July 9, 2017
My friend Sally tells an amusing story of how her parents became engaged.
Her father is Armenian.
He came to the United States when he was a young boy,
and worked his way up –
he worked for Filene’s Department Store in Boston.
(One of those old fine department stores that are no longer.)
When it came time for him to find a bride, though,
he didn’t want to marry a woman from Boston.
He wanted someone from his hometown.
So he bought a wedding dress at Filene’s,
and then took it with him back to his native village.
He had determined that his future bride
would be a woman who would wear this dress.
It sounds a little like today’s story from Genesis to me.
This search for a bride for Isaac,
is a story about everyday, ordinary things.
A man looking for a bride.
A woman looking for a husband.
Sally’s father had a dress from Filene’s;
Abraham’s servant had some thirsty camels….
At the beginning of this story,
the Abraham is now old, widowed and worried.
His son Isaac is 40 years old and is not married.
Once again God’s promise of descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky
Seems in jeopardy.
So Abraham sends his servant Eliezar off to find a bride for Isaac.
Many scholars have the point of view
that Isaac really wasn’t that great a catch…
He’s been called a schlemiel by Jewish scholars.[i]
His very name means laughter.
We’re told that his brother Ishmael mocked him…
In this passage Abraham doesn’t want Isaac to go himself to find a bride –
Instead he sends his servant Eliezar to bring the bride back…
Presuming that by the time she’s made the trip,
It would be harder for her to change her mind…
Now let’s be clear –
This is not a sermon on How to Find a Spouse in 5 Easy Steps.
Listen to the criteria Abraham and Eliezar come up with for a bride for Isaac
and see if it you think we should return to the biblical way of courtship and marriage.
First Abraham says Isaac should marry a relative.
He sends Eliezer to Aram to find a bride “from my kindred” he says.
This is a journey of about 600-700 miles and
would have taken a number of weeks.
Eliezar arrives exhausted at a well.
(If you know your Bible, you can probably think of a couple of other holy encounters which happen at wells.)
A well was a great place to meet women in those days –
It was quite literally the local watering hole.
Women come there every day to draw water.
Eliezar takes his job seriously,
And he prays for a sign to know which woman would be the right one for Isaac.
In that day it would be expected that a woman would give water
to a weary traveler – but not also to the traveler’s animals.
So Eliezar decides that the woman who offers water to his camels
is the one God intends to be the bride of Isaac and the mother of a people.
“Apparently a camel can drink 30 gallons of water in thirteen minutes.
The women carried jars which held about two and a half gallons.
To water one thirsty camel would involve about 10-12 refillings of the jar.
There were ten camels.
Rebekah says she will draw water for all of them.
The point the story teller makes here,
is the extreme generosity of Rebekah.
Her hospitality to this traveler was extraordinary. [ii]
Eliezar just watches her in silence.
This is the one!
And it turns out that not only is this woman related to Abraham –
She’s his niece – perfect!
Isaac will marry his cousin!
And moreover she meets his other criteria:
She’s a virgin;
And she takes care of camels!
To seal the deal,
Eliezar gives her gifts from Abraham.
And Eliezar is relieved as Rebekah agrees to go back with him.
When they get back home, Rebekah sees Isaac;
Isaac sees her;
and this match which begins as an arranged marriage,
we’re told becomes one of love.
The biblical narrative is clear here –
that God was involved throughout…
Not speaking, not entirely visible –
But leading nonetheless.
On our Facebook page this week,
I asked people to share how they met their spouses…
Is it possible… have you considered…that God was leading you too?
In many cases, the way you met seemed so random at the time.
Some of you met on blind dates or while working at the school newspaper,
And one of you met your spouse in court (!)
As I read your stories, many of you expressed surprise that it turned out the way it did.
When you first met, you didn’t realize it would become marriage!
Perhaps as you look back, God was leading.
The Hebrew word, “nahah” meaning ‘led’
is nowhere else in the entire book of Genesis than here in this story of Isaac and Rebekah.
In Exodus and the Psalms it refers to guidance in the wilderness;
And its most familiar use is in the 23rd psalm:
“He leads me beside still waters;
…He leads in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.”
God doesn’t visibly or audibly lead Eliezar to Rebekah.
There’s no burning bush or voice from heaven
Which tells Eliezar what to do.
Eliezar doesn’t know in advance where God is leading him.
But afterwards – later – from the perspective of faith –
Eliezar sees the hand of God in these events.
Nahah – God has led.
It can be powerful in those times when we look back at our lives
And we see that God has led us to where we are.
We too have been led.
Not all marriages work out;
And not everyone finds or wants a spouse.
But all of us have been led
to where we are in some way or another.
All of us can say – nahah.
So I don’t think this story is primarily about How to Find a Spouse
In Five Easy Steps.
I think this story encourages us to look back on our lives,
And recognize that God has been there.
That God has led us here….
And to give us the hope that with whatever stress or uncertainty we’re in now,
As an individuals or as a family or as a church or as a nation,
God will lead us to the future.
“For I know the plans I have for you,”
God says in Jeremiah.
We may not see them yet,
But someday we will look back and say Nahah – God has led.
[i] Joel Kominsky in “Humor and a Theology of Hope: Isaac as a Humorous Figure”