49. Genesis 22:20-24 and 24:1-67

III. B. continued

2.  Finding Rebekah (Genesis 22:20-24 and 24:1-67)

We turn now to Isaac and the continuing of the Covenant. At the end of chapter 22 we find a report coming to Abraham that his brother Nahor had been blessed with children and grandchildren. This suggests that Abraham had kept up a correspondence with his brother, and he must have heard at some point that Nahor had also left Ur and returned to Haran. The placing of this section in the Scripture suggests that he had received this news before Sarah died, perhaps only shortly before, and it was her death that fixed Abraham’s mind on the future and what to do about a wife for his son. Within a few years of Sarah’s death Abraham had fixed on the plan to send his servant back to his relatives to find a wife for Isaac. In all his years of sojourning in the Promised Land, with the exception of Mamre and Melchizedek, and somewhat reluctantly with Abimelech, he had kept himself aloof from the inhabitants. It was not only the king of Sodom, but it was the Hittites among his neighbors and apparently many others. Abraham had been conscious of a barrier between himself and most of his neighbors nearly since he had arrived and this antipathy crystallized into a strong desire that Isaac not marry one of them. Even Mamre’s family was not acceptable, or Melchizedek’s. It became fixed in his mind that Isaac must marry a relative.

Isaac was nearly forty years old by this time and living independently of Abraham and unmarried. Isaac could have chosen a wife for himself at this point; the father arranged marriages for his daughters but not for his sons. Nonetheless, Abraham took the lead here. Because it would be strange for Abraham to arrange for Isaac’s marriage without consulting Isaac, it seems likely that after Sarah’s death he went south to stay with his son for a while.  In this way, sending the servant back to Haran could have been a joint decision. The way Abraham spoke to the servant in 24:3 implies that it had become the servant’s duty to seek out a wife for Isaac, as if Abraham were too feeble or too ill to make such a journey. Abraham in fact lived several more decades after Isaac was married, so if Abraham was thinking of the possibility of his impending death, then he was premature. Even if Abraham had felt well, he would probably not have made the journey back to Haran in person if only because of his age. Probably Abraham had few duties at this point; Isaac would have assumed most or all of the duties of the head of the household by then.

Consider the identity of the servant that Abraham sent with this most important task. Naturally he would send his most trusted servant; it also seems likely that this most trusted servant would have been the one he had adopted sixty years previously to be his heir if Sarah had had no son. Could it be that Abraham was sending the very servant who had been done out of a great inheritance to find a wife for the one whose birth had been the cause of that loss? Whoever the servant was, he was a man of integrity and entirely devoted to Abraham. Repeatedly we see the loyalty of Abraham’s household, and that is the best of character references.

The servant took an oath to seek a wife for Isaac among Abraham’s relatives, and if he failed to find a wife among those relatives, he promised at least to never take Isaac back to Haran. Hence, as he reflected upon his life, the promises God had made to him, and the future he had in mind for Isaac, the most important priority in Abraham’s mind was that Isaac not leave the land of Canaan. If a wife could not be found among his relatives in Haran, then a wife could be found in Egypt, or perhaps Mamre’s family would be acceptable as a second best. But why was Abraham so concerned that Isaac not go back to Haran, (as one of his grandsons would do a century or so later)? It is not clear. Perhaps he had been directed by God not to allow Isaac to go back there for some reason. When Isaac’s son Jacob did go back there, he found his family almost more than he could handle; a person as meek as Isaac might have been trapped there.

The servant’s trip back to Haran took place in about 2020 b.c. and this suggests an interesting possibility. At about this time Ishbi-Erra, from the city of Mari, came to power and began plotting the overthrow of his lord, Ibbi-Sin, the king of Ur. Mari, and Ishbi-Erra’s base of operations in Isin, were between Haran and Ur. Since there was some ethnic tie between Haran and Ur, perhaps there was a danger that Isaac might get enmeshed in the conflict, particularly because of Abraham’s history with the Elamites. The political intrigues of this era are little understood, but a good general guideline is that one should stay out of a nation’s internal conflicts, especially if one might be mistaken as sympathetic with one side or the other. The servant could more easily “move under the radar” than Isaac himself. This is entirely speculation generated by the chance coincidence of dating.

Abraham told the servant that God would send his “angel” ahead of him to prepare the way before him and give him success. It is not at all clear what Abraham had in mind when he said this; and probably he did not know exactly what he meant either. He had had many visitations from God, but only two, the one concerning Sodom just before Isaac was born and the one in which he was prevented from sacrificing Isaac, were described as being angelic. The word translated “angel” simply means “messenger”. Abraham was just beginning to try to understand the appearances he had received and this was the way he described what he understood. Angels are a part of the on-going revelation and at this point their nature was left obscure, as in fact it still is.

Abraham’s servant took a great many valuable gifts for the bride and her family, but it does not mention him taking any security measures, guards and so on. Abraham had plenty of trained soldiers in his household, so perhaps the protective escort went without saying. It was a dangerous time on the fringe of a decaying empire, and even the most frequented trade route was a dangerous one. Still, the servant arrived without mishap in Aram-naharaim, near Haran, where Nahor was dwelling. What the servant found there was Rebekah, the daughter of Isaac’s cousin Bethuel.

God’s eagerness to guide the servant correctly was apparent in that He answered the servant’s prayer even as he was speaking it. But if we are praying for what God wishes to give us then there is clearly no need to ask for it over and over again; and if we are praying for what God does not wish to give us then we would be foolish to ask for it repeatedly. Therefore the way we see prayers sometimes practiced in churches, with great loudness and zeal and repetition, suggests that we neither know what we are doing nor what God is doing. Sometimes our prayers seem more like attempts to nag God into doing what we think He doesn’t want to do. Abraham’s servant had the faith of a child: he just asked.

Furthermore, when his prayer was apparently answered instantly, the servant was still cautious. He did not assume that just because everything appeared to be a direct and even a dramatic answer to his prayer, that it was in fact the answer to his prayer. He was not to be tricked by mere appearances, mere coincidences. His mission was too important to permit him to jump to conclusions too hastily. It is a lesson worth learning. We could all be more cautious and discerning, not because God is unreliable but because our perceptions are unreliable, because we are so prone to leap ahead of the Spirit, because we are so prone to make assumptions about what God is doing, or has done, or is about to do based on superficial appearances.

We are the opposite of careful. It is considered by us a sign of superior faith to hop right in. But if we are serious about what we ask of God, then let’s be serious enough about the response that we examine it with caution. This is not a sign or doubt or unbelief in God; it is humility, an admission that we are easily fooled. God is not offended when a person, who sincerely wants to follow Him, checks out everything carefully. He knows how gullible we are, and we please Him when we can admit it, when we learn to rely on Him and not on our own understanding. It is a subtle thing, relying on God rather than on ourselves. Some feel that caution and careful investigation is a way of relying on ourselves. Some feel that an energetic trust in the circumstances is what real faith is all about. Humility is a tricky thing, but it is the real point.

Rebekah took the man’s gifts and, in her excitement that he had come from a distant relative as well as at his obvious wealth, she ran off and left him alone by the city’s well. He knew she would come back, of course, and that she would bring a male relative to escort him back to their house. The future course of Laban’s history might lead us to think that he was quite taken with the gifts the stranger had given his sister and was thinking of the potential gain that might be had from a rich relative. Laban was a young man at this time, just beginning to take over control of the family estate. He greeted the servant in the name of the God of their family, the God of the oral tradition they held in common; doubtless one reason Abraham sent back to his relatives for a wife was the common spiritual heritage. As it turned out, having a common spiritual heritage was no protection against dishonest business practices, but that would all come out later.

The servant knew how the feasting would go once it got started, Middle Eastern hospitality being what it was. The feast could go on for days. Because he had such a sense of urgency in his mission he was somewhat abrupt with his hosts. He insisted on telling the complete story of his mission before the feast could be begun. It is not clear why he felt such urgency; perhaps it was just the nerves of a responsible servant who wouldn’t be able to rest properly until this important job was done. Or perhaps there was a sense of premonition of coming events in that region (whether such events transpired or not, Laban would prosper over the next seventy years). In any case, Rebekah’s brother and father agreed to the marriage once they had heard the story. The culture of that time and place was a fratriarchal one in which the oldest son took over the family affairs when he came of age. Laban was probably assuming the leadership of the family and his approval of the marriage was necessary. Rebekah did have some say in the matter; though the male head of the household commonly arranged marriages, the woman could veto the arrangement under most circumstances. Since this was a very sudden match her wishes were consulted. The passage does not indicate how old Rebekah was, but she must have been fairly young to be still unbetrothed, perhaps half the age of Isaac.

On the next day the feast was to continue, as much as ten days more, while Rebekah prepared to leave, but the servant of Abraham could not rest. Again he behaved in an abrupt, even a rude, manner. He insisted on leaving at once. On this matter, Rebekah did have the deciding voice; it was she who would be inconvenienced by a hasty departure. It was also important that her willingness to go to Isaac should be made clear. The servant had been commissioned to bring back a wife who was willing to come; it would not do if Rebekah was not fully committed.

It took a great deal of courage for Rebekah to go with the servant of Abraham to a distant land to marry a man she did not know. If she had been afraid she could have delayed. On the other hand, she did know that her husband-to-be was very rich, and later events showed that she was an ambitious person who seized opportunities as they came up, who even made opportunities for herself when there were none. Indeed, Rebekah was cut from the same cloth as Laban, and they were both as unlike Abraham and Isaac as close relatives can be. And what prospects were there for Rebekah in Haran? Probably only limited ones. Later scripture describes Laban as a crafty man, but a man whose fortunes were waning despite all his craftiness. For Rebekah to have resisted this marriage would have meant keeping her fate in Laban’s hands, and Laban mainly looked out for his own interests. But Rebekah was not Laban’s sister for nothing; she knew how to take care of herself, how to look out for her own interests. So Rebekah seized the opportunity and did not spend a lot of time saying good-bye to a brother for whom she probably had little affection.

Isaac was out meditating in the field in the cool of the evening when the caravan returned. When Rebekah knew the man she saw ahead of them was her husband-to-be she put on a veil as was the custom of that day. And so Isaac married Rebekah and took her to Sarah’s tent, a sign that she was the new matriarch of the clan, and another indication that Abraham had come to visit him after Sarah’s death. And he grew to love Rebekah after the fashion of arranged marriages, and was comforted after Sarah’s death. Subsequent events do not flatter their marriage as being ideal; but they did find some happiness together.

2 Comments on “49. Genesis 22:20-24 and 24:1-67”

  1. Rev A Davies Says:

    Amazing article and just what I was looking for, related to Abraham’s decision for Isaac not to return to Harran. Thank you greatly for such insights here. God bless you for all you do in His Kingdom.

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