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The Marriage of Isaac -
A story with many heroes

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The Marriage of Isaac
A Story With Many Heroes 

Read : Genesis 24: 34-38, 42-49, 58-67 

If you like romantic stories with a happy ending you may like this story from Genesis. If you like stories where boy meets girl, boy falls in love with girl, girl reciprocates, they get married and live happily ever after, then this Genesis story will suit you - but only up to a point. Because this is not so much a story of boy meets girl, more that the girl is found by the boy's father's servant, and bought back for the boy to marry. However, it does end with their marriage and the statement that the boy loves the girl.  

Actually, to be honest, there's not a lot of romance about this story at all, is there ? It is a very matter of fact account of the successful procurement of a bride for a young man, as was the custom of the time. Abraham, by now a very old man who has just buried his wife, Sarah after a long, long marriage, has decided that it is now time that his son, Isaac, found a wife. Abraham instructs his servant to go and find that wife, but not among the Canaanites among whom he now lives, but back among his own people. The story is the servant's account of his mission and of his finding a suitable wife for Isaac.  

In many ways, it is a very matter of fact account. There is not a great deal of drama in the story. In fact, there is so little drama that we could be forgiven for believing that this is a story of little importance. In fact, the opposite is true. It is a story of huge significance in the larger story of Genesis and the children of Israel. 

A wife for Abraham's son, Isaac, is essential if God's promise to Abraham is to be fulfilled. The promise that Abraham will be the father of many nations, and that between Abraham's descendants and God there will be an everlasting covenant. Without that wife for Isaac, the plan comes a cropper, and so this nameless servant, who is sent out on a wife-hunt, is a very important actor in the whole drama that Genesis comprises. But, is he the main character ? Is he the most influential and crucial player in this drama ? Who is the hero or heroine of this story ? 

Is it Abraham ? Abraham, an old man now, who was already an old man when Isaac was born, is even older now. He is an old man mourning his wife, and perhaps knowing that he has little time left himself. In that time he must ensure the future of his race by finding a wife for his son. At an even simpler level, maybe he is just a father, not the father of a race but just a father. Who wants to know that before he dies, his son has settled down with a nice wife, and will give him grandchildren. So, is Abraham the hero ? 

Is it the servant ? A man whom Abraham obviously trusts above all others, otherwise he would not have given him such an important task to carry out. The servant carries it out with great diligence, and with much prayer. Perhaps because, in the same way that Abraham trusts the servant, so the servant reveres and respects his master and is determined to do his best to fulfil his important task. So, is the servant the hero of the story ?  

Do we have, not a hero but a heroine in Rebekah ? She shows great hospitality to the stranger she encounters at the well, as she goes to draw water. She not only gives him water to drink, but she also waters his camels. She seems happy enough to answer him when he asks whose daughter she is, and she does not seem to bat an eyelid when he puts the nose-ring and bracelets on her, which are the signs of betrothal. Furthermore, she agrees to go with the servant . To leave behind her family, and the place and the country in which she has lived all her life, to go with this stranger, to a strange land. To be married to a man she does not even know. 

I cannot believe that she took all this as calmly as the matter of fact telling of the story would have us believe. She must surely have felt some apprehension about leaving her family for ever. Because this was effectively what she was choosing to do. There must have been some turmoil within her about her decision, and yet she agrees to go, and to go immediately. Surely, her family would like to hold on to her for a while longer, perhaps to get an opportunity to say all the things that they will never be able to say to Rebekah again. Surely, her family would like to have the chance to say all their proper goodbyes. But, she agrees to go with Abraham's servant straight away. Is Rebekah then our heroine ? 

Could it be Rebekah's family who are the heroes ? Laban, Rebekah's brother, and her father and mother, who all agree to let her go into an unknown future with this stranger. They let her go, because they believe it is God's will she should go. Does this trust, faith and belief in the Lord, and their willingness to let their beloved sister and daughter go, to fulfil His plans, make them the heroes of the story ? 

Alternatively, is it Isaac, who only appears at the tail end of the story, but for whom this bride was procured in the first place? The very little we do know about Isaac here, somehow makes him sound very appealing. The fact that he took Rebekah for his wife : "he loved her". Also, that we was comforted by her after his mother's death. Perhaps he missed his mother ? Just because we know him as an Old Testament patriarch does not means that he could not and did not have ordinary human feelings. Two short verses give us the human face of Isaac. So, is he our hero ? 

Let me suggest another alternative. Not one single person is the story is a hero, they all are, If any one of them had refused to play their part in this human drama, then God's promise to Abraham would not have been fulfilled. 

If Abraham had felt he was too old to start thinking about getting Isaac a wife, or if he could not be bothered. 

If the servant had decided this was a great opportunity to go off with the dowry, (which was worth a great deal,) and not bother looking for a wife for his master's son. 

If Rebekah had refused to leave the place she was familiar with, and the people she loved, for a strange land and unknown people. 

If Rebekah's family had refused to let her go to an unknown future but decided, they wanted to keep her close to them. 

If Isaac had taken one look at Rebekah, and rejected her. 

If any of these things had taken place, God's master plan would have been scuppered. But, as we know , none of these things happened. All the characters in the story played their part, not in amazingly heroic and exceptional ways, but in good and simple ways. In their inter-relationships with each other, making it possible for God's divine purpose to be achieved and fulfilled. 

This is not the story about a father who is willing to sacrifice his only son for God, as Abraham was a few chapters earlier in Genesis. Rather, it is a story about a father who is trying to discern the will of God, regarding his son's marriage. 

It is a story about a servant, a young woman, and her family, who all try to do the right thing in the everyday routine of their lives. In doing so, they turn what seems to be a mundane, matter of fact story, into something of much greater significance. Collectively, they all participate in something that. in the end is heroic, because through them, God's promise to a new generation is carried on. By accepting the part God wanted them to play in the drama, they ensured that God's purpose would be fulfilled. As minor players in the drama, they participated together to bring about a major outcome.  

For me, this straightforward story has a huge significance for all of us. How often to we feel that we are minor players on the world stage ? That we are insignificant cogs in the wheel ? That nothing we can do makes a difference ? Whatever God intended for his creation, has little to do with us ?  

How wrong can we be ? Like all the characters in the story, every one of whom was needed to achieve the ultimate result. So, every one of us is necessary, and has a part to play, in the great story of humankind, and in God's purposes not just for humankind but for his whole creation. What are God's purposes for his creation then, you may ask ? 

Like a politician, let me answer not that question, but another of my own. Let me say that I believe I know what Gods purposes are not ! 

God did not mean that this earthy, this most beautiful, fruitful and abundant planet in this solar system, should be raped and ravaged by greedy men and women. By people who can only see the possibility of profit in their lifetime, but who, unlike Abraham, have little care for future generation of their race. 

God did not mean for millions of his people to starve in poverty, an obscenity that could never be part of his plan. An obscenity that is caused by the greed and corruption of a few evil people, and that is allowed to happen because of the inertia and apathy of many. 

Nelson Mandela, a towering moral giant of this century and the last, said this "Like slavery and apartheid, poverty is not natural. It is man-made, and can be overcome and eradicated by the actions of human beings." We are those human beings. We are the generation that can change things. By "generation" I do not mean the narrow definition of people of a particular age. I mean all of us, people of all ages, who are alive at this moment in history. 

We may feel, as individuals, that we are little people with no influence or power. Therefore, why bother doing anything ? But, like the characters in the Genesis story, each one of us has to play our small and seemingly insignificant role, so that the story itself takes on heroic and significant proportions. 

The characters in the Genesis story were responsible for carrying on God's promise to a new generation. We have it in our hands to do no less. Gordon Brown, the Chancellor, spoke at a Christian Aid event recently and although I wasn't there, and don't know everything he said, he talked of a new covenant between the rich countries and those living, or dying, in poverty. This new covenant, would be the beginning of the fulfilment of God's promise to a new generation. 

Each one of us are playing our small part in the drama, like Abraham, the servant, Rebekah, her family, and Isaac in the Genesis story. Each one of us in the process of doing good, but not exceptional, things. Each one of us trying to do the right thing in the everyday routine of our lives, has helped, and will continue to help, bring about a heroic and epic act. That is the carrying on of God's promise to a new generation and generations to come. The promise to end the obscenity of poverty in this world. A world which God created to be fruitful and abundant, and where not one of his children should go hungry to bed at night.  

Like the characters in the story, let us continue to play our small, but important, part in God's heroic and epic plan for his people. 

Rev Fiona Hutchison, 2005


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