Rebekah, wife of Isaac, presents us with a very different picture than we see with Sarah. Sarah is commended by Peter for her character as a wife, but Rebekah is never commended at all. Her actions show us yet another truth about the risks faced by wives.Rebekah, of course, is the wife of Isaac, the promised son of Abraham on whom the promise rested. Isaac and Rebekah were married after Abraham's servant fetched her from her family, which was related to Abraham. The story is a wonderful one, told in Genesis 24. We know very little about their lives together, except that she was barren for many years. Eventually, in response to a prayer of Isaac, she conceived twins. As the twins were very active in the womb, she sought help from God and was told: "Two nations are in your womb,
and two peoples from within you[c] shall be divided;
the one shall be stronger than the other,
the older shall serve the younger."
Genesis 25:23. The sons were Esau (the elder) and Jacob. For whatever reason, Isaac and Rebekah each favored a different son. Isaac favored Esau, a hunter and outdoorsman. Rebekah favored Jacob, perhaps because of the word she had been told. Rebekah had received God's word, after all, telling her that Jacob would be stronger than Esau and that Esau would serve Jacob. She apparently believed this promise was of earthly strength and earthly power, rather than the promise of God's blessing (see Romans 9). When Isaac was old, he prepared to bless Esau with his physical wealth. Rebekah, however, wanted that blessing to go to Jacob and she convinced Jacob to deceive his father so that he would receive Esau's blessing. The result was, of course, bitterness and division, ultimately forcing Jacob to leave the area. Rebekah, therefore, was a dishonest wife, tricking her husband (and getting her son to trick his father) in order to obtain what she thought was important. She thought Isaac was wrong to bless Esau, but rather than talk to Isaac, she deceived him. She loved Jacob more than Esau, and by her action obtained wealth for Jacob, but at the cost of the enmity of his brother and years of exile. She had to know that the deceit would be discovered (once it was done, it was done, and Esau would not accept it quietly). She did not care about Isaac's humiliation or her part in his humiliation. She, it appears, tried to do something we often do -- to accomplish God's will through our sin. She believed that God's promise meant that Jacob should receive the earthly blessing and probably justified her action to herself on that basis, but she was wrong. God's blessing was about His promise to Abraham, not about tents and cattle and servants. It is easy, as a wife, to deceive your husband in many things. It is easy to deceive him in many things that seem wise to you or helpful to you. But it is always a sin. The promise of God did not depend on her dishonesty and the blessings of God are not obtained by your dishonesty. Do not make Rebekah's mistake. Do not embitter your relationship with your husband through dishonesty. There are many things that put stress on a marriage, but few are as destructive as deceit. Deceit causes a pain, a doubt, and a barrier that can only be removed through years of struggle. Remember Rebekah, but do not be like her.
One of the constant themes in "women's classes" is to examine what the Bible tells us about wives, but through the prism of actual wives in the Bible. In essence, we examine what little we know about wives in the Bible and try to draw conclusions. Sometimes, we draw very odd conclusions, but sometimes we draw very good conclusions indeed.
So, let's look at some Bible wives this week, starting with Sarah, the wife of Abraham, our father in faith.
Immediately, we find that we have serious limitations. We are told nothing at all about what kind of wife Sarah was. There is nothing about how she "ran the house" or dealt with servants or interacted with her husband (the things we consider to be most important in our wife classes). We cannot draw any conclusions about how she cooked or cleaned. :)
The one thing we are told clearly is that she is a model for women in how to honor their husbands.
For this is how the holy women who hoped in God used to adorn themselves, by
submitting to their own husbands, as Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord.
And you are her children, if you do good and do not fear anything that is frightening.
1 Peter 3:5-6. The language comment appears to be a reference to the language recorded in Genesis 18:12, in which Sarah refers to Abraham as "my lord." There are a lot of things to learn from Peter's words.
First, of course, he is talking about submission, the on-going issue for so many husband/wife discussions. The Bible could not be more clear in its commands for wives to be submissive. We can talk forever about what that means. It clearly does not mean passive (see Proverbs 31 and the activities of the Excellent Wife). It does not mean foolish or ignorant or inferior. It means submissive. Just as a husband is to be submissive to fellow believers, so a wife is to be submissive to her husband. (There is also a submission from husband to wife, but that is a husband issue, not a wife issue.)
Second, however, notice that he describes submission as an adornment. It was by submission that "holy women . . . used to adorn themselves." Adornment is a very important issue for women. Women love what we now call "accessories," which are really just adornments. An adornment is something that makes something attractive and pleasant. Flowers on a table are an adornment.
Holy women are to adorn themselves with submission, which means that they are to be known for and notice for the nature of their relationship with their husband. We live in a world that tells people to build up their own image by putting down others, but the Bible envisions a world where we build up ourselves (adorn ourselves) by building up others. Adorn yourself with submission.
If you do so, finally, then you are "her children," at least if you do good and live bravely. In the Bible, being someone's child is not a biological issue, but an issue of character. You are her children, children of Sarah, children of a righteous woman, if you live as she lived. Do good with your life (as in Proverbs 31) and do not let fear stop you.
The warning about fear is central to the problem of submission. Women fear submission because they fear being abused or simply ignored. Women fear being treated badly because many men have done so over the years.
Put simply, Peter gives you a very clear choice. You can live in fear, but you cannot be an Excellent Wife living in fear. You can compete with your husband or even dominate him, but your efforts will not adorn your life. You will not gain approval by so acting.
Ultimately, this is something you must deal with in your spiritual life. God calls you to a submission empowered by your faith in Him and your reliance on Him. Submission is the measure of your faith in God, the measure of your obedience to God, and the measure of your assurance that God is sovereign.
On my other blog, at www.graceforlaw.com, I wrote today about the 10,000 Hour Rule. The Rule is based on the idea that we can only be really good at something if we have invested 10,000 hours in it. The principle is certainly true, we get better at what we are focused on. We become better teachers, preachers, lawyers, accountants, plumbers, machinists, parents, etc., by simply doing the job over and over.
So, how are you doing on being an Excellent Wife?
If the 10,000 Hour Rule has any value, then you need to think about whether being an Excellent Wife is really what you are spending time on. If your husband heads off to work, and you stay at home, what do you do when he is gone? Do you start to work on your home and children, or hit the computer? Are you planning dinner, or do you wait until he gets home and then "talk about" what to have for dinner? Are you working on being an Excellent Wife today?
For all that we learn from the 10,000 Rule, the real problem is that we don't want to work on ourselves in regard to relationships. We have been sold the idea that marriage is "natural" and that our relationship to our spouse has value because "we don't have to work on it." We enter marriage the same way a lot of people try to play golf. We don't take lessons. We don't practice. We don't work on it. We just show up and play.
Being married is not a hobby, it is your life. Being an Excellent Wife is not your second choice, it is your duty. You need to be investing a lot of time in being an Excellent Wife. You need to think about it, work on it, and keep working on it. You need to prepare meals and plan meals, not just cook meals.
Have you ever looked at what a professional athlete does? When I was young, I read that Pete Rose (the baseball player) spent an hour every day of the off-season hitting in a personal batting cage. This seemed crazy, but he was a great hitter. We have all read or heard of basketball players shooting 500 free throws every day or golfers playing 8 hours every day. We think this sounds crazy, but they are the ones who get to be great.
What are you doing? Are you doing anything that prepares you for being a wife the way free throws and batting cages and driving ranges prepare athletes?
Today is the day to begin, if you have not already begun. The 10,000 Hour Rule tells us that we need to work in order to improve, so let's get going.
As you go along in your married life, you may sometimes want to spend some time looking at old photographs. We are fond of the idea of "photographs and memories," even the old Jim Croce song with that title. We often even equate the two, claiming we have "lost all our memories" when a home burns, for example. We have come to love photographs.
The problem with photographs is that they present something that is not real. Look at a photograph of you from your wedding day. Is that still how you look? Is wearing a special gown on a special day really who you are? Is the hair and the make-up anything like the person you are today?
As we age, we can be somewhat troubled by the changes in how we look. We not only get older, we look older. Our figures are not what they were when we were younger. For women, especially, having children makes a big difference over the years. Photographs can deceive us into thinking that the image on the paper is the person we married. It is not, it's just an image.
The person sitting at the table, or sleeping beside you, is the person you married. Maybe he does not look like he used to look. Let's be honest, we know he doesn't look like that anymore. You do not look the same either. Why should I look back at what my wife used to look like? Until about 150 years ago, every man and woman on earth lived this way. They lived with memories, not photographs. If I want to know how my wife looks, I look at her. I do not look at old images of her.
Sometimes, as I watch my wife, I see something that reminds me of how she used to look when we were young. There are looks, flashes, moments when I can see again the young woman from 30 years ago. I love those moments. I love her.
Now, if I looked at a photograph from 30 years ago, I suspect my impressions would not be really very accurate. I doubt that a person who has not loved her and lived with her for all these years would find as much to recognize as I find. I also know they would not be as thrilled with those memories as I am thrilled with them.
I rarely look at old photographs. I see no reason to do so. My life is not contained in paper and ink but in my memories and in my heart. My wife is the woman whom I love and to whom I am married.
So, for me, it is never "photographs and memories." It is real life, lived today, with the woman I love.
Well, it's Thanksgiving week again. Things have certainly changed over time. I remember when Thanksgiving was a two-day school holiday, now my son has the whole week off. My college daughter is home as well, with the whole week off. I have no idea who thought of this but I, at least, am against it. I am sitting at work.
Anyway, it is Thanksgiving week. Another holiday. Are you ready? Isn't it odd that "are you ready" becomes the big question? Do you know what you are going to do for Thursday? Where will you eat? What will you eat? You must have a plan, right?
How often do you have to plan your Thursday weeks in advance? That's what holidays do for us.
Will it be turkey? Or goose? Or beef? Enquiring minds want to know.
It would be useless to tell you to relax about Thanksgiving. If you are nervous now, you will not stop being nervous because I tell you to relax. If you are not nervous, then you do not need my advice on holidays.
Let's do this, at least. Try to spend some of the extended days off with your children (if you have children) and try to spend some time with your husband as well. Do not let the worries about Thursday ruin your Monday, Tuesday, or Wednesday. Keep some lid on all the stress.
And if you are not worried, then good for you. This is just another holiday. If you can have turkey, fine. If not, fine. Spend some time with your family and spend some time actually being thankful.
The key here is simple: do not let the holiday make you crazy. If you are yelling at anyone because of the holiday, you are already in trouble. If the day for giving thanks becomes a day for being angry, then you are in trouble. If someone forgets to bring what they said they would bring, relax.
Let's make a simple goal. Let's have a Thanksgiving without anyone yelling at anyone. Let's have a Thanksgiving with relaxation and, well, some thankfulness.
And cranberries. We must have something with cranberries.
G.K. Chesterton is not as well known as the others we have cited this week, but he was a great writer of the 1900's. Consider the following quotation from Mr. Chesterton:
I have known many happy marriages, but never a compatible one. The whole aim
of marriage is to fight through and survive the instant when incompatibility becomes
unquestionable. For a man and a woman, as such, are incompatible.
If you have been married very long, you have probably reached much the same conclusion. When we marry, we often think that we are "compatible." Our entire idea of marriage and romance appears, these days, to be based on compatibility. We have "eHarmony.com" and such businesses, promising to find us someone with whom we are compatible.
Whatever the usefulness of that current trend, the reality is that men and women are incompatible, as years and years of experience show us. Ultimately, the marriage of two people requires many changes and many times of discouragement. Sometimes, you reach a stage where you are certain that your marriage was a mistake and you are tempted to leave.
That is the point that matters. It is not a sin to think about divorce, but you have to survive such thoughts. You must, as Chesterton says, "fight through and survive" the moment when you are tempted to despair. The marriage that has not reached such a stage is still developing.
Marriage, we are told, is God's gift to us, that it models God's relationship with His people, that it is a source of joy and happiness. These are things we say at wedding ceremonies.
But, ultimately, marriage is about changing who you are and what you do in order to be one with a different person. Marriage is always about surrendering yourself to something greater than yourself, to sacrifice yourself.
The Moment of Incompatibility, that moment when you have to confront the fact that you have to be committed to your husband despite your own desires, that moment when you have to give up something important to you, is the key to the question of whether you love your husband.
The Excellent Wife lives a life committed to her family, not to herself, and thereby she makes her life greater than it could otherwise ever be.
You do not leave because you are incompatible, you stay because you are a Wife.
One of the most common little complaints we often raise is that we married the wrong person. At some point, in most marriages, one or both of the partners have the strong sense that they might have been happier marrying someone else (or even remaining single). Too often, this attitude continues or is communicated to their spouse, leading to even more problems.
J.R.R. Tolkien had an interesting take on this attitude. In a letter he wrote in 1941, he says this about marriages:
Nearly all marriages, even happy ones, are mistakes: in the sense that almost
certainly (in a more perfect world, or even with a little more care in this very
imperfect one) both partners might be found more suitable mates. But the real
soul-mate is the one you are actually married to.
It is odd, isn't it, how often our thoughts have no real base. We are, for the moment, unhappy in our marriage and we construct the idea of someone who would have been "better" for us to marry, someone we are sure would have been kinder or wiser or richer or whatever characteristic we currently don't like in our spouse. This is all moonshine and make-believe, of course, but it can be a source of real discouragement.
Tolkien's attitude is the correct one. Of course there are people with whom I may have been a better husband or have had a better marriage, but this is the marriage I have, the one God has allowed for me, and the one in which I am to serve and find meaning and purpose. The woman with whom I sleep is the soul mate with whom I share my life.
If you find yourself discouraged someday, thinking of boyfriends you did not marry or of other husbands who seem better than yours, do not try to talk yourself out of this feeling. Feelings, of course, do not really respond to being "talked to" very well. This is your marriage. You have the chance, and the calling of God, to be an Excellent Wife in this marriage. You may serve (and are commanded to serve) both God and others in your marriage. The man to whom you are married is your man and your soul mate.
I may sit quietly at night and think I should have chosen a different career, or a different house, or a different car, but I have the career I have, the house I have, and the car I have. I also have the wife whom I chose and married. She has the husband whom she chose and married. God has made us one.
So, let your moment of thought pass. Then get back to serving God.
In our look at literature, consider the following note from Mark Twain's notebook:
Love seems the swiftest, but it is the slowest of all growths.
No man or woman really knows what perfect love is until they
have been married a quarter of a century.
An interesting insight, this. It is utterly contrary to what most of us think when we marry. We marry someone "we love" and then, too often, it seems that love dies out. By the time you talk to young husbands of a few years, you often find a true dearth of loving sentiments expressed. There are multiple complaints about her attitude and fewer compliments about her good points. We have concluded, in fact, that the primary purpose of our counseling is to try to "keep love alive" over the years. We are wrong.
The real problem is that we do not know what we have. The feeling we share when we marry is barely worthy to be called love in any sense. It is pleasant and motivating and quite often tied to a strong physical attachment, but it is seldom deep. It is easily offended (consider how seldom a wedding is a joint plan by bride and groom) and tends to be very self-centered. The first few years of marriage are often a testing, where each side tries to determine how to hold its own prerogatives over the other.
But Twain is correct. Love as the Bible teaches it, love as history knows it, takes time to grow. We marry to make ourselves happy, but love is about making our spouse happy. We marry because of what we want, but love focuses on what the other wants. We seek our own way and our own desires, but love seeks the desires of the other.
Love takes time to grow. You cannot yank a plant out of the ground, it grows by nature, and so it is with love. You can go to seminars and read books and take surveys, but love grows by the nature God has given us, and it takes time.
Do not despair because the early excitement and breathlessness has gone out of your marriage. Rather, embrace the growth of true love, a love of service and self-sacrifice and caring about the wants and needs and happiness of another person.
It is the kind of love we all want, even if we don't understand it. The command to wives is to love their husbands.
How are you doing?
Okay, Holmes never married. But the whole point of the stories was that he had a deep and subtle knowledge of human actions and behavior and used that knowledge to solve mysteries, both big and small. In one of his small mysteries, he makes an interesting deduction. Looking at an old hat left by a visitor, he concludes (among other things) that the wife of owner of the hat had "ceased to love him." This leads to Dr. Watson's questions, of course, including this exchange:
Watson: "But his wife -- you said that she had ceased to love him."
Holmes: "This hat has not been brushed for weeks. When I see you, my dear Watson,
with a week's accumulation of dust upon your hat, and when your wife allows you to
go out in such a state, I shall fear that you also have been unfortunate enough to lose
your wife's affection."
Remember that Holmes is a fictional character, of course, so no such hat ever existed. What is important for our purpose is that the wife's role in her husband's life was so well understood that the author (Sir Arthur Conan Doyle) knew that this was a valid line of reasoning. He knew, as well, that his audience would agree with this reasoning. No loving wife would allow her husband to go out with a week's accumulation of dust on his hat.
How far we have fallen from those days of understanding love. It was self-evident, to the people of the time, that a wife who loved her husband wanted him to do well, to look well, to be cared for. She cared about him in a very real, practical fashion that manifested itself in many small acts of charity and goodness. She brushed his hat. She would never let him go out looking unloved because he was, in fact, loved by her.
How things have changed. Men no longer receive such care from their wives at all. We no longer wear hats, but we see men going out with wrinkled shirts and such. The attitude of wives today is that "he can take care of himself" and she tends not to really care about him in that way at all. Holmes could not draw his conclusion in our world, where almost no wife loves her husband in that practical way.
We have, for some reason, decided that love is about "how we feel" and not about "what we do." This is false, of course, as Christ makes clear in the Good Samaritan story. The good Samaritan does not "feel" anything in the story, he just does things for the good of the injured man. This, Christ tells us, is love.
To love your husband does not mean to feel a certain way, but to act a certain way. The Excellent Wife cares for her husband (just as the Excellent Husband cares for her). She cares for him practically, in a manner that makes his life better. She brushes his hat.
When your husband leaves your house, is there anything to tell the world (or him) that he is loved? When he comes home, does the home make clear that you love him? If you are a stay at home wife, your home does (in fact) tell him how you love him. A messy home means that you may feel "love" but that you do not live it. Piles of laundry tell him that you may profess love, but you will never understand it or make it a part of his life. When he walks in and you ask him about supper, then you do not really love him in the sense that God means at all, or in the sense that we all understood in the 1800's.
Women will say: "but he can take care of his own stuff." This is true, but then why did he marry you? And why should he stay with you, if he is to do all his own "stuff"? What is your love worth if it just leaves him to himself?
Would Holmes, today, looking at your husband, be able to tell that you loved him? Can your husband tell?
In judging our lives, we need sometimes to step out of our current cultural ideas and consider how things were in earlier times. As husbands and wives, we believe there are eternal truths that we can rely on in our marriages. We do not look to modern writers for all of our wisdom.
One of the most interesting steps is to look at what people used to think about marriage and compare it to our ways of thought. I recently watched a documentary on the drive of Horatio Nelson Jackson, the first man to drive across the United States in an automobile. His drive was in 1903 and the documentary used photos he took along the way and readings from his unpublished letters sent to his wife. He deeply loved his wife, as is evident on every page, and she loved him. Their life story is fascinating, even apart from his famous drive.
On the drive, he wrote her a letter on their anniversary, in which he recalled the four years of their marriage. In describing how wonderful those years had been, he said something very simple. He said that she had done "everything to make [him] happy."
I wonder how many young husbands of today could say that about their marriage after four years, or after any time at all. I find almost no woman who manifests this attitude when talking about marriage today. Too many women today think the purpose of marriage is to make the wife happy, not the husband.
There are several reasons for this idea, but one of the major reasons is that we have ceased to think of marriage in those terms at all. Women are taught to expect that their husband will "make them happy." He should "just be happy to be married to me," women will say. He should "appreciate what I've given up for him." He should "be happy to do what I want to do," they will say.
The old joke continues to arise. You know, where the husband wants to go to Movie A and the wife wants to go to Movie B, so they "compromise" and go to Movie B. It is a joke that gets a laugh from any group of men because they believe that is how things are today.
It should not be this way. Yes, it is true that he has taken the job of husband and is, therefore, to be very focused on your welfare, but you are also to be focused on his. You are to do everything to make him happy, not just sit and let him make you happy. You are to be his wife.
Remember the word in Proverbs 31 about the excellent wife:
The heart of her husband trusts in her, and he will have no lack of gain.
She does him good, and not harm, all the days of her life.
In other words, she does "everything to make him happy."
If your husband wrote a letter today, describing his last four years with you, would his letter be as filled with love as the letters of Mr. Jackson? Love, ultimately, is not about how you feel in your heart, but how you act in your life.
How much do you love him?