62 Now Isaac had come from Beer-lahai-roi, and was settled in the Negeb. 63Isaac went out in the evening to walk in the field; and looking up, he saw camels coming. 64And Rebekah looked up, and when she saw Isaac, she slipped quickly from the camel, 65and 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. 66And the servant told Isaac all the things that he had done. 67Then 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.
I must have read the book of Genesis 50 times. It is one of my favorite books of the Bible, but I still remember an insight I had several years ago, with regard to this last verse, v67. I had already read Genesis a number of times, and I was reading it again, kind of skimming through, and I read, “Isaac loved Rebekah and she became his wife.” That was what I read, then I realized that is not what the verse says. It says “she became his wife; and he loved her.” What I was doing as I read the verse was imposing the ideas of modern western culture upon something that happened in a different culture 4000 years ago.
In our culture, ideally, people fall in love and get married. This is called “Romantic Love” and we are so accustomed to thinking this way that we assume that this is the only way to do it. We are so accustomed to living with the beliefs and assumptions of romantic love that we think it is the only form of “love” on which marriage can be based.
Romantic love has existed throughout history in many cultures. We find it in the literature of ancient Greece, the Roman empire, ancient Persia, and feudal Japan, but our modern Western society is the only culture in history that has made romantic love the only basis for marriage. Most people have not done it that way and do not do it that way.
For example, Mahatma Gandhi was a man whom I admire very much. He was born in India in 1869 and raised in traditional Hindu society. When he was eight years old, his "bride" was chosen. Five years later, in May 1883, 13-year old Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi was married to 14-year old Kasturbai Makhanji. Recalling the day of their marriage Gandhi said "As we didn't know much about marriage, for us it meant only wearing new clothes, eating sweets and playing with relatives." Neither Gandhi nor Kasturbai had any input whatsoever into choosing whom they would marry. Their families arranged their marriage just like they arranged where they would go to school arranged what they would eat and what they would wear as minor children. Had you asked them, they would have said, this is what families do. This is the point of having a family.
And realize that Gandhi’s experience parallels that of most people who have ever lived on this planet. Arranged child marriages have been the rule, still are the rule in many places. If the married couple learned to love each other later on that was ok, but if not they were still married.
Last week I preached on Abraham and Sarah. Now it occurs to me that Genesis nowhere says that Abraham and Sarah were in love. We assume that they were. It does not say that. In fact, you can argue that Abraham was all to willing when they went down to Egypt to give Sarah to Pharaoh. Abraham and Sarah later had a child, Isaac, but that does not mean they loved each other. Western romantic love was not a factor in arranging marriages in the ancient Middle East.
If we had read all of Genesis 24 today, we would have seen that Abraham followed custom in arranging a marriage for his son Isaac. The primary function of a marriage was to create or strengthen alliances between families, clans, and tribes. So, Abraham sent his steward, his chief slave, north into what is now Syria to contact some relatives and see if they had marriageable daughters for his son Isaac. The slave found Rebekah who was the granddaughter of Nahor, Abraham’s brother. The slave then entered into extensive negotiations with her family to buy Rebekah. That seems crass, but there is no other way to put it. Eventually a price is settled on, and Rebekah left her family, made the long journey to Canaan to marry a man she had never even seen.
Then we come to the conclusion of chapter 24 when Isaac and Rebekah meet for the first time. Isaac was walking in the field and he looked up and saw some camels coming. Rebekah saw Isaac, slipped off her camel, and asked the slaves, “Who is the man over there, walking in the field to meet us?” She was told that this is her husband. Then there is an interesting note. She put on a veil.
You probably know that in many Moslem countries the wearing of veils by females is an explosive issue. For example, in Afghanistan, there have been a number of cases where unveiled women walking down a street were assaulted and beaten half to death by Taliban thugs. The fundamentalist Moslem view is that a woman should not show any part of her body to strangers.
Of course Rebekah did just the opposite. She had traveled from Syria to Canaan unveiled. Now when she met her husband, she veiled herself. Maybe this was a part of their marriage tradition. Perhaps this is where we get our tradition of the bridal veil—which is a fine custom, that we mostly don’t do anymore. I don’t see many bridal veils these days, do you?
That reminds me, I recently learned that another of our wedding traditions is based on a false premise. Beginning back in the 1990’s, we were told that uncooked rice would kill unsuspecting birds. The rice would swell in their stomachs, cause them to burst, and cause a tragic death.
So the tradition of throwing rice on the bride and groom as they leave the church was abandoned and we were told that it was far more kind to birds to throw birdseed. So I have been telling wedding parties for at least 20 years, “Don’t throw rice when you leave church, be kind to the birds, throw birdseed. Well, turns out that there is apparently no basis for that notion.
Miyoko Chu, a Cornell University ornithologist, says that there are no documented cases of birds dying from eating rice. She says, "In fact, house sparrows, red-winged blackbirds and bobolinks eat it all the time in the wild." And if you think about it, obviously she is right. Rice is grown around the world, birds eat it all the time.
But consider this also. If a whole country can be duped by misinformation about rice, how many more people are being confounded by the idea that when they get married, they will live happily ever after; no arguing or fighting. They will have the perfect marriage.
Now in June, I will have been married 40 years. And I could testify that I have that perfect marriage of perfect bliss, but if I so testified, you would say, you lie.
I heard an old story about a bride to be who thought she had the perfect fiancé. She was very impressed by how much his parents loved each other.
"They’re so thoughtful," She said. "Why, your dad even brings your mom a cup of hot coffee in bed every morning."
"Tell me," she said, "does it run in the family?"
"Sure does," said he. "But you should know one thing. I take after my mom."
When the honeymoon is over, and weeks give way to months, which give way to years, the love that once burned hotly may become a weak flame. What happened? Where has the love gone? Many people want to go back. They have dreams of rekindling their romance.
Here is another story. Bear with me on this. A woman woke up and told her husband, "I just dreamed that you gave me a pearl necklace for Valentine’s day. What do you think that dream means?"
"You’ll know tonight." he said.
That evening, the man came home with a small package and gave it to his wife. Delighted, she opened it, and found a book entitled "The Meaning of Dreams."
Sadly many relationships that start off great end more like a nightmare than a dream. George Barna, statistician, reported, "Boomers are virtually certain to become the first generation for which a majority experience divorce."
Well, what can we do about that? How can we make our dreams of romantic love come true?
Maybe we find an answer in Genesis where it says Isaac loved Rebekah after they were married.
You might say, well that is fine, but what does that mean? What is love anyway?
Actually if we want to find biblical teachings about love, we turn mostly to the NT. Love is found in the OT. Isaac loved Rebekah. But most of our teachings about love are in the NT
The book of Philippians is a book about love. For example, 2: 1-2 “If then there is any encouragement in Christ, any consolation from love, any sharing in the Spirit, any compassion and sympathy, 2 make my joy complete: be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind.”
There is a wealth of information about love packed into those verses.
People in love encourage one another. We all get down and depressed, we all need a hand up. We need encouragement. This would make a great Valentine’s Day gift. Say something nice about your spouse. Understand I am not talking about flattery. I am not talking about insincerity. Just look for good things that you can say about that other person and say them.
Then the verses from Philippians talk about the consolation or comfort of love.
George Eliot, British novelist of the 19th century, knew the meaning of comfort. At the age of 17, after the death of her mother and the marriage of her elder sister, she was called home to care for her father. She learned the true meaning of comfort. She wrote: “Oh, the inexpressible comfort of feeling safe with a person; having neither to weigh thoughts nor measure words, but to pour them all out, just as they are, chaff and grain together, knowing that a faithful hand will take and sift them, keep what is worth keeping, and then, with the breath of kindness, blow the rest away”.
Furthermore, in Philippians, Paul talks about “sharing in the spirit.” Sharing includes spending time together. That is important for any relationship.
There is a story from Tornado Alley in Kansas. A tornado hit a farmhouse. It tore off the roof and picked up the bed on which the farmer and his wife were sleeping. By some miracle, the tornado set them down, unharmed, the next county over. The wife was sobbing uncontrollably. "Don’t be scared," her husband said. "We’re not hurt."
The wife continued to cry. "I’m not scared," she said between sobs. "I’m happy. This is the first time we’ve been out together in 14 years."
Paul also speaks of love in terms of compassion and sympathy. Being kind to one another. That seems so elementary. But it is an important part of love. Just be nice.
It is said that Adam and Eve had the world’s only perfect marriage. She could not talk about the man she might have married and he could not complain that his mother was a better cook. That is a joke, but most marriages would be better if both spouses would flavor every day life with a little kindness. As the Greek dramatist, Sophocles, (C. 496-406 B.C.) once remarked, “Kindness will always attract kindness.”
The same is true of Compassionate. Our word compassion conveys the idea of understanding and mercy..
Did you hear the story about the young single mother who was having a horrible day. Everything seemed to go wrong. She didn’t feel well, the washing machine broke, and an unexpected bill arrived in the mail. After tearfully lifting her one-year-old into his highchair, she leaned against the tray and began crying. Without saying a word, her son took his pacifier out of his mouth and stuck it into her mouth
I suppose that was exactly what she needed. There are times when we all need to be babied, when we all need to pity and mercy.
Then Paul urges the Philippians to apply love, saying, “make my joy complete: be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind.”
Love unites people. Paul says to the Philippians, "Make me glad when I hear of how much unity you have with one another."
“Having the same mind” does not mean that when we love each other we think exactly alike. Obviously no one, no couple is like that. I don’t read the same books as my wife. I don’t watch many of the same TV programs. The last time she turned on “What Not to Wear” I ran screaming out of the room. But when it comes to maintaining our relationship, we are of the same mind. We are both determined to do that.
I heard a story about two businessmen--one was a family man and the other was unmarried. They are in an airport baggage claim area. The married man’s family shows up and he is engulfed with hugs and kisses from his wife and children.
The bachelor was impressed by their abundance of affection, so he asked the married guy how long he had been gone from his family. The man said, “It has been two long long days since I have seen them.”
The bachelor was touched. He said, “I hope I can have a family like that some day.”
The other man replied, “it is not only hope. You decide to do it.”
That is the way love is. We decide to make it happen. Isaac decided to love Rebekah. We decide to make a love relationship work. That is your Valentine’s Day message.
If you have questions or comments, email Tony Grant
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