Keyword:

Light from the Sidra

Chayei Sarah

Torah: Genesis.23:1-25:18.Haftarah:1 Kings 1:1-31

A marriage made in heaven

Although most of us shudder at the thought of an arranged marriage, there are still cultures, not least Orthodox Jewish communities, in which parents routinely choose marriage partners for their children. After interviewing more than 100 couples in arranged marriages, Harvard academic Dr Robert Epstein concluded that among couples whose marriages were arranged, love grew stronger than in unarranged marriages. Dr Epstein believes this is because Westerners leave their love lives to ‘chance’ or ‘fate’ and often confuse lust with love, whereas other cultures look for more than just passion.

Relationship expert Francine Kaye, the author of The Divorce Doctor, says that in the Orthodox Jewish community, parents look very carefully for compatibility. The parents, she says, ‘do their homework’ on the characteristics, values, morals and life goals’ of the prospective spouses for their children.

The marriage of Isaac and Rebekah was arranged not so much by Abraham and Sarah as by God. Abraham’s God had arranged the marriage and guided Abraham’s unnamed servant to Isaac’s bride. And what a bride: Rebekah is beautiful, modest, kind and respectful. The marriage of Isaac and Sarah was literally made in heaven. And, as if in confirmation of Dr Epstein’s thesis, the marriage comes first and love develops: ‘he took Rebekah as his wife. Isaac loved her…’ (Gen 24:67. Tanakh-The Holy Scriptures, Jewish Publication Society 1985).

Although the chapter is about Isaac, he features only at the end of the chapter when he meets his bride to be and marries her. Two main figures stand out in Genesis 24: Abraham’s obedient servant and Rebekah. Unlike the dramatic account in the account of the Akedah in chapter 22, in this chapter, everything centres on Rebekah's choice to leave her family and travel hundreds of miles to marry a man she has never met.

In Genesis, Isaac is a relatively colourless, almost minor, character. In comparison with Abraham and Jacob, we learn practically nothing about him yet he is the ‘seed’ of Abraham through whom blessing will come to the world. The rabbinic writings have a great deal to say about the binding of Isaac but very little to say about his marriage. In comparison with Genesis 22, chapter 24 is slow-moving and leisurely but what might be the lessons for us today?

First of all, let’s remember that Isaac was the son of Abraham through whose line would come the ‘seed’ through whom the nations would be blessed (Gen 12:1-3). Therefore the choice of an appropriate bride through whom the ‘seed’ would come is paramount. The ‘seed’ of Abraham who would bless the nations is the Messiah. The choice of a marriage partner for Isaac must have been important for God to have led Eliezer to Rebekah in an almost miraculous way.

Second, as we saw last week’s comments, Isaac was a kind of picture the Messiah. Some of the Jewish sources teach that Isaac was literally sacrificed as an atonement for sins by his father, and that he was resurrected from the dead. The Midrash says Isaac carried the wood up the mountain as a man carries his ‘cross’.

According to some Jewish sources, Abraham heard of the birth of Rebekah after he returned with Isaac from the mountain where he offered him to God. Some sources sat Rebekah was three years old when she married Isaac, while others say ten. Whether anyone today seriously believes either of those estimations, the Scripture indicates clearly that she was a grown woman.

The key verse in the passage is, ‘Will you go with this man?’ (Gen 24:58). The young woman is prepared to go with a strange man to marry a man of whom she has no knowledge except that he is the son of a wealthy man. Any lesson we learn must take these factors into account. Rebekah’s decision was an act of great faith.

How do people find faith in Isaac’s ‘seed’ the Messiah? Abraham’s unnamed servant called Rebekah to become Isaac’s bride. When she arrived at Abraham’s camp, any doubts she may have had would be dispelled. Everything she had heard about Isaac would be found to be true. There would be no doubts and no disillusionment. Likewise the Spirit of God has been sent by the God of Abraham to calls Jews and Gentiles to leave all and trust the Messiah. Any doubts about him are dispelled once we encounter him by faith.

The question to us, to paraphrase the question of Abraham’s servant is: ‘Will you go with the Spirit?’  


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