Parashat Chayei Sarah
(Life of Sarah)
A woman of valour, who can find?
This week’s portion is a highly important one for the development of Israel and the purposes of God. It speaks of so many things that are historical patterns that have echoed throughout the ages since, the battle between Yitzchak and Ishmael, the choices made in the flesh rather than in the Spirit, and the lives and legacies of Sarah and Rivkah. Yet it’s named after the life of Sarah, the only Matriarch after whom a portion is named. It shows us so much of how the Lord sees women as integral to His plan, not as second class people whose existence and roles are merely predicated upon men’s wishes. We can see now how history has turned out negatively towards women and how so much of the Scriptures have been abused in that way, but Sarah is clearly an important person in herself to the Lord, not just as Avraham’s wife. This passage begins with her death, and in Judaism, the value of someone’s life is measured then, not at birth. Not for us are lives measured by being born with a ‘silver spoon in the mouth’, not on what you inherited or even what you managed to accumulate during your brief span on this earth, but the real value of your life is what you bequeath to the next generation and beyond. What hallmarks of your life do people follow, copy and talk about? Consider for a moment what will be the things that the next generation will emulate you in.
Sarah gave us so much. Not for nothing do we read that Yitzchak took Rivkah to his mother’s tent and was comforted, a woman who would continue to stand for what his mother had stood for. That’s a great legacy. Now Rivkah was clearly a special woman too. The unnamed servant goes off to find the wife knowing that God will guide him. Prayer had already laid the foundation of this event in history: the meeting of 2 people whose lives were to be intertwined. Such a crucial day in the lives of any two people at any time, the recognition that your beshert(ah) is standing before you. Yet the one person who we think should be involved in this choice isn’t even there: Yitzchak! Doesn’t he get to have any say in the matter? In fact according to Gen 24:67 he seems fall in love after the event! Surely by today’s standards he should have a say in this, start to date her before committing himself, maybe cohabit and do a trail run. But no, a servant is sent to find a wife for him on command of his father. Who would trust to such a method today? And why should Avraham seek a woman from amongst his own brethren? Wasn’t his own family a family of idolaters? What may seem obvious at first glance however isn’t. We read in Gen 24:50-51 that both Laban and Bethuel see the Lord’s hand in this meeting, somehow the meeting that Abraham had with the one true God had impacted wider into the family than we may think. Avraham may well have been the ‘pioneer’ who pushed through to the end, following God completely to the Land while other held back, yet it seems his testimony had at least had some impact on them. There is no indication in their talk here that this was tongue in cheek or merely jargon. They were after all risking a daughter being sent away to a foreign land, given to an unknown husband. They trusted that in all this the Lord had His hand, and it was in His sovereign control.
What is it that the servant is looking for? He waits for the woman who will do certain things, show qualities that he knows are the hallmark of a dedicated and genuine woman of God, a woman well taught in and of the Lord. Are the hallmarks of a deep spiritual conviction present, the ability to operate in a compassionate and submitted way? The answer as it comes to the servant is yes. Rivkah has learnt well and is now the key to the next step in the unfolding promises of God. God’s choices of those whom He will call as servants are made on the basis of the qualities we develop and nurture, what He plants in us that we allow to grow in the Spirit. That is why so much space is given to this encounter in the Torah. It is no co-incidence that Rivkah has to make the same faith journey that Abraham made, leaving family and country for what she didn’t know. In other words, having achieved a certain level of spiritual understanding of the God who had revealed Himself to Avraham, she now had to push on and complete the journey of faith and arrive in the Land too, taking up her inheritance with the people who would become known as Jews.
If there is a major theme that develops in all these events here surrounding the meeting and growing together of Yitzchak and Rivkah, ultimately their marriage, it is this: faith and trust in the absolute sovereignty of God in the affairs of our lives. We see it with Laban’s response and Rivkah’s too. If our lives are fully yielded to God, then we have nothing to fear. We so often worry about getting married and to whom and try to find our mate, desperate in case we miss the one. But God is well able to bring about godly marriages truly made in heaven. He knows us better than we do, and in due season, at the right time, He will bring it about. Rivkah’s faith in the sovereign actions of her God, a God she knows and trusts, leads her to accept His will, even at the expense of leaving everything she has known up to that point in time. Her faith is revealed in her responses too. Whereas her mother and brother request a 10 day farewell party for her, reluctant to let go, Rivkah simply says, I’ll go. No questions, regrets or excuses, no soul searching or apparent struggle, she is ready to believe, trust and have faith that God was about to reveal to her her own intended and mate, the one who would complete her own life and she his.
We see it again with both Rivkah’s and Yitzchak ‘s response to those around them. In both cases the parents have a full part to play in this arrangement. All parties operate in faith, and believe that God is the one who is able to steer the destiny of human beings. They submit to their parents in this. Nowadays this might seem odd, but don’t forget that clan, tribal and heads of house operated in a quasi-priestly way in those days. What this demonstrates is that both were willing to submit to godly authority in this vital and crucial decision of a running mate in life. Don’t forget, the Jewish idea of arranged marriages is not a forced one, as is so often portrayed nowadays, but all parties play a role. All should have faith in the God in whom all our lives have a sense and value.
Qualities, godly qualities lie at the heart of these events. This passage teaches us so much about the men and women who God used in the past, the very hinges of generations and the unfolding will of God. Whether we become a part of that unfolding will hinges on how we live, the choices we make and above all the qualities we have that make us usable, whether male or female! Will we be godly people who trust in Him totally?
The one remaining characteristic in this passage and throughout this important time is the choice of the way of flesh or Spirit. We see it with Hagar and Ishmael, but it could have been so true of Yitzchak and Rivkah too. But both chose the way of the Spirit, to trust and have faith. And we can for one moment step back and ask ourselves the deep questions, is this us? Do you rest and relax in the Lord’s will, letting things run their course knowing that He is in control? Knowing when to intervene and when to let alone? Do you fundamentally see God’s hand in your life, or just your own? Do you worry about things that seem beyond your influence or control? Does that make you feel afraid? This is not to confuse faith with fate here, fate is lifeless and random, breeding a passivity towards life we are never meant to have. This is about trusting in a living God who absolutely determines your course and way through life in such a way that you can relax and let go and not fear. We ruin our lives so often with stress, anxiety, fretting over things, thinking if we truly trust God we’ll lose everything. Do you, can you accept God’s purpose for YOU, and not what He has for others?
By now you’ll be beginning to realise actually how hard all this is. If you’ve been in situations demanding that level of faith you’ll know what I’m talking about. I’m talking about going beyond the mere words we say, how much we trust and believe, and DO IT. If God isn’t able to come through at the moments when it truly counts, when you’re hanging in with your fingernails in faith, then He isn’t God. But Baruch Hashem, He is God and He will be there at those moments. We need to have an utter confidence in the fact and reality of God’s ability to steer your life, and His plan for our lives, and to mean it not just say it.
Rivkah and Yitzchak had such faith. In the big decisions of life, and they don’t come much bigger than marriage, they trusted absolutely in the God who was and is able. For them God’s sovereignty meant just that, He was God and King. Walking in the flesh rejects that Kingship, deciding that we have the full picture of any situation at any given moment. Let us have the same faith they had, after all, it is the same God we worship.