Prenatal Perplexity

When you deal with matters over which you have no control, you often have to hurry. Because we have no control over the approaching storm we hurry to get into a sheltered place, if not to escape the killing lightning bolt, then to be safe from the drenching rain. Because we have no control over the minute virus that causes the fever to rise dangerously near the fatal mark, we rush our loved one or friend to the nearest hospital. When we see the days roll by and old age approaching relentlessly, and we know that we cannot make the day stay with us, we often hurry to get a matter accomplished which we know should wait and be done more leisurely, and perhaps not at all. A young woman may rush into marriage. A young man may speed down the highway at a reckless rate of speed. But an older couple may invest without investigation to get rich quickly so that retirement may be reached before the days arrive when they cannot enjoy that retirement. 

The God Whom we serve and Whose we are never hurries. And this is true exactly because He has all things at all times completely under His control. He created time and has perfect control of every split-second of time. He created space and rules every nook and cranny of it with almighty power. 

And so it is that after Isaac and Rebekah became man and wife, when Isaac was forty years old, twenty years went by before God gave them their first child. It would seem to us, and it may have seemed to Abraham, that for the fulfillment of His covenant promises they should have a child at once. After all, Abraham did not send for a wife for Isaac simply so that Isaac would quit mourning for his mother and have a companion in life. He had his eye on a child, on children, on seed as the sand upon the seashore. And did God not make the woman as she is so that she might bring forth children? Does not the little girl in time develop exactly in such a way that she is made ready for bearing children? God does not bring her to her maturity so that she may be a shapely model, an object for the artist to paint or sculpture because of grace of line and proportion. He made her not for the lust of man and so that contraceptive factories might employ men and keep the economy going. She was made, as Solomon also in his wisdom points out in Proverbs 5:15, to be the fountain out of which the human race would flow, the cistern, or if you will, the well, out of which the man receives his children. He writes, “Drink waters out of thine own cistern, and running waters out of thine own well.” And that Solomon is referring to the woman is evident from verse 18: “Let thy fountain be blessed; and rejoice with the wife of thy youth.” 

But God is in no hurry to give Isaac a child out of that fountain. He need not be in a hurry. For He has all things completely under His control. He had shown in Abraham and Sarah that even when they came to the point of being completely incapable of bringing forth children, He could still do so. With God it is never, “Hurry up before it is too late.” What is more, God has His calendar and His stop-watch. He has all things scheduled for a particular moment of time and knows the end from the beginning. He is in no hurry because there is nothing and no one that can hurry Him. There never is at any moment of time an emergency and therefore no situation that requires haste on His part. There never is with Him a moment that if this or that does not happen just now, it cannot and will not happen. On time, according to God’s unchangeable calendar, what He knew and decreed before the foundation of the world occurs with clock-like precision, not hurried, not delayed, but at the exact second in time that it was decreed before time began.

From the point of view of man, for whom these things occur and around whom they revolve in God’s mystery as it is in Christ, there are reasons why events seem delayed. So often we need such “delays” and deliberate withholding of what God promised. We need to be taught to pray, and to pray more earnestly. Never in this life do we reach the point of perfection in our prayers. Never do we learn to pray as zealously and earnestly as we ought. And what we call delays are used by God to cause us to fix our eyes more intently upon Him, the Giver of every good and perfect gift. All too often we live as though we are like God and we need Him only in dire emergencies. We sing of needing Him every hour while actually we need Him every heartbeat. We think in terms of years and days when we do not know from one second to the next what will befall us. The moments when we look up to Him, the moments when we are really asking Him—rather than just reaching out and taking what we see before us—are so few and far between. And in our hectic rush to get out of this life what we can and to enrich ourselves with as many of the treasures of this world as we can, we need to be taught to wait upon the Lord and to begin to reckon with Him. 

Isaac did. O, not at first. We just expect children;. and just for a brief moment after their birth do we stop and say that a miracle has happened. For the rest it is just a biological process that usually works. Often it happens to the dismay of husband and wife, often filling a young unmarried couple with fear and desperation; but usually it is just the thing to expect. God has been doing this for centuries, and why pray? When He is in no hurry it becomes a different matter. When we are in a hurry we begin to look up, to pray and to recognize the fact that after all He does have something to do with it. And receiving children is by no means the only area wherein we have to learn to look up, to pray and to wait patiently for God’s counsel to unfold and for Him to send those things that will work together for good .to those that love Him. 

But, as we began to say, Isaac did make it a matter of prayer. He “entreated the Lord for his wife, because she was barren.” We may believe—even though it is not stated—that Rebekah also prayed. This was no mixed marriage in which the one is spiritual and the other carnal, so that the one prays for a child, and the other’s secret hope is that nothing will come of this; the one entreats God and the other is already contemplating an abortion-murder if He is entreated. Rebekah came from her own home this great distance to be Isaac’s wife in order to bear him children. She also wanted a child. And more importantly she too was interested in God’s covenant. 

And when He was entreated she had great discomforts and could not understand what was going on in her womb. This is her first conception. She had never felt life within herself before. And this was no mere gentle movement that assured her that there was life and hope of a child being born. There was a struggle. Her womb was a battlefield! The Hebrew word has various meanings. Among them is break, bruise, crush and oppress. Unborn Jacob and Esau were not engaged in a friendly wrestling match. It was a struggle for mastery, even though they could not yet consciously do such a thing. And although we find a different word in Genesis 3:15, we do have here a fulfillment of that prophecy and prediction of God that seed will bruise seed, and enmity will exist between seed and seed. Here amazingly enough we have it between children of one conception, children of one father and one mother. Yea we have it in twin brothers of two devout, believing children of God. 

Now, however, we do read of Rebekah praying to God, “And she went to enquire of the Lord.” Genesis 25:22. And her question is, “Why am I thus?” However, she precedes this question with, “If it be so.” And this has been translated in different ways. Combined with “Why am I thus?” it receives some striking interpretations. Calvin explains that Rebekah despaired of life and wanted to die rather than bring forth two sons that would be at each other’s throats. There are also those who shrink from the word struggle and want to temper it to mean jostle. Yet that cly of Rebekah ought to indicate that it was more than a mere movement, a normal nudging of two in such close confinement, the one moving and quite naturally jostling the other. There just was not room enough to move without touching the other. With all this we cannot agree. Rebekah, even though this was her first conception, and she had not felt life in her before by a previous conception and birth, knew that this was something unusual. She did not even know when she cried out that there were twins within her, and by all means that they were sons and would be heads of nations. But she knew that a struggle was going on, that there was more than normal movement of a developing child. 

Although there may be some reason for believing that Cain and Abel were twins, since we read of only one conception in Genesis 4:1, this is not at all conclusive. It is not at all impossible that here we have the first set of twins—at least that Rebekah had known none before—and that Rebekah has every reason to wonder what was going on within her, what actions this one child was performing. The older women in Abraham’s house—for Isaac and Rebekah were still in Abraham’s house—told her that at such and such a time she would begin to feel life; but such a violent, such a definite struggle she did not understand. If it be so, if a developing child flexes its muscles and moves about, why is this such a pronounced and strong movement that suggests conflict? And we do Rebekah injustice to say that she wanted to die. No, she wanted this “child” and went to God not to ask to die but to ask what it all meant. 

And yet, the context demands more. It cannot be doubted that the older women told Rebekah what to expect. But the text and context says nothing about this and does not connect her words up with such a construction. These words follow at once upon the statement that “the Lord was entreated of him, and Rebekah his wife conceived.” The full idea then is this, Isaac and Rebekah prayed not simply for a child but for a covenant child, one in whom the promises of God to Abraham would be fulfilled. They looked forward to such a child, expected a believing child with the same meekness and spirituality that God had given them. They looked forward to a child that would patiently walk as a pilgrim and stranger with them in the land of promise, one who would not fight for the land but wait for God to give it. If that be so, if God has now heard their prayer and this is the child, why am I thus—torn with an inner struggle by that child? 

And it takes the revelation of God to explain that this is not one child but two, and not only two children but two nations, two seeds with opposite loves and hatred, two who will struggle and fight, and—as we read in Romans 9:12 also—the elder shall serve the younger. Something unusual is taking place in her because something unusual will take place in the lives of these children: the elder shall serve the younger. 

Once again God is entreated and He comes with revelation and assures us as well as Rebekah that the world will serve the Church, the chaff will serve the wheat. There will be a struggle. Our heel shall be bruised and crushed. But be of good cheer, the head of Satan shall be crushed!