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“Now Isaac had come from going to Beer-lahai-roi; for he was living in the Negev. Isaac went out to meditate in the field toward evening; and he lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, camels were coming.  Rebekah lifted up her eyes, and when she saw Isaac she dismounted from the camel.  She said to the servant, “Who is that man walking in the field to meet us?” And the servant said, “He is my master.” Then she took her veil and covered herself.  The servant told Isaac all the things that he had done.  Then Isaac brought her into his mother Sarah’s tent, and he took Rebekah, and she became his wife, and he loved her; thus Isaac was comforted after his mother’s death.”  Gen. 24:62-67

Because I believe that Isaac is a picture of the Christ, and Rebekah is a picture of the church, it is difficult not to attempt to draw parallels between this portion of the narrative and end-times happenings.  Unfortunately to do so would probably raise more questions than it answered.  For instance, there is repeated instruction from Abraham not to take Isaac back to the land where he was from, but we know the Christ ultimately returns at the second advent, so it is difficult to draw such a parallel.

What the scene is about otherwise is the meeting of Rebekah and Isaac, and the consummation of their relationship.   There are a few items worth noting in these verses:

1 – Isaac was not living with Abraham, he was living in the Negev (v. 62).  Some speculate that Isaac parted ways with Abraham after his near-sacrifice in Genesis 22; that perhaps Isaac was disturbed by this, possibly being at an age where he did not have as full an understanding of God as Abraham did.  Also we note that it appears Isaac did not return with Abraham from Mount Moriah that fateful day (Gen. 22:19).

2 – The text notes where Isaac was coming from – Beer-lahai-roi – does this mean he was just arriving? If read that way it would appear to be divinely orchestrated; he would have had to leave his home at the right time to arrive while the caravan was arriving.  Such was the case with the servant, who arrived right when Rebekah was going out to draw water.

3 – It is also worth noting that the Targum Onkelos (the official Babylonian translation of the Torah), as well as some common translations render the place name where Hagar saw the Angel of the Lord at the well in Gen 16:14 and Beer-lahai-roi as the same place.  This was the place where Hagar fled to from Sarah after becoming pregnant with Ishmael.  The Lord told Hagar to go back and submit to her mistress.  It is believed by many Jewish scholars that this is in the text to allude to the fact that Isaac was actually looking for Hagar – to bring her back to Abraham now that Sarah has passed on – which I will discuss more in the next chapter’s postings.

4 – When Rebekah dismounts the camel (v. 64), according to Rashi she practically fell off.  It would appear that if she didn’t know the man was Isaac yet, she was certainly hoping it was.

5 – The servant refers to Isaac as his masters (v. 65).  Prior to this the servant referred several times to Abraham as his master.  In this case the servant likely considers both men as his master, though it draws an interesting parallel to the servant being a picture of the Holy Spirit, Isaac being a picture of the Christ, and Abraham being a picture of God.

6 – I find it fascinating that although the long awaited bride of Isaac finally arrives, it appears she waits patiently, with veil over her head, for Isaac to finish his conversation with the servant.  Before they enter the tent, the text tells us in verse 66 “The servant told Isaac all the things that he had done.”  The servant’s report to his master took precedence.

“So now if you are going to deal kindly and truly with my master, tell me; and if not, let me know, that I may turn to the right hand or the left.”  Gen. 24:49

Abraham’s servant has now spoken his business, explaining his desire to take Rebekah back to Isaac to be his wife.  He has journeyed long, he is tired and hungry, but everything is hanging on what Laban is about to say, thus the servant’s words here may seem a bit curt.

What he is essentially saying is “Let me know your decision now, because your answer will determine my next steps.”  Now we know Abraham had told his servant that he would be free from the oath if the woman would not follow him; but Rebekah is not necessarily the only choice; it could be any woman from Abraham’s family.

Utilizing the concept that the default direction in scripture is always east, Rashi’s commentary notes that Lot lived to the north, while Ishmael lived to the south. Thus when the servant said “that I may turn to the right hand or the left” he may well have been saying that he needed to move on to other prospects for Isaac.

““So I came today to the spring, and said, ‘O LORD, the God of my master Abraham, if now You will make my journey on which I go successful; behold, I am standing by the spring, and may it be that the maiden who comes out to draw, and to whom I say, “Please let me drink a little water from your jar”; and she will say to me, “You drink, and I will draw for your camels also”; let her be the woman whom the LORD has appointed for my master’s son.’

      “Before I had finished speaking in my heart, behold, Rebekah came out with her jar on her shoulder, and went down to the spring and drew, and I said to her, ‘Please let me drink.’ “She quickly lowered her jar from her shoulder,and said, ‘Drink, and I will water your camels also’; so I drank, and she watered the camels also. “Then I asked her, and said, ‘Whose daughter are you?’ And she said, ‘The daughter of Bethuel, Nahor’s son, whom Milcah bore to him’; and I put the ring on her nose, and the bracelets on her wrists. “And I bowed low and worshiped the LORD, and blessed the LORD, the God of my master Abraham, who had guided me in the right way to take the daughter of my master’s kinsman for his son.””  Gen. 24:42-48

When the servant recounts the events from the last few hours to Rebekah’s family, it paraphrases nearly identical aside from some extra details in a few places.

There is one passage that is different in a significant way, however.  In verse 22, we see that the servant actually gives Rebekah the nose ring and bracelets before he asks which family she is from.  When this part of the story is recounted to Laban and the mother in verse 47, the opposite happens; Rebekah is asked about her family first before the gifts are bestowed upon her.

It appears this initially happened in this way because the servant’s faith was so strong that God had guided him to the right woman that he knew before he asked.  As this might have seemed foolishness, or even sound suspicious to Laban, instead the more traditional explanation is given.

“So he said, “I am Abraham’s servant.  “The LORD has greatly blessed my master, so that he has become rich; and He has given him flocks and herds, and silver and gold, and servants and maids, and camels and donkeys.  “Now Sarah my master’s wife bore a son to my master in her old age, and he has given him all that he has.  “My master made me swear, saying, ‘You shall not take a wife for my son from the daughters of the Canaanites, in whose land I live;  but you shall go to my father’s house and to my relatives, and take a wife for my son.’  “I said to my master, ‘Suppose the woman does not follow me.’  “He said to me, ‘The LORD, before whom I have walked, will send His angel with you to make your journey successful, and you will take a wife for my son from my relatives and from my father’s house; then you will be free from my oath, when you come to my relatives; and if they do not give her to you, you will be free from my oath.’”  Gen. 24:34-41

While some things are only mentioned in passing in scripture, or even only alluded to, the initial conversation between Abraham and his servant, and it’s retelling, are both captured in full detail.  We must ask ourselves if there is something critical about this passage that it is essentially here twice, since we know the scriptures are typically efficient and non-repetitive.

At the beginning of Genesis 24, Abraham charges his eldest servant to find a wife for Isaac.  The entire oath is recorded in 24:2-9.  Once the servant arrives and finds Rebekah, he and those traveling with him are offered to rest a while before their return journey.  To explain his presence to Rebekah’s family, the servant essentially recounts the charge and the oath made with Abraham.  A close reading of the text indicates subtle differences however, which I explore here.

In the opening, the servant expounds upon Abraham’s blessings, giving details.  Obviously it would not have been necessary for Abraham to go into detail with his servant, as he lived with him.

In the sworn statement, Abraham makes reference to The LORD God concerning the promise, but the servant keeps in anonymous; only that he ‘swore’, but not to whom.

Abraham had charged the servant to go to “my country and relatives”.  The servant used the term “my father’s house”.  Perhaps this was a tactic to remind Laban that they are all, in fact, family.  It is worth noting that in Genesis 12:1 Abraham was called to leave all three:

“Now the LORD said to Abram,
         “Go forth from your country,
         And from your relatives
         And from your father’s house,
         To the land which I will show you;”

The servant mentions both ways to freedom from his oath, either by success or the family not permitting the woman to come.  Abraham only mentions the latter, but refers instead to it as “If the woman is not willing to follow you”.  This is fascinating because on one hand it appears Rebekah has no choice (v. 51), yet ultimately she is asked (v. 58).

Regarding Isaac, we note that the servant made no reference to Abraham’s prohibition on bringing the son to that land, though Abraham mentions it twice. Apparently the servant did not think that was critical information, or else moot now that he was already in the middle of fulfilling the oath.

Lastly, I find it fascinating that Isaac is not mentioned by name at all throughout this entire exchange.  In fact, Rebekah does not find out the name of her husband-to-be until they are face to face for the first time.

Wouldn’t Laban and the rest of the family be curious to meet this future husband?   Aren’t they wondering why he is not here himself?  Why doesn’t this arouse suspicion?  Perhaps they are all taken aback by the display of wealth and generosity of gifts, so much so that they do not even think to ask these things.

The Mystery of Salvation as Seen in Genesis 24

The debate between the doctrines of free will and predestination still rage as they have for years.  Some believe God’s sovereignty overrules human free will in all regards; some only in the matter of salvation (i.e., man is inherently evil and unable to initiate the salvation process with God).  Yet others believe God has truly given us free will – including the ability to reject Him.  That argument is that if we do not come to God by our own free will, we are ‘robots’ and true love is not illustrated in the relationship. Many of us we struggle with this because somehow both predestination and free will appear to be at work simultaneously.

In the story of Rebkah’s betrothal, we see symbolic elements foreshadowing future events.  This betrothal scene is unique when compared to others in scripture, as the bridegroom is not physically present (as was the case with Jacob, Moses, etc.).  Here, Isaac is the bridegroom, who, as a type of substitute sacrifice, is a picture of the Christ. His bride-to-be, Rebekah, represents the church; in the New Testament scriptures the church is referred to as the bride of Christ (Eph. 5:22-33)

Isaac’s absence is fitting;  the church becomes engaged, so to speak, with Christ while we are still here on earth; He is to be our new master though we will not see His face until the marriage is consummated.  The question at hand is, was Rebekah given a choice to marry Isaac?

Abraham’s servant had concerns that she might not:

“Suppose the woman is not willing to follow me to this land; should I take your son back to the land from where you came?” (Gen. 24:5) 

This phrase was echoed again when re-telling the narrative to Laban in v. 39.  So Abraham made a provision just in case she would not:

“…if the woman is not willing to follow you, then you will be free from this my oath;”  (Gen. 24:8)

If everything was completely pre-ordained, did the oath the servant took mean anything?  That is to say, if it was all going to come to pass exactly as God planned, what was the point of an oath?  If there is no free will, no chance the potential bride may refuse the offer, then the oath is in vain; it’s importance greatly diminished.

But, what are the chances that the very first people the servant meets end up being the people he was seeking, after traveling hundreds of miles toward the city of Nahor?  The servant specifically acknowledges this in v. 48:

“And I bowed low and worshiped the LORD, and blessed the LORD, the God of my master Abraham, who had guided me in the right way to take the daughter of my master’s kinsman for his son”

And so it is obvious that some elements of the story appear to be divinely arranged; and divine favor was given on the assistance for signs to the servant.  One thing that is fascinating is that the blessing given to Rebekah by her family (her offspring possessing the gates of their enemies) perfectly echoes the promises given to Abraham.  In this sense we see that the marriage appears pre-arranaged by God.

So all of this leads up in anticipation of what Rebekah’s answer will be directly from her mouth when the question is asked.  Unfortunately this never actually happens.  Instead, the family willingly gives her away without even asking her:

““Here is Rebekah before you, take her and go” (v. 51)

The answer eludes us as to whether or not Rebekah actually had any choice in the matter!

After this, the servant blesses the Lord and the exchange is made, gifts are given and the marriage is now on.  In those days, once a marriage was arranged, it was customary for the woman to spend approximately one final year with her family before going off to marry her new husband.  Though the translation is not completely obvious, the family suggests that Rebekah stay for “ten days”, however given the context and what we know of the time, we ascertain this actually means ten months – hence, slightly less than the standard yearlong wait.  The servant will have none of it; it appears it is either now or never, as he replies:

“Do not delay me, since the LORD has prospered my way.  Send me away that I may go to my master.” (v. 56)

Laban then decides to consult Rebekah to make or break the deal.  Will she go so suddenly, leaving her family and home behind to marry a man she’s only heard about and never met?  Now we see the element of free will appear to come into play, as they ask Rebekah her choice.  In the original Hebrew, her answer is more telling than the standard translations.  Her response isn’t just “I will go”, but rather defiantly, such as “I will go whether you like it or not, you can’t stop me!”

So is this free will manifesting itself?  Or is the spirit inside of Rebekah pulling her along to her pre-ordained fate – to marry Isaac, to become one of the progenitors of the Israelites and ultimately a prophetic picture of the church?

Perhaps it is not so much mystery as it is paradox.  The reason that the arguments are just as heated today as ever between free will and predestination is because depending on how you read the narrative, you can effectively make the case for either one.  Yet both are present, simultaneously and without conflict.

“But when food was set before him to eat, he said, “I will not eat until I have told my business.” And he said, “Speak on.”” – Gen. 24:33

Abraham’s servant has just traveled quite a distance, and is likely tired and hungry. But, rather than readily accept the food offered, he states that the business at hand is more important.  The issue of whether or not Rebekah would be allowed to leave this place and become the wife of Isaac – was regarded more highly than his own physical sustenance.  Clarke’s Commentary says it quite aptly:   “Here is a servant who had his master’s interest more at heart than his own.”

In the Gospel of John, the words of the Messiah make a markedly similar statement after His disciples were urging Him to eat:

“My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me and to accomplish His work.”  (John 4:34)

If Laban and family would have refused, would the servant have eaten?  Would he have accepted any hospitality?   It was quite a long journey back and they may not have been able to even carry enough provisions for the return, we simply do not know.

“So the man entered the house. Then Laban unloaded the camels, and he gave straw and feed to the camels, and water to wash his feet and the feet of the men who were with him.”  Gen. 24:31

Previously we noted Abraham served three angels (Gen. 18), and Lot put up two angels for the night before the destruction of Sodom  (Gen. 19) and so we know Laban has grown up in an hospitable family.  To make food and lodging preparations for upwards of ten men, their belongings and the camels, would be no quick task on short notice, when you live in a time without grocery stores or refrigerators.  Slaughtering animals for food takes time; as does harvesting and cleaning fruits and vegetables.

Unfortunately it is difficult to determine Laban’s motive in this case.  It is also difficult to ignore that the scripture tells us of Laban’s noticing the ring and bracelets in conjunction with his welcoming the servant.  Our perception may also become skewed when we consider Laban’s  dealings with Jacob some years from now.

If Abraham’s servant showed up alone and unremarkable, instead of with a small company of men bearing gold and other gifts, would Laban have treated him the same way?  When we cannot know the answer to the question, perhaps it is best to ask ourselves what we would do.

The scriptures were given to us to shape us, test and challenge us, and grow us spiritually.  They were made for pondering and for reflection.  And while the Old Testament tells us the story and allows us to arrive at a conclusion on certain matters, the New Testament writings are much more direct on this point.  There are several passages that speak against favoritism toward the rich.  (James 2:1-7; Luke 14:12-14; 1 Tim. 5:21, and others.)

“Before he had finished speaking, behold, Rebekah who was born to Bethuel the son of Milcah, the wife of Abraham’s brother Nahor, came out with her jar on her shoulder.  The girl was very beautiful, a virgin, and no man had had relations with her; and she went down to the spring and filled her jar and came up. – Gen. 24:15-16

Abraham’s servants’ prayer in the previous verse is considered one of the greatest and most effective prayers in history, as the answer to it started to come about before the servant was even finished speaking (v. 15).  As many scholars have noted, the timing of the prayer and its subsequent answer infer that God had already set everything in motion previously (the servant had a long journey, for instance).

Rebekah’s father is Bethuel.  Bethuel is the son of Nahor and Milcah.  Nahor, in turn, is the son of Terah, who is also Abraham’s father (Gen. 11:27).  Therefore Abraham is related to Rebekah, though not extremely closely.

The etymology of Rebekah’s name, according to the BDB Theological Dictionary means “to tie firmly”.  Other sources define the meaning as ‘a knotted cord’.  As I believe Rebekah is a picture of the church, what comes to mind is Ecclesiasties 4:12(b):  “A cord of three strands is not quickly torn apart” which many believe is a reference to the doctrine of the Trinity.

“He said, “O LORD, the God of my master Abraham, please grant me success today, and show lovingkindness to my master Abraham. “Behold, I am standing by the spring, and the daughters of the men of the city are coming out to draw water; now may it be that the girl to whom I say, ‘Please let down your jar so that I may drink,’ and who answers, ‘Drink, and I will water your camels also’—may she be the one whom You have appointed for Your servant Isaac; and by this I will know that You have shown lovingkindness to my master.””  Gen. 24:12-14

Here we see the first request for divine assistance in the scriptures.  Friedman notes that thus far, no human has asked for such assistance, along with a miraculous sign, and the servant even goes so far as to specify what the sign should be.  As I take the position that Abraham’s servant is a picture of the Holy Spirit, we can expect that no request would have been denied.

As the scriptures continue, Godly men become more bold toward God in their faith, such as when Joshua commands the sun to stand still (Joshua 10:12); however, the wicked become more bold against God in their wickedness, as we see in the book of Revelation:

“…and they blasphemed the name of God who has the power over these plagues, and they did not repent so as to give Him glory.”  Rev. 16:6

Chizkuni speculates that the servant strategically chose a place away from the house so that the girl would act more like herself than if she were near family.

Rabbi Sforno notes that water for the camels and for Eliezer would be all that could be needed at the moment, so the right girl would effectually fulfill all present needs.  This will illustrate her servanthood.

“He made the camels kneel down outside the city by the well of water at evening time, the time when women go out to draw water.” Gen. 24:11

It is quite obvious from a reading of Genesis 24 that Bethuel, Laban and Rebekah are doing just fine financially.  They welcome several strangers (Abraham’s servant was not alone) and provide food and lodging for them all, as well as their ten camels.

So why is Rebekah out drawing water herself?  Surely the family has servants!  We see later that she has a nurse (probably her wet nurse when young, who became her servant.)  I believe the answer is simply this:  she is humble.  This is precisely what makes her the right material for Isaac’s bride.  Malbim tells us that the servant looked for a modest girl, who would draw water herself even if she had servant.

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