Last week we began a discussion about the betrothal genre in the Bible with some basic guidelines laid out. Then we examined the first betrothal – that of Isaac and Rebekah – setting the conventions in place.
The second betrothal is also found in Genesis but features a few tweaks to the guidelines – for a purpose.
Jacob, Isaac’s son, left his home and goes to a foreign land. There was no surrogate this time; Jacob was fleeing his brother’s wrath after deceiving him.
But the convention remains. Jacob went to the well to find his uncle Laban and there met Laban’s daughter, Rachel.
She was unable to draw water because of a stone blocking the well. So Jacob moved the stone for her and then watered the sheep. This slight variation on the convention could foreshadow the difficulties Jacob must overcome to actually marry Rachel- and even her difficulty in bearing children for him.
But the convention continues, for Rachel, after meeting Jacob, runs to her home. He eats a meal with the family and the betrothal is secured.
Although we were told immediately that Rebekah was beautiful, in this story we don’t learn of Rachel’s beauty until later – when she was compared to her sister Leah. The convention flexes here to give us understanding about the coming strife between the two sisters.
A third betrothal follows in Exodus when Moses, fleeing Egypt after murdering an Egyptian, arrived in a foreign land: Midian.
There he met the seven daughters of a Midianite priest – at a well where they had come to draw water. Moses had to drive off hostile shepherds before drawing water for the sheep, as the convention requires.
The girls hurried off to tell their father. Their father, Reuel, invited Moses to a meal and Moses was given Zipporah as his wife. All within the convention.
Next week we’ll look at a surprising betrothal story that used the betrothal conventions to an unexpected conclusion.
It is time for a FIRST Wild Card Tour book review! If you wish to join the FIRST blog alliance, just click the button. We are a group of reviewers who tour Christian books. A Wild Card post includes a brief bio of the author and a full chapter from each book toured. The reason it is called a FIRST Wild Card Tour is that you never know if the book will be fiction, non~fiction, for young, or for old…or for somewhere in between! Enjoy your free peek into the book!
You never know when I might play a wild card on you!
Bonnie Doran’s debut novel, Dark Biology, released October 25th as a science fiction thriller from Harbourlight of Pelican Book Group. Prior to delving into fiction, she wrote and sold over 60 devotionals. She is represented by Steve Hutson of WordWise Media. When she isn’t writing, she enjoys reading (mostly science fiction), cooking, Sudoku puzzles, and hanging out with other writers, sci-fi fans, and Mad Scientists. She has a reputation of telling groan-producing puns and volunteers at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science. She’s been married 29 years to an electrical engineer and Mad Scientist who owns a 2,300-pound electromagnet and plays with lasers for a living.
Visit the author’s website.
Renowned vaccinologist “Hildi” Hildebrandt has set her sights on beating her brother to a Nobel Prize, and the opportunity to conduct experiments on the International Space Station might just provide the means to obtain that goal.
Chet Hildebrandt should have had that opportunity. But now he’ll teach a lesson to them all: his hot-shot astronaut sister, his philandering hypocritical father, and the CDC for not properly appreciating his work. One vial of a virus purloined from the CDC labs and released at his father’s marriage seminar should do the trick, without hurting anybody. After all, it’s only a mild influenza strain…Or is it?
List Price: $15.99
Paperback: 342 pages
Publisher: Harbourlight Books (October 25, 2013)
AND NOW…THE FIRST CHAPTER:
She ignored it. While she waited for her lab partner to emerge from the airlock, she checked the seals of her blue biocontainment suit again. Good habits could save her life.
Hildi pulled a coiled yellow air hose suspended from the ceiling and plugged it into a socket near her waist. The deflated suit expanded as air roared past her face. The familiar ballooning sensation saddened her for a moment. She’d miss her work here.
Then she grinned. She’d be wearing a pressure suit in her new job and performing similar cutting-edge work in an even stranger environment.
Her practiced eyes appraised Biosafety Level 4, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s most dangerous lab. Everything “down and cold.” But an adjoining room held liquid-nitrogen freezers filled with hot agents, the deadliest diseases known to man. Francine stepped from the airlock. Hildi’s college friend had never worked in Level 4, but she moved with confidence. Hildi stared into Francine’s faceplate and noted her calm expression. She’d do fine.
Hildi maneuvered past the stainless-steel tables dominating the room. She pulled two-inch test tubes, a push-button micropipette, and other tools from drawers and placed them in the biosafety cabinet, a glorified box with a fume hood and clear front that rested on the work counter. She detached her hose, inhaling the reserved air in her suit.
Humming to herself, she walked into the adjoining room and attached her suit to another hose. Every time Hildi moved in the lab, she repeated the procedure, a necessary inconvenience if she wanted to continue breathing.
She punched a code into the lock of one of the stainless-steel freezers and extracted a vial of the latest X virus that may or may not have killed John Doe.
Returning to the biosafety hood, she slipped her yellow-gloved hands under the clear protective shield, a sneeze guard at a toxic salad bar. She withdrew a tiny sample of the unknown and released it into one of the tubes. After Hildi repeated the protocol many times, she keyed the information into the computer.
Hildi glanced at Francine just as she straightened from a hunched position over a microscope. Francine turned, her movements jerky like a marionette’s. Her suit’s chest zipper gaped, exposing her blue scrubs underneath. She seemed to shrink as her biosuit deflated.
“I’ve got a problem here!” Francine yelled, her voice quavering. The rush of air in their ears turned conversations in Level 4 into a shouting match. Francine fumbled for the zipper with trembling fingers.
Hildi’s heart skipped several beats then she zipped the suit shut in one smooth motion. “Zippers get worn. They can pop open.”
Francine’s white-rimmed, dark-chocolate eyes returned to normal. “How bad was that?” Her voice still quavered.
“Your suit had positive pressure the whole time. A hot agent couldn’t get in. You OK?”
Francine gave a nervous chuckle. “Sure gave me the jumpy jitters.” She turned back to the scope.
Hildi released the breath she’d been holding. Risk was part of the job. Zippers failed. Gloves failed. Usually it wasn’t life threatening.
She placed the rack of tubes in the incubator cabinet, maintainedat the ominous temperature of warm blood, and then returned the original sample of hot agent to the freezer. Her mood descended into a gray chasm. She already missed the challenge of Level 4. But she had a job offer that would take her research to a whole new level. She could smell that Nobel Prize. Her brother Chet would never catch up to her now.
Hildi exhaled a heavy sigh that fogged her faceplate. “Done,” she yelled. “Finally I can get out of here and scratch my nose.”
“Thought you’d be used to it after three years.”
“Never. Right now it’s driving me nuts.”
Francine chuckled and headed for the airlock.
Hildi followed. She inhaled the chemical smell as the decontamination shower sprayed disinfectant over her suit. The two of them scrambled out of their blue suits as soon as they reached the changing room. Hildi scratched her tingling nose with ferocity.
Francine grinned at her and walked to the regular showers which contained detergent for washing and a bath of ultraviolet light.
Hildi hung her short suit next to Francine’s long one. She reached up to caress a sleeve of the guardian that protected her against infection. “Thanks for keeping me safe. I’ll be back.”
Hildi stripped and marched naked to the shower. No modesty in this job. Afterward, she tugged on jeans and a mauve T-shirt.
Her lab partner’s perfect complexion glistened as she toweled off. Hildi’s pale skin and red curls contrasted with Francine’s coffee coloring and corn-rowed black hair. Not exactly twins separated at birth.
“When do you get in to Houston?” Francine pulled on black leggings and a flowered tunic then grabbed her tiny purse.
“Around four.” Hildi grimaced. “Rush hour. My favorite time.” She longed for the feel of the afternoon sun on her face, but she wouldn’t enjoy it today.
“I’m surprised Director Hunt gave you such a long leave of absence.”
“It’s a fantastic opportunity.” Her spirits bounced like an acrobat on a trampoline. “But it’s not like I won’t be working.” She grunted as she wrenched her holds-anything-and-hides-everything handbag from her locker.
Francine smiled. “You know, I might just lock you in one of the labs until after your flight leaves.”
Hildi laughed. “You wouldn’t dare.”
“Don’t try me. I’m missing you already.” Francine hugged her. “I can’t believe you’ll be gone for a whole year.”
Hildi swallowed to keep her voice from cracking. “I will be back for visits, you know.”
“You’d better be.”
They walked through another airlock into a corridor and less-lethal safety levels. The burning, moist smell of giant autoclaves bid a pungent farewell.
“You just don’t want to work with Chet.” Hildi baited her friend.
“Don’t rub it in.” Francine lowered her voice. “Did you hear? Your brother’s in big trouble.” Francine sounded like she relished the thought.
Hildi groaned. “What did he do this time?”
“Chet worked on that new anthrax sample from England without authorization. Director Hunt turned three shades of purple.”
“Hunt’s a bit paranoid about the paperwork, that’s all.”
Francine shook her head. “Your brother has an attitude.”
“I know.” Hildi frowned. “It’s hard to work in the same building with him when he avoids me like—well—the plague.”
“He’s done a good job at alienating everyone around here, so don’t feel special.”
They drove directly to the airport in Francine’s tired green Altima. The Atlanta traffic, abysmal at any time of the day, choked Hildi with exhaust fumes. She turned up the AC. “Sure you don’t mind caring for my cat?”
“Whiskers will be just fine.”
Francine pulled up to departures, opened the trunk, and hefted the bulky suitcases. “What do you have in here, moon rocks?”
Hildi grabbed her carry-on. They chatted until a security officer ordered, “Clear the lane, please.”
Hildi fished in her purse for a tissue and gave Francine one more tight hug. “Thanks for everything.”
“Vaya con Dios.”
Hildi wheeled her suitcases to the nearest door, her stomach fluttering as if she’d just won the lottery. Maybe she had.
Hildi deplaned in Houston after an unremarkable flight. She heaved her suitcases onto their wheels and stepped outside. A tanned man in a polo shirt and jeans held a sign. Dr. Hildebra. Someone hadn’t quite fit her name on the cardboard. Situation normal.
“Evangeline?” He smiled.
“Please call me Hildi.”
Hildi stifled a gasp and flung her star-struck feelings aside as she wiped sweaty palms on her jeans. Larry’s exploits in space were the stuff of legend. She shook his hand.
He loaded her luggage into the trunk of his silver Jaguar convertible. More diesel exhaust assaulted Hildi as they headed south on I-45. She’d expected oil fields and cowboy hats when she first came here but instead found apartments, shopping centers, and malls. Same humidity as Atlanta, same traffic. He chatterednonstop.
Hildi interrupted. “So tell me about the rest of the team.”
“You’ll like them. Jasper Reingold and Frank Schotenheimer.”
Hildi nearly jolted out of her seat. “Frank?” If she’d known, would she have volunteered for this assignment?
In a heartbeat.
Larry’s face held a puzzled frown. “You know him?”
She hesitated. How had Larry missed knowing about her relationship with Frank? Would it jeopardize her chance to work in space? No way to hide it now. “We were engaged.”
“Well, things are about to get interesting.” Larry’s mouth quirked. “The director moved him up from a later mission when our pilot shattered his leg yesterday.”
She stared at the scenery. Frank? On her team? Scenes flashed in her mind. Their first kiss that had warmed her to her toes. Her growing suspicions. The night she confronted him about his gotta-work-late excuses, and he confessed his affairs. Trampled dreams.
Lord, I could use a little help here.
Larry must have sensed her mood. He didn’t say a word for the rest of the trip.
An hour later, they pulled up to the employee entrance of a sprawling facility, the salty tang of the Gulf of Mexico perceptible even this far from the ocean. Shimmers of heat rose from the pavement. After the security guard examined their badges, he beamed. “Dr. Hildebrandt? Welcome. Let me page Dan Stockton for you. He asked me to notify him when you arrived.”
Hildi’s mind whirled. First Frank and now Dan? Last time they’d talked, Dan had been training in Alabama. Probably his idea of a romantic surprise. She tried to submerge a surfacing smile. She wanted to jump into his arms when Dan arrived. Instead, she forced herself into neutral pose. He wore a periwinkle silk shirt with coordinating tie. Always a tie, as if he could never relax.Larry whispered in Hildi’s ear. “Now you know why he’s earned the nickname Dandy Dan.”
“Hildi.” Dan stepped toward her with an eager grin, glanced at Larry, and stopped in mid-stride.
“You know him, too?” Larry’s glance bounced back and forth between them like a hyperactive tennis ball.
Dan hesitated. “Uh, yes. We’ve met.” An uncomfortable silence descended. Hildi stared at the polished floor, counting the squares. She didn’t want to tell the mission commander about another relationship, especially when she couldn’t explain it herself. An on-again, off-again, long-distance relationship that was going nowhere.Larry cleared his throat and turned to Hildi. “Another fiancé? Have we ever been engaged?”
Hildi laughed, relieved he didn’t ask any more questions.
Dan smiled. “Would you rather go to your quarters first or eat?”
Her stomach rumbled in response.
“Perry’s Steakhouse?” Larry still eyed them with suspicion.
“Yes, sir.” Dan spread his arms and planted his feet on the emblem emblazoned on the floor, like a barker at the circus. “Welcome to the Johnson Space Center and phase two of astronaut training.”
Most literature belongs in a particular genre and most genres have rules or conventions that govern the narrative.
For example, if you were to read a romance novel, you’d expect the hero and heroine to meet in the first chapter. You’d expect, in spite of conflict, that eventually they would find each other and there would be a happy ending.
Within those conventions there’s plenty of room for variety.
The Bible uses such conventions with some fascinating results.
Let’s meet the betrothal convention. In this story type, we have the following rules:
- Hero or his surrogate travels to a foreign country
- He encounters a girl, a maiden, the daughter of so-and-so – at a well
- Someone – the hero or the girl – draws water from the well
- The girl hurries – needs to be running/hurried – home to bring news of the stranger
- A betrothal occurs, usually after sharing a meal with the family.
Our first betrothal story occurs in Genesis. Abraham sends his servant, his surrogate to search for a wife for his son. The surrogate travels to a foreign country and comes to a well.
Since the custom was for the young women to draw water there, it was a good place to camp. There he meets Rebekah, who draws water for him and his camels. Then she runs home to tell her family about the stranger.
Her brother, Laban, comes out to invite the servant to a meal with the family. The betrothal is made and Rebekah goes with the servant to Abraham’s land where she marries Abraham’s son, Isaac.
This narrative established the betrothal narrative structure. The next one will stretch at the edges of the conventions a bit – for a very good reason.
We’ll take a look at that narrative next week.
The books of the Bible were written like most literature: in sentences and paragraphs.
However, chapter divisions were added to texts in the 12th century, presumably to make things easier for scholars. The average person wasn’t reading the Bible at that time.
Verse divisions came in the 1500s.
Those divisions are helpful when trying to direct someone to a specific phrase in a text. It’s complicated to tell someone, “See the third sentence in the fourth paragraph on the page? Yeah, the one that starts with ‘And.’”
But those divisions have hurt us in reading the Bible as literature. We focus on a verse and miss the story.
Sometimes the verse starts in mid-sentence and ends before the sentence does. And we read that one verse and think we’ll gain great meaning.
Try reading a biblical narrative as the author wrote it. All the paragraphs and all the sentences. Just like you read a magazine article or a novel.
Sometimes reading a single verse gives us incorrect meaning. Sometimes it limits the meaning or directs it down one path when the author had a wider and richer meaning in mind.
Look for sentences and paragraphs. Ignore the chapter/verse markings when reading.
You may be surprised at what you read.
I once sat through a 16-hour class in two days and figured it would take plenty of caffeine to keep me awake. I was wrong.
The professor sat on top of his desk and seemed to rabbit-trail into a story at every opportunity. He gave us conflict and resolution, drama and mystery.
At the end of the class, I realized that he had landed all his key points through the story telling. He didn’t need lectures because he had tales to tell.
The Bible uses similar strategy. Stories beckon to our emotions, offering visits to different settings with people we don’t know.
We follow the thread of conflict and drama, eager to see what happens next. Our emotions are captured by the stories.
Whether it’s in a classroom or sitting at a coffee shop, stories always trump lecture.
From the beginning of Genesis, where we are given a dramatic unfolding of the creation of the world, to Revelation where we trek through mysterious accounts to read the final plan for the world, we find the Bible packed with stories about people and events, disappointments and victories, love and conflict.
In Genesis alone, we meet numerous people and their life stories. Noah is well-known today for his faithfulness in building an ark before there was a sign of a flood. We ask questions. How could he devote his life to this carpentry? What did the neighbors say to him? What did he say to them?
Abraham’s story fills much of Genesis and we follow his travels from his homeland to an unknown land. He tussles with his nephew, Lot, and with his wife, Sarah. Promises are made to him that he doesn’t see results for many years.
How did he feel when Sarah asked him to produce an heir through a servant? And, later, did he mourn when Sarah forced him to send mother and son – his son – into the wilderness?
What did the celebration look like when Sarah did bear a son, Isaac? Do we like Sarah? How does she train up her son?
We identify with the people and the stories. We grow in our empathy.
Like my professor who used stories to make his points, the Bible plants meaning through stories.
Many allusions come from Job’s story and yet we all wonder just what the meaning of the story is.
We’re told, for example, to have the patience of Job but was he so patient? He didn’t deny God but he did some griping.
What was the purpose of those friends and their advice? Why didn’t Job listen to them? Should he have listened? Did his wife have it right when she told him to curse God and die?
How could he, in the midst of his dilemma, craft a phrase that is now a part of well-known Easter hymn: “I know that my redeemer lives”?
And what do we make of the closing chapters of Job? Was God rebuking or instructing Job? Did Job do well – or forget his place?
I might write more on Job another day but I found an intriguing article this week that I want to share instead.
Scot McKnight offers some thoughts: And then God instructs (or rebukes?)…Job and us.