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“Then Laban and Bethuel replied, “The matter comes from the LORD; so we cannot speak to you bad or good.  “Here is Rebekah before you, take her and go, and let her be the wife of your master’s son, as the LORD has spoken.””  Gen. 24:50-51

The mention of Bethuel’s name in this verse is the only thing that makes the possibility for the case he is alive.  Alter, among other commentators, notes that the name here appears to be a later scribal insertion.  Indeed, if you read the chapter with the assumption Bethuel is dead, the chapter itself makes more sense, explaining why Laban is handling all the affairs.   Please see my previous posting on this here for more on Bethuel.

Josephus, in his “Antiquities of the Jews” wrote specifically that Rebekah said her father was dead, and further that Laban was “the guardian of her virginity.” (Antiquities, Book I, Ch. 16).  

At least one commentator offers an alternate explaination.  Plaut, in his Modern Commentary on the Torah says it is more likely that the mother’s household (apparently including Laban) played a sizable role, which he referred to as “an earlier societal pattern” known as a matronymic system.

As far as what was said in the narrative, that the family could not speak good of bad of the situation:  it appears that it was entirely acceptable to the family for Rebekah to go with the servant to become Isaac’s wife.  Knowing that Abraham was A) a relative, B) financially stable and C) about to pass all of the estate to his son Isaac, a thorough comfort level was reached by the family.

So why could they say nothing good of it?  In many ways, they would surely have good things to say – so the phrase here does not mean they cannot speak good (or bad) but rather they are indicating they are in such full agreement that they could not bring up any arguing points at all.  Biblical phrases such as this are often just slightly misunderstood, but it can change how we understand a passage.

A Note on Biblical Accuracy

The idea of a scribal insertion, or change, is extremely bothersome to some bible readers. Our conception of how the scriptures came into existence, and to what degree we believe that God Himself wrote, oversaw, or otherwise inspired the scriptures greatly affects our belief about their nature, and the status we ascribe to them. Many believe that all of “God’s Word” (i.e., the entire canonized modern bible,) is infallible and inerrant.  If we believe this, we automatically rule out the possibility that a few scribes may have added a change that made it’s way into the final version we now read.

However, we know there are differences in the various manuscripts; and piecing together such ancient documents, in various states of legibility, etc. is certainly no easy task, and as copies were made by hand, at the very least, minor changes were introduced.  In this case, it appears unimportant as to whether Bethuel is alive or not; it has no obvious significance, and it does not change the outcome of the story or its meaning.  But when multiple manuscripts have such differences in more important portions of the text we tend to become uneasy.  Until we are experts at reading biblical Hebrew, Greek and Aramaic, we have little choice but to trust our translators and decide which translation we wish to read.

“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.

“Then the man bowed low and worshiped the LORD. He said, “Blessed be the LORD, the God of my master Abraham, who has not forsaken His lovingkindness and His truth toward my master; as for me, the LORD has guided me in the way to the house of my master’s brothers.” Then the girl ran and told her mother’s household about these things.”

At the grand show of hospitality by Rebekah, Abraham’s servant rejoices to God that he has been guided to Abraham’s relatives’ house, his desired destination.  The phrase “in the way” has also appeared as “the right way” or “the straight way”.  It is more than direction; the servant is doing exactly as he is supposed to be doing, he is in his Master’s will.

Rebekah runs to her mother’s household, as opposed to her father’s, or even her brother’s (Laban, whom will soon be part of the narrative).  Rashi notes that it was the practice of the woman to have her own house, and that the daughter would confide in her mother exclusively.   Is that why she runs to the mother’s house? Shouldn’t the father know about this situation first?

One theory as to why is that Bethuel, her father, is already deceased.  Josephus wrote of this:

“[They]…call me Rebeka; my father was Bethuel, but he is dead; and Laban is my brother; and, together with my mother, takes care of all our family affairs, and is the guardian of my virginity.”

This would explain both why Rebekah ran to her mother, as well as explain Laban handles the marriage negotiations with Abraham’s servant instead of the father.  In fact, if you read the narrative with the assumption Bethuel is dead, everything makes sense, until you read verse 50.  That verse makes it seem as if Bethuel is still alive, as it attributes a statement to being said by both Laban and Bethuel.  The way it reads however is suspect, and there is a chance that Bethuel’s name in verse 50 is a later scribal insertion (Robert Alter).

Additionally, consider that when the servant gives gifts in verse 53, Bethuel is omitted; also in verse 55 it is the “brother and the mother” who try to keep Rebekah from leaving right away, Bethuel is not mentioned.  All of this points to a strong likelihood that Bethuel has already passed away and verse 50 simply contains a scribal insertion.

Lastly, consider that we know Isaac’s mother Sarah has passed away, so now Isaac seeks a wife. It would be fitting if Rebekah had also lost her father, as her marriage to Isaac would fill the void of Rebekah losing her father, just as a point is made to show that Isaac was consoled after his mother’s death. (v. 67)

“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 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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