Tuesday, 26 February 2013

Reading the Bible 15 Gen 24 Vows and Blessings

It would appear that the story of the marriage of Isaac and Rebekah tells us much about the marriage customs on the early Israelites and probably many peoples of that time and part of the world.  What is striking to me is how much the customs around this have changed in the millennia since.  With all the change there are still echoes of the customs and in some parts of the world there are still many similarities with arranged marriages and dowries.  We get only glimpses of these practices when they make the news and of course that only happens when there are problems or disasters such as the first wife and disobedient daughters being killed by the father and brother a few years ago in Ontario.  I wonder if there are positive things about these customs in the way they are practiced today.  We look at these things through our Western eyes and are of course do not comprehend how any form of marriage other than one based on romantic love could be considered.  We also do know that romantic love doesn’t work all that well a lot of the time but we think that is a not a problem of the form but rather of how it is practiced. 
I knew this passage reasonably well and am always interested in what sticks when I read such a passage again.  No matter how often I read a passage there always seems to be something which particularly sticks on rereading it.  In this reading what stuck was the role of vow and blessing.  The passage begins by the servant assign with the job of finding a wife for Isaac (who I noticed this time is unnamed) swears an oath by God to Abraham.  He does this by placing his hand under Abraham’s thigh – a very intimate act.  Near the end of the chapter Rebekah’s family blesses her: “May you, our sister, become thousands of myriads; may your offspring gain possessions of the gates of their foes.”  Vows and oaths and blessings are still present in our culture today but as with many of the customs and practices they are mere echoes of what they were in the past.  This is something which we are poorer for today.  They have lost much of the luminous – the power of the divine - which they contained in ages past.  If we took vows and blessings such as those made as part of weddings or baptisms or any other aspect of life truly seriously our lives and society would be better for it.  However, to do that we would truly have to hold the sacred as a real and vital part of our lives. 

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