Genesis 24:34-38, 42-49, 58-67
GENESIS 23-24: THE CONTEXT
In chapter 23, we learned of Sarah’s death and burial in the cave of Machpelah (23:9), which Abraham purchased from Ephron for four hundred shekels of silver (23:12-16). Abraham is also quite elderly, and is concerned that his son, Isaac, has not yet found a wife (24:1-9).
It might be helpful to outline the cast of characters in chapter 24:
• Abraham, of course, is the one whom God has chosen and promised to bless (12:1-2).
• Isaac is Abraham’s only son, now of marriageable age.
• Abraham’s servant is “the elder of his (Abraham) house, who ruled over all that he had” (24:2). He might be Eliezer, the servant who was mentioned prior to Isaac’s birth as a potential heir to Abraham (15:2), but that is uncertain. Several decades have passed since that mention of Eliezer’s name, and we don’t know whether he is still alive.
• Rebekah is the young woman who will marry Isaac. She is Bethuel’s daughter and Laban’s sister.
• Laban is Rebekah’s brother (v. 29), who takes an active role in dealing with Abraham’s servant regarding Rebekah’s betrothal to Isaac—acting almost as if he were Rebekah’s father, even though their father, Bethuel, is alive and present (v. 50). In years to come, Laban will have dealings with Jacob, Isaac’s son—taking unfair advantage of Jacob wherever possible—deceiving the deceiver (Genesis 29-31).
• Bethuel is the father of Laban and Rebekah. He is the son of Nahor, Abraham’s brother (v. 47; see also 22:20)—making Bethuel Abraham’s nephew and Isaac’s cousin.
“The narrator has arranged (chapter 24) clearly into four scenes: vs. 1-9, Eliezer and Abraham; vs. 11-27, Eliezer and Rebekah; vs. 32-60, Eliezer at Laban’s house; vs. 62-67, Rebekah and Isaac” (Von Rad, 259). NOTE: Von Rad assumes that Abraham’s servant of chapter 24 is Eliezer of chapter 15. In this exegesis, I will not make that assumption, but will admit it only as a possibility, and will therefore refer to “Abraham’s servant” or “the servant” rather than using Eliezer’s name.
• SCENE 1: Abraham and his servant (vv. 1-9). Abraham, not wanting Isaac to marry a Canaanite woman, sends his trusted servant to “go to my country and to my relatives, and take a wife for my son Isaac” (24:4). When the servant shows concern that the right woman might not want to come with him to Canaan, Abraham tells him that God will provide the right woman. If not, Abraham releases the servant from this obligation.
• SCENE 2: The servant and Rebekah (vv. 11-27). The servant goes to Aramnaharaim in Mesopotamia, where he prays, “Yahweh, the God of my master Abraham, please give me success this day… Let it happen, that the young lady to whom I will say, ‘Please let down your pitcher, that I may drink,’ and she will say, ‘Drink, and I will also give your camels a drink,’—let her be the one you have appointed for your servant Isaac. By this I will know that you have shown kindness to my master” (vv. 12-14).
God answers the servant’s prayer “before he had finished speaking” (v. 15). Rebekah appears, and performs in accordance with the servant’s prayer. The servant gives her an expensive gold ring and two gold bracelets, and asks if he might stay at her father’s house.
• SCENE 3: The servant at Laban’s house (vv. 32-60). Rebekah tells Laban about Abraham’s servant, and Laban goes to invite the servant into their home—no doubt influenced by the expensive gifts that the servant gave Rebekah. The servant tells Laban of Abraham’s wealth and his desire to find a wife for Isaac among his father’s house. He then tells of his prayer at the well and Rebekah’s response, making it obvious that she is God’s answer to pray. He then asks Laban if he “will deal kindly and truly with my master” (v. 49). Laban tells him to take Rebekah as requested, and Rebekah agrees to go.
• SCENE 4: Rebekah and Isaac (vv. 62-67). As the servant arrives at home with Rebekah, they see Isaac walking in the field. The servant tells Rebekah that the man is Isaac, and she veils herself. The servant tells Isaac all that has transpired, and Isaac takes Rebekah as his wife.
This story is about God’s providence as that relates to the fulfillment of God’s plan for Abraham, the nation Israel, the Messiah, and the salvation of the human race. Isaac must have a wife if God’s plan is to be fulfilled—Sarah’s empty tent must have a woman to carry on the legacy. Abraham does his part by sending his best servant to find a wife among Abraham’s people and the servant does his part by carrying out his duties faithfully, but it is God who makes the journey a success (vv. 21:40, 42, 56).
We never learn the name of Abraham’s servant (unless the servant is Eliezer of chapter 15). The servant garners no glory for himself, but is devoted to the well-being of his master.
GENESIS 24:34-38. YOU SHALL GO TO MY FATHER’S HOUSE
34He said, “I am Abraham’s servant. 35Yahweh has blessed my master greatly. He has become great. He has given him flocks and herds, silver and gold, male servants and female servants, and camels and donkeys. 36Sarah, my master’s wife, bore a son to my master when she was old. He has given all that he has to him. 37My master made me swear, saying, ‘You shall not take a wife for my son of the daughters of the Canaanites, in whose land I live, 38but you shall go to my father’s house, and to my relatives, and take a wife for my son.’
“He said, ‘I am Abraham’s servant'” (v. 34). The servant is talking to Laban, Rebekah’s brother. The servant has already met Rebekah at the well, and she has performed in accordance with the servant’s prayer, thus identifying herself as the one whom God has chosen to be Isaac’s wife.
“Yahweh has blessed my master greatly. He has become great” (v. 35). The servant draws attention to Abraham’s wealth as an incentive for Laban to cooperate. He further establishes that the Lord has blessed Abraham, implying the Lord’s approval of Abraham’s character. He then establishes that Abraham “has given all that he has to him Isaac)” (v. 36), making it clear that Rebekah will enjoy great wealth if she marries Isaac.
“My master made me swear, saying, ‘You shall not take a wife for my son of the daughters of the Canaanites, in whose land I live,but you shall go to my father’s house, and to my relatives, and take a wife for my son'” (vv. 37-38). The servant relates Abraham’s instructions, but leaves out the part, repeated twice, where Abraham forbade the servant to take Isaac with him to Abraham’s homeland (vv. 6, 8). The servant is putting his (and Abraham’s) best foot forward in an attempt to secure Laban’s cooperation. Abraham has obviously chosen his emissary well. The servant demonstrates both loyalty to Abraham and good ability to present Abraham’s case persuasively.
GENESIS 24:42-49. LET HER BE THE WOMAN
42I came this day to the spring, and said, ‘Yahweh, the God of my master Abraham, if now you do prosper my way which I go— 43behold, I am standing by this spring of water. Let it happen, that the maiden who comes out to draw, to whom I will say, “Please give me a little water from your pitcher to drink,” 44and she will tell me, “Drink, and I will also draw for your camels,”—let her be the woman whom Yahweh has appointed for my master’s son.’
45Before I had finished speaking in my heart, behold, Rebekah came out with her pitcher on her shoulder. She went down to the spring, and drew. I said to her, ‘Please let me drink.’ 46She hurried and let down her pitcher from her shoulder, and said, ‘Drink, and I will also give your camels a drink.’ So I drank, and she also gave the camels a drink. 47I asked her, and said, ‘Whose daughter are you?’ She said, ‘The daughter of Bethuel, Nahor’s son, whom Milcah bore to him.’ I put the ring on her nose, and the bracelets on her hands. 48I bowed my head, and worshiped Yahweh, and blessed Yahweh, the God of my master Abraham, who had led me in the right way to take my master’s brother’s daughter for his son. 49Now if you will deal kindly and truly with my master, tell me. If not, tell me, that I may turn to the right hand, or to the left.”
“I came this day to the spring, and said, ‘Yahweh, the God of my master Abraham'” (v. 42). The servant recounts to Laban his prayer of verses 12-14, using essentially the same words. He addresses God as “Yahweh, the God of my master Abraham” but the servant clearly seems to have adopted Abraham’s God as his own. He prays in faith that God will respond, and his prayer is direct and personal. This is not the prayer of a man unaccustomed to praying.
“Before I had finished speaking in my heart, behold, Rebekah came out with her pitcher on her shoulder” (v. 45). The servant next recounts how quickly God answered his prayer—and how perfectly Rebekah matched the specifications that the servant had outlined in his prayer. The obvious implication is that God has identified Rebekah as the woman whom God has chosen to become Isaac’s bride. If God has chosen her, Laban must comply with God’s will by allowing Rebekah to go to Isaac with Abraham’s servant.
As he relates this story, the servant doesn’t mention his request to Rebekah to stay at her father’s house (see v. 23), presumably because Laban might have taken offense. Once again, the servant demonstrates his ability to present himself well.
“Now if you will deal kindly and truly with my master, tell me. If not, tell me, that I may turn to the right hand, or to the left” (v. 49). The servant asks for clear guidance so that he will know which way to turn. Shall he stay and expect cooperation, or shall he look elsewhere?
GENESIS 24:50-57. NOT INCLUDED IN THIS READING
Both Laban (Rebekah’s brother) and Bethuel (Rebekah’s father) respond positively to Abraham’s servant, saying, “Behold, Rebekah is before you. Take her, and go, and let her be your master’s son’s wife, as Yahweh has spoken” (v. 51). The servant responds by giving thanks to God, after which he gives costly gifts to Rebekah, Laban, and Rebekah’s mother. Laban and his mother request that the servant delay taking Rebekah for ten days, but the servant requests and receives permission for an immediate departure.
GENESIS 24:58-61. THE SERVANT TOOK REBEKAH, AND WENT HIS WAY
58They called Rebekah, and said to her, “Will you go with this man?”
She said, “I will go.”
59They sent away Rebekah, their sister, with her nurse, Abraham’s servant, and his men. 60They blessed Rebekah, and said to her, “Our sister, may you be the mother of thousands of ten thousands, and let your seed possess the gate of those who hate them.”
61Rebekah arose with her ladies. They rode on the camels, and followed the man. The servant took Rebekah, and went his way.
“They called Rebekah, and said to her, ‘Will you go with this man?’ She said, ‘I will go'”(v. 58). Rebekah’s brother and mother ask for Rebekah’s consent. Her answer is short, to the point, and decisive—”I will go.”
“They sent away Rebekah, their sister, with her nurse, Abraham’s servant, and his men”(v. 59). Some translations say sister instead of nurse, but this is probably a servant who helped raise Rebekah. At her death, we will learn that her name was Deborah (35:8).
“They blessed Rebekah” (v. 60). This verse spells out their blessing, which calls for Rebekah to have many offspring who will “possess the gate of those who hate them.” This blessing of Rebekah dovetails nicely with God’s promise to Abraham, “I will bless you greatly, and I will multiply your seed greatly like the stars of the heavens, and like the sand which is on the seashore. Your seed will possess the gate of his enemies” (22:17). It will be through Rebekah that God will fulfill his promise to Abraham.
“Our sister, may you be the mother of thousands of ten thousands, and let your seed possess the gate of those who hate them” (v. 60). “The nations that Rebekah will produce (25:23) will face incessant warfare, struggling for survival and supremacy, as the history of the region has proven” (Mathews, 345).
“Rebekah arose with her ladies. They rode on the camels, and followed the man. The servant took Rebekah, and went his way” (v. 61). Consider for a moment how Rebekah and her parents must have felt as she left with the servant. A day earlier they had never met Abraham’s servant or imagined that Rebekah might leave soon. The distance from their home to Abraham’s home is approximately 500 miles (800 km), but would be unimaginably distant to people accustomed to living in one place. Rebekah leaves to join a husband whom she knows only through the brief introduction given by Abraham’s servant, and her parents allow her to depart while wondering if they will ever see her again. It is a happy parting in the sense that Abraham’s servant has promised Rebekah a great future, but it must also be a wrenching experience for Rebekah and her family—especially for her mother.
GENESIS 24:62-67. THEN ISAAC BROUGHT HER INTO HIS MOTHER’S TENT
62Isaac came from the way of Beer Lahai Roi, for he lived in the land of the South. 63Isaac went out to meditate in the field at the evening. He lifted up his eyes, and saw, and, behold, there were camels coming. 64Rebekah lifted up her eyes, and when she saw Isaac, she dismounted from the camel. 65She said to the servant, “Who is the man who is walking in the field to meet us?”
The servant said, “It is my master.”
She took her veil, and covered herself.
66The servant told Isaac all the things that he had done. 67Isaac brought her into his mother Sarah’s tent, and took Rebekah, and she became his wife. He loved her. Isaac was comforted after his mother’s death.
“Isaac came from the way of Beer Lahai Roi, for he lived in the land of the South“ (v. 62). The Negeb (or Negev) is the area southwest of the Dead Sea that links Canaan with Egypt. It is an arid, sparsely populated land that few people would find appealing, but is important because of its trade routes between Egypt and the lands to the north of Egypt. The pregnant Hagar earlier encountered an angel at Beer Lahai Roi after Sarah pressured Abraham to expel Hagar from their household. The angel assured the despairing Hagar that she would not only bear a son, but that the son would survive and become a wild ass of a man (16:11-14). In the next chapter we will learn that Isaac and Rebekah settle in Beer-la-hai-roi after Abraham’s death (25:11).
Rebekah “said to the servant, ‘Who is the man who is walking in the field to meet us?’ The servant said, ‘It is my master'” (v. 65). We are surprised to hear that Isaac is the servant’s master. We are further surprised that the servant reports to Isaac and that Abraham is nowhere to be seen (v. 66). In the next chapter, we will learn of Abraham’s death (25:8), which has led some scholars to believe that Abraham died while the servant was on his journey to seek a wife for Isaac. However, we know that Abraham was a hundred years old when Isaac was born (21:5) and died at age 175 (25:7), and we know that Isaac was forty years old when he married Rebecca (25:20), so it would seem that Abraham lived 35 years after Isaac and Rebecca married. Genesis also reports Abraham’s marriage to Keturah and the birth of six children (25:1-6) after it reports Isaac’s marriage to Rebecca (24:67), so it would appear that Abraham is still alive when the servant returns with Rebekah.
“Isaac brought (Rebekah) into his mother Sarah’s tent, and took Rebekah, and she became his wife. He loved her” (v. 67). This “underlines that Rebekah is the new Sarah, just as Isaac is the new Abraham” (Wenham, 152).
SCRIPTURE QUOTATIONS are from the World English Bible (WEB), a public domain (no copyright) modern English translation of the Holy Bible. The World English Bible is based on the American Standard Version (ASV) of the Bible, the Biblia Hebraica Stutgartensa Old Testament, and the Greek Majority Text New Testament. The ASV, which is also in the public domain due to expired copyrights, was a very good translation, but included many archaic words (hast, shineth, etc.), which the WEB has updated.
Brueggemann, Walter, Interpretation Commentary: Genesis (Atlanta: John Knox Press, 1982)
Fretheim, Terence E., “The Book of Genesis,” The New Interpreter’s Bible, Volume 1: General Old Testament Articles, Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1994.
Greidanus, Sidney in Van Harn, Roger, E. (ed.), The Lectionary Commentary: The First Readings: The Old Testament and Acts (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2001)
Hamilton, Victor P., The New International Commentary on the Old Testament: The Book of Genesis, Chapters 18-50 (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1995)
Mathews, Kenneth A., The New American Commentary, Genesis 11:27-50:26, Vol. 1b (Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2005)
Newsome, James D., in Brueggemann, Walter; Cousar, Charles B.; Gaventa, Beverly R.; and Newsome, James D., Texts for Preaching: A Lectionary Commentary Based on the NRSV — Year A (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 1995)
Roop, Eugene F., Believers Church Bible Commentaries: Genesis (Scottdale, PA: Herald Press, 1987)
Towner, W. Sibley, Westminster Bible Companion: Genesis (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2001)
Tucker, Gene M., in Craddock, Fred B.; Hayes, John H.; Holladay, Carl R.; Tucker, Gene M., Preaching Through the Christian Year, A (Valley Forge: Trinity Press International, 1994)
Von Rad, Gerhard, The Old Testament Library: Genesis, (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1972)
Wenham, Gordon J., Word Biblical Commentary: Genesis 16-50 (Dallas: Word Books, 1994)
Copyright 2006, 2010, Richard Niell Donovan