If God’s covenant with Abraham is to come to fruition, Isaac must find a wife. Genesis 25:40 illustrates the gravity of the situation by telling us that Isaac was 40 when he married Rebekah. Granted Abraham was outrageously old when he and Sarah bore Isaac, but that was the exception, not the norm. In order to help the promise along Abraham sends his servant back to his family and clan to find a suitable mate for Isaac.
The fact that Isaac remained wifeless at such an age is due to his sojourning in the land of the Canaanites. Even in light of God’s covenant promise of many descendents, and Isaac’s climbing age, Abraham refuses to let Isaac marry one of the ‘foreign women.’ Discussions or examples of the dangers of intermarriage crop up in numerous other places in the Hebrew Bible (e.g. 1 Kings 11:1ff; Ezra 10:2ff). Such concern likely reflects the perilous circumstances of later redactors as they lived in exile or among the diaspora and struggled to maintain their cultural and religious identity. The trouble that Abraham went through to secure a wife for Isaac from among Abraham’s father’s family and Abraham’s own clan suggests the similar extent that later generations must go to do likewise. In our day of mixed ethnic and religious marriages we struggle to see eye-to-eye with such sectarian betrothal. Never-the-less we can glean from this story a reminder of the important task mate selection is–and how we should approach it with care.
The discovery of Rebekah as a suitable mate for Isaac remembers the earlier Abraham narrative. Like Abraham, Rebekah will up and leave all she has ever known to travel to a distant land in hopes of entering into the covenant promise. The text gives agency to Rebekah in deciding her future (an agency not always afforded the Ancient Hebrew woman). Rebekah is brought before her family and asked, “Will you go with this man.” She responds, “I will go.”
The marriage of Isaac and Rebekah has a story book beginning. They have a powerful first meeting, their marriage is consummated in dead Sarah’s old tent (this has an element of sentimentality and romance that perhaps we don’t understand), Isaac is comforted by Rebekah, and, significantly, Isaac is said to ‘love’ Rebekah. The elements of romantic love described show the positive result of the faithful seeking of a suitable mate. Abraham’s diligence has paid off. Rebekah’s faithful leap has joined her to the covenant promise and given her a loving husband.
Psalm 45 serves as a response to the Hebrew Bible reading in that it invites a young woman to leave her family to become a royal bride. As a result the woman is brought fine gifts and achieves fame. The psalm ends with a promise of many offspring for the bride and groom, an offspring that will provide “princes in all the earth.”
Paul’s famous double-talk in Romans 7 (“I do what I do not want to do, and I do not know why I do it”) is the subject of great debate amongst academics. The debate stems around the identity of ‘I’. Is Paul talking about his pre-Christian life, or is Paul talking about his present Christian life? If Paul is talking about his pre-Christian life then this passage seems in conflict with Paul’s other statements about an exemplary following of the Law in his zealous days of Pharisaical Judaism (cf. Galatians 1:13-17). If Paul is talking about his Christian life then this passage seems in conflict with Paul’s emphasis in the letter to the Romans on Christians being ‘free from sin’.
A possible answer to this conundrum lies in the “already but not yet” position Christians find themselves in during the ‘last days.’ With our sanctification incomplete (sanctification = the process of being made into Christ-likeness by the presence and power of the Spirit), even free from sin, we are better at knowing the right then doing the right. This creates in us a sense of moral frustration–we are better in theory than in practice. The guilt we feel because of this is not the sordid guilt that leads to hidden transgressions, and damaged esteems, rather it is a guilt informed by a healthy understanding of Paul’s doctrine of sin. Many Christians tend to think of sin as individual acts of wrongdoing. Paul thought of sin as a cosmic force that held people in bondage. Paul envisioned our salvation (our justification, sanctification, and glorification) as a journeying out from under bondage (an emancipation). As we leave the bonds of Egypt in our flight to find the promised land we wander in the heart-shaping wilderness and come to know a more righteous life. In the wilderness, still reeling from the effects of our time in slavery, we do what we do not want to do and we do not know why we do it. When we do, we cry out with the apostle Paul, “Wretched man that I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?” And in our life of faith we, like Paul, manage the response, “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!”
Do you recognize the coming kingdom of God? That is a pressing question for Jesus’ generation, and all subsequent generations. Jesus declared that the people of his time and place were like children who could not decide to sing wedding songs or funeral songs–and so did neither. They complained about John the Baptist’s austere living, and at the same time complained about Jesus’ supposed indulgence (eating with sinners). They found fault in everything, and thus got behind nothing. Jesus finally proclaimed to the crowds that “Wisdom is vindicated by her deeds”–in other words, no matter what fault was found, the results of John’s and Jesus’ proclamation of the coming kingdom showed their wisdom to be of God.
The gospel reading for the week skips a few verses and lands again at verse 25 where Jesus prays to the Father, thanking him that he has hidden “these things” (recognition of the kingdom) from the “wise and intelligent” and instead revealed them to “infants.” This divine reversal of what we normally expect is part of what is the kingdom of God. The kingdom of God puts the world on its head. The kingdom of God puts the oppressed, the vulnerable, the forgotten, the neglected (the infants) in a place of esteem. Jesus pronounces to these ones–the heavily burdened and the weary–that he will give them rest. In a world of Roman imperialism, tenant farming, lack of social mobility, and deeply engrained notions of honor and shame, the bottom rung of society carried around endless heavy burdens to support the social elite. Jesus’ call to throw off the yoke of the oppressors and take on the easy yoke of Christ was indeed ‘good news.’
Celebration of Worship
As you prepare your hearts and minds for worship consider the way our worship can be a sign of the coming kingdom. How do we help the promise of God become a present reality? We are the bride of Christ–our’s was a royal wedding. We are promised princes to fill the whole earth. Yet we do not think of princes as the world thinks of princes. We, along with the Ecclesiastical writer, are well aware that while “slaves ride on horseback, princes walk behind on foot.” God is turning our world upside down. Are we recognizing it, or do we argue about wedding songs or funeral songs, and accomplish no proclamation at all? Perhaps we would do well to listen to the “infants” who are eager for the good news, and are able to hear it.