Her courtship and marriage is one of the classic love stories of all time. She is honored as one of the most heroic women of the Bible, a forerunner of the Virgin Mary, the “Mother of Two Nations,” and the great-great-grandmother of the Messiah. When it comes to the single life, discerning God’s will, preparing for marriage, and finding a godly spouse, Rebekah, of the Old Testament, has a lot to teach us.
We have all heard Rebekah’s story. Isaac needed a wife, so his dad (Abraham) sent a servant back to the home country to find a wife from among their own people. Both Abraham and his servant prayed fervently for Isaac’s bride, and God produced Rebekah, a beautiful young woman who was willing to journey to a foreign country to meet and marry a man she would fall in love with at first sight.
It is a pretty incredible love story. But that is not the part of Rebekah’s life that most intrigues me. It’s the story between the lines of Scripture that grips my heart and gives me hope. It’s the lessons from the well that hold treasures of practical wisdom for single Catholics like you and me.
Who was Rebekah?
From the Genesis account we know that Rebekah was a young woman from Mesopotamia, the granddaughter of Nahor and Abraham’s brother. The Bible tells us she was young, very beautiful, and that she was a virgin at the time of her betrothal. We know from the way she tended to Abraham’s servant and his camels that she was thoughtful and caring. She also must have had an adventurous streak, because it’s not every day that you hear of a young woman who (literally) jumps off a camel’s back to meet her soon-to-be husband for the first time. She had spunk.
The Bible also describes Rebekah’s daily routine. Like most young women in her day, her job was carrying water in large jugs between her brother’s home and the well outside the city. She most likely watered her brother’s flocks of sheep and goats as well.
I don’t think it matters what century or millennium a woman is born into; hauling water jugs and taking care of sheep and goats probably isn’t any girl’s dream job. And yet, the fact that she was there, at the well — every day — teaches us several things.
Rebekah was faithful to the tasks God had given her, no matter how boring or meaningless they may have seemed at the time. Without any knowledge or expectation that one day a man was going to show up at her well, shower her with expensive jewelry and gifts, and offer her the journey of a lifetime, she remained faithful and constant to her state and responsibilities in life.
Sometimes I wonder — how many times did Rebekah go to the well before Abraham’s servant came to meet her? Was it weeks, months, years? Did she ever complain? Get lonely? Feel bored? Think her life was meaningless or her job purposeless?
We could play a lot of “what ifs” with Rebekah’s life. What if she felt tired or bored the day Abraham’s servant showed up, and decided she wasn’t going to the well that day? Not only would she have missed out on a life of adventure and renown, but we wouldn’t have the nation of Israel today. And Jesus Christ would have had a different great-grandmother.
Have you ever thought or prayed “Dear God, Remember me? I’m doing your work; I’m being faithful, prayerful and following Your will. Why haven’t I been rewarded yet, or how come I haven’t met her (or him) yet?”
God acts in eternity, so He never wastes time. And He sees success and meaning with different eyes than we have. The lesson that Rebekah’s daily life teaches us is this: our job and our calling is to remain faithful to whatever work the Lord has given us to do for the present. And in God’s perfect timing, He will reward our faithfulness, like He rewarded the woman at the well.
Rebekah’s godly character — her virtue — was the catalyst for accomplishing the life that God had prepared for her. This is what the Living Word Commentary says about Rebekah:
“Rebekah put herself through a lot of hard work for no apparent gain. She was a woman of godly character. Something of great worth in God's sight (1 Peter 3:3-4).
“As a child of God, the greatest investment you can make in your life is that of a godly character (1 Timothy 4:7-8). Let the word of God remold your life. It’s in seeking God that you will find fulfillment (1 Timothy 6:6). As you seek the kingdom of God all other things will be added unto you (Matthew 6:33).
“This is the secret to a fulfilled life that so many have missed. The godliness in Rebekah is what opened the door to her destiny. She was not sitting there complaining of her situation, but rather allowed the love of God to shape her life.”
Rebekah’s situation helps me put my own in perspective. No matter how fruitless or menial the tasks in my life may sometimes seem, I’ve never been required to haul water back and forth to my house, and I’ve never had to feed camels, goats and sheep in my spare time, either. If she didn’t complain, I certainly have no cause to do so.
Rebekah reminds us that it’s not the significance of what we are outwardly accomplishing that matters half as much as the condition of our hearts. For it is the heart focused on God that is abundantly rewarded.
A Servant’s Heart
Rebekah was eager to serve others when the opportunity arose. I’ve been told that feeding and watering camels is not an easy job. She offered to do it without thinking twice. She also immediately offered her home and her table to Abraham’s servant when she saw someone in need.
As single Christians, we have many opportunities and often the needed freedom to pour ourselves into the service of others. Service is not only a grace-building opportunity for our lives, but it’s also an excellent way to meet the kind of people that make good marriage partners. I know several married couples who met each other while serving in some ministry or outreach capacity.
Service of others is also great marriage preparation. My parents tell me that nothing knocks selfishness out of your life like having a spouse and kids! Why not start now, in preparing to be the servant you want to be in your marriage and family life?
Ready to Go
Another lesson Rebekah teaches us at the well is to be ready to respond and act when God’s timing is perfect.
When Abraham’s servant came for her, Rebekah was ready to go. Right then.
How many times does God’s will present itself in our lives, but we end up making excuses because we’re not ready or prepared to fulfill His desire for our lives? If you feel called to the vocation of marriage, work now on preparing yourself to be the best spouse you can be.
Marriage isn’t a fix-all for the inadequacies in your personal life and spiritual life. The spiritual practices, good habits, and virtuous behavior you implement in your life right now will bear fruit and come to fullness when you have a spouse.
How’s your prayer life? Could you work on organizing your schedule, your life, your finances, your priorities better? Are you active in your parish? What do you do to serve others? Do you read good books and learn from exemplary Christians how to walk in Christ’s footsteps?
If God has called you to the vocation of marriage, now is the time to start getting ready to go.
Trust and Obey
My mom is an amazing anchor in my life. If she ever hears me complaining about life or some situation, she says to me: “Steph, remember: trust and obey!”
The Catechism of the Catholic Church, and many other Church documents talk about the responsibility of Christians to respond to Christ with the “trust and obey” attitude, which the Church calls the “obedience of faith.”
The Catechism states: “By faith, man completely submits his intellect and his will to God. With his whole being man gives his assent to God the revealer. Sacred Scripture calls this human response to God…‘the obedience of faith’” (CCC §143).
Obedience of faith is our “yes” to God, and it is inspired by prayer: “Contemplative prayer is hearing the Word of God. Far from being passive, such attentiveness is the obedience of faith, the unconditional acceptance of a servant, and the loving commitment of a child. It participates in the ‘Yes’ of the Son become servant and the Fiat of God's lowly handmaid” (CCC §2716).
Rebekah is one of the greatest Old Testament examples of a woman placing complete trust in and assent to the will of God. (This is of course one reason she is a prefigure of the Blessed Virgin’s perfect fiat in the New Testament).
An old man shows up at her well, gives her expensive jewelry, and tells her that she’s chosen by God to be the wife of a man she’s never laid eyes on. And she basically says “Okay. Let’s go.”
Rebekah’s obedience, trust, and submission are a powerful model for you and me. Our goal as single Catholic Christians is to pour our lives into service to Christ, immersing ourselves in the sacraments and in prayer, so that we too may have this childlike, perfect trust in God. If we have this same trust, when the right time and the right someone comes along, we too will be ready and able to say “Okay. Let’s go.”
The Reward of Faithfulness
The reward of Rebekah’s faithfulness was pretty impressive. God gave her a loving husband, twin sons who would go on to become the leaders of the greatest nations in the biblical world (Jacob and Essau), and she also became the great, great (times a few more greats) grandmother of the promised Messiah, Jesus Christ.
Ultimately, the lesson we can learn from Rebekah is to be faithful, and to put our whole heart, mind, and body into accomplishing the tasks that God has given us to do right now, no matter how great or how small they may seem. Instead of worrying that God has somehow forgotten us, or the chance of finding a godly spouse is passing us by, we need to follow Him wholeheartedly and let Him accomplish His work in us and through us.
Do not lose heart, no matter how long you’ve waited for your spouse.
Go to the well, and prepare to drink deeply from the ocean of love and happiness He has prepared for you.
Recommended Reading: Genesis 24:1-67
Stephanie is the coordinator of NextWave Faithful, a youth and young adult division of Family Life Center International. She has been a frequent guest on several Catholic programs, including EWTN Radio's Faith & Family, which she currently co-hosts with her father, Steve Wood, and EWTN Television's Life on the Rock and The Journey Home.
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