Isaac, Abimelech, and Rebekah – Held on Sunday, March 10, 2013

Personal Note on Posting Timeline

Despite my best intentions, I did not post the session held on Sunday March 3, what follows is my post for our session held on March 10 with a brief review of the discussion from the previous week.

Gen. 26: 06 – 11: Isaac, Abimelech and Rebekah


A topic of our discussion that caught my attention emerged from v. 3, “The Lord appeared to him [Isaac] and said: …”  I’m not sure how others imagined this verse in the concrete but I believe that there are two comments worth noting. First, God’s appearance is an experience that emerges on the inside of us; we cannot “see” God with our eyes.  The biblical author gives expression to that event in clearest terms possible, God appeared and talked. For we believers there is no doubt that God was involved in the historical life of these patriarchs, in the history of the Israelites.  But secondly, that doesn’t mean that the “appearance and the talk” have to be imagined as visual and auditory.  Any effort to give expression to these events falls short of the actual experience; for the experience overwhelms, lives one moved, awed, even fearful.

To reflect on the different ways to read “The Lord appeared to him and said …” can change how we read, understand, recognize the meaning of, not just this one verse, but the entirety of the Book.  What our faith affirms is that God was involved in the actual history of the Israelite people, as Christians, that the very Word of God became flesh, and finally that God continues to be involved in the whole of human history.  The Bible changes the very meaning of human history and it is that change in meaning that is being communicated in the author’s words.

I would love to hear what your understanding of the previous two paragraphs is and what your opinion on that understanding is.

Background of 26: 06 – 11: Isaac, Abimelech and Rebekah.

The very format of our conversation has changed.  A new pattern has emerged.  I might make a general comment on the passage we are about to read.  For example, in this passage, I made two comments:

  1. This account is third time, twice with Abraham and now with Isaac, that they, in order to protect their lives, say that their wife is their sister. But this account has some important differences.
  2. These stories of Isaac strongly mirror similar stories in the life of Abraham.

Once I offer a few general remarks, we read the passage.  It is at this point that the structure of our conversation has changed.  Once the characters of the entire passage have been identified I have begun to ask questions about specific verses within the passage.  This change will be reflected in the structure of my posting as well.

Let’s begin with a reading of the passage: 26: 06 – 11: –

We quickly identified the characters.  Isaac, Rebekah, the Philistines, especially the men and the King, Abimelech.  Tim pointed out a significant character not present, God or The Lord.

V. 06: We learn that Isaac settles in Gerar.  Although I don’t know the geography of the land at the time of either Isaac or the author, Isaac basically is traveling south toward Egypt, so Gerar is located somewhere between where he started his journey and Egypt.

V. 07: The men of the area question Isaac about Rebekah.  There is so much of the culture of the day assumed in this, and really most of the verses of the bible.  It’s learning to hear the cultural assumptions that allow a more meaningful hearing of God’s word. The verse seems to assume that killing a husband to have his wife is just part of the life.   It also seems that this verse, although it appears after the birth of Esau and Jacob, assumes a time prior to the birth of the two boys.

Heber was struck by these assumptions.  Although killing another man so as to have his wife is not as much a part of our culture as it was then; still men and women too are not stopped by the fact that who they are attracted to is married.  Wooing occurs, divorce follows, and remarriage happens.  There are differences for sure but there are also commonalities.

Heber talked about the Mormons having more than one wife.  It was important to correct any misunderstandings.  Although polygamy existed in the past and there might be some Mormons who attempt to live that today, the Mormon church has a disavowed such practices.

V. 08: Isaac and Rebekah have settled in at Gerar.  The king just happens to look out his window and is able to observe a behavior between Isaac and Rebekah that would not have occurred if they were brother and sister.

At this point in our conversation Faryl defined what Abimelech saw as PDA.  Now I had no idea what she meant.  Do you?  We spent a bit of time helping me and others to understand Faryl’s term; revealing the change in language and culture that occurs in our own lifetimes let alone in the life time of scriptures.

Vv. 09 – 10: In these verses Abimelech and Isaac begin to work out what has happened.  What seems obvious is the communal nature of their culture and the sexual dynamics.  Abimelech exclaims, “How could you have done this to us!”  Note that for Abimelech what Isaac did could have had repercussions on his entire people, “us”.

“It would have taken very little for one of the people to lie with your wife …” What is the cultural significance of “very little?” How different is that from today’s culture, even though they are separated by thousands of years?

“… and so you would have brought guilt upon us.”  Again we can hear the communal nature of the times.  The guilt was not merely on the men who might have taken Rebekah but on the community as a whole.

This brought out the social nature of moral behavior.  Family members bringing shame on their entire family may not be as prevalent as it was even a generation ago, but it still occurs and certainly was part of the memory of some of our group.

V. 11: Abimelech is deeply concerned not to “abuse” either Isaac  or Rebekah and pronounced the death penalty for any members of his kingdom that does.

We noted a couple of things that were different in this story when compared to the previous two.  First God is simply not part of the conversation.  I leave that fact to your own reflection.  Also Rebekah is not taken in by Abimelech as was Sarah.

The hour and a half flew by.

Your comments, observations, questions are welcomed.  See “comment” link below

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One Response to Isaac, Abimelech, and Rebekah – Held on Sunday, March 10, 2013

  1. Daniel Russo says:

    Hey Dick,

    AMEN !!!

    If you would apply what you said in those 2 paragraphs, to all of Scripture, we would have nothing to disagree about!!!

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