“Faith of Foolishness?”
This Sunday we will talk about the story of Rebekah becoming Isaac’s wife. As the story goes, Abraham and Sarah, even though they chose Canaan as the place to create their generational wealth, their discriminatory attitude rears its ugly head as they decide that Canaanite women are not good enough for the heir of their wealth.
It is important to note that Abraham had two other wives besides Sarah, Hagar, the Egyptian, and Keturah, although the text does not specify her heritage, it is understood that she was Canaanite, through whom he had seven children, and many other unnamed concubines through whom he had countless children. The Bible proudly claims that Abraham gave everything he had only to Isaac and his other children were given “gifts” and sent away. Today we would label Abraham a “deadbeat father” and “player” as he used many women and left a trail of children without a “father”. We have to remember that he is our biblical patriarch, the founding hero of the Judeo, Christian, and Islamic faith.
So, when Isaac is around 30, Abraham decides that a suitable wife must be found for him from “back home” and a servant is trusted with the task. We are guessing at Isaac’s age because Sarah had him at 99 and she died at 127, and the story takes place after her death. From the way the story unfolds, we also assume that the servant was one of the persons who left Ur with Abraham and is a trusted servant of more than 60 years.
The servant, feeling the weight of the task, takes no responsibility for choosing the right person, but leaves everything to chance; he takes no initiative. As the story is told, we are left to believe that he comes up with a way for a girl to show her virtue, and it happens just as he had hoped. On top of that, the woman also happened to be a relative.
However, this is the story of how the servant had asked for a certain type of woman that is repeated in exact words. This is an oral tradition’s method of emphasis through repetitive details to indicate the story’s focus is not on the factual nature of the story but on the meaning. In this case, the moral character of the woman is the focus of the story.
Interestingly, the stories of patriarch men, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob are told with all their warts, but their wives are painted as saints, especially Rebekah.
The story also highlights Rebekah’s virtues. When the servant requests Rebekah, she is given the power to make the final decision. She agrees to go with the stranger she just met, to a strange land she has never been to, to marry a strange man she has never met. The story says people believed the words of the servant and “this was from God”.
We are left to ask, “Is this faith or foolishness?” To many faith is foolishness. To believe in a benevolent divinity is just too much for some, but for others, not having a caring God leaves them hopeless. One of the values of the oral traditional stories is that patriarchs are not cleaned up as perfect people, but their stories are told with all their warts and failures. But in almost a contrast, the stories of women are about faith. Women were powerless in society and they had no alternative to hope in a God who cared about them.