When I was a kid, my older sisters would say, “He’s useless.”
No. That’s not quite right. They were exasperated, so they’d sigh, “He’s use-less. MOM!”
That’s better. No doubt I was the useless younger brother of two older sisters.
I probably still am. Both of them are nurses, who have spent hours upon hours actively helping people in need. Me? I teach and write and hang with students—and quip, “I’m the wrong kind of doctor. I’m the useless kind.”
Well, today meet useless younger brother Isaac. Or, really, useless younger step-brother Isaac. Ishmael’s younger brother.
In fact, Isaac isn’t just useless. He’s more like the amazing disappearing patriarch.
The lectionary text for this week is Genesis 24—the fascinating story of how Rebekah comes to marry Isaac. It’s really about the amazing disappearing man. Just glance at key moments throughout Isaac’s life:
- He doesn’t even find himself his own wife. Abraham sends a servant instead. Isaac is nowhere to be seen.
- He carries wood up the mountain, let’s himself be strapped in, and barely raises an eyebrow.
- When he’s blind and nearly dead, where is he? Lying on his bed, giving the right blessing to the wrong son.
See? Isaac is the amazing disappearing ancestor.
Thank goodness his servant meets Rebekah in a story that can’t really be paraphrased or summarized. Genesis 24 has to be read—and read slowly—to be savored. It's full of twists and turns and plenty of laughs, if you know where to look.
When Isaac’s servant meets her at a well, Rebekah runs to and fro, doing more than she is asked to do before she is asked to do it! Then—get this—when it comes time to decide if she will leave to be Isaac’s wife, her mother doesn’t decide. Her brother doesn’t decide. They ask Rebekah! She decides.
So off she goes with Isaac’s servant.
As she draws near to her new home, Isaac is out in the field one evening. He looks up and sees camels coming. Now I’d expect him to do something, right? After all, his father Abraham would get up in the morning and do whatever needed to be done by dawn.
Isaac looked up, saw camels coming.
And ran to them? Nope.
And greeted them? No.
And at least wondered who was riding them? Not at all.
Isaac looked up, saw camels coming—and the next verb belongs to Rebekah.
Now Isaac had come from Beer-lahai-roi, and was settled in the Negeb. Isaac went out in the evening to walk in the field; and looking up, he saw camels coming. And Rebekah looked up, and when she saw Isaac, she slipped quickly from the camel. (Genesis 24:62-63)
Slipped quickly is putting it mildly. This Hebrew word, when you first meet it in your introductory grammar, is translated, fall.
Rebekah dove off her camel.
And then she did what Isaac rarely did. Her curiosity piqued, she asked a question: “Who is the man over there, walking in the field to meet us?” (She’s giving Isaac more credit than he deserves—or maybe he was, at last, walking toward them.)
That’s pretty much the gist of the relationship between Isaac and Rebekah. We learn in Sunday or Sabbath school about Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and that’s true enough when we are talking about Israel’s patriarchs. But look at the verbs, note the activity, how the story runs through Rebekah. The story-line is really Abraham-Rebekah-and Jacob.
Rebekah, whose brother deferred to her.
Rebekah, whose husband deferred to her.
Rebekah, whose sons deferred to her.
If you want to talk about women’s roles or male leadership, then stay away from the stories about Rebekah in Genesis.
Don't touch them.
Don't even glance at them.
Because the story this week is about an amazing disappearing ancestor and his extraordinary wife.
Or, better yet, it's about Rebekah and her Amazing Disappearing Husband!
Photo from Google Images: Johann Carl Loth, Elizarus and Rebekah at the Well (Germany, 1670s) https://www.arthermitage.org/Museum-of-the-Academy-of-Arts-Petrograd.html