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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.

““Please tell me, is there room for us to lodge in your father’s house?”  She said to him, “I am the daughter of Bethuel, the son of Milcah, whom she bore to Nahor.”  Again she said to him, “We have plenty of both straw and feed, and room to lodge in.””  Gen. 24:23-25

More often than not I am pleasantly surprised at the allusions I see to the New Testament writings hidden among the ancient Hebrew scriptures, often brought up by well-known Rabbis.  This passage contains one such instance.

Bear in mind I take the position that Isaac is a picture of the Messiah via substitutionary sacrifice; Abraham’s servant is a picture of the Holy Spirit for which I have previously made a case, and Rebekah is a picture of the church, becoming the bride of Isaac.

The servant of Abraham has just watched Rebekah water the camels for hours until they were through drinking.  He then presents Rebekah with gifts, as it is becoming apparent to him that she is, in fact, the one who will become Isaac’s bride. Upon asking which family she is from, he also inquires about lodging for the night for himself and the servants he brought with him.  It is her answer that I find fascinating.

As read in your average English translation, nothing seems unique in her response. The Hebrew is quite telling however.  First, Rebekah answers the servant’s question about who her father is, confirming the bloodline back to Abraham through his brother Nahor.  Then in regards to the question about a place to stay for the night, she responds with “We have plenty… of room to lodge.”

What is noteworthy here is that the infinitive form of the verb “lodge” is used (Tosafos Yom Tov to Bava Metzia 2:9), so it could accurately be translated as “There is no limit to the number of rooms to lodge in” or similar.  The context here would prevent such a literal translation, likewise there is obviously not actually an infinite number of rooms available; however her answer astoundingly echos the words of Christ in John’s gospel, 14:2:

“In my Father’s house are many rooms”

The implication being that when we are dealing with God Himself, there is no limitation to the amount of places that may be provided.  That is the understanding here, Rebekah is telling the servant there is more than enough room in her father’s house.  Alternately, it could be understood as the availability of lodging for an unlimited number of nights; this too gives us a picture of the world to come – life eternal!

“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.

“Then the servant took ten camels from the camels of his master, and set out with a variety of good things of his master’s in his hand; and he arose and went to Mesopotamia, to the city of Nahor.” – Gen. 24:10

Robert Alter notes that camels were not domesticated until several centuries later.  However, so many other details of this section of narrative, and the one prior, appear to be quite detailed and considered very likely accurate for the time period at hand; and also in this case, the camels are a central figure to the story.

The possession of camels is probably part of Abraham’s extraodinary wealth, (Nelson’s Commentary) Thus it is not completely impossible that Abraham utilized camels for travel.

“…with all the bounty of the master in his hand.”  A document making a gift to Isaac of all that he possessed.  (Rashi) We would see this as a will of sorts to take care of the estate.  This is not unlike the transfer of power of God the Father to Jesus Christ, with the servant, as I have said, acting as the Holy Spirit.

Aram Naharaim – literally Aram of two rivers.  Probably Mesopotamia, and is apparently the land of the city of Nahor.  (Rashi, Fox)

“Now it came about after these things, that it was told Abraham, saying, “Behold, Milcah also has borne children to your brother Nahor: Uz his firstborn and Buz his brother and Kemuel the father of Aram and Chesed and Hazo and Pildash and Jidlaph and Bethuel.” Bethuel became the father of Rebekah; these eight Milcah bore to Nahor, Abraham’s brother. His concubine, whose name was Reumah, also bore Tebah and Gaham and Tahash and Maacah.”  Gen. 22:20-24

We haven’t heard anything about Abraham’s family since he left them in Genesis 12. Abraham hears the news that his brother Nahor has a growing family.  Nahor has twelve children in all, and at least two grandchildren.  Eight of the children are through his wife Milcah, and four are through his concubine Reumah.

We often read verses like this and think there is no real purpose why they are there.  Consider that Abraham almost slew his only son (since Ishmael had been sent away) and was now reminded of his promise of many descendants to come.  Surely this news of his brothers expanded family warmed his heart and refreshed his hope!

This news is also mentioned because Isaac’s future wife, Rebekah would come from among the family, of which Abraham had hoped to marry his son into as we will see in Gen. 24.


One thing I enjoy about using Hebrew/Jewish study materials is the interesting historical insight and oral tradition, as well as the practicality of the lessons to be learned from the scriptures.  On the other hand what is often lacking (and understandably so since they do not believe the Messiah has come) is a more spiritual, almost parable-like understanding of the text.  I recently read about Haran in Matthew Henry’s commentary, so I will credit him of course but I took his idea and ran with it.

Matthew Henry said of Haran’s early death “It concerns us to hasten out of our natural state, lest death surprise us in it.” I take this to mean that Henry sees Haran as a picture of a man living in an idolatrous place (Ur of the Chaldeans) who never moved on – who either never came to believe in the true God, or if he did, never made spiritual progress in his walk.  And, dying somewhat prematurely, perhaps thought he would have had more time to make such progress but sadly did not.

With this allegorical approach, a vivid picture of different spiritual walks begins to emerge.  We may look at the places mentioned in these verses as different stages of spiritual progress:  Ur of the Chaldeans being the starting point, with little to no faith or belief; Haran (the city) being a place of some spiritual growth, but with much more room to grow; and lastly Canaan as a place of great belief and faith where our spiritual lives begin to take off.

Now we insert the various members of Abraham’s family and we see varying results:  We know that Terah, after the death of his son Haran, packed up his family and possessions to head to Canaan.  We know at some point in the past Terah believed in idols and false gods (Joshua 24:2) but perhaps had a change of heart later in life, after Haran died.  If nothing else, he had at least decided to leave Ur.  Terah made it as far as Haran, and settled the family there.  The key part being that they settled there – they didn’t just stop because Terah was about to die.  Terah may represent a family man who used to be wicked but changed his ways and began following God, but either started too late in age, or just didn’t have the fire to make it  beyond an intermediate place. When this happens in real life, the children who are following may suffer too, and as we will see below, Nahor made it no further than Haran either as far as we know.

As for Nahor and his wife Milcah, we know they make it as far as Haran as well, but we know nothing else about their lives after that.  Ultimately they have a son Bethuel, who goes on to have Rebekah, (Gen. 24:15) who becomes the bride of Isaac.  But of their lives as a couple we know nothing more.  Abraham’s story takes precedence and is the one documented from here forward.  Nahor and Milcah represent perhaps a godly couple that reaches a certain point in their spiritual walk, but becomes content and goes no further, and spiritual growth is stagnant.

Abraham was called to “the land which I will show you” by God (Gen. 12:1) which ended up being Canaan, the land where Terah was already planning to take the entire  family, though Abraham did not know it yet.  He had the faith to go, and received great and wonderful promises from God about the future as well.  And Abraham and Sarah make it to Canaan.  And what we find is that there are many more chapters to their lives, and things get much more exciting after they make it to Canaan, the place where God wanted Abraham to be.  A drastic difference between Abraham and Sarah’s spiritual life as a couple compared to Nahor and Milcah, who all but disappear.

This should be a lesson to those who feel like their walk is at a standstill or feel spiritually ineffective – that God is trying to get you to the place He wants you to be, and once you get there, that is when things really begin in your walk with Him.  As a married man I find this encouraging because Sarah took part in this journey, and became part of the story as well.

“Haran died in the presence of his father Terah…”  Gen. 11:28

“…Terah died in Haran.”  Gen 11:32

It appears Haran, the son of Terah, had an untimely death, passing away before his father and leaving Lot fatherless.  Haran’s brothers were Arbam and Nahor.  We are told in verse 28 that Haran died in the presence of his father Terah.  Then, in a unique twist of words, verse 32 tells us that Terah died in a place called Haran.  From what I understand, the name of Terah’s son, and the city of the same name, though the same in English, would be easily discerned as different in the original Hebrew.  Take away what you will, I just thought this was interesting.

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