the Week of Proper 3 / Ordinary 8
Whyte's Dictionary of Bible Characters
AND THE WIFE SEE THAT SHE REVERENCE HER HUSBAND
A SWEETER chapter was never written than the twenty-fourth of Genesis, nor a sadder than the twenty-seventh, and all the bridge that spans the gulf between them is the twenty-eighth verse of the twenty-fifth chapter. The picture of aced Abraham swearing his most trusty servant about a bride for his son Isaac; that servant's journey to Padan-aram in the far east; Rebekah, first at the well, and then in her mother's house; and then her first sight of her future husband-that long chapter is a perfect gem of ancient authorship. But, the sweetness of the picture, and the perfection of the writing, only go to deepen and darken the terrible tragedy of Isaac's deathbed. That the ship was launched on such a golden morning only the more darkens the surrounding gloom when she goes to the bottom.
'And they said, We will call the damsel, and inquire at her own mouth. And they called Rebekah, and said unto her: Wilt thou go with this man? And she said, I will go.' Though no one knew it, and though she did not know it herself, Rebekah's heart had been Isaac's all the time. The story of Abraham her old kinsman's call; the aged Terah's enterprise and pilgrimage; Isaac's fair' and princely youth, and then his offering on the altar-all that had been a household word in Rebekah's mother's house, and all that had for long fired Rebekah's so easily fired heart. And thus it was that, every day for long, as she went out to the well for water, she had looked away west over the vast sands of Mesopotamia, and had wished to heaven that she had been born a man-child, so that she, too, might have been called of God to go out to His land of promise, and there to have her part in the founding of a family of saints, and princes, and great men of God. And, now, what has God wrought for Rebekah! Is she beside herself? Is she awake, and is this broad daylight, and not a dream? Her heart bounds up to God and blesses Him, as she goes down to the well and waters camel after camel, the camels that are Abraham's and Sarah's and Isaac's camels. And never did woman's heart so go forth of her as Rebekah's heart did when Abraham's servant put an ear-ring of gold upon her face, and bracelets of gold upon her hands. Had Rebekah had to walk barefoot over all the burning sands that separated Padan-aram from the land of promise, nothing would have kept Rebekah back from an election and a call so divine, so sweet to her heart, and so welcome as was that warm argument of the aged Eliezer of Damascus. Hearken, O daughter, and consider, and incline thine ear; forget also thine own people, and thy father's house. Or ever I was aware, says the bride in the Song, my heart had made me like the chariots of Amminadib. And Rebekah said, Yes, I will go.
The single plank that spans the terrible gulf between Isaac's marriage-bed and his death-bed is laid for us in this single sentence: 'Isaac loved Esau because he did eat of his venison; but Rebekah loved Jacob.' And, standing on that plank, he that hath ears will hear that bottomless pit of married sorrow that Isaac and Rebekah had dug and filled for themselves and for their two sons, boiling up and roaring all around him. It sickens us to stand there and to think of such life-long sorrow after such a sweet start. There are years and years and years of secret alienation, and distaste, and dislike in that little verse. There are heart-burnings and heart-breaks; hidden hatreds and open quarrels; deceits and duplicities, and discoveries of deceits and duplicities, enough to make Isaac old and blind and dead before the time. When the two twin-brothers were brought up day after day and hour after hour in an atmosphere of favouritism, and partiality, and indulgence, and injustice, no father, no mother, can surely need to have it pointed out to them what present misery, and what future wages of such sin, is all to be seen and to be expected in that evil house. Eloquent with wickedness as the words are-Isaac loved Esau, but Rebekah loved Jacob-yet they make little impression on us till we have read on and on through chapter after chapter, full of the fruit of that wicked little verse. But, then, after we are glutted with the woes of that long and sorely chastised house, if we have any heart, and conscience, and imagination, we come back and stand on that reeling plank till the smoke of the torment of Isaac's and Rebekah's sin comes up like Sodom itself into our blinded eyes.
Not in their brightness, but their earthly stains,
Are the true seed vouchsafed to earthly eyes,
And saints are lowered that the world may rise.
One of the very first fruits of that devil's garden that Isaac and Rebekah had sowed for themselves was the two heathen marriages that Esau went out and made and brought home, and which were such a grief to Isaac and to Rebekah. That great grief would seem to have been almost the only thing the two old people were at one about by that time. It was a bitter pill to Rebekah, those two marriages of Esau. And it was bitter only. She got no after-sweet out of it, as she might so well have got. For the old disorder and disgrace still went on; only, henceforth to be increased and aggravated by the introduction of those two new sources of disorder and disgrace, Judith and Bashemath, into that already sufficiently disordered and disgraced household. Esau is greatly blamed by some preachers for his heathen marriages; but, surely, quite unfairly. We talk to Esau about the covenant, and what not. But Esau answers us that, for his part, he saw little covenant in his father's house beyond the name. And Esau might very well think that he could surely get a mother for his children from nearer home than Padan-aram, who would be as fair, and wise, and kind, and good to them as his covenant mother had been to him. Poor Esau could not say what Santa Teresa says about herself in her happy Life of Herself. 'It helped me, too,' she tells us, 'that I never saw my father and my mother respect anything but goodness.' And again: 'My mother was a woman of great goodness, and had great sense.' Poor, mishandled Esau could not say that to his children. The disrespect and utter lack of reverence that his mother showed to his father made Judith's respect and reverence to Beeri, and Bashemath's respect and reverence to Elon, an attraction and a refuge and a rest to Esau's restless heart. And I do not believe that the two Hittite women, whom Esau made his two wives, ever played him such a trick in his old age as Rebekah played his old father Isaac. My brethren, let our children not hear any less in our houses about calls, and covenants, and covenant promises, and covenant hopes; but let them see far more covenant fruit in family love, family fair-play, family reverence, and family oneness of mind.
As to Rebekah's treatment of her quiet, silent, retiring, fast-ageing husband, there is this to be said for her, that there is some reason to believe that she had not had a very good example set her in this respect in her old home. She had seen her old father Bethuel overlooked, slighted, often forgotten, and often pushed aside in his own house. Had Bethuel's daughter been made of the finest and most womanly-hearted stuff, that humiliating sight at home would have secured to her future husband all the more reverence and honour, deference and love. That Bethuel seldom spoke at his own table would have made a daughter of the finest kind to say to herself that, if ever she had a husband,-let her tongue be cut out before her husband was ever talked down in his own house. Only, Rebekah, with all her beauty, and with all her courage, and with all her ambition to be in the covenant line, lacked the best thing in a woman, covenant line or no-womanly sensibility, tenderness, quietness, humility, and self-submission. And, though that speck on her heart was so small as to be wholly invisible as long as she was still a maid, and a bride, and a young wife, yet it was there. And by the time that Rebekah became no longer a bride or a young wife, this speck had spread till both her heart and her character had wholly lost all wholesomeness, and sweetness, and strength. 'The one thing certain about a wife is that the result is different from the expectation-that is, if there were ever any particular and defined expectations at all. Age, illness, an increasing family, no family at all, household cares, want of means, isolation, incompatible prejudices, quarrels, social difficulties, all tell on the wife more than on the husband, and make her change more rapidly into that which she was not. Be she strong or weak, she is apt to revert to her own ways, if she has them, and if she has what is called a will of her own.' And, after a rest and some refreshment Isaac still went on: 'There will not be real union without much self-sacrifice; each chiefly bent on pleasing the other. To most men and women this is not easy; for, what with self-confidence, self-will, self-esteem, and selfishness pure and simple, they enter the marriage state with a foregone conclusion on all the points upon which difference is possible. And there are many. And they will remain stumbling-blocks and rocks of offence, unless one will give way to the other, or both are softened by higher influences.'
'And the wife see that she reverence her husband,' says Paul, with his eye on Rebekah. Yes; but what if she cannot? What if there is so little left that is to be reverenced about her husband? 'It is one of the best bonds in a wife,' says Bacon, 'if she think her husband wise.' No doubt. But what if he is not wise? What if he is a fool? What if a wife wakens up to see that she has yoked herself till death to a churl, or to a boor, or to an ignoramus, or to a coxcomb, or to a lazy, idle log, or to a shape of a man whose God is his belly, or his purse, or just his own small, miserable self? What is a woman, so ensnared, to do? Well, she will need to be both a true woman and a true saint, if she is to do right: if she is to do the best now possible in a life of such exquisite and incessant misery. But it can be done. It has been done. And it is being done all around her by thousands of her sisters in the strength of their womanhood, and by the help of God. Let her say: I would have him. I would not see what everybody else saw, and what some of my people were so bold and so cruel as to tell me they saw. I walked into it with my eyes shut. I thought that just to be married would be heaven upon earth. I was sure he would improve. I said that if ever woman helped a man to improve I would be that woman. And he said with such warmth that I was that woman to him, and that there was not another woman like me in the whole earth. I made this bitter bed with my own hands; and no one shall ever know, and last of all my poor husband, what a bitter bed it is to his weak and evil wife! That is the true line to take when a woman is told to reverence a husband for whom no one else has any reverence or affection. Let her determine to be a New Testament wife to him. Let her believe that Jesus Christ said, and still says, Take up thy cross daily! And let her rise up to believe and to see this, that a salvation for her immortal soul of a far deeper, a far more inward, a far more perfect, and a far more everlasting kind, lies for her in her unhappy marriage, than if she had been the proudest and most puffed-up wife in the city. These are they which came out of great tribulation, it is said in heaven over multitudes of such wives. Let her say to herself, then, every day, that this is her great tribulation. Let her put her finger on it and say, This is that through which I must go up, if I am to go up at all. And, at the worst, he is my husband. And if he is not all I would fain believe him to be, yet let me go on trying to believe it. And, perhaps, that will help him. I have not helped him as I promised and intended to do. I have dwelt on mv own disappointment and shipwreck, and not enough on his. There are two sides to our married life. There is my husband's side as well as mine; and there is his mother's side as well as my mother's. Perhaps it will help him to overcome if I behave as if he had overcome. Perhaps, if I act as if I were happy, it may help to make him happy. Let me behave myself as if he were wise, and true, and noble, and every way good, and it will greatly help to make him all that. Is there not a Scripture somewhere which says that husbands are sometimes to be won by the conversation of their wives? And, that a wife's best ornament is a meek and quiet spirit? Let me be such a wife as I have never yet been. She who so bends her back to the burden will soon find that the load is not so heavy as she thought it was. What a pity it was that Rebekah did not go to Hagar's well for water every morning, and there talk to herself in that way till she went home to reverence and to love Isaac her husband, saying all the way, Thou God seest me! What a pity it was that Rebekah did not do that!
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Whyte, Alexander. Entry for 'Rebekah'. Alexander Whyte's Dictionary of Bible Characters. https://www.studylight.org/​dictionaries/​eng/​wbc/​r/rebekah.html. 1901.