Coffman Commentaries on the Old and New TestamentGENESIS 24
This whole chapter concerns the procurement of a bride for Isaac and consists of one of the most beautiful narratives ever written. It is nothing short of amazing how little any of the commentaries consulted have to say about this chapter, a fact which we attribute to a failure to observe it as a type of how the Savior himself identifies and receives his Bride, the Church. There are some lessons here regarding God's providence, His continued watchfulness over the covenant people, and the extension of his protectorate over the posterity of Abraham, but the big thing in the chapter is the transfer of the "promise" and all of its attendant blessings to the "seed of promise," Isaac.
The chapter falls naturally into a number of divisions, as follows:
- Abraham Sends a Messenger to Procure Isaac's Bride
And Abraham was old, [and] well stricken in age. And Jehovah had blessed Abraham in all things. And Abraham said unto his servant, the elder of his house, that ruled over all that he had, Put, I pray thee, thy hand under my thigh. And I will make thee swear by Jehovah, the God of heaven and the God of the earth, that thou wilt not take a wife for my son of the daughters of the Canaanites, among whom I dwell. But thou shalt go unto my country, and to my kindred, and take a wife for my son Isaac. And the servant said unto him, Peradventure the woman will not be willing to follow me unto this land. Must I needs bring thy son again unto the land from whence thou camest? And Abraham said unto him, Beware thou that thou bring not my son thither again. Jehovah, the God of heaven, who took me from my father's house, and from the land of my nativity, and who spake unto me, and who sware unto me, saying, Unto thy seed will I give this land. He will send his angel before thee, and thou shalt take a wife for my son from thence. And if the woman be not willing to follow thee, then thou shalt be clear from this my oath. Only thou shalt not bring my son thither again. And the servant put his hand under the thigh of Abraham his master, and sware to him concerning this matter.
The servant here would appear to be not the same as the Eliezer mentioned in Gen. 15:2, as it would seem nearly impossible for that servant to have continued in a state of health and vigor long enough to have enabled him to carry out such a mission as that entrusted to the servant here.
Thy hand under my thigh…
(Genesis 24:2). This is euphemistic for the genital organs,F1 and it was considered the most sacred oath among the Hebrews. The words of Abraham in these nine verses are the last recorded words of Abraham.F2
Note that Isaac did not, in person, go on this mission, and that the primary requirement to be met by the bride was that she should be WILLING to follow the messenger who would lead her to her husband.
AS WITH CHRIST AND HIS BRIDE
Christ does not, in person, and visibly, engage in the search for his Bride; one "sent," the blessed Holy Spirit is the agent charged with the duty of finding, identifying, and leading the Bride to Christ, Unger understood this:
"This unnamed servant furnishes a picture of the Holy Spirit, who takes treasures of the bridegroom to win the Bride, who enriches the Bride with gifts, and brings the Bride to the Bridegroom. Rebekah prefigures the Church, and Isaac typifies Christ."F3
The Servant Devises a Test
And 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. And 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. And 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. Behold, I am standing by the fountain of water. And the daughters of the men of the city are coming out to draw water. 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 showed kindness unto my master.
normally means the land BETWEEN the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers; but some scholars insist that another usage was in view here, and that the two rivers were upper tributaries of the greater rivers. This is of little importance, because, in any case, the servant went to the city of Nahor, according to his instructions.
That God Himself guided the servant here is undeniable. The test which he devised, and regarding which he prayed to God, was extremely appropriate, because it was related fundamentally to the character, attitude, and personality of the woman to be chosen. It was the ONLY test devised.
Let the same be she that thou hast appointed…
This water test would be all that was needed to identify the bride. Of course, it was a strenuous and demanding test. Drawing water for ten camels, especially when the animals are tired and thirsty, borders on the heroic.
THE WATER TEST FOR THE BRIDE OF CHRIST
However people may resent it, there is surely also a water test for the Bride of Christ: "Except a man be born of water and Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God" (John 3:15). As Christ himself stated it, "He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved" (Mark 16:16).
Also, four of the seven great signs of the Gospel of John followed the water motif:
- water was changed to wine;
- the healing at the Pool of Bethesda;
- the healing in the Pool of Siloam; and
- Jesus, walking on the sea.
The Identification Made
And 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. And 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. And the servant ran to meet her, and said, Give me to drink, I pray thee, a little water from thy pitcher. And she said, Drink, my lord. And she hasted, and let down her pitcher upon her hand, and gave him drink. And when she had done giving him drink, she said, I will draw for thy camels also, until they have done drinking. And she hasted, and emptied her pitcher into the trough, and ran again unto the well to draw, and drew for all his camels. And the man looked stedfastly on her, holding his peace, to know whether Jehovah had made his journey prosperous or not. And 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,
The servant had prayed; and God answered his prayer, even while it was upon his lips, "before he had done speaking." The woman before him having fulfilled in its entirety the conditions he had proposed, he at once sealed the choice of Rebekah as the wife of Isaac.
(Genesis 24:22). Although it is not definitely stated here that he gave Rebekah the priceless gifts, it is fully implied by these stated words, and confirmed later on when the cupidity of Laban was apparently aroused by seeing them upon Rebekah's person. The giving of these gifts indicated that the servant recognized the hand of God in the episode and that he received it as the full and complete answer to his prayers. On behalf of Isaac, he chose Rebekah then and there, and her selection, therefore, dates from the moment of her meeting the water test and receiving the golden gifts.
SO IT IS WITH THE BRIDE OF CHRIST
When the believer is baptized "into Christ," he is then and there endowed with full status as a saved and redeemed person, receiving the forgiveness of all previous sins, the special earnest of the Holy Spirit, and an "inheritance among the saints of light."
As in the case of Rebekah, however, there are further conditions yet to be met before the saved shall take up residence with their Saviour eternally. Intimations of these will appear in the next section of this narrative.
The Servant Acknowledges God's Providence
and said, Whose daughter art thou? Tell me, I pray thee. Is there room in thy father's house for us to lodge in? And she said unto him, I am the daughter of Bethuel the son of Milcah, whom she bare unto Nahor. She said moreover unto him, We have both straw and provender enough, and room to lodge in. And the man bowed his head, and worshipped Jehovah. And 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.
The matter of the election of Rebekah was already determined. The servant already knew that God had selected Rebekah, but as yet he did not know what part of Abraham's kindred was represented by Rebekah, hence the question.
His bursting into prayer of gratitude and thanksgiving even while Rebekah confronted him contained repeated references to "Abraham," the magic name in all that part of the world, and about whom Rebekah, no doubt, had frequently heard. She would not have failed to mention this as soon as she reported the interview to the family.
The Servant with the Bride's Family
And the damsel ran, and told her mother's house according to these words. And Rebekah had a brother, and his name was Laban: and Laban ran out unto the man, unto the fountain. And it came to pass, when he saw the ring, and the bracelets upon his sister's hands, and when he heard the words of Rebekah his sister, saying, Thus spake the man unto me. That he came unto the man. And, behold, he was standing by the camels at the fountain. And he said, Come in, thou blessed of Jehovah. Wherefore standest thou without? For I have prepared the house, and room for the camels. And the man came into the house, and he ungirded the camels. And he gave straw and provender for the camels, and water to wash his feet and the feet of the men that were with him.
The damsel ran and told her mother's house…
This expression regarding her mother's house was normally used only when the father was dead, and that Bethuel was indeed dead is probably the case here. Scholars are divided over it, because Bethuel spoke up (Genesis 24:50), and said, The thing proceedeth from Jehovah. Several ingenious explanations have been proposed:
- The critics, of course, solve the question by throwing Gen. 24:50 out of the text.F4
- Aalders proposed that "mother's house" here actually means "grandmother's house," and that the household was that of Milcah.F5 This view would mean that Bethuel, Rebekah's father, was still living in the ancestral home. However, this seems unreasonable, because Laban, in such a case, would not have had charge of everything.
- Still another view is that the Bethuel mentioned in Gen. 24:50 was a younger brother of Laban, the father Bethuel being indeed dead. This view seems the most plausible. It is somewhat confirmed by the statement of Josephus that, "Rebekah told him (the servant) that, `They call me Rebekah; my father was Bethuel, but he is dead'."F6 Some scholars prattle endlessly about how undependable Josephus is, but this writer has frequently found him far more believable than the wild guesses of some of his detractors.
- Yet another "explanation" would leave Bethuel still alive but "non compos mentis"!
When he saw the ring, and the bracelets…
Many have pointed out what they suppose to be evidence here of cupidity and avarice of Laban; but they may be reading too much into it.
These verses detail only the welcome and reception accorded the servant by the household of Laban; but the narrative gets down to business at once.
And there was set food before him to eat. But he said, I will not eat, until I have told mine errand. And he said, Speak on. And he said, I am Abraham's servant. And Jehovah hath blessed my master greatly. And he is become great. And he hath given him flocks and herds, and silver and gold, and men-servants and maid-servants, and camels and asses. And Sarah my master's wife bare a son to my master when she was old. And unto him hath he given all that he hath. And my master made me swear, saying, Thou shalt not take a wife for my son of the daughters of the Canaanites, in whose land I dwell. But thou shalt go unto my father's house, and to my kindred, and take a wife for my son. And I said unto my master, Peradventure the woman will not follow me. And he said unto me, Jehovah, before whom I walk, will send his angel with thee, and prosper thy way. And thou shalt take a wife for my son of my kindred, and of my father's house. Then shalt thou be clear from my oath, when thou comest to my kindred. And if they give her not to thee, thou shalt be clear from my oath. And I came this day unto the fountain, and said, O Jehovah, the God of my master Abraham, if now thou do prosper my way which I go. Behold, I am standing by the fountain of water. And let it come to pass, that the maiden that cometh forth to draw, to whom I shall say, Give me, I pray thee, a little water from thy pitcher to drink. And she shall say to me, Both drink thou, and I will also draw for thy camels. Let the same be the woman whom Jehovah hath appointed for my master's son. And before I had done speaking in my heart, behold, Rebekah came forth with her pitcher on her shoulder. And she went down unto the fountain, and drew. And I said unto her, Let me drink, I pray thee. And she made haste, and let down her pitcher from her shoulder, and said, Drink, and I will give thy camels drink also. So I drank, and she made the camels drink also. 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 ring upon her nose, and the bracelets upon her hands. And I bowed my head, and worshipped Jehovah, and blessed Jehovah, 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. And now if ye will deal kindly and truly with my master, tell me. And if not, tell me. That I may turn to the right hand, or to the left.
The servant would not sit down to eat until he had made known his mission and the significance of it. This whole long paragraph is a recapitulation of the events and conversations, including even the prayer, verbatim, of all that was previously related in the chapter. He clearly understood that Jehovah's hand was in all that had taken place, and he boldly demanded a decision of Rebekah and of the family. This is preliminary to what came next.
Then Laban and Bethuel answered and said, The thing proceedeth from Jehovah. We cannot speak unto thee bad or good. Behold, Rebekah is before thee, take her, and go, and let her be thy master's son's wife, as Jehovah hath spoken. And it came to pass, that, when Abraham's servant heard their words, he bowed himself down to the earth unto Jehovah. 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. And they did eat and drink, he and the men that were with him, and tarried all night. And they rose up in the morning, and he said, Send me away unto my master. 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. And he said unto them, Hinder me not, seeing Jehovah hath prospered my way. Send me away that I may go to my master. And they said, We will call the damsel, and inquire at her mouth. And they called Rebekah, and said unto her, Wilt thou go with this man? And she said, I will go.
The Servant Enriches the Bride's Family
The servant bestowed rich gifts upon Laban and upon Rebekah's mother, but he insisted that an IMMEDIATE departure to the country of Isaac was imperative.
Note the sacrifices that Rebekah made:
- She did not plead for time to make up her mind.
- She would say goodbye to her home and relatives, with the near certainty that she would never see them again.
- She believed the messenger completely, an incredible act of faith.
- She made the decision, saying, "I will go."
- She followed the messenger to meet her bridegroom.
- She was already the bride-elect, but her actual union with Isaac would not occur until many days had passed, and that final "evening" arrived.
- Then, in the twilight, with her veil upon her, she went forth to meet the bridegroom!
SO IT IS WITH THE BRIDE OF CHRIST
Many of the bride's "relatives" are endowed and enriched because of the Church of Christ. Even worldly and sinful communities are blessed by the presence and activity of Christians. Countless church-related institutions are supported effectively because of their connection with Christianity.
Christians, who are, in fact, "The Bride of Christ," must say "goodbye" to home, to loved ones, to all they had previously loved in order to follow Christ. They must, like Rebekah, believe the testimony of the "Messenger," which is the Holy Spirit, specifically, the Bible, which is the testimony of the "Messenger." They must make the courageous decision, without hesitation or delay. To procrastinate is to lose everything. Like Rebekah, they do not find themselves united finally with Christ, until many days have passed, and at last there arrives that final "evening" when they pass through the veil to be with the Lord. Also, they must never leave off following the "Messenger." By such means alone shall they achieve the union with the Bridegroom.
Verses 59, 60
And they sent away Rebekah their sister, and her nurse, and Abraham's servant, and his men. And they blessed Rebekah, and said unto her, Our sister, be thou [the mother] of thousands of ten thousands, and let thy seed possess the gate of those that hate them.
And her nurse…
This person was named Deborah (Genesis 35:8). Possess the gate of ... etc. These words were spoken by God himself to Abraham upon the occasion of the sacrifice of Isaac in Gen. 22, and their use here by Laban and his brother would indicate that some contact between the two families had been resumed after Abraham learned about them (Gen. 22:20ff).
The only other person in view, besides Laban, in this chapter who could also have been Rebekah's brother was Bethuel, giving inferential support to our understanding Bethuel to have been not her father, who was dead, but another brother. Their sister is not appropriate as a reference to a relationship between Rebekah, and Laban and Rebekah's mother.
And Rebekah arose, and her damsels, and they rode upon the camels, and followed the man. And the servant took Rebekah, and went his way. And Isaac came from the way of Beer-lahai-roi. For he dwelt in the land of the South. And Isaac went out to meditate in the field at the eventide. And he lifted up his eyes, and saw, and, behold, there were camels coming. And Rebekah lifted up her eyes, and when she saw Isaac, she alighted from the camel. And she said unto the servant, What man is this that walketh in the field to meet us? And the servant said, It is my master. And she took her veil, and covered herself. And the servant told Isaac all the things that he had done. 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.
The Servant Brings the Bride to the Bridegroom
This priceless narrative is concluded by the bringing together of the bride and bridegroom by the messenger, but there are additional beautiful and instructive developments. The bridegroom goes forth to meet the bride. It is eventide; she dismounts as their meeting approaches, and he joyfully and lovingly receives her.
Rebekeh. and her damsels ..…
(Genesis 24:61) indicates that the household from which Rebekah came was one of wealth. Her dowry included her nurse and an unspecified number of other servants, besides, possibly gifts and treasures not mentioned.
THE MESSENGER SHALL BRING CHRIST'S BRIDE TO HIM
Just as Rebekah followed the messenger to the final union with her bridegroom, so Christians shall follow the teachings of the Messenger (The Holy Spirit) until they are at last forever united in Christ. As in the case of Rebekah, it shall not come at once, but at "eventide."
And Christ shall go forth to meet the Bride, even as did Isaac. "We shall be caught up to meet the Lord in the air, and so shall we ever be with the Lord" (1 Thessalonians 4:17).
This marvelous event, like that recorded in Gen. 22 (the sacrifice of Isaac), was a designed historical occurrence, brought about by the God of heaven and earth for the purpose of witnessing and prefiguring magnificent spiritual realities which would take place historically in the reign of the Messiah, i.e., in the current dispensation of the grace of God. In this vital respect, these events (Gen. 22 and Gen. 24) are similar to another event prominent in the life of Jonah. Once this overwhelming truth is recognized, it removes forever any notion that "editors," "redactors," or other meddlers with the sacred text had anything whatever to do with it. The details of these tremendously significant historical events did not fall into place, or receive their present form through any human source whatever. If such had been the case, they would never have fit the great spiritual realities they were to typify so perfectly as they do. When one reads here in the O.T. the pattern images of "the things pertaining to the kingdom of God," it reassures us beyond every shadow of doubt of the integrity and truthfulness of all that is written. Amen!
Regarding the ages of the principals in this inspired narrative, Isaac was forty, Abraham one hundred and forty; and Sarah was dead, having been buried some three years prior to Isaac's taking Rebekah for his wife. Thus, the tandem events of the sacrifice of Isaac (Gen. 22), the death and burial of Sarah in Machpelah (Gen. 23), and the marriage of Isaac and Rebekah appear as closely connected chronologically, all three events happening in a single decade.
Footnotes for Genesis 24
1: Alan Richardson, Twentieth Century Bible Commentary (New York: Harper and Brothers, 1932), p. 114.
2: Meredith G. Kline, The New Bible Commentary, Revised (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1970), p. 100.
3: Merrill F. Unger, Unger's Commentary on the Old Testament (Chicago: Moody Press, 1981), p. 73.
4: Arthur S. Peake, A Commentary on the Bible (London: T. C. and E. C. Jack, 1824), p. 155.
5: G. Ch. Aalders, Genesis II (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House: 1981), p. 66.
6: Flavius Josephus, Life and Works of, translated by William Whiston (New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston), p. 51.