Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers
And Abraham was old, and well stricken in age: and the LORD had blessed Abraham in all things.XXIV.
MARRIAGE OF ISAAC AND REBEKAH.
(1) Abraham was old.—As Isaac was thirty-seven years of age when Sarah died (Genesis 23:1), and forty at his marriage (Genesis 25:20), Abraham, who was a centenarian at Isaac’s birth, would now be nearly 140. As he lived to be 175 (Genesis 25:7), he survived Isaac’s marriage thirty-five years, and lived to see Esau and Jacob nearly grown up.
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:(2) Unto his eldest servant of his house.—Heb., his servant, the elder of his house. It is the name of an office; and though one holding so confidential a post would be a man of ripe years, yet it is not probable that Abraham would send any one who was not still vigorous on so distant a journey. Eliezer of Damascus had held a similar office fifty-five years previously (Genesis 15:2), but this was probably a younger man.
Put . . . thy hand under my thigh.—As Jacob requires that Joseph should swear to him in the same manner (Genesis 47:29), this form of oath was evidently regarded as a very solemn one. The meaning of it has been much discussed, but we find the thigh in Genesis 46:26, Exodus 1:5—in both which places it is rendered loins—used as the source of posterity. Probably, therefore, as Tuch argues, it is an euphemistic manner of describing the circumcised member, which was to be touched by the hand placed beneath the thigh; and thus the oath was really by the holy covenant between Abraham and God, of which circumcision was the symbol.
Beware thou that thou bring not my son thither again.—The betrothal of Isaac and Rebekah is told with the utmost exactness of detail, because it contained two principles of primary importance to Abraham’s posterity: the first, that they were not to allow themselves to be merged among the Canaanites, but remain a distinct people; for this intermarriage with women of their own race was only a means to an end, and not a binding law, to be observed for its own sake. And secondly, that under no circumstances might they return to Mesopotamia, but must cling devotedly to the land of which God had promised them the possession. We learn from Genesis 24:8 that this second point was regarded by Abraham as even more important than the first; and with reason. For the race might remain distinct even if Isaac took a woman of Palestine to wife, though there would be the risk of religious deterioration; but if they returned to Padanaram they were certain to be absorbed, and could look for no higher lot than that attained to by Laban’s descendants.
Land of my kindred.—Rather, of my nativity; and so in Genesis 24:4. (See Note on Genesis 12:1.) It is a different word from that rightly translated kindred in Genesis 24:38. Jewish interpreters say that by his father’s house here, and by his country in Genesis 24:4, Abraham meant Charran: but by his birthplace he meant Ur of the Chaldees. If, therefore, the servant failed in obtaining a wife at Charran, he was to continue his journey to Ur, where Abraham, doubtless, had many relatives.
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.(10) And the servant.—Why did not Isaac go himself in search of a wife? We must not conclude from his inactivity that the matter had not his full concurrence; but he was the heir, and according to Oriental manners it was fit that the choice should be left to a trusty deputy. What is peculiar in the narrative is the distance to which the servant was sent, and the limitation of his choice to a particular family; but both these peculiarities arose from the religious considerations involved. Jacob subsequently went in person on a similar errand, but we must remember that Rebekah was also seeking for him a place of safety. But for this, and had he been the sole heir, she would probably have sent an embassy to her brother’s house to ask for him a wife.
For all the goods of his master were in his hand.—Rather, with every good thing of his master’s in his hand. It was necessary not only that the servant should take with him such a convoy as would ensure his safety and that of the bride on their return, but also such rich presents as would adequately represent Abraham’s wealth and power.
Mesopotamia.—Heb., Aram-Naharaim: that is, “Aram of the two rivers.” Aram means highland, but it became the title of the whole Syrian race; and here Aram-Naharaim means that part of Syria which lies between the Tigris and Euphrates. It was a mountainless region, except towards the north. For Padan-aram, see Note on Genesis 25:20.
The city of Nahor.—This was Charran (Genesis 27:43). Nahor had probably migrated thither from Ur when Terah was growing old, that he might occupy the pastures which Abraham was about to abandon.
And he made his camels to kneel down without the city by a well of water at the time of the evening, even the time that women go out to draw water.(11) He made his camels to kneel down.—Camels rest kneeling, but the servant did not unlade them till he knew that God had heard his prayer. (See Genesis 24:32.)
By a well of water.—The well was the property of the whole city, and might be used only at a fixed hour; and the servant therefore waits till the women came to draw. This duty of fetching water is not peculiar to Oriental women, but to this day in most parts of Europe, wherever the supply comes from a public source, women may be seen thus occupied. Rebekah carried her pitcher upon her shoulder; in the south of France the Basque women, like the ancient Egyptians, carry it on their heads, and the habit of thus balancing it gives them a peculiarly erect and graceful carriage.
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.(12-14) O Lord God . . . —Heb., Jehovah, God of my lord Abraham. The word translated “master” throughout this chapter is ‘donai, the ordinary word for lord, and it is so rendered in Genesis 24:18. As a circumcised member of Abraham’s household, the servant prays to Jehovah, Abraham’s God; and though in Genesis 24:5 he had suggested a difficulty, apparently it was from no want of faith, but that he might know whether under any circumstances Isaac might return to Aram-Naharaim. He now leaves the success of his mission to Jehovah; and while he would use his own discernment in selecting from the troop of advancing maidens one whose countenance gave promise of goodness of heart, the fulfilment of the appointed signal which was to mark God’s approval would also show that she was no churlish woman, but one active, generous, and kind.
Send me good speed this day.—Heb., cause it to meet me this day.
Thereby.—Rather, by her: by her giving the appointed sign I shall know that thou hast showed kindness to my lord.
The damsel.—This word (Heb., Na’ar) is of the common gender in the Pentateuch, except in Deuteronomy 22:19, where it has the feminine termination. It is used of Abraham’s young men in Genesis 14:24; Genesis 18:7, &c., but no less than twenty-two times of women. In the rest of the Bible the gender is always marked, and even here it is read in the feminine in the Jewish synagogues. We have herein another of the many linguistic proofs of the extreme antiquity of the Pentateuch, and it is the more interesting because found in a Jehovistic section. The same word is used again in Genesis 24:16; Genesis 24:28. (See Note on Genesis 43:8.)
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.(16) She went down to the well.—The water, therefore, was reached by a flight of steps, the usual rule wherever the well was fed by a natural spring. Cisterns, on the contrary, supplied from the rains were narrower at the top than at the bottom.
Mr. Malan (Philosophy or Truth, p. 93), in an interesting account of his visit to this well, says that on going out from Haran in the evening to examine it, he found “a group of women filling, no longer their pitchers, since the steps down which Rebekah went to fetch the water are now blocked up, but their water-skins by drawing water at the well’s mouth. Everything around that well bears signs of age and of the wear of time; for as it is the only well of drinkable water there, it is much resorted to. Other wells are only for watering the flocks. There we find the troughs of various height for camels, for sheep and for goats, for kids and for lambs; there the women wear nose-rings and bracelets on their arms, some of gold or of silver, and others of brass, or even of glass.”
And the man wondering at her held his peace, to wit whether the LORD had made his journey prosperous or not.(21) And the man wondering at her . . . —The verb is rare, and the LXX., Syr., and Vulg., followed by Gesenius and Fürst, translate, “And the man gazed attentively at her, keeping silence, that he might know,” &c. The servant, we may well believe, was astonished at the exactness and quickness with which his prayer was being answered, but this is not the point to which the rest of the verse refers; rather, it sets him before us as keenly observing all she said and did, and carefully coming to the conclusion that the comely and generous maiden was the destined bride of the son of his lord.
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;(22) Earring.—Really nose-ring; for in Genesis 24:47 the man places it on her nose, wrongly translated face in our version. The word occurs again in Ezekiel 16:12, where it is rendered jewel, and again is placed “on the nose;” it is also similarly translated jewel in Proverbs 11:22, where it is placed in “a swine’s snout.” It was hung not from the central cartilage of the nose, but from the left nostril, the flesh of which was pierced for the purpose; and such rings are still the usual betrothal present in Arabia, and are commonly worn both there and in Persia, made not only of gold and of silver but of coral, mother-of-pearl, and even cheaper materials. (See Quotation in Note on Genesis 24:16.) Its weight, about a quarter of an ounce, would make it not more disfiguring than many of the personal ornaments worn at the present time.
Bracelets are profusely worn at this day by Oriental women, the whole arm to the elbow being usually covered by them.
And she said unto him, I am the daughter of Bethuel the son of Milcah, which she bare unto Nahor.(24) Bethuel the son of Milcah, which she bare unto Nahor.—Rebekah mentions her father’s mother to show that she was descended from a highborn wife; but the servant would welcome it as proving that not only on the father’s side, but also on the mother’s, she was Isaac’s cousin, Milcah being the daughter of Haran, Abraham’s brother. And when thus he knew that she fulfilled all the conditions, he gave her the jewels which he was holding in his hand, and bowed the head, and gave thanks.
And the damsel ran, and told them of her mother's house these things.(28) The damsel ran, and told (them of) her mother’s house.—The words inserted in italics are worse than useless. The wife of a sheik has a separate tent (Genesis 24:67), and the result of polygamy is to make each family hold closely together. Naturally, too, the maiden would first show her mother and the women presents of so special a meaning. We even find Laban, the brother, acting as Rebekah’s representative; and it is only when the final decision has to be given that Bethuel is allowed to have any voice in the matter (Genesis 24:50).
And Rebekah had a brother, and his name was Laban: and Laban ran out unto the man, unto the well.(29) Laban ran out unto the man.—Not until he had seen Rebekah, as narrated in the next verse—this being a brief summary, followed by a more detailed account. Milcah had probably sent and summoned him to her tent, where his sister showed him her presents, and told him what had happened. He then hurried out to offer due hospitality to the generous stranger.
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.(31) Come in, thou blessed of the Lord.—This hospitality was in the East almost a matter of course, though Laban’s earnestness may have been increased by the sight of his sister’s golden ornaments. More remarkable is it that Laban addresses the servant as “blessed of Jehovah;” for we learn in Joshua 24:2 that the monotheism of Nahor and his family was by no means pure. Still, neither were they idolaters, and the “other gods” whom they served were probably teraphim, as certainly were the gods of Laban mentioned in Genesis 31:30. Even to the last these household gods seem to have retained a hold upon the affections of the nation (Hosea 3:4); and probably most uneducated minds, even when their religion is in the main. true, have nevertheless a tendency to add on to it some superstitions, especially in the way of fashioning for themselves some lower mediator.
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.(33) I will not eat, until I have told mine errand.—Two points in Oriental manners are here brought into view: the first, that hospitality, so necessary in a country where there are no inns, was, and still is, a religion to the Bedouin; the second, that consequently he will concede anything rather than have his hospitality refused. Aware of this feeling, Abraham’s servant will not partake of Laban’s bread and salt until he has told his request. After he had become Laban’s guest, Laban would have been free to do as he liked; but he must now grant what is asked, or the stranger would decline to enter his dwelling.
Mr. Fraser (Historical Description of Afghanistan Genesis 11 p. 424: Edinburgh, 1834) and Ferrier (L’Af ghanistan, Genesis 11, p. 119: ed. 1842) mention a remarkable custom connected with Afghan hospitality which admirably illustrates the behaviour of Abraham’s servant. It is called menawâti, from two words signifying I am come in. Any one who has a favour to ask goes to the tent or house of the person from whom he expects it, but refuses to sit on his carpet or partake of his food until he has granted the required boon. And custom makes it a point of honour to concede it, if it be in the power of the person thus appealed to.
But thou shalt go unto my father's house, and to my kindred, and take a wife unto my son.(38) Kindred.—Not the word so translated in Genesis 24:4; Genesis 24:7, but that rendered family in Genesis 8:19, marg., 10:5, 12:3, &c. Strictly, it signifies a subdivision of a tribe (Numbers 1:18).
Behold, I stand by the well of water; and it shall come to pass, that when the virgin cometh forth to draw water, and I say to her, Give me, I pray thee, a little water of thy pitcher to drink;(43) The virgin.—Not the word used in Genesis 24:16, nor that rendered damsel there and in Genesis 24:14, but almah, a young woman just ripening for marriage. It is applied to Miriam in Exodus 2:8, where it is rendered maid, and to the mother of the Immanuel in Isaiah 7:14.
And before I had done speaking in mine heart, behold, Rebekah came forth with her pitcher on her shoulder; and she went down unto the well, and drew water: and I said unto her, Let me drink, I pray thee.(45) Speaking in mine heart—The Heb. idiom is far more exact and true: namely, before I had done speaking to my heart.
And I asked her, and said, Whose daughter art thou? And she said, The daughter of Bethuel, Nahor's son, whom Milcah bare unto him: and I put the earring upon her face, and the bracelets upon her hands.(47) Upon her face.—Heb., upon her nose. This mistranslation explains the strange rendering jewel for the forehead in the margin of Genesis 24:22.
Then Laban and Bethuel answered and said, The thing proceedeth from the LORD: we cannot speak unto thee bad or good.(50) Laban and Bethuel.—See Note on Genesis 24:28. Even when thus tardily mentioned, the father is placed after the brother; and of this we need look for no further explanation than that by polygamy the father was estranged from his own children, while each separate family held very closely together. Thus when Dinah was wronged, it was two of her mother’s sons, Simeon and Levi, who avenged her (Genesis 34:13-25); and so it was Absalom who avenged Tamar (2Samuel 13:22). Still, Bethuel’s consent was finally necessary; but as soon as it was given all active arrangements were left to the mother and Laban (Genesis 24:53-55), and Bethuel is mentioned no more.
And the servant brought forth jewels of silver, and jewels of gold, and raiment, and gave them to Rebekah: he gave also to her brother and to her mother precious things.(53) Jewels of silver, and jewels of gold.—Heb., vessels. In ancient times a wife had to be bought (Genesis 34:12), and the presents given were not mere ornaments and jewellery, but articles of substantial use and value. Quickly indeed in a country of such ceremonial politeness the purchase took a more honourable form, but Orientals do not let their courtesy interfere with their interests, and the relatives would take care that the freewill offerings did not fall below the usual standard. These went partly to the bride, and partly to her relatives: and as they are described here as going exclusively to the brother and mother, Jewish tradition has invented the story that Bethuel was ill at the time, and died on the day of the servant’s arrival. But the manner in which Isaac speaks of him in Genesis 28:2 does not allow us to suppose that he was either dead at the time of her departure, or that he was a person of no ability or importance. Possibly, therefore, polygamy had led to the custom of the purchase presents going to the mother’s tent.
And her brother and her mother said, Let the damsel abide with us a few days, at the least ten; after that she shall go.(55) A few days, at the least ten.—Heb., days or a decade, which Onkelos, Saadja, Rashi, and others translate as in the margin: “a year or ten months.” But while this rendering has high Jewish authority for it, yet more probably decade was the name for the third part of a month. It would be curious thus to find that the family of Terah, either with or instead of weeks, measured time by periods of ten days, as was certainly the custom of the Egyptians at one period of their history.
And they called Rebekah, and said unto her, Wilt thou go with this man? And she said, I will go.(58) Wilt thou go with this man?—A woman in the East has little choice in the matter of her marriage, and here, moreover, everything was so plainly providential, that Rebekah, like her father and brother (Genesis 24:50), would have felt it wrong to make difficulties, and she expresses her readiness to go at once, though she will never see her relatives again. Of course there would be some little delay for preparation, but none for leave-taking.
And they sent away Rebekah their sister, and her nurse, and Abraham's servant, and his men.(59) Their sister.—Bethuel may have had other sons, though Laban only is mentioned.
Her nurse.—How dear Deborah was, first to Rebekah, and afterwards to Jacob, may be seen by the lamentation at her death (Genesis 35:8).
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.(60) Thousands of millions.—Heb., thousands of ten thousands. A million was a number which at this early period the Hebrews had no means of expressing. The blessing contains two parts: the first, the hope of fruitfulness founded on the primæval command (Genesis 1:28); the second, that of victory in war (see Genesis 22:17).
And Isaac came from the way of the well Lahairoi; for he dwelt in the south country.(62) The well Lahai-roi.—Hagar’s well (Genesis 16:14), situated in the “south country,” that is, the Negeb (see Genesis 12:9). The oasis round it became Isaac’s favourite residence (Genesis 25:11), and was in the neighbourhood of Beer-sheba, where Abraham was dwelling when Sarah died at Hebron (Genesis 23:2). The journey of the servant would take some months, and during this time Abraham’s herds would be shifted from station to station, but it would be known where he was from the period of the year. As Isaac was at the station most remote from Charran, Rebekah would have visited all his homes before arriving at Beer-lahai-roi.
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.(63) To meditate.—Many Jewish commentators translate to pray, and derive one of the three Jewish forms of prayer from this act of Isaac. But though the verb is rare, the substantive is used in Psalm 104:34 of religious meditation; and this sense well agrees with the whole character of the calm, peaceful Isaac, already marked out as the type of the Lamb dumb before His slayers (Genesis 22:7).
And Rebekah lifted up her eyes, and when she saw Isaac, she lighted off the camel.(64) She lighted off.—Heb., fell: descended hastily from her camel. It is still the custom in the East for an inferior when meeting a superior to dismount, and advance on foot. Rebekah, therefore, would have been thought bold and disrespectful had she not acknowledged the superiority of her lord. Besides beauty, we have already seen in her kindliness of heart, activity, and courageous submission to the guidance of Providence; we now see her modesty and courtesy towards her husband.
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.(65) She took a vail, and·covered herself.—Brides are usually taken to the bridegroom enveloped in a vail, which covers the whole body, and is far larger than that ordinarily worn. At the present time the bride-vail is usually red, the ordinary vail blue or white. By wrapping herself in this vail Rebekah notified that she was the bride. After marriage it was seldom worn at this early period, and so both the Egyptians and Abimelech saw Sarah’s beauty.
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.(67) Sarah’s tent.—So Leah and Rachel had each her own tent (Genesis 31:33; but see on Genesis 24:28).