The Wedding Of Isaac And Rebekkah, Or The Greatest Servant Ever, Part Two

The wedding, if you can call it, between Isaac and Rebekkah takes place in Genesis 24, and it is a fascinating story, where there is a great deal of interest in the details of ancient life, with a great deal of subtle understatement going on.  Let us begin with Genesis 24:1-9:  “Now Abraham was old, well advanced in age; and the Lord had blessed Abraham in all things.  So Abraham said to the oldest servant of his house, who ruled over all that he had, “Please, put your hand under my thigh, and I will make you swear by the Lord, the God of heaven and the God of the earth, that you will not take a wife for my son from the daughters of the Canaanites, among whom I dwell; but you shall go to my country and to my family, and take a wife for my son Isaac.”  And the servant said to him, “Perhaps the woman will not be willing to follow me to this land. Must I take your son back to the land from which you came?”  But Abraham said to him, “Beware that you do not take my son back there.  The Lord God of heaven, who took me from my father’s house and from the land of my family, and who spoke to me and swore to me, saying, ‘To your descendants I give this land,’ He will send His angel before you, and you shall take a wife for my son from there.  And if the woman is not willing to follow you, then you will be released from this oath; only do not take my son back there.”  So the servant put his hand under the thigh of Abraham his master, and swore to him concerning this matter.”

Here we have the setup.  Abraham is old (he is probably about 137 to 140 years old at this point) and as of yet he has no grandchildren from his promised heir.  He needs to find his son a wife to carry on the family name, and so he chooses his oldest and most loyal servant to do so and makes him swear an oath to do it.  There are a few details here worthy of interest.  For one, the identity of the servant is never given in scripture, but tradition almost universally believes the servant to be Eliezer of Damascus, the servant who was born in the house of Abraham and had been heir before the births of Ishmael and Isaac, as it is written in Genesis 15:2.  At any rate, whether the servant is him or someone else, a particularly trusted servant was chosen for this immensely important task of finding a bride for Isaac among the relatives of the family, in part to avoid acculturating with the heathen local society.  The marriage strategy of endogamy is one we find pretty often in these narratives, it must be admitted.  Likewise, there is a detail included here about the way that the oath was given, in that the servant held his hand under Abraham’s thigh.  This is also largely viewed as being a polite euphemism for holding Abraham’s genitals as a way of promising that he would do everything he could to ensure that Abraham’s seed would live on.

There is a great deal of interest and repetition in the chapter that follows.  Since I do not have time at present to go into too much detail, I would like to note here mainly that the wise servant (let us, for the sake of argument, call him Eliezer) added a qualification to the existing one that she be a relative of Abraham’s house, and we find that qualification in Genesis 25:14:  “Now let it be that the young woman to whom I say, ‘Please let down your pitcher that I may drink,’ and she says, ‘Drink, and I will also give your camels a drink’—let her be the one You have appointed for Your servant Isaac. And by this I will know that You have shown kindness to my master.””  Here we see that the servant was not only interested in his own well-being but also in the well-being of Abraham’s camels.  While some people have sought to use the statement that Abraham had camels at this early date as evidence of the Bible’s lack of historicity, it has been found that some camels were domesticated in the early 2nd millennium (the time of Abraham) but were an expensive prestige item.  This fits rather well with the narrative as a whole.  Abraham was a very wealthy bedouin prince and of course he had some camels, animals that had been acquired at some expense and with some difficulty, one may readily imagine, and that needed to be taken care of.  Eliezer is a very good and loyal servant and wants to make sure that anyone marrying into the family is going to be compassionate towards animals, seeing the importance of caring for flocks to the well-being of the household as well.  Not only is the prayer of Eliezer compassionate towards the camels, but it is immensely shrewd as well as it would ensure a wife who would be good for the family business as a whole.

Of course, once Rebekkah waters the camels and provides water to the traveling servant, the servant is in a hurry to get home.  This also makes a great deal of sense.  The servant was given a task of finding a worthy wife for his master’s son, who is in his late thirties at the time and still unmarried.  (This was likely viewed as lamentable in the ancient world as it is in the lives of contemporary believers among religious traditions where marriage takes place during one’s early to mid 20’s as a general rule, and sometimes even earlier).  The servant was in a hurry to get back and complete his job, an admirable display of hard work on the part of the loyal Eliezer.  Of course, her family was a bit taken aback by the desire of the servant to leave so soon after having made the long trip up from Hebron to Paran, hundreds of miles away.  The servant repeats his story and gives the bride-to-be some flashy jewelry, which along with the camels convinces the relatives that their kinswoman will be marrying into a wealthy family at least and so she will be provided for, even if it is rather abrupt that they want the bride right away, and Rebekkah shows a great deal of pluck in agreeing to go right away to marry her cousin sight unseen.  And so she does.

The matter-of-factness continues with this story as we reach the conclusion, where Isaac and Rebekkah formalize (?) their union, as it is written in Genesis 24:62-67:   “Now Isaac came from the way of Beer Lahai Roi, for he dwelt in the South.  And Isaac went out to meditate in the field in the evening; and he lifted his eyes and looked, and there, the camels were coming.  Then Rebekah lifted her eyes, and when she saw Isaac she dismounted from her camel; for she had said to the servant, “Who is this man walking in the field to meet us?”  The servant said, “It is my master.” So she took a veil and covered herself.  And 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. So Isaac was comforted after his mother’s death.”  Here we have no formalized wedding ceremony, no period of courtship.  As soon as Isaac sees the young woman who has been chosen to be his bride, he approves of the choice that has been made and is married to Rebekkah.  Admittedly, life in the ancient world was a bit harsh, but it does appear as if at least one thing was less complicated, and that was the process of courtship.  How fortunate Isaac was to have such a devoted servant to his family household to conduct such a delicate matter of personal business with such audacity and skill.

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
This entry was posted in Bible, Biblical History, Christianity, History, Love & Marriage, Musings and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

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