Commentary on Genesis 24

Last updated: August 22, 2009

English Translation (ESV)

1Now Abraham was old, well advanced in years. And the LORD had blessed Abraham in all things. 2And Abraham said to his servant, the oldest of his household, who had charge of all that he had, “Put your hand under my thigh, 3that I may make you swear by the LORD, the God of heaven and God of the earth, that you will not take a wife for my son from the daughters of the Canaanites, among whom I dwell, 4but will go to my country and to my kindred, and take a wife for my son Isaac.” 5The servant said to him, “Perhaps the woman may not be willing to follow me to this land. Must I then take your son back to the land from which you came?” 6Abraham said to him, “See to it that you do not take my son back there. 7The LORD, the God of heaven, who took me from my father’s house and from the land of my kindred, and who spoke to me and swore to me, ‘To your offspring I will give this land,’ he will send his angel before you, and you shall take a wife for my son from there. 8But if the woman is not willing to follow you, then you will be free from this oath of mine; only you must not take my son back there.” 9So the servant put his hand under the thigh of Abraham his master and swore to him concerning this matter.

10Then the servant took ten of his master’s camels and departed, taking all sorts of choice gifts from his master; and he arose and went to Mesopotamia to the city of Nahor. 11And he made the camels kneel down outside the city by the well of water at the time of evening, the time when women go out to draw water. 12And he said, “O LORD, God of my master Abraham, please grant me success today and show steadfast love to my master Abraham. 13Behold, I am standing by the spring of water, and the daughters of the men of the city are coming out to draw water. 14Let the young woman to whom I shall say, ‘Please let down your jar that I may drink,’ and who shall say, ‘Drink, and I will water your camels’—let her be the one whom you have appointed for your servant Isaac. By this I shall know that you have shown steadfast love to my master.”

15Before he had finished speaking, behold, Rebekah, who was born to Bethuel the son of Milcah, the wife of Nahor, Abraham’s brother, came out with her water jar on her shoulder. 16The young woman was very attractive in appearance, a maiden whom no man had known. She went down to the spring and filled her jar and came up. 17Then the servant ran to meet her and said, “Please give me a little water to drink from your jar.” 18She said, “Drink, my lord.” And she quickly let down her jar upon her hand and gave him a drink. 19When she had finished giving him a drink, she said, “I will draw water for your camels also, until they have finished drinking.” 20So she quickly emptied her jar into the trough and ran again to the well to draw water, and she drew for all his camels. 21The man gazed at her in silence to learn whether the LORD had prospered his journey or not.

22When the camels had finished drinking, the man took a gold ring weighing a half shekel, and two bracelets for her arms weighing ten gold shekels, 23and said, “Please tell me whose daughter you are. Is there room in your father’s house for us to spend the night?” 24She said to him, “I am the daughter of Bethuel the son of Milcah, whom she bore to Nahor.” 25She added, “We have plenty of both straw and fodder, and room to spend the night.” 26The man bowed his head and worshiped the LORD 27and said, “Blessed be the LORD, the God of my master Abraham, who has not forsaken his steadfast love and his faithfulness toward my master. As for me, the LORD has led me in the way to the house of my master’s kinsmen.” 28Then the young woman ran and told her mother’s household about these things.

29Rebekah had a brother whose name was Laban. Laban ran out toward the man, to the spring. 30As soon as he saw the ring and the bracelets on his sister’s arms, and heard the words of Rebekah his sister, “Thus the man spoke to me,” he went to the man. And behold, he was standing by the camels at the spring. 31He said, “Come in, O blessed of the LORD. Why do you stand outside? For I have prepared the house and a place for the camels.” 32So the man came to the house and unharnessed the camels, and gave straw and fodder to the camels, and there was water to wash his feet and the feet of the men who were with him. 33Then food was set before him to eat. But he said, “I will not eat until I have said what I have to say.” He said, “Speak on.”

34So he said, “I am Abraham’s servant. 35The LORD has greatly blessed my master, and he has become great. He has given him flocks and herds, silver and gold, male servants and female servants, camels and donkeys. 36And Sarah my master’s wife bore a son to my master when she was old, and to him he has given all that he has. 37My master made me swear, saying, ‘You shall not take a wife for my son from the daughters of the Canaanites, in whose land I dwell, 38but you shall go to my father’s house and to my clan and take a wife for my son.’ 39I said to my master, ‘Perhaps the woman will not follow me.’ 40But he said to me, ‘The LORD, before whom I have walked, will send his angel with you and prosper your way. You shall take a wife for my son from my clan and from my father’s house. 41Then you will be free from my oath, when you come to my clan. And if they will not give her to you, you will be free from my oath.’

42“I came today to the spring and said, ‘O LORD, the God of my master Abraham, if now you are prospering the way that I go, 43behold, I am standing by the spring of water. Let the virgin who comes out to draw water, to whom I shall say, “Please give me a little water from your jar to drink,” 44and who will say to me, “Drink, and I will draw for your camels also,” let her be the woman whom the LORD has appointed for my master’s son.’

45“Before I had finished speaking in my heart, behold, Rebekah came out with her water jar on her shoulder, and she went down to the spring and drew water. I said to her, ‘Please let me drink.’ 46She quickly let down her jar from her shoulder and said, ‘Drink, and I will give your camels drink also.’ So I drank, and she gave the camels drink also. 47Then I asked her, ‘Whose daughter are you?’ She said, ‘The daughter of Bethuel, Nahor’s son, whom Milcah bore to him.’ So I put the ring on her nose and the bracelets on her arms. 48Then I bowed my head and worshiped the LORD and blessed the LORD, the God of my master Abraham, who had led me by the right way to take the daughter of my master’s kinsman for his son. 49Now then, if you are going to show steadfast love and faithfulness to my master, tell me; and if not, tell me, that I may turn to the right hand or to the left.”

50Then Laban and Bethuel answered and said, “The thing has come from the LORD; we cannot speak to you bad or good. 51Behold, Rebekah is before you; take her and go, and let her be the wife of your master’s son, as the LORD has spoken.”

52When Abraham’s servant heard their words, he bowed himself to the earth before the LORD. 53And the servant brought out jewelry of silver and of gold, and garments, and gave them to Rebekah. He also gave to her brother and to her mother costly ornaments. 54And he and the men who were with him ate and drank, and they spent the night there. When they arose in the morning, he said, “Send me away to my master.” 55Her brother and her mother said, “Let the young woman remain with us a while, at least ten days; after that she may go.” 56But he said to them, “Do not delay me, since the LORD has prospered my way. Send me away that I may go to my master.” 57They said, “Let us call the young woman and ask her.” 58And they called Rebekah and said to her, “Will you go with this man?” She said, “I will go.” 59So they sent away Rebekah their sister and her nurse, and Abraham’s servant and his men. 60And they blessed Rebekah and said to her,

“Our sister, may you become

thousands of ten thousands,

and may your offspring possess

the gate of those who hate him!”

61Then Rebekah and her young women arose and rode on the camels and followed the man. Thus the servant took Rebekah and went his way.

62Now Isaac had returned from Beer-lahai-roi and was dwelling in the Negeb. 63And Isaac went out to meditate in the field toward evening. And he lifted up his eyes and saw, and behold, there were camels coming. 64And Rebekah lifted up her eyes, and when she saw Isaac, she dismounted from the camel 65and said to the servant, “Who is that man, walking in the field to meet us?” The servant said, “It is my master.” So she took her veil and covered herself. 66And the servant told Isaac all the things that he had done. 67Then Isaac brought her into the tent of Sarah his mother and took Rebekah, and she became his wife, and he loved her. So Isaac was comforted after his mother’s death.

Notes

1 Now Abraham was old, well advanced in years. And the LORD had blessed Abraham in all things.

In the Bible, the phrase “old, well advanced in years” often prefaces the last words or deeds of a great man (Joshua 13:1; 23:1; 1 Kings 1:1). The prospect of divine blessing (12:2) has become a reality.

2-4 And Abraham said to his servant, the oldest of his household, who had charge of all that he had, “Put your hand under my thigh, that I may make you swear by the LORD, the God of heaven and God of the earth, that you will not take a wife for my son from the daughters of the Canaanites, among whom I dwell, but will go to my country and to my kindred, and take a wife for my son Isaac.”

By putting his hand under Abraham’s thigh, the servant was touching his genitals and thus giving the oath a special solemnity. In the ancient Orient, solemn oaths could be taken holding some sacred object in one’s hand, as it is still customary to take an oath on the Bible before giving evidence in court. Since the OT particularly associates God with life (see the symbolism of the sacrificial law) and Abraham had been circumcised as a mark of the covenant, placing his hand under Abraham’s thigh made an intimate association with some fundamental religious ideas. An oath by the seat of procreation is particularly apt in this instance, when it concerns the finding of a wife for Isaac.1

Isaac is to inherit the promised land so he must not marry from among those destined to disinherit the land.2

6 Abraham said to him, “See to it that you do not take my son back there.

Isaac must not go back to Mesopotamia and thereby disinherit himself from the promised land.

10 Then the servant took ten of his master’s camels and departed, taking all sorts of choice gifts from his master; and he arose and went to Mesopotamia to the city of Nahor.

Mesopotamia” is Aram-Naharaim, the region near the Habor and Euphrates rivers.3 The “city of Nahor” may refer to a city named Nahor or simply to the city that Nahor lived in.4 The journey would have taken at least a month.5

11 And he made the camels kneel down outside the city by the well of water at the time of evening, the time when women go out to draw water.

It was natural for a newly arrived stranger to head for the public wells. He could replenish his water supplies and at the same time cull much valuable information about the town and make useful contacts, for the well served as a meeting place for the townsfolk and shepherds. Jacob, too, gravitated at once toward the well on arriving at Haran in 29:2, and Moses did the same thing when he fled to Midian in Exodus 2:15. In each case the encounter at the well eventuated in a betrothal. The three scenes share a number of features in common.6

14 Let the young woman to whom I shall say, ‘Please let down your jar that I may drink,’ and who shall say, ‘Drink, and I will water your camels’—let her be the one whom you have appointed for your servant Isaac. By this I shall know that you have shown steadfast love to my master.”

A camel that has gone a few days without water can drink as much as twenty-five gallons. Ancient jars used for drawing water usually held no more than three gallons. In other words, this offer involves perhaps from eighty to a hundred drawings from the well. Such an unbelievable proposal would indicate that God is working to override human nature in specified ways. In choosing this mechanism, the servant is not attempting to identify certain qualities in the girl. He intentionally selects an extreme alternative that is not just unlikely but totally outside the realm of possibility in order for there to be no doubt that God is controlling the situation. If deity provides the answer, he can altar normal behavior and override natural instinct in order to communicate his answer.7

16 The young woman was very attractive in appearance, a maiden whom no man had known. She went down to the spring and filled her jar and came up.

The description of Rebekah makes her sound like an ideal bride. The wording of the second sentence implies there were a number of steps down to the well.8 This makes Rebekah’s offer to water the camels even more impressive.

17 Then the servant ran to meet her and said, “Please give me a little water to drink from your jar.”

Please give me a little water to drink from your jar” is less demanding than “Please let down your jar that I may drink” (v 14).9 In order to test Rebekah, he does not ask for water for his animals.

18 She said, “Drink, my lord.” And she quickly let down her jar upon her hand and gave him a drink.

Rebekah’s response is more forthcoming than the servant had prayed for (v 14).

19 When she had finished giving him a drink, she said, “I will draw water for your camels also, until they have finished drinking.”

The servant had prayed that she would offer to water his camels (v 14) but she goes so far as to offer to draw water until the camels have finished drinking.

22-23 When the camels had finished drinking, the man took a gold ring weighing a half shekel, and two bracelets for her arms weighing ten gold shekels, and said, “Please tell me whose daughter you are. Is there room in your father’s house for us to spend the night?”

The servant must make sure that Rebekah is related to Abraham.

24 She said to him, “I am the daughter of Bethuel the son of Milcah, whom she bore to Nahor.”

Rebekah answers the servant precisely. Abraham had told his servant to find a wife from among his clan (“kindred,” v 4) but the servant has found a woman from his own extended family.

25 She added, “We have plenty of both straw and fodder, and room to spend the night.”

This description of her household implies that her family is wealthy.10

29 Rebekah had a brother whose name was Laban. Laban ran out toward the man, to the spring.

Laban’s identity as Rebekah’s brother is important to both this story and the subsequent events in Jacob’s life (27:43).

30 As soon as he saw the ring and the bracelets on his sister’s arms, and heard the words of Rebekah his sister, “Thus the man spoke to me,” he went to the man. And behold, he was standing by the camels at the spring.

Laban’s eagerness may be due, in part, to his greed (cf. 29:25-27; 30:27-36; 31:2, 6-8, 28-29, 38-42).

31 He said, “Come in, O blessed of the LORD. Why do you stand outside? For I have prepared the house and a place for the camels.”

Since Laban did not know the identity of the servant, the phrase “O blessed of the LORD” was merely a polite greeting to a rich man (richness being a sign of divine blessing). Laban’s words are truer than he realizes.

33 Then food was set before him to eat. But he said, “I will not eat until I have said what I have to say.” He said, “Speak on.”

The servant, even after a long journey, puts fulfilling his duty to Abraham before his own hunger. The function of the ensuing long speech is to persuade Rebekah’s family to give her in marriage to Isaac.

34 So he said, “I am Abraham’s servant.

The mention of Abraham opens the way for a serious hearing of the servant’s request.

35 The LORD has greatly blessed my master, and he has become great. He has given him flocks and herds, silver and gold, male servants and female servants, camels and donkeys.

The servant’s earlier gifts to Rebekah make this statement believable.

36 And Sarah my master’s wife bore a son to my master when she was old, and to him he has given all that he has.

The servant anticipates Abraham giving Isaac his possessions in 25:5.

37-38 My master made me swear, saying, ‘You shall not take a wife for my son from the daughters of the Canaanites, in whose land I dwell, but you shall go to my father’s house and to my clan and take a wife for my son.’

The servant downplays Abraham’s insistence that he not find a wife among the Canaanites. Unlike Abraham, the servant goes so far as to say that he was commanded to go to Abraham’s “father’s house.” The familial relationship may have made Rebekah’s family less resistant to giving her away.

39 I said to my master, ‘Perhaps the woman will not follow me.’

The servant plays down the potential reluctance of the woman. In v 5 he asked what he should do if the woman was not willing to go with him. In v 41 he shifts the onus for the woman not following him onto the family (“they will not give her”).

49 Now then, if you are going to show steadfast love and faithfulness to my master, tell me; and if not, tell me, that I may turn to the right hand or to the left.”

The servant phrases his request in such a way as to deter non-compliance.

50 Then Laban and Bethuel answered and said, “The thing has come from the LORD; we cannot speak to you bad or good.

It is surprising to see Bethuel mentioned here since Laban and Rebekah’s mother are portrayed as the key negotiators.

55 Her brother and her mother said, “Let the young woman remain with us a while, at least ten days; after that she may go.”

The brother and mother literally ask that Rebekah stay for “days or ten.” The exact meaning of the phrase is debated.11

58 And they called Rebekah and said to her, “Will you go with this man?” She said, “I will go.”

Rebekah’s willingness to “go” away from her family is similar to Abraham’s willingness in 12:1, 4.

59 So they sent away Rebekah their sister and her nurse, and Abraham’s servant and his men.

The nurse would have looked after Rebekah since childhood.12 She is called Deborah in 35:8.

60 And they blessed Rebekah and said to her, “Our sister, may you become thousands of ten thousands, and may your offspring possess the gate of those who hate him!”

Both “blessed” (barak) and “ten thousands” (rebaba) are plays on the name Rebekah (ribqa).13 The promises of offspring will be fulfilled through Rebekah.

62 Now Isaac had returned from Beer-lahai-roi and was dwelling in the Negeb.

Where is Abraham? Some commentators suggest that Abraham has died during the servant’s journey. This suggestion contradicts the chronology of 25:7, 20. Kenneth A. Matthews states that “the omission of the senior patriarch has a literary function, demonstrating the passage to the next generation.”14 No mention of Abraham’s death is made in verse 67, where Sarah’s death is noted.

63 And Isaac went out to meditate in the field toward evening. And he lifted up his eyes and saw, and behold, there were camels coming.

The Hebrew behind “to meditate” has an uncertain meaning. The ESV follows the consensus of the ancient versions.

64-65 And Rebekah lifted up her eyes, and when she saw Isaac, she dismounted from the camel and said to the servant, “Who is that man, walking in the field to meet us?” The servant said, “It is my master.” So she took her veil and covered herself.

The incident of Sarah in Egypt, as described in 12:14, shows that Israelite women were not normally veiled. Tamar put on a veil only to disguise herself before Judah (38:14). In the Middle Assyrian law the veil is a mark of distinction and the prerogative of a free woman, but this is exceptional in the Near East, where wives generally went about unveiled. There is evidence, however, that the veiling of the bride was part of the marriage ceremony. In Akkadian the bride on her wedding day is called kallatu kutumtu, “the veiled bride.” Pussumtu, “the veiled one,” is another term for kallatu, “bride.” The Middle Assyrian laws make the raising of a concubine to the status of a wife contingent upon her being veiled in the presence of the court. In light of all this, Rebekah’s veiling herself has both symbolic and socio-legal significance. It is an unspoken signal to Isaac that she is his bride.15

Bibliography

Hamilton, Victor P. The Book of Genesis, Chapters 18-50. The New International Commentary on the Old Testament 1B. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1995.

Mathews, Kenneth A. Genesis 11:27-50:26. The New American Commentary Volume 1B. Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2005.

Sarna, Nahum M. JPS Torah Commentary: Genesis. 1st ed. Jewish Publication Society of America, 1989.

Walton, John H. Genesis. The NIV Application Commentary. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2001.

Wenham, Gordon J. Genesis 16-50. Word Biblical Commentary 2. Thomas Nelson, 1994.

1Wenham, Genesis 16-50, 141.

2Hamilton, The Book of Genesis, Chapters 18-50, 140.

3Ibid., 144.

4Ibid., 145.

5Ibid.

6Sarna, JPS Torah Commentary: Genesis, 164.

7Walton, Genesis, 530.

8Wenham, Genesis 16-50, 144.

9Ibid.

10Ibid., 145.

11Ibid., 150.

12Ibid.

13Ibid., 151.

14Mathews, Genesis 11:27-50:26, 348.

15Sarna, JPS Torah Commentary: Genesis, 170.

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