Welcome to part eight of the Genesis series! Today we will be looking at chapters 24 to 27, which are main chapters that cover the adult life of Isaac.
Overview: A servant is sent to get a wife for Isaac. He prays for an event to be his sign, which he gets, and so he meets Rebekah and she agrees to go with him to Isaac. They have kind of a love at first sight moment. Rebekah has twins and is given a prophecy about them. One sells his birthright to the other. A famine makes them leave and go back to Abimelech’s territory where they recycle the old lie, but Abimelech knows this family too well and yells at them for it. He comes back around later and they make a covenant together. Then, as Isaac is dying, he gets the blessings mixed between the sons. It ends with Rebekah hating on the first son’s wives, who are locals and insisting the other not marry locals.
This chapter revolves solely around the arrangement of Isaac’s marriage to Rebekah. It begins with Abraham getting a servant to swear an oath that he would go back to Abraham’s people and find Isaac a wife there. The oath is done by putting his hand under Abraham’s thigh. I thought it sounded strange, but I guess there weren’t exactly any Bible’s laying around to put your hand on, so what’s a person to do? Under a thigh, it goes.
The servant does as promised and ends up by a spring in the land of Abraham’s people. He asks God to send him a very specific sign about who he wants Isaac to marry and the request is barely out of his heart before Rebekah appears before him and does exactly as he had requested in the sign. If only things still happened that way. Anyway, she gives him the water she has and patiently gives all his camels water too, while he stands there along with whoever else accompanied him. This seems like looking for subservience or subjugation at first, and the Woman’s Bible offers two opposing opinions on this scene:
Scott says that Eliezer had attendants with him who might have saved Rebekah the labor of drawing water for ten camels, but he would not interfere, as he wished to see whether she possessed the virtues of industry, affability and cheerfulness in being serviceable and hospitable.
The whole narrative shows Rebekah’s personal freedom and dignity. She was alone at some distance from her family. She was not afraid of the strangers, but greeted them with the self-possession of a queen.
This second one goes also includes that such hospitality was the responsibility of the Patriarch’s immediate family, not servants. It recalls the passage back in part six when God visited Abraham and he went about picking the calf himself and Sarah made the cakes. Okay, Abraham didn’t completely prepare it all himself, but he took personal care of it while his guests waited. This is similar to what happens with Rebekah. She offers to water the camels and is prepared to do it all herself, particularly since she was alone and this man, or these men, were the guests. We also note that it is later her brother himself who comes out to greet them and let them know that he has prepared a place for them to stay. Again, personal hospitality. So Rebekah doing all this herself should not be written off as subjugation.
They also immediately presented her with gold and asked for a place to stay. She runs back to “her mother’s household”. I thought this was interesting but I couldn’t find much on why this was her mother’s household and not her father’s. The only explanation appears to be that women had their own spaces back then, separate from their husbands and it was to these spaces that Rebekah went.
It is the brother who comes out next to greet the new guests as stated above. The brother invites them in and the servant shares the story from his side with the family once they are in their home. The servant loads up the questions like a bit of a trap, if you ask me, by presenting it this way:
…show steadfast love and faithfulness to my master…
How do say no to that without starting a family feud? Fortunately, they recognize it as a bit of Divine match-making and acquiesce. Then everyone is given a bunch of gifts. While this could be confused with a dowry or bride price, the word gift is specifically used and many are given to Rebekah herself. My study Bible suggests that this is to substantiate that his master is quite rich. Also, no negotiations were done over a dowry or bride price. He just gives them the gifts the same way he had given Rebekah the other stuff by the spring.
If Rebekah had recognized this as a potential marriage proposal, than she would have already mentioned what she thought about it to her mother when she went into her tents, especially since she had already been given gifts of gold. We don’t quite know yet what Rebekah thinks about all this but before you assume things about what that means for her, remember that Isaac doesn’t even know who will be chosen for him. He just knows that his father sent a servant to go get him a wife. She’s in no less standing than her betrothed.
The men sleep there and get up in the morning and request of the mother and brother that they leave right away with Rebekah and the family asks she stay ten days. When he presses the issue, they agree to ask her. This further debunks the ideas of her status in the household. So they leave with a beautiful blessing from the family. When they get close, there’s a scene that appears a bit like a “love at first sight” scene except that Rebekah is veiled. She actually veils herself after she sees him, so she would not have been veiled around everyone else. It’s also clearly her choice to wear the veil or not. Both have a “lifted up their eyes” moment and Rebekah even asks the servant who that man is. It plays a bit romantically.
The last bit is less so, the chapter ends with that he took her into his mother’s tent and then she became his wife and that he loved her. Love is great and all but, there appears to be no ceremony here whatsoever. I’m not saying a ceremony is 100% necessary with fanfare and all that, but was bedding her all the marriage ritual we have here? No wonder there’s confusion over wives and concubines. It was interesting that the text mentions that he loved her. It’s actually the first mention of a man loving his wife so far. We assume that Abraham loved Sarah because he stayed with her while she was barren and he thought she was so beautiful he would be killed over her all the time, but it never says so.
The last line of the chapter weirds me out because it says:
So Isaac was comforted after his mother’s death.
Did we have to associate his marriage and love for his wife with his mother’s death? Was he inconsolable until then? Nothing is mentioned that way.
This chapter begins with Abraham taking another wife now that Sarah is gone. It outlines more children with the new wife and now concubines and how the inheritances went, gives the age at his death as 175 years old. Isaac and Ishmael are the two sons that bury him and they lay him to rest where Sarah is buried. Perhaps this wish to lay beside her had to do with why he insisted on paying for it back in part seven. The chapter goes on to include the descendants of Ishmael, twelve sons as promised, and that he died at 137, and where they all settled.
Then come the children of Isaac. It says that Isaac prayed because Rebekah was barren but she was apparently not nearly so as Sarah had been because she gets pregnant soon after and with twins no less. Sometimes it just takes a while to get pregnant. The feuding apparently started in utero and Rebekah worries, but the Lord speaks to her. She is the third woman the Lord has spoken to and second to get a promise or prophecy rather than curse. Here it is:
Two nations are in your womb,
and two peoples from within you shall be divided;
the one shall be stronger than the others,
the older shall serve the younger
Esau comes out first and then Jacob is holding his heel. The heel thing is interesting because it is explained that this went into his naming and is a recognized sign of a deceiver. Before the chapter ends we have a scene with a hungry Esau coming in and asking Jacob if he can have some of the food he was preparing (even the Bible has men cooking for themselves!). Esau claims to be starving to death, but he was clearly exaggerating. Wikipedia has the amount of time to starve to death ranging from 8 to 12 weeks and perhaps longer depending on body fat percentage. At this time, Esau is the heir to Isaac, so no one in the entire household gave him food for at least eight weeks? I think not. So they are probably talking like brothers do, instead of the very literal way we like to think of our religious figures. Esau came in hungry and wanted his brother to give him so food, Jacob says he’ll give it up for the birthright. There’s a possibility that Esau doesn’t take him seriously and that’s why he agrees. But we should also notice when he marries two Hittities in the next chapter that he clearly isn’t living up to the family name. This has been a one wife at a time family up until now, but I know that whole thing is getting blown out of the water this generation. Regardless, now Esau “despises his birthright” since he gave it up when he was just hungry and not really starving to death. We aren’t given an explanation of how Jacob got this to stick.
This chapter picks up with a new famine and a new travel to the lands that Abimelech owns. The old lie is brought out about the sister thing with no leg to stand on here. She is not even a half-sister. All wife. Isaac also does this having received promises, and having had children already. Somehow they thought they were going to conceal that they had kids together from the king that already got in trouble for his father’s same lie. You’d think he would have learned while he was laying on the alter to just trust God, but he doesn’t.
Abimelech figures it out when he sees Isaac doing something with his wife. The different versions use different words for this but some are: laughing, petting, and sporting. Whatever it was, it wasn’t something you do with a sister and Abimelech doesn’t sound like he was buying it before. Sounds like he was waiting for a reason to call him on it. They get kicked out, arguments ensue, there are some disputes over wells, but it all gets worked out because Abimelech has respect for their God, even if the family isn’t above reproach all the time.
Here come the infamous blessings. This is where the real deception happens. Notice that Rebekah insists on Jacob doing this. Not only is Jacob her favorite, which parents aren’t supposed to have anyway, but Esau is Isaac’s favorite and she knows it. It could sound crappy that she sets it up this way, but I don’t think she’s all that worried about it. Remember that God has already promised her that it would go this way, so she really only has Isaac to contend with on it. Also remember that Esau has married two Hittites which they are not supposed to do and given away his birthright for some soup. It seems clear to me that he couldn’t be trusted with the promise and everything that comes with it, making the deception seem far less sinister to me.
Of course, Esau is not about to be happy about it. He even threatens to kills his brother for stealing his blessing now too, so Rebekah sends Jacob away to her brother until Esau’s temper cools. But then it appears that Isaac hasn’t quite passed yet because the last words of the chapter are Rebekah hating on the Hittite women that Esau married and ruing the notion that Jacob might marry one to her husband. This sets Isaac up in the next chapter to send Jacob away, but we’ll get to that next time.
So there are my feelings and impressions on the Chs 24-27 of Genesis. Have you read them? What do you think?
*amended for formatting purposes