And Abraham was old, [and] well stricken in age: and the LORD had blessed Abraham in all things.
This reminds me of the opening of Pride and Prejudice, “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.” Given Abraham’s concern about his seed, it is perhaps wise to think of his son’s marriage as well as material well-being. Of course, arranged marriage is presumably the norm at that time, so it may be more culture than character driving his decision.
And Abraham said unto his eldest servant of his house, that ruled over all that he had, Put, I pray thee, thy hand under my thigh:
A serious oath (shaba`), for a serious purpose:
And I will make thee swear by the LORD, the God of heaven, and the God of the earth, that thou shalt not take a wife unto my son of the daughters of the Canaanites, among whom I dwell: But thou shalt go unto my country, and to my kindred, and take a wife unto my son Isaac.
While this might just be ethnocentrism, the reference to Yahweh implies a religious motivation; he wants someone who shares Isaac’s faith.
And the servant said unto him, Peradventure the woman will not be willing to follow me unto this land: must I needs bring thy son again unto the land from whence thou camest?
I originally read this as whining about the strict oath, but that was probably unfair. More plausibly the servant is a foresightful man, and wants to account for every possibility. Or maybe he just wants assurance he isn’t being asked to kidnap a bride, like traditional groomsmen.
And Abraham said unto him, Beware thou that thou bring not my son thither again.
Abraham is adamant that Isaac stay in the land. Why?
The LORD God of heaven, which took me from my father’s house, and from the land of my kindred, and which spake unto me, and that sware unto me, saying, Unto thy seed will I give this land; he shall send his angel before thee, and thou shalt take a wife unto my son from thence.
Interestingly, Abraham rates God’s explicit promise over his personal conviction that Isaac should marry his kindred:
And if the woman will not be willing to follow thee, then thou shalt be clear from this my oath: only bring not my son thither again.
So the servant swears and goes off:
And the servant took ten camels of the camels of his master, and departed; for all the goods of his master [were] in his hand: and he arose, and went to Mesopotamia, unto the city of Nahor.
And he said, O LORD God of my master Abraham, I pray thee, send me good speed this day, and shew kindness unto my master Abraham.
He comes up with an intriguing plan:
And let it come to pass, that the damsel to whom I shall say, Let down thy pitcher, I pray thee, that I may drink; and she shall say, Drink, and I will give thy camels drink also: [let the same be] she [that] thou hast appointed for thy servant Isaac; and thereby shall I know that thou hast shewed kindness unto my master.
I wonder if this is equal parts testing God and testing the girl. Certainly generous hospitality is a useful trait in a wife (especially the wife of one’s master!). Yet, it is still an act of faith to believe God is in that specific act at a particular time. Which He certainly was:
And it came to pass, before he had done speaking, that, behold, Rebekah came out, who was born to Bethuel, son of Milcah, the wife of Nahor, Abraham’s brother, with her pitcher upon her shoulder.
And the damsel [was] very fair to look upon, a virgin, neither had any man known her: and she went down to the well, and filled her pitcher, and came up.
I overlooked the fact that the servant also had a role in this decision. He asked God specifically to bless the maiden (na`arah) to which he spoke. Thus, it was at one level up to him to choose the right person to ask, in order to receive God’s response. Apparently the sight of Rebekah (or perhaps the timing) is enough to decide him, and quickly:
And the servant ran to meet her, and said, Let me, I pray thee, drink a little water of thy pitcher.
She does, and then speaks the portentous words:
And when she had done giving him drink, she said, I will draw [water] for thy camels also, until they have done drinking.
And she hasted, and emptied her pitcher into the trough, and ran again unto the well to draw [water], and drew for all his camels.
No reluctant helper she! It does make me wonder why the servant didn’t draw water himself, though. Perhaps he lacked the equipment, but more likely social strictures on who could draw water; wells being touchy things among foreigners, and perhaps both a duty and a prerogative of the women. Either way, our nameless servant stares (sha’ah), impressed:
And the man wondering at her held his peace, to wit whether the LORD had made his journey prosperous or not.
If undecided, he certainly anticipates success:
And it came to pass, as the camels had done drinking, that the man took a golden earring of half a shekel weight, and two bracelets for her hands of ten [shekels] weight of gold;
Not one to jump to conclusions, he asks the most important question:
And said, Whose daughter [art] thou? tell me, I pray thee: is there room [in] thy father’s house for us to lodge in?
Yet, he is careful to phrase it as a common request, perhaps to avoid seeming impertinent. How his heart must’ve raced when he heard:
And she said unto him, I [am] the daughter of Bethuel the son of Milcah, which she bare unto Nahor.
Plus, he learns indirectly that she comes from a prosperous family:
She said moreover unto him, We have both straw and provender enough, and room to lodge in.
He is understandably grateful:
And the man bowed down his head, and worshipped the LORD.
Interestingly, he seems grateful more on his master’s (‘adown) behalf than his own:
And he said, Blessed [be] the LORD God of my master Abraham, who hath not left destitute my master of his mercy and his truth: I [being] in the way, the LORD led me to the house of my master’s brethren.
She is excited as well:
And the damsel ran, and told [them of] her mother’s house these things.
As is her brother Laban (Laban, white):
And Rebekah had a brother, and his name [was] Laban: and Laban ran out unto the man, unto the well.
Geez, that’s an awful lot of running (ruwts). Laban has a lot to digest:
And it came to pass, when he saw the earring and bracelets upon his sister’s hands, and when he heard the words of Rebekah his sister, saying, Thus spake the man unto me; that he came unto the man; and, behold, he stood by the camels at the well.
He hospitably invites the man in:
And he said, Come in, thou blessed of the LORD; wherefore standest thou without? for I have prepared the house, and room for the camels.
And there was set [meat] before him to eat: but he said, I will not eat, until I have told mine errand. And he said, Speak on.
He first identifies himself:
And he said, I [am] Abraham’s servant.
Interestingly, he doesn’t name himself. In fact, he is never named anywhere in this passage, by himself or the author. Yet this nameless servant is a model of integrity, planning, and faith, like unto Joseph or Nehemiah. Somehow, one gets the impression that he would’ve wanted it that way, though it seems a bit unfair.
He then recounts the whole story of Abraham’s prosperity, Sarah’s giving birth to Isaac, the oath that led him on the question — as well as the crucial condition:
And I said unto my master, Peradventure the woman will not follow me.
He then repeats — in detail — the story of his prayer and its answer. Then comes the punch line:
And now if ye will deal kindly and truly with my master, tell me: and if not, tell me; that I may turn to the right hand, or to the left.
A strong phrase; it sounds almost like they have a moral obligation to give Abraham the girl — which may well be true according to cultural marriage patterns. Regardless, he doesn’t insist, he just states the facts (as he sees them) and asks for a decision, one way or the other.
His hosts submit to the power of his testimony, and the stark facts before them. And to Yahweh:
Then Laban and Bethuel answered and said, The thing proceedeth from the LORD: we cannot speak
unto thee bad or good. Behold, Rebekah [is] before thee, take [her], and go, and let her be thy master’s son’s wife, as the LORD hath spoken.
The servant again responds with worship (shachah):
And it came to pass, that, when Abraham’s servant heard their words, he worshipped the LORD, [bowing himself] to the earth.
After giving gifts, he is in a hurry to complete his mission:
And they did eat and drink, he and the men that [were] with him, and tarried all night; and they rose up in the morning, and he said, Send me away unto my master.
They debate when to leave, and only then (!) do they ask the girl:
And they called Rebekah, and said unto her, Wilt thou go with this man? And she said, I will go.
I’m not sure whether to be appalled that they waited until then to involve her, or grateful that they consented to ask. It also makes me wonder what her parents would’ve done if she said no; would they have dithered and offered excuses indefinitely, or giving her a fixed time of adjustment before sending her off whether she liked it or not?
No matter, because she went, with their blessing (barak):
And they blessed Rebekah, and said unto her, Thou [art] our sister, be thou [the mother] of thousands of millions, and let thy seed possess the gate of those which hate them.
Might be prophetic, but was more likely traditional.
And Isaac went out to meditate in the field at the eventide: and he lifted up his eyes, and saw, and, behold, the camels [were] coming.
After all the hard work is done, Isaac comes on the scene. Rebekah responds modestly:
And Rebekah lifted up her eyes, and when she saw Isaac, she lighted off the camel. For she [had] said unto the servant, What man [is] this that walketh in the field to meet us? And the servant [had] said, It [is] my master: therefore she took a vail, and covered herself.
The servant fulfills his last duty:
And the servant told Isaac all things that he had done.
And, like John the Baptist, rejoices with the bridegroom:
And Isaac brought her into his mother Sarah’s tent, and took Rebekah, and she became his wife; and he loved her: and Isaac was comforted after his mother’s [death].
God, Thank you for the testimony of this faceless servant, who was faithful to his master, and his master’s Master. Thank you for the ways you led him to a promised bride, even as you led me. God, grant me the wisdom to ask you for guidance, and the courage and perception to recognize when you answer. May my children someday possess the gates of their enemies. Teach me also the humility to bring others to you, for your glory and not my own. Amen.