July 5: Genesis 24:34-38, 42-49, 58-67 and Psalm 45:10-17 or Song of Solomon 2:8-13 • Zechariah 9:9-12 and Psalm 145:8-14 • Romans 7:15-25a • Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30
In Genesis 24, the story of how Isaac gets a wife is told twice – first, in the story itself and second, when the servant – the oldest and presumably wisest of Abraham's servants, who remains nameless throughout the scripture reading – explains to the family of the bride why he has made this journey and wants to take their daughter away. The bride's family, by the way, is related: Isaac's father Abraham and Rebekah's paternal grandfather Nahor were brothers. Perhaps the family tie served to allay any anxieties among Rebekah's kin. After all, she wasn't marrying just any rich guy, sight unseen, but someone of their own tribe.
The servant – whom tradition has later named Eliezer, and whose function was more or less a chief staff person – had found Rebekah at a well. Eliezer was accompanied by ten camels laden with gifts including golden bracelets for the bride-to-be, supplies, and his own crew. What happens at the well (Genesis 24: 15-21) – a detail left out of the re-telling – is critical. Eliezer shows up in the evening, a strategic move allowing him to observe all the eligible women, who would have been getting water for the night ahead. The young woman who stands out, Rebekah, is both good-looking and a hard worker, drawing water not only for the servant and his crew but also for the ten camels. How much can a camel drink? According to Wikipedia, 53 gallons in three minutes.
One can only imagine the delight Eliezer must have felt at this moment. I mean, jackpot! Earlier in the story, when Abraham had given him the mission of finding a wife for Isaac, Eliezer must have wondered how he was going to find the right person for Isaac. Isaac had been depressed since the recent death of his mother Sarah, who had always put Isaac first, doing everything in her power to protect him. How could he find just the right woman for Isaac, the person everyone knew had to be treated as special? What would be the consequences if he brought back someone Isaac disliked?
Eliezer had asked Abraham what he should do if the woman he found did not want to come. It was an astute question. Abraham answered that if she didn't want to come, he was not to force her, adding that Eliezer would not be responsible for her choice in this matter. It seems that Abraham thought that his son's life partner, critical to the success of his family, would need to have her own agency. Abraham was also clear that a wife for Isaac was needed to build up his own fledgling group, for he added that under no circumstance was Isaac to go to live with her family.
A couple of things stand out here. First, Abraham and servant are doing all the thinking for Isaac, who is doing none for himself. Second, Rebekah was the perfect mate to continue the pattern of over-functioning for Isaac. Her display of hard-working eagerness to please in the camel-watering scene was made to order for a husband who was brought up to expect others to do all the work and all the thinking. His pampered boyhood had weakened Isaac, as the whole system made allowances for him.
Eliezer understood perfectly what his boss had asked him to do. The following morning, Rebekah's family resists her leaving immediately, asking that she be allowed to stay home for several days first. Eliezer politely declines to wait; when brought in and asked, Rebekah, who could not have failed to realize that she would be marrying the sole heir of an elderly man of considerable wealth, says that she will leave with him right away. Everyone, it seems, is in on the deal except Isaac, who does his part by immediately falling for Rebekah.
All of us, over our lifetime, continue to play out roles learned early in life. All of us are more or less astonished when the world does not respond favorably nor see things our way. Getting free of the automatic patterns we grew up with is hard. Isaac could blame Rebekah for doing all the work so well that he need not bother to try; she could blame him for never helping. And so it goes, until one person is willing to step back or step up, in spite of the resistance to change. The resistance is surprising. Everyone in the system – from Abraham to Eliezer to the staff to the children – is stuck in whatever functional place each is used to filling. The patterns were handed down from their parents, and to them from their parents. A change in one part of the system upsets everyone, even if it is a positive change!
Let's say Isaac for some reason tries to step up his functioning. Rebekah would resist this, as it makes her less important. Not only that, but other people in the system, even Abraham himself, would want the old Isaac back, the one he could focus his worries and attention on. Most of us – whether in an arranged marriage such as Isaac and Rebekah or based in our own choice – find ourselves somehow with exactly the life partner who fits with whatever patterns we bring to the relationship. The advantage – the jackpot, really – comes when one stops trying to change one's partner and instead sees the patterns one is stuck in, finding one's own contribution to the problems. Seeing what is possible to change within oneself is a good start. Getting to know one's own family story helps.
Morning: What stories or people in my family would I like to know more about? Who could I reach out to?
Evening: What did I notice about my part in family patterns today?
Psalm 145:14 The LORD upholds all who are falling, and raises up all who are bowed down.