Wednesday, August 31, 2011

From Single to Married: the story of Isaac and Rebekah

It pains me to hear the reasons why people think they'll have a hard time getting married, or fear they will never have a flourishing, godly marriage. Every time I listen to the pain, the hurt, the fears, hesitations, misunderstandings and perceptions people have about getting married, it reminds me that I once thought the same way. Glance through the Bible and you will find a long list of messy lives. Isaac could have had the same story.

What we know about Isaac's early years is found in Genesis 21 and 22. Imagine what Isaac could have said in a modern day counseling office. "I've got nothing to offer. I've never experienced the city; I can't even say I come from the country. My dad had a lot of money but he chose to live like hippies and raise me in tents in the wilderness. If I wasn't fighting thorns and snakes, my half-brother was making fun of me. Do you know how hard it is to get a girl when your mom looks like your great-grandma? Having a really good-lookin old mom who throws pity parties and petty fits is bad enough, but the maid my dad slept with lived there too. Talk about tension--Mom and Hagar hated each other. Then there was this one time when I had to walk a big hill carrying the firewood that my dad was planning on burning me with. I was so freaked out when Dad tied me to the fireplace and put a knife over me. Thank God this sheep showed up and started whining in the bushes. Don't know what that was about, but the ram was so loud and annoying my dad decided to kill it instead of me."

A person's worth is not determined by the circumstances one comes out of, but by the One who created the person. God is not limited to one's physical conditions. He does not need perfect family trees--He'll grow His own branches from a new Vine (Jesus). It is nonsense to believe that God won't defy the odds with the man or woman who trusts in Him. The determining factors that make someone "marriage material" are not rape, abuse, neglect, personality defects, lack of experience, genetic disorders, family secrets, age, having kids, being the innocent party of divorce, having an abortion, or in Isaac's case: a weird lifestyle brought on by the radical faith of his parents. Just because one's options are limited doesn't mean the omnipotent One is. Whether married or unmarried, the only things holding people back from a flourishing life are unrepentant sin (sin they do not turn away from and keep repeating) and unbelief in the power and promises of God.
During Abraham's time, marriages were mostly arranged by parents. It didn't necessarily mean that brides and grooms-to-be had no say in the matter, but marriages usually didn't happen without parental initiation and consent. This made it very easy in their culture to view marriage as a gift. In our western culture, marriage falls under the category of "decision-making" by the bride and groom, but we should never loose sight that marriage was created by God, is a gift of God and should bring glory to God.

When Sarah, Abraham's wife died, Abraham thought it was a fitting time to find Isaac a wife. There was only one problem: they lived in the land of the Canaanites who believed in many gods. God had previously promised all of this land to Abraham and his descendants, and that He would establish a covenant through Abraham's offspring. Father Abraham wasn't willing to move his son anywhere else. A wife had to come to Isaac--the son of promise in the land of promise. So Abraham sent his most trusted servant to travel back to his old country, to his own relatives and find Isaac a wife from his own kinsmen. (Isaac ended up marrying his cousin, which was permittable during that time. Since the world started off with two genetically perfect people, there was no risk of genetic disorders. Inter-family marriage relationships weren't prohibited until later.)

Dating didn't exist in the biblical times and the cultures were so different from ours, we should not try to copy specifics from the Old Testament. Instead we can draw out the principles. Note the wisdom of Abraham. He was not going to step out of the boundaries God had set for him. It was either find Isaac a wife who would fulfill the covenant and move to Canaan, or let Isaac be single for now. Abraham had learned from his past mistakes and was not going to take matters into his own hands. Note the wisdom of Abraham's servant. He went to the city, to a bigger population of people. He went to the well at the very time of day women were drawing water. He earnestly prayed for success. He asked for something specific: that Isaac's future wife be the woman who gave him a drink. He asked that the woman take not only take care of his thirst, but his camels. I don't think this is a "putting out the fleece" type of prayer. It's not random when you think about the context. Those women were busy. The one who would look outside of her own agenda and take the time to help someone in need, would be a person who possesses deeper character qualities: flexibility, thoughtfulness, compassion, servant-hood. God not only answered his prayer, the woman whom Abraham's servant saw was very attractive. Rebekah was holy and hot--it's a win-win. Many men would stop and make the decision on the spot; what else is there to consider? But this wise servant of Abraham "gazed at [Rebekah] in silence to learn whether the Lord had prospered his journey or not." (Gen 24:21) When the servant talks to Rebekah's family, he still asks questions to ensure that this was the woman God had appointed. Don't miss God's sovereignty in this story. God is in control. He works. He orchestrates things we can not see. At the same time, He uses people to carry those things out. The servant, Rebekah, Rebekah's brother and parents all saw this as a union ordained by the Lord.

Did Rebekah just "happen" to be in the right place at the right time? Yes and No. Good fortune does happen to the just and the unjust. At some point or another, every person experiences the common grace of God whether they believe in Him or not--whether they obey Him or not. This is not a "try harder" message to make one feel guilty about not managing every second of her day perfectly. However, the fact remains that Rebekah was not sitting on the couch flipping channels and hanging out with Ben and Jerry. She was doing routine, mundane, daily work: serving her home, her family, and her community. When the servant asked for her to meet his need, Gen 24:18 says "she quickly let down her jar upon her hand and gave him a drink." Quickly is a key word in that sentence. Rebekah didn't hesitate to serve another.

And so the match was made. Isaac was happy. God was honored. But don't think it was a fairy-tale marriage. Rebekah possessed some GREAT qualities, but she also badly sinned against her husband and deceived him decades later (Gen 27:5-13). It is true that even the best of women are prone to trouble. All women are daughters of Eve and all men are sons of Adam, so there's no doubt as to why even great marriages get hard at times. Thank God He sent Jesus, the second Adam, who got things right. When Jesus pursues His Bride, He makes no mistakes. And when believers see their Groom face-to-face, they'll finally stop making mistakes too. Our ultimate Savior does not come in tuxedos and wedding dresses. But blessed are the people who find a mate and mirror the relationship of Christ and the Church for the world to see.

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