I have been told by more than one person that preachers are really only needed three times in a person’s life. When you were born I baptized you, when you fell in love I performed your wedding, and when you die, I will bury you. The rest of the stuff I do is little more than idle chatter. Maybe that is why I feel a closeness to Isaac, the son of Abraham. In the stories of the descendents of Abraham, Isaac is mentioned three times. The first story reveals his near baptism by fire. Today’s story describes the “courtship” of Rebekah. The final story comes when Isaac is an old man. Baptism, Marriage, Death; these stories tell us all we know about the man whose name means “laughter”.
But today’s story does not begin in laughter. Sarah died. I suspect no one was more important in the life of Isaac than Sarah. Her death brought a void that only those who have lost a mother can understand. Isaac was beside himself. His half-brother Ishmael was gone, his mother was dead and I doubt Isaac had much desire to go on another overnight camping trip with his dad. Abraham considered finding another wife to raise the boy but there were two small problems. There is no indication that Isaac wanted another woman to replace his mother. Second, just how easy is it to find a wife when you are over 100 years old?
Eliezer, Abraham’s faithful servant, had a better idea. In a conversation with Abraham, Eliezer suggested perhaps Isaac would be best served with a wife. Abraham found this to be a marvelous idea. Therefore in the 24th chapter of Genesis, right after the burial of Sarah and right before Abraham the Remarkable had many children with his new wife and concubines, we are given the courtship of Rebekah. Let the laughter begin.
To fully appreciate Genesis 24 one must recognize the humor in the weaving of this tale. Normally this would not be difficult but when we are talking about a quest which leads to marriage, let me remind the men in attendance that weddings are no laughing matter to wives and daughters. To women, weddings are sacred ceremonies in which every detail must be perfectly synchronized, every color perfectly matched, and every word perfectly harmonized in order to perfectly glorify the Angel that awaits her coronation. In my experience as an officiator, I have found mothers of the bride all agree on one thing. Every wedding would be perfect if the groom and his henchmen could be eliminated.
Why then should we be surprised that the courtship of Rebekah included everyone but Isaac?
The first thing that Abraham decided was that none of the local girls were good enough for his son. That actually was very fortunate because it doesn’t appear that any of the local girls had given Isaac a second glance. Second, Abraham decided Isaac wasn’t going to be involved in choosing a wife. I doubt the poor boy had probably never been on a date. After being traumatized on Mount Moriah, and then suffering through years of therapy, Isaac was pretty much of a loner who hung out in his mother’s tent and would have played video games if they had been invented. Abraham had little confidence that Isaac would ever find a wife. For that reason he gave Eliezer ten camels, some gold and a few pieces of jewelry. The father’s final instructions were, “I know you don’t have much to work with but please don’t return until you have found me a daughter-in-law.”
Eliezer traveled all the way to city of Nahor near Abraham’s old stomping grounds. He figured folks would remember Abraham’s name and assume Isaac was the apple of his old man’s eye. Then Eliezer used one of the oldest tricks in the book. He played the animal card.
According to people who are supposed to know, the best way for a guy to get himself noticed by a woman is to go to a pet shelter and purchase a rescue dog. Evidently if a guy shows compassion to a helpless mutt, he might be salvageable as a member of the human species. While Eliezer did not have a rescue dog, he did have ten camels. He took the camels to the local well and prayed that God would have mercy on his master Abraham. Please note the whole mission to find a wife was not for Isaac’s benefit but so Abraham might find happiness and perhaps a few grandchildren before he died.
Anyway, the animal trick worked. Rebekah arrived and asked if she could water the poor thirsty camels. One thing led to another and Rebekah invited Eliezer home to meet the family. Over dinner Eliezar was introduced to Rebekah’s brother Laban. The storyteller let’s us know that Laban was a shrewd operator, a quality Eliezar used to his advantage. Eliezar displayed his gifts confident that Laban would be enamored with the idea increasing his personal wealth. Laban asked, “Why are you traveling alone with so many riches?”
Eliezer responds, “My master Abraham is looking for a daughter-in-law.”
Again Isaac is never mentioned by name. The transaction depends solely on the reputation of his father and Isaac’s future depends on the small fortune that Eliezer has brought with him as proof of Abraham’s reputation.
Laban took one look at the camels and did not waste any words. “You prayed, and my sister showed up to water your camels. Obviously this is a sign from God. Who are we to stand in the way of the Almighty? Take Rebekah that she might be a blessing to Abraham. We will keep the camels and the gold to remind us of this wonderful day.”
And that is how the one called “laughter” came to meet his wife Rebekah whose name means “tied together”. Soon Isaac and Rebekah did tie the knot and the covenant God made with Abraham continued into a second generation.
What are we to make of this story? The one called laughter, the one who survived a fiery altar and the death of his beloved mother, found completeness with Rebekah. Together they produced two children who ironically were no laughing matter, but that is another story.
Shouldn’t there be more? Shouldn’t we find some great moral imperative secretly begging to be revealed? Sometimes we need to remember this gloriously sacred book is filled with absurd stories. By taking the Bible too literally, we often miss the grace and the wonders that are being revealed. We forget the Bible is this holy interaction between a terribly flawed people and a God with an implausible sense of humor.
Let me refresh your memory banks. The Hebrew people were slaves in Egypt. Did God send a mighty army? No. God sent a guy who has been talking to a bush in the middle of the desert. And what were the enlightened instructions of this great liberator? Wade in the water.
Later Israel was threatened by an army whose champion was over seven feet tall. Did God send Shaquille O’Neal? No. God sent a little kid with a sling shot.
Remember Mount Carmel? Who but Elijah would have thought to use water instead of lighter fluid on the holy barbeque pit?
Remember Jonah? His disposition was so bad that even a whale couldn’t stomach him.
And what about Jesus? The king of the world was born in a barn in a backwater town to a couple of refugees. Don’t tell me God has no sense of humor.
I realize the story of Isaac makes us wish the one called laughter could have been named survivor. He survived the misguided hand of his father. He survived the death of his mother. He survived the matchmaking of his father’s servant. He even survived the bitter rivalry between his two sons. And yet, when Jacob left home in the middle of the night, when Esau raged in the darkness swearing an oath against his conniving brother, what do you think Isaac did?
He laughed. He chuckled to himself because he knew that the second born had always been a step ahead of his brother. Isaac laughed and said, “God, after all you have put me through, my joy is now complete because you are going to have your hands full with Jacob.”
What can we learn from this story? I believe the first survivor in the Old Testament teaches us that it is possible to suffer and despair and still laugh. The story of Isaac does not demean our experiences. It serves to remind us that our drama, and our pain, and our tragedy sometimes can only be healed with that God given gift of laughter.
I suspect Isaac never freed himself from his traumatic childhood. Yet, in spite of everything, he never lost the ability to laugh. Instead of rebelling against life, he rebelled against despair. Instead of becoming a bitter man, he became of loving husband and father. (Stop)
When I pour water over the head of an infant and claim she is a child of God, the hearts of the young mother and father are filled with joy. Together we laugh.
When I have the honor of pronouncing a couple’s love for each other, they smile, kiss and the room is filled with joy. The festivities that follow are punctuated with laughter.
Even while standing by the grave, shrouded with the reality of death, hope begins to emerge. Stories soon unfold and memories flow quicker than tears. It is the laughter that helps us to begin the journey home.
Laughter is more than the best medicine.
Laughter is a gift from God.
To God be the Glory. Amen.