After Sarah died Abraham had to arrange the marriage of his son Isaac. In Genesis 17 v19 God made a covenant with Abraham:
“It is Sarah your wife, who will give birth to a son and you will name him Isaac. I will establish my covenant with him, an everlasting covenant with his descendants after him.”
Genesis 24 provides the narrative. Abraham calls his, unnamed, highly valued servant, possibly Eliezer of Damascus. He has heard that his brother Terah, has had eight children by his wife Milcah, herself the daughter of his brother Nahor and one of these is Rebekah. Therefore his servant is to journey back to Nahor (a place in modern-day Syria) and from amongst his own kin, who worship the same God, find a girl prepared to leave her settled life to become the wife of the nomadic Isaac. Their descendants will continue the covenant made between God and Abraham.
The servant sets off accompanied by a string of ten camels and such moveable objects as are likely to impress the putative bride’s family. By accident or design this caravan arrives at the well outside Nahor at evening time, well known as the time when women go to draw water. He prays to the God of Abraham that the first girl who offers him a drink and then to water the camels will be one chosen for Isaac. Hardly has he uttered this prayer than Rebekah appears. She responds to his request for a drink and then offers, unprompted, to draw water for the ten camels. No small feat this providing water for ten camels with one pitcher. His considered response is to offer her gold jewellry and find out whose daughter she is. Her answer is given in Genesis 24v24-25:
“I am the daughter of Bethuel, the son Milcah bore to Nahor. We have plenty of straw and fodder and room for you to spend the night.”
She then runs home to explain to her mother and brother that she is bringing a guest and his ten camels, a prosperous representative of long-lost family. Everytime I write ten camels I stop to think about this. Ten big noisy animals would be almost like offering space to park ten lorries today! This branch of the family must have done well for themselves. Noticeably Rebekah does not ask permission before offering hospitality. A hint of that independence of thought which features in her story.
Remember it would seem that contact had been maintained between the two brothers despite the departure of Abraham and if Abraham had knowledge of his brother’s family, it would be reasonable to suppose that his brother’s son Bethuel and his son Laban would have had some knowledge of him. They would probably know the whole tale of the only child Isaac that the barren Sarah had borne Abraham in her old age and even if they only knew some parts of it – they will soon hear the whole tale.
However, initially of course hospitality is the first thing offered – for humans and camels. The purpose of the visit is then divulged – the whole tale of the miraculous Isaac, the important choice of wife, the presence of the Lord God of Abraham.
“Now let me know whether you intend to show kindness and faithfulness to my master; if not, tell me and I shall know which way to turn.”
The immediate response of Rebekah’s male relatives is to assent to the plan.
“This is the Lord’s doing. It is not for us to decide either way. Here is Rebekah, take her and go. Let her become the wife of your master’s son as the Lord has directed.”
Thanks are given to God and gifts of gold and other items to Rebekah and her mother and brother.
The next day arrives and the servant wishes to get on his way taking Rebekah with him. After the excitement of the visitors from afar, bearing rich gifts, cold reality has seeped in. Her suggest that perhaps there could be a delay of ten days before letting her go. However as the servant is anxious to depart they call Rebekah.
“Do you want to leave with this man?”
She said “I will go”. She is let to depart with her nurse and a blessing.
Consider that amazing acceptance by Rebekah stepping out into the unknown without hesitation. What went through her mind we don’t hear, perhaps she could never articulate what it was that made her agree to go with this servant to marry a cousin, both stranger and part of her family. When Abraham is called to leave his family, we know that this is an explicit call by God. Rebekah responds to a human request, but underpinning the narrative is the presence of the Lord, directing the servant’s steps towards Rebekah and allowing the family to let their daughter go many miles away with their blessing:
“May you our sister become the mother of thousands”
Rebekah arrives at the Negeb region where Isaac is living, he presumably has been waiting, with some trepidation, to see the bride his father’s, possibly elderly servant, will return with. They see each other and Rebekah dismounts the camel. She is informed that this is Isaac and covers her face with her veil. She might be independent and decisive, but she is also of her time and follows the social norms (mostly). The servant reports to Isaac on the outcome of his trip.
Isaac brings Rebekah into the “tent of Sarah, his mother. He made her his wife and he loved her and Isaac was comforted after his mother’s death.”
Let us consider the husband that Rebekah has been presented with – a lonely 40 year old, still mourning his mother, a father who has married again and produced six children. He marries her and loves her. A very simple sentence but Rebekah’s leap has been rewarded with a loving, faithful husband. This relationship will endure despite the strains that life will bring. Rebekah has left the settled city life for a nomadic life with a family surrounded by unfriendly neighbours. Her leap has taken her far from her home and we know that she went willingly. She would seem to be a girl who knows her own mind and will demonstrate that whatever life throws at her she will handle.
We end with the death of Abraham who is buried with his wife Sarah and mourned by his older son Ishmael and Rebekah’s husband Isaac together. The long lives of Sarah and Abraham had seen many troubles and separations, but in death there is a brief family unity.
We leave Rebekah who took a leap of faith and found a loving husband. Next time we will look at the continuation of Rebekah’s story.
Below is a map from the Bible History Online Website which notes that this map “includes some of the geographical locations within the ancient Biblical world. The British Museum describes the Ancient Near East as Mesopotamia, Iran, Anatolia, the Caucasus, the Levant, Egypt, and Arabia. In ancient times the Near East was never one huge homogeneous area but an assorted collection of changing cultures.”
Map copyright © Bible History Online (http://www.bible-history.com)