You have probably heard of middle child syndrome. Middle child syndrome is the belief that middle children are excluded, ignored, or even outright neglected because of their birth order. I wonder if Isaac would consider himself a victim of ‘middle child syndrome’ or maybe more accurately middle forefathers syndrome? Isaac is the second of the three patriarchs of the Jewish and Christian faiths. Isaac, the promised heir of Abraham and Sarah has his story sandwiched between their story and his son Jacob’s story, who in turn goes on to father the twelve tribes of Israel including the famous Joseph and his technicolour dream. There is no section devoted to Isaac. He does not have a strong voice or do anything particularly exciting.
Since the focus has been on the patriarchs, Isaac and his wife, Rebekah, are often overlooked. It is important that we do not keep coming to the biblical text with an assumption that it is a man’s world and see how God blesses both men and women. Rather than focusing on just the patriarchs we need to also see the matriarchs and Rebekah in particular as the matriarch of this couple.
Over the last few weeks in my sermons on Sunday worship I have been exploring how God made good the promise to Abraham to make him the father of nations and that the promise was not just for Abraham but was also for Sarah. In this week’s Old Testament or Jewish scripture TANAKA reading we hear Rebekah is blessed that she may “become thousands of myriads; may your offspring gain possession of the gates of their foes.” While this blessing is a blessing from her family rather than direct from God she does become part of the continuation of the promise that God made to Abraham and Sarah.
I have gotten ahead of myself. Let’s back track and look at the beginning of their story. Their story starts after the death of Sarah, when Abraham is 136 years old and Isaac is 36. Abraham speaks with his senior servant, and has him swear that he will not take a Canaanite woman as his son’s wife but rather is to travel to the land of Abraham’s family and get a woman from there. It is interesting to note the servant’s question of what he should do if the woman does not want to come back with him. This question indicates that women do have choice. In contrast Isaac’s voice is silenced and it is unclear if he knows of the plan. Abraham is not concerned with the thought the woman may refuse and he tells his servant that:
“The Lord, the God of heaven, who took me from my father’s house and from the land of my birth, and who spoke to me and swore to me, ‘To your offspring I will give this land,’ he will send his angel before you,“
The servant goes “to Aram-naharaim, to the city of Nahor” and prays to the God of his master Abraham that he may succeed and know, see, discern the right girl by her response to his request for a drink. As the narrator introduces Rebekah to the reader there are a number of
signs she is the ‘right’ girl. For example her genealogy, “born to Bethuel son of Milcah, the wife of Nahor, Abraham’s brother”, and she is a virgin, “not known by a man” (Genesis 24:15-16). That she is the “right” one is confirmed when she performs all that the servant had prayed and introduces herself to him and says “We have plenty of straw and fodder and a place to spend the night.”
She ran and told her mother’s household about these things. Laban, her brother, ran out to the man and said, “Come in, O blessed of the Lord.” Then food was set before the servant to eat; but he said, “I will not eat until I have told my errand.” Which brings us to this weeks reading. The servants recounts the story to her brother Laban and Bethuel her father and asking “if you will deal loyally and truly with my master, tell me; and if not, tell me, so that I may turn either to the right hand or to the left.”
Laban and Bethuel answered “the matter has come from God we cannot say to you if it is wrong or right. Here is Rebekah before you take and go.” (Genesis 24:50) Although it seems that the men will make the decision and Rebekah will not be given voice, in the morning they called Rebekah, and ask her, “Will you go with this man?” She said, “I will.” So they sent away their sister Rebekah and her nurse along with Abraham’s servant and his men. And they blessed Rebekah and said to her,
“May you, our sister, become
thousands of myriads;
may your offspring gain possession
of the gates of their foes.”
It suggests this is a story of a strong woman who has an important part to play; a part that is divinely orchestrated.
The passage then jumps to Isaac who is out in the field. Rebekah sees Isaac and enquires of him. The servant identifies him as his master and Rebekah covers herself with a veil. There are a number of questions that we can ask the text at this point. Is the servant deceiving Rebekah, does Rebekah think that this is Abraham not Isaac or is Isaac the master now that he has ‘come of age’ and has a woman? The passage goes on to say:
“Isaac brought her into the tent of Sarah, his mother, and he took Rebekah and she became his wife Isaac loved her in place of his mother”
Rebekah has become the replace of Sarah. The baton has been passed from Abraham and Sarah to Isaac and Rebekah. We will hear more of their story next week.
Rev Tammy Hollands