“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?
“The girl ran and she told these things to her mother’s household.”
As simple as this verse is on the surface, it is once again a reminder to us of the humanity of all the people involved in this account. This is no fable; it is history. Yet, how often it is that when we read these ancient narratives, we mythologize them by forgetting that those facing these events and speaking these words were flesh and blood human beings just as you and I are. Rebekah had hopes and dreams just like any other young girl of her age and probably one of those dreams was what it would one day be like when she was wedded. Surely the events surrounding the arrival of Eliezer must have been different than anything that she had fantasized about, but how often that is the case when God works in the life of his people.
It is interesting that the narrative describes her as running to her “mother’s house” and not to her “father’s.” There are only three occasions in the Old Testament where this language is used in this way: here, when Naomi instructs Ruth to return to her mother’s household (Ruth 1:8), and then in the Song of Solomon where the Shepherd Girl sings of her love (Song of Solomon 3:4). In contrast, the phrase “father’s household” or “father’s house” is found in 172 verses in the Old Testament alone. We should be careful not to speculate too much as to the choice of language, but later on in this passage we will find Rebekah’s mother playing a significant role (along with her brother) in negotiations regarding the timing of Rebekah’s departure (see verse 55). Perhaps that is an indication as to the influence of the matriarch in the events that would transpire. We should be reminded as well of the manipulations that Rebekah would later engage in with respect to her own two sons and gaining favor for Jacob over Esau. Such may simply have been the only model that she knew. Again, we must be careful not to speculate too far lest we leave the text and pursue the fancies of our imaginations.
All of the pieces of the puzzle have now been laid out on the table and Eliezer is about to meet the rest of Rebekah’s family, including her brother, Laban, but we get ahead of ourselves. Again, do not lose sight of the human-ness of these people. They are not characters in a story told to thrill children and adults alike, but historical people whose lives are intertwined with God’s redemptive plan…as are our lives. May we never lose sight of that great truth.