Although Abraham and his family lived in the land of the Canaanites, Abraham was insistent that Isaac chose a bride from his kindred rather than a Canaanite woman. Isaac was the son of the covenant—the one through whom the birthright blessings would pass—so Abraham wanted his son to marry one of his own faith and beliefs. Today, it remains important that we marry in the covenant (meaning eternal or temple marriage) if we want our children to enjoy the blessings of the Abrahamic covenant that we are heirs to as members of the Church.
Marriage in the covenant has been a commandment of God in all ages—whenever the gospel has been on the earth--because it is an eternal ordinance and the family unit was always intended to last for eternity. Adam and Eve set the example as they entered into eternal marriage. “Till death do you part” was never a part of their wedding vows.
Abraham sent a servant to find a suitable wife for Isaac. (Note: Since the people of Melchizedek were a short journey away, one might expect Isaac to obtain a worthy wife among them, but they had been translated, so the opportunity was not available.) The servant was an impressive individual, who, even after a long journey, would not eat until he had finished his errand for Abraham. We can see from Genesis 24 that he was trustworthy, loyal, prayerful, and faithful. And rather than remain there for a ten-day celebration, the servant wished to take Rebekah and return to Abraham quickly.
Genesis 24:15-20, 58. Abraham’s servant knew that his prayer for direction had been answered when he spoke with Rebekah. Rebekah showed herself to be kind and willing to help strangers. It was no small task to water the ten camels, since a camel can consume up to 30 gallons a day. Rebekah’s great faith was shown in her willingness to leave her home to marry her second cousin, Isaac.
There are certain qualities that are desirable in a husband or wife. The more important qualities will be spiritual rather than physical. (In class we will open the subject for discussion and your insight.) Of course, if potential mates are looking for certain spiritual qualities, we should endeavor to develop such qualities—regardless of whether we are already married or not.
Preparing for eternal marriage begins early. We should teach our children, at appropriate times, what they can do to prepare for marriage in the covenant. President Howard W. Hunter said: “Let us plan for and teach and plead with our children to marry in the house of the Lord. Let us reaffirm more vigorously than we have in the past that it does matter where you marry and by what authority you are pronounced man and wife” (Ensign, Nov. 1994, 88).
Both Isaac and Jacob were instructed by their fathers to marry women of their own faith. Esau brought sorrow to his parents by marrying wives who did not believe in the God of Abraham. President Spencer W. Kimball gave this counsel: “ Paul told the Corinthians, ‘Be ye not unequally yoked together…’ Perhaps Paul wanted them to see that religious differences are fundamental differences. Religious differences imply wider areas of conflict. Church loyalties and family loyalties clash. Children’s lives are often frustrated. The nonmember may be equally brilliant, well trained and attractive, and he or she may have the most pleasing personality, but without a common faith, trouble lies ahead for the marriage. There are some exceptions but the rule is a harsh and unhappy one.” He continued: “Clearly, right marriage begins with right dating. A person generally marries someone from among those with whom he …socializes. Therefore, this warning comes with great emphasis. Do not take the chance of dating non-members, or members who are untrained and faithless.” (The Miracle of Forgiveness , 240-242).
Genesis 25:22-23 records that Rebekah received a revelation about her yet unborn twin sons. Concerning Rebekah’s prayer, Elder Bruce R. McConkie said: “May I now take our common ancestor, Rebekah, as a pattern for what her daughters in the Church today can do?…when Rebekah was troubled and needed divine guidance she herself took the matter up with the Lord, and he spoke to her in reply. The Lord gives revelation to women who pray to him in faith” (Conference Report, Tahiti Area Conference 1976, 16). While the birthright usually passed from father to eldest son, the Lord revealed to Rebekah that Esau would serve Jacob. The birthright included a double share of the family wealth as compensation for serving as the patriarch and assuming the responsibility for support of the father’s widow and daughters. Jacob’s reception of the birthright meant that his descendants would be the covenant people rather than Esau’s posterity.
Genesis 25:29-34 show Esau’s feelings about his birthright. It is obvious that he placed little value on the birthright since he was willing to sell it cheaply to satisfy a temporary physical need.
As members of the Church, we have a spiritual birthright from our heavenly parents. Blessings included in that birthright include the priesthood, opportunity for temple blessings, availability of the ordinances, revelation, and the potential for exaltation in the celestial kingdom.
The spiritual birthright blessings are affected by our choice of a marriage partner. If we choose to marry in the covenant, we receive temple ordinances that allow us to receive the blessings associated with the Abrahamic covenant. If we chose a civil marriage only, we limit our right to receive such blessings.
Our words and actions also show what value we place on our birthright. We, like Esau, can put temporary needs ahead of eternal values if we are careless or worldly.
Heirs to the covenant were chosen by the Lord. He favored Isaac over Ishmael (Gal. 4:22-23), Jacob over Esau, Joseph over Reuben (1 Chronicles 5:1-2), and Ephraim over Manasseh (Genesis 48:17-20). This suggests to us that there are qualifications that supersede birth order in the opportunity for callings and blessings in the Lord’s plan.
Genesis 26:3435; 28:6-9 gives us some insight into Esau’s choice of wives.
Genesis 28:1-5; 29:1-28 indicates that Jacob was willing to go to great lengths to marry in the covenant. He made a long journey to find a faithful woman to marry. He then worked for Laban for seven years before marrying Rachel and he continued to work for him afterward.
President Gordon B. Hinckley told of a family who joined the Church in Australia and then sold all their possessions so they could travel to New Zealand and be sealed as a family. The father of this family said: “We could not afford to come [to the temple]. Our worldly possessions consisted of our car, our furniture, and our dishes. I said to my family, ‘We cannot afford not to go. If the Lord will give me strength, I can work and earn enough for another car and furniture and dishes, but if I should lose these my loved ones, I would be poor indeed in both life and in eternity’” (Be Thou an Example , 138).
Our challenge is to realize the importance of marrying in the covenant and living worthily so that we may receive the birthright blessings. Wisdom dictates that we should not trade our eternal blessings for temporary pleasure or satisfaction—especially when marriage is the subject.
These lessons are posted on the Internet at www.neumanninstitute.org