Proper 9 (14), Fifth Sunday after Pentecost, Year A
5 July 2020
Abraham and Sarah were given a son, who is named Isaac, after Sarah’s laughter when she learned of the prospect that she in her old age would bear a child.
Abraham and Sarah have experienced God’s faithfulness, even at a time when it was difficult for them to continue to trust in the promise. That Abraham had another son, Ishmael, with Hagar, Sarah’s maid, is testament to their wavering. It is not always easy to believe.
And while the story of the near sacrifice of Isaac is not about God’s testing but about God’s demonstration that unlike all other god’s, the God of Abraham and Sarah does not require human sacrifice, the story is witness to how difficult life can be and how difficult it can be to believe.
Today we find ourselves near the end of the Abraham story. Sarah has died and been buried, Abraham is old and expecting his own death. But for God’s promise of descendants as many as the stars of heaven (Genesis 15) to come true, Isaac must find a spouse.
Abraham may well have worried, as we might worry about our children, whether they will find a spouse, whether we think their spouse is suitable, or make a good parent, or even wants to be a parent.
The worries of Abraham are very much like our own worries, and anyone who wants to be a grandparent but it seems that grandchildren are a long way off, can relate.
And so Abraham dispatched his servant to find a spouse. His servant takes ten camels (to demonstrate the suitability of Isaac) and gifts of jewellery for the prospective bride and her family, but Isaac stays at home. Marriages were arranged, though the story reveals that Rebekah was beautiful and that she fell off her camel when she first saw Isaac, so there must have been some attraction. We can presume that Isaac stays at home because to leave the land of promise was not an option, it would have been an abandoning of God’s promise.
The story is told beautifully. The well is the meeting place. It is a place where marriage arrangements are made. In prayer to God the servant decides on the criteria, and before he can say “Amen”, Rebekah appears on the scene and does exactly as he had asked.
That she was to let him drink and offer to water his camels is undoubtedly a sign of sharing the same values. Rebekah understands the value of hospitality and thus is a suitable bride. That she is also beautiful (v.16) is also true , as is the fact that she was almost freakishly strong: She offered to provide water for the servants ten camels and each camel would drink between 75 and 110 L of water!
The servant then takes the jewellery and puts the jewellery on Rebekah, a sign of belonging, but also again a sign of the prosperity of Abraham.
Rebekah runs home and tells her mother about it, who surely must have wondered about the jewellery. Rebekah returns with her brother Laban who comes to check out the stranger and negotiate the terms.
Throughout the story there is acknowledgement of God’s steadfast love and faithfulness (vs.12, 14, 27, 49). It is often only in retrospect that we can discern God’s designs and God’s faithfulness, and so it may not be a coincidence that God’s steadfast love and faithfulness are the signs of God’s presence that permeate the story of Abraham seeking a wife for his son. After all, Abraham is old and ready to be buried with his ancestors and he can look back on a long life.
It is interesting how on one hand Abraham believes in God’s steadfast love and faithfulness, and yet on the other hand is not quite ready to let go. It is an apt description of the life of believers who live in the tension of building their life and making plans for the future, plans that we worry about, often more about whether we will be able to achieve them than whether our plans are in fact also God’s plans, while at the same time we believe in the guiding hand of God who guided Abraham’s servant to the well and provided a wife for Isaac, sign of the abiding love and faithfulness of God.
And while this episode concludes the Abraham story (Abraham remarries and is buried in chapter 25), and it seems as if Abraham got to see all that he needed to see, Abraham did not see how his son’s family dysfunctioned, whether Isaac and Rebekah did indeed produce offspring, and prior to the marriage of Isaac and Rebekah, Abraham had 175 years to worry about many things, including whether the promises of the God of steadfast love and faithfulness would ever be fulfilled. This is the tension of Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebekah, and the tension in which every believer finds themselves.
Not every challenge is easily resolved, not every life is a story neatly tied up and we who believe in God’s steadfast love and faithfulness are aware of the tension in which we live. And we recognize that the life with God does not mean that everything is always neatly resolved, that everything always works out, or that those who love God never face any hardship, only think of Covid, or of the Christians in Hong Kong, or of the Black Church.
And yet, God’s steadfast love and faithfulness remains.
There are a lot of things in life that don’t make sense. But without God they make even less sense.
Those who face hardship know the steadfast love and faithfulness of God and are strengthened in their witness and are able to testify to the presence of God not only when all things work out, but also in suffering.
In fact, it is the steadfast love and faithfulness of God that makes sense of all things, for what matters is God’s presence in all things. And so Brother Lawrence, the humble Carmelite monk of the 17th century was able to say that all will be well. We join Brother Lawrence when we sing, “It is well.”
All will be well because of the steadfast love and faithfulness of God, whose will it is to save and to redeem all things.