July 9, 2017 Genesis 24:selected verses
People will do anything (almost) to find a spouse. Someone with whom you can grow old with, enjoy life with, kick back and feel the ocean breezes with. Perhaps you used a matchmaker like Tzeitel from the movie, “Fiddler on the Roof” or used Match.com or Plenty of Fish, or Speed dating, or even the old fashioned ‘blind date’ to find your lover and friend. Maybe your marriage was an arranged marriage, which still happens in some cultures.
When I speak with couples who are about to married it’s always interesting and intriguing to me to hear how they met because people meet in all ways. Some meet by happenstance and some work very hard to capture the heart of someone else. There are many stories that are each so wonderfully captured and remembered by the couple.
Today’s scripture is just that. It’s the story of how Isaac, son of Abraham and Sarah, and Rebekah came to be husband and wife. Each generation has to discover God’s faithfulness and promise anew and now it is Isaac’s turn. The metaphorical torch has been passed.
We are following the Ancestral Stories of Abraham and Sarah in the Book of Genesis that will continue throughout the summer. Last week we heard about the binding of Isaac and previous to that Abraham banishing Hagar and their Ishmael from the tent and then we heard about Sarah and her unlikely pregnancy at a very advanced age. She laughs at the idea, but God delivers her a beautiful son Isaac, who is Abraham’s heir to the covenant. So really we are due some happy stories
Now Isaac is all grown up, about forty years old scholars estimate and it is time for him to be a marryin’! The $64,000 question is, ‘where do I get a wife’? And that is what the entirety of Chapter 24 is about in the Book of Genesis. FYI, Chapter 24 is the longest chapter in the Book of Genesis, and that’s for free!! So now let me recap the beginning.
Abraham was old and richly blessed - read - rich. He commands his servant to get a wife for Isaac, his 40 year old bachelor son, NOT from the land of Canaan, a foreign land but a wife from their homeland, the home of his ‘peeps’ in the 21st century vernacular. There was some negotiating between Abraham and the servant takes off confident that if he could not deliver a wife under Abraham’s condition he wouldn’t be held responsible. Fair enough! That was a tall order that Abraham give so this was a good deal. It was also promised that an angel would accompany him. And so the servant set out with camels, riches, lots of gifts and some heavenly guidance.
He arrives at the city of Nahor and cleverly goes to the well in the middle of the city to water his camels because that is where the women went to gather water. Reading from the Contemporary English Version we continue with the story and I will intersperse some comments in between this lengthy passage.
The servant explained:
I am Abraham’s servant. The Lord has been good to my master and has made him very rich. He has given him many sheep, goats, cattle, camels, and donkeys, as well as a lot of silver and gold, and many slaves. Sarah, my master’s wife, didn’t have any children until she was very old. Then she had a son, and my master has given him everything. I solemnly promised my master that I would do what he said. And he told me, “Don’t choose a wife for my son from the women in this land of Canaan. Instead, go back to the land where I was born and find a wife for my son from among my relatives.”
Interestingly enough this story is told from the servants perspective...and we’ll see that he is a man of faith and a loyal man to his master Abraham. And yet in our scripture the servant had a penchant for repeating himself….
When I came to the well today, I silently prayed, “You, Lord, are the God my master Abraham worships, so please lead me to a wife for his son while I am here at the well. When a young woman comes out to get water, I’ll ask her to give me a drink. If she gives me a drink and offers to get some water for my camels, I’ll know she is the one you have chosen.”
Even before I had finished praying, Rebekah came by with a water jar on her shoulder. When she had filled the jar, I asked her for a drink. She quickly lowered the jar from her shoulder and said, “Have a drink. Then I’ll get water for your camels.” So I drank, and after that she got some water for my camels. I asked her who her father was, and she answered, “My father is Bethuel (Be - tu - el') the son of Nahor and Milcah.” Right away I put the ring in her nose and the bracelets on her arms. Then I bowed my head and gave thanks to the God my master Abraham worships. The Lord had led me straight to my master’s relatives, and I had found a wife for his son.
So Rebekah then runs to her mother’s household and her brother and father appear. The text repeats the entire story of what just happened thus far. This is often the case when a story from the oral tradition finally gets recorded on papyrus. It was repetitive so that the listener could remember the details and so we can really understand what is going on. And then the servant asks of her father and brother:
Now please tell me if you are willing to do the right thing for my master. Will you treat him fairly, or do I have to look for another young woman?
They called her and asked, “Are you willing to leave with this man right now?”
“Yes,” she answered.
So they agreed to let Rebekah and an old family servant woman leave immediately with Abraham’s servant and his men.
They gave Rebekah their blessing and said, “We pray that God will give you many children and grandchildren and that he will help them defeat their enemies.” Afterwards, Rebekah and the young women who were to travel with her prepared to leave. Then they got on camels and left with Abraham’s servant and his men.
At that time Isaac was living in the southern part of Canaan near a place called Be - er' la - chai' ro - ee', or “The Well of the Living One Who Sees Me.” One evening he was walking out in the fields, when suddenly he saw a group of people approaching on camels. So he started toward them. Rebekah saw him coming; she got down from her camel, and asked, “Who is that man?”
“He is my master Isaac,” the servant answered. Then Rebekah covered her face with her veil. The servant told Isaac everything that had happened.
Isaac took Rebekah into the tent where his mother had lived before she died, and Rebekah became his wife. He loved her and was comforted over the loss of his mother.
Ahh, what a beautiful story. If we were to stop here that would be enough! Isaac finds a wife, his servant has done an exemplary job of being faithful and obedient to his master’s word, and God’s covenant, and we could intuit that there would be enough progeny as there are stars in the magnificent sky. Because God keeps the promises that God makes. This is the story of faith, obedience, and love.
But beyond that when we dig deeper, this is a story of taking risks and leaving home, leaving that place which brings you comfort and a safe harbor.. Isaac’s servant travels a distance to find the perfect bride. He leaves home in order to fulfill his obligations to Isaac. Rebekah offers extraordinary hospitality to a stranger, she leaves her comfort zone and risks talking to a stranger. They both take big risks and they both leave home or their comfort zones which is what I think our learning is for today.
Leaving home can be interpreted in different ways if literally taken. A five year old leaves home and trot’s off to kindergarten. A preteen goes on an overnight somewhere else for the very first time. A high school graduate leaves home to seek his or her fortune at college and gets her own apartment. All of these seem like natural and positive leave takings.
But I think it is so much more because what is home? It is a place where we are comfortable. A place that you don’t have to think to much about, a place where you can ‘scratch where it itches’ sort of place, a place where routine becomes carved in stone sometimes and we really don’t have to change. Or perhaps it is a place that we hide from the outside world or our own feelings. Now it gets trickier doesn’t it? Because this scripture asks for complete and utter honesty to consider departing from that confining place that are so comfortable in to a place where we might experience complete freedom.
The servant had to leave home in order to fulfill Abraham’s request of him. And he did. Rebekah had to leave home in order to become Isaac’s wife. And she did. Both left home, their ‘happy places’ and what they knew, for what was yet to be. And God blessed them both, indeed God was with them both as they set their course for the future. It took guts. It took chutzpah!
But they had to take the first step. Indeed Rebekah took a big step. She risked leaving her family and her surroundings because she had faith and because she believed that her life would be better and would fulfill the great good of God’s purposes.
Sometimes risks need to be taken. And I don’t mean ‘Evil Kneval’ risks or risks that could bring harm or injury to yourself or another. I mean risks that could show you a whole new horizon for your life. It’s easy to become complacent with your life and not push beyond the quotidian moments and happenings. But there could be so much more out there for you.
I believe that God wants us to fulfill our highest potential; that is to dream big and go after it. To have the courage and faith to chase after something that is just out of reach because you just never know how it may change your life and maybe even change the world and those you love.
Believe with your heart that God will be with you during these times of transition and change. And then go forward step by step if you have to, with God’s guidance and God’s presence. There is not one place that you can go that God has not already been. If you believe that God is everywhere then God has been to where you are headed, you need not fear.
Isaac and Rebekah marry and are blessed with many children, two of which we will hear about next week, all because she risked her present for her future.