Welcome back to my study/review of Genesis. If you missed the previous parts of this study, you can find them HERE.
42 “I came today to the spring and said, ‘O Lord, the God of my master Abraham, if now you are prospering the way that I go, 43 behold, I am standing by the spring of water. Let the virgin who comes out to draw water, to whom I shall say, “Please give me a little water from your jar to drink,” 44 and who will say to me, “Drink, and I will draw for your camels also,” let her be the woman whom the Lord has appointed for my master’s son.’
45 “Before I had finished speaking in my heart, behold, Rebekah came out with her water jar on her shoulder, and she went down to the spring and drew water. I said to her, ‘Please let me drink.’ 46 She quickly let down her jar from her shoulder and said, ‘Drink, and I will give your camels drink also.’ So I drank, and she gave the camels drink also. 47 Then I asked her, ‘Whose daughter are you?’ She said, ‘The daughter of Bethuel, Nahor’s son, whom Milcah bore to him.’ So I put the ring on her nose and the bracelets on her arms. 48 Then I bowed my head and worshiped the Lord and blessed the Lord, the God of my master Abraham, who had led me by the right way to take the daughter of my master’s kinsman for his son. 49 Now then, if you are going to show steadfast love and faithfulness to my master, tell me; and if not, tell me, that I may turn to the right hand or to the left.”
50 Then Laban and Bethuel answered and said, “The thing has come from the Lord; we cannot speak to you bad or good. 51 Behold, Rebekah is before you; take her and go, and let her be the wife of your master’s son, as the Lord has spoken.” 52 When Abraham’s servant heard their words, he bowed himself to the earth before the Lord. After
Abraham’s servant finishes telling his story. The text seems to imply that Laban and Bethuel agree to send Rebekah away without a lot of deliberation. We will meet Laban again later, with a marriage proposal at stake, and the process for giving away his daughters – as opposed to a sister – is a MUCH longer negotiation. Matthew Henry’s Commentary makes some note of that re: Laban.
Verses 29-53 The making up of the marriage between Isaac and Rebekah is told very particularly. We are to notice God’s providence in the common events of human life, and in them to exercise prudence and other graces. Laban went to ask Abraham’s servant in, but not till he saw the ear-ring, and bracelet upon his sister’s hands. We know Laban’s character, by his conduct afterwards, and may think that he would not have been so free to entertain him, if he had not hoped to be well rewarded for it.
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. Then with solemn earnestness he asked for a decision. And now if ye will deal kindly and truly—literally, if ye are doing, i.e. are ready or willing to extend kindness and truth (cf. Genesis 24:27)—with (or, to) my master, tell me: and if not, toll me; that I may turn (literally, and I will turn) to the right hand, or to the left—in further prosecution of my mission, to seek in some other family a bride for my master’s son.
There are a couple of words from the translation of this section to take note of. In verse 43:
virgin = עַלְמָה ʻalmâh, al-maw’; feminine of H5958; a lass (as veiled or private):—damsel, maid, virgin.
This is not the same word used by the servant that we see in verses 14 or 16. In those verses, the word is translated “damsel” from the following:
נַעֲרָה naʻărâh, nah-ar-aw’; feminine of H5288; a girl (from infancy to adolescence):—damsel, maid(-en), young (woman).
Ellicott’s Bible Commentary makes note of the word change.
(43) The virgin.—Not the word used in Genesis 24:16, nor that rendered damsel there and in Genesis 24:14, but almah, a young woman just ripening for marriage. It is applied to Miriam in Exodus 2:8, where it is rendered maid, and to the mother of the Immanuel in Isaiah 7:14.
As we see from the note, though, the Commentary does not explain *why* the servant uses a different word here than there. Perhaps the word which can be translated as virgin provides some additional specificity – to be confirmed or not by her family – that the first word choice does not.
In the servant’s approach to Rebekah, he gives her a half-shekel’s worth of jewelry. An article at chabad.org goes into more detail about it – excerpt below – but linked HERE.
One of the details which the Torah includes in its account is the fact that a ring, a half-shekel in weight, was one of the gifts that Eliezer presented to Rebecca at their meeting at the well in Rebecca’s hometown of Aram Naharayim. Our sages explain that this was an allusion to, and the forerunner of, the half-shekel contributed by each Jew towards the building of the Sanctuary. As G‑d instructs Moses in the 30th chapter of Exodus:
Each man shall give the ransom of his soul to G‑d. . . . This they shall give: . . . a half-shekel. . . . A shekel is twenty gerah; a half-shekel [shall be given] as an offering to G‑d. . . . The rich man should not give more, and the pauper should not give less, than the half-shekel . . .
Why half a shekel? Maimonides writes that as a rule, “everything that is for the sake of G‑d should be of the best and most beautiful. When one builds a house of prayer, it should be more beautiful than his own dwelling. When one feeds the hungry, he should feed him of the best and sweetest of his table. . . . Whenever one designates something for a holy purpose, he should sanctify the finest of his possessions, as it is written (Leviticus 3:16), ‘The choicest to G‑d’” (Mishneh Torah, Hil. Issurei Mizbe’ach 7:11).
Indeed, in many cases Torah law mandates that the object of a mitzvah (Divine commandment) be tamim, whole: a blemished animal cannot be brought as an offering to G‑d, nor can a blemished etrog be included in the Four Species taken on the festival of Sukkot. Even when this is not an absolute requirement, the law states that whenever possible, one should strive to fulfill a mitzvah with a whole object. For example, it is preferable to recite a blessing on a whole fruit or a whole loaf of bread, rather than on a slice (hence our use of two whole loaves at all Shabbat and festival meals).
Why, then, does the Torah instruct that each Jew contribute half a shekel towards the building of a dwelling for G‑d within the Israelite camp?
The Torah’s repeated reference to this contribution as a “half-shekel” is all the more puzzling in light of the fact that in these very same verses the Torah finds it necessary to clarify that a shekel consists of twenty gerah. In other words, the amount contributed by each Jew as “the ransom of his soul” was ten gerah. Ten is a number that connotes completeness and perfection: the entire Torah is encapsulated within the Ten Commandments; the world was created with ten Divine utterances; G‑d relates to His creation via ten sefirot (Divine attributes); and the soul of man, formed in the image of G‑d, is likewise comprised of ten powers. But instead of instructing to give ten gerah, the Torah says to give half of a twenty-gerah shekel, deliberately avoiding mention of the number ten and emphasizing the “half” element of our contribution to the Divine dwelling in our midst.
After the explanation, and without a protracted negotiation, Laban and Bethuel agree to the marriage proposal. From The Pulpit Commentaries:
Then Laban and Bethuel (vide on Genesis 24:29) answered and said, The thing proceedeth from the Lord:—Jehovah (vide on Genesis 24:31)—we cannot speak unto thee bad or good—i.e. they could not demur to a proposal so clearly indicated by Divine providence; a proof of the underlying piety of those descendants of Nahor. Behold, Rebekah is before thee, take her, and go,—that the consent of the maiden is not asked was not owing to the fact that, according to ancient custom, Oriental women were at the absolute disposal, in respect of marriage, of their parents and elder brothers (Bush), but to the circumstance that already it had been tacitly given by her acceptance of the bridal presents (Kalisch), or, from her amiable and pious disposition, might be taken for granted, since she, no more than they, would resist the clearly-revealed will of Jehovah (Lange, Wordsworth)—and let her be thy master’s son’s wife, as the Lord hath spoken. Words which again kindled the flame of reverential piety in the old man’s heart, so that he worshipped the Lord, bowing himself to the earth—literally, he prostrated himself to the earth to Jehovah (cf. Genesis 24:26).
I suppose, depending on Rebekah’s perspective, this is a dream come true (setting off to marry a prince – or someone like that) or something quite fearful (setting off to marry a total stranger.) Of course, it is likely that Rebekah feels both emotions.
Ellicott’s Commentary Notes Bethuel’s relative position with respect to the transaction of the marriage of his daughter:
(50) Laban and Bethuel.—See Note on Genesis 24:28. Even when thus tardily mentioned, the father is placed after the brother; and of this we need look for no further explanation than that by polygamy the father was estranged from his own children, while each separate family held very closely together. Thus when Dinah was wronged, it was two of her mother’s sons, Simeon and Levi, who avenged her (Genesis 34:13-25); and so it was Absalom who avenged Tamar (2 Samuel 13:22). Still, Bethuel’s consent was finally necessary; but as soon as it was given all active arrangements were left to the mother and Laban (Genesis 24:53-55), and Bethuel is mentioned no more.