The Loveliest Story Ever Told (Contents)
The Loveliest Story Ever Told
What led me into the English class-room that afternoon I cannot now recall, for English was not one of my subjects. When I entered, the room was full and the famous Professor — Sir Herbert Grierson of Edinburgh University — was about to deliver his ordinary lecture for the day.
Of all that he said during that hour I can now remember nothing apart from the few unforgettable words which throughout the years have remained in my memory with unfading clarity. “Perhaps the loveliest and the most perfect story ever told is to be found in the Bible—in Genesis Chapter twenty-four; it is the story of Abraham’s servant in his quest for a bride for his master’s son.”
These, as nearly as I can now recall them, were his words. Even now, and for that one moment, I seem to see the man and to hear his voice. Also, I seem to see the intent and somewhat surprised look on the faces of his numerous students as they listened to his words.
And down through the years that one brief scene and saying have haunted my imagination like a pleasant dream. I cannot tell how often I have read that familiar Biblical story since that day, but, the more I read it, the more I am impressed with its idyllic beauty and spiritual significance.
The sheer literary grace of the story is, of course, all unconscious. As its quiet drama unfolds our emotions are, somehow, touched at their deepest level. It is a story which brings us into touch with the quiet pastoral word of a bygone age. Its human tenderness and pathos; its atmosphere of devotion, and, above all, the deep love which moves at its very heart, make us realise how wonderful and noble life may be if we are blessed by the same influences and are in touch with the same living streams. For this also is a story in which we may see both the love of God and the finger of God.
The story begins with an old man sitting in his tent in Hebron. He had seen many and eventful years. His wife, his companion in his joys and sorrows, now lies in her grave near an oak tree at Machpelah. He knows that the God Who had been his Friend and Companion in the way, would soon gather him also to his people.
Now that his pilgrimage on earth is about to close, the future welfare of his well-beloved son is giving him concern. He is still unmarried and he is anxious that he should now have someone who would worthily share his life and love, along with the great and far reaching blessings and promises which God had, in such an awe-inspiring manner, confined to himself and to succeeding generations down through the ages to come.
These promises were related to the salvation of the world through the Blessed One, who, according to the flesh, was to descend from his family and Who would appear in this world in a future age. It was through this Person, this “Angel of the Covenant,” that he saw through the vistas of prophetic time the glorious destiny of his spiritual seed.
As he muses on all this, a prayerful resolution forms in his mind. He would call his well-trusted servant—probably Eliezer—and send him forth to the far country of his own kindred. There God might have someone ready to share his son’s life along with his great spiritual inheritance.
And the servant is worthy of his master’s trust. Aware of the importance and significance of his mission, he turns at once to God for guidance and good success. After selecting priceless jewels and costly robes—for his master and son were very rich—he went forward with prayer on his lips that God might prosper his journey and show him a sign for good.
As the cavalcade of camels with their riders moved through the silent desert, and as, night after night, the stars beamed out of the evening sky, this faithful servant continued praying to God. And when at last the long journey between Hebron and Haran was nearly over he knew that the hour was big with destiny.
Arriving at the well outside the city at the time when “women go out to draw water,” he offered an audible prayer to God. “And he said, O Lord God of my master Abraham I pray thee, send me good speed this day, and shew kindness unto my master Abraham. Behold, I stand here by the well of water, and the daughters of the men of the city come out to draw water And let it come to pass that the damsel to whom I shall say, Let down thy pitcher, I pray thee, that I may drink: and she shall say, Drink, and I will give thy camels drink also: let the same be she that thou hast appointed for thy servant Isaac; and thereby shall I know that thou hast shewed kindness unto my master.”
This was his prayer. This was the sign he asked of God who had guided him in the way.
It was a sign that was calculated to throw much light on the character and disposition of the girl worthy of his master’s son. He was merely to ask her for ‘a sip’—as the Hebrew word may be rendered—of water for himself only; but the one whom God had chosen to be the mother of a great people and a remote ancestress of Jesus Christ would reveal her generous nature and her willingness to serve others by offering him not a mere ‘sip’ of water but an abundant ‘drink.’
To this she was also to add the astonishing offer of drawing water for the camels also. Now when we consider that those ten beasts, after the toil of the long desert, were prepared to empty at least four barrels of water in all the spontaneous willingness of the girl of his prayers to serve man and beast would point to a kindly and an unselfish disposition and also to a character of the highest order.
How beautifully does the finger of God move in this story. While the servant was still praying that God would give him this sign, there appeared at his side a young woman who ‘was very fair to look upon.’ She was a girl whose physical and moral life was one of loveliness and purity. With exquisite grace and bearing she spoke and acted as he had prayed to God she would. God truly had answered his prayer in a way that filled him with wonder. At that moment he knew that, as Abraham had promised, God had sent His Angel before him. That sure and invisible guide had truly led him in ‘the right way.’
His thankfulness to God for giving him such a clear sign of His favour he could only show in an act of kindness towards the fair but still unknown ‘daughter’ who stood beside him. In giving her two golden bracelets and an earring of gold he asked the question—‘Whose daughter art thou, and is there room In thy father’s house for us to lodge in?’
Again there fell from her kindly lips words of assurance that all the company were welcome to share in the hospitalities of her home. And the disclosure that she was a near relative of Abraham made him bow his head once more in prayer, while the bejewelled and astonished girl went home to tell her family about the impressive stranger who had asked her for a drink.
That evening as the stars reappeared in the clear Oriental sky, the company sat down in her father’s spacious tent where the servant told them how God prospered his master and of his purpose in coming so far. He told then too of the unmistakeable signs of God’s guidance. But he must not tarry. Their answer, whether Yes or No, must be given at once. His master was waiting, and God’s business demanded haste and an immediate decision.
Rebecca’s father and brother could not but consent that God was very intimately present in all the events which led up to this decisive hour. ‘The thing proceedeth from the Lord Behold, Rebecca is before thee, take her, and go, and let her be thy master’s son’s wife, as the Lord hath spoken.’ This was the hour for which the pious servant had prayed.
The immediate effect on his spirit was that of profound thankfulness to God and in the presence of all the company he bowed himself to the earth and worshipped God. To seal the covenant between them, and as the first tokens of her great inheritance, he brought forth jewels and goodly raiment which he handed to the girl whom God had so greatly honoured.
Gifts of gold were also given to her brother and mother. These were meant to commemorate and seal the happy transaction on which God had smiled. A feast of joy followed. And the rest of that night, as the company lay down to sleep, must have been rendered very peaceful through a deep sense of God’s presence.
As the servant awoke he could not but think of Abraham whom he had left in far-away Hebron. He knew that in the shade of those trees ‘where he called on the name of the Lord’ his worthy and well-beloved master would sometimes turn his eyes toward the distant plain for some sign of their return. He would therefore depart at once that his master also might rejoice in knowing how his prayers had prevailed with God.
It was at this moment that a dark unlooked-for cloud descended on the servant’s joyous soul. Both Rebecca’s mother and brother demanded that she should remain with them for ‘a few days, at the least ten.’ Here was something like procrastination, if not opposition. Ten days!
Truly some evil spirit had instilled this thought into the minds of her loved ones! It was an hour of crisis which could only he solved by Rebecca herself. ‘We will call the damsel and inquire at her mouth.’ And there, standing near those whom she loved and to whom she was so attached by the ties of nature, she was asked the one question which was to determine her earthly happiness, if not her ever-lasting destiny.
‘Wilt thou go with this man?’
As the decisive question was put to her we wonder if she paused? Did she bow her head in silent prayer? Did she blush as a tear struggled to escape her eyelids? We cannot tell. All we know is that, like the chime of a distant bell, the brief, irrevocable reply fell from her lips—‘I will go.’ And as they moved away toward the land of her choice she bade an everlasting farewell to her people and kindred.
It would be unreasonable to think that Rebecca had a full and immediate grasp of all that was involved in her decision and calling. As yet she just stood on the threshold of a life the wonder of which she could hardly grasp. From that moment her name took do the colour of immortality.
By one word she stepped forward into history, for her name, her life and her faith were now perpetuated in Gods everlasting Word. From that moment her higher relationship to God also entitled her to privileges, honours and blessings which she could, as yet, but dimly apprehend.
The long journey towards the south is now nearly over. The eyes of Rebecca are live with interest as the kindly hills of the south come into view — the scene of her future home! And in one of the nearer fields a man may be seen walking. It is her future husband, wistfully waiting for the cavalcade which his keen eyes may have seen coming over the crest of the hill an hour before.
As they come near, and as the servant recognises his master’s son, Rebecca dismounts, and out of deep respect for the one whose life she was now to share, she covers her face with a veil. Isaac had no difficulty in recognising her, for did she not wear on her person the costly jewels and robes which he had sent her? In that hour an undying love for each other was born in their hearts, a love which sustained them in after days through all the trials which they were called upon to endure.
This story, as it is written down in the Bible by the pen of inspiration, is truly ‘lovely,’ but whether Sir Herbert had any appreciation of its spiritual and higher meaning one cannot tell. It is, in fact, a story which has given beauty and vividness to a lovelier story by far—the story of God’s love towards the sinful children of men.
Indeed the whole story is deeply symbolic and instructive; for it illustrates in a wonderful way the mysterious love of God Who from all eternity decreed that His Son also should have a Bride—one who should share His love and inheritance throughout the ages to come. It is, under the guise of a lovely type, the story of the heavenly marriage of Christ and His Bride.
One does not need to apologise for giving the story this spiritual meaning and elevation. The Scriptures permit of this since they, also, use this very symbolism of marriage as eminently fitted to portray the covenant relationship between Christ and His people. In the Forty-fifth Psalm, for example. we have a lovely portrayal of Christ, the Bridegroom, and His Bride, the Church.
There we see them both enframed within the same divine song. The respective and peculiar glories of each are minutely described. Their love for one another, or the eternal Union between them, is that which gives depth and dignity to this exquisite Psalm. There, within the glorious transactions of God’s grace, we see them brought together on earth till they pass outwith our view into their eternal home.
Perhaps the Book in the Bible where this symbolism reaches a height of perfection is the Song of Solomon. To the devout Israelite this Book was ‘the holy of holies’ of divine revelation; and throughout the Christian centuries many choice Christians have also found in this Book the secrets of a divine and holy love the knowledge of which is for ever hidden from, and beyond the spiritual reach of, all to whom God is a stranger.
And lest any should say that such a symbolism is a mere ‘oriental extravagance’ which is not inherent in the Gospel we may look into the New Testament to see it there also, and in words of even deeper tenderness and meaning.
When John the Baptist would bring the incarnate Lord and His people face to face he exclaimed in ecstasy: ‘He that hath the bride is the bridegroom.’ As he saw one of the great transactions of the eternal world now brought to its fulfilment in time his own joy was unspeakable.
Our Lord’s parable of the marriage of the king’s son is also to be understood within the meaning of this symbolism. He is the king’s Son whose marriage calls for an outflow of God’s loving-kindness toward men. To celebrate this great event a feast of unending joy is prepared for all who are willing to come.
We never perform a marriage ceremony without reading the wonderful words which show the ideal standards which should grace and govern Christian marriage. ‘Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave Himself for it: that He might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word: that He might present it to Himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing…This is a great mystery but I speak concerning Christ and the church.’
In these words we see this symbolism given a practical significance both within the temporal and the divine order.
The last words in the Bible speak of this same love and relationship. ‘The marriage of the Lamb is come, and His wife bath made herself ready.’ The tenderness and kindness which dwell in her Lord’s heart we find in her heart also. Her last word to us from the threshold of her heavenly home is— ‘Come.’
Our story is therefore one that is consistent with Scriptural usage. It is, as we shall see, one that has often provided many preachers of the Gospel with rich spiritual material which makes the theme of God’s grace both winsome and endearing, as well as one of infinite consolation to the people of God. It also makes the Gospel theme intelligible to all levels of mental capacity and spiritual apprehension.
It is a great pity, therefore, that some have complicated this lovely emblem of God’s covenant relationship with His people. Within a strange mode of interpretation they make a distinction between the Church and the Bride. With the Bible in our hands, however, are these not one and the same? Christ’s own answer to this question is: ‘My dove, my undefiled is but one.’
And it is the story of His love for His Bride that we now wish to tell.