Bible Commentaries
Genesis 24

Dr. Constable's Expository NotesConstable's Expository Notes


17. The choice of a bride for Isaac ch. 24

Abraham’s servant returned to Paddan-aram charged with the duty of finding a suitable bride for Isaac. He faithfully and resolutely fulfilled his task relying on God’s faithfulness to prosper his journey and God’s providence to guide him. God directed him to Rebekah.

The length of this story and the amount of detail included suggests that this incident played an important part in the fulfillment of the Author’s purpose. This is the longest chapter in Genesis. [Note: See Brian A. Bompiani, "Is Genesis 24 a Problem for Source Criticism?" Bibliotheca Sacra 164:656 (October-December 2007):403-15, for defense of the unity of this chapter.] The details show how God provided a wife and seed-bearer for Isaac and thus remained faithful to His promises to Abraham. God’s working providentially through the natural course of events to accomplish His purposes clarifies His ways with humankind.

"The key idea in the passage is in the word hesed, ’loyal love’ or ’loyalty to the covenant’-from both God’s perspective and man’s." [Note: Ross, "Genesis," p. 67.]

"This . . . narrative is the most pleasant and charming of all the patriarchal stories." [Note: von Rad, p. 253. Cf. 15:18-20.]

The structure of the four sections (1-9, 10-28, 29-61, 62-67) is again palistrophic (chiastic). The first and fourth sections take place in Abraham’s household in Canaan, and the second and third record events in Rebekah’s household in Aram.

Verses 1-9

The thigh may be a euphemism for the genitals (Genesis 24:2). [Note: Ibid., p. 254; cf. Waltke, Genesis, p. 327.] The ancients considered the "thigh" to be the source of posterity and the seat of power (cf. Genesis 47:29).

"By putting his hand under Abraham’s thigh, the servant was touching his genitals and thus giving the oath a special solemnity. In the ancient Orient, solemn oaths could be taken holding some sacred object in one’s hand, as it is still customary to take an oath on the Bible before giving evidence in court. Since the OT particularly associates God with life (see the symbolism of the sacrificial law) and Abraham had been circumcised as a mark of the covenant, placing his hand under Abraham’s thigh made an intimate association with some fundamental religious ideas. An oath by the seat of procreation is particularly apt in this instance, when it concerns the finding of a wife for Isaac." [Note: Wenham, Genesis 16-50, p. 141.]

"That act would be significantly symbolic in this instance, for success of the mission would make possible propagation of posterity and fulfillment of the Abrahamic Covenant." [Note: Howard F. Vos, Genesis, p. 90. See R. David Freedman, "’Put Your Hand Under My Thigh’-The Patriarchal Oath," Biblical Archaeology Review 2:2 (June 1976):3-4, 42.]

"Isaac was not regarded as a merely pious candidate for matrimony, but as the heir of the promise, who must therefore be kept from any alliance with the race whose possessions were to come to his descendants, and which was ripening for the judgment to be executed by those descendants." [Note: E. W. Hengstenberg, Dissertations on the Genuineness of the Pentateuch, 1:350. Cf. Esau’s Canaanite wives, and Ishmael’s Egyptian wife.]

Verses 10-28

Camels were relatively rare in this era, so the fact that Abraham owned 10 of them reflects his great wealth (Genesis 24:10; cf. Job 1:3). [Note: Wenham, Genesis 16-50, pp. 142-43, 146.] Genesis 24:12 is the first recorded instance of prayer for specific guidance in Scripture. Since camels could drink 25 gallons, the servant’s sign was sagacious (Genesis 24:14). It tested Rebekah’s kindness, hospitality, industry, and willingness to help a stranger.

"Although the Lord elects both Abraham and Rebekah, his mode of revelation to them is strikingly different. To Abraham he speaks (Genesis 12:7) in visions and auditions, to Rebekah he communicates through answered prayer and providential acts (Genesis 24:27; Genesis 24:48; Genesis 24:50)." [Note: Waltke, Genesis, p. 326.]

Verses 29-61

"Another striking feature of this story is that after introducing the new characters of Laban and his household, the writer allows the servant again to retell the narrative (Genesis 24:34-39). But as with most repetitions in biblical narrative, the retelling is not a mere repeating. It is rather a reassertion of the central points of the first narrative. . . . As we overhear the servant recount more details, we see that the miracle of God’s provision was even more grand than that suggested in the narrative itself." [Note: Sailhamer, "Genesis," p. 177.]

Repeating an event confirmed its truthfulness in Scripture (cf. Genesis 41:32).

It was customary in Hurrian society to consult the bride before completing the marriage plans (Genesis 24:58-60). Also the brother took the lead in giving his sister in marriage. Note that Laban, Rebekah’s brother, was the principal negotiator who represented the family rather than Bethuel, her father (cf. Genesis 24:50), or her mother (Genesis 24:53; Genesis 24:55; cf. Genesis 34:11-17; Genesis 42:1-3). Another view is that Bethuel was simply too old or was under his wife’s control, as Rebekah later "organized" Isaac. [Note: Wenham, Genesis 16-50, p. 149.] The description of the family farewell also reflects Laban’s leadership (Genesis 24:59-60). [Note: See West, pp. 67-68; and Speiser, pp. 184-85.] Rebekah demonstrated her faith in Abraham’s God by decisively choosing to leave her family to marry Isaac (cf. the similar choices of Abraham and Ruth; Ruth 1:16).

Verses 62-67

Beer-lahai-roi, where Isaac lived and meditated (Genesis 24:62), was a place where God had previously answered prayer (cf. Genesis 16:14). This suggests that Isaac may have been praying for God’s will to be done in the choice of his wife. Rebekah dismounted out of respect for her intended husband (cf. Joshua 15:18; 1 Samuel 25:23). Her self-veiling hinted at her becoming his bride since it was customary to veil the bride in a marriage ceremony. Normally Israelite women did not wear veils (cf. Genesis 12:14; Genesis 38:14).

"The final remarks (Genesis 24:67) again show that God’s guidance in the mundane areas of life is good for those who put their trust in him. When Isaac took Rebekah as his wife, he loved her and was comforted with her after the death of his mother. In other words, Rebekah had taken the place of Sarah in the line of the descendants of Abraham." [Note: Sailhamer, "Genesis," p. 178.]

The significance of this long story in the larger context of special revelation is fourfold at least.

1. Primarily it demonstrates God’s faithfulness to His promise to provide descendants for Abraham and, therefore, His trustworthiness. Along with this is the assurance that even though Abraham was soon to die God would fulfill His promises in the future.

2. It reveals that God guides people who are seeking His will so they discover it.

3. It illustrates God’s selecting a bride for His Son out of the world through the agency of His Spirit, which the New Testament teaches.

4. It provides a good model, in the servant, of one who responded properly to the work of God. Abraham’s servant prayed before he acted, praised when God answered his prayers, and lived believing that God controls all the affairs of life.

"There are two themes, one more central, one more auxiliary, which are highlighted by the example story [in Genesis 24]: the faithful, prudent and selfless steward acting on behalf of his master as messenger, and the good wife as a gift from the LORD, the theme underlying much of the steward’s action." [Note: Wolfgang M. W. Roth, "The Wooing of Rebekah: A Tradition-Critical Study of Genesis 24," Catholic Biblical Quarterly 34 (1972):181.]

Bibliographical Information
Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on Genesis 24". "Dr. Constable's Expository Notes". 2012.