YEAR A: PENTECOST 8
July 3, 2011
Genesis 24:34-38, 42-49, 58-67
Genesis 24 contains a very important genealogy. Through one of the most winsome stories in the Bible, the lineage of Rebekah the wife of Isaac is established as of Abraham’s line. She is the granddaughter of Abraham's brother Nahor. Rebekah is therefore properly qualified to become the mother of Jacob, the father of the twelve tribes of Israel. The story also serves as a link. In much the same way that the Joseph story links the Jacob and Moses sagas, this story links the Abraham and Jacob sagas.
The story indicates that Abraham is determined to ensure that his descendants will not intermarry with the Canaanite people. Although he has children with other women (Genesis 25), it is the son of Sarah whose line will fulfil God's promise to Abraham regarding his descendants (Gen 12:1-3). The story continues the theme of faith and obedience that has characterized Abraham's interaction with God. It is not surprising, then, that Isaac's intended is found to also exhibit the virtues of faith and obedience.
The story goes to great lengths to set out Rebekah's admirable qualities, making her a fitting candidate for her role as one of Israel's great matriarchs. When the servant of Abraham, who is sent to find a wife for Isaac, first encounters Rebekah he does not know if she is the one he has been sent to find. It soon becomes obvious that she has all the desired qualities deemed in ancient Israel to be those of an ideal wife and mother. She is ‘fair’ to look at, she is a virgin, she is friendly, generous, kind-hearted and decisive. She is even concerned for the welfare of animals. Most of all, she is obedient. However, the servant does not yet know if she also qualifies as one of Abraham's people. He himself has come on this mission out of obedience to Abraham and faith in Yahweh. He asks Rebekah whose daughter she is. When he hears that she is the granddaughter of Nahor, he rejoices that God has led him to the very house where he will find a suitable bride for Isaac. He explains his mission to Rebekah's brother Laban, and to her father Bethuel. As they listen, they too are convinced that this is the work of God.
The next morning sees the true test of Rebekah's mettle. Abraham's servant is anxious to take her back to his master, but the women of the house cannot bear to part with her. So they ask Rebekah if she will go immediately with the servant. Her answer is characteristic. She simply says, ‘I will’. Her response echoes the response of Abraham to God’s call, ‘Here I am’ in 22:1. The blessing the women give Rebekah – ‘May you, our sister, become thousands of myriads’ (24:60) – represents the continuing fulfilment of God's promise to Abraham that ‘I will make of you a great nation’ (Gen 12.2).
According to the Genesis, the marriage between Isaac and Rebekah was completely monogamous, a point of contrast between Isaac and the other patriarchs, Abraham and Jacob, both of whom had several wives. Isaac loved Rebekah when he first saw her (24:67) and apparently he loved no other woman for the rest of his life. The old Book of Common Prayer in the Anglican Church contains an ancient prayer in the marriage service: ‘As Isaac and Rebekah lived faithfully together, so these persons may surely perform the vow and covenant betwixt them made.’
Here is a story of Rebekah's faith in the leading of God, and her obedient commitment to the challenge God placed before her. The result of this faithful and obedient response is a life of love and fulfilment. However, we ought not to suppose too quickly that Rebekah did not have her shadowy side. She will be strong, decisive and deceptive in her efforts to gain Isaac’s death bed blessing for her favoured son, Jacob, over his older twin, Esau (Genesis 27). In this regard she is also like her father-in-law Abraham. Most importantly for the writer, Rebekah enables the purposes of God for the nation of Israel to come to fruition. Yet when Rebekah chose to obey God and become 'yoked' to Isaac, she found in the relationship that God's 'yoke' was easy, and light to carry (cf. the gospel for today, Matt. 11:29-30).
Psalm 45 or Song of Solomon 2:8-13(alt.)
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