Tag: Wedding

Story 39: Isaac’s Beloved

Genesis 24:1-27

Abraham was getting older, and he had lost his beloved wife.  Yet he had been greatly blessed by God in every way.  His mind turned to thoughts of Isaac, his son, and the future that lay ahead of him.  Isaac would inherit all of the vast wealth that Abraham had received from God’s hand over the years.  He would inherit his father’s power and reputation.  Most importantly, he had inherited the promises of God.  As Isaac moved into these high privileges and responsibilities, he needed a wife of his own.  Who would God choose for him to carry on the promises?

Think about how important it was to find a good wife for Isaac.  She would be the mother of all of Abraham’s descendants, the nation that God had promised.  Abraham had hundreds of servants, but for this job, he went to the one whose wisdom and decisions he trusted most.  This was his chief servant, the man whom Abraham had put in charge of everything he had.

Abraham said to him, “‘Put your hand under my thigh.  I want you to swear by the LORD, the God of heaven and the God of earth, that you will not get a wife for my son from the daughters of the Canaanites, among whom I am living, but will go to my country and my own relatives and get a wife for my son Isaac’” (Genesis 24:2c-4).

This might seem like a strange thing to ask for, but that is simply because we don’t understand the culture of the Ancient Near East.   Abraham was having his most trusted servant take an oath.  They didn’t have cheap pens and paper or computers to create contracts with. There was no overarching governments to enforce the law in Canaan.  Things like spoken oaths and covenants took on an importance that is hard for us to imagine.  A sign of the seriousness of this oath was that the servant made his promise while laying his hands on the very body of Abraham himself.  This oath was binding.  It was a huge responsibility.  If the servant did not carry it out, it was not only a violation against Abraham, the great prince.  It was a violation against God.

Abraham knew the customs and lifestyles of the Canaanite people.  The women of Canaan would bring false worship that violated his sacred faith.  They had ways of living that would bring trouble and strife to their home.  Marrying a Canaanite would bring the family of Abraham and Isaac into allegiance with people who were idolatrous and corrupt…and their wickedness was stubborn.  They sacrificed their children to the gods as a trade to receive blessings from them.  Prostitution was often an integral part their worship practices.  The deeply imbedded habits, cultural customs, and beliefs would not go away because a woman married his son.  In times of pressure, these practices were seen as the answer to the problem.  But Abraham’s answer was to trust his God, to wait on him and pray.  Abraham wanted a woman who was part of the same clan as he and Sarah had been a part of, whose deeply felt beliefs and ways of life would honor their God and bring Isaac honor and peace.

You may remember that Abraham had a brother named Nahor.  He had married Milcah, the daughter of Abraham’s other brother.  In those days, marrying widows who had been married to a brother was common.  It was protection for the family.  It insured that the women in the family were taken care of in a vulnerable land.  Over the years, Milcah had given birth to seven boys, and those boys had grown and begun to have children of their own.  Perhaps a good wife could be found for Isaac from among the grandchildren of Nahor.

Abraham and his great tribal clan were many miles from the family he had left behind.  His servant would have to travel long days on camels to reach there.  He would have to bring a magnificent dowry with him that would display the wealth of Abraham and please the family of the girl.  But he would not bring Isaac.  The family was going to have to decide to give their daughter to Isaac without ever having met him.  The girl would have to leave her family far behind before she ever met her husband.  Abraham’s chief servant was worried that once he had found a wife for Isaac, she wouldn’t want to come with him!  He asked, “‘What if the woman is unwilling to come back with me to this land?  Shall I then take your son back to the country you came from?’”

“‘Make sure that you do not take my son back there,’” Abraham said.  “‘The LORD, the God of heaven, who brought me out of my father’s household and my native land and who spoke to me and promised me an oath, saying, “To your offspring I will give this land”-He will send His angel before you so that you can get a wife for my son from there.  If the woman is unwilling to come back with you, then you will be released from this oath of mine.  Only do not take my son back there.’”

Genesis 24:6-8

 It is interesting that Abraham defined his life by the promises of God.  He understood the meaning of the events of his life according to God’s leading…and through his acts of obedience and response to God.  It was the LORD who brought him out of his father’s land and into the land of promise.  Not because of some psychological tweak in Abraham’s makeup.  Not because circumstances drove him there.  It was because of the hand of God on his life.  And now he saw that hand on Isaac’s life as well.

Abraham had great faith that God truly had prepared a woman to be the wife of Isaac.  The servant put his hand on Abraham’s thigh and swore to bring her back without the presence of Isaac.  Abraham had left that land long before.  It would not do for the family of God to return.

The servant swore an oath on Abraham’s thigh and ventured out for his task.  Some of Abraham’s other servants went along with him.  He took large amounts of gold and silver to bestow on the future bride of Isaac and her family.  He took ten of Abraham’s camels with him.  Camels were very expensive and a sign of great wealth.  If a family were to give their daughter to this servant, they would want to know they were sending her to a life of prosperity.  It was dangerous to travel through the wilderness with so many valuable treasures, but just as Abraham believed, the angel of the LORD was with them.

Abraham’s chief servant journeyed over the miles for many days.  He crossed back through all the lands that Abraham and Sarah had left behind.  It was evening when he arrived at the well of the town where the sons of Nahor lived.  He had the camels kneel down nearby.  As the sun lowered and the heated earth began to cool, the women began to come out to the well with their jugs.  They filled them up with water to use for washing and for cooking food for their families. As they each waited their turn, they chatted with the other women and discussed the day.

It was the perfect time for the servant to see the women of the town.  But there were so many of them!  Abraham’s servant prayed to God for help.  He believed that this task was an important part of God’s plan and that the Lord would guide him in it;

 

“‘O LORD, God of my master Abraham, give me success today, and show kindness to my master Abraham.  See, I am standing beside this spring, and the daughters of the townspeople are coming out to draw water.  May it be that I say to a girl, ‘Please let down your jar that I may have a drink,’ and she says, ‘Drink, and I’ll water your camels too-let her be the one you have chosen for your servant Isaac.  By this I will know that you have shown kindness to my master.’”

 

The servant gave the LORD a way to show which girl was the one that God had specially chosen to marry Isaac.  Now, it was very normal for a member of a town to offer to give a stranger a drink from the town well.  But offering to draw water for camels was a totally different story.  Especially if those camels had just come in from a long journey.  A camel can drink up to twenty-five gallons at a time.  The largest clay pots in that time would have held three gallons of water.  The girl would have to fill her heavy clay jug up eight times for each camel.  There were ten camels!  That means the right woman would have to offer to lift three gallons of water and carry it to the animals eighty times!

That was a very generous thing for Abraham’s servant to hope for! But the servant wanted to be sure that the one he chose for Isaac was truly the will of the Lord.  Any woman who would offer such help was not only kind and generous, but hard working.  God could work through the character of the right girl so that she would do this lavishly generous work for a total stranger.

And sure enough, before God’s servant had even finished praying his prayer, a young woman came out to the well with a jar on her shoulder.  Her name was Rebekah, and she was the daughter of Nahor, Abraham’s brother.  But the servant had no way of knowing that.  She was also very beautiful, and she was a virgin, a pure young woman at just the right age for marriage.  She let her jar down into the water and brought it back up again.

The servant saw her as his prayer ended and rushed over to her, asking for some water. She gave him her jug and said “Drink.”  She must have seen all of his camels, because then she said, “‘I’ll draw waters for your camels, too, until they have finished drinking.’”  Then this beautiful girl set to work, filling up her jugs in the well and pouring out the precious water into the trough for the thirsty camels.  Abraham’s servant watched her as she worked to see if she would truly do as she had said.  If she did, then his trip was abundantly successful.  She was the one that God had prepared for Isaac!

Rebekah filled the trough with water over and over until all ten camels were done drinking.  When she finished, she must have been tired!   But she was rewarded for her humble service to the visitor.  Abraham’s servant went to her and gave her a golden nose ring.  He took two golden bracelets and slid them on her arm.  Each bracelet weighed ten shekels each.  They were worth far more in gold than many farm workers could earn in a year.  They were valuable treasures indeed.    This was an act of great faith by the servant.  He didn’t even know who she was!  He just knew that God had answered his prayer!

“‘Whose daughter are you?’”  He asked her.  “‘Please tell me, is there room in your father’s house for us to spend the night?’”

“‘I am the daughter of Betheul, the son that Milcah bore to Nahor.  We have plenty of straw and fodder, as well as room for you to spend the night.’”

Wow!  The LORD had guided Abraham’s servant right to Nahor’s beautiful granddaughter!

The servant was overwhelmed at how perfectly God had answered his prayer.  He bowed down and worshipped the LORD, saying, “‘Praise be to the LORD, the God of my master Abraham, who has not abandoned His kindness and faithfulness to my master.  As for me, the LORD has led me on the journey to the house of my master’s relatives.’”

 

Story 173: Passion Week: On Watching and Waiting Well

Matthew 25:1-30

Vintage retro effect filtered hipster style travel image of burning candles in Buddhist temple. Tsuglagkhang complex, McLeod Ganj, Himachal Pradesh, India

Jesus and His disciples sat together on the Mount of Olives. After several years of hearing about the mysteries of the Kingdom of Heaven, Jesus was giving them insight into the glorious things that lay ahead for the future of humanity. He was also giving them grave warnings for those who do make the purposes of the Most High God a high priority in their lives. He did this by telling two parables.

The first parable was a tale of ten virgins at a wedding. According to Jewish custom, young unmarried girls were an important part of the wedding ceremony. In their tradition, the wedding ceremony took place at the bride’s house, and it often happened at night. The groom and his friends would join together at the groom’s house and celebrate as they made their way to the home of the bride. It was the job of the young virgins to go out and welcome the bridegroom as he came with his procession. After the wedding ceremony, the whole party would go back to the groom’s house for a great feast.

These are important things to know in order to understand the story Jesus was about to tell His disciples:

“‘Then the Kingdom of Heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish, and five were wise. For when the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them, but the wise took flasks of oil with their lamps. As the bridegroom was delayed, they all became drowsy and slept. But at midnight there was a cry, “Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.” Then all those virgins rose and trimmed their lamps. [That means they poured oil into them so they would continue to burn.] And the foolish said to the wise, “Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.” But the wise answered saying, “Since there will not be enough for us and for you, go rather to the dealers and buy for yourselves.” And while they were going to buy, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went in with him to the marriage feast, and the door was shut. Afterward the other virgins came also, saying, “Lord, lord, open to us.” But he answered, “Truly, I say to you, ‘I do not know you.’ Watch, therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.’”

Matthew 25:1-13

Wow. In some ways, this story seems kind of harsh. Those poor young girls, left out of the great feast because of their forgetfulness. Yet when we think about what choices they had made leading up to this sad outcome, we see how serious their mistake was. When a person places a high value on something, they think about it. If it is an event, they might put hours into preparation, carefully considering what they will wear and how they wish to present themselves through their behavior. For an event like a wedding, the amount of value put on the event is an indicator of the value that is placed on the couple getting married.

The choice of the five virgins who carefully brought extra oil shows they had thought ahead. They had planned in case the groom was late in coming and invested their money to have extra oil on hand. By comparison, the five virgins who brought no extra oil were showing the lack of importance of this moment to them. They wanted to receive the honor of participating without giving the honor due to those who had invited them.

In the Bible, the Lord Jesus is often described as the bridegroom who will come to take His Bride up to eternal life. This “Bride” is a metaphor for the Church, or all those who genuinely put their faith in Him. In this story, the ten virgins are like the people of our time, the ones who are waiting for the Bridegroom to come. If we are wise, we will be like the virgins who planned ahead to make sure they would be ready. We will choose to place tremendous value on that great moment when the Bridegroom finally comes to take us home. We will live our lives as those who are in waiting, using our lives as a time to prepare for His return.

The Lord went on with another parable. It has many of the same ideas:

“‘For it will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted to them his property. To one he gave five talents, to another two, and to another one, to each according to his ability. Then he went away. He who had received the five talents went at once and traded them, and he made talents more. So also he who had the two talents made two talents more. But he who had received the one talent went and dug in the ground and hid his master’s money. Now after a long time the master of those servants came and settled accounts with them. And he who had received the five talents came forward, bringing five talents more saying, “Master, you delivered to me five talents; here I have made five talents more.” His master said to him, “Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.” And he also who had the two talents came forward, saying, “Master, you delivered to me two talents, here I have made two talents more.” His master said to him, “Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.”

He also who had received the one talent came forward, saying, “Master, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you scattered no seed, so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours.” But his master answered him, “You wicked and slothful servant! You knew that I reap where I have not sown and gather where I scattered not seed? Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and at my coming I should have received what was my own with interest. So take the talent from him and give it to him who has the ten talents. For to everyone who has will more be given, and he will have an abundance. But from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away. And cast the worthless servant into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’”

Matthew 25:14-30

This story offers a great hope and a sharp rebuke. Each one of Jesus’ disciples throughout time has been given gifts that are meant to be used for the Kingdom of Heaven. How will we use them? If we use what we have faithfully, whether we have been given an abundance of gifts like the man with five talents, or less like the man with two talents, the Lord will be greatly pleased, and we will be called good and faithful servants. But for those who squander their time and do nothing with the gifts God gives them, it will be as if they did not know Jesus at all. They will be cast out with the nonbelievers as if they never knew Him. In truth, if someone chooses to believe that God is a harsh Master that takes more than He gives, then that person truly has not known Him or put his or her faith in Him.

Consider the epic promise this parable holds out for those who use their gifts for the Kingdom. They will be welcomed to enter into the joy of the Master. This is no ordinary approval by a human boss…this is the exuberant, unending, perfect joy of the Most High God. Imagine what it must mean to enter into that joy!

Consider the epic warning this story offers for those who fail to use their gifts for God’s Kingdom. Their resentment of God and their accusations against Him will seal their fate. “Weeping and gnashing of teeth” is the way Jesus described Hell.

This stark contrast is not meant to drive us to despair, but to give us a dramatic comparison that makes our choice clear. In this confused and convoluted world, it is often challenging to realize the inner workings of our own heart. What is our attitude towards God? Do we give to Him wholeheartedly, striving to advance His Kingdom with the gifts He gives? Do we use them only to get what we want for ourselves? Do we see His gifts and treasures as burdens? Are our hearts full of gratefulness and trust in the goodness of the Master…or are they tightened up into bitter, toxic little wads, assuming the worst about His intentions towards us? Jesus is making it clear that the choice is ours…we can move into a life of gratitude and service, or into resentful bitterness.

Many of us have allowed our hearts to become hardened and angry. Often this is because of pain and disappointment we have experienced in life. We need to know that our attitude is a choice. We can live in the misery of toxic negativity, or we can make the agonizing choice to let go of all that…to forgive those who must be forgiven, to do the hard work of taking our thoughts captive and choosing to trust God with the outcomes of our lives…even in the midst of painful circumstances.
We can see King David, the ancestor of Christ, doing just that in Psalm 31.   One way to turn our hearts to faith is to pray through these Psalms, asking the Lord to make the words true of our own hearts:

“In You, O LORD, I have taken refuge;

Let me never be ashamed;

In Your righteousness deliver me…

“For You are my rock and my fortress;

For Your name’s sake You will lead me and guide me…

“I will rejoice and be glad in Your lovingkindness,

Because You have seen my affliction;

You have known the troubles of my soul…

“Be gracious to me, O LORD, for I am in distress;

My eye has wasted away from grief,

My soul and my body also.

For my life is spent with sorrow,

And my years with sighing;

My strength has failed me because of my iniquity,

And my body has wasted away.

Because of all my adversaries, I have become a reproach…

“I am like a broken vessel…

“But as for me, I trust in You, LORD,

I say, ‘You are my God.’

My times are in Your hand;

Deliver me from the hand of my enemies

And from those who persecute me;

Make Your face shine upon Your servant;

Save me in Your lovingkindness.”

 

Psalm 31:1, 3, 7, 9-11a, 12b, 14-16

Story 28: A New Way to Party: Changing Water into Wine

John 2:1-11

Wedding at Cana in stained glass

The time had come for the most important work in human history to begin…the ministry of Christ.  But He didn’t go it alone.  During His final days at John the Baptist’s encampment, John continually pointed out to his own followers that Jesus was the Lamb of God who would take away the sins of the world.  This lit a fire under some of the men and they went to Jesus, seeking Him as their rabbi.  Their names were Andrew, Simon Peter, Philip and Nathaniel.  They left with Jesus on His journey from the Jordan River up north to the region of Galilee. It was over 60 miles away. Their journey would have taken about three days. Imagine walking with God…literally.  Wouldn’t it be interesting to listen in on their conversation as they made their way north?

When they arrived, the Lord went to a wedding in a town called Cana. It was on the west bank of the Sea of Galilee. The Bible doesn’t tell us whose wedding it was, but we know that His disciples and His mother went with Him.

At some point during the wedding feast, all of the wine ran out. In the culture of the Jewish people, providing guests with plenty of food and drink was crucial. It was an important part of their honor as the hosts, and a terrible disgrace to fail. It would be a source of lasting, public shame for the entire family. Jesus’ mother wanted to save the family from this terrible humiliation, so she turned to Jesus for help. She went up to Him and said, “‘They have no more wine.’”

Jesus knew his mother wasn’t just telling Him the facts. She was asking Him for a favor. She wanted a miracle! He looked at her and said, “‘Dear woman, why do you involve me? My time has not yet come.’”  But Mary knew what her Son was capable of. She was sure that He would listen to her.   She turned to the servants and said, “‘Do whatever he tells you.’”

There were six large stone jars close to where they were standing. They were normally used by the family to wash themselves and make themselves ritually clean as part of Jewish purification rites. Each jar could hold between twenty and thirty gallons. Jesus told the servants to fill them up with water. Then they were to take some of the water and give it to the master of the banquet. By the time he tasted the water it had turned into wine! The master didn’t know where it came from. He thought the bride’s family had brought it out. He declared, “‘Every man serves the good wine first, and when the people have drunk freely, he brings out the poorer wine; but you have kept the good wine until now.’” When Jesus transformed the water in to wine, he made the finest wine of all.

Imagine the relief of the bridal family when they realized their crisis was over! Did they wonder where the wine came from? Did they know that it was Jesus who saved them from their shame?

This is the first miracle recorded about Christ. It is interesting that John is the one that tells us this story because he will also explain how Christ is the great Bridegroom who comes at the end of time. The book of Revelation tells about a great wedding feast between the Messianic King, the Lamb, and His beautiful bride:

“ ‘Let us rejoice and be glad and give glory to Him, for the marriage of the Lamb has come and His bride has made herself ready.’ It was given to her to clothe herself in fine linen, bright and clean; for the fine linen is the righteous acts of the saints. “Then he [an angel] said to me, ‘Write, “Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb.”’ And he said to me, ‘These are true words of God.’”

Revelation 18:7-9

The Bride of Christ is an image or metaphor for the Church.  She is made up of all those who put their faith in Jesus.

Throughout the Old Testament weddings were used as expressions of God’s impassioned love towards His people. One of the best ways to explain God’s deep care was to compare it to the fervent devotion of someone who has fallen in love.  In Isaiah 61, the prophet tells about an Anointed One, the Messiah, who would come and bring salvation and transformation to His beloved:

“The Spirit of the Lord God is on me,

Because the LORD has anointed me to bring good news to the poor.

He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,

To proclaim liberty to the captives and freedom to prisoners.

 

To provide for those who grieve in Zion,

To bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes,

The oil of joy instead of mourning,

And a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair.

They will be called oaks of righteousness,

A planting of the LORD, for the display of his splendor.

 

I will delight greatly in the LORD;

My soul rejoices in my God.

For He has clothed me with garments of salvation,

He has wrapped me with a robe of righteousness,

As a bridegroom adorns his head like a priest,

And as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.”

Isaiah 61:1, 3, 10

(NIV except for v. 1c and 10b

which are NASV]

For hundreds of years, God wooed the nation of Israel and longed for their faithful love in return. But the hearts of the Jewish people (and the whole of humanity) are so imprisoned by our bondage to sin that we can only return His love if our hearts are set free. We all need a Savior to come and save us from the captivity we have pledged ourselves to.

 A little bit later on in His story, Jesus will explain that He is the Anointed One of Isaiah 61. The miracle at Cana was more than a kindness to the friends of Mary. It was a quiet, subtle declaration. The Groom had finally come to the nation of Israel, and He had brought His blessings with Him. Would they allow Him to break through their bondage to sin? Would they accept His love? What would this Messiah have to do to bring salvation to His Bride?

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