16. Isaac's Marriage (24:1-67)
A delightful chapter, charmingly written with much of detail, not because of its romantic character but because in it is recorded an act of faith which transfigures the ordinary experiences of life. The patriarch Abraham, believing the promises of Yahweh concerning the progeny to spring from his son, (namely a great nation and a great Redeemer), makes provision for the marriage of this son. This provision, however, is made in such a fashion that Abraham's full confidence in the validity of these promises is clearly displayed.
The marriage of Isaac can hardly be said to have come late in his life, though he was forty years of age at the time (Genesis 25:20), inasmuch as the natural span of life at this time was about as long as it is now. The need of taking steps along this line had been suggested by Sarah's death and by the fact that Abraham, now 140 years old, felt the desirability of attending to this duty while he was still well and able to do so. The father's sole initiative in this direction and the entire passivity of Isaac on the occasion are to be accounted for by the fact that, first, it was primarily the function of parents to provide for the marriage of their children in those days; and, in the second place, Isaac was by character and disposition much inclined to be passive and unaggressive. Nothing points to the possibility that Abraham's death was imminent at the time he makes these arrangements. In fact, it would be a very queer style of writing which could overlook such a situation if it had actually obtained; especially since v.1 would have presented a logical place for a statement conveying such a fact.
This simple narrative with its natural flow and progression has fallen into the hands of a criticism intent upon doing damage to the Scriptures wherever it seems possible to do so and upon making a display of its ingenuity. Here criticism claims to be able to detect two strands of narrative woven into one, two strands which happen to diverge continually. Apparently, he who wove the two together either did not observe their divergence, or else put the two together regardless of whether they harmonized or not. The so-called divergences will be examined at a few points to show the untenable nature of the critical claims. Any unprejudiced person can readily see that the so-called divergences are merely two sides of one and the same story, supplementing without contradiction. The critical efforts tend to read a foregone conclusion into the evidence on the strength of unproven and unconvincing evidence.
1. Abraham was old and well stricken in age, and Yahweh had blessed Abraham in all things.
Abraham's being old is referred to in connection with his choice of a wife for Isaac because his age reminds him of the need of delaying in this important matter no longer. The second statement "well stricken in age" (Hebrew: "advanced in days," as in Genesis 18:11) must in contrast to the first emphasize that the infirmities of old age were coming to be more in evidence. The reference to God's blessings which Abraham had abundantly enjoyed in this connection seems to indicate that there were no troubles so engaging the thoughts of Abraham as to make him forget this important duty. Besides, it indicates that Abraham was financially well able to provide for his son's marriage. But primarily, since it records the fulfilment of 12:2, it seems to suggest that, since one part of this great promise (Genesis 12:2, 3) had been fulfilled very manifestly, Abraham felt the necessity of making provision that no part of the things promised be delayed or interfered with, as it well might be if the son be not properly provided with a wife. "Yahweh" is referred to as the author of the blessing and throughout the chapter because the work of the gracious God of the covenant is primarily under consideration in this connection.
2-4. And Abraham said unto his servant, the eldest of his house, who had control over all that Abraham had: Put, now, thy hand under my thigh, that I may cause thee to swear by Yahweh, the God of the heavens and the God of the earth, that thou wilt not take a wife for my son from the daughters of the Canaanites in the midst of whom I dwell, but that thou wilt go to my country and unto my relationship and take a wife for my son Isaac.
It seems very strange that the account does not identify this servant. It may have been Eliezer of whom we last heard about sixty years ago (Genesis 15:12). Still it seems a rather rare case that one servant should be in another man's employ for such a length of time. In fact, it would seem that Eliezer must have been in Abraham's employ more than twenty years to arrive at a position of such influence as he held according to 15:12. That would necessitate by the time of this chapter eighty consecutive years of service! "Eldest" (zaqen) often refers to rank rather than to age (cf. Genesis 50:7; Isaiah 3:2; B D B says the term is used more than a hundred times as a technical term in reference to persons "having authority"). This individual had the complete management of Abraham's household in hand: hammoshel —"the one ruling" all Abraham had. In any case, he must have been a tried and true servant.
The gesture that is to accompany the oath under which this servant is put by Abraham is: "Put, now, thy hand under my thigh." The "now" (na') gives a touch of mildness to the imperative. The "thigh" (yarekh) or "loins" is here indeed regarded as "the seat of the procreative powers" (B D B), and by metonomy it takes into consideration all the descendants of one. Note passages such as Genesis 46:26 ("all the souls that came out of his loins"); Exodus 1:5; Jud 8:30. Consequently, this form of oath has particular regard to the descendants and is taken in reference to them. But we cannot stop short with this correct statement. For when we consider how eagerly believers from the time of Adam looked forward to a Saviour that was to be born, and also how Abraham (Genesis 12:3) knew and believed that from his own line such a Saviour was to follow, we cannot but accept the orthodox view held by church fathers from days of old that this oath was administered in view of the Saviour to come from Abraham's line. The whole course of procedure builds upon this prominent fact. This same form of oath is found besides only in Genesis 47:29. Consequently, we do not find here a remnant of some old custom now no longer understood, nor is this a remnant of some phallic cult, nor was this an oath by the membrum virile, for the hand was placed under the thigh, nor are the present-day analogies referred to by commentators as still obtaining among Arabs and Egyptians a good illustration or parallel. Here was a godly oath by a godly man taken and administered in the light of his greatest hope, the coming Saviour. "Yahweh," as the covenant God, is most appropriately referred to as the one by whom the servant is to swear. The descriptive apposition "the God of the heavens and the God of the earth" reminds him that swears of Yahweh's omnipotence and omnipresence and so serves as an excellent indication of the exalted conception of God prevailing among the patriarchs.
3. The waw introducing the first verb is final: that I may cause, as also in v.14 Genesis 24:14 and v.51 Genesis 24:51. The thing so momentous as to require this solemn oath is that the servant shall not "take a wife"for Isaac "from the daughters of the Canaanites,"among whom Abraham was living. No doubt, material advantage would have lain on the side of a marital union with an influential Canaanite, to give Isaac a foothold in the land, powerful connections and social standing. Abraham's purpose, however, in abhorring such a union will not only have been a desire to perpetuate pure Semitic stock, for the Canaanites were Hamites. Such a purpose was incidentally involved, for certain types of pure Semitic stock were, no doubt, the depositories of a godly tradition. But the patriarch's chief concern was to find a wife for Isaac who with him knew and believed in Yahweh and so would share with her husband a common faith and so allow for the deepest of all harmonies in the home, spiritual harmony. For again, only in a home where true spiritual harmony prevailed would the spiritual heritage of Abraham be jealously guarded and faithfully transmitted to coming generations. Besides, the Canaanite stock, which was already deteriorating (Genesis 9:25; 19:5, 32) and which was destined to be destroyed ultimately by Abraham's descendants could hardly be found worthy for this exalted purpose. Abraham, then, details this task of finding the proper wife for his son to a servant for two reasons. His own advanced age made such a rigorous journey impracticable and, besides, all such transactions, in the Orient were arranged, through intermediaries (cf. Genesis 23:8).
4. The initial kî is adversative (K. S.372e; B D B 474a). Abraham regards the place of his last residence, Mesopotamia, as his "country" ('artsî); there is his "relationship." He is sure that some suitable wife will there be available if anywhere.
5. And the servant said to him: Perhaps the woman will not be willing to follow me into this land, shall I then go so far as to bring thy son back to the land from which thou camest?
The servant sees the issues and difficulties clearly. Not to be able to find a suitable person at all for Isaac seems entirely out of the question. There is likelihood that a woman will be available who meets the spiritual qualifications. Socially Abraham's position makes his son a very suitable suitor. The very real difficulty that may arise would be if the woman were unwilling to break all ties of home and friendship, make a far journey and establish entirely new connections. To find so courageous a woman would indeed be rare. So in the other event what course should be followed? Is the need so great in the case of the woman's unwillingness as to allow the servant to make the proposition that his master's son would be ready to journey back to Abraham's early home? The servant must be sure of his ground in advance. The absolute infinitive added to the verb "bringing back shall I bring back" is, we feel, covered quite well by our free rendering above: "shall I go so far as to bring back?" On the form of the interrogative he see G. K.100 n.
6-8. And Abraham said to him: Take heed not to bring my son back there again. Yahweh, the God of the heavens, who took me from my father's house and from the land of my relationship, and who spoke to me and promised me under oath, To thy seed will I give this land, He will send His Angel before thy face and thou shalt get a wife for my son there. But if the woman be not willing to follow thee, then thou shalt be absolved of this my oath. Only, as far as my son is concerned, do not take him back there.
The servant's alternative is out of the question. Abraham strongly forbids it: "Take heed not to bring my son back there again." The Hebrew has, "take heed to thyself (lekha) lest thou bring" —pen with the imperfect, a negative final clause.
7. Abraham rightly concludes that Yahweh cannot desire a return to Mesopotamia, for He it was that brought Abraham forth. Besides, the land to be given to Isaac is the very land in which Abraham now lives. That land dare not now be forsaken. God spoke plainly to Abraham (Genesis 12:7; 13:15) that this land should belong to his descendants. He even "promised under oath" (nishba'— merely "to swear") "to thy seed will I give this land" (Genesis 15:17 f). He is the "God of the heavens" who has great resources at His command. "His Angel" has been wont to appear and succor God's own (Genesis 16:7), and He is divine (see exposition of chapter 16). lie will prosper the servant's journey, going before his face to remove difficulties. Since a wife is essential to the securing of descendants, Abraham is sure that Yahweh will provide.
8. To set his servant's mind at ease Abraham declares him absolved of this oath in case the woman be unwilling to accompany him. With solemn repetition Abraham forbids taking his son back to Mesopotamia. The zo'th after shebhu'athî has no article because of the suffix (G. K.126 y; K. S.334 y). "My oath" means not "the oath rendered to me" but "the oath administered by me" (K. S.37); cf. also v.3 Genesis 24:3 and Joshua 2:17, 20. The initial waw naturally is adversative—"but."
9. And the servant put his hand under the thigh of Abraham, his master, and he swore concerning this matter.
After the issues are clear to both parties, the oath is given as it was demanded. The "master" relationship is emphasized on Abraham's part, because the servant recognized that this relation increased his obligation in the matter. This was not a case of friend pleasing friend but of servant obeying his master 'adhonaw —a plural of respect—(Herrschaftsplural, G. K.124 g i). The final 'al dabhar hazzeh may also be rendered "on the basis of this thing" (B D B) or "thus" —solches —Luther.
10, 11. So the servant took ten of his master's camels and set out, and all sorts of his master's valuables were in his possession; and he arose and set out for Aram Naharaim, for the city of Nahor. And he made his camels kneel down outside the city by the well of water at evening time, at the time when the women came forth to draw water.
Ten camels are still regarded as a proper number for such a caravan Thomson, The Land and the Book, p.261 ff. Besides "the servant" not "slave" —Meek has "all sorts of kol as in Genesis 2:9; 4:22; Le 19:23 valuables" —so Meek well translates tûbh. The camels bear him and his attendants as well as the necessary presents and will serve to convey the expected wife and her attendants as well. That the verb "set out," wayyélekh, should be repeated is quite natural and not an indication of two separate sources. The first "set out" reports in a summary way—so common in Hebrew, the second resumes after a few details have been inserted. Of the several Arams mentioned in the Scriptures this is the one "of the two rivers" naharayim which are not the Euphrates and the Tigris, for Aram did not extend to the Tigris, but the Euphrates and the Chaboras. Aram is a construct state in a proper name K. S.280 h. Nahor's city is Haran Genesis 27:43; 28:10.
11. The uneventful journey is skipped, and we are introduced in the colourful narrative to the scene witnessed upon the arrival at the outskirts of Haran. "Kneel" for camels is entirely proper, as it exactly describes how camels are brought down to rest. The customary well is located outside the city. Sho'abhoth, feminine participle, "drawers" of water, are the women whose regular duty it was to draw water, especially at evening. 'E'rebh has no article, as is frequently the case in expressions more or less stereotyped K. S.294f. Tse'th, infinitive from yatsa', is the equivalent of a relative clause K. S.400 b.
12-14. And he said: O Yahweh, God of my master Abraham, let it befall before me this day and show kindness unto my master Abraham. See, I have taken my stand, by the fountain of water, and the daughters of the men of the city are coming forth to draw water; so let it come to pass that the girl, to whom I shall say, Let down, I pray, thy pitcher that I may drink and she shall say, Drink, and I will water thy camels also, her thou hast adjudged for thy servant, for Isaac, and by this I shall discover that Thou hast showed kindness to my master.
This good servant has imbibed much of the spirit and the faith of his master Abraham. It is a problem sufficient to tax the finest ingenuity to the utmost without arriving at sure results. In a prayer of childlike faith the servant commits the issues to his Lord. The fact that he addresses Yahweh as the "God of my master" does not signify that Yahweh is not his own God but only Abraham's, but rather that he, the servant, first learned to know Him as the Yahweh who stood related to Abraham. Only a faith that knows God as Yahweh and trust like Abraham's would venture to submit such a prayer. Luther here raises the question whether it be permissible to prescribe to the Lord what He is to do in answer to our prayer and answers that this servant did not prescribe to God what to do, but that the spirit of his whole prayer is merely one of earnest desire: Oh, that it —would please thee, dear Lord; to let so and so happen! Haqreh "cause (it) to happen" —the indefinite unexpressed subject "it" in this case being the finding of the proper wife. Luther supplies as object "Thou" or "Thyself" thus: "cause Thyself to meet me," begegne mir, which is hardly admissible. A.V. renders very acceptably: "send me good speed." His prayer is quite unselfish, having regard only for his "master Abraham," whom he apparently respects and loves very much.
13. The servant outlines the situation, not as though he would inform the good Lord but merely to provide a basis upon which his prayer is to build up. Nitstsabh is not so much "I am standing" as "I have taken my stand" —a statement expressive of the purpose behind his being there. Yotse'oth indicates that the daughters of the men of the city were already "coming out," (cf.1Sa 9:11).
14. After what preceded the wehayah will not be: and it shall come to pass, but rather optative: "let it come to pass" (A. V.). The condition imposed is unusually apt. Readiness to serve embodies a number of other virtues: cheerfulness, courtesy, unselfishness, readiness to work. The amount of service required in this case would demand the prerequisite of good health and strength. For camels are notorious for their capacity to absorb water. The servant's stipulation was not for an ordinary favour easily bestowed. The girl measuring up to this requirement would certainly be very distinctly marked from all others by virtue of this accomplishment. Such a prayer demands a very strong faith in the providence of God, a certainty that the greater as well as the smaller happenings of life are very definitely controlled by the Lord's hand. The feminine suffix in bah covers the whole case as just outlined and serves as a neuter "by this" or "thereby" (Skinner). Hokhachta is really a bit stronger than "appoint" (A. V.); "adjudge" is better; Keil: "point out as right."
15, 16. And it came to pass before he had finished speaking, that, behold, there came forth Rebekah, who had been born to Bethuel, son of Milcah, wife of Nahor, the brother of Abraham, and her pitcher was on her shoulder, and the girl very beautiful in appearance, a virgin, and no man had known her, and she went down to the spring and filled her pitcher and came up again.
That the servant's prayer was not spoken audibly is so evident under the circumstances that the Greek translators made bold to add to the word "speaking" the phrase "in his mind." There is something startling about the promptness with which the answer to his prayer comes: before he is done praying Rebekah is on the scene. The Hebrew "behold" appropriately expresses this. The Hebrew térem, "not yet" or "before" usually stands with the imperfect; here we have a rare case with the perfect (K. S.387 r; G. K.152 r). Rebekah was identified already Genesis 22:23. Here, since emphasis lies upon the fact that one of the relationship of Abraham was required, this relationship is again traced down. Since Isaac is of the first generation from Abraham and Rebekah of the second generation from Abraham's brother, the relationship between Isaac and Rebekah is one that is termed second-cousinship. In anticipation of what she is about to do we are informed that "her pitcher was upon her shoulder." Even this touch of the narrative is claimed to be entirely accurate by some who have observed that around Mesopotamia pitchers are carried on the shoulder, whereas in Egypt and elsewhere they are borne upon the head. In this verse hinneh with the participle cannot refer, as so often, to the future because of the connection.
16. In addition to meeting the qualifications of the servant's prayer this girl has a few superadded gifts which he had failed to include in his specifications. First, she is very beautiful. Secondly, she is a "virgin," bethûlah, a term indicative of her age and her station, not, however as the Talmud rightly observes (Delitzsch), in itself necessarily indicative of virginal purity, for that is covered by the following statement. The critical point of the narrative draws near as the separate steps of her course are recalled for us: she goes down, she fills her pitcher, she comes up (for fountains or springs were usually approached by a staircase). In eager anticipation the servant has watched the girl.
17-20. And the servant ran to meet her and he said: Please, let me drink a bit of water from thy pitcher. And she said: Drink, kind sir. And she quickly lowered her pitcher upon her hand and gave him a drink. And she finished letting him drink and then said: Also for thy camels I will draw water until they finish drinking. And she quickly emptied her pitcher into the trough and again ran to the well to draw water. So she drew water for all his camels.
In his eagerness to make the prescribed test to which everything now points the servant "ran" to meet her—a hyperbole, of course, implying no more than his eagerness in approaching. His request is quite courteous: the "please" and "a bit" stamp it as entirely modest.
18. Her reply at first covers only the minor first half of what the servant had stipulated. In fact, in any case, it would have been unnatural for her to offer to give his camels to drink also before he had finished drinking. Nevertheless, the tension of the narrative is increased by this delay. Rebekah's reply also is courteous and modest, too, being couched in few words. Travellers claim to have witnessed the same procedure many a time, but none tell of the second offer which Rebekah made. Temah (h) er is, as usual, used practically as an adverb—"quickly" (cf. G. K.120 d).
19. Koenig (K. C.) rightly contends for the retaining of tekhal as an independent rather than a subordinate clause, for it rightly stresses that Rebekah patiently waited until the man had drunk his fill: "she finished letting him drink." Then comes the statement upon which everything hinged. Emphatically it places the "camels" first in a very informal statement, just as people are wont to speak in everyday life. With impetuous goodness of heart she promises to give the camels all they may require. Surely this is "hospitality without grudging" —a fine and rare virtue.
20. The pitcher, which is still almost full, is promptly emptied into the trough, and the girl with a fine spirit of kindly service hastens to draw the rest of the needed water. On the verb in apocopated form watte'ar from arah see G. K.75 bb.
21-25. But the man was gazing at her by himself, silently observing whether Yahweh had prospered his enterprise or not. And it came to pass, when the camels had finished drinking, that the man took a golden ring a half shekel in weight and two bracelets ten shekels of gold in weight for her wrists, and gave them to her; and he said: Whose daughter art thou, tell me, please? Is there room for us to spend the night in thy father's house? And she said to him: The daughter of Bethuel, the son of Milcah, am I, whom she bore to Nahor. She further said to him: Besides we have both straw and fodder aplenty, also room to spend the night.
The fulfilment which the servant encounters seems in excess of what any man could have hoped for. He must note carefully whether there is any mistake; besides, he cannot yet be sure whether this girl will prove to be of Abraham's relationship. So for the present he was "gazing at her by himself" mishta'eh, Hithpael participle, durative, from the verb sha'ah a "by-form" of sha'ah. The time for speech has not yet come; so he is "silently observing," literally: "being silent to know whether." True faith uses caution to avoid the possibility of self-deception. The participle mishta'eh is in the construct state, before a preposition. The interrogative before hitslîach has short "a" (G. K.100 m).
22. A generous soul like this servant rewards unsought favours. The pregnant construction "he took upon" —"he took and put upon." Otherwise, as A. V. renders, he seems to take and dangle these presents before Rebekah without actually giving them to her. True, according to v.47 Genesis 24:47, the nézem was a nose ring; cf. also Isaiah 3:21; Ezekiel 16:12; Proverbs 11:22. But since this verse (22) omits mentioning that the servant put the nose ring upon her nose; it seems to be the most likely explanation that he merely gave it to her. For a strange man after a few moments of acquaintance to venture to try such familiarity as affixing jewelry seems a bit out of place. Consequently we believe v.47 to be a looser statement of the case: the servant ascribes to himself what really Rebekah carried out. However, for those days such jewels apparently were the most appropriate. Their weight indicates that they were gifts worthy of the master and of the occasion. The cue to the béqa' or "half shekel" is given Exodus 38:26.
23. Now the all-important and for this case crucial question: "Whose daughter art thou?" "Tell me, please," indicates the urgency felt by the faithful servant. However, not to give to the question too personal a note, in case the girl might yet after all prove to be unrelated to Abraham, he adds what for these circumstances is the most natural inquiry. "Is there room for us to spend the night in thy father's house?" Beth is an adverbial accusative—"in the house." (K. S.330 k).
24. In speaking to a stranger it will hardly suffice to give a very brief identification. So Rebekah mentions her father, her father's mother and her grandfather. If the stranger had not heard of one, he might have heard of one of the others. The emotions of the servant would be difficult to describe as the hoped-for answer, which he might almost have deemed impossible, actually fell from the girl's lips.
25. Another wattó'mer, like the one beginning v.24, is not merely "and she said" but "she further said." As the question was double, the answer was double. The answer, however, is broken up into two separate parts, perhaps because the questioner may for a moment have displayed an almost startled surprise at discovering the girl's identity, enough of a surprise for a moment to interrupt her answer. The final lalûn is an infinitive used as an attributive clause modifying "place" (maqôm), which we have rendered "room" in this connection and so retained the infinitive: "room to spend the night" for "place where we may spend the night." K. S.400 c.
26, 27. Then the man bowed down and worshipped Yahweh, and said: Blessed be Yahweh, the God of my master Abraham, who hath not withdrawn his kindness and truth from my master; as for me, Yahweh has led me in the way to the house of my master's relatives.
True, the outcome of the enterprise as granted to this man in answer to his prayer was as marvellous a display of divine providence, perhaps, as ever a mortal witnessed. Such mercy called for acknowledgment. But he that will make his acknowledgment as freely and as openly as does this man is both a devout and a courageous soul. It is true, Rebekah may have been the only stranger present. But this confession of the man together with the public praise he here offers is in every sense most appropriate.
27. What a fine way of stating that the established course, that God has without exception followed in the treatment of Abraham, was always marked by divine "kindness" (chésedh) and divine "truth" or dependability ('emeth)! What happened here at the well was merely one more token of God's consistent mercies. Only a man in fullest spiritual sympathy with the spiritual heritage of Abraham's household could have stated the case so properly. Thinking of himself ('anokhî, nominative absolute G. K.143 b. c.) and his part in the transaction, he says that it is Yahweh who has directed his "way to the house of his master's relatives." 'Achchim, "brothers," is here used in the common looser meaning of "relatives." Therefore this last clause, with emphatic pronoun first, really conveys the emphasis to the two pronominal suffixes involved: "Right to the house of the relatives of my master, Yahweh has led me this way" (as K. C. well translates). The article before "way" has demonstrative force.
28-31. And the girl ran and reported to her mother's house what had happened. Now Rebekah had a brother whose name was Laban, and Laban ran out to the man to the well. Namely, as soon as he saw the ring and the bracelets on his sister's wrists, and as he heard the words of Rebekah his sister, Thus the man said to me, he went to the man; and, lo, he was still standing by the camels by the side of the well. And he said: Come in, thou blessed of Yahweh, why shouldst thou stand outside, seeing that I have gotten ready the house and a place for the camels?
Naturally, such unusual experiences as Rebekah had had on this memorable evening had to be told at home, and the stranger's request had to be made known. What, however, had lent wings to the girl's return was the startling news, conveyed incidentally by the servant's prayer, that here was a delegate from Abraham, their own relative in Canaan. The daughter's course naturally tends to the mother when such startling news is to be communicated. Besides, the women had their separate compartments, as we gather also from Genesis 31:33f. —a separate tent. In any case, where bigamy was growing to be quite common, the bond uniting to the mother would be felt to be stronger than the bond uniting to the father; cf, v.50 Genesis 31:50; chapter Genesis 34; 2 Samuel 13:22; Jud 21:22; Le 19:3; 21:2. All these things do not, however, point to anything like the existence of a matriarchate.
29. Now the brother of Rebekah, Laban, figured prominently in the proceedings. Therefore the things he does are here reported, and in a preliminary way it is stated at once that "he ran out to the man to the well." This is a common characteristic of Hebrew narrative that it reports a certain result first, then the details that led up to this result, without a "namely" as we have done above. Now nothing in this account of Laban's doings reflects adversely upon his character. The greed of this man is displayed only in the later chapters. Yet in the light of what these chapters reveal we may well suppose that what the following verse tells is to be thought of in connection which his grasping disposition. But for the things reported in following chapters one might almost suppose that Laban actually was a genial, generous host.
30. The gifts given to Rebekah were no trifles; they were enough to impress anyone who saw them. Whatever else might be in the offing, the man who dispensed such gifts was not to be ignored. Besides, apparently Laban understood also that this man represented his own relative, Abraham. After our explanation of v.30 it will be seen that the verb "he went to the man" is not an indication of a duplicate expression derived from a different source after v.29 had already said that "he ran out to the man." By way of making the account picturesque the writer tells us that the servant was "still standing" —we have inserted the "still" in order to express more distinctly the idea of the durative participle 'omedh. The opening wayhî is the common mode of expressing a rather loose connection with the preceding (G. K.111 g). The expression "he stood by" in Hebrew reads "he stood over," because the camels were crouched down Strack.
31. Laban has gathered from Rebekah's words that Yahweh is still Abraham's and the servant's God. Laban himself may or may not still have believed in Yahweh. Later developments show that he very likely did not. Nevertheless, even from the polytheistic point of view it would be quite natural to acknowledge that the God whom one served had blessed him. Since Yahweh is a proper noun, its definiteness conveys itself to the preceding construct case; therefore thou, the blessed one of Yahweh, a vocative with the article K. S.290 e. In this connection Yahweh is an active object with a passive verb, barûkh (K. S.336 n). It seems a bit more appropriate to translate the imperfect ta'amodh as a potential (why should you stand) rather than as a present ("why standest thou")? Panah ("turn") here means "to clear away," "to get ready." The invitation is put quite graciously and leaves nothing to be desired.
32, 33. So the man came to the house, and he unharnessed the camels and provided straw and fodder for the camels and water for the washing of his feet and of the feet of the men who were with him. And food was set before him that he might eat, but he said: I will not eat until 1 have delivered my message. And he said: Say on.
Everything proceeds as the customs of the time dictate. Chapter 18 already suggested that one of the courtesies of the times was to provide for a man's comfort as a guest and to serve him in every way also with food and drink before the business that may have brought the guest is looked into, and even then the initiative is taken by the guest. There is no need of altering the first verb to a Hifil: "he brought the man to the house" (wayyabhe') merely because thereafter Laban is the subject. Subjects change very readily in Hebrew. Yepattach (subject: Laban) means only to "free" or "ungird" or "unharness" (Meek), not "unsaddle," because the saddle is not removed from camels when they are warm from driving. The beasts must always be provided for before the men. Then the necessary footwashing (Genesis 18:4) follows.
33. The Keri here seems preferable on the first verb, making it a Hofal passive: (literally) "and it was set before his face to eat." So urgent is the business in hand that in the servant's esteem the customary formalities are to be waived. He takes his commission so seriously that he cannot eat until he has delivered his message and ascertained whether the girl or young woman will actually follow him. The words "delivered my message" actually run thus: "spoken my words."
34-41. And he said: I am a servant of Abraham. And Yahweh blessed my master richly and he has become great; He has given him flocks and herds, and silver and gold, and maid servants, and camels and asses. And Sarah, my master's wife, bore a son to my master after she had grown old, and he has given to him all he has. And my master bound me by an oath: Thou shalt not take a wife for my son from the daughters of the Canaanites in whose land I am dwelling. But thou shalt go to my father's house and to my family to take a wife for my son. And I said to my master: Perhaps the woman will not follow. And he said to me: Yahweh before whose face I have walked will send His angel along with thee and He will prosper thy way and thou wilt get a wife for my son from my family and from my father's house. Then shalt thou be absolved of my oath, if thou come to my family and they do not give her to thee, then thou shalt be absolved of my oath.
Practically all this ground has already been covered by our exposition. Certain types of narrative, especially the epic, are wont to use far more frequent repetitions than do the Scriptures. A few things are new.
34. In a connection such as this 'ébhedh' Abhraham must mean "a servant of Abraham" and not "the servant" —for Abraham had many servants (A. V. also inaccurate); cf. K. S.362 g.
35, 36. For one who represents his master and his master's son in a marriage proposition it is essential that he make an accurate and complete statement of his master's standing and of his master's son's financial prospects. So a condensed account of Abraham's growth in wealth and cattle is given. But even in this matter the servant has caught his master's spirit and does not attribute the good fortune of his master to anything other than to Yahweh's blessing. The unusual story of Isaac's birth belongs into the picture, else the hearers cannot know how the son of one brother should be a candidate in marriage for the granddaughter of another brother. Besides, the incidental importance of Isaac's financial standing receives just the proper amount of emphasis when it is indicated that he is the sole heir to his father's wealth. No unseemly importance is attached to this fact to make it out a major motive to bring to the favourable attention of Rebekah's family. Ziquah is Kal infinitive (G. K.45 d).
41. After yitténû ("they will give") the object "her" has to be supplied. Or the difficulty may be removed by translating: "if they refuse you" (Meek). Instead of the word for "oath" used in v.8 Genesis 24:8 we here find the synonym 'alah, which originally means "curse."
42-48. And I came this day unto the fountain and I:said: Yahweh, God of my master Abraham, if thou art indeed prospering the way which I am going, behold, I have taken my stand by the fountain of water, and let it come to pass that the girl that cometh forth to draw water, to whom I shall say: Let me drink a bit of water, please, from thy pitcher, and she shall say to me: Drink, and I will draw water for thy camels also, she shall be the woman whom Yahweh has adjudged for my master's son. I had not yet finished speaking in my heart, when, lo, Rebekah was coming forth, with her pitcher upon her shoulder, and went down to the spring to draw water, and I said to her: Please, give me a drink, and she quickly let down her pitcher from her shoulder and said: Drink, and also thy camels I will give to drink. So I drank, and she gave my camels to drink also. Then I asked her, saying: Whose daughter art thou? and she said: The daughter of Bethuel, the son of Nahor, whom Milcah bore to him. And I put the ring upon her nose and the bracelets upon her wrists; and I bowed down and worshipped Yahweh, and I blessed Yahweh, the God of my master Abraham, who led me in the right way to take the daughter of my master's brother for his son.
These verses run so close a parallel to v.11-27 Genesis 24:11-27 that there is no need of further comment. The more important variations of expression have already been discussed at one point or another. "Brother" in v.48 Genesis 24:48 is, of course, used as previously for relative. "Right way" is perhaps better translated "sure way," B D B, Weg der Zuverlaessigkeit (K. C.). V.43 offers the first instance of a transition from the participle to the finite verb (K. C.).
49. And now if ye are showing kindness and truth to my master, tell me, and if not, tell me, that I may turn one way or another.
All the facts that bear upon the case have been presented by Abraham's servant in a true, simple, and straightforward fashion. Rebekah's family can come to a decision. The hand of Yahweh must be as plain to them as it was to the servant and, apparently, to Rebekah. To grant the servant's request—which, by the way, he does not even formulate but lets the facts speak for themselves—is from one point of view "kindness" (chésedh) which Abraham will appreciate, and from another point of view "truth" ('emeth) or "faithfulness," for where the hand of the Lord is displayed by such clear tokens of divine providence, man is true neither to God nor to himself if he does not accept such guidance. The English idiom may prefer the rendering: "deal kindly and truly" (A.V.). Again, what A. V. has rendered, "that I may turn to the right hand or to the left," appears in more idiomatic present-day form when Meek translates: "that I may turn one way or another." This, then, does not mean: that I may seek a bride elsewhere.
50, 51. Then Laban and Bethuel answered and said: That is the Lord's doing; we could not say anything at all. There is Rebekah; take her and go, and let her be the wife of thy master's son as Yahweh has indicated.
Laban, the brother, as well as Bethuel, the father, are the two with whom according to custom the right of decision in such a case was lodged. Apparently, the full brother had as much of a voice in the matter as the father, for Laban is here mentioned first. The usual construction is found: verb singular at first: wayya'an; then plural' wayyo'merû, when the two subjects have appeared. Their answer is emphatic: "From Yahweh went forth the matter," which we would be inclined to express: "That is the Lord's doing"; Luther still better: Das kommt vom Herrn. The next clause is twisted quite out of shape when the Hebrew idiom, which A. V. retains: "We cannot speak unto thee bad or good," is taken to mean: "We dare not answer you adversely or favourably" (Meek and many others). For at once they answer favourably in the next words: "Take her and go." The difficulty is very readily solved when it is remembered that "good or bad" is one of the well-known cases where the two extremes are chosen to cover the entire area of the concepts involved. So here the statement comes to mean: "we could not say anything at all," in the sense: God has done the speaking; there is nothing more to be said (cf. K. S.92 b for other such expressions). Procksch, after misconstruing, prefers to conclude that the text contradicts itself, merely to gain support for his idea of two parallel documents. He says: The first part of the verse "distinctly expresses approval, whereas 50 b leaves everything doubtful."
51. Whereas we say: "There is Rebekah," the Hebrew idiom says: "Rebekah is before thee" (A. V.). The family of the girl sees the leadings of providence as manifestly as the servant. To them it is a case where "Yahweh has indicated" (dibber —"he spoke") what is to be clone.
52-54. And it came to pass that, when the servant of Abraham heard their answer that he worshipped Yahweh bowing down to the earth. And the servant brought forth articles of silver and articles of gold and garments and gave them to Rebekah and costly articles he gave to her brother and her mother. Then they ate and drank, he and the men that were with him, and stayed there overnight. In the morning they arose and he said: Let me go back to my master.
This is certainly an instance of fine piety and bold confession on the servant's part; to acknowledge Yahweh's hand in the matter by immediate worship in deepest reverence as soon as he receives his verdict. So Abraham would have done. To have servants such as this reflects great credit on their masters.
53. A kind of dowry or wedding present was regularly bestowed by a bridegroom when an agreement of marriage had been reached. Such a gift gave proof of his financial competence. In this instance there is first of all a gift to the bride, then a gift to those who gave her in marriage. There is no purchase involved here; merely a tangible way of bestowing tokens and pledges of goodwill. We can hardly tell now whether from this better custom there was derived the inferior custom of the purchase of a wife or not. Nothing in the Scriptures indicates that the Hebrews were wont to purchase their wives. A dowry (móhar) was regularly given. Since kelî has a wide variety of meanings: "article, utensil, vessel," we had better not here limit it to "jewels" (A. V.) or "vessels" (A. V. m) but take the broader term "articles," which includes both and more besides. "Garments," too, are found in the Scriptures as commonly used for gifts. There is no reason for doubting that the gifts will have been of the richest sort to correspond to Abraham's financial standing. Like gifts, in value, here called "costly articles," are given to the brother and the mother. Mighdanoth, also translated: "choice things," will hardly mean "spices" (Luther) here, although some such might have been included for the mother. The brother's right in the transaction is conceded by the gift; the father's gift may be thought of as included in the mother's. To this day a man visiting for a few days at a friend's house may express his gratitude by a gift to the wife of his friend.
54. Finally, when the business in hand was settled, food and drink claim their right. "Tarried all night" as a rendering of lûn is rather formal. We should say "they stayed overnight," hardly "retired for the night," because the verb covers more than the initial retiring. Knowing his master's anxiety to hear of the outcome of these betrothal proceedings, the servant is anxious to be on his way at once and asks for permission to return that very morning. Shillach means to "dismiss" or "let go"; "send me away" (A. V.) is too strong an expression. They who operate with the idea that the servant was executing a deathbed commission say that his anxiety to return was dictated by the hope of still finding his master alive. Why, then, does the narrative never say one word about Abraham's impending death?
55-58. And her brother and mother said: Let the girl stay with us a few days or even ten; after that let her go. But he said to them: Do not delay me, since Yahweh has prospered my enterprise; dismiss me and let me go to my master. And they said: Let us call the girl and let us ask her decision. And they called Rebekah and said to her: Wilt thou go with this man? And she said: I will go.
Naturally such a proposal to leave that very day is all too sudden. Mother and brother wish to see a few days granted to grow accustomed to the thought of separation. To call this "reluctance to part with Rebekah an indication of refined feeling" is quite unnecessary. That injects the evolutionistic concept, making it appear that this group had barely risen above the level of selling off marriageable daughters like so much merchandise. Of course, the finer human emotions and attachment prevailed in a group that had departed but little (in some cases, perhaps, not at all) from the fear of Yahweh. Nothing is more natural than such reluctance, except on the part of the crudest savages. "A period of ten days," 'asôr, is the most the family dares to suggest, not a "month" as the Samaritan Pentateuch reads.
56. The servant knows that protracted parting will make the parting harder. Besides, since Yahweh's hand in the matter was so clearly manifest, why delay in carrying out the will of Yahweh? This is his chief argument. He desires to leave at once, of course, with their permission ("dismiss me"). The we before Yahweh is causal: "since." K. S. should not oppose this construction.
57. Ordinarily, perhaps, the girls were not consulted as to their wishes. But it is equally possible that in better families, like that of Bethuel, there was no thought of arranging marriages obnoxious to the bride. In this case everything is so much out of the ordinary that the family feels that the daughter should be consulted. If Rebekah be willing to go at once, that should settle the case. In niqra' the final long syllable with 'aleph takes the place of the usual ah hortative.
58. "Wilt thou go?" here must mean "go at once." So, apparently, Rebekah was not so far removed from the scene of the transactions as not to know what was being done. She understands that the question turns entirely on the matter of immediate departure and answers with a simple, resolute: "I will go." Courage, decision, and faith are reflected in her attitude. She is a wife who will amply supplement whatever deficiencies in the line of aggressiveness and activity her husband may have.
59, 60. So they dismissed Rebekah, their sister, and her nurse and the servant of Abraham and his men. And they blessed Rebekah and said to her:
Our sister, mayest thou grow to thousands of
And may thy descendants possess the gates of
The case is settled; the caravan must be gotten ready. With Rebekah must go her nurse, both, no doubt, being much attached to one another. Of the nurse we shall hear again Genesis 35:8, in which passage we are also informed that her name was Deborah. Meniqah is Hifil participle from yanaq.
60. The blessing spoken by the relationship they call her "sister" upon Rebekah is cast in a kind of poetic form with "parallelism of members." It may have been customary to bestow some such blessing upon brides. This blessing is recorded because it happened to meet with such literal fulfilment in the chosen family into which Rebekah was incorporated. Its substance is numerous offspring ("thousands of ten thousands") and victory in the conflict with foes ("possess gates of foes"), on "possess gates of enemies" cf. notes on Genesis 22:17. "Foes" literally: "haters" (sone'îm). In weyîrash the usual converted Perfect is avoided, we being used with the imperfect to make the act stand out as distinct from what preceded (K. S.370 s).
61. And Rebekah and her maids started off and rode on the camels and followed the man; and the servant took Rebekah and went.
Two groups are pictured as flowing together into one: Rebekah and "her maids," who will naturally be sent along with her, a lady of good rank and station—they constitute the one group and mount "the camels," apparently those that the servant had brought along; the other group is headed by the servant. Both points of view here presented are very natural. On the one hand, Rebekah and her maids may be said to "follow" the servant, who actually has the leadership of the group. On the other hand, the servant may very appropriately be said to have taken (yiqqach —"he took") Rebekah. Critics cannot see how natural all this is and speak of the two sources (J and E) here woven together. Nor can they conceive of one writer's being able to set forth both points of view. In fact, they see embodied in this harmonious statement a double contradiction. Yet men can also quite readily see that if v.59 Genesis 24:59 speaks of "the nurse" as nearest to Rebekah, at that point the customary retinue of "maids" may be taken for granted. Here where the departure is graphically portrayed, the nurse may be included in the whole retinue that Rebekah brings along as "maids."
62, 63. And Isaac was coming back from having gone to Beer-lahai-roi, for he dwelt in the land of the Negeb (the South). And Isaac went forth to meditate in the field at eventide, and he lifted up his eyes and looked and, lo, camels were coming.
The textual problem: the third word mibbô' is said to be "impossible" in this connection: "he came from coming." We still believe the construction makes sense, as Delitzsch defends it. Merely to have said: "Isaac came from Beer-lahai-roi" would have created the impression that this was his residence at the time. Our construction says that he had just gone to this spot of the manifestation of the providence of God and was returning in order to be at home if the servant were to appear. Consequently, in this connection the first ba', which we construe as a participle, must be "he was coming back"and the second after a min temporal must mean "after having gone." The explanatory clause, "for he dwelt in the Negeb," is essential that we may know that Isaac kept to the Negeb, or South Country. To change mibbô' to mebô'" entrance" (K. C.) does not seem to make good sense; what may the "entrance" to that spot have been? The change to midhbar, "wilderness," made by the Greek already, seems unnecessary.
Having just returned from this sacred spot, Isaac went forth at eventide (literally, "at the turning of evening") into the field "to meditate." Sûach, we feel, can so definitely be shown to mean "meditate" (A. V.) that the uncertainty of the Greek translators ought not disturb us. For the verb surely has that meaning in passages such as Psalm 77:13; 105:2; Psalm 119:15, 23 etc. Jerome also rendered ad meditandum. Though the verb may mean "to lament," yet it would hardly seem possible that about three years after his mother's death the man should still indulge in such an ample effusion of grief, even if he had been closely attached to his mother. On the "three years" cf. Genesis 21:5; 23:1; Genesis 25:20. If the Targum translates "to pray," that is simply a correct inference as to the type of meditation involved. Therefore Luther's zu beten is not to be condemned, though it is not literally exact. Changes of the text to shût, "walk about," and the like are not within the province of exact science. We feel the whole debate over the passage again grows out of an attempt to create the impression that the Hebrew text is a very unreliable article.
We gather now from this notice that this is a fine indication of the piety of the man Isaac. While his servant is absent on business vital to himself, Isaac at home stimulates devotion and engages in earnest prayer. Now we see why the servant's enterprise was so visibly prospered by the good Lord. While engaged in this pious exercise, Isaac lifts up his eyes and sees camels approaching without being able to discern at first whose they might be.
64-66. And Rebekah lifted up her eyes and saw Isaac, and she hurriedly dismounted from the camel. And she said to the servant: Who is that man walking in the field to meet us? And the servant said: It is my master. And she took her veil and covered herself. And the servant told Isaac all the things he had done.
They say that to this day when in the Near East a woman riding meets a man, courtesy demands that she dismount. Rebekah does the courteous thing. Although naphal means "to fall," we can readily see how a hurried dismounting, can be described by that term; cf.2Ki 5:21; 1 Samuel 25:23. Luther's rendering: sie fiel yom Kamel presupposes that the reader will discern how it is meant. Rebekah seems to surmise that very likely her future husband would be the person most readily found abroad under these circumstances. Consequently her question. The infinitive "to meet" is not to be taken too literally; it usually means "coming toward us" or "over against us." It does not necessarily imply that Isaac had gone out to meet the approaching caravan. The tsai'îph is really much larger than a veil and is used to wrap around face and body. The covering in this instance is a sign of modesty and respect. Rebekah may be courageous, but she is not marked by an unseemly boldness. Lazeh ("this") is used besides only in Genesis 37:19.
66. The nature of things that had befallen the servant was such that Isaac needs must know them if he is to understand what manner of woman Rebekah is; why the servant returns so soon; and how remarkably Yahweh had heard the prayer of all concerned. The things require immediate telling. No doubt Rebekah stood by while they were being recounted, recognizing the need of an immediate report by the old servant.
67. And Isaac brought her into his mother Sarah's tent and married Rebekah and she became his wife and he loved her; and Isaac was comforted after his mother's death.
Isaac shows good courtesy in at once conducting his wife-to-be to a tent. He shows fine tact in taking her to a woman's tent. He honours his future wife by at once assigning to her the vacant tent of Sarah. Critics intent upon casting doubt upon the text assert that "a grammatical impossibility" (Procksch) confronts us here, a noun in the construct state with the article. Yet K. S.303 a-g has collected a large number of parallel instances: Genesis 31:13; Exodus 9:18; Exodus 28:39 etc., etc. Still the phrase is cited in proof of the contention that two sources have been imperfectly welded together. "Married" is what is meant by the Hebrew expression: "he took her to wife." After Rebekah had become his wife, love grew up between them, for this may well be the case after marriage as well as before, especially where the union is sanctioned by heaven. In the course of time Isaac is completely comforted over the loss of his mother. Apparently he, the late-born son, and his mother had been close to one another. Still this does not support the textual changes of v.63 Genesis 24:63 nor the interpretation of the verb sûach as meaning "to mourn." For, we repeat, a three years' lamentation would be an indication of a morbid state of which we observe nothing in Isaac. The expression "after his mother" is condensed for "after his mother's death."
In this chapter everything centres about the subject "Marriage." It hardly seems feasible to use the chapter as a unit because of its length. The sections that do lend themselves to use are, first of all, v.1-9 Genesis 24:1-9, which gives an instance of the very practical and necessary truth that Godliness is the Chief Ingredient in a Proper Marriage. For certainly that is Abraham's major concern in the choice of his son's wife. The next section, verse 10-27 Genesis 24:10-27, could be treated independently as an instance of Effectual Fervent Prayer; yet it would be essential even then to indicate that this prayer was made in anticipation of marriage and for the purpose of securing divine guidance in the choice involved. The next verses, v.28-49 Genesis 24:28-49, are practically a repetition of the substance of the chapter to this point and so are unsuitable for separate homiletical use. However, in order to maintain the high spiritual level of the chapter, the next portion, v.50-60 Genesis 24:50-60, should concern itself with a subject like Rebekah's Resolute Faith, for that is actually what the section aims to display. The last portion, v.61-67 Genesis 24:61-67, could be treated under the head of Proper Preparation for Marriage; for that is what is uppermost in Isaac's mind, and his conduct is exemplary under this head.