Posted by: skokiecentralchurch | July 6, 2014

Central United Methodist Church

Stories from the Family of Faith:

Rebekah and Isaac

Pastor David L. Haley

Genesis 24: 34 – 38, 42 – 49, 58 – 67

July 6, 2014

Rebecca

 

So he said, “I am Abraham’s servant.  The Lord has greatly blessed my master, and he has become wealthy; he has given him flocks and herds, silver and gold, male and female slaves, camels and donkeys.  And Sarah my master’s wife bore a son to my master when she was old; and he has given him all that he has.  My master made me swear, saying, ‘You shall not take a wife for my son from the daughters of the Canaanites, in whose land I live; but you shall go to my father’s house, to my kindred, and get a wife for my son.’ 

          “I came today to the spring, and said, ‘O Lord, the God of my master Abraham, if now you will only make successful the way I am going!  I am standing here by the spring of water; let the young woman who comes out to draw, to whom I shall say, “Please give me a little water from your jar to drink,” and who will say to me, “Drink, and I will draw for your camels also”—let her be the woman whom the Lord has appointed for my master’s son.’

“Before I had finished speaking in my heart, there was Rebekah coming out with her water jar on her shoulder; and she went down to the spring, and drew. I said to her, ‘Please let me drink.’  She quickly let down her jar from her shoulder, and said, ‘Drink, and I will also water your camels.’ So I drank, and she also watered the camels.  Then I asked her, ‘Whose daughter are you?’ She said, ‘The daughter of Bethuel, Nahor’s son, whom Milcah bore to him.’ So I put the ring on her nose, and the bracelets on her arms.  Then I bowed my head and worshiped the Lord, and blessed the Lord, the God of my master Abraham, who had led me by the right way to obtain the daughter of my master’s kinsman for his son.  Now then, if you will deal loyally and truly with my master, tell me; and if not, tell me, so that I may turn either to the right hand or to the left.”

And they called Rebekah, and said to her, “Will you go with this man?” She said, “I will.” So they sent away their sister Rebekah and her nurse along with Abraham’s servant and his men. And they blessed Rebekah and said to her,

“May you, our sister, become thousands of myriads;

may your offspring gain possession of the gates of their foes.”

Then Rebekah and her maids rose up, mounted the camels, and followed the man; thus the servant took Rebekah, and went his way.

Now Isaac had come from Beer-lahai-roi, and was settled in the Negeb.  Isaac went out in the evening to walk in the field; and looking up, he saw camels coming.  And Rebekah looked up, and when she saw Isaac, she slipped quickly from the camel, and said to the servant, “Who is the man over there, walking in the field to meet us?” The servant said, “It is my master.” So she took her veil and covered herself.  And the servant told Isaac all the things that he had done.  Then Isaac brought her into his mother Sarah’s tent. He took Rebekah, and she became his wife; and he loved her. So Isaac was comforted after his mother’s death.”– Genesis 24: 34–38, 42–49, 58–67, the New Revised Standard Version

 

If there is anything we desire as people of faith, it is that through our lives, we fulfill God’s will; not only for God’s purposes, but for the fulfillment of our own lives.

As we seek this, every now and then it is nice to get a sign it is happening. When it does, it is called “synchronicity;” those times when things come together, through what we come to believe is the providence of God.  Looking back over our lives, my guess is that most of us could point to such a time in our life, where things happened in such a way that it felt like we were actually working WITH the universe, not against it, as we so often seem to be.

I have had multiple examples of this in my life; here’s one. It was about 1975, and I was in my 2nd year of seminary. I had spent two summers working in a rural church near Kentucky Lake in Tennessee. That had been an interesting experience, but I came back to Chicago with the desire to work in the biggest urban church I could find.  So I inquired at Chicago Temple, First United Methodist Church, in downtown Chicago, to see if I could do my required Pastoral Internship there. Weeks passed, I heard nothing. One day I called to see if what I could find anything out; when I connected with the Senior Pastor at that time, the late Rev. Robert Bruce Pierce, he said this: “You won’t believe this, but I was just looking for your phone number: we would like you to do your internship here, and serve as our Minister to Young Adults.” The rest – as they say – is history. Through subsequent circumstances, this would determine who I would marry and that I would eventually be a pastor here to you, in the Northern Illinois Conference, rather than the Memphis Conference, where I began.

Today’s rather long reading from the Old Testament book of Genesis is an example of such a story, where a surprising course of events in the lives of three people fulfills God’s purposes.  Indeed, The story of “How They Found A Wife For Isaac” may well be one of the most beautiful – and I might add – most humorous – stories in the entire Bible, and suggests how God still uses our lives for God’s purposes.  Let’s listen to the story more closely.

At the outset, I remind you that we are hearing these stories from the book of Genesis because they are foundational to our family of faith.  They are faith stories shared not only by all three Abrahamic faiths (Judaism, Christianity, and Islam), and were the same stories learned by Jesus, stories that were ancient and well-known even by the time he heard them. This one, in particular, stands silently in the background, when Jesus met that other Woman at the Well, in the Gospel of John.  The point of all these stories was that if such people – especially these people, warts and all – could be faithful and be used by God, then might we, in our time.

Previously, here’s what has happened: God called Abram and his wife Sarah to leave his old country, Ur (modern day Iraq), to move to the land God would show him (modern day Israel).  In doing this, God promised Abram a country and a people, through whom all the people of the earth would be blessed.

But there were two major problems: (1) Abram didn’t own a square foot of land, and (2) he had no children; how could he ever have a country and a people? Finally, at long last, in their old age – they had a child, Isaac, whose name means “laughter,” a child much loved by his mother, Sarah.

Things are looking up, right? Maybe not. The last two weeks, we have heard two horror stories, the first when Sarah commanded Abraham to leave his other child, Ishmael, whom he had by Hagar his concubine (their Plan B) to die in the wilderness, until God intervened. The second horror story was last week, how Abraham – believing he was being tested by God – came very close to killing Isaac, until again, God intervened.  After these two harrowing stories – the near-deaths of both sons, Ishmael and Isaac; how nice this week to hear a love story.

The Rabbis say THAT story is connected to THIS story.  They say that when Sarah found out what Abraham almost did to Isaac, it killed her.  As we learned last week, since it is not recorded in the Bible that Isaac ever spoke to Abraham again, with Sarah now gone, Isaac was left distraught.  Not to mention childless.

So when Sarah dies at the age of 127,as the rabbis say, at the age of 137 Abraham really began to feel old, and realizes the time has come to do something about finding a wife for Isaac.

But “No way,” says Abraham, “will Isaac get a wife from their neighbors, the Canaanites.”  Maybe Abraham thought that if Isaac marries one of them the next thing you know he’ll be worshiping idols and not keeping kosher and getting dreadlocks and tattoos, so don’t even think about that. Instead he summons a trusted servant to go back to the old country, to find a wife for Isaac among his own people.

Well, where would you start? That’s exactly where, at a well. Maybe this unnamed servant is a devout kind of guy, or maybe he just doesn’t want to put a lot of time and work into this, so he prays, like we pray when we haven’t studied for the test or prepared for the job interview or when we have prayed for a companion, for a husband or a wife (and I’m not talking about replacing the one we got), the “O God Please” prayer:

“O Lord, God of my master Abraham, if now you will only make successful the way I am going!  I am standing here by the spring of water; let the young woman who comes out to draw, to whom I shall say, “Please give me a little water from your jar to drink,” and who will say to me, “Drink, and I will draw for your camels also” — let her be the woman whom the Lord has appointed for my master’s son.

This is either a very religious or very lazy approach; I am not recommended it for matchmaking. (In fact most of us have used far worse.) In reality, this unnamed servant of Abraham is the first person (but certainly not the last) the Bible records praying for personal guidance at a critical moment. You too?

Lo and behold, his prayer is hardly finished when here comes Rebekah, carrying a water jug. She’s local, and she’s beautiful! (At least what he could see, since, according to the custom of the time, he could probably only see her eyes.) But here’s the amazing thing: she offered him water not only for his camel, but all the camels, which we learned earlier in the story numbered 10.  Did you know a thirsty camel drinks 20 to 30 gallons of water, at a rate of about a gallon a minute? Do the math! No wonder it says, “The man gazed at her in silence to learn whether or not the Lord had made his journey successful.” He was dumbfounded; not only was she beautiful, she was freakishly strong! Obviously, in the ancient near east the way to man’s heart was not through his stomach, but through his camels.

Satisfied this was the one, out came the jewelry: a gold nose-ring weighing a half shekel, and two bracelets for her arms weighing ten gold shekels. Asking, at the same time, “Tell me whose daughter you are.  Is there room in your father’s house for us to spend the night?” She said to him, “I am the daughter of Bethuel, son of Milcah, whom she bore to Nahor.”  Maybe it’s just me, but I’m guessing the jewelry might have had something to do with her adding, “We have plenty of straw and fodder and a place to spend the night.” No wonder the man bowed his head and went Pentecostal, saying:  “Blessed be the Lord, the God of my master Abraham, who has not forsaken his steadfast love and his faithfulness toward my master. As for me, the Lord has led me on the way to the house of my master’s kin.”

He’s invited home to meet the family, they like each other (did I mention Abraham is a very rich man and there is lots of dowry), and the deal is made. Her brother Laban may be appropriately hospitable and pious, but it doesn’t hurt that he has seen the gold jewelry that Abraham’s servant gave his sister, basically saying, “Sure, we deliver.”

Perhaps most amazing of all, they even ask Rebekah! She agrees to go to help the poor guy out by becoming his wife, becoming at the same time the real heroine of the story: a beautiful, STRONG, and courageous woman.

Before she goes, her family blesses her with words still used at the veiling of the bride that customarily precedes a Jewish wedding:

“O sister!  May you grow into thousands of myriads;

May your offspring seize the gates of their foes.”

Perhaps the most beautiful touch is left for the end. Isaac is out walking in the evening, and looks up to see camels, probably thinking, “Time to start draw water!” Rebekah looked up, and when she saw Isaac, “fell off” her camel.” (Now tell me, women, that hasn’t happened to you!) And the servant tells Isaac the story, probably getting pretty good at it by now.  And the story concludes:

“Then Isaac brought her into his mother Sarah’s tent. He took Rebekah, and she became his wife; and he loved her.  So Isaac was comforted after his mother’s death.”

As the Rabbis say, “As long as Sarah was alive, a light shone over her tent signifying the divine presence. When she died, it disappeared. When Rebekah arrived, the light returned.”

It’s a good, a great story, filled with drama and humor, but what does it say about God and the life of faith? In contrast to the previous two stories, God neither speaks nor intervenes.  And yet, by human prayer and insight, God’s will is discerned, and through human interaction, God’s love is demonstrated.

You see, there are two absolutes most of us believers believe about the universe: The first is that God is the Creator, and is working God’s purpose out. But the second absolute is this: God has also given us the freedom to make our own choices, for better or worse.

To conclude God is not the Creator or isn’t working God’s purposes out, is to conclude that the universe, and therefore life, is random and meaningless.

To deny that God has given us freedom to choose is to say everything is fated, that our destinies are locked, and despite what we do, what will be will be.

And so, in our puny little lives with their staggering choices, we can ignore God, we can go against God, or we can go with God.  Our lives on earth then, are fulfilled not by how well we succeed in bending God to our plans, but by how well we can blend in with God’s plan, for all people and all things.

How’s that going? Did we plan our birth? Our families? Our friends? Our spouses? As comedian Rita Rudner put it, “It’s so great to find that one special person you want to annoy for the rest of your lives.” Nor can we plan our deaths, or what lies after.

Long ago, the writer of Proverbs in the Bible put it this way:

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart,

Do not depend on your own understanding.

Seek God’s will in all you do,

and God will direct your paths.”  (Proverbs, 3: 5 – 6)

In all that we do, may we trust God, that God may direct our steps, just as God directed the steps of Abraham’s servant, so long ago.   Amen.

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