week nine: Genesis 24–27
As Abraham draws close to death, he asks his faithful foreman who manages all he has (and it’s a lot!) to swear to him most solemnly, that he will return to Abraham’s old home in Haran and find there, among Abraham’s own people, an appropriate wife for Isaac. Abraham did NOT want his son to marry a daughter of the Canaanites.
The steward swears placing his hand under Abraham’s thigh as instructed. Roger Alter* suggests the placement of the hand under Abraham’s thigh to swear may have been to underscore the nature of this vow…related to the seed which issued forth from a proximate place. The seed which God had told Abraham would fill the earth like the unnumbered stars and innumerable sands of the desert. Posterity and place were the promise Abraham had received from the Lord. His servant was asked to commit to bring a wife to Isaac and also commit NOT to take Isaac away from the land Abraham had been given by God. This he does.
Then, gathering ten camels* and much gold and silver, the loyal servant sets out on his mission. Nearing Haran, he implores the Lord to help him and presents a plan:
12 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.
13 Behold, I stand here by the well of water; and the daughters of the men of the city come out to draw water:
14 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.
Clearly this trusted foreman has learned from Abraham that nothing is impossible to the Lord. In the words of the servant, he barely finishes the prayer when Rebecca approaches.
Rebecca is described as stunning, young, virginal and strong! Insanely strong! When the man politely begs a sip from her jug, she responds ‘of course, have a sip, but then you must drink your fill, and ….I will pull water from the well for the camels as well… until all your camels have drunk their fill.’
This is a herculean task. Ten thirsty camels who have crossed the desert want to drink an ocean of water. No weightlifting in a gym could match the lifting required to water those camels. But Rebecca does it.
And she HURRIES! She does it all as fast as she can.
And she invites the servant and the camels home for food and rest.
And she agrees to marry Isaac.
And she agrees to leave her family immediately.
And she travels across the desert.
And she alights when she sees Isaac.
And, appropriately, she puts on her marriage veil before they meet in the field.
And they are married.
“And he loved her,
And Isaac was consoled after his mother’s death.”
In the original Hebrew there is an “and” before every one of Rebecca’s impressive acts of service and hospitality. In most modern translations, the ‘ands’ are artfully eliminated – though not in the King James Version or in The Hebrew Bible. Robert Alter, the latter’s translator, notes this onslaught of “ands”. Somehow, they help to convey the non-stop consecutive multi-tasking of Rebecca. She is a steam engine of action and remains a determined, assertive companion to Isaac.
Rebecca’s willingness to take the bull by its horns manifests itself in the unfolding of the story of her husband and sons. In all this, the personality of Isaac also emerges as much less assertive, rather especially respectful, loving and “at one” with his parents. One imagines this young man marching up Mount Moriah with his father, first carrying the wood for the sacrifice his father has been asked to offer and then waiting with passive trust as he is bound to the altar. This long-awaited son, so close to his adoring mother, that for the years they are together there really isn’t room for another woman.
Finally, as the clear heir to all the spiritual and temporal responsibilities of his father, respectfully waiting to meet and marry the woman God has chosen for him. They don’t make ’em like that anymore! Alter identifies Isaac as the most typically passive of the patriarchs. (The Hebrew Bible, Alter, footnote 11 p.79 Genesis 24:11) I would say, in his humble willingness to do his father, Abraham’s will, Isaac is in some profound ways an archetype of Christ. Obedient, one with his father, and willing to both die and live in harmony with the Lord’s revelations. In Rebecca, Isaac finds the yang to his yin; truly an extraordinary match made in heaven.