“And Rebekah lifted her eyes and saw Isaac; she fell from her camel and said to the servant, ‘Who is this man walking in the field to summon us?’ And the servant said, ‘He is my lord.’ Thus she took her veil and covered herself. So the servant recounted to Isaac all of the things he had done. So Isaac led her to the tent of Sarah, his mother, and he took Rebekah to be his wife and he loved her. In this way Isaac was consoled after his mother.”
The journey has come to an end. Rebekah has returned with Eliezer; Isaac has returned from Beer-Lachay-Roiy; and Abraham surely is satisfied with the providence of God. This ending has all the marks of one of the great romance stories — the two, whom God has matched together, finally meet, though at first seeing each other from a distance. You can almost envision Rachael dismounting and covering herself as would have been the custom for those so engaged to marry, and Isaac running in their direction.
Now I do need to make a note of the language that is used to speak of Rebekah dismounting her camel. One might have expected a different term than the one that is used here. For example, when Achsah dismounted her donkey (Judges 1:14), the author uses the term jnx (tsanach), which means “to dismount.” Yet, in our instance, Moses chooses the much more generic term lpn (naphal), which literally means “to fall down.” Sometimes the term is used of someone accidentally falling, sometimes it is used of someone falling in battle or collapsing, and sometimes it refers to someone falling prostrate on the ground, but typically it refers to something done either in great passion or with some degree of awkwardness (or clumsiness). Though I am not suggesting a comic reading of the text where Rebekah falls flat on her face, I would suggest that the word choice is there to help relieve some of the tension of the account and remind us that Rebekah is just as perfectly human as each one of the rest of us — an awkward dismount from a camel after a long trip or otherwise.
Whether clumsy or graceful, Isaac takes Rebekah to be his wife, allowing her to take possession of his mother’s tent, something that would have been a proper privilege and thus Isaac finds comfort. Isaac was 37 years old when his mother died (Genesis 23:1 — noting that she was 90 when she gave birth, Genesis 17:17). While we don’t know the exact amount of time between the death of Sarah and the sending of Eliezer to find Rebekah nor how long the actual journey took, the combined span of time was a total of 3 years as Isaac is 40 years old at the point where he marries (Genesis 25:20), which means that at this point in history, Abraham is 140 years of age. He will live another 35 years before he passes away, even taking another wife (see Genesis 25), but the covenantal work to which Abraham has been called is complete and we are getting ready to see the baton be passed from Abraham to his son, Isaac. One generation following after the other.
As a father, one of the greatest blessings is to see your children walking in faith after you — and your grandchildren and further generations as well. Isaac is far from perfect (and even makes some of the errors of his father), but he is a man of faith and a man who knows the grace and covenant faithfulness of God. He has had a long journey under his father’s guidance and now is ready to raise sons of his own. It should be noted though that children rising up and calling their parents blessed is not something that happens without a great deal of work in the raising of our children. It seems that many Christians today have adopted the idea that their kids will automatically grow up to be Christians and then sit back and let their kids follow whatever course they happen to follow. Yet scripture is filled with reminders — teach these things to your children and to your children’s children. If we do not show our children the way we are going, why are we surprised when they do not follow? Do not simply take them to church, but live the Christian walk as you live before them and teach them why every element of your Christian faith is true, reasonable, and essential to life not only in this world but thereafter as well.
“And it came to pass that Isaac had returned from going to Beer-Lachay-Roiy — he had been dwelling in the land of Negeb. So Isaac went out to walk contemplatively in the field toward the turn of sunset. And he lifted up his eyes and looked — Behold! — camels were coming!”
Beer-Lachay-Roiy, or Beer-lahai-roi as it is often transliterated, is a spot with a freshwater spring, located to the south and in the wilderness, and is the place to which Hagar fled from Sarai when Sarai had become jealous. It is also the place where God revealed himself to Hagar and promised her that because her child was from Abraham, God would bless and strengthen the child. God also promised Hagar (for better or worse, depending on one’s perspective) that Ishmael and his line would be a warlike people, always in strife with their neighbors — a promise that sums up the Arab lands to this day! Even so, Isaac had been sojourning in that area, likely to water some of his herds by the spring, and now had returned home.
And thus, once home, Isaac goes out for a walk one evening. There is a great deal of discussion as to what it is that the scriptures are telling us that Isaac is doing. The Hebrew term used here is jwc (sawach) and is never used again in the Hebrew Bible. While it is not unusual to have a unique word pop up periodically, when one finds such a word, one needs to do a little detective work to determine the meaning of that word. Sometimes context clearly is helpful, sometimes related or cognate words are helpful, and sometimes ancient traditions are helpful.
What we know from the context is that Isaac is going out to the field around sunset to do something…this word expresses that something. He is also going out alone. We also know that Isaac knows the mission that Abraham has sent Eliezer on and one might expect, with some room for unforeseen events, that Abraham and Isaac have some sense of when it is that Eliezer should be returning if everything went well. Thus, it is not unreasonable that Isaac, having returned at the right time, makes an evening trip through the fields to scan the horizon. Remember that Eliezer and his companions were traveling on camels cross-country, so likely they would be traveling by day and not into the night as one could not see well enough to locate ditches or other hazards. Assuming these cultural and contextual clues are correct, then it seems reasonable to suggest that Isaac is out for a walk.
But if that is all he is doing, why do many of our English translations render this word as “meditate”? While the term jwc (sawach) does only show up once in the Biblical text, it should be noted that in ancient Hebrew, the yod (y) and the waw were originally the same letter. Thus, if you alter the respective central letter of jwc (sawach) to make jyc (sayach), we do have a word that is used throughout the Biblical text, which means to ponder, reflect (meditate), or talk about something deeply. Thus, when you put this clue alongside of the clues mentioned above, it seems to make sense that he is out for more than a stroll, but it is a time where he is captured by deep thought, perhaps reflection on what God had planned for his future, or prayer. While meditate is a perfectly legitimate translation of the term, in English it carries a lot of extra connotations that probably are entirely alien to the situation at hand — so perhaps “contemplative walk” would be the most accurate rendering of the text that we can offer.
Interesting is the time of the day. Obviously, this time frame would have made sense for all of the right practical reasons. The work of the day was done, this would be the last hour of the day when travelers would be making distance, and activity would have quieted down some. At the same time, I think that there is something about a sunset that lends itself to deep reflection and contemplation. It is God’s own form of “mood-lighting.”
While I have no intention of building a theology around a sunset, I think that it is worth noting that God does fill his creation with things that are designed to point our hearts and minds toward Himself. From the vastness of the ocean to the multitude of stars in the sky. From the beauty of the sunset to the inspiration of a new sunrise — God has made these things to point our hearts and minds toward him. While I do not disparage science and scientific explanations as to the “how” of these natural phenomena, I remind you that science can never answer the question of “why” or “to what end” these events take place. Yet God answers us and says that they proclaim His glory and invite us to join in that proclamation. Sadly we often do not do so. Sadly, we get lost in the explanation of how and the joy of why is lost.
A final note on contemplation — take time to do so. God has made us to rest from our labors one day in seven — and part of the purpose of that rest is to contemplate and take satisfaction in those good things that God has allowed you to do in the week prior to your rest. Just as God took a step back from his work of creation and proclaimed it to be “very good,” so we are called to step back from ours and do the same. Sadly, though, we have gotten so caught up in the tyranny of the pursuit of wealth and “stuff” that we often forget the things we need the most — rest, reflection, and being focused on the God who you serve. May we all follow Isaac’s example, and take the time for that meditative walk at sunset. Behold! God may show you some things during that time that you had failed to see before.
“So Rebekah and her young women got up and they mounted camels and followed after the man. In this way the servant took Rebekah and went on.”
And thus Laban and the rest of the family are left behind … for the moment at least … and Rebekah travels on with Eliezer to meet Isaac and Abraham. One must commend Rebekah as well as Eliezer for their faith, but in different ways. For Eliezer, his faith is demonstrated in his willingness to follow his master; for Rebekah, faith is demonstrated in her willingness to follow the instructions of Abraham never having seen him or having known his character. She trusts in his authority and follows; Eliezer knows Abraham’s authority and follows. Jesus said blessed are those who believe without having to see (John 20:29). Eliezer has seen Abraham and has witnessed the mighty works that God has done through this man; Rebekah has not, yet she still follows. Eliezer reasonably knows what the outcome will be when he returns home to Abraham; Rebekah does not.
Miracles and magnificent works really are overrated. While they can perhaps confirm faith, they are impotent in producing faith and the faith that Jesus commends is a faith that does not rely on such works. How often, when we are called upon by God to follow his leading in big or even in small ways, we hesitate. We desire confirmation while God desires obedience. We are often more like the child that always asks his parents, “why,” rather than the child who follows in obedience. Loved ones, obedience is the call to which God has called us; may we follow into the unknown — even sight unseen! — along the pathway that God has laid before us and see what God will do through our lives.
“And they blessed Rebekah, and said to her, ‘Our sister, you shall become like countless thousands and may your seed inhabit the gates of those who hate him.’”
“I will surely bless you and your seed will surely be great as the stars of the heavens and as the sand which is on the lip of the sea. And your seed will take possession of the gates of his enemies.”
“Now the promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed — it does not say, ‘To the seeds…’ as if to many, but as if to one. ‘And to your seed,’ which is Christ.”
It is hard not to make a connection between this blessing and to the Messianic promises that are to come. It could be legitimately pointed out that the term oår‰z (zera), or “seed,” is a collective singular (a singular term that refers to a group or a set of like things or persons) and thus nothing of great significance should be made of the language here. At the same time, given the covenantal significance of this event, a second look should be taken at what is being pronounced for even Nahor’s line understands that Abraham and his line has been singled out by God for a special purpose and, just as God did through the lips of Balaam, God sometimes speaks great truths through the lips even of non-believers.
It will be through Rebekah that the promised seed of Abraham will continue to descend that will ultimately culminate in the Great and true Seed: Jesus Christ. Note too, the similarity of this language to the language that God speaks to Abraham in Genesis 22. In part, of course, this will be fulfilled as the nation of Israel grows and then conquers Canaan. In full, this promise will find its completion in Jesus Christ — for it is in the church that True Israel will find its fullness, that the children of Abraham will be numbered like the sands of the sea, and that the gates of hell will find their demise (Matthew 16:18). Surely this promise, whether the family of Rebekah recognized it in full or not, is a promise that speaks of the coming of the Messiah through the line of Rebekah and Isaac.
How wonderful is the scope and plan of God. How puny our plans quickly become when placed alongside of God’s design. Isn’t if fascinating that we get so caught up in the moment — our successes and failures — our plans — our particular church’s rises and falls in attendance or fiscal numbers when God’s sovereign plan covers the scope of millennia. And why do we worry and fret? Why do we lose sleep over things that are meaningless in the scope of eternity? Friends, God is sovereign and he is the ruler of all of his creation. And he has a plan and a design for his church and kingdom of which he has graciously made us a part. Rejoice! Revel in that truth! And when faced with difficulties and opposition, trust in the wisdom and grace of God. Though men are not; God is good … and he is good all of the time — even in the midst of our trials and difficulties. What is it that God would lead you into doing and what is holding you back?
“And the servant brought out items of silver and items of gold, also garments and gave them to Rebekah. Precious gifts he also gave to her brother and to her mother.”
For some reason, the ESV, the NIV, and the KJV translations have chosen to render the word yIlÚVk (keliy) as “jewels” or “jewelry.” The normal meaning of the word has little to do with jewelry one would wear but applies more generally to items, vessels, or implements that would be ornamented with silver or gold. These items might have consisted of anything from eating plates and utensils to a ceremonial knife or other things that might be so decorated. It is assumed by the translation committees of the aforementioned versions that because these gifts are being given to a woman along with clothing, so that they must be forms of jewelry. Yet such is an inference not necessitated by the text. Being as these are gifts given as a form of promise to Rebekah that she will be well provided for, to envision these things as ornate household items might be more appropriate.
What I find more interesting is that the things given to Rebekah are given with detail, but that given to her mother and brother are just generally noted as “precious gifts.” Clearly Eliezer has been well stocked with wealth on this journey and the gifts are meant to be understood as abundant treasures offered to her and to her family, but what is given to Rebekah is far more important than what is given to her family, noting once again that it is to Rebekah’s mother and brother gifts are given, not to her father, again implying that Laban is functioning more or less as the head of the household by this point in time.
You know it is interesting how we sometimes live with respect to earthly treasures. On one level, most of us in the western world work very hard to provide “good things” to our families but at the same time feel guilty about having good things when we realize the condition in which most of the world lives. We live a bit like Jekyll and Hyde in this way. Abraham was remarkably wealthy by ancient and modern standards. He had gold and silver in abundance, a secure place to lie down at night and rest, servants, animals, food, etc… And Abraham was not afraid to use his wealth to achieve his goals nor was he embarrassed about the way God had blessed him — his wealth was God’s doing, something that Abraham never lost sight of.
Scripture does not tell us that money is the root of all evils, but that the love of money is the root of all sorts of evils (1 Timothy 6:10). The question then is not so much the money, but where your heart is — or where your treasure is, for there your heart will be (Matthew 6:19-21). Ultimately, money is a tool. It is a tool we can use to help others and glorify God or it is a tool which we can use to harm ourselves. The question is how we use this tool today. Do we sit and dream of money so that we can live in the lap of luxury satisfying our desires? If so, one needs to put that money out of ones heart and hand. But do we recognize money as a tool that God can use in our lives not just to provide for our own needs, but to minister to others? If it is the latter, it will do good and not harm.
It has been estimated that if Americans would cut back on their Christmas purchasing by one-half and then use those funds to provide for others, we could provide clean drinking water for the entire planet all year long as well as put a Bible into the hands of every human being who does not have one. If every Christian church in America would have have a family who would adopt two children out of foster care (or two families each adopting one child…) then there would be no more foster children in our country — all would have Christian families. Similarly, if every Christian church in America would take in and provide for two homeless people, homelessness in America would be eradicated. But what do we do with our resources?
Jesus did not say that everyone needed to go and give all they had to the poor, that counsel was reserved for a man whose heart was bound by his wealth (Luke 18:18-30). At the same time, it is clear that some will be uncomfortable on how they have stewarded the blessings that God has given to them. May we be stewards that multiply the kingdom of God rather than multiplying our own comforts. The author of Hebrews writes:
“May the manner of your life not be marked by greed and be content with what you have, for he has spoken: ‘I will never leave you behind nor will I ever forsake you.’”
“And so, when the servant of Abraham heard their words he bowed down in worship to Yahweh.”
Take notice at how many times this servant praises or worships God for his provision and for his grace. That is a fabulous thing, but is it not convicting to us? How often we neglect to praise God for his good works in our lives or we wait until a more “convenient” time. Here, the servant of Abraham bows before the Lord right there in the presence of everyone around. He does not worry about their reaction, their impression of him, or whether they will join him or not. He doesn’t even invite them to join in anything formal, but he simply bows before the Lord and worships.
How different the world would look were Christians to behave in this way, neither afraid or intimidated to kneel even in a crowded place and give God thanks for both big and small things. How different this world would look were Christians to pray with others on the spot, not afraid of the responses of onlookers, rather than to vaguely commit to praying for another and then going on their way without a second thought. How interesting it is that Eliezer, who is a relatively minor figure in these accounts, can teach us so much about living out the Christian life — he has clearly learned much by watching Abraham live out his faith. I wonder how much people learn about the Christian walk by watching us live out our own faith.
Whether we like it or not, the world is watching our lives and behavior and sadly what the world has often seen from Christians is that our lives look no different than any other person who walks the streets. In fact, I think that one of the the things that is attracting a younger generation to false religions like Islam and Mormonism is that they see a difference in the way these people live. Sad. Friends, may we too be intentional about living out our faith publicly as well as privately and may Christ be glorified in our witness, even that witness that takes place in the things that we do even apart from the words we use.
“And Laban and Bethuel answered saying, ‘This matter has come from Yahweh; we are not able to speak evil or good to you. Behold Rebekah is in your presence; take up and go, let her be the wife of your lord’s son just as Yahweh has spoken.’”
What is curious to me is just how prominent a role that Laban begins playing here. Perhaps it is simply because Bethuel is older and Laban has taken a more dominant role in managing his father’s household, but most likely it is because he is being introduced to prepare us for his much more significant (and sinister) role later on in his nephew, Jacob’s, life. Either way, Laban and Bethuel recognize that God’s hand is at work here in this interaction and do not choose to interfere. An interesting side note is that in Laban and Bethuel’s response, the “her” that is included in many of our English translations is implied. Literally they say: “Take and Go.” This is not meant to be rude so much as it is meant to communicate that the discussion is closed and that they are giving permission for the girl to go with Eliezer. Essentially they are saying, “Get on with it and go.”
One of the things that we often struggle with is not knowing what God would have us do, but following through on it. Jesus himself had people coming to him trying to be followers on their own terms — “Let me first bury my father…” (Matthew 8:21-22). Our Lord doesn’t work based on our conditions, he expects us to follow on his conditions. We tend toward pursuing self; God demands we put ourselves to death and follow Him. What an amazing contrast that happens to be.
So which will it be? Pursue God or man? Seek the praise of God or the praise of men? Surely the glory of the former dwarfs the latter, yet how often we seek the praise of the ant in the presence of the King of Kings. May we recognize what is true and pursue Him.
All to Jesus, I surrender;
All to Him I freely give;
I will ever love and trust Him,
In His presence daily live.
-Judson Van DeVenter
“Now, if it is in you to show steadfast love and truth to my lord, declare it to me; if not, declare it to me so that I may turn to the right or to the left.”
It is interesting to me how Eliezer couches his request for Rebekah to return with him. He does not say here, “Are you willing to wed your daughter to Isaac, son of Abraham?” What he says is, “Are you willing to be faithful to Abraham.” The first would simply be a yes or no question based on the wishes and preferences of the family. This way of asking bases the question on the relationship that Bethuel has with his Uncle Abraham. If Bethuel rejects this requests, it is no longer a matter of preference, but it is a rejection of the relationship that is had between these two men. Indeed, it is a rejecting of Abraham’s family line and right to find a wife for his son within his extended covenant family.
The idiom of the right hand and the left hand is often one that expresses a lack of knowing where else one should turn even to find what is true. God has led Eliezer here and Eliezer is basing his actions upon the principle that what God directs is true and right. If he is rejected, then where can he go? Can one hope to honor God by looking for a spouse in a place other than where God has led him? Abraham and Sarah know the difficulties that come as a result of trying to circumvent God’s design, for that is how Ishmael came into the world. How often we pursue our own ends rather than submitting to God’s and found we have embarked on that which will bring disappointment and failure?
Loved ones, it is God’s plan and design we are to follow. Indeed, discerning that design is the trick at times, though the principle that Eliezer is following is sound. Ask God to open the doors through which you are to go and wait on him to do just that in His timing. God is about to work in Rebekah’s life in a visible and magnificent way; he does that in our lives as well. May we be faithful to that call.
“Then I asked her saying, ‘Whose daughter are you?’ And she said, ‘I am the daughter of Bethuel the son of Nahor whom Milkah bore to him.’ So I put the ring on her nose and the bracelets on her hands and I bowed and worshipped Yahweh. I repeatedly blessed Yahweh the God of my lord Abraham who led me in the true path to take a daughter of the brother of my lord for his son.’”
Eliezer’s retelling now comes to a close, but notice what it is that he closes this dialogue with: praise to God. He could have closed his account by saying, “and she brought me to you…” or “and she showed me here to her father’s house…”, but Eliezer closes with the most important thing: “I gave praise to God.” In fact, the verbal form used when it speaks of Eliezer’s “blessing” Yahweh is in the Piel construct, which reflects a repeated action. His words might have been, “Oh thank you, thank you, thank you, oh Lord…”
Loved ones, I also hope that this is your response to the hand of God working in your life — that God is rightly honored for bringing about such good things and for leading you on the true path that leads to his glory. Sadly, our response is not to do so or only to do so as an afterthought. Often we desire the glory for ourselves and do not give honor where honor is due. As my friend and I were discussing just last night, the only good in me is the good that God is doing in me; may He get the credit for he is the agent at work in my life.
“And I said to my lord, ‘What if the woman will not follow after me?’ And he said to me, ‘Yahweh, before whose presence I have been made to walk, shall send his angel with you and he will cause your way to succeed and you shall take a wife for my son from my family, from my father’s house. At that time you will be released from my oath when you have come to my clan. And if they will not give her to you, you are released from my oath.’”
Again, Eliezer continues to rehearse the instructions that he has been given for the family of Rebekah, though this time not quite as verbatim as before. Even so, all of the principle portions are in place and it provides us with an important reminder as to how we too should actively work to remind ourselves of the instructions we have been given by our Lord as we go about life in this world. Instructions such as “Love God with all of your heart, soul, mind, and strength” (Matthew 22:37), “love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 19:19), “Flee from sexual immorality” (1 Corinthians 6:18) and idolatry (1 Corinthians 10:14), “Forgive others” (Matthew 6:14-15), and “Pursue righteousness, love, peace along with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart” (2 Timothy 2:22) to name just a few.
How often, as those claiming to be born again and given salvation as a gift of God’s grace through faith in the sacrifice, death, and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ, we fail to act like it. We often live like spoiled princes, pursuing sin rather than living after the character of our Father and our greater brother, Jesus Christ. We who are indebted to God for everything rarely express that thanks in obedience. We may sing all of the praise songs on Sunday, but on Monday our lives betray that the words were empty to our souls. Often we obey those expectations that are easy; ignore those that are hard, and never strive to grow in Christian maturity and grace.
Loved ones, let the humility and submission of Eliezer be a challenge and a model for your days. Rehearse the commands of God that he would place on your life and strive prayerfully to live them out. We will not be perfect in this life, the Holy Spirit will bring any success we will have, but at the same time, that should never stop up from striving toward the goal of Christlikeness in the strength of the Holy Spirit and under the direction of God’s word. If you attend only to earthly things, that to which you attend will pass away. If you attend to spiritual things first, the earthly things will find their proper place in God’s providential care.
“And my lord made me swear, saying ‘You must not take a wife for my son from the daughters of the Canaanites in whose land I dwell. Instead, to the house of my father you should go and to my family. From them take a wife for my son.”
We have already discussed the importance of a believer not marrying a pagan in the plan and decree of God (see verses 2-4), though it is a principle of which we ought regularly be reminded. This does not mean we cannot do business with or be neighbors to an unbeliever, but it reminds us that for the covenantal union to make any sense whatsoever, both parties in a marriage must be committed to the same God who is forming the union. If both are not committed to Christ, how then can two become one? They would be a divided person at best. Thus Eliezer explains his vow to the family of Rebekah as commanded by his master, Abraham.
Having already discussed being unequally yoked, what is worth noting here is Eliezer’s fidelity to the call. Here he takes great pains to quote Abraham verbatim and not to simply summarize his master’s words. Because Eliezer recognizes that he is a servant and thus an emissary of Abraham, he recognizes that he does not have the liberty to insert his own interpretations here.
Inserting interpretations, of course, is what always gets us in trouble. It was Eve’s error when debating with the Serpent in the Garden and it is regularly our failure when speaking of God’s word with others in the community. We feel like we have the gist of the statement and just choose to summarize it rather than sticking to the literal word itself. When we summarize like this, we typically insert our own preferences into the teaching and we also tend to denude the Word of its sharpness and power.
Of course, unless we hide the word of God in our heart, regularly meditating on it and memorizing it, how can we have fidelity to that word that God has given us? We have often become lazy in our approach to God’s word and in doing so become guilty of making it say what we would prefer for it to say. When we do this, we cease to be a faithful servant, committed to God’s call upon our lives. Friends, mark the example of Eliezer well, for his fidelity to the very words of Abraham should be reflected in our fidelity to the word of our Almighty God.
“Yahweh has blessed my lord very much and he has become great. He has given him sheep and cattle, silver and gold, manservants and maidservants, and camels and donkeys. And Sarah, who is the wife of my lord, has borne a son to my lord after she reached old age. And he has given to him everything that is his.”
What a remarkable introduction Eliezer gives. You can almost imagine him, in his excitement, speaking faster and faster as he explains himself. Even so, it is things like this that help remind us that these people are humans and prone to all of the kinds of goofy things that afflict us all today. And that is good because it helps us connect and identify with these people through whom God has so greatly worked and it reminds us that God can and will work in wonderful ways through us as well — despite our own quirks.
So this servant begins with the blessings of God in the life of his Lord. Notice, though, how the focus here is on earthly blessings, listing them in pairs of like things: animals, wealth, and servants. I think that we can be forgiving and say that it is the excitement, but we should take note that both Eliezer and Abraham understand that these earthly things, while they might make life more comfortable, are not things that can be taken with them into the grave. The covenant faithfulness of God is far more valuable than any amount of herds or cash. Even so, there is no question that God has blessed Abraham with great riches and that Isaac will become the sole heir of this wealth. Rebekah’s family also needs to be assured that their little girl will be provided for in a way similar to or better than she was provided for in her father’s house.
How often we too get caught up in the physical and worldly blessings of God and don’t spend enough time focusing on the eternal blessings of his Covenant, his Salvation, and life eternally in his presence. How often we spend most of our time and energies trying to invest in things that won’t last us, like money and health, and how little effort we spend on things that will serve us well not only on earth but in eternity as well like godliness and truth. Loved ones, take time to evaluate how you spend your day. What percentage of your time is built on building up your soul? What percentage of your time is spent on non-eternal matters? Why not work to repair that deficit.
“He said, ‘Come in, blessed of Yahweh. To what end do you stand outside? I have tidied up the house and a place for the camels.’ And the man went into the house and unharnessed the camels. He gave straw and fodder to the camels and water to wash his feet and the feet of the men who were with him.”
In light of the verses that precede these verses, one needs to ask the motivation behind this family’s generosity. Certainly brother Laban’s character we know and it seems that Laban has taken the role of speaking for the family. His father, being Abraham’s nephew, would likely have been fairly old and perhaps, Laban being the rightful heir, was running the activities of his father’s house at this point. We are not told for sure, but he takes charge of the situation. The needs of Eliezer and his men are met, as well as the needs of their mounts, which means that Laban’s household is certainly not a modest one, and this wealthy visitor is brought in. There seems no question that Laban wants to see what he might get out of this deal. Sadly, that seems to motivate his hospitality.
As Christians, we are commended to show hospitality to others, especially to those believers who are traveling to do the Lord’s work (3 John 5-8). Yet, we too should examine our hearts to discern what our motivation is for being hospitable to those in our midst. Are we hoping for money having done so? Are we hoping that our expenses will be recouped — if we have our expenses recouped as a matter of course, we are offering a lodging service, not generously offering hospitality. Are we seeking the praise of others? Jesus reminds us that if we act well for the purpose of the praise of men, then that is all the praise we will ever receive (Matthew 6:2-4). Surely we cannot hope to earn merit in God’s eyes through hospitality because those things that we have, were given to us by God in the first place and thus are not truly our own. We are simply rightly stewarding God’s possessions when we offer hospitality.
Instead of seeking our own interests, let us set as our motivation for hospitality the glory of God. It is for His praise that we host and it is by His grace that we can gratefully receive the hospitality of others. It is for His glory that we may serve the needs of those whom God places in our midst. When we take our own motivations out of the equation, grace can be offered and received to the praise of our God and King. So long as we place our own desires into the mix, as does Laban, the name of man is only ever lifted up, and that is not hospitality.
“And Rebekah had a brother and his name was Laban. Laban ran to the man which was standing by the spring. Thus it was when he saw the nose-ring and the bracelets over the hands of his sister and when he heard the words of Rebekah his sister saying, “This is what the man said to me,” he went out to the man and behold, he was standing by the camels by the spring.”
The temptation might be to see these two verses as somewhat redundant, the second just giving more detail than the first. Some have even gone as far as to suggest two sources are being combined here by a later editor, but such misses the point of what the author is seeking to do. One must remember that the audience would largely have heard these stories told orally and that this story is meant to be a dramatic one. Here too we are at the climax of the story when Eliezer has finally found and identified Rebekah and we are excitedly waiting to find out what might happen next. In addition, we are being introduced to Laban, who will once again become a major character in the life of God’s chosen people for it is to Laban that Isaac’s son, Jacob, will go to find a wife. So, as the story is told, all of these things are being combined together with narrative style to build tension and to give a taste of what is to come.
Thus, when we read the second verse, we should not see it as redundant but as a dramatic foretaste of the character of Laban. We are told that Laban ran to the man who was standing by the spring, but as Moses is writing this account many years later, he also wants to give us insight as to why Laban is running to meet this man. And the “why” begins with the fact that Laban has seen the wealth with which Rebekah so casually returns. It will not be until Isaac’s son encounters Laban that we see the extent of the man’s greed and conniving ways, but here we are given clear enough indication that money and personal gain is a focal point of his life, hence what some perceive as repetition.
Sadly, Laban is not all too different than many professing Christians. How often people take the mindset of, “what will this do for me?”, rather than “how can I serve you?” How often churches also fall into this trap, focusing on their own personal agendas rather than on the glory of Christ and on His greater kingdom. How often do we find one church helping to pay off the mortgage of another in the community? How often do we find one group within a church saying, “let’s work together to see your goals realized before we see our own goals met.” How often we have agendas and not goals, ideas but no vision? All too often we act more like Laban than like Abraham or even like Eliezer.
It is said that in church leadership what we usually get is managers, people who labor to maintain the status quo, keep people happy and content, and seek to make sure that the financial obligations of the church are met. Yet, leadership is not management. Anyone can manage; few can lead because leadership takes vision and direction and means walking forward and challenging people to follow. Management means keeping expectations consistent where leadership demands that the bar of expectations be raised and then reached for. Management will raise up Labans into authority; Leadership calls for Abrahams. The question is which will it be? Labans lead to churches, segments of churches, and people that are self-serving and who will protect their assets; Abrahams lead to churches and people who walk forward in faith no matter what the cost. Which looks more like the church that Christ has called us to be?
“And it came to pass as the camels completed drinking, the man took an nose-ring of gold, its weight being half-a-shekel, and two bracelets for her hands, their weight being ten gold shekels, and he said, ‘Whose daughter are you, please tell me. Also, in your father’s house is there a place for us to lodge?’”
Having had his request of God confirmed, now Eliezer begins to follow through on his mission. He must confirm that this girl is genuinely from Abraham’s relatives and then he must begin negotiating the marriage price, something similar to a dowry. Essentially Eliezer must demonstrate to her father that Isaac will be able to provide a comfortable life for Rebekah. This begins with some gold trinkets as an initial indication of his wealth.
Some translations render the first item of jewelry simply as a “ring.” Hebrew is vague as to identifying pieces of jewelry and relies largely on context to communicate what kind of ring this is — or more accurately, on what part of the body this ring is to be worn. Scholars seem to be inclined to believe that culturally, this ring would have been worn in the nose (oh my, nope, nose rings are not a new fad, but at one point in time were very much in style!). Anyway, wherever this ring was to be worn — the ear, the nose, the finger… — a gift of a ring weighing about a quarter of an ounce was offered. The second gift was that of bracelets. Again, some render this as “armbands,” but the text states that the jewelry was for her hands, implying they be worn closer to the wrists. The weight of ten shekels (just over 4 ounces) is likely a combined weight of the two bracelets together. Still, this is a good deal of wealth, especially to be handed to a girl that he has just met.
Not only does he set forth to confirm her lineage, but in confidence that this is the woman to which God has led him, he begins making plans to lodge with her family. True, if she is the wrong girl, he would be staying in the wrong house. Yet in faith Eliezer moves forward with his plan. God’s design begins to unfold in this adventure that Eliezer has been on — notice too that he uses the plural (us) when he asks about lodging, reminding us again that he has an entourage with him (protection is essential) and that this group of people is also witnessing the unfolding of God’s plan.
How often it is that we get bogged down in worry when it comes to making decisions in life. The best philosophy is a different one than is typically taught in schools or in self-help seminars. The best philosophy is the Biblical model of taking God at his word that he will lead us. That means, when God opens doors, we should step through those doors for he will make a straight road for us to follow. But it also means that until God is ready to open doors, we should stay put with a clear focus on what God has designed for us where we are and in what we happen to be doing at the time. Our tendency, when doors are closed, is to try and beat them open with our fists or knock them in like the police do when raiding a building. Also, our tendency, when doors are opened wide, is to drag our feet, wondering whether this is really God’s design for us. When we live according to our human tendencies, the paths are rocky and crooked at best. How sad it is that we so often choose the latter rather than the former. Eliezer has chosen to trust and follow in faith recognizing that it is God’s hand that has opened the door and thus he will faithfully go through. May we all commit to doing the same.
“When she had finished giving him water, she said, ‘I will also water your camels until they have finished drinking.’ And she hurried and emptied her pitcher into the watering channel and ran again to the well to draw more — she drew enough for all of his camels. And the man stared at her. And he was reduced to silence wondering if Yahweh had brought success to his path or not.”
Notice how often the words “hurried” and “ran” (as well as their synonyms) show up to describe Rebekah’s activity. There is no question that she is an industrious young woman who is quick to serve others before she serves herself. As we mentioned above, she shows hospitality by offering to water his camels as well as to share water with him and thus fills up the watering trough for the camels to drink, something that would have taken repeated trips with her pitcher to complete.
And the man stares in amazement. The Hebrew word that is used here is quite unusual and its root, hDaDv (shaah) is only found 7 times in the Hebrew Old Testament; in four of those uses, it is translated as “laying desolate” or “destroying” a city or a region and twice it is used to refer to the roaring of waves or thunder. This is the only spot it is translated as “stare” or “gaze” or “watch.” Because Hebrew is a language that has been influenced by a number of sources, it is not that surprising to see a verb being rendered in a variety of ways, but I think that the choice of this particular word in this verse is intentional and designed to show us the stunned and perhaps overwhelmed response of Eliezer, the servant.
You know, as Christians we pray and we pray for God to move and act in our lives, but sometimes I don’t know that we really pray with the expectation that God will move in our lives in a profound way. Eliezer has been praying that God would reveal to him the woman for whom he was sent and he set down for God an identifying sign (that she would give him water and care for his camels). God brought her out, Eliezer thought it might be she by her character, and then when the “sign” was asked for she delivered. God profoundly answered Eliezer’s prayer and I believe that Eliezer is likely overwhelmed by God’s grace and providence here. It is not simply that Eliezer is sitting there in calm silence calculating whether this is the girl, but he is likely shaking like a leaf — like a city that is being leveled by an earthquake or like a man unnerved by the roar of thunder. Here he is witnessing firsthand the magnificence of God with respect to answering prayer and he needs to take a minute or two to collect himself as he watches this girl that God has sent.
Friends, God gives us accounts like this not just so we can know the history of his people, but so that we can be reminded that we serve the very same God who proved himself faithful generation after generation. And loved ones, if he has been faithful to our ancestors in the faith, he will be faithful to us as well. What a mighty God we serve, indeed. Why is it then that we so often pray without the expectation that those prayers will be acted upon. We worry and fret over things and try and work them out to the best of our human design. Loved ones, there is no need to worry for our God has held his people in his hand since the beginning and he is not about to stop now. In addition, while we are commended in scripture to work and to be about the task of laboring for the kingdom, why is it that we settle for what man can do and neglect the awesome reality of what God can and will do. May we pray in faith, but may we also remember that the Christian faith is not a blind faith, but it is a faith based on expectation and the anticipation of what a living God will do in and around our lives.
“The girl had a very good appearance — a virgin which no man had known. She went down to the spring and filled up her pitcher and came back up.”
When we read this passage, it might be our first assumption to suggest that Eliezer was attracted to Rebekah because of her beauty, but remember, being “good of appearance” does not necessarily speak of one’s physical beauty, but can also be applied to the wholesome character and demeanor of the person in question. Peter writes:
You must not be external, elaborately braiding your hair and wearing gold, or wearing the clothes of the world. But let the hidden person of the heart [be your adornment], with the imperishable thing of a gentle and a quiet spirit, which is precious in the face of God. For in this way, the holy women who hoped in God adorned themselves, also being submissive to their own husbands.
(1 Peter 3:3-5)
In the west, we have become so obsessed with the physical that we forget God’s intent that we focus on the spiritual. Physical beauty only passes away; spiritual beauty grows and matures as one goes through life; which is more valuable? Paul says that our physical exercise is of some value, but godliness of life has eternal value (1 Timothy 4:8). Surely what distinguishes Rebekah from the others is not simply that she is an attractive young lady, but that her spiritual attractiveness (we might say, “grace”) also exceeds that of the other young women coming out for water.
Similarly, the language of Rebekah’s virginity stands out to modern readers in the west as being remarkable, yet in Abraham’s culture it would not only be expected, but her virginity would be one more “jewel in her crown” — a thing to be honored and celebrated as a part of her good character. How sad it is that in the western world we have sunk so deep into the morass of immorality that virginity is something that many young girls are embarrassed about rather than celebrating.
Friends, how quick we are to take the statement: “man looks at the outward appearance, but God looks at the heart” (1 Samuel 16:7) as the normative end of our interactions with others. Indeed, we cannot clearly see and read the heart, but does that mean we should not try? May it never be so! Let us strive with one another to look and interaction on the basis of the heart, the character, the integrity, the godliness of a person, not on the basis of their physical beauty. The things of this world are passing away, but the things of God will last forever. Which will you choose to honor in a person’s life?
“‘Behold, I am positioned over the spring of water and the daughters of the men of the city are coming to draw water. May it be that to the girl to whom I say, ‘Please extend to me your pitcher that I might drink’ and she would say, ‘Drink and I will also water your camels.’ Let her be the one appointed to your servant, for Isaac, and through her may I know that you work covenant faithfulness for my lord.’”
Notice the language of appointment being made here. There is a clear expectation on the part of Eliezer that God has orchestrated things from beginning to end and that one of these girls coming out to water will be the one that God has chosen to marry Isaac. He sets the standard as he prays, asking that the one whom God has chosen shall show courtesy toward him, offer him a drink, and water his camels for him. Certainly, the young girl that shows this kind of grace and hospitality will be the one that God has appointed in his covenant faithfulness. And thus, he waits and will soon meet Rebekah — again, an instance where God demonstrates his control, for he sees Rebekah coming out of the city.
How quick we can often be to doubt the faithfulness and grace of God. We doubt and worry and second-guess, but none of these things befits us as children of the living God who loves us. Jesus says that it is the role of the pagan to worry for these things that we need (Matthew 6:32); indeed, the pagans have gods that neither can speak nor hear nor move (Psalm 135:15-17) and thus neither can hear nor answer the prayers of those who serve them. Our God is living and active and not only hears but acts in the life of his loved ones — we need fear nothing.
Worry robs our hair of color, our nights of sleep, and our friendships of depth. We fear committing because we fear that the end might soon be near. Loved ones, fear the Lord and him alone. He is the God over the heavens and the earth and he has chosen to come into a relationship with you. He promises to provide for all of our necessities and he promises to never leave or forsake us…what more do we need? God is even the God who ordained the timing and the manner in which Rebekah comes out to the watering hole for her family — who knows, she might have come down with a cold and been sick that day — and that is the point; when God so appoints, this things will come to pass — and God has appointed (Ephesians 1:11), so why worry?
“So the servant put his hand under the thigh of Abraham his lord and he swore to him on these matters.”
Isn’t it interesting how there seems to be such a different emphasis in the Old and the New Testaments when it comes to swearing an oath. Here we find Abraham requesting his chief servant swear an oath to him regarding the journey that he will go upon looking for the woman we will later know as Rebekah. In fact, God himself commands that his people, if they swear, they shall swear by his name, Yahweh (Deuteronomy 6:13, 10:20). When the command is given about not taking the Lord’s name in vain (Exodus 20:7) it is not implying that God’s people should never use God’s name nor is it implying that we ought never swear by God’s name, but it is saying that we should not do so for vain (empty or thoughtless) purposes. The same command is given in Leviticus applying to all oaths taken (Leviticus 5:4) and clarified later that we are not to swear by God’s name falsely (Leviticus 19:12; Psalm 24:4). In fact, when it comes to God’s wrath in judgment, He puts those who swear falsely in the same category as sorcerers, adulterers, and those who abuse the widow and orphan (Malachi 3:5).
Yet, when we get to the New Testament, we find Jesus speaking these words:
“Again, it was spoken in ancient times, ‘You shall not perjure yourself, but you shall pay out to the lord your oath. But I say to you do not swear at all — neither by heaven for it is the throne of God, nor by the earth for it is the stool for his feet, nor by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great king. Neither should you swear by your head for you do not have the power to make one hair white or black. Instead, let your word be, ‘yes, yes’ and ‘no, no;’ anything more than this is from the evil one.”
So how do we reconcile these two things? Is this just a change in the way that God expects us to do business or is there something else going on here? The answer to these questions seems to be rooted in the context of what Jesus is teaching as well as in the use of the term “lord.”
In New Testament Greek, the term ku/rioß (kurios) or “lord” has both a general and a specific meaning. In terms of the general meaning, it can refer to anyone who is in authority over you — an employer, a master, a leader, etc… It can also be used as a simple term of respect, much like we would use the term “sir” today. Its specific use is essentially the superlative of the idea of lordship and is only used of God. In the Greek translation of the Old Testament, known as the Septuagint or the LXX, the word ku/rioß (kurios) was used to translate both the Hebrew words yˆnOdSa (Adoniy — usually written as “Adonai”) and hwhy (Yahweh). Thus, when the specific use of the term ku/rioß (kurios) is applied to Jesus in the New Testament, we recognize it to be the application of the covenantal name of God to our Lord and Savior.
The practical question, though, is which use of the term ku/rioß (kurios) is Jesus intending in this passage? Typically, translations of the New Testament have seen this as a specific use of the term “Lord” thus have written it with a capital “L.” This is based on the references to the Third Commandment that are found in the Old Testament in terms of not vowing falsely when you use the Lord’s name (see references above). And while that might seem the plain reading of the text at the onset, the statement that Jesus makes is not implying that one is using the Lord’s name as part of the oath, but instead it is toward the lord that one is making said vow. Thus, it seems that it is better to understand this passage as a comment on the Ninth Commandment, not on the Third. In turn, the “lord” in reference, being the one to whom you are making an oath, is a human master or leader.
A reading focused on Jesus’ interpretation of the Ninth Commandment would also be consistent with the rest of this section of the Sermon on the Mount where Jesus addresses the Sixth Commandment (Matthew 5:21-26), the Tenth Commandment (Matthew 5:27-30), the Seventh Commandment (Matthew 5:31-32), and the Eighth Commandment (Matthew 5:38-42) respectively. This covers Jesus’ interpretation of the second half of the Law (Commandments 6-10) if understood in this way. Jesus then teaches that we ought not ever be in a position where we need to take oaths to confirm the truthfulness of our words — in other words, because we build a reputation where our “yes is yes” and our “no is no,” there is no question of a need to swear an oath.
If that is so, then we are still left with a bit of a quandary. If Jesus is teaching us that we should never need to swear, why here is Abraham still demanding the oath from his servant? Surely Abraham knows the character of his chief servant by this point in his life. The easy out is simply to say that Abraham slipped in his faith and demanded something from Eliezer that he ought not have demanded. Yet that answer is a bit of a cop-out based not only on the context of Abraham’s request but also on the various teachings of scripture calling for oaths in God’s name. It is also tempting to draw a line of division between different kinds of oaths. It could be argued, and rightly so, that this oath that Abraham is swearing his servant to is an oath in connection with the covenantal promises of God, not simply a human transaction to which Jesus (and the Ninth Commandment) arguably is speaking. While at the onset, this might seem to be appealing, it creates divisions that seem a bit artificial to the reading of the text.
The better answer seems to be the way in which Jesus is interpreting the Ten Commandments in the Sermon on the Mount. He is deliberately intensifying them not only to show the intention behind the commandment, but also to make sure that none of us walk away from the Ten Commandments feeling as if we have somehow satisfied the command by satisfying the letter of the law. Thus, Jesus states that if you are angry with another person, you are guilty of breaking the law against murder; if you have lusted in your heart, you are guilty of adultery, and thus, if you have taken an oath by anything that is outside of your sphere of control (which, apart from your word is not much), you have broken the commandment about not bearing false witness.
And here we have an answer, I believe, that suits the context of Abraham’s action while also understanding what Jesus is trying to show us in the Sermon on the Mount. Abraham is a man of faith, but he is also a sinner — as we are all. Indeed, we should strive to live a sinless life, but the reality is, we all fall short of the mark in our daily activities and we need to take that principle and set it before us always.
So, then, what ought we do when making a contract with another? Should we take an oath or not? The best answer to that is first, never bear false witness against another so that they want anything more than a “yes” or “no” from you along with a handshake or a signature. Yet, if their conscience is burdened or if they do not know you and desire a greater assurance, said oath may be taken, but do not take the oath on heaven and earth or even on the hairs of your own head. First of all, you neither made them nor can control them. Second of all, there is someone higher and greater than the heavens and the earth — compared with whom the heavens and the earth are rather puny. Indeed, God states (and Jesus does not contradict) that we ought to swear an oath by the name of Yahweh, the God and creator of all things. He is the superlative of superlatives and you belong to him. It is not that your oath will compel Yahweh to complete what you cannot complete, but your oath, taken in holy reverence for the one in whose name you are taking it, ought to compel you to truth and action. May your word be your bond, but if you are compelled to swear an oath, do not do so by anything in creation for the earth and the stars cannot compel you to action; God can and will.
“‘Yet, if this woman does not want to come with you, then you will be blameless according to this oath. Only my son must not return there.’”
One might be tempted to suppose that even Abraham has a little doubt in his mind by making this statement, yet the statement that he is making seems to be more directed to ease the fears of his servant. Were Abraham giving himself a “way out” then a suggestion for a ‘Plan B’ might have been suggested. Instead, Abraham tells his servant, “Go and if she does not return with you, come back empty-handed.” Abraham seems confident that such will not be the case, but as his servant is asking the “what if” question, Abraham provides the answer.
How often we get bogged down in all of the “what-if” questions of life and by being bogged down, we never act or step out in faith. How often we fail to trust God’s faithfulness enough to trust him to do what human planning could never hope to achieve. Abraham knows what it means to walk in faith not knowing what tomorrow will bring and Abraham’s servant has at least witnessed it in his master (remember that this servant is the steward over all of Abraham’s house and is likely Eliezer of Damascus mentioned in Genesis 15:2), but to soothe Eliezer’s worries, Abraham says, “return, but don’t take Isaac there.” Isaac must stay in the promised land.
Loved ones, life is full of chances and risks to which God calls us to step into. Have the confidence to trust God in taking those risks. Be bold and of good courage, the God of Abraham is the same God we worship today and as he was faithful in all of Abraham’s years, so too, he will be faithful to us in ours.
“And the servant said to him, ‘Perhaps the woman will not consent to come with me to this land. Should I surely return with your son to the land from which you came out of?’”
The servant asks a very human question, though it is a question that betrays his lack of understanding of the hand of God in this event. He says, “Hey, what if she doesn’t want to come?” Put the matter in perspective, in her homeland, she has her father, brothers, extended family, a place to live, friends, and realistically a fair degree of security. Why would she leave to marry the son of a wanderer in a strange land? Then again, we might alter the question — why would one want to leave the relative security of home for a foreign land in the first place? This is exactly the same question that one might have posed to Abraham himself many years past, but Abraham was a man obedient to God’s call and his desire is to find a wife for his son who will too be a person faithful to God’s call regardless of how far outside of one’s comfort zone it happens to take them.
The last phrase of this verse is very significant given the context. Literally the servant refers to the land from which Abraham came as the land “which you came out of.” While on the surface, the wording may not seem overly significant, it is a reference to God’s hand of providence bringing him out of the land of his fathers and into a new land that God will give to him. Ur is no longer his homeland per say, but the land that he came out of, a reminder of God’s covenantal promises. Even the servant’s comment about returning with Isaac gives an indication of the significance of such an action, for he uses a repetition of the verb (Shall I return return — commonly rendered, “surely return”), intensifying the statement regarding the action he is proposing to take. The firmness of Abraham’s response is directly related to the language that the servant uses here.
How often, like this servant, we doubt the power of God to bring about his will. When the call is made or the command given, we ask “why” rather than saying, “here I am, send me.” May we be quick to follow the model of Abraham (and soon Rebekah) in terms of following God in faith.