Sarah has died (chapter 23), and it is now time for Abraham to secure a wife for his son Isaac. Isaac has not been mentioned since his near sacrifice in chapter 22, and he does not appear in this story until the very end. Abraham is determined to find a wife for Isaac “back home” in Haran. The story includes several Mid-eastern betrothel rituals, including the nose ring. We skip the negotiation of a dowry (vv. 50-57). The entire story continues several large themes of the Abraham story: Abraham is blessed by God; God is loyal and faithful to Abraham and Abraham is loyal and faithful to God. Abraham acts within the pruposes and provisions of his God.
24:34 The man said to Rebekah and her household, “I am Abraham’s servant. 35 The Lord has greatly blessed my master, and he has become wealthy; he has given him flocks and herds, silver and gold, male and female slaves, camels and donkeys. 36 And Sarah my master’s wife bore a son to my master when she was old; and he has given him all that he has. 37 My master made me swear, saying, ‘You shall not take a wife for my son from the daughters of the Canaanites, in whose land I live; 38 but you shall go to my father’s house, to my kindred, and get a wife for my son.’ 42 I came today to the spring, and said, ‘O Lord, the God of my master Abraham, if now you will only make successful the way I am going! 43 I am standing here by the spring of water; let the young woman who comes out to draw, to whom I shall say, ‘Please give me a little water from your jar to drink,’ 44 and who will say to me, ‘Drink, and I will draw for your camels also’—let her be the woman whom the Lord has appointed for my master’s son.’ 45 Before I had finished speaking in my heart, there was Rebekah coming out with her water jar on her shoulder; and she went down to the spring, and drew. I said to her, ‘Please let me drink.’ 46 She quickly let down her jar from her shoulder, and said, ‘Drink, and I will also water your camels.’ So I drank, and she also watered the camels. 47 Then I asked her, ‘Whose daughter are you?’ She said, ‘The daughter of Bethuel, Nahor’s son, whom Milcah bore to him.’ So I put the ring on her nose, and the bracelets on her arms. 48 Then I bowed my head and worshiped the Lord, and blessed the Lord, the God of my master Abraham, who had led me by the right way to obtain the daughter of my master’s kinsman for his son. 49 Now then, if you will deal loyally and truly with my master, tell me; and if not, tell me, so that I may turn either to the right hand or to the left.” 58 And they called Rebekah, and said to her, “Will you go with this man?” She said, “I will.” 59 So they sent away their sister Rebekah and her nurse along with Abraham’s servant and his men. 60 And they blessed Rebekah and said to her, “May you, our sister, become thousands of myriads; may your offspring gain possession of the gates of their foes.” 61 Then Rebekah and her maids rose up, mounted the camels, and followed the man; thus the servant took Rebekah, and went his way. 62 Now Isaac had come from Beer-lahai-roi, and was settled in the Negeb. 63 Isaac went out in the evening to walk in the field; and looking up, he saw camels coming. 64 And Rebekah looked up, and when she saw Isaac, she slipped quickly from the camel, 65 and said to the servant, “Who is the man over there, walking in the field to meet us?” The servant said, “It is my master.” So she took her veil and covered herself. 66 And the servant told Isaac all the things that he had done. 67 Then Isaac brought her into his mother Sarah’s tent. He took Rebekah, and she became his wife; and he loved her. So Isaac was comforted after his mother’s death.
Canticle (Track 1): Song of Solomon 2:8-13 (A Song of My Beloved)
The Song of Solomon (or “The Song of Songs”) is a series of love poems attributed to King Solomon, but most likely written at a much later date. Today’s portion is from a longer poem (8-17) that opens and closes with the image of the beloved as a gazelle. Commentators from early times have seen these poems as an allegory of the love between God and Israel (or in Christian terms, Christ and the church).
Hear the voice of my belovéd! *
Over the mountains he comes leaping,
bounding over the hills *
like a young stag or a gazelle.
See where he stands behind our wall, *
gazing in the windows,
peeking through the lattice.
My belovéd says to me: *
Rise up, my love, my beauty, come away;
for now the winter is past, *
the rains are over and gone.
Flowers appear on the earth *
and the time of singing has come:
the voice of the turtle-dove *
is heard throughout our land.
The fig trees bend with scented fruit; *
and all the squash-vines blossom,
sending up their sweet perfume. *
Rise up, my love, my beauty, and come away.
Psalm 45:11-18 (Track 1)
Psalm 45 is unique among the Psalms in that its use in ancient Israel was clearly for a royal wedding. In the opening verses of the psalm (1-10), the king is extolled and highly idealized. In verse 11, the queen enters. Because of the emphasis in verse 11, she may have been from a foreign land. The role of the queen betrays its ancient setting. The final two verses are a blessing on the king. The “I” is the writer, not God (see the opening verse of the psalm).
11 Hear, O daughter; consider and listen closely; *
forget your people and your father’s house.
12 The king will have pleasure in your beauty; *
he is your master; therefore do him honor.
13 The people of Tyre are here with a gift; *
the rich among your people seek your favor.
14 All glorious is the princess as she enters; *
her gown is cloth-of-gold.
15 In embroidered apparel she is brought to the king; *
after her the bridesmaids follow in procession.
16 With joy and gladness they are brought, *
and enter into the palace of the king.
17 In place of fathers, O king, you shall have sons; *
you shall make them princes over all the earth.
18 I will make your name to be remembered
from one generation to another; *
therefore nations will praise you for ever and ever.
1st Reading (Track 2): Zechariah 9:9-12
Zechariah prophesied as the Babylonian exiles returned to rebuild Jewish society with those who had been left behind (around 520—518 b.c.e.), although the second half of the book (chapters 9-14) might have been from a later period, perhaps even after Alexander the Great had conquered the region (after 330 b.c.e.). Verses 9 & 10 of our reading seem to describe the return of a king to Jerusalem (Christians have generally seen the entrance of Jesus on “Palm Sunday” in these verses, which are quoted in Matthew 21:5-7). Verses 11 & 12 celebrate the return of the people with the moving image, “prisoners of hope.”
9:9 Rejoice greatly, O daughter Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter Jerusalem! Lo, your king comes to you; triumphant and victorious is he, humble and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey. 10 He will cut off the chariot from Ephraim and the war-horse from Jerusalem; and the battle bow shall be cut off, and he shall command peace to the nations; his dominion shall be from sea to sea, and from the River to the ends of the earth. 11 As for you also, because of the blood of my covenant with you, I will set your prisoners free from the waterless pit. 12 Return to your stronghold, O prisoners of hope; today I declare that I will restore to you double.
Psalm 145:8-15 (Track 2)
Psalm 145 as a whole is an acrostic poem, most likely intended for use in worship, as it sings the praises of God. Verse 8 repeats the creed of Exodus 34:6 (see also Psalm 86:5).
8 The Lord is gracious and full of compassion, *
slow to anger and of great kindness.
9 The Lord is loving to everyone *
and his compassion is over all his works.
10 All your works praise you, O Lord, *
and your faithful servants bless you.
11 They make known the glory of your kingdom *
and speak of your power;
12 That the peoples may know of your power *
and the glorious splendor of your kingdom.
13 Your kingdom is an everlasting kingdom; *
your dominion endures throughout all ages.
14 The Lord is faithful in all his words *
and merciful in all his deeds.
15 The Lord upholds all those who fall; *
2nd Reading: Romans 7:15-25a
There has long been debate about just to whom the “I” refers in this passage. The obvious answer is Paul, but this does not jive with his claim in other places to be “blameless” under the law (for example, Philippians 3:5-6). Whichever is the case, Paul clearly intends here to show the desperation one experiences “under the law,” without the rescue of the grace available through relationship with Christ. Must we live as “wretched men [sic]”? No, there is another way, “through Jesus Christ our Lord.” Then at the beginning of chapter 8 Paul will say a most stunning thing, especially considering the angst he has just dwelled upon. He says, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”
7:10 I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. 16 Now if I do what I do not want, I agree that the law is good. 17 But in fact it is no longer I that do it, but sin that dwells within me. 18 For I know that nothing good dwells within me, that is, in my flesh. I can will what is right, but I cannot do it. 19 For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do. 20 Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I that do it, but sin that dwells within me. 21 So I find it to be a law that when I want to do what is good, evil lies close at hand. 22 For I delight in the law of God in my inmost self, 23 but I see in my members another law at war with the law of my mind, making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. 24 Wretched man that I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? 25a Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!
Gospel Reading: Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30
Jesus opens this passage with a strange parable about children in the marketplace. Essentially it means that despite Jesus and John being thought of entirely differently, both were equally rejected. The odd statement about wisdom being known by her deeds is more or less the equivalent of “you will know them by their fruits.” Verses 25-27 is a positive statement about the dignity of Jesus and his followers (which follows on the skipped-over verses about the cities who have rejected Jesus). Verses 28-30 are only found in Matthew, and, as such, are one of this Gospel’s keys to understanding. The Matthean community, in severe opposition to Pharisaic religion and the stress that brings, can rest in the knowledge of Jesus’ “easy yoke” and “light burden,” a theme that will be carried into chapter 12 with its Sabbath observance controversies.
11:16 Jesus said, “To what will I compare this generation? It is like children sitting in the marketplaces and calling to one another, 17 ‘We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we wailed, and you did not mourn.’ 18 For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘He has a demon’; 19 the Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Look, a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ Yet wisdom is vindicated by her deeds.” 25 At that time Jesus said, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and the intelligent and have revealed them to infants; 26 yes, Father, for such was your gracious will. 27 All things have been handed over to me by my Father; and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him. 28 Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”
The Scripture quotations (except for the psalm) are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of Churches of Christ in the U.S.A., and are used by permission. All rights reserved. The Collect of the Day is from The Book of Common Prayer. The translation of the Canticle is copyright © 2007, Church Publishing Inc. The psalm translations are from The Book of Common Prayer. Commentaries are copyright © 2017 Epiphany ESources, 67 E. Main St., Hornell, NY 14843. www.EpiphanyEsources.com. All rights reserved. Permission is given to copy for congregational use with this attribution.