Scripture: Genesis 24:28-61
Title: Marriage – Part 1
- Marriage is an act of God, serving His purpose
- Marriage is an act of hesed, providing security
Today we continue our series on the life & faith of Abraham
– Last week we heard about God’s fingerprints and how the Lord led Abraham’s servant to Rebekah at a well
– This morning Abraham’s servant arranges Isaac & Rebekah’s marriage with Rebekah’s family
– From Genesis chapter 24, verses 28-61, in the NIV we read…
The young woman ran and told her mother’s household about these things. Now Rebekah had a brother named Laban, and he hurried out to the man at the spring. As soon as he had seen the nose ring, and the bracelets on his sister’s arms, and had heard Rebekah tell what the man said to her, he went out to the man and found him standing by the camels near the spring.
“Come, you who are blessed by the Lord,” he said. “Why are you standing out here? I have prepared the house and a place for the camels.” So the man went to the house, and the camels were unloaded. Straw and fodder were brought for the camels, and water for him and his men to wash their feet. Then food was set before him, but he said, “I will not eat until I have told you what I have to say.”
“Then tell us,” Laban said. So he said, “I am Abraham’s servant. The Lord has blessed my master abundantly, and he has become wealthy. He has given him sheep and cattle, silver and gold, male and female servants, and camels and donkeys. My master’s wife Sarah has borne him a son in her old age, and he has given him everything he owns.
And my master made me swear an oath, and said, ‘You must not get a wife for my son from the daughters of the Canaanites, in whose land I live, but go to my father’s family and to my own clan, and get a wife for my son.’ “Then I asked my master, ‘What if the woman will not come back with me?’
“He replied, ‘The Lord, before whom I have walked faithfully, will send his angel with you and make your journey a success, so that you can get a wife for my son from my own clan and from my father’s family. You will be released from my oath if, when you go to my clan, they refuse to give her to you—then you will be released from my oath.’
“When I came to the spring today, I said, ‘Lord, God of my master Abraham, if you will, please grant success to the journey on which I have come. See, I am standing beside this spring. If a young woman comes out to draw water and I say to her, “Please let me drink a little water from your jar,” and if she says to me, “Drink, and I’ll draw water for your camels too,” let her be the one the Lord has chosen for my master’s son.’
“Before I finished praying in my heart, Rebekah came out, with her jar on her shoulder. She went down to the spring and drew water, and I said to her, ‘Please give me a drink.’ “She quickly lowered her jar from her shoulder and said, ‘Drink, and I’ll water your camels too.’ So I drank, and she watered the camels also. “I asked her, ‘Whose daughter are you?’
“She said, ‘The daughter of Bethuel son of Nahor, whom Milkah bore to him.’
“Then I put the ring in her nose and the bracelets on her arms, and I bowed down and worshiped the Lord. I praised the Lord, the God of my master Abraham, who had led me on the right road to get the granddaughter of my master’s brother for his son.
Now if you will show kindness and faithfulness to my master, tell me; and if not, tell me, so I may know which way to turn.” Laban and Bethuel answered, “This is from the Lord; we can say nothing to you one way or the other. Here is Rebekah; take her and go, and let her become the wife of your master’s son, as the Lord has directed.”
When Abraham’s servant heard what they said, he bowed down to the ground before the Lord. Then the servant brought out gold and silver jewellery and articles of clothing and gave them to Rebekah; he also gave costly gifts to her brother and to her mother. Then he and the men who were with him ate and drank and spent the night there.
When they got up the next morning, he said, “Send me on my way to my master.” But her brother and her mother replied, “Let the young woman remain with us ten days or so; then you may go.”
But he said to them, “Do not detain me, now that the Lord has granted success to my journey. Send me on my way so I may go to my master.”
Then they said, “Let’s call the young woman and ask her about it.” So they called Rebekah and asked her, “Will you go with this man?”
“I will go,” she said. So they sent their sister Rebekah on her way, along with her nurse and Abraham’s servant and his men.
And they blessed Rebekah and said to her,
“Our sister, may you increase to thousands upon thousands;
may your offspring possess the cities of their enemies.”
Then Rebekah and her attendants got ready and mounted the camels and went back with the man. So the servant took Rebekah and left.
May the Spirit of Jesus illuminate this Scripture for us
In many ways this morning’s Bible reading probably seems strange to us
– The way people went about arranging a marriage in the ancient near east was quite different to the way we go about marriage in the west today
– I’ve talked about the cultural differences between the ancient world and the modern west on other occasions & don’t want to repeat that now
– If you are interested in the cultural stuff then you can read the sermon notes from the 8th July on the church website later
This morning our message focuses on the subject of marriage
– This isn’t just a message for those who are married though – it has relevance for everyone, whether you are in a relationship or not
– Today’s reading from Genesis 24 doesn’t tell us everything about marriage but it does touch on at least two very important aspects:
o Marriage is an act of God, serving His purpose
o And marriage is an act of hesed, providing security
– First let’s consider marriage as an act of God
Marriage is an act of God, serving His purpose:
When we hear that phrase, ‘an act of God’ we tend to think of some sort of catastrophe or disaster – something going wrong outside of our control
– For example, an earthquake or a storm is deemed an act of God
– Acts of God aren’t just negative things though – justice, peace, healing & freedom can also be acts of God
– In a general sense marriage is an act of God – it is his idea, his initiative, one of his positive, creative actions for our wellbeing
– Unlike an earthquake or a storm though, which we can’t control, marriage is an act of God that we do get a say in
Those who have been following this series on Abraham will be aware of the repetition in this morning’s reading
– When Abraham’s servant is shown hospitality by Rebekah’s family he refuses to eat until he has stated the reason for his visit
– He tells the whole story from the beginning of chapter 24 – how Abraham sent him to find a wife for Isaac and how God answered his prayer with Rebekah
– The main point of this retelling of events is to make it clear that God specifically wants Rebekah to marry Isaac
– Isaac & Rebekah’s marriage is God’s initiative – it is an act of God
This is not to say that every marriage is especially arranged by God – many people get married without reference to God
– Nor is it to say there is only one right person for you to marry in the whole world – there are any number of people that you could be compatible with and some that you will never be compatible with
– But in Isaac & Rebekah’s case God was involved with the details
Rebekah’s brother (Laban) and her father (Bethuel) both agree that God is in this and since God is so clearly at work to join Rebekah & Isaac’s lives together, how can they object?
The fact that God is arranging Isaac & Rebekah’s marriage doesn’t mean that Rebekah has no choice in the matter
– God gives each of us free will and he respects the choices we make
– In verse 58 we read how Rebekah was asked, ‘Will you go with this man?’ and Rebekah said, ‘I will’
– Interestingly, it is only after Rebekah has given her consent that she receives a blessing
– God’s purpose is often pleasing to us, it is generally a good fit with who we are – happily Rebekah was in harmony with God’s will and prepared to marry Isaac
Marriage is an act of God, serving His purpose
– The point I’m making here is that marriage isn’t just for the wellbeing of the couple – marriage actually serves a larger purpose in God’s plan
– God’s purpose for Isaac & Rebekah was to keep the faith, to establish the nation of Israel and to carry God’s promises to the next generation
– Isaac & Rebekah were part of God’s legacy for blessing the world through Christ
To those who might be looking for a partner in marriage I would say, involve God in the decision – look for his fingerprints and think about his purpose
– Christian marriage isn’t just a commitment to mutual happiness, it’s also a commitment to each other’s usefulness in God’s kingdom
If you were here last Sunday you may remember the story I told about Caleb; the guy on the train who was in the right place at the right time with the right kind of presence to stop 3 drunk guys harassing a woman in her 20’s
– A fingerprints of God moment
Caleb never actually spoke to the woman that night on the train – he didn’t know anything about her and thought he would never see her again
– Over 2 months went past during which time Caleb had got on with the regular routines of his life – work, church, Bible study, friends
– This was a new routine for Caleb as he hadn’t been a Christian for long
One Sunday, while in church, he thought he saw the young woman from the train sitting a few rows in front of him but he couldn’t be sure from behind – and besides what were the chances of that happening
– It was a bit difficult to concentrate on the sermon after that
When the service had finished Caleb just sat in his pew feeling awkward
– Probably it wasn’t her – memory can be such an unreliable thing
– But if it was then what should he do?
– Christian culture was still quite strange to Caleb and he wasn’t always sure what was appropriate
He was just thinking, ‘I should probably leave before she sees me’, when an elderly woman, Mrs Green, walked up and said, ‘Ah, Caleb, come and meet my grand-daughter
– At first Caleb was relieved to be in conversation with someone safe
– But then, to Caleb’s absolute horror, Mrs Green led him straight to the young woman from the train
– It was definitely her – she recognised him instantly and started to blush, then quickly recovered by introducing herself as Jen
– Caleb was too stunned to remember to introduce himself – she was even more beautiful up close and she smelled lovely
– Fortunately Mrs Green, who was as sharp as a tack, came to his rescue and said, ‘This is Caleb. Caleb is the young man I was telling you about who came round and changed my light bulb the other week.’
– Jen smiled, paused a moment as if remembering that night, and then said, ‘It seems you are quite the Good Samaritan’.
– Caleb laughed nervously, unsure whether that made him weird or not
– Jen seemed to read his face like a book and immediately put him at ease
– ‘I’m pleased to meet you Caleb. I wanted to say thank you for what you did that night. I was really scared and you went out of your way to make me safe.’
– ‘It was nothing really’, Caleb replied.
– ‘Well it meant something to me’, said Jen
– It had actually meant something to him too
– Jen’s honesty touched Caleb’s heart and for the first time in his life he experienced emotional intimacy
Mrs Green could sense the connection between the two and wisely invited Caleb to join her and Jen for lunch, and Caleb accepted
– A year later Jen & Caleb were married and four years after that they went to Carey College to train for ministry. Now they are pastoring a church
– Each wedding anniversary they take a ride on a train and tell their kids the story of how God (and Jen’s grandma) arranged their marriage
Marriage is an act of God, serving His purpose
– At its best marriage is also an act of hesed, providing security
Marriage is an act of hesed, providing security:
In verse 49, after having told his story, Abraham’s servant says to Rebekah’s family, Now if you will show kindness and faithfulness to my master, tell me; and if not, tell me, so I may know which way to turn.”
The word translated as ‘kindness’ there is hesed in the original Hebrew
– It’s one of those Hebrew words that needs more than one English word to capture it’s meaning
– Sometimes it is translated as kindness, other times as mercy or steadfast love or loyalty. Hesed is often used in connection with God’s covenant
Hesed isn’t a trifling thing – hesed is an act of real importance, it’s a big deal
– With hesed the inferior partner depends on the kindness of the superior to meet a desperate need.
– In this case Abraham’s servant is putting himself in the position of the inferior partner by asking Rebekah’s family to show kindness, loyalty or hesed to Abraham, by giving their permission for Rebekah to marry Isaac
The point is, marriage is an act of hesed
– God intended marriage to be characterised by kindness, mercy, steadfast love and loyalty
– The hesed of marriage isn’t a one off thing though – it’s an on-going commitment that provides security for the whole family
We note the concern for Rebekah’s welfare & security in the speech that Abraham’s servant gives…
– In verse 35 the servant says that his master Abraham is wealthy, with the implication that Rebekah will be looked after financially
– Then in verse 36 the servant says that Isaac was born when Sarah was very old, implying that Isaac is still young and so Rebekah will be marrying someone close to her age
– Also in verse 36 the servant says that Isaac will inherit everything – again implying that Rebekah will be secure financially
– In verse 37 the servant goes on to say that Abraham won’t let Isaac marry any of the local Canaanite girls – so Rebekah’s family know that Rebekah will be the only wife, she won’t have to compete with other women
– In all these ways Abraham’s servant is reassuring Rebekah and her family that marrying Isaac is a good deal – it will mean security for her
We might think this emphasis on wealth & prospects is a bit mercenary – where’s the romance in talking about money? But in that culture practical concerns were more important than romance
– If you were a father (or a brother) then you needed to know that your daughter (or sister) would be taken care of
Often at the beginning of a romantic relationship there is a kind of blindness – when we see the other person through rose tinted glasses and we kind of ignore or overlook their bad points
– Not only that but common sense sometimes goes out the window and we have this false sense of security
– ‘All I need is the air that I breathe to love you’, as the song goes
– Well, air is a good start but you also need an income and a roof over your head and a community of people around you to lend you support
– The practical stuff matters and you need to get that sorted, through good honest conversation, before you get married – that’s partly what pre-marriage counselling is about
Marriage is an act of God, serving His purpose
– And (Godly) marriage is an act of hesed, providing security
In many ways marriage has lost its meaning in our society today
– Most people these days don’t think of marriage as something that God is involved in – theirs is a cord of two strands, not three
– A lot of marriages are characterised by violence, unfaithfulness and insecurity, rather than the security created by kindness, steadfast love and loyalty that God intends
At its best marriage points to our relationship with Christ
– Marriage is meant to be a living parable or a picture of the kind of the union (or relationship) Jesus wants to have with people
– A relationship that serves a greater purpose beyond itself – God’s purpose
– A relationship characterised by security born of hesed
When marriage is dishonoured or abused people lose the vision of what a relationship with God (through Christ) could be like
– By the same token, when marriage is honoured and functions as God intended, people catch a glimpse of the mystery of union with Jesus
In a few moments we are going to share communion together
– Communion is a sacred ritual in which Christians remember & celebrate the mystery of our union with God through Christ
– The musicians will come now and lead us in song as we prepare our hearts
Questions for discussion or reflection
1.) What stands out for you in reading this Scripture and/or in listening to the sermon?
2.) What is your experience of marriage?
– E.g. this could be the model/example you inherited from your parents’ marriage, or it might be your own experience of being married, or divorced, or widowed, or single, etc.
– How has your experience shaped your understanding of, and attitude to, marriage?
3.) What is the main point of the servant’s retelling of the events of chapter 24?
– In what sense is marriage (generally) an act of God?
– In what sense is Isaac & Rebekah’s marriage specifically an act of God?
– If you are married, how is God involved in your marriage?
4.) What larger purpose does marriage serve beyond the happiness of the couple?
5.) What do we mean when we say: marriage is an act of hesed, providing security?
6.) If you are contemplating marriage, what could you do to sort out the practicalities before you get married?
– What might some of those practicalities be?
– Or, if you are already married, what you would suggest an engaged couple talk about before the wedding day? (What advice would you give your kids?)
7.) Take some time this week to reflect on how the mystery of marriage (at its best) points to the mystery of union with Christ