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“When Esau was forty years old he married Judith the daughter of Beeri the Hittite, and Basemath the daughter of Elon the Hittite; and they brought grief to Isaac and Rebekah.”  Gen. 26:34-35

We note that Esau was forty years old when he decided to marry, the same age as Isaac was when he married Rebekah.  (Gen. 25:20).  There are many instances in the scriptures of polygamy (multiple spouses) however we do not see any scriptures that indicate God condones it.

In Genesis 24:3, Abraham was adamant when speaking with his senior servant that the wife to be found for Isaac was not to be from among the Canaanites (of which the Hittites were part).  This ideal of Abraham’s is likely at least in part why Esau’s choices brought grief to Isaac and Rebekah (Gen. 26:35).

The Hittites were derived from Heth, who was referenced in Gen. 10:15:

“Canaan became the father of Sidon, his firstborn, and Heth”

Canaan was the son of Ham, and he was the one cursed by Noah after the incident in the tent after the flood.  Later, Abraham buys the Cave of Machpelah and the adjacent field from the sons of Heth to bury Sarah (Gen. 23).

“Now there was a famine in the land, besides the previous famine that had occurred in the days of Abraham. So Isaac went to Gerar, to Abimelech king of the Philistines.  The LORD appeared to him and said, “Do not go down to Egypt; stay in the land of which I shall tell you.”  Gen. 26:1-2

The famine and the encounter with Abimelech are just the first two of many parallels between the Isaac and Abraham narratives.  And just as with Abraham, Isaac was going to head to Egypt due to the famine, by way of Gerar.

We may make the assumption that God did not want Isaac to go to Egypt due to what transpired between Abraham and Pharaoh regarding Sarah, that perhaps the people of Egypt are more wicked than Gerar.  However The second time that Abraham was not honest about Sarah being his wife, the same thing happened here, in Gerar, with king Abimelech, in very similar fashion.

Despite this, it appears God was alright with Isaac going to Gerar.  Gerar is still within the land of Canaan, the area that would become known as the Promised Land.

Previously in Genesis 24, Abraham calls upon his oldest servant to go and find a wife for Isaac.  The servant then asks “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)

 Abraham’s response explains much:

Then Abraham said to him, “Beware that you do not take my son back there!  “The LORD, the God of heaven, who took me from my father’s house and from the land of my birth, and who spoke to me and who swore to me, saying, ‘To your descendants I will give this land,’ He will send His angel before you, and you will take a wife for my son from there.  “But if the woman is not willing to follow you, then you will be free from this my oath; only do not take my son back there.”  (Gen. 24:6-8)

Abraham was so adamant about Isaac not going, that he would rather his son be without a wife, despite having a great promise from God concerning the number of his descendants.  This appears to be less about preventing Isaac from going to Egypt and more about Isaac staying in Canaan.   Abraham’s point is that his journey led up to this: he is now in Canaan, the land promised to him and his descendants; thus he wants Isaac to establish himself here thoroughly, and does not want him to leave.

The Midrash (Bereishit Rabba 64:3) explains that an offering to God must stay in the temple courtyard, and thus, because Isaac was an offering to God, he must stay within the bounds of the Promised Land.

“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.

“Then Rebekah arose with her maids, and they mounted the camels and followed the man. So the servant took Rebekah and departed. ”  Gen. 24:61

We can see from verse 59 that Rebekah had a nurse, and now we see in verse 61 that she also has some maids which will be making the journey as well.  So in all there will be a caravan of fourteen or more* making the journey to Canaan, to Isaac.

What is worth pointing out is that Rebekah, despite having maids, went out to draw the water herself (v. 15).  Indeed if she did not, would the whole betrothal scene have transpired anything like it did?

From the text it is fairly obvious that Rebekah’s family was financially well off: multiple homes were mentioned; several men on short notice were accommodated with food and lodging, including their camels, etc.  Add to it the fact that Rebekah has maids and we can determine that she did not need to draw the water that day, or any day.  But still she chose to.

If we look back to Abraham, whom was known to be wealthy in all the land – we shall see this same thing.  In Genesis 22 Abraham was awake early, preparing the donkeys for the journey to Moriah, and even splitting the wood himself (v. 22:3).  Abraham had many servants – over 100 – and was even bringing two of them with him; yet he burdened himself with a large portion of the work though he did not need to lift a finger.

Followers of God are called to be servants; consider the words of Christ in Matthew 20:26-28:

“It is not this way among you, but whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you shall be your slave; just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.”

*Abraham’s servant and his men, upwards of nine; Rebekah herself, her nurse, and at least two maids.

        “They blessed Rebekah and said to her,
         “May you, our sister,
         Become thousands of ten thousands,
         And may your descendants possess
         The gate of those who hate them.””  -Gen. 24:60

Rebekah’s mother and her brother Laban pronounce these wonderful blessings upon her as she decides to leave her home and marry Isaac.  Astoundingly and unbeknownst to them, this blessing is almost identical to the one God gave to Abraham after he offered Isaac in Gen. 22:16-17 (emphasis mine):

“By Myself I have sworn, declares the LORD, because you have done this thing and have not withheld your son, your only son, indeed I will greatly bless you, and I will greatly multiply your seed as the stars of the heavens and as the sand which is on the seashore; and your seed shall possess the gate of their enemies.”

The similarity of the blessing is merely further confirmation that the marriage between Isaac and Rebekah was divinely arranged.  Further, we see that such blessings are meant to carry down through the generations, and they do so.

The phrase “possess the gate of  their enemies” may seem obvious in its meaning; to be successful in battle, to win decisive victories, etc.  However it may, on the other hand, mean that they hoped Rebekah’s offspring would have such integrity and wisdom that even their enemies would seek their advice (Haamek Davar).  This interpretation seems more in line with seeking peace before resulting to war.  Ultimately we see instances of both in scripture.

“When Abraham’s servant heard their words, he bowed himself to the ground before the LORD. The servant brought out articles of silver and articles of gold, and garments, and gave them to Rebekah; he also gave precious things to her brother and to her mother. Then he and the men who were with him ate and drank and spent the night. When they arose in the morning, he said, “Send me away to my master.”  But her brother and her mother said, “Let the girl stay with us a few days, say ten; afterward she may go.”  He said to them, “Do not delay me, since the LORD has prospered my way.  Send me away that I may go to my master.” And they said, “We will call the girl and consult her wishes.” Then they called Rebekah and said to her, “Will you go with this man?” And she said, “I will go.” Thus they sent away their sister Rebekah and her nurse with Abraham’s servant and his men.” Gen. 24:52-59

Now that Abraham’s servant has the official response from the family he is almost in the clear.  Gifts were handed out, the men ate and drank in celebration, then went to sleep.

Now it was customary in this time for a young virgin woman to take one year to prepare herself for marriage (Mishna, Kesubos 57b) so it was likely no surprise to Abraham’s servant when Laban and the Rebekah’s mother tried to delay her from leaving.  In all likelihood, the family was requesting she stay for ten months – not a mere ten days as is commonly translated.  Things seemed to have gone so well however that the servant would allow no delay: if she were coming, they were leaving now.

And so now, after the family has already given Rebekah away, they decide to ask her consent personally.  This may have been another attempt to slow the process; perhaps Rebekah wasn’t ready to personally make such a commitment on the spot. This scripture then sets the bar for asking the woman’s permission for marriage (Midrash, Kiddushin 41) (Rambam, Rashi).

Probably to the family’s surprise, Rebekah said she would go – quite emphatically even.  Her response was more like “I will go either way”.

“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.

““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.

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