My future stretches before me…desolate and broken. I was once a prized daughter of King David. I stand now in a darkened window of my brother Absalom’s home, looking down at the busy streets. They are filled with men selling their wares, women buying grain, children playing in puddles of water. I look down on them, and my gut clenches in envy. They go about their lives while I am imprisoned within these rooms– confined by the shame of what was done to me. Amnon, another one of my brothers, said he was ill and asked for me to come care for him. Little did I realize the trap I was stepping into. Once he had me in his rooms, he raped me. My brother. My purity was ripped from me, despite my cries. I begged him to simply ask our father to have us married, for even that would be better than being used by him. But he took what he wanted with no thought for my future. And when he was finished, he looked at me with loathing in his eyes. “Get out,” he spat. I refused, because turning me out to the streets would be even worse than what he had already done to me. For a moment, guilt flashed across his face, but his eyes hardened as he called his servant. “Get this woman out of here and bolt the door after her!” Outside, I collapsed to the ground. I was still wearing the robe worn only by the virgin daughters of the king. I grabbed the collar and ripped it, shredding the intricate embroidery and costly fabric. All I had was taken from me in that moment. Why did this happen to me? Why didn’t God protect me?
Eve: Where were you, God?
Sarah: How can your plan work now?
Hagar: Who am I supposed to be?
Rebekah: When will my story begin?
Tamar: In the pain
Sarah: The promise
Rebekah: The hope
Hagar: The questions
Eve: The doubts
All: These are our stories. My story. Your story. Our story.
I am not afraid. Perhaps I should be. I’m leaving my home, my family, the only life I have ever known. In the cool light of evening, the man showed up at the town well, and simply sat down. His eyes were thoughtful, watchful. I don’t know why, but I felt drawn to him. I went down to the well and came back up, clear water brimming over the mouth of my water jar. The man rushed to me and asked for a drink. I gave him the water, then ran to give water to his camels as well. Then something amazing happened…the stranger looked at me with wonder in his eyes and pulled two gold bracelets and one gold ring from his pack. He gave them to me and asked who my father was. When I answered, he fell to the ground and worshipped God! I understood later that this was because the man had prayed for a sign–that a woman of his master’s family would offer to draw water for him and his camels. He came to my house and spoke with my father and brother, telling them that he had come from my uncle Abraham to find a wife for his son, Isaac. He asked if I would be that wife. My brother and father simply replied, “This is from the Lord…Here is Rebekah, take her and go.” The man wished to leave immediately, but my family wanted more time. And so they turned to me. “Will you go?” A flurry of fears, doubts, and worries filled my heart. When do I know if this is the right thing? When am I supposed to step out in faith? Surely I could wait a while, say goodbye to my family and friends. But then I realized that God was asking me to trust Him…now. He wanted me to step out in faith. “I will go,” I told them. And so I am riding across the desert toward my husband, a man I have never met. But God has a plan for me, and I trust him. I don’t know what it holds, but, like these desert sands, my future stretches before me.
My God is faithful. I believe that now. He raised me from what I thought would be a desert grave. And I wanted nothing more than to die. I had been sent away from my master’s home because I had borne him a son, and his wife Sarah was jealous. She resented me for doing what she could not–bear children for her husband. She was the one who offered me to Abraham to do just that, and when I gave birth, she grew to hate me and my son, Ishmael. And so she convinced her husband to send my son and me away into the desert with one skin of water and enough food to last for a few days. I knew then that Ishmael and I would die. So we wandered alone into the scorching sands, and once we ran out of water, I laid my son under a bush and went off alone to weep. In my agony, I cried out to my master’s God. Who are you, Lord? And who is this son that I have borne? Isn’t he supposed to be the child you promised to Abram? And there in the desert, I met this God. I found out who He is. He is the God who sees me, who hears my cries. He led me to a spring of water and told me not to be afraid, that He would make my son into a great nation. That we would live. As I filled the skin of water to bring back to my thirsty child, I trusted this God who provides in the desert. And now…I am not afraid.
What else was there to do? That’s what my husband, Abraham, said to me when he decided to lie and tell the king I was his sister. He told me that my beauty was dangerous. That the strangers would kill him and take me if they realized I was his wife. We both knew what would happen next… because it had happened before. The first time, the Pharaoh of Egypt took me into his harem, and Abraham stood by and said nothing. Eventually, Abraham’s God cursed the house of Pharaoh and I was returned to my husband. But I couldn’t forget what had happened. How do you forget that kind of betrayal? My own husband was willing to let me be used in order to save himself. And years later, the story was repeating itself. Can we ever escape our past? Or does it haunt us forever, under different names and different faces? So much time had passed; so much had happened. God had declared that I would bear Abraham a son–a fulfillment to all the promises God once made to us. How would I give Abraham a son if I belonged to another man? How could God’s plan possibly work now? The king Abimelech took me from my husband, but this time, God protected me. He went to Abimelech in a dream and told him that I was Abraham’s wife. Abimelech never touched me. Again, I was returned to my husband. And now, I hold my son Isaac in my arms. The child of promise. I know that my God is faithful, even when those around me are not. My God is faithful.
I still remember how that fruit tasted. Like ash in my mouth. The cold, hard feeling in the pit of my stomach. Few could understand the intensity of the shame I felt. Stripped of any defenses, I was left staring into the face of what I had done. What I had lost. And then He came. God was in the garden, and soon, He would know, He would see what I had become. And so I hid. Foolish, isn’t it? To hide from an all-knowing deity? I heard His footsteps, and then…His voice. “Where are you?” When I first heard that, anger coursed through me. Where were you, God? Where were you while I struggled to know what was right? Where were you when I was faltering? Again, He spoke. “Where are you?” The tenderness in His voice stunned me… and wiped away my resentment. He knew where I was and what I had done. And yet He did not expose me. He didn’t jerk me into the light and force me to face Him. He invited me back to His presence, called me from my hiding place. He allowed me to come to Him, even in the depth of my sin. I was so afraid, but I knew that I must answer. What else was there to do?
Anselm (1033-1109 C.E.) said:
“Be it mine to look up to your light, even from afar, even from the depths. Teach me to seek you, and reveal yourself to me, when I seek you, for I cannot seek you, except you teach me, nor find you, except you reveal yourself. Let me seek you in longing, let me long for you in seeking; let me find you in love, and love you in finding. Lord, I acknowledge and I thank you that you have created me in this your image, in order that I may be mindful of you, may conceive of you, and love you; but that image has been so consumed and wasted away by vices, and obscured by the smoke of wrong-doing, that it cannot achieve that for which it was made, except you renew it, and create it anew. I do not endeavor, O Lord, to penetrate your sublimity, for in no wise do I compare my understanding with that; but I long to understand in some degree your truth, which my heart believes and loves. For I do not seek to understand that I may believe, but I believe in order to understand. For this also I believe–that unless I believed, I should not understand.”
Why haven’t I been reading the works of the Church Fathers before now? I was shocked at the beauty and elegance of some of their writings. Take, for example, one of my favorite passages I’ve read thus far, written by Cyril of Jerusalem (315-386 C.E.):
“If any man attempt to speak of God, let him first describe the bounds of the earth. You dwell on the earth, and the limit of this earth which is your dwelling you know not: how then shall you be able to form a worthy thought of its Creator? You behold the stars, but their Maker you behold not: count these which are visible, and then describe Him who is invisible, Who tells the number of the stars, and calls them all by their names. Violent rains lately came pouring down upon us, and nearly destroyed us: number the drops in this city alone: nay, I say not in the city, but number the drops on your own house for one single hour, if you can, but you can not. Learn then your own weakness; learn from this instance the mightiness of God: for He has numbered the drops of rain, which have been poured down on all the earth, not only now but in all time. The sun is a work of God, which, great though it be, is but a spot in comparison with the whole heaven; first gaze steadfastly upon the sun, and then curiously scan the Lord of the sun. Seek not the things that are too deep for you, neither search out the things that are above your strength: what is commanded you, think thereupon Sirach 3:21-22.
But some one will say, If the Divine substance is incomprehensible, why then do you discourse of these things? So then, because I cannot drink up all the river, am I not even to take in moderation what is expedient for me? Because with eyes so constituted as mine I cannot take in all the sun, am I not even to look upon him enough to satisfy my wants? Or again, because I have entered into a great garden, and cannot eat all the supply of fruits, would you have me go away altogether hungry? I praise and glorify Him that made us; for it is a divine command which says, Let every breath praise the Lord. I am attempting now to glorify the Lord, but not to describe Him, knowing nevertheless that I shall fall short of glorifying Him worthily, yet deeming it a work of piety even to attempt it at all.”