Part J. Abraham’s Old Age (22:1—24:67)
J4. A wife for Isaac (24:1–67)
· Abraham dispatched his servant to obtain a wife for Isaac in anticipation of imminent succession.
· When Rebekah was challenged to leave family and homeland, she unreservedly answered, “I will go” (Heb. halak), so that she was sometimes described as the “female Abraham”.
· The story demonstrates that success is the result of God’s providential oversight, both overtly and inferentially. But the human dimension is also real; their decisions are authentic choices. God achieved His purpose through the loyal but cautious servant, the ambitious Laban, and the respectful but independently minded Rebekah.
· The story shows again dependence on the theme of call and promise, including the motivation of the search, the parameters of the search, the divine authentication of the discovery, and the success of the search.
· While Abraham and Jacob experienced alienation away from their homeland, Isaac never left his land of birth.
· This long story can be subdivided into:
o 24:1–9 Abraham commissioned the servant
o 24:10–61 The servant obtained Rebekah
o v.10–14 The servant’s prayer
o v.15–27 Rebekah at the well
o v.28–33 Laban provided for the servant
o v.34–49 The servant reported answere prayer
o v.50–58 Rebekah agreed to return
o v.59–61 Laban blessed Rebekah
o 24:61–67 Isaac married Rebekah
24:1 blessed: (Heb. barak) indicating Abraham’s prosperity. The Hebrew term b-r-k in various forms repeatedly appears in the story, reinforcing the idea of divine favour (v.1,27,31,35,48,60). Age and wealth are oftern signs of a blessed life (see Job 42:12).
24:2 chief servant: senior administrator of the entire household. His name was never mentioned but most people guess that this was Eliezer of Damascus (Gen 15:2).
Put your hand under my thigh: This was the rite for swearing an oath (also Gen 47:29). The thigh indicates the procreative power and heritage of the patriarch’s position as the source of the family.
24:3 to swear by the LORD: The oath must be undertaken in the sight of God, who would judge the effectiveness of the servant’s actions.
not get a wife (from Canaanites): Abraham objected strongly to Isaac marrying a pagan Canaanite woman. Mosaic legislation prohibits intermarriage with groups outside the covenant nation, leading to religious apostasy (Ex 34:15–16; Dt 7:3–4; Jdg 3:6; Ezra 9:2,12).
24:4 go to my country: Only the Nahor branch of his father’s lineage could qualify as Isaac’s wife.
24:5 What if the woman is unwilling to come back: The servant raised the possibility of complication. It seems reasonable to suppose that the woman’s family would require confirmation by meeting the suitor himself. In that case, negotiations might only succeed by Isaac’s personal presence.
24:6 Make sure: literally “watch yourself” was Abraham’s warning against taking his son to Haran.
24:7 he will send his angel: Abraham recounted God’s past blessings as an assurance of continued blessings for his servant.
24:8 Only do not take my son: The prohibition is strongly worded in Hebrew, “Only (Heb. raq) my son” occurring at the beginning of the sentence. While this was an uncompromising obligation for the servant, Abraham also “released” his servant from any responsibility if the woman was unwilling to come.
24:10 Aram Naharaim: meaning “Aram of the two rivers”, at the upper bend of the Euphrates River. The region is equivalent to the region called “Paddan Aram” (Gen 25:20). The servant arrived at the town of Nahor, bearing the family name of Abraham’s brother.
24:11 the camels kneel down: The servant was in the mood of repose and prayer. The word “kneel” (Heb. barak) is a sound play on the popular term of this chapter, bless (Heb. barak).
toward evening: The women appeared at the well at the cool of the evening, to complete their daily task of obtaining water for the family.
24:12 show kindness to my master: By appealing to God’s “kindness”, the servant alluded to the divine promises to his “master”. This prayer was not spoken aloud (v.45). “Kindness” and “master” are again repeated in his next prayer in v.27.
24:14 The servant was seeking a woman for Isaac who demonstrated the revered quality of hospitality, including costly provisions for his 10 camels.
By this I will know: The servant’s request created the means by which he can unerringly discern the woman “chosen” by God.
24:15 Before he had finished praying: God’s answer to his prayer was so quick that the Hebrew word “behold” (Heb. hinne) and the participle “coming out” are used to heighten the suddenness of Rebekah’s appearance.
24:16 a virgin: (Heb. betula) a young woman of good reputation who is under the care of her father’s household. The Bible also makes it clear of her sexual chastity.
went down to the spring…came up: This indicates that the drawing of water from the spring was not an easy job, involving certain climbing. Therefore, Rebekah faced this added difficulty in repeatedly drawing water for the servant. Her generosity matched the generosity of Abraham. That is another reason why Rebekah is sometimes called a “female Abraham”.
24:17 The servant hurried: meaning “ran” (Heb. rus). His action initiated the narrative chain of events where Rebekah “ran” (v.20,28) and Laban “ran” (v.29). Rebekah’s hospitality was demonstrated by her enthusiasm for entertaining her guests, just like Abraham.
a little water: The servant only requested “a little water” but Rebekah complied graciously (“my lord” in v.18) and cheerfully (“quickly lowered” in v.18). Further, Rebekah served the drink, rather than the servant taking the jar.
24:19 for your camels too: Rebekah even volunteered to care for the animals without the servant’s request. The hospitality of the time required women at the well to provide water to weary travellers, but not to their animals. The job of bringing water for the camels was not easy as one camel may need up to 100 litres of water and there were 10 camels.
24:21 Without saying a word: The servant watched in silence even when his heart was filled with prayerful excitement.
24:22 a gold nose ring weighing a beka: Beka is half-shekel (Ex 38:26). The weight unit “shekel” cannot be determined definitively. The nose ring was a sign of wealth and beauty (Pr 11:22; Isa 3:21; Eze 16:12). The nose ring and two gold bracelets must be generous gifts because Laban was excited by the gifts (v.30). At this point, the servant did not know Rebekah’s family relationship and could only trust that she was related to Abraham. However, he had seen the divine answer for his prayer.
24:25 room for you: Again showing her generosity, Rebekah offered to make provisions for the camels and the stranger as the servant’s identity was still not known.
24:27 Praise: (Heb. baruk) again a variation of the frequent word “bless” (Heb. barak) in this chapter. The servant did not forget God in the midst of his excitement. He fell prostrate and praised God, recognizing that God alone brought him to the very person required.
24:28 told her mother's household: the importance of the matriarchal role as Milcah more than Bethuel knew about the early days in Terah’s family. But Laban, Rebecca’s brother, took the lead as spokesman for the family.
24:29 he hurried out: Laban did not wait for Abraham’s servant to approach; rather he raced outside to greet him, motivated at the sight of the gifts. Laban’s fondness for such riches was a characteristic that later motivated his mistreatment of Jacob.
24:30 had heard Rebekah tell: Laban’s action was purely a reaction to the gifts as he only heard Rebekah’s story afterwards.
24:31 I have prepared: Laban offered protection for the visitor and his companions. Accommodations for 10 camels and the accompanying servants would have been enormous.
24:33 I will not eat until: The servant wanted to complete his task and immediately sought closure in the matter.
24:35 The LORD has blessed my master abundantly: The servant defined the blessing enjoyed by Abraham in terms of his material wealth.
24:36 he has given him everything: The issue of succession was clarified.
24:38 to my father's family and to my own clan: The servant emphasized the kinship of Abraham with the Aramean branch of the family.
24:40 will send his angel: The servant set the principle of divine guidance in the broader context of Abraham’s life-long piety.
from my own clan and from my father's family: Once again, he emphasized the kinship of the families.
24:42 I said, O LORD: He testified irrefutably that God led him precisely to Rebekah.
24:47 I put the ring in her nose and the bracelets on her arms: The sequence in his story was slightly different from what happened at the spring. But it is conceivable that the servant first produced the gifts, asked the identity of Rebekah’s father, and then upon learning the connection actually placed them on her.
24:49 tell me: The servant used “tell me” twice to pressure on the men (Laban and Bethuel) to decide positively and without delay. Rebekah would yet have the final say, but perhaps the servant must convince the elders first out of proper protocol.
24:50 This is from the LORD: The men admitted that it was God’s will and that they could not refuse.
24:53 costly gifts to her brother and to her mother: Apparently, the elder brother Laban played a conspicuous role to oversee marriage agreements for his sister. Second in priority appeared to be their mother.
24:55 remain with us ten days: When the servant asked for immediate departure, the family asked for a delay, recognizing the finality of the girl’s departure.
24:58 I will go: just one word in Hebrew (halak) expressing her strong wish to go.
24:59 along with her nurse: The wet nurse of Rebekah, named Deborah (Gen 35:8), held an honoured position in the household.
24:60 possess the gates of their enemies: overcome all the enemies. Laban’s blessing repeated virtually the same wording found in the promise (Gen 22:17), pointing to Rebekah as the divinely chosen instrument who helped realize the promise made to Abraham and his descendants.
24:62 Beer Lahai Roi: the same well designated by Hagar where the angel encountered her, promising her child a great future; it was also where Isaac and Rebekah would live when they succeeded Abraham (Gen 25:11).
living in the Negev: Isaac was perhaps overseeing his father’s holdings.
24:63 to meditate: Jewish tradition interprets the word to mean “prayer”, thus painting Isaac as a man of contemplation or prayer. An alternative meaning is “complain, lament” which could refer to Isaac’s consolation later (“was comforted”) over his mother’s death (v.67). Isaac was distressed, lamenting the loss of his mother although it had been 3 years. However, the meaning of meditation appears to fit well with the providence-prayer motif of the chapter.
as he looked up: Both Isaac and Rebekah looked up and saw the other.
24:64 She got down from her camel: Rebekah dismounted her camel immediately, perhaps to better see the man or to express polite courtesy. As at the well when the servant acted before learning Rebekah’s identity, she reacted at sighting the lone figure before asking his identity, perhaps sensing divine providence for this meeting.
24:65 my master: The transition from the father to the son had already been anticipated (v.36).
she took her veil and covered herself: The proper decorum apparently for a betrothed woman of upper class was a veiled face. This custom explains why beauty was defined by the eyes and form of a woman (Gen 29:17; Pr 6:25; SS 1:15). It also explains why Jacob failed to recognize Leah on their wedding night (Gen 29:24–26).
24:67 he loved her: Mention of love in marriage is not always found in Hebrew story, thus indicating that the couple had a real loving relationship.
· Abraham’s servant asked for the sign of extraordinary hospitality and an attitude of service from Isaac’s prospective wife. He properly asked for something shown from the internal personality, not from external appearance. When we make judgment on people, be sure to put our emphasis on their internal qualities.
· As soon as Abraham’s servant saw that God had answered his prayer, he prayed and thanked God for His goodness and guidance. What is our first reaction when we learn that God has answered our prayers?
· When Abraham’s servant recounted his story to Laban, he spoke openly of God and His goodness. Often we do the opposite, afraid that we will be misunderstood or rejected or seen as too religious. Do we have the courage to share openly what God has done for us?