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Abraham Desires a Wife for Isaac
Abraham was one hundred forty years old and sensing the need to find a suitable wife for his son Isaac. Many of the individual promises of the Abrahamic Covenant were fulfilled during his lifetime. While he had been blessed with wealth, status and influence he did not possess the full extent of the land given in the covenant. He achieved the first legally obtained parcel though. The full promise of all the land would not be realized until the Messianic Kingdom. Nevertheless Abraham affirms the fact that Isaac (his seed) will have the land. Therefore he must have a wife in order to produce an heir to which the Covenant will pass. He approached an unnamed slave/servant of his household who controlled all of his considerable estate. We know this to be Eliezer of Damascus (Genesis 15: 2). This was the same trusted slave/servant who would have been Abraham’s choice for inheritor if Jehovah God had not given him Isaac. Now Abraham requires him to swear a solemn oath not to take a wife for Isaac from among the Canaanites where they were living. Abraham knew that his nephew Bethuel had recently had a daughter who was called Rebecca. Abraham makes Eliezer swear an oath to Abraham that he will carry out this task. In ancient Mid-Eastern practice Eliezer is told to place his hand under Abraham’s thigh and this would signify the acceptance of the oath. This means that if you are subject to my authority then I will sit on your hand in affirmation of you being under my will.
Eliezer then asks Abraham what he will do if the chosen woman will not follow him back to Canaan. Abraham says that Jehovah God will send His angels in front of him to secure the task. If the woman will not come Eliezer is told not to go back to Mesopotamia to find her a second time.
The twenty-fourth chapter is the longest in the book of Genesis. It is important for several reasons. First, it is a wonderful model of the appropriate characteristics we should look for in a spouse. Secondly, since the New Testament describes Isaac as a type of Christ we can see those parallels.
The Bible has many references to Isaac as a type. In Amos 7:9,16, Israel is identified as his people. He is used to illustrate the resurrection of the dead and life after death in both Matthew 22:23-33 and Mark 12:18-27. In Galatians 4:28-31 he is used to illustrate the relation of the Old Law to the New. His blessing of his sons is cited as an example of faith in Hebrews 11:20.
Eliezer Prays for Abraham’s Welfare
Genesis 24: 10-14
10And the servant took ten camels, of the camels of his master, and departed, having all goodly things of his master’s in his hand. And he arose, and went to Mesopotamia, unto the city of Nahor. 11And he made the camels to kneel down without the city by the well of water at the time of evening, the time that women go out to draw water. 12And he said, O Jehovah, the God of my master Abraham, send me, I pray thee, good speed this day, and show kindness unto my master Abraham. 13Behold, I am standing by the fountain of water. And the daughters of the men of the city are coming out to draw water. 14And 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 showed kindness unto my master (ASV 1901).
Eliezer’s Journey from Beersheba to Haran
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The text ignores the distance of the travel as well as the time it took Eliezer to reach Nahor’s city Haran in Northwestern Mesopotamia. The actual distance traveled is approximately four hundred fifty miles.
He took ten camels with him and a caravan of wealth. These were not all the camels that Abraham owned. This wealth being transported was to serve as the price for the bride. It was also designed make a powerful impression on Nahor’s family. It would also serve as the device for testing her character. It would also provide homeward transportation for the bride and her entourage. The figure ten, relevant to gift giving in the Old Testament, is common. Examples are Jacob’s ten bulls (Genesis 32: 15); Joseph’s ten donkeys (Genesis 45: 23); Jesse’s ten loaves (I Samuel 17: 17); Jeroboam’s ten loaves (I Kings 14: 3); and Naaman’s ten talents (II Kings 5: 5). The entourage traveled to Aram Naharaim, which is the city of Haran. אֶל־אֲרַ֥ם נַֽהֲרַ֖יִם
Eliezer then took the camels to a well just outside the city in the evening. He knew that women traditionally went out for water at this place and time. It was natural for a stranger to go to the public wells. He could replenish his water supplies and at the same time learn about the town and make useful contacts, because the well was a meeting place for the townsfolk and shepherds. Jacob, too, immediately went toward the well on arriving at Haran (Genesis 29: 1-14). Moses did the same thing when he fled to Midian (Exodus 2:15-21). Water is an incredibly important commodity in arid regions. (We read of the water theft by the servants of Abimelech in chapter 21.) Therefore it is a primary place of congregating. In each case the encounter at the well resulted in a betrothal. The three scenes share a number of features in common. Eliezer trusted the Lord to grant him specific leading. He prayed that Isaac’s future bride would give him and his camels’ water to drink. Interestingly he asked the Lord to grant his prayer for Abraham’s sake not his own. He was truly a loyal servant. This is a fine example for us to follow in our work and careers. When you go to work for someone, work hard and do it as to their direction. Do your work with their best interest in mind. If you work for somebody that is difficult and you do not respect do your work as to the Lord (Ephesians 6: 5-6). To water ten thirsty camels involved much work, for camels guzzle great amounts of water. If they needed to replenish their total capacity they would each drink twenty-five gallons each. This would amount to two hundred fifty gallons in all. He had them kneel down in preparation for receiving their water which is a tradition still followed in the Mid-East.
The result here is not one of chance (mikreh). It is in reality, a deliberate act of God. A fine characteristic of biblical man is his conviction about the role of divine Providence in everyday human affairs. He prays that the proper criteria of a bride to be suitable which he determines might be in accordance with God’s will and be effective. The criteria that the servant establishes are aspects of character not physical appearance. The ideal wife must be hospitable to strangers, kind to animals, and willing to give of herself to others. The difficulty of the prescribed test can be appreciated with the volume of water these camels needed. Each probably needed the entire capacity of twenty-five gallons of water to regain the weight it lost in the course of the long journey. It takes a camel about ten minutes to drink this amount of water. The proper choice of a wife for Isaac is that she must be industrious.
Eliezer Meets Rebecca
Genesis 24: 15-27
15And it came to pass, before he had done speaking, that, behold, Rebekah came out, who was born to Bethuel the son of Milcah, the wife of Nahor, Abraham’s brother, with her pitcher upon her shoulder. 16And the damsel was very fair to look upon, a virgin neither had any man known her. And she went down to the fountain, and filled her pitcher, and came up. 17And the servant ran to meet her, and said, Give me to drink, I pray thee, a little water from thy pitcher. 18And she said, Drink, my lord. And she hasted, and let down her pitcher upon her hand, and gave him drink. 19And when she had done giving him drink, she said, I will draw for thy camels also, until they have done drinking. 20And she hasted, and emptied her pitcher into the trough, and ran again unto the well to draw, and drew for all his camels. 21And the man looked stedfastly on her, holding his peace, to know whether Jehovah had made his journey prosperous or not. 22And it came to pass, as the camels had done drinking, that the man took a golden ring of half a shekel weight, and two bracelets for her hands of ten shekels weight of gold, 23and said, Whose daughter art thou? Tell me, I pray thee. Is there room in thy father’s house for us to lodge in? 24And she said unto him, I am the daughter of Bethuel the son of Milcah, whom she bare unto Nahor. 25She said moreover unto him, We have both straw and provender enough, and room to lodge in. 26And the man bowed his head, and worshipped Jehovah. 27And he said, Blessed be Jehovah, the God of my master Abraham, who hath not forsaken his lovingkindness and his truth toward my master. As for me, Jehovah hath led me in the way to the house of my master’s brethren (ASV 1901).
The servant Eliezer’s prayer is answered almost immediately, completely and in a greater measure than what he asked! Although he knew that this was the region of Nahor’s family he had not specified that in his prayer. The girl who comes to the well is an answer to prayer. She is Rebecca the granddaughter of Nahor. The family of Nahor, which we were given in the 22nd chapter of Genesis, is for us to see the providential nature of this meeting. It is not a chance encounter. God has a plan for all His children if we only look for it, not turn away from Him and resist the clear path He has for us. Further his prayer he did not mention beauty, and she is well endowed with it. But, her chastity, a precious virtue, is unblemished.
Eliezer upon seeing her ran to meet her. Displaying a sense of urgency and seeing the water bottle she was carrying he asked for some water to drink. She responded to the urgency he displayed by going about her business briskly and conscientiously not wasting time gossiping or engaging in other distractions. She got to the task immediately. In order to test her he only asked for water for himself. He did not ask her to provide water for his animals. However, she did offer to water the camels, which is highly generous to say the least. She knew full well the level of effort associated with watering ten camels. It could have been as much as two hundred fifty gallons of water. She got right to the job. Interestingly in the Hebrew here there is only one verb used for speaking. There are eleven different verbs associated with Rebecca’s actions. This is a clear indication that she was industrious. At first Eliezer’s response was to watch until all the camels had been satisfied. He just wanted to be sure that the Lord had led him to the correct girl. She impressed Eliezer so much that he bestowed gifts upon her. He did this even before he asked her name or from which family she came. He was exercising faith in God in response to his prayer. She received a golden ring of half a shekel weight and two bracelets for her hands of ten shekels weight of gold. (The Hebrew text here means it is a nose ring.) These gifts would impress her and her family. One, most women like jewelry and two the specific weights given are an indication of their trading value. Her family would appreciate the gifts and because of their value immediately realize the earnestness with which they were given. This was a serious move on the servant Eliezer’s part. It was designed to move the relationship closer in order to further discussions and family meetings.
Eliezer then offered an inquiry to move the relationship along. He said, “Whose daughter are you? Tell me, I pray you.” Then he said, “Is there room in your father’s house for us to lodge in?” She told him that she was the “daughter of Bethuel who is the son of Milcah whom she bore unto Nahor.” This showed that she was related to Abraham thereby meeting one of the conditions Abraham had given unto Eliezer. She also responded to the question of lodging. She said, “We have both straw and provender enough, and room to lodge in.” To provide provender and shelter for the camels and all the other men is a generous hearted undertaking.
Eliezer responded to these events, ever the man of God in worship and prayer. He immediately worshipped God by bowing his head and then giving thanks. He said, “Blessed be Jehovah, the God of my master Abraham, who has not forsaken his lovingkindness toward my master.” This is again clear recognition of the Abrahamic Covenant being fulfilled. He now realizes that it is God that is in control of this situation. For he says, “As for me, Jehovah hath led me in the way to the house of my master’s brethren.” He recognized God’s providence and the fact that the angel was doing things that were not mentioned and were sight unseen. God’s angel brought the proper woman to the well at just the right time of the right family with the best qualities for a wife for Isaac. The sign requested had been fulfilled and the servant Eliezer recognized God’s total providential control. God picked Rebecca for Isaac.
Rebecca’s Characteristics are:
- Hard working
- Hospitable to strangers
- Kind to animals
- Willing to give of herself to others
- Unblemished character
If we let God choose our spouse we will have a lifetime of marital satisfaction.
Daniel E Woodhead