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Yahweh Arranges A Suitable Wife For Isaac (Genesis 24:0 )
The covenant around which this record is based is found in Genesis 24:14, combined with the sacred oath of Genesis 24:3. Having been commissioned in the name of ‘Yahweh the God of heaven and the God of the earth’ the steward of Abraham puts the onus on Yahweh to act faithfully in providing a wife for Isaac. It is in fact made clear throughout that the record is of the activity of Yahweh in response to the requests of His servants. No one doubted that it was Yahweh Who set His seal on events and took charge of the whole operation, resulting in the coming of Rebekah to the chosen son. The record was made, not as interesting history, but as testimony to Yahweh’s specific activity on Isaac’s behalf. It is the guarantee that Yahweh’s activity on behalf of Abraham is set to continue with his son. It is the seal on the covenant. It is divine history.
It would seem probable that originally the account immediately followed Genesis 22:20-24, comprising one tablet, containing genealogy followed by ensuing history and revelation, with the covenant in Genesis 23:0 neatly slotted in when the whole was brought together. The compilers purpose is to demonstrate that what seems like the end of an era, the death of Sarah and the reaching of extreme age of Abraham, is really the springboard to the advancement of the covenant promises. A portion of the land now actually belongs to the tribal leaders and Isaac is provided with a God appointed bride who is of the patriarchal line. As Genesis 24:67 makes clear she replaces Sarah as the tribal mother.
‘And Abraham was old and well stricken in age, and Yahweh had blessed Abraham in all things.’
This is a brief summary of Abraham’s life which is now coming to its end. It deliberately emphasises that the future is now with Isaac. The blessings were now to begin on him.
We would not gather from this that after the death of Sarah Abraham would remarry, would beget six sons, and would see them live to sufficient maturity to be sent away to live lives independently of the tribe (chapter 25). But that is only incidental to the main record and the maintaining of the covenant line. Before that is introduced the covenant succession must be made clear.
‘And Abraham said to his servant, the elder of his house who ruled over all that he had, “Put, I pray you, your hand under my thigh, and I will make you swear by Yahweh, the God of heaven and the God of the earth, that you will not take a wife for my son from the daughters of the Canaanites among whom I dwell, but you will go to my country and to my kindred and take a wife for my son Isaac”.’
It was in the normal course of events that Abraham would arrange Isaac’s marriage for it was the custom of the time. The vagueness of Genesis 24:1 as to time gives us no indication as to the precise timing but Genesis 24:67 suggests it was not too long after Sarah’s death. There is a suggestion in Abraham’s words that he is not sure whether he will still be alive by the time the servant returns. Sarah’s death has aged him and he is aware of his mortality. He feels that death may be near and acts accordingly. However events would show that he had many years to live.
“The elder of his house who ruled over all that he had.” This is no ordinary servant. He is a man of great prestige and position and the fact that he is sent demonstrates the importance Abraham places on the commission.
“Put I pray your hand under my thigh.” A recognised method of sealing an oath at the time (compare Genesis 47:29). It was clearly looked on as especially binding.
“Swear by Yahweh the God of heaven and the God of earth.” The phrase is all encompassing, referring to He Who created and Who possesses the heavens and the earth (compare Genesis 14:22 where a similar phrase is used in a most solemn covenant. Compare also Genesis 18:25 in a different context). It further reinforces the oath. This matter is under the direct eye of God. This is further emphasised in Genesis 24:7; Genesis 24:12; Genesis 24:27; Genesis 24:48 where He is ‘Yahweh the God of Heaven’ and ‘Yahweh the God of my master Abraham’.
The uniqueness of Abraham’s faith as a believer in the One God Who made and possesses all things is rooted in the whole account of his life and especially in the covenant promises. Only the God of heaven and earth could have done such things and made such promises and it has brought home to Abraham the truth about Yahweh Whom he serves.
“That you will not take a wife for my son from the daughters of the Canaanites among whom I dwell.” Abraham has a strong sense of family purity. His objection could not have been strictly religious, for Nahor is also probably not a worshipper of Yahweh (Joshua 24:2 compare Genesis 31:19). And a wife would be expected to conform, at least outwardly, to the religion of her husband. But it may well have contained an element of morality for the Canaanites had religious practises of a grossly sexual nature which could only be abhorrent to Abraham, and which he may well have spurned. Perhaps he recognised the danger of the insidious introduction of such practises (compare Genesis 35:2).
But in the end the maintenance of family purity is paramount. Compare how Abraham marries his half sister, Nahor marries his brother’s daughter, and the continual insistence on marriage within the tribal connections, and indeed within the family. Compare also Isaac’s grief at the marriage of Esau outside the family (Genesis 26:35). This may well have arisen through Abraham’s meditations on the ancient records which brought home to him that Yahweh was preserving a distinct line through which His promises would be fulfilled, which must be kept pure. This is confirmed by the fact that Abraham does not have the same concern about the marriages of his other sons borne to him by other wives.
“But will go to my country and to my kindred to take a wife for my son Isaac.” Abraham now looks on Haran as his country for it was there that he lived for many years, and he sees Ur as foreign to his present lifestyle. As noted above he is concerned that Isaac marries within the family.
‘And the servant said to him, “Perhaps the woman will not be willing to follow me to this land. Does necessity demand that I bring your son again to the land from where you came?”.’
The steward’s point is well thought out. Which is more important, that Isaac stay in the land or that he marry a relative?
‘And Abraham said to him, “You beware that you do not bring my son there again. Yahweh, the God of heaven, who took me from my father’s house and from my native land, and who spoke to me, and who swore to me saying, “I will give this land to your seed.” He will send his angel before you and you will take a wife for my son from there. And if the woman is not willing to follow you then you will be free from this my oath. Only you shall not bring my son there again.’
Abraham’s reply is unequivocal. Under no circumstances is Isaac to be take out of the land which God has given to him and his children, for he is there under the promise of Yahweh, the God of heaven. Indeed the reason they are there is because Yahweh has taken him away from all his past in order that he may receive this land. Yahweh’s will comes before all else.
“From my father” s house and from my native land.’ The point is that he has left both home and country. His native land was Ur. His adopted land was Haran. But he has left both.
“He will send His angel before you.” Abraham is confident that ‘the angel of Yahweh’ Who has acted in the past, watching over the interests of his family (Genesis 16:7 on; Genesis 21:17; Genesis 22:11), will not fail him now.
But whatever happens Isaac is to remain in the promised land. If the woman will not come then the servant may forget his oath for it will have been cancelled.
‘And the servant put his hand under the thigh of Abraham his master and swore to him concerning this matter.’
The steward makes his solemn oath that he will do exactly as required. He will be in Abraham’s stead, will ensure that Isaac does not marry a Canaanite, will seek out a member of Abraham’s family and if possible bring her to the promised land, but under no circumstances will allow Isaac to leave it.
‘And the servant took ten camels of the camels of his master and departed, having all the goodly things of his master in his hand, and he arose and went to Aram Naharaim (‘Aram of the two rivers’ - Mesopotamia), to the city of Nahor.’
Camels were known in the area around this time but were the possessions of the very wealthy. This was therefore a deliberate attempt to impress those to whom he is going. It would be a rich caravan that went forth, loaded with valuables and well protected by armed guards.
“Ten camels.” This may be a round number to indicate a small group, but more than two or three.
“All the goodly things.” This may mean as many as he chose to take, or signify that he was steward over all having control over all and that he could take what he liked.
“The city of Nahor.” Probably not the name of the city which was probably Haran (Genesis 11:31; Genesis 27:43). The point is that the steward went to the city where Nahor dwelt. Haran was situated on the river Balikh, a tributary of the Upper Euphrates and was a centre of moon worship.
‘And he made the camels kneel down outside the city by the well of water at eventide, the time when the women go out to draw water. And he said, “Oh Yahweh, the God of my master Abraham, send me I pray you good speed this day, and show kindness to my master Abraham. Look, I am standing by the spring of water, and the daughters of the men of the city come out to draw water. And let it come to pass that the young woman to whom I will say, “Let down your pitcher, I beg you, that I may drink”, and she shall say, “Drink, and I will give your camels drink as well”, let the same be she whom you have appointed for your servant Isaac. And by that will I know that you have shown kindness to my master.’
These all important words form the basis of the covenant that the steward makes with Yahweh and around which the account is based. Yahweh is Abraham’s covenant God and the steward charges him reverently to act now to ensure the covenant succession. The terms by which he will understand Yahweh’s response are clearly outlined.
This example is not one generally to follow. This was not just seeking guidance about some mundane matter but seeking to establish something at the very heart of God’s covenant. It is not something to be applied to our everyday lives.
“Show kindness (covenant faithfulness) to my master Abraham.” Again a reverent but solemn charge that God will act towards Abraham in accordance with His covenant promises. The word for ‘kindness’ is chesed, ‘covenant faithfulness and love’.
The test is then outlined. He will stand by the well with his camels and ask for a drink from the women who come to the well. The one who offers to give drink to his camels as well will be the one chosen by Yahweh. That will be proof of God’s covenant love and faithfulness shown to Abraham.
It has been well pointed out that the test would reveal a woman who was courteous and compassionate, kind both to her fellowmen and to animals. But the matter does not stop there. The steward has been sent to Abraham’s kinsfolk (Genesis 24:4). He thus expects God to ensure that the woman fits the requirements (see Genesis 24:21-27). We can be sure that God has pressed on his heart this method of approach for otherwise it would not be justified. This is a genuine revelation from God.
‘And it happened that before he had done speaking, behold, Rebekah came out, who was born to Bethuel the son of Milcah, the wife of Nahor, Abraham’s brother, with her pitcher on her shoulder.’
There is an immediate response. Out to the well comes Rebekah a kinswoman of Abraham. The family details refer back to the opening genealogy (Genesis 22:23). It is quite clear that Yahweh has accepted the terms of the covenant and has responded.
“With her pitcher on her shoulder.” Important woman though she is she is not too important to partake in the vital task of providing water.
‘And the young woman was very fair to look at, a virgin, nor had any man known her. And she went down to the spring and filled her pitcher, and came back up. And the servant ran to meet her and said, “Give me to drink, I beg you, a little water from your pitcher.” ’
The family of Terah appears to have produced beauties, although the description may have been partly polite.
“A virgin, nor had any man known her.” The description is interesting. The qualification seen as necessary suggests that the term for ‘virgin’ (bethulah) did not necessarily mean the same as we would mean today. Clearly a woman could be a bethulah and yet have had sexual experience. It means therefore a well behaved young woman of an age for sexual activity without any comment about her sexual experience or status. Thus the writer qualifies the word to exclude that as well. (In Leviticus 21:14 it excludes widows and divorcees and sacred prostitutes).
The steward moves quickly to intercept her as she come up from the spring and asks for a drink. But in his heart is an anticipatory excitement as he waits for how the woman will respond.
‘And she said, “Drink, sir.” And she hastily let down her pitcher on her hand and gave him a drink. And when she had finished giving him a drink she said, “I will also draw for your camels until they have had enough to drink.” And she quickly emptied her pitcher into the trough and ran again to the well to draw, and drew for all his camels.’
The well is clearly a large, deep hole in the ground with steps leading down to the spring. It is also clear that there was a trough by the well for the feeding of animals, and without hesitation Rebekah fulfils the steward’s requirements in accordance with the covenant he had made with Yahweh. Ten camels would take a lot of satisfying which is a testimony to the goodness of her heart. However she was also no doubt impressed with his rich appearance.
‘And the man watched her intently, saying nothing, in order to discover whether Yahweh had prospered his journey or not.’
Rebekah was aware of the man watching her intently but knew nothing of what was in his heart. But Abraham’s steward knew a mounting excitement as she carried out her ministrations. This was one of the great moments in his life. Never had he experienced contact with Yahweh in this way. He had made his firm covenant with God and now he was watching it unfold before his eyes.
“Whether Yahweh had prospered his journey or not.” This was no truism. He had made a firm covenant with Yahweh and was concerned to see whether it would be truly fulfilled (see also Genesis 24:40; Genesis 24:42; Genesis 24:56). This phrase is central to the passage. Has the covenant been fulfilled?
‘And it happened that, as soon as the camels had finished drinking, the man took a golden ring weighing a beka (half a shekel - see Exodus 38:26), and two golden bracelets for her for her arms of ten shekels weight of gold, and said, “Whose daughter are you? Tell me, I pray you. Is there room in your father’s house for me to lodge in?” And she said to him, “I am the daughter of Bethuel, the son of Milcah, whom she bore to Nahor.” And she also said to him, “We have both straw and provender enough, and room to lodge in.”
We do not know at what stage in the conversation he gave her the jewellery, possibly after he had learned who she was, But he was now satisfied that Yahweh had brought to him the woman of His choice and makes moves to receive hospitality in her father’s house. She would almost certainly realise that something special was afoot by the nature of the gifts, although it is possible she saw the valuable gifts as intended to ensure a welcome. But these heavy gold pieces are not the kind to be given lightly.
Golden earrings about a shekel in weight have been discovered at Ur. Thus the golden ring may have been for the ear. Alternatively it could be a nose ring or some other piece of jewellery. Verse 47 might suggest it was a nose ring.
Her description of herself was spoken proudly, connecting herself through her father with Nahor whom she clearly considers a man of some substance. She wants the man to know that she is no ordinary woman and that her family are well able to make provision for any number of camels.
‘And the man bowed his head and worshipped Yahweh. And he said, “Blessed be Yahweh, the God of my master Abraham, who has not forsaken his mercy and his truth towards my master. As for me, Yahweh has led me in the way to the house of my master’s brethren”.’
The words convey the depth of the man’s feelings as he recognises the fulfilling of God’s covenant with him (see Genesis 24:12). Primary is the fact that Yahweh has been faithful and true to Abraham in accordance with their covenant relationship. But more overwhelming to him is the fact that Yahweh has wonderfully led and guided him to the very people he was seeking without any effort on his part. He cannot doubt, as cannot the readers, that he has watched the unfolding of the covenant he himself had made with Yahweh.
The words are deliberately spoken in the presence of the young woman. He wants her to know that his mission is directed by Yahweh and that she is involved.
‘And the young woman ran and told her mother’s house according to these words.’
Aware that something out of the ordinary is taking place Rebekah races home to lay the position before her mother. She describes in detail the words of the steward so that their significance might be considered.
“Her mother” s house.’ This is the women’s quarters. It is her mother’s prerogative to take charge of the situation and present it to the family.
The position would now be laid before Bethuel and the family. It is clear from what follows that Bethuel is somewhat indisposed, probably through illness or disability, for otherwise it would be he who led the way to welcome the stranger. Thus the responsibility is taken by his son Laban, who is Rebekah’s brother.
‘And Rebekah had a brother and his name was Laban. And Laban ran out to the man, to the spring. And it happened that when he saw the ring, and the bracelets on his sister’s arms, and when he heard the words of his sister Rebekah, saying “This was what the man said to me”, that he came to the man, and behold he stood by the camels at the spring.’
The repetitiveness of this sentence is typical of Near Eastern literature. Laban examines the expensive jewellery and listens to what Rebekah tells him, recognising deep significance in the man’s words. He knows that this is far more than a man seeking shelter and hospitality. Thus he goes to meet the man on his sister’s behalf, to find out what is happening.
“And behold he stood by the camels at the spring.” The camels are constantly being emphasised. Only a wealthy man possessed camels in those days and the presence of a group of camels demonstrates how important this mission is. It also of course demonstrates the magnificence of the caravan that Laban will discover. This is no ordinary trading venture.
‘And he said, “Come in, you blessed of Yahweh, why do you stand outside? I have prepared the house and room for the camels.”
Laban greets him on his own terms making clear that he is aware of all that has been said, and invites him to accept the hospitality of his family. He is making clear that they are responsive to his approach.
“You blessed of Yahweh.’ With typical Near Eastern hospitality he refers to the man’s description of himself as one who is on a mission for Yahweh. This does not mean that Laban is a worshipper of Yahweh. But he no doubt recognises the name of Abraham’s God.
Genesis 24:32-33 a
‘And the man came into the house and he unloaded the camels, removing their trappings, and he provided straw and provender for the camels and water for the man to wash his feet, and the men’s feet who were with him. And food was set before him to eat.’
The ‘he’ is Laban, but the work would mainly be done by servants under his supervision. Full hospitality is provided. First the valuable camels must be seen to. This would be the visitor’s first requisite. Then he is provided with water with which to wash his feet, a prime requirement in a hot and dusty country, especially as the man was probably wearing sandals.
While it would have been assumed by everybody, this is the first mention of men accompanying the steward. This again brings out the importance of the camels and their significance, which have been constantly mentioned. (It also warns against reading into silences in ancient narratives).
Then once the necessary preliminaries have been complied with, and the men have been made comfortable, a meal is set before them. But notice how the attention is drawn specifically to the welcome given to the man himself. ‘He’ came into the house. A meal is set before ‘him’. His acceptance is being stressed. Up to this point nothing has been said about the man’s purpose in being here although there would no doubt be great anticipation. With true Near Eastern courtesy that would await his being well fed.
Genesis 24:33 b
‘But he said, “I will not eat until I have told you my errand.” And he said, “Speak on”.’
It would be normal for a visitor to eat first and then for his purpose in visiting to be introduced into the conversation. Thus these words would be attention catching. They suggest also that the man feels that he has a sacred duty to Yahweh not to eat until his side in the mission is completed. His hearers would no doubt read into them the sacredness of his mission. They are already aware that he feels he is on a mission for Yahweh.
The steward now lays out the terms and details of his commission, making clear in the meanwhile the splendid prospects of the intended bridegroom. The speech is long and flowery outlining the details of the mission in full. This would be in accordance with expectations. Such a speech revealed that the steward was cultivated and well taught, and would enhance his master’s reputation. It was also designed to impress and to make his hearers aware that this was no ordinary matter and no ordinary marriage request. This was at the instigation of Yahweh.
‘And he said, “I am Abraham’s servant. And Yahweh has blessed my master greatly and he has become great. And he has given him flocks and herds and silver and gold, and menservants and maidservants, and camels and asses. And Sarah, my master’s wife, bore a son to my master when she was old. And to him he has given all that he has”.’
The worthiness of the bridegroom is described. He is the son of Abraham and Sarah, both of whom were related to Nahor and were well known to them. Moreover the wealth and success of Abraham is made clear and the fact that Isaac is his main heir. He is thus a worthy husband for such as Rebekah.
‘And my master made me swear saying, “You will not take a wife for my son from the daughters of the Canaanites in whose land I dwell, but you will go to my father’s house, and to my kindred, and take a wife for my son”.’
The steward now makes clear he is acting under oath, and the content of the oath. His words would bring approving nods from the hearers. They too recognise the importance of marriage within the family. Notice that Abraham speaks of ‘my father’s house’. It is of course now the house of Nahor but Abraham is stressing through his steward that they and he are one household. They are all of the family of Terah. While he may have separated from them, the ties of blood hold firm. Thus he wishes his son to marry within the family.
‘And I said to my master, “It may be that the woman will not follow me.”
The steward now delicately makes clear that they recognise that the woman and her family have a free choice. They are not making demands but seeking a favour. When Abraham exacted the oath he would recognise that his stipulations would be used in the bargaining that would result.
‘And he said to me, “Yahweh before whom I walk will send his angel with you and prosper your way, and you will take a wife for my son from my kindred and of my father’s house. Then you will be clear of your oath when you come to my kindred. And if they do not give her to you, you will be clear of my oath”.’
The sacredness of his mission is now described. It is Yahweh Himself Who has accompanied him for the purpose of obtaining a bride of suitable parentage. But he quickly and courteously assures them that this does not put them under necessary obligation, although that is in fact his intention.
We note that the servant discreetly does not mention the fact that Abraham does not want his son to come to Haran. But the absence of Isaac from the caravan makes this apparent.
‘And I came this day to the spring, and said, “Oh Yahweh, God of my master Abraham, if now you prosper my way that I go, see, I am standing by the spring of water. And let it be that the young woman who comes forth to draw, to whom I will say ‘Give me, I pray, a little water from your pitcher to drink’, and she shall say to me, ‘Both you drink and I will also draw for your camels’, let the same be the woman whom Yahweh has appointed for my master’s son. And before I had finished speaking in my heart, behold Rebekah came out with her pitcher on her shoulder. And she went down to the spring and drew, and I said to her, ‘Let me drink, I pray you’. And she quickly brought her pitcher down from her shoulder and said, ‘Drink, and I will also give your camels drink’. So I drank, and she made the camels drink as well. And I asked her, ‘Whose daughter are you?’ And she said, ‘The daughter of Bethuel, son of Nahor, whom Milcah bore to him. And I put the ring on her nose and the bracelets on her arms, and I bowed my head and worshipped Yahweh, and blessed Yahweh, the God of my master Abraham, who has led me in the right way to take my master’s brother’s daughter for his son”.’
The passage must be read as one whole. This is his unrejectable argument as to why Rebekah should be given to Isaac. It begins and ends with reference to ‘Yahweh, the God of my master Abraham’. The work is His doing and to go against it would be to go against Him. It is His work from start to finish. The specific connection to Abraham indicates that he does not expect them to acknowledge Yahweh as their God. But he does expect them to honour His revealed power and authority.
He expects them also to see in what has happened a truly divine hand. What other explanation can there be? For outwardly it could have been any woman who came to the spring, and they must surely see that the fact that it was the one woman whom the steward was seeking could only be attributed to the direct action of Yahweh.
That he had fully recognised this comes out in the fact that he gave the valuable gifts to Rebekah and his openly expressed gratitude to Yahweh. He now calls on his hearers to grant the same recognition.
“If You prosper my way” (Genesis 24:42). Everything is in Yahweh’s hands. He possibly expects his readers to realise the covenant that he made with Yahweh. Thus ‘the right way’ (Genesis 24:48) is the way brought about by Yahweh.
“And now if you will deal truly and with kindness with my master, tell me. And if not, tell me, that I may turn to the right hand or to the left.”
He now asks for their response. Are they favourably disposed, or not? If not he will he will turn aside and leave them.
“Turn to the right hand or to the left.” This indicates that up to this point he has had one purpose in mind, he has looked neither left nor right. Now he has reached the end of his mission. If it is unsuccessful that will be that. There is no way forward and he will therefore no longer pursue it. (For the phrase contrast Numbers 20:17; Deuteronomy 5:32). For the phrase ‘deal kindly and truly’ see Genesis 47:29. It is a request for genuine and honest commitment.
‘Then Laban and Bethuel answered and said, “The thing proceeds from Yahweh. We cannot speak to you good or bad.”
This is the decisive turning point. The decision is made. Laban acknowledges that Yahweh has clearly taken control and that he cannot therefore go against Him. The steward has put his case well. The writer wants us to know that even those who do not worship Yahweh have to admit His power. But there can be no doubt that they are also swayed by awareness of who Abraham is and his evident wealth.
“We cannot speak to you good or bad.” In this context this means ‘cannot say anything’. Sometimes however it specifically refers to a moral decision.
The mention of Laban first, when we would have expected Bethuel, is interesting. It is quite clear that he is heading proceedings. This suggests that Bethuel was in no condition to do so. He is included in the response out of courtesy and because the decision is officially his as head of the house, but he is clearly in no position to make it. It presumably indicates that he was suffering from some debilitating illness, possibly being in a near vegetative state.
“See, Rebekah is before you. Take her and go, and let her be your master’s son’s wife as Yahweh has spoken.”
The steward receives what he had asked for, permission to take Rebekah back to his master to marry Isaac.
‘And it happened that when Abraham’s servant heard their words he bowed himself to the earth to Yahweh. And the servant brought forth jewels of silver and jewels of gold and clothes and gave them to Rebekah. He also gave precious things to her brother and to her mother.’
When the steward receives this response he can only offer his gratitude to Yahweh. Rebekah is then loaded with presents which will befit her as a wife to Isaac.
The giving of ‘brothership gifts’ in such circumstances is known also from documents at Nuzi. It would seem that a brother was to be compensated for the loss of a sister. But here it is probably rather as the head of the family that Laban receives gifts on behalf of his father. The non-mention of Bethuel confirms the background position he has in the account.
‘And he and the men who were with him ate and drank and remained all night, and in the morning they rose up and he said, “Send me away to my master”.’
Now that his mission is accomplished the steward accepts the hospitality of the house. He and his men are well entertained and finally go to rest. But the steward is aware that his master is eagerly awaiting word and next day insists that he must return immediately. Had Abraham himself come such haste would have been considered unseemly, but coming from a servant it was acceptable.
‘And her brother and her mother said, “Let the young woman remain with us for some days, or ten. After that she shall go”.’
To just have accepted the steward’s haste would have been impolite, and there was a natural reluctance on the part of Laban and his mother to lose their sister and daughter so quickly. After all, up to the previous day there had been no thought of her going. So they suggest a short period prior to their departure, but assure him that this does not imply reluctance on their part.
“For days or ten” (literally). This probably signifies ‘for two or three days or even ten days’.
‘And he said to them. Do not hold me back seeing that Yahweh has prospered my way. Send me away that I may go to my master.’
The steward does not want to be delayed and uses as grounds for his quick departure the fact that he has been on a mission determined by Yahweh. The implication may be that his return is also as a result of Yahweh’s instigation.
‘And they said, “We will call the young woman and ask what she has to say.” And they called Rebekah and said to her, “Will you go with this man?” And she said, “I will go”.’
The first acceptance of the proposal was by Laban and Bethuel as practising and nominal heads of the family. The detailing of arrangements was dealt with by Laban and Rebekah’s mother. But in the end Rebekah has a say. Accepting it at face value this means that she has final refusal, but they would only expect this if she was totally opposed to the idea. The general view would be that she should fall in line with their wishes. It would surprise no one when she agreed.
‘And they sent away Rebekah their sister, and nurse (called Deborah, see Genesis 35:8), and Abraham’s servant and his men. And they blessed Rebekah and said to her, “Our sister, may you be the mother of thousands of ten thousands and may your seed possess the gate of those who hate them.” ’
They can now agree to the quick departure and make preparations for them to leave. Rebekah, as a daughter of the tribal head is accompanied by a mature female attendant to watch over her ( a ‘nurse’ who would have had responsibility for her upbringing) and a number of young women to attend her. She had had the freedom to collect water from the spring but she was still a woman of some importance.
Their blessing, an important part of the procedure which demonstrated that she was leaving with their approval, is interesting. Their concern is that she may have a position of female authority over a goodly sized army which is successful against its enemies. To ‘possess the gate’, which was where the elders of a town ruled, was to have power and control. They are probably aware of something of Abraham’s set up and will have gleaned more from the steward. Their aim is not necessarily belligerent but a concern for her continued safety and prosperity which they recognise is dependent, among other things, on armed force. Abraham would not have remained wealthy long without his private army.
‘And Rebekah arose, and her young women, and they rode on the camels and followed the man. And the servant took Rebekah and went his way.’
Now we realise why the steward had taken so many camels. He had known full well that if he was successful they would be required for this purpose. Thus they leave her home and family and make their way back to Canaan.
‘And Isaac came from the way of Beer-lahai-roi, for he dwelt in the land of the South. And Isaac went out to contemplate in the open country at eventide, and he lifted up his eyes, and behold there were camels coming.’
The end of the story is foreshortened. No mention is made of the return to Abraham which may well have taken place before this incident, for Isaac is well south of Beersheba in ‘the land of the South’, almost at the Egyptian border. What is clearly important to the writer, who undoubtedly also has a romantic streak, is the satisfactory union of Isaac and Rebekah. All attention is on Isaac who is the new beginning and Abraham slips into the background. The account begins with the ancient Abraham and ends with the two young lives who represent the future. Thus it is the place where they will dwell in the not too distant future which is the centre of attention.
Isaac clearly has a liking for Beer-lahai-roi for after his father’s death he goes there to live. It is the place where the pregnant Hagar met the angel of Yahweh when she had deserted the tribe to return to Egypt. Its meaning is probably ‘the well of the living one who sees me’, or ‘the well of he who sees me lives’. It is quite possible that he went there to meet up with his brother Ishmael, and was there on a visit at this time. (They seem on good terms in Genesis 25:9).
“Went out to contemplate in the open country at eventide.” The meaning of the verb is pure guesswork for it occurs nowhere else. But Isaac is a much quieter soul than the vigorous Abraham and contemplation would probably suit his character, as is suggested by his predilection for this comparatively lonely oasis away from the hub of civilisation.
“And he lifted up his eyes -- and there were camels coming.” There can be no doubt of the writer’s romantic streak. Isaac lifts up his eyes, and Rebekah lifts up her eyes. And in a sense they meet. The writer is hinting that the sight of the camels, fairly rare and therefore quite probably carrying the expected bride, must have stirred something within him.
‘And Rebekah lifted up her eyes and when she saw Isaac she alighted from the camel. And she said to the servant, “What man is that who walks in the open country to meet us?” And the servant said, “It is my master.” And she took her veil and covered herself.’
Rebekah too has an instant response. Something tells her that this man she can see walking in the open country is her future husband and she slips from her camel. Then she seeks confirmation from the steward, who replies “It is my master.”
Some have cavilled at this statement on the grounds that Abraham is his master, but it has always been commonplace for the son of the house to be thought of as ‘the young master’. There is a delicacy of touch in his slightly exaggerating Isaac’s status in the eyes of the future wife. He wishes Rebekah to know that he will be as faithful to her future husband as he is to her future father-in-law.
“And she took her veil and covered herself.” She has been travelling unveiled but now modesty requires that she veil herself to meet her betrothed, for this is a formal meeting and she does not wish to appear forward.
‘And the servant told Isaac all the things that he had done.’
It was natural that the steward would outline to Isaac everything that had happened, but the writer is trying also to show that Isaac is now taking over Abraham’s mantle. He can now be seen as ‘the master’ and receive briefing from the steward. The old is passing and the new is here.
‘And Isaac brought her into his mother Sarah’s tent, and took Rebekah and she became his wife. And he loved her, and Isaac was comforted after his mother’s death.’
This is a general statement rather than referring to the action of the moment. Rebekah takes the place of his mother as mother of the tribe. Whether she actually used Sarah’s tent is really irrelevant although it is very likely. The point is rather the status and position she receives.
“And he loved her.” While Abraham almost certainly loved Sarah it is never stated. This statement therefore is a further indication of the writer’s romantic viewpoint. It may also indicate that Isaac was seen as being of a more tender nature than his father. He fell short of his father’s robustness but he had a delicacy of spirit that his father lacked.
“Was comforted after his mother” s death.’ This also brings out his delicacy of spirit. He missed his mother and found solace in the arms of Rebekah. Again this is something we would not expect to find said of Abraham. The forceful Abraham is replaced by the gentle Isaac. (‘Death’ is understood and is not part of the Hebrew text. The point is that he missed her).
This totally different presentation of the character of Isaac confirms the earliness of the record. There is here the eyewitness appreciation of the difference between father and son without the contrast being specifically drawn.
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Pett, Peter. "Commentary on Genesis 24". "Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 25 / Ordinary 30