Genesis (Part 99)

Welcome back to my study/review of Genesis. If you missed the previous parts of this study, you can find them HERE.

Genesis: 24:29-41

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

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

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In this set of verses, we meet Laban, the brother of Rebekah. Laban, and not her father, handles the negotiation of the marriage with Abraham’s servant. Abraham’s servant tells Laban why he has arrived and this includes the specific instructions given to him by Abraham.

Laban = לָבָן Lâbân, law-bawn’; the same as H3836; Laban, a Mesopotamian; also a place in the Desert:—Laban.; לָבָן lâbân, law-bawn’; or (Genesis 49:12) לָבֵן lâbên; from H3835; white:—white.

ran = רוּץ rûwts, roots; a primitive root; to run (for whatever reason, especially to rush):—break down, divide speedily, footman, guard, bring hastily, (make) run (away, through), post.

From The Pulpit Commentaries:

Genesis 24:29

And Rebekah had a brother, and his name was Laban. “White,” whose character has been considerably traduced, the Biblical narrative not representing him as “a monster of moral depravity,” but rather as actuated by generous imputes and hospitable dispositions (Kalisch). And Laban ran out unto the man, unto the well. That Laban, and not Bethuel, should have the prominence in all the subsequent transactions concerning Rebekah has been explained by the supposition that Bethuel was now dead (Josephus), but vide Genesis 24:50; that he was altogether an insignificant character (Lange, Wordsworth); that firstborn sons enjoyed during their father’s lifetime a portion of his authority, and even on important occasions represented him (Kalisch); that in those times it was usual for brothers to take a special interest in sisters’ marriages—cf. Genesis 34:13Judges 21:222 Samuel 13:22 (Rosenmüller, Michaelis).

Ellicott’s Bible Commentary suggests that perhaps Rebekah’s mother sent for Laban. As we recall from the prior section of verses, Rebekah ran for Milcah’s tent after being greeted by Abraham’s servant.

(29) Laban ran out unto the man.—Not until he had seen Rebekah, as narrated in the next verse—this being a brief summary, followed by a more detailed account. Milcah had probably sent and summoned him to her tent, where his sister showed him her presents, and told him what had happened. He then hurried out to offer due hospitality to the generous stranger.

After being updated about what has transpired, Laban goes to speak with Abraham’s servant. From The Pulpit Commentaries:

Genesis 24:31

And he said, Come in, thou blessed of the Lord. בְּרוּךְ יהֹוָה (cf. Genesis 26:29Numbers 24:9); the usual form being לַיַהוָֹה (vide Genesis 14:19Ruth 2:201 Samuel 15:13). Though Laban was an idolater (Genesis 31:30), it seems more satisfactory to regard him as belonging to a family in which the worship of Jehovah had originated, and by which it was still retained (Murphy, Wordsworth), than to suppose that he first learnt the name Jehovah from the servant’s address (Keil, Lange, Hengstenberg). Wherefore standest thou without? (as if his not accepting Rebekah’s invitation were almost a reflection on, the hospitality of the house of Abraham’s kinsmen) for (literally, arid, in expectation of thine arrival) I have prepared the house,—or, put the house in order, by clearing it from things in confusion (cf. Leviticus 14:36)—and room (i.e. place) for the camels.

The Lord = יְהֹוָה Yᵉhôvâh, yeh-ho-vaw’; from H1961; (the) self-Existent or Eternal; Jeho-vah, Jewish national name of God:—Jehovah, the Lord. Compare H3050H3069.

As the Commentary note points out, it seems likely from the text that Laban is at least familiar with the God of Abraham even if we know that Laban is himself an idolater. Either he has heard of the religion of his kinsman Abraham or the worship originated within their family with some portion of that faith still familiar if no longer in practice.

Ellicott’s Commentary speculates about the gods worshipped by Laban:

(31) Come in, thou blessed of the Lord.—This hospitality was in the East almost a matter of course, though Laban’s earnestness may have been increased by the sight of his sister’s golden ornaments. More remarkable is it that Laban addresses the servant as “blessed of Jehovah;” for we learn in Joshua 24:2 that the monotheism of Nahor and his family was by no means pure. Still, neither were they idolaters, and the “other gods” whom they served were probably teraphim, as certainly were the gods of Laban mentioned in Genesis 31:30. Even to the last these household gods seem to have retained a hold upon the affections of the nation (Hosea 3:4); and probably most uneducated minds, even when their religion is in the main. true, have nevertheless a tendency to add on to it some superstitions, especially in the way of fashioning for themselves some lower mediator.

Perhaps you have never heard the word “teraphim” before. If not, then I’ll attempt to provide some explanation. There is not a consensus about what teraphim even are. Some of the potential interpretations are extremely dark. From Wiki:

Teraphim (Hebrew: תרף‎ teraph; plural: Hebrew: תרפים‎ teraphim) is a Hebrew word from the Bible, found only in the plural, of uncertain etymology.[1] Despite being plural, Teraphim may refer to singular objects, using the Hebrew plural of excellence.[2] The word Teraphim is explained in classical rabbinical literature as meaning disgraceful things[3] (dismissed by modern etymologists), and in many English translations of the Bible it is translated as idols, or household god(s) although its exact meaning is more specific than this, but unknown precisely.

Josephus mentions that there was a custom of carrying housegods on journeys to foreign lands,[9] and it is thus possible that the use of teraphim continued in popular culture well into the Hellenic era and possibly beyond.[3]Plastered skull cultic object recovered from Jericho.

According to Targum Pseudo-JonathanTeraphim were made from the heads of slaughtered first born male adult humans, shaved, salted, spiced, with a golden plate placed under the tongue, and magic words engraved upon the plate; it was believed that the Teraphim, mounted on the wall, would talk to people.[3] Similar explanations are cited in the writings of Eleazar of Worms and Tobiah ben Eliezer.[10]

During the excavation of Jericho by Kathleen Kenyon, evidence of the use of human skulls as cult objects was uncovered, lending credence to the rabbinical conjecture.[11] The implied size and the fact that Michal could pretend that one was David, has led to the rabbinical conjecture that they were heads, possibly mummified human heads

Casper Labuschagne claims that it comes via metathesis from the root פתר, “to interpret”.[12] Karel Van der Toorn argues that they were ancestor figurines rather than household deities, and that the “current interpretation of the teraphim as household deities suffers from a onesided use of Mesopotamian material.”[13]

That Micah, who worshipped Yahweh, used the Teraphim as an idol, and that Laban regarded the Teraphim as representing his gods, is thought to indicate that they were evidently images of Yahweh.[3] It is considered possible that they originated as a fetish, possibly initially representative of ancestors, but gradually becoming oracular.[3]

Benno Landsberger and later Harry Hoffner derive the word from Hittite tarpiš, “the evil daemon”.

“The heads of slaughtered first born male adult humans, shaved, salted, spiced, with a golden plate placed under the tongue, and magic words engraved upon the plate.”

If *that* is what teraphim are, and those are in the background of this scene… let me reiterate again. Yikes.

Scary teraphim or not, Laban is hospitable. We see more of that in verses 32 and 33 from The Pulpit Commentary notes:

Genesis 24:32

And the man came into the house: and he (i.e. Laban) ungirded his (literally, the) camels, and gave straw—cut up by threshing for fodder (cf. Job 21:18Isaiah 11:7Isaiah 65:25)—and provender for the camels, and water to wash his feet (cf. Genesis 18:4Genesis 19:2), and the men’s feet that were with him—the first intimation that any one accompanied the messenger, though that assistants were necessary is obvious from the narrative.

Genesis 24:33

And there was set—appositus est (Vulgate); i.e. if the first word be taken, as in the Keri, as the hophal of שׂוּם; but if the Kethib be preferred, then וַיַּישֶׂם is the fur. Kal of יָשַׂם, signifying, “and he set;” παρέθηκεν (LXX.)—meat before him to eat (the crowning act of an Oriental reception): but he said, I will not eat, until I have told mine errand. Oriental politeness deferred the interrogation of a guest till after he had supped (‘Odyss.’ 3.69); but Abraham’s servant hastened to communicate the nature of his message before partaking of the offered hospitality—an instance of self-forgetful zeal of which Christ was the highest example. And he (i.e. Laban) said, Speak on.

As part of the hospitality, Laban arranges for Abraham’s servant and the servant of the men with him to wash their feet. HERE is an article from JewishEncyclopedia about washing feet within the culture.

Since the Israelites, like all other Oriental peoples, wore sandals instead of shoes, and as they usually went barefoot in the house, frequent washing of the feet was a necessity. Hence among the Israelites it was the first duty of the host to give his guest water for the washing of his feet (Gen. xviii. 4, xix. 2, xxiv. 32, xliii. 24; Judges xix. 21); to omit this was a sign of marked unfriendliness. It was also customary to wash the feet before meals and before going to bed (comp. Cant. v. 3); to abstain for a long time from washing them was a sign of deep mourning (II Sam. xix. 24).

Abraham’s servant – before eating – requests to relay the message from Abraham. Ellicott explains further regarding the social nuances of hospitality and guest rite:

(33) I will not eat, until I have told mine errand.—Two points in Oriental manners are here brought into view: the first, that hospitality, so necessary in a country where there are no inns, was, and still is, a religion to the Bedouin; the second, that consequently he will concede anything rather than have his hospitality refused. Aware of this feeling, Abraham’s servant will not partake of Laban’s bread and salt until he has told his request. After he had become Laban’s guest, Laban would have been free to do as he liked; but he must now grant what is asked, or the stranger would decline to enter his dwelling.

Mr. Fraser (Historical Description of Afghanistan Genesis 11:0 p. 424: Edinburgh, 1834) and Ferrier (L’Af ghanistan, Genesis 11:0, p. 119: ed. 1842) mention a remarkable custom connected with Afghan hospitality which admirably illustrates the behaviour of Abraham’s servant. It is called menawâti, from two words signifying I am come in. Any one who has a favour to ask goes to the tent or house of the person from whom he expects it, but refuses to sit on his carpet or partake of his food until he has granted the required boon. And custom makes it a point of honour to concede it, if it be in the power of the person thus appealed to.

From The Pulpit Commentaries:

Availing himself of the privilege thus accorded, the faithful ambassador recounted the story of his master’s prosperity, and of the birth of Isaac when Sarah his mother was old (literally, after her old age); of the oath which he had taken to seek a wife for his master’s son among his master’s kindred, and of the singularly providential manner in which he had been led to the discovery of the chosen bride. 

In verse 38, Abraham’s servant uses a word translated as kindred:

kindred = מִשְׁפָּחָה mishpâchâh, mish-paw-khaw’; from H8192 (compare H8198); a family, i.e. circle of relatives; figuratively, a class (of persons), a species (of animals) or sort (of things); by extension a tribe or people:—family, kind(-red).

Ellicott makes note of this word choice:

(38) Kindred.—Not the word so translated in Genesis 24:4Genesis 24:7, but that rendered family in Genesis 8:19, marg., 10:5, 12:3, &c. Strictly, it signifies a subdivision of a tribe (Numbers 1:18).

The word translated kindred, in Genesis 24:4 is:

מוֹלֶדֶת môwledeth, mo-leh’-deth; from H3205; nativity (plural birth-place); by implication, lineage, native country; also offspring, family:—begotten, born, issue, kindred, native(-ity).

While Abraham instructs his servant to procure a wife from his native country (kindred) the servant relays to Laban that he was instructed to procure a wife from his family (kindred.)

There is an article at TheTorah.com concerning this distinction, by Prof. Rabbi Marty Lockshin.

The most elaborate twice-told tale of the Hebrew Bible is the story of the finding of Rebekah in Parashat Chaye Sarah. In this story, Abraham sends his servant back to Mesopotamia to find a wife for his son, Isaac. The biblical narrator tells the story, and later we hear the story again from the servant’s point of view once he sits down with the potential bride’s family.

The general outline of the story does not change between the telling and the retelling. Nevertheless, Nechama Leibowitz (1905-1997), the masterful Israeli Bible teacher, succeeded in identifying twenty significant differences between the original narration and the retelling.[3]

Arguably, the most significant is that in the original narration, Abraham instructs his servant to go to ארצי ומולדתי, generally understood as “my land, my native land.” But when the servant retells the story, he says that Abraham had told him to go אל בית אבי ולמשפחתי, to “my father’s house, to my family.”

Why the difference? Shadal (Samuel David Luzzatto, 1800-1865, Italy) expanding upon Abarbanel’s interpretation,[4] suggests that the servant consciously adjusted the facts to make his proposed shiddukh more persuasive.

Further proof [that the servant changed the story when he reported to the young woman’s family] can be adduced from the test[5] that Eliezer created. Had he been sworn to find someone from Abraham’s family, he should have asked right away: “Where does Nahor’s clan live?” He should not have been waiting for just any woman to come and draw water. Certainly, there were many women in that town and only a minority of them would have been from Nahor’s family. (Gen 24:4)

There is more at the link. The consensus as to why the servant makes the change centers on the belief that he likely believed it would be more difficult for his proposal to be rejected by family.

In the next section of verses, we will hear the reply of Laban and Bethuel.

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