Posts Tagged ‘Isaac’

women and storyAbraham protected himself by claiming that Sarah was his sister in the land of Abimelek (Abimilech) and here, Isaac does the same thing, in the same geographical area, with another king (perhaps a son?), also called Abimelek (Abimilech). Scholars are not in agreement about these accounts since they are mirror of one another in so many ways. But for my purposes, they cause a completely different resonance: one that makes my blood boil if you want to know the truth.

When the men of that place asked him about his wife, he said, “She is my sister,” because he was afraid to say, “She is my wife.” He thought, “The men of this place might kill me on account of Rebekah, because she is beautiful.” [Genesis 26:7, NIV, emphasis mine] (See Genesis 20 for Abraham’s version.)

In some quarters, commentators have said that these parallel stories show God’s protection over the patriarchs and the beauty of their women. How swell. But in neither story, as told by the Old Testament historians, is there much information about the women and the circumstances in which they found themselves as a result of their husbands clever misinformation (lies). The reason for their deception, in both cases, was to protect their own lives because the ruler might kill the husband to acquire the wife. But a sister? Piece of cake, just hand her over (with gifts from the household of the King to the patriarch, I’m sure).

And so the women, beautiful they may have been, were thrust into the households of foreigners. Nice. Convenient and cunning.

I am more than aware that culturally, in those days, women were a type of property or chattel. They were owned by their husbands and subservient to the lord of the house. Despite these restraints, many women of that period still accomplished great things and often, with courage, they turned their world, the Esthers and Abigails and for all we know, many who went unnamed. But these accounts are few and far between.

Women are a often strong and flexible and most tenacious. They can take a bad situation and make it better. They can tolerate much. They are survivors. But not all women. Too many other women fall in the face of men who strike with force to gain their will. Other women self-medicate to beat back emotional pain. And still others eat until their bodies betray them altogether and beauty is no longer apparent.

I suppose Abraham and Isaac could be commended for their clever little deception. They both gained immeasurably by it and found much favor from the Abimileks in their sojourns. But for the women, it was a sacrifice. And I want to remember that.

As a contemporary reader of scripture, I often remind myself that it’s critical to look between the lines, to pray and contemplate the untold story. So often, scripture time is compressed into a single phrase but it’s really months or years. And in those time frames, there are women living, crying, hoping, and maintaining their faith, often in the face of trial. whats_your_story

For my sisters in faith today, I challenge you, don’t read like a man. Read from your unique femaleness. For it may only be us who hear and see and can recognize those underlying truths. In the centuries since those days, many women’s stories have been lost. We need to remember and we need to repeat our own narratives, to our daughters, to our nieces, to our girlfriends.

Tell your story. No one else is more qualified than you.

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hamsterPoor Esau. I mean it, really. Loses his birthright at the hands of his clever brother and then loses his blessing. In the natural order, he was “due” both of these things, and yet, at birth, it was prophesied while still in the womb that one would be stronger than the other and the older would serve the younger. Isaac’s blessing merely hammered that one home.

Genesis 27:34-35
When Esau heard his father’s words, he burst out with a loud and bitter cry and said to his father, “Bless me—me too, my father!” But he said, “Your brother came deceitfully and took your blessing.”

So, what is left for Esau? What blessing does he get? Nothing much to write home to Mom about: no fruitfulness from the earth, no dew from heaven, live by the sword and serve your brother.

Like a little hamster on a wheel, much energy with no reward. Esau’s fate was being put through a very narrow opening. He lost so much and did not realize the true seriousness of it until it was too late.

Am I the same? Haven’t there been warnings along the way? Didn’t I know my choices were taking me down the road? Didn’t I sense trouble? I did, but didn’t trust it. I just kept on. Forged ahead. Assumed it was fine. All would be well.

Of course, in some ways, that is true. God showed up and did some circumstantial transformation. But there was a great cost. There were many losses along the way. I didn’t come to the things of God until my late twenties, a failed marriage, a failed career, and an isolation that can be called loneliness in the midst of chaos.

We all make mistakes in those years, don’t we? If only, if only, we had paid attention. Esau didn’t. I didn’t. So, the end has come out better than I deserved. Truly. But I know, in my heart, I know, I missed the blessing originally intended for me. I neglected the opportunity.

But, the grace of God is still greater than my error. I have a life, a family, children, a house, a car, a job. I have a comfort that is beyond anything I expected or deserved. I see that clearly. But I still remember those other days, those days when I lost the blessing intended for me. Not by the deceit of another, but by my own near-sightedness.

Forgive me Father.

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Here we go again. That’s all I could think about while reading this chapter where the current Patriarch (in this case Isaac) lies about his relationship with his spouse in the name of “protecting the household” [i.e. himself]. The story is  almost identical to the Abraham ruse including the same Philistine players. What’s the point?

Genesis 26:7
When the men of that place asked him about his wife, he said, “She is my sister,” because he was afraid to say, “She is my wife.” He thought, “The men of this place might kill me on account of Rebekah, because she is beautiful.”

In Wikipedia, a “Jewish Encyclopedia” article states that the parallel stories in all likelihood were used to dramatize and accentuate the beauty of the women involved. In other words, the best way to explain a woman’s beauty is through the machinations men go through to possess her or to be near her or to know her.

What is beauty? We all know, it is in the eye of the beholder. What do we go through today to be beautiful?

One of my favorite plays is the Rainmaker by N. Richard Nash in which a charismatic charlatan is able to draw out a young woman’s belief in herself and her personal beauty. If only every woman could see her own beauty and not depend on culture for approval or confirmation.


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EsauLook, Esau was a simple man. He enjoyed simple pleasures and an outdoor life. Although he becomes bitter when his twin brother Jacob betrays him later, there is no real animosity at this point in the story. Esau, like most young men and teenagers, was not forward thinking. He was living a good life and no reason to believe anything would change. What would his birthright change for him?

Once when Jacob was cooking some stew, Esau came in from the open country, famished.He said to Jacob, “Quick, let me have some of that red stew! I’m famished!” (That is why he was also called Edom. Jacob replied, “First sell me your birthright.”“Look, I am about to die,” Esau said. “What good is the birthright to me?”

I looked it up, the implications of losing one’s birthright as first born son. Financially, it would be substantial, since the birthright actually takes the value of another son. Therefore, if Esau and Jacob were the only sons, the inheritance would be divided three ways: one for Jacob and two for Esau because of his birthright. But it’s possible, in Esau’s eyes, he didn’t need it or want it. Abraham was a truly wealthy man, like the Bill Gates of our world, sometimes the difference between inheriting 14 million or 7 million is almost moot. It’s a lot of money either way.

But we are a nation of money counting. Why, even people who share lottery tickets figure out their share before a single number has been drawn. We cannot imagine anyone not wanting their “fair share.”

Of course, this is all speculation. Perhaps it is like the commentators say, Esau was such a buffoon, he gave up his birthright share for a cup of soup. Maybe he didn’t really consider it binding. Who knows? But clearly, it was Jacob who was intent on the omen of God’s words to his mother, that he, the younger, would rule the older. Perhaps Jacob was the studious one and knew that the family laws of first born would prevent the predicted outcome. He just had to be sure. And like his grandparents Abraham and Sarah, he believed he had to step in and help things along. Jacob, taking matters into his own hands (along with Mom), in an effort to hurry things along, changed the course of everything.

How often do I do the same thing? How often do I push matters along because God seems to be acting (or reacting) too slowly?

God forgive me for taking advantage of the Esau’s in my life who don’t see situations the way I see them. Forgive me for leapfrogging over those people and their way of life. Forgive me for not trusting your way, your timing, your promises.

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Photo by Erich Lessing

Used by permission
© Erich Lessing

I keep trying to understand the movements of these ancient peoples. I guess I’d have to go back to school in Old Testament studies to really comprehend the places and names and how they correlate to today’s maps.  And yet, even with my limited knowledge, I enjoy making the small discoveries, like the meaning the place Isaac lived after Abraham’s death and its relationship to Hagar [Genesis 16:7].

Genesis 25:8-9a; 10b-11
Then Abraham breathed his last and died at a good old age, an old man and full of years; and he was gathered to his people. His sons Isaac and Ishmael buried him in the cave of Machpelah near Mamre . . . There Abraham was buried with his wife Sarah. After Abraham’s death, God blessed his son Isaac, who then lived near Beer Lahai Roi [Well of the Living One Seeing Me].

I’m assuming the name of this well was carried down by word of mouth because of Hagar. She saw God through the Angel who told her to return to Sarai, her mistress, and to believe in the future of her son, Ishmael.

Now, after all that Isaac had been through, both he and his half-brother, Ishmael, bury their father near the great trees of Mamre, and Isaac moves his household to this undoubtedly plush area near the river and the primary trade route between Egypt and the north. Isaac, too, wanted to be seen by God. I want to be seen by God too. Don’t we all?

Don’t we all want the intimacy of being seen, being known, being embraced by a loving God? This is, after all, the promise of Christ all along: despite it all, God sees you and accepts you . . . accepts me. Just so.

Come to the well and drink. Be seen. And, of course, once that “door” is open, I can see too. (Like the old refrain when having one’s picture taken in a crowd: if you can see the camera, the camera can see you.)

God is not looking through dense shrubs or hiding behind the clouds. God is within through the Holy Spirit. That is Well of the Living One Seeing Me. Right here.

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RebekahAbraham is old, really old, and decides to once again, take matters into his hands to find a wife for Isaac, who must be around forty by then. Abraham sends his highest ranking servant (unnamed throughout the story) to the land of his ancestors to find a wife. The servant puts out a kind of “fleece” to determine which maiden is the one. Rebekah, daughter of Bethuel, passes the test. And off she rides, maids & nurse in tow.

Genesis 24:67
Isaac brought her into the tent of his mother Sarah, and he married Rebekah. So she became his wife, and he loved her; and Isaac was comforted after his mother’s death.

I’m sure there are a number of wedding rituals that were still in place even in those times but unfortunately, these are not shared through this story. Rebekah agrees to travel right away (which smacks of “get me out of this family,” an escape route that many young women take) and takes on the adventure of a lifetime.

Rebekah is going to an unknown land just like Abraham did those many years earlier. She only has the promise from a servant, an array of fine gifts and gold, and the hope of a future. She had tremendous courage, I think, as well as curiosity. Rebekah embraced change.

I wish I knew more of what must have happened within the summary text, “Isaac brought her into the tent of his mother.” Was there a ceremony? Or was it merely a matter of having relations with the woman to secure their marriage bond? Is there significance to it being his mother’s tent, or did that simply signify the tent for women? Was it a harem like situation where all the women of the household lived together?

And more interesting still is that Rebekah became the woman who brought comfort to Isaac at the loss of his mother. I cannot help but think that Isaac was estranged from his father Abraham after the great testing on the mountain. At least, I don’t believe they were close. Instead, Isaac gave his heart to his mother. And when she passed, he felt alone and engaged in the building of his own herds and belongings. And although he did not take a wife, I’m pretty sure he was no “40 year old virgin.” There were slaves and concubines undoubtedly and maybe even children, but these would not inherit the promises of God. They were of such insignificance, they are not named or identified. Even Rebekah came from some wealth, since she traveled with her own entourage of nurse and maids.

And so it is, that the progression of God’s plan for building a nation is finally moving again. The entire process had stopped at Isaac’s apparent reluctance to take a wife.

But once Rebekah arrives, he accepts her, he marries her, and more importantly, he loves her. This love statement could have been excluded but it is here for a reason. At this point in the story, Isaac loves, that is, he cares about his new wife more than himself. He is sensitized to her needs and her desires. He wants to please her. He wants to nurture her. He wants her to thrive and be happy. He loves her.

How often does the story begin this way? My story did too. What happens? How do we lose that adventure and love? Did God change his mind? It was a match made in heaven. So was mine. How do we lose sight of God’s gift to one another? Why do so many life events cool our ardor, our belief, our joy?

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nose ringThey’re coming back into fashion, nose rings, but not with the same significance they had in ancient Israel. In fact, most circular jewelry spoke of a kind of protection and when Abraham’s servant (never named) gives Rebekah the nose ring and bracelets, she knows this is the beginning of a bridal negotiation.

Genesis 24:21-22
Without saying a word, the man watched her closely to learn whether or not the Lord had made his journey successful.When the camels had finished drinking, the man took out a gold nose ring weighing a beka [5.5 grams] and two gold bracelets weighing ten shekels [110 grams].

I tried to find some additional information about the significance of the nose ring in that era, but did not have much luck in a cursory search. However, I was surprised to find a bridal engagement ring offered on Ebay. Go figure, what goes around comes around.

In general, jewelry had a different significance in that time. It was easily transportable wealth and much like some contemporary tribes of today, women would wear their wealth both symbolically and intentionally. Jewelry is a sign of success.

But then, that still holds true today except that most of us don’t have the kind of wealth that allows us to wear authentic carat-laden diamonds or other precious stones. Instead, we have created imitations. We want the “look” without the reality.

Am I turning this tendency toward my spiritual life as well? Do I want merely the appearance of relationship with God, with Spirit within? Or do I want the more costly genuine version? Am I willing to make the necessary sacrifices to get it?

Unfortunately, I know my answer is still a wimpy “no.” I’d like to believe I am going in the right direction but I also feel myself holding back. God is offering me solid gold nose rings and I’m balking at how I might look. Plus, if I take the ring, doesn’t that indicate I am accepting the terms?

I am the bride of Christ, as a believer, it’s a unique description. But how often do I really walk that out and wear the complete garment, nose ring and all?

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