Pastor Craig Carter
When I was in the 9th grade my track coach decided I needed to become a distance runner. He entered me in the mile at our next track meet.
I had never run a mile in my life.
My coach sent me onto the track with this advice, “Just follow the other guys and try to run their pace. Then as the race goes along, see what you can do.”
Got it, coach! The gun went off and I settled into the middle of the pack on the first lap.
I had previously competed as a sprinter so I was used to running full speed all the time. It felt like we were barely moving so halfway through the second lap, I headed to the front. I finished that lap, the half mile, leading the pack and feeling great.
As we rounded the turn and headed down the back stretch, it hit me…or I hit it – the “wall”. For marathoners, it normally comes at the 16-20 mile mark. For Craig, first-time miler, it was much sooner.
My legs felt like they were made of stone and it seemed like I was going in slow motion as everyone sped past.
Now trailing the pack and losing ground quickly, I saw my two best friends up ahead in the infield. They were pole vaulters who had been cheering me on, but were now bent over laughing.
As I approached them, I decided I had had enough. So I veered off the track and fell into the pole vault pit. Completely exhausted, the next thing I heard was, “Oh no, he’s coming!” as my friends scurried away.
I looked up to see my coach sprinting across the infield. It was Carl Lewton, aka “Rootin’ Tootin’ Lewton.” With me still lying on my back in the foam pit, he informed me that I had embarrassed him, our team, and if I remember correctly, the entire human race! I don’t recall if I was kicked off the team or I simply quit, but my less than illustrious track career ended that day.
That incident is indelibly etched on my memory and what I remember most about that spring afternoon in Missouri long ago is that I started strong and felt like a world beater, but I quickly fizzled out and my career on the track ended with a thud. That image seems to describe the lives of the next people we encounter in our study of the first book of the Bible.
They are Isaac, and his wife, Rebekah. As we’re about to discover, they started quite well but finished very poorly.
God had promised Isaac’s father, Abraham, that he would be blessed with many descendants who, in turn, would become a blessing to every nation on earth. It seemed hard to fathom because Abraham and his wife, Sarah, were childless and well past child-bearing ages. Then with Abraham nearing 100 and Sarah approaching 90, it happened…
But God replied, “Sarah, your wife, will give birth to a son for you. You will name him Isaac, and I will confirm my covenant with him and his descendants as an everlasting covenant. (Genesis 17:19 NLT)
So God’s blessing was to be passed down from Abraham to Isaac and then to “all people,” in all places, at all times. But in order to move forward in this generational story, there had to be a next generation.
So, the first thing that had to happen was to find a suitable wife for Isaac.
1) Their Courtship
In our culture, when it comes to romantic relationships, we value individual freedom and personal choice. Our preferred method for courtship is trial and error, so we arrive at a mate by the process of elimination.
What I’m about to reveal is going to cause most of you to lose all respect for me. Here goes: I regularly watch The Bachelor TV show; not because I like it, but because my daughter Abby does.
If this is how we select mates in our society, marriage is in big trouble.
One of the things you hear constantly on the show is, “Just follow your heart” or “My heart is telling me to…” and I scream at the TV, “No! No! No!”
“The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure.” (Jeremiah 17:9 NIV)
Choosing a mate should be a rational process. God did not design us to think with our heart (or any other body part other than our brain).
So, I’m not sure we’ve arrived at the proper method of courtship (i.e. following our heart and picking and choosing accordingly).
In the ancient world, an entirely different approach was used – arranged marriages. Parents chose a mate for their children and the process oftentimes involved negotiation and bartering.
Isaac’s dad wanted a wife for his son that was not from Canaan (people with pagan practices that were to be driven out of the land they now occupied).
Since he was a very old man at the time, Abraham took this course of action…
One day Abraham said to his oldest servant, the man in charge of his household, “…Swear by the Lord, the God of heaven and earth, that you will not allow my son to marry one of these local Canaanite women. Go instead to my homeland, to my relatives, and find a wife there for my son Isaac.” (Genesis 24:2-4 NLT)
Imagine your dad picking your future spouse. Now picture his best friend or favorite co-worker doing so!
I don’t know if Abraham was just tired and worn out or believed strongly in God’s ability to orchestrate and provide (I trust the latter).
In either case, he dispatched a servant to his original homeland (500 miles away). This loyal servant loaded up ten camels with all kinds of expensive gifts and set out for Aram-naharaim, the place where Ab’s brother, Nahor, had settled. Arriving at his destination, he stopped at a local watering hole and knelt to pray:
“O Lord, God of my master, Abraham,” he prayed. “Please give me success today, and show unfailing love to my master, Abraham. See, I am standing here beside this spring, and the young women of the town are coming out to draw water. This is my request. I will ask one of them, ‘Please give me a drink from your jug.’ If she says, ‘Yes, have a drink, and I will water your camels, too!’ – let her be the one you have selected as Isaac’s wife. This is how I will know that you have shown unfailing love to my master. (Genesis 24:12-14 NLT)
Prayer is a great starting point…in courtship or any time guidance is needed.
“If you need wisdom, ask our generous God, and he will give it to you.” (James 1:5 NLT)
Don’t struggle with difficult decisions or leave it to chance, stop and ask for directions!
And Abraham’s servant shows us it’s proper to pray for God’s guidance, not just for ourselves but for the people we love and care about.
Parents/grandparents: It’s never too early to start praying for your kids’ future.
Kids: Pray for your parents – Lord knows they need help!
It’s also worth noting how the servant prayed. Not for a woman who was drop-dead gorgeous, rich, brilliant, or talented. Instead, he asked God to send a woman who was giving/selfless/servant-like.
Specifically, he prayed for a lady who would offer him a drink and water his camels as well. Note: For 10 camels, that could require several hours and hauling about 250 gallons of water!
So he was looking for someone who would go above and beyond for the sake of others and was willing to generously share her resources, time, and energy.
Here is an important lesson for anyone looking for a spouse: Have a set of criteria! Don’t leave it to happenstance. Follow your “head,” not your heart!
You don’t know who you’ll fall in love with so establish standards in advance.
“Before he had finished praying, he saw a young woman named Rebekah coming out with her water jug on her shoulder.” (Genesis 24:15a NLT)
She was granddaughter of Abraham’s brother, Nahor (she and Isaac were first cousins, once removed). She was described as “very beautiful” and still unmarried. God always comes through and exceeds our expectations!
Interestingly, “the servant watched her in silence, wondering whether or not the Lord had given him success in his mission” (v. 21) Don’t we always question God?
Little did Rebekah know how much her life was about to change. All because she was living right and doing her job well – tending to her family’s needs, practicing hospitality, going the extra mile to serve others.
She wasn’t looking for Mr. Right, she was just being Miss Right (with God).
This is definitely a lesson for all of us: if we will strive to be the kind of person God wants us to be, we’ll find our God-given destiny.
Also, rather than trying to change our circumstances or change the people around us, we need to focus on changing ourselves…and being kind and serving others is a good place to start.
Later, she took Abraham’s servant to her home to meet her family (Abraham’s relatives). After the servant described what had happened and how the whole situation had unfolded, they agreed that Rebekah could become Isaac’s wife. Gifts were given and she was immediately transported back to meet Isaac.
[After she returned with the servant to Canaan,] Isaac brought Rebekah into his mother Sarah’s tent, and she became his wife. He loved her deeply, and she was a special comfort to him after the death of his mother. (Genesis 24:67 NLT)
This was an arranged marriage…arranged and orchestrated by the Lord!
Isaac and Rebekah teach us all an important lesson: If we have decisions to make, let’s place our hopes, dreams, and needs in God’s hands. He is more than able to take care of our future.
And what’s most critical is not finding the right path, but following the Right Person.
“And they lived happily ever after…” Not! Sadly, this was the high point of their lives. After the wedding, it’s all downhill. And once kids arrived, it was all over!
2) Their Child-Rearing
Like the generation before them and like so many after them, Isaac and Rebekah struggled with infertility so…
Isaac pleaded with the Lord on behalf of his wife, because she was unable to have children. The Lord answered Isaac’s prayer, and Rebekah became pregnant with twins…And the Lord told her, “The sons in your womb will become two nations. From the very beginning, the two nations will be rivals. One nation will be stronger than the other; and your older son will serve your younger son.” (Genesis 25:21, 23 NLT)
Before the twin boys were even born, a struggle ensued between them. As a matter of fact, Jacob came out holding on to his brother Esau’s foot. They were as different as two brothers could be in every way possible. As a result…
Isaac loved Esau because he enjoyed eating the wild game Esau brought home, but Rebekah loved Jacob. (Genesis 25:28 NLT)
Esau was an rugged outdoorsman; Jacob was a stay-home, momma’s boy. And even though Jacob was technically the younger (by a few minutes), God declared him to be the bearer of the promised covenant.
Two major family issues ensued:
Favoritism: It is always dangerous for parents to play favorites with their kids. Because of personal preferences, it takes intentionality on the part of parents to balance time and affection for each child.
Lack of trust in God’s plan and provision: Even though God declared Jacob to the bearer of the Abrahamic blessing, Rebekah tried to manipulate things to ensure it was the case. On one occasion, she even went so far as to dress her son as a virtual wolf in sheep’s clothing to deceive her husband. As a result of not being able to leave matters in God’s hands, Rebekah brought discord to the family and ultimately cost her being with her son (when Jacob had to flee in fear of his brother Esau). The lesson for us (especially parents) is that we don’t have to try and control everything and everybody. In fact, to do so suggests a lack of trust in God’s ability to provide for and take care of our loved ones. It doesn’t mean we aren’t involved in their lives, it just means we give God room to move.
3) Their Choices
Isaac inherited quite a legacy from his parents. In Genesis 25 we learn he was the sole heir of Abraham’s sizable estate. But in addition to his wealth and possessions, Isaac received a spiritual and behavioral inheritance as well. In Genesis 26, God promised Isaac that he would receive the same blessings that had been given to his father. And the Lord told Isaac he would receive them as Abraham did – through faith and obedience.
So along with the blue or brown eyes, blonde or no hair, we get from them, we can also inherit spiritual blessings from our parents. They aren’t decreed in a will or passed down through a trust fund, but there are vast blessings that we reap from our ancestors.
They come as a result of a grandmother that prays daily for her grandchildren, a dad who turns down a promotion so he can take his kids to church on Sunday, or a mom that makes sure grace is said before meals and the dinner table is a place for spiritual conversations.
I know from firsthand experience that I inherited a rich storehouse of blessings from my parents, long before they died and shared any accumulated financial holdings with me.
They taught me the ways of God, they took me to church, they encouraged me to read my Bible and tithe, they prayed for me during my rebellious years, they even let me join a Methodist Church (which was very hard for a Baptist deacon to do).
You and I need to be aware that the choices we make today, even small ones, add up and their impact in others’ lives will grow over time like compounding interest on an investment.
But Isaac also inherited something else from his parents. It’s what some have labeled “generational sin.”
Compare Genesis 26:1-11 (Isaac and Rebekah) and Genesis 12 and 20 (Abraham and Sarah). Here’s a quick summary…
Before Isaac was born Abraham passed his wife Sarah off as his sister two times in attempts to save his own skin. He was afraid people would kill him to get his wife. I’m sure Isaac was told stories about those dark episodes in his family history. Then Isaac and Rebekah did precisely the same thing (including lying to Abimelech). Why, oh, why would they repeat the mistakes of the previous generation?
Have you noticed how much we become like our parents? (e.g. speech, mannerisms). At a deeper level we also realize that we’re like them in ways we’d prefer not to be (e.g. habits and even addictions, interpersonal skills, character flaws). This is the concept of generational sin and it’s the idea that we are inextricably connected to previous generations in both good and bad ways.
Some of these predispositions are part of our genetic makeup, others are learned behaviors. In either case, there is no doubt they exist, so what are we to do about it? Just live with it? Rationalize it away? Justify our behavior? Or change it?
Scripture gives us hope because we can and do have a say in the matter due to the choices we make.
I lay the sins of the parents upon their children; the entire family is affected—even children in the third and fourth generations of those who reject me. But I lavish unfailing love for a thousand generations on those who love me and obey my commands. (Deuteronomy 5:9b-10 NLT)
Yes, we are affected by those who have gone before but…we can do something about it. We can choose to love and obey God. And even better news is found in the New Testament because we don’t have to do it ourselves.
“Christ has rescued us from the curse…When he was hung on the cross, he took upon himself the curse for our wrongdoing…Thru Christ Jesus, God has blessed us the Gentiles with the same blessing he promised to Abraham , so that we who are believers might receive the promised Holy Spirit through faith.” (Galatians 3:13-14 NLT)
Isaac and Rebekah give us a portrait of two people who started strong but didn’t finish well.
But, through Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit, it doesn’t matter how we started, it doesn’t matter the hand we’ve been dealt, all that matters is that we choose to love and obey God today and in the future.