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A Husband for Rebekah

I think I have told you the story of my conversation with my grandmother about her decision to move to Alberta at the turn of the last century to homestead. I say her decision because she was not married to my grandfather when she left home.

They were both born and raised on Prince Edward Island and met there. She was a girl of nineteen and he a man of thirty. Both were single. He took a liking to her and said he was headed west to pioneer and asked her to join him and be his bride on the frontier. What happened was he went first then she followed by rail, virtually crossing the continent to meet the man she would wed. Theirs was a stormy relationship and one of many hardships and perils. She once had what would be called a near death experience and used to tell us how she saw the gates of heaven. She was a very plain spoken woman and there was . . .

Then they said, ?Lets call the girl 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.  Genesis 24:57-58

I think I have told you the story of my conversation with my grandmother about her decision to move to Alberta at the turn of the last century to homestead. I say her decision because she was not married to my grandfather when she left home.

They were both born and raised on Prince Edward Island and met there. She was a girl of nineteen and he a man of thirty. Both were single. He took a liking to her and said he was headed west to pioneer and asked her to join him and be his bride on the frontier. What happened was he went first then she followed by rail, virtually crossing the continent to meet the man she would wed. Theirs was a stormy relationship and one of many hardships and perils. She once had what would be called a near death experience and used to tell us how she saw the gates of heaven. She was a very plain spoken woman and there was no doubt that she meant every word of what she said.

Years later in my early teens I asked her what had possessed her to leave her green and pleasant home on the Atlantic to journey to the plains to marry a man she hardly knew. Her answer was succinct. "For the adventure of it, lad."  Her name was not Rebekah. It was Sarah. I think of my grandmother, Sarah Birt when I read the passage where Rebekah's family ask if she wants to go with this stranger to a place she has never been to marry a man she has never seen. For Laban and Rebekah's mother that was too hasty and needed to be thought about. But when asked there is no suggestion of hesitation. She says simply and decisively, "I will go."  And she does.

On a camel to Caanan

When this story is spoken about it is usually from the point of view of a bride for Isaac. That's how it is written in Genesis. Isaac needs a bride and Abraham neither wants him to marry a local Caananite girl, or travel back to his family home to find himself a wife. Instead a trusted servant is sent in search of a bride.
How he finds Rebekah is a story of God at work and a story of adventure and romance.

But it is also a story of how Rebekah finds a husband.
She is not a passive by-stander in the drama. It is her energy and hospitality as well as her beauty that bring her stage front and center. It is her sense of boldness and adventure that put her on a camel to Caanan.

We see shades of her father-in-law to be, Abraham. God comes to him as says, "leave your home in Ur and go to a land I will show you." And Abraham's response is to go. He and Sarah head out for parts unknown just because God has called them to go.

Hundreds of years later, one of his descendants, a man named Isaiah, is in the temple and has a vision of God.
God asks, "who can I send and who will go for me?"
Isaiah in the spirit of his ancestor says simply, "Here am I Lord, send me."

On the shore of Lake Galilee Jesus is talking with some fishermen. He says to them, "come follow me and I will make you fishers of men." Mark's gospel says, "immediately they left their nets to follow Jesus.

In pastoral care, there are many occasions in which the helper has little to say or do. It is just your willingness to be present that is the grace of God. But before you can be present, you have to be willing to go. Many times to go not knowing what you will find or what you will say or do. But God has called you and so you go.

God has called you.
Have you given God your yes?
Yes, I know, we all think that we are singularly unqualified.
Abraham's servant has no idea who he will find or what he will do once he does find someone.
But he prays that the angel of God will go before him and give him success.
And off he goes.
God puts his claim on us all. For what is up to God.
But you have to say "yes" in your heart.
And then when the request comes, you have to go.
Few actually are called to move, but we are all called to act.
What have you been called to do?

It may not be a camel to Caanan, or a slow boat to China, but the road from your driveway is the most important portion of the trip.

The Blessed Bride

Rebekah is asked what she will do, and her answer is , "I will go."
So she is sent with this unnamed servant to marry a man none of them knew, except that he was a relative in a far off land, and apparently well to do judging by the gifts Abraham's servants brought with him.
The family send her with a blessing.

And they blessed Rebekah and said to her,
?Our sister, may you increase
to thousands upon thousands;
may your offspring possess
the gates of their enemies.?

Which is precisely what did happen.
One thing that I am fairly certain about is that we under estimate the power of blessings.
I say, fairly certain because I do not know how everyone values them.
We use blessings at the end of formal occasions, and are usually a sign that its over. Time to go home.
But they were not used that way in Biblical times. Maybe some saw them that way, but there is much evidence that a blessing was not easily given and was assumed to have effect, depending on who spoke it.

A peculiar passage in Numbers 22 tells the story of a man named Balaam who is hired by the kind of Moab to curse the Hebrew army as they made their way from Egypt toward Caanan. Instead of cursing them, Balaam blesses them helping to ensure their victory over Moab.
Those people believed in the power of blessing and cursing.
We might think it just superstition, but maybe we have just lost our awareness of the power of the spirit.

Rebekah is not sent loaded with gold, but she is sent with a clear blessing.
Bless your children and your grandchildren and anyone who you think needs blessing.
Be careful of your curses, and I don't mean a foul tongue, but that is good to curb as well.
Do not lay a curse on anyone you love, or that you should love.

How do we bless?
We speak a word of encouragement when a person is down.
We offer a word of forgiveness when a person is tied up in guilt.
We affirm verbally in their hearing that God has his hand on them and loves them and will care for them.
We pray a blessing that is appropriate to the occasion.

A man I worked with when I was doing chaplaincy named Michael told me this story:
He had grown up as an adopted child then as an adult came unexpectedly to discover the identity of his birth family.
He had been sent away from home shortly after birth, but had brothers and sisters he had never met.
When he met them it was a revelation because he saw himself in them all.
Shortly after this revelation, his mother fell victim to a stroke and lay in a Vancouver hospital in coma.
Michael, a registered nurse was the first to arrive at his birth mother's bedside.
He told me how he sat with her and because of his knowledge in nursing the elderly knew what he needed to do.
He spoke to her in her coma.
He told her he knew she was there and that she must not give up.
He told her that he loved her and that he had come to her.
He did not say this, but I suspect there words of forgiveness as well.
After days in her coma she rallied and remembered her son's words calling her back.

Now he could have refused to go. She had abandoned him at birth, so why should he?
Or he could have sat beside her and told her all the sad stories from his childhood.
He could have cursed her. And maybe she might have died.
But he didn't.

The minute he heard, he went.  He didn't call it a call from God, but a call from God is no matter who delivers the message.
And he blessed her.
And she lived.
He later discovered that his mother sent him away for his own sake. She feared for him and as hard as it was believed he would be saved only by being sent away...sort of like Moses, but there was no boat in the bulrushes.
He blessed her.
She became a blessing to him.

When God calls, be ready to go.
Bless the people around you.
Do it in their hearing and out of it.
It's no harder to bless than to curse and the results are so much better.
Let me bless you now.

Prayer: God of heaven and earth, hear this prayer and bless this your people. Fill them with your love and your adventure. Make them a blessing to those to whom you will send them. In Jesus name. Amen

Preached July 3, 2005
Dr. Harold McNabb
West Shore Presbyterian Church
Victoria, British Columbia

Sources:
Brueggemann, Walter, The Old Testament; The Canon and Christian Imagination, Westminster Knox, 2003
Sailhamer, John H Genesis, The Expositor's Bible Commentary, Zondervan, 1990
Von Rad, Gerhard, Genesis, The Old Testament Library, Westminster, 1972
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