Lesson 10: Marriage in the Covenant #BCCSundaySchool2018

ReadingsGenesis 24 – 29.

Introduction:   I volunteered to give this lesson for BCC precisely because I’m a temple-divorced, now-engaged-to-a-Catholic Mormon woman.  The Old Testament manual instructs teachers “As you discuss the importance of eternal marriage, be sensitive to the feelings of class members who have not been married in the temple or whose parents have not been married in the temple.”  But other than that note, it doesn’t provide any practical tips about what that “sensitivity” might look like.  I hope here to provide a model for how we can use this episode in Genesis to spark discussion on how everyone can achieve more Christlike relationships, without assuming that all temple marriages are happy, nor that all non-temple marriages are miserable.

 Abraham v. Canaanites

This early in Genesis, we have yet to see the emergence of what we often refer to with the scriptural shorthand “Judaism” — we’re still a couple generations away from the birth of Judah and the rest of the Twelve Tribes of Israel. The scriptures will soon begin to refer to the monotheistic “God of Abraham, and of Isaac, and of Jacob” — but at this moment in the narrative, the faith is still new and the future is precarious.  Abraham is looking to continue his covenant with God by finding a wife for Isaac; during these chapters Jacob will also be born and then marry Leah and Rachel.

Questions: What were the differences between Abraham’s faith, and those of the Canaanites? Why was it important for Abraham’s family to preserve that faith, including through marriage?

Abraham is living in Canaan, among the Canaanites.  The historical records are sparse, but broadly speaking the Canaanite faith had several objectionable elements to Abraham.  They offered child sacrifices, they worshipped a diverse pantheon of gods, they built shrines to these gods in forests and on hilltops, and as a diverse people at the center of major trade routes, they engaged in a great deal of religious intermixing with their neighbors.

Abraham, by contrast, had fled the faith of his father because of child sacrifices.  He had sworn to follow one, and only one, supreme God, and had been promised the blessing of being a father of many nations in return.  He sought to establish himself and his family in the path of consistent worship to God and adherence to that covenant.

The Lord promises Isaac: “I will make thy seed to multiply as the stars of heaven, and will give unto thy seed all these countries; and in thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed;  Because that Abraham obeyed my voice, and kept my charge, my commandments, my statutes, and my laws.” (Genesis 26:3-5).  To uphold that promise, Isaac needs to raise his children in the faith, and pass down the covenant to them.


Isaac and Rebekah

Abraham sends a servant to his distant family, in order to find a faithful wife for his son Isaac.  The attributes Rebekah displays here remain important for healthy relationships today.

Kindness and proactive service.  Upon arriving in the land of Abraham’s family, the servant prays to be led to a woman who shows kindness to the servant and his traveling companions.  (Genesis 24:14 -20).  He asks ” Let me, I pray thee, drink a little water of thy pitcher.  And she said, Drink, my lord: and she hasted, and let down her pitcher upon her hand, and gave him drink.  And when she had done giving him drink, she said, I will draw water for thy camels also, until they have done drinking.  And she hasted, and emptied her pitcher into the trough, and ran again unto the well to draw water, and drew for all his camels.”

Question:  How does Rebekah’s example demonstrate kindness and empathy?  How does kindness and empathy build successful relationships? 


Consent.  Reading the story again, I grumbled a bit about the audacity of men bargaining the life of a woman away in a single afternoon, because they had decided it was God’s will.  Rebekah’s father and brother are quick to proclaim “Behold, Rebekah is before thee, take her, and go, and let her be thy master’s son’s wife, as the Lord hath spoken.” (Genesis 24:50-51).   But then I encountered a pleasant surprise — Rebekah’s other family members were concerned that that she was being force-rushed into a dramatic arrangement on no notice.   So they instigated a slow-down.   “And they said, We will call the damsel, and inquire at her mouth.  And they called Rebekah, and said unto her, Wilt thou go with this man? And she said, I will go.”  (Genesis 24:57-58).

Question: Why was it important that the family obtain Rebekah’s consent?  Why was it important for Rebekah to have her own revelation about God’s will for her relationship?  How does teaching respect and consent build successful relationships?

Once Rebekah and Isaac finally meet, the account portrays Rebekah as both excited and respectful — she jumps off the camel, then covers her face with a veil.  Then they are married: “And Isaac brought her into his mother Sarah’s tent, and took Rebekah, and she became his wife; and he loved her.”

Question:  “Love” was often not a priority in arranged marriages; it is notable that love is mentioned in this record.  Why is it important that the first marriage of Abraham’s posterity was a loving one?

 Jacob and Rachel and Leah
We know this story — Jacob, like his father, travels to his distant family in order to find a wife.  He falls in love with Rachel, but through an act of trickery he is married to Leah instead.  This is because of Leah’s father’s belief that his eldest daughter must be married off first, no mater what.  (Genesis 29:26)  Jacob and Leah fulfill their spousal duties, but Leah is miserable.  “Leah conceived, and bare a son, and she called his name Reuben: for she said, Surely the Lord hath looked upon my affliction; now therefore my husband will love me.”  (Genesis 29:32).  Meanwhile, Jacob labors another seven years to also marry Rachel.

Question:  How could everyone involved in these stories have demonstrated more healthy relationship behaviors?

One thing that strikes me, every time I read these Genesis stories, is how terrible the communication is.  Let’s briefly catalog them:  Isaac’s servant sets up a “test” to determine God’s will he doesn’t tell anyone about.  Then he forgets to ask Rebekah her will for marriage before proclaiming he is going to take her away from everything she loves.  Once married, Rebekah receives what the manual describes as a revelation that Jacob will take precedence over Esau — but apparently doesn’t tell Isaac about it, who continues to favor Esau.  Rebekah waits until her husband is blind, then makes a special dinner and dresses up Jacob like Esau, and thereby tricks her husband into giving Jacob the blessing Isaac intended for Esau.  (“Thy brother came with subtilty, and hath taken away thy blessing.”)  Jacob waits until Esau is starving to coerce Esau into giving up his birthright.  Rebekah ships Jacob off to get married in order to avoid confronting Esau’s anger.  Jacob there labors for seven years to marry Rachel, the love of his life, but his father-in-law tricks Jacob into marrying a different woman instead, because of an eldest-first custom the father-in-law had never bothered to inform Jacob about.

Seriously, what could have been done better here? 

What experiences do we have with making cultural or other assumptions, that caused conflict in our families which could have been avoided?

Developing Better Communication

“Communication is the key to all successful relationships, including in dating and marriage.”  Peggy Worthen, “A Safe Place,” BYU Devotional (Jan. 2017)

How can we develop better communications in our family lives?

Sister Worthen summarized a study, that found some basic but meaningful tips for couples:

  • Communicate clearly
  • Show patience when your partner is having difficulty expressing themselves.
  • Listen sincerely
  • Demonstrate that you are interested in them, that they are a priority
  • Put away cell phones and distractions to engage in meaningful dialogue

Likewise, Brother Ogletree, a marriage and family counselor, offered these tips in the Ensign:

  • Discuss weighty matters, including conflict, not only superficial aspects of life
  • Show vulnerability, including about your fears and inadequacies
  • Listen and validate your partner’s perspectives and experiences
  • Pay attention to and address nonverbal cues
  • Demonstrate Christlike patience and kindness
  • Practice.  Developing healthy communication skills takes committment.

“As you engage in meaningful conversations with your spouse, guide your actions and words by following the example of Jesus Christ. His communication with others radiated love, care, and concern. He spoke gently and loved purely. He showed compassion and granted forgiveness. He listened attentively and demonstrated charity.”

Conclusion: Building Covenant Relationships

No matter your particular life circumstances, you can work towards eternal, covenant relationships. Regardless of the “label” of your marriage or the exact nature of your family situation, we all can strive to be more loving and more Christlike.

We all know of temple marriages that are full of anger, a lack of respect, and poor communication.  And we all know of non-temple marriages centered around faith, submission to God, mutual love and respect, and strong communication.   Regardless of the “type” of marriage, our goal should be to help everyone around us learn and practice Christlike relationship behaviors.

Question:  How can we help our own relationships, and those of our loved ones, to be better modeled on Christlike love?

Everytime we listen in love, everytime we serve our neighbors, everytime we choose patience and kindness and attentiveness over anger, we bring our relationships more in line with God’s covenantal will.  That, in any of itself, is a success.  A fifteen-minute sealing ceremony is not nearly as important to happiness in this life as “enduring to the end.”  Or in other words, as working in whatever life situation you may be in to build family relationships centered around humility, love, respect, vulnerability, and  strong communication.

Our gospel is an optimistic one; we believe all who seek God will find him, in either this life or the next.  All will be given the opportunity to enter into covenant eternal marriages.  The best way to prepare for eternal marriage is to teach the practical day-to-day work of healthy relationships, now.


  1. Kevin Barney says:

    Thanks for this. (We had the teaching committee meetings last Sunday so I’ve forgotten where we are; I hope we’re doing this one.)

  2. I fear too much proof reading of the OT. We need to remember it’s context, both culturally and historically. The OT was not written for our time.

  3. I don’t disagree. But the current manual is nigh unto horrific on this lesson … so I tried to at least follow the spirit of the manual even if it still means proof texting Genesis. Sigh.

  4. Excellent ideas. Two comments.

    1. Did you dance over polygamy? Especially the part in Genesis 16:2 where it clearly states it is the idea of Sarai and Abraham hearkens unto the voice of Sarai his wife. The verb hearken usually speaks of hearkening unto the Lord and reference to the Lord is conspicuously absent here. This is an example of the passive patriarch/manipulative matriarch pattern in Genesis. Early Mormon leaders made a big deal about restoring Biblical polygamy. The Bible more often describes negative consequences of the practice and it bears being pointed out as often as possible.

    Maybe it is wise to focus limited time on more valuable teachings. Although many women suffer in the church with feelings of being second class citizens related to this putrid chapter in our history which will fester until we lance it.

    2.Humorous side story. My brother was married in the Idaho temple when it was bitterly cold and few Utah relatives attended. They had several children over the years and served in many ward callings such as YM or YW president, Ex.Sec., bishopric, RS presidency, Primary president, high counsel, etc,. Many years later when his wife applied for a job she indicated she was married. They checked it out and discovered that they were NOT legally married. Apparently the Idaho temple sealer did not fill out the proper paperwork, probably because it was so cold. They had to go to the courthouse and get legally married. (This was before the movie My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2 was released).

    This did raise a few questions about what activities are deemed proper by the church in connection with legal versus not exactly legal marriages. We are of the generation when BYU coeds traveling to Las Vegas, go married and sleeping together on Friday night. And Saturday night. Then had the marriage canceled on Sunday We were acquainted with a few people who pulled this stunt and claimed they were keeping the commandments.

    My brother’s bishop did not make them repent of anything. Especially since my brother was in the bishopric and he would be difficult to replace without creating a public spectacle.

  5. Thank you. I love this SO MUCH. Especially the part about the importance of Rebekah receiving her own revelation and providing her consent. This is a crucial point that, as far as I can remember, has never been made in any lesson I’ve ever attended.

    As a single member who’s beyond tired of being hit over the head about marriage, I also love the focus on strengthening ALL relationships, not just marriages.

    I’m not currently attending church, but if lessons and talks were more like this, I could actually imagine feeling safe enough to attend.

  6. Anonforthis says:

    I used to practice family law in Idaho and ran into situations where people believed they were married but the individual who married them never filled out or submitted the proper paperwork. We were able to go in and have a judge determine that they were actually married as of the date of the wedding, despite the sealer/bishop/whoever’s mistake. No need to actually have the wedding performed again.

    Worse is cases where a divorce is underway but not finished and one of the spouses goes and sets a temple wedding date with a new fiance anyways. Then, instead of canceling the wedding when the divorce drags on too long, they tell everyone they’re divorced and go through with the second temple wedding while still married to the first spouse. Bigamy performed in an LDS temple, this decade.

  7. mikerharris says:

    The spirit of the manual emphasizes, “Let us reaffirm more vigorously than we ever have in the past that it does matter where you marry and by what authority you are pronounced man and wife.” This a post about how many non temple marriage are much happier than temple marriages.

    How can we reaffirm vigorously the value of a temple marriage for both mortality and eternity and still be sensitive?

  8. mikerharris, “This is a post about how many non temple marriages are much happier than temple marriages” seems to me to be both an incorrect and uncharitable characterization of the post. There are a couple of lines out of the entire post that point out that there are some non-temple marriages that are happy and temple marriages that are not — which is obviously referencing that anyone who reads that is already going to know there are temple marriages that are happy and non-temple marriages that are not; additionally, that statement is both true and a somewhat tangential statement to the actual main idea of the post, which is that ALL relationships (not even just marriages), temple or not, can benefit from greater charity and communication skills.

    In any case, I rather feel that the manual doesn’t engage with the scriptures in this lesson to the extent I would like. As my non-member-but-Bible-familiar husband said when I told him the scripture chapters for this lesson and that the manual lesson was about marriage, “…You know that Jacob and Esau weren’t married, right?” He was joking, of course, but I had already been thinking that I’ll probably title this lesson “Families Are Difficult,” which to me is the real lesson here. (Both our mortal and divine families can be difficult, actually — see e.g. Jacob’s dream / wrestle with God. Not to say that God is difficult, but our (my) relationship with Him can be fraught because we’re not perfect.)

  9. I like how Abraham’s servant provides an example of faith, but not blind faith. He prays and asks for a sign to identify the right woman, and he gets the sign, but then before he tells her who he is, he first takes time to ask who she is. Only after she confirms that she’s Abraham’s family, he tells her who he is what why he’s there.

    He has faith in the sign, but he’s not going to rush in without confirming it.

  10. Great work with a minefield of a lesson, Carolyn.

  11. The problem I see with the LDS church and covenant marriage is how they will directly tell children not to date non members. I wasn’t a member until I dated a member of the LDS faith. Maybe the message should be that you can date anyone because God loves all people and not just LDS church members. This needs to change.

  12. Not a Cougar says:

    Josh, I understand the impulse, and I’m the direct product of a member-nonmember marriage, but my experience has been that the majority of those marriages wind up with the member not being active or leaving the Church entirely (and no, I have no hard numbers to back it up). For many others, the nonmember never joins the Church and family is treated as a project and somehow “less than” all-member families . I’m thankful that those results don’t happen in every case (as evidenced by both of our families), but I can’t see Church leadership ever letting up on its push to encourage members to marry members.

    Disclaimer: The admitted assumption in the argument above is that active membership in the Church is a good thing and that the Church should be doing what it can to encourage members to be active. Take that away and the argument crumbles.

  13. Not a Cougar: But even believing that active membership in the church is a good thing and that the church should encourage it doesn’t require is to believe that the church should do so by any and all means. For example, telling families to kick their children out of the house if they dropped off in church activity would encourage church activity, but I think virtually all of us would agree that that’s bad parenting and not something the church should encourage. So the question isn’t just whether this encourages church activity; it’s whether it does so, and whether it has other harmful effects, and if so, whether those harmful effects outweigh the benefit of encouraging church activity, and whether there are better ways to accomplish the goal of encouraging active church membership that don’t have those harmful effects.

    For my part, I have no problem with encouraging kids to marry within the church, but I think we have to be careful that we give support all church members in their marriages, whether with church members or not. I approach it as a question of what’s worse: (1) a church member marries a non-member and has a fulfilling marriage and family and there’s a slightly higher chance that their kids might be less active in the church, or (2) a church member gives up chances for a fulfilling and happy marriage and family, and never has children at all?

  14. Not a Cougar says:

    JKC, I should preface with the fact that I was to a great extent answering as a I might were I in Church leadership, and held what I believe is the majority view (a bit esoteric, I admit). Church leadership appears to feel a deep responsibility to ensure the Church’s continuation and more specifically, as the relatively small tent organization that it is. In considering whether to do away with the official endorsement of member-only marriage, I would certainly take into account the factors you listed. I also heartily concur that we by and large do a terrible judge of supporting mixed-faith marriages.

    Where we disagree is how great an impact removing the official endorsement of member-member marriage would be. Young men and women would likely feel much less pressure to attend one of the BYUs as one of the main impetuses for doing so, meeting a marrying another member, is now gone. Such a policy change would also likely signal the end of singles wards (and many would cheer the announcement) which is where I met my wife (we would have been in different stakes otherwise and likely not met – and yes, that’s not a very good reason in support of my argument, but I really love my wife). Further, I mean no offense, but I think your characterization that the likelihood of of children of mixed-faith marriages winding up less active as “slightly higher” is a major understatement. They are certainly faithful LDS spouses who raise faithful LDS children with a loving spouse of a different faith, but that’s been the exception in my life, rather than the rule.

    I again acknowledge that my statements are based solely on my own experiences as a lifelong Mormon who grew up outside the Mormon corridor. Our ward activity rates hovered around 25-30% and none of the Mormon kids I went to high school with who married an non-member are active so all that certainly colors my judgement.

  15. Actually, I don’t think we disagree much. I’m not in any way arguing for “removing the official endorsement of member-member marriage,” I just think we (a) need to do a better job of supporting mixed-faith marriages and (b) should recognize that even if marriage in the church is the ideal, marriage to a non-member is still valuable and in at least some cases, better than no marriage.

  16. Not a Cougar says:

    “We agreeeeeeee!!!”

    (Inside joke who listens to the Solid Verbal podcast)

  17. Thank you so much for this lesson. I am teaching the story of Isaac and Rebekah in Primary this week, and have been struggling with the lesson as presented in the manual, which feels like a poor fit for eight-year-olds, and which I am concerned may exclude some children whose homes don’t fit the ideal of a temple marriage.

    Your focus here on the qualities that make successful, Christlike relationships–in other words, on what it means to KEEP marriage and family covenants–seems to me like a much more relevant and rich approach to the biblical story than a sole focus on the importance of marrying within the covenant.

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