“M ARRIED AT FIRST SIGHT” is a reality television show. As I understand it, selected couples are paired by relationship experts. Each couple agrees to marry when they meet. The show follows each couple’s journey as they go from wedding, to honeymoon, to the daily struggles of working on their marriage. After several weeks together, each couple decides to remain together or divorce.
TV has nothing on the Bible.
This week on our “Road Trip,” we look at Rebekah and her courage in leaving her family — perhaps to never see them again. Her faith that means moving 400 miles to a place she’s never been to marry a man she’s never met. Truly, marriage at first sight. Today, we travel with Rebekah on this life-altering journey.
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REBEKAH IS A STRONG, determined young woman. This story, according to my brilliant college classmate, Mark Biddle, in his book A Time To Laugh, is riddled with episodes of humor that get lost in translation of language and culture.
Here’s the story. We know from last week that God promised Abraham and Sarah their descendants will become a great nation. That means land and babies. First there was the concern about having a child in their old age. Now the concern is grandkids. So far there are none. Sarah has died. Abraham thinks he’s dying.
Isaac, the sole heir of this couple, is 40 years old and seems to have no interest in marriage. Abraham wants a bride for Isaac. Good stock from back home. Abraham’s afraid after he dies that bachelor Isaac will move back to the old country. There goes God’s promise of land in Canaan.
Abraham is still trying to control God. He comes up with a plan. He sends his most faithful slave back to Nahor to find a wife for Isaac.
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SO, A FAITHFUL SERVANT (he’s a main character in this story so I’m giving him a name — Ben) leaves on a long trek north to Nahor to find a wife for the bachelor.
Ben travels with other servants and 10 camels loaded with supplies and gifts — silver and gold jewelry, designer garments, and costly knickknacks.
After several weeks on the dusty roads, the caravan arrives in Nahor. Ben is tired. The camels, which can go four or five days without water, are dehydrated. Now that he’s arrived, Ben realizes he has no plan for locating a bride for Isaac. Ben makes a deal with God. He will ask for a drink of water from all the eligible bachelorettes who come to the well. Whoever gives him water but also offers to water the camels will be “the one” selected by God.
We could do worse than follow the example of Abraham’s servant when called to a particular task. Prepare. Pray. Wait. Watch for signs of God’s faithfulness. Then be quick to praise God and to witness to others of God’s faithfulness. Oh, and be generous.
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BEFORE THE “AMEN” is pronounced, a young woman comes to the well. He asks for a drink. She obliges. Then she offers to water the camels.
Now, camels drink about 20–40 gallons of water at a time. There are 10 camels. Let’s average that to 300 gallons of water. The young woman has to go down to the well, pour water into a jug that holds about 5 gallons of water. She has to do this something like 60 times. All the while Ben sits in the shade watching to make sure she fulfills the secret deal he made with God. Each jug of water weighs about 80 pounds. Sixty trips. You do the math. Talk about sturdy stock!
It’s good that Rebekah is healthy, strong, clever and industrious. Isaac doesn’t seem to be. He’s depicted as something of a “mother’s boy.” An only child. Nearly killed by his father. Coddled by mother Sarah. He’s fine with living in the basement, having mom do his laundry and cook his meals. In fact, in the Scriptures, Isaac is never his own man. There is no extended story of Isaac. Abraham gets lots of biblical chapters. Isaac’s son Jacob gets lots of biblical chapters. But there is not a biblical story in which Isaac is the main character. He’s either Abraham’s son, Jacob’s father, or Rebekah’s husband.
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BUT BACK TO THE STORY. Excitedly, Ben asks her name. Rebekah. Turns out she and Isaac are cousins. In that day and time, that’s good news. Ben tells her the story of Abraham being promised land and heirs. Isaac is the offspring. Ben’s in Nahor looking for a bride.
Rebekah invites Ben and the servants home for dinner. Ben recites the story again to her brother Laban. (Her father has died. Laban is now head of the house.) God answered the prayer by sending Rebekah. Will she marry Isaac? How do you say “no” to God. Laban says “Sure. Why not?”
Laban may be appropriately hospitable and pious, but it doesn’t hurt that he has first seen the gold jewelry that Ben gave his sister. (We know from later chapters that Laban is no fool when it comes to wealth.)
“Great. It’s a long trip home. We’ll leave in the morning.”
“Not so fast. We need to plan a bridal shower so all her friends can congratulate her.
“No. Time’s a-wasting. We need to hit the road.”
“Let’s see what Rebekah has to say about this hasty departure.”
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THE FAMILY EXPLAINS the whole situation to Rebekah and asks whether or not she’s willing to depart the next day on this grand adventure. She doesn’t ask for any information about this man she’s to marry. Handsome, wealthy, industrious, kind, age? “Sure,” she says.
So, the next morning, Rebekah climbs onto a camel and makes the 400-mile road trip to marry someone at first sight. She is not only strong, but decisive (a characteristic that continues in later stories about her). She, like Abraham before her, leaves home and family to travel to a land she has never seen.
She is a model of generosity, strength, and courage.
Between verses, weeks pass. The story moves to Hebron. Isaac is out in the field. Rebekah, Ben, the other servants and 10 camels loaded with Rebekah’s belongings come over the rise and surprise Isaac. Evidently Rebekah is surprised as well. On seeing Isaac, she falls off the camel!
They honeymoon in Sarah’s tent. And, we’re told, Isaac loves Rebekah.
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AS WITH ABRAHAM before her, Rebekah ventures by faith far from her homeland and from her kindred. She, like Abraham, will have a multitude of descendants, as her family’s blessing emphasizes. She seized the chance to become part of Abraham’s family. With her strong will, she went on to shape the family’s destiny in the next generation through her advocacy for her younger son, Jacob, who in time becomes Israel.
This is a story about traveling and hospitality, about meeting strangers who become family, and about taking risks and leaving the familiar to welcome the future. It is a story of faith journeys with paths that providentially cross. Ben’s witness emboldens us to move into the future, confident that God’s angel leads us on our way (24:7, 40).