...which is the snare of the devil.

This is why the only person who was punished by God in the cases of Abraham and Isaac "concealing a matter" was the Pharaoh for sleeping with Abraham's wife. He didn't search out the matter with the spirit of the Lord before he acted with his flesh to determine that his laws of duress caused Abraham to conceal the identity of his wife.

This is because the Pharaoh's INTENT was always to rule over others and to RULE OVER GOD AND BE A GOD HIMSELF, so he didn't think before he acted. He just wanted to satisfy his own flesh and never even THOUGHT that his laws may have given him "permissible" things based on HIS interpretation of "the law" through such things as coercion and causing duress, such as by making people lie about their own wives being their sisters because they feared being killed...making permissible things..impermissible.

In this way, the Pharaoh is an antitype of the devil himself, where for example he TWISTED THE TRUTH and told Jesus to turn stones into bread because "it was written" and "permissible" but he wasn't doing this to praise God or to give honor to anyone but HIMSELF. HIS INTENT was to MOCK and RULE OVER GOD, which made that request...IMPERMISSIBLE TO GOD.

So when you look at Pharaoh, you see a man driven by his need to rule over others and rule over God and his use of the law is always twisted in some way at the outset in order to trick someone into doing something that seems permissible but is actually impermissible because of the addition of coercion or duress.

We are all sinners, and we sometimes "permit" and "allow" things based on our own interpretation of the law, but when it is revealed to us that coercion or duress was added in order to obtain righteousness in our own minds instead of God's mind, we should be cut to the quick, and instead of behaving like Pharaoh..we can look at what the Philistines did. They recognized that Isaac lied to them about his wife being his sister, but they realized that he only did it because of the duress and coercion that they added to their laws. If we recognize that people have lied to us only because of our own legalism or coercion or duress, we should realize that our own law was in opposition to God's love, and hopefully, that leads us to change.

Finally, there is one last case of lying where God rewarded the man who lied, and he called the man a hero of faith. That man was Isaac's son, Jacob. Jacob lied to Isaac who became blind in his old age and pretended to be Esau, who had sold his birthright to him, in order to receive his father's blessing, and Jacob actually received his father's blessing which could not be taken back.

God blessed Jacob even though he lied to receive this blessing from His father Isaac I believe because Esau did not take his birthright seriously and he was willing to actually SELL IT. Because of this, God allowed Jacob's lie to be permissible as it placed him in charge of his brother who took that duty so lightly and God gave that duty to someone who took it seriously. In this way, he preserved his own life and the lives of his innumerable offspring that would be blessed by the Lord.

All of these men AND WOMEN were considered heroes of Faith per Hebrews 11, and concealments of the truth were used to either reveal the error of coercive and legalistic law, to preserve their lives, or to preserve the lives of others so that they could fulfill God's purposes.

So, it seems to me, that if God selects a person to be used for his purposes, He will allow a lie to be used or the truth will be concealed, in order to protect God's people and protect God's work.

Even Judas' lie and betrayal led to the victory of Christ on the cross. Judas, of course, was not a hero of faith because his intent was not to save God but to expose him.

But God turned a lie that was intended for evil, and used it for God's Good and for HIS GLORY, and because Jesus stayed silent, WE are able to escape death like the spies that escaped death because of Rahab's lie, and WE are able to have the hope that we will be reunited with God like Sarah and Rebecca were reunited with Abraham and Isaac, and WE are able to take on the responsibility of the birthright that is given to us like it was given to Jacob and WE can receive the promise that is given to us because of our covenant with Jesus Christ.

In conclusion, in all of these cases, including the reason why Jesus was crucified, men and women of faith were accused of lying or sinning according to MAN'S FLAWED VERSION of God's law. That flawed version of the law didn't contain God's love, therefore what these heroes of faith stood accused of before men, was not considered sin before the Lord. In fact all of these men risked their lives by "Sinning" according to man in order to OBEY THE LORD.

This is why they are all heroes of the faith of JESUS CHRIST.

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YES they weren’t lying for starters Abraham WASNR LYING BECAUSE SARAI OR SARAH WAS ACTUALLY HIS SISTER NOT FULL BUT HALF SISTER GENESIS 20:11-12 11 And Abraham said, Because I thought, Surely the fear of God is not in this place; and they will slay me for my wife's sake.

12 And yet indeed she is my sister; she is the daughter of my father, but not the daughter of my mother; and she became my wife.

And ISAAC WASNT LYIGN EITHER ITS COMMON FOR THE PEOPLE OF GOD TO CALL EACH OTHER BROTHER AND SISTER MY BROTHER IN CHRIST OR MY SISTWR IN CHRIST THIS HAS BEEN A THING FOR AGES EVEN TODAY WE CALL SOME OF OUR FRIENDS ESPECIALLY BLACK PPL BROTHER WHO ARE JUST FRIENDS ETC THIS IS JUST AN EXAMPLE THAT THERE IS “NOTHING NEW UNDER THE SUN” ya see God is good

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