Genesis 24 – Isaac gets a Wife
In this chapter we are far from 21st Century conventions! First, the oath - putting a hand on the “thigh” (near the genitals) is a practice found in many cultures. Not ours (thankfully).
Second, sending a servant to fetch Isaac a wife is far from the modern practice. Again, arranged marriage has been practiced in many cultures and used to be common in Western culture. The best argument I’ve ever heard for it is that “young adults have no idea what marriage is about, so how can you trust them with such a big decision. Maybe people who’ve been married are better positioned.” It is true that few who take the vows of marriage understand the momentousness of the promises they take. But count me skeptical that every parent understands either. Plus, in the history of arranged marriages, we’ve seen lots of other motivations besides the happiness of the couple frequently enter into arrangements.
We don’t have arranged marriages in the West because, starting about the 11th Century, Natural Law Theologians arose. They took Romans 2 14-15 as a starting point:
Indeed, when Gentiles, who do not have the law, do by nature things required by the law, they are a law for themselves, even though they do not have the law. They show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts sometimes accusing them and at other times even defending them.
Natural Law Theologians read these verses and concluded that everyone has a conscience. In other words, you don’t need the 10 Commandments to know right from wrong. It followed from this that women ought to decide whom to marry, not their parents. On this basis, Natural Law Theologians campaigned against arranged marriage. It was a radical idea at the time. For some today, the idea that women are capable of making decisions about the things that impact their lives is still radical.
BTW: These verses lay the groundwork for theologians to appreciate the wisdom of pagan philosophers (such as Aristotle and others). Also, it was a short step from the idea that people can use reason to discern God’s moral law to the idea that people can use reason to discern the laws of nature (notice that the idea of law was retained!).
In this story, which is told in considerable detail, Rebecca has more say than Isaac!
Genesis 25:1-18 – Abraham Remarries, Dies, Genealogies
After Sarah’s passing, Abraham takes a wife, Katurah. Although the Genesis narrative will follow Isaac, here the loose ends are wrapped up and their genealogies preserved. One wonders what it meant for the original author and the community formed by the creation of the Bible. Did these stories explain the world in which they lived? Are they a reminder that God also cares about the “non-chosen”?
Genesis 25:19-34 – Sibling Rivalry
We now turn to the Jacob cycle, whose stories occupy half of Genesis. Before we turn to Jacob, notice that we don’t have many Isaac stories. Isaac appears as either son (preparing his own funeral pyre) or father (duped by his son and wife into bestowing blessing). Indeed, Rebecca plays a bigger part in the story. God reveals the divine plan to her (v. 23) and she will deceive Isaac to divert succession to Jacob. I suppose history books will not pay much notice to use either. Isaac is always the supporting actor. God’s got plans for us too!
Themes of the Jacob cycle include sibling rivalry. Of course, we saw Cain and Abel’s rivalry escalated to lethality. Lots of geographical place names are explained. There are also themes of wandering, barrenness, and visions. God works through human actions to accomplish the divine purpose. Jacob, whose name can be translated “heel sneak” becomes “Israel” (“one who fights God”) suggesting that his struggles with Esau, Rachel’s father, reflect a wrestling with God.
Jacob and Esau are rivals before they are born. One writer has said that children are like limbs on an apple tree, each grows in a unique direction, each seeking its own sunlight. Esau shops at Cabela's and Jacob… Brooks Brothers. The former sought his father’s approval, the latter his mother’s. Esau sells his birthright. Perhaps, he thought that the action or the birthright itself was insignificant.
Genesis 26 – History Repeats Itself
There is a lot of famine in the Bible. I think of it as similar to an economic recession. Then and now, it moves people around the map, from state to state and country to country. This time Isaac is instructed not to go Egypt. Economic refugees, even if they stay put, are vulnerable. This vulnerability is played out again when Isaac, out of fear, repeats his father’s ruse of playing his wife off as his sister. How often does fear cause us to do the wrong thing?
Genesis 27-28:9 – Isaac’s Blessing
The story of Jacob tricking his father into giving him the blessing is described in considerable detail. Rebecca is the mastermind and softens him up by preparing a delicious meal, but Jacob is aware that they aren’t going to be able to pull the wool over the old man’s eyes, if the father discovers that he isn’t hairy like his brother. While he is suspicious that his voice is Jacob’s, the goatskin is enough.
Esau is furious and begs for a blessing. It is worth considering what counts as blessing in families and how competitive siblings can get in attaining the blessing. Is it heirlooms? Money? Favor? Time? Bragging rights? A lawyer friend says that the worst thing you can do to a happy family is put a large pot of money in the middle of the room.
In verse 36, Esau asks why Jacob is Jacob (heel sneak) and in verse 41, vows to kill his brother. Rebecca hears of it and intercedes with Isaac to send Jacob out of town on a search for a wife to allow Esau to cool off. How many terrible things happen because people are unable to find a way to cool off.
Genesis 28:10-20 – Bethel
Alone. Fleeing for his life and traveling through unfamiliar territory, Jacob grows weary and sleeps. And while he sleeps, he dreams. And what a dream! Angels. God on the throne and God’s blessing and promise. It turns out that Jacob is not alone in this world.
You have God’s blessing too. True, it isn’t Jacob’s blessing. His calling is different than yours or mine (you can thank God for that!), but we have God’s promise to be with us through this life. We can trust that nothing in this life, not even death, can separate us from God’s love. God’s promise lifts the fear and anxiety that often accompany us on lonely journeys and when we face an uncertain future.
The place he stopped is only referred to as a “certain place” (verse 11). It is unremarkable. It was the place where the day ended. Only later does Jacob see that God is in this place and he did not know it. How often we fail to recognize that God is with us until later. Sometimes we realize how God has blessed our lives when we look back.
March 12 – 18: Genesis 24 - 28
March 19 – 25: Genesis 29 – 33
March 26 - April 1: Genesis 34 – 37
April 2 – 8: Genesis 38 – 41
April 9 – 15: Genesis 42 – 45
April 16 – 22: Genesis 46 – 47
April 23 – 29: Genesis 48 – 50