Genesis (Part 101)

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

Genesis: 24:52-61

52 When Abraham’s servant heard their words, he bowed himself to the earth before the Lord. 53 And the servant brought out jewelry of silver and of gold, and garments, and gave them to Rebekah. He also gave to her brother and to her mother costly ornaments. 54 And he and the men who were with him ate and drank, and they spent the night there. When they arose in the morning, he said, “Send me away to my master.” 55 Her brother and her mother said, “Let the young woman remain with us a while, at least ten days; after that she may go.” 56 But he said to them, “Do not delay me, since the Lord has prospered my way. Send me away that I may go to my master.” 57 They said, “Let us call the young woman and ask her.” 58 And they called Rebekah and said to her, “Will you go with this man?” She said, “I will go.” 59 So they sent away Rebekah their sister and her nurse, and Abraham’s servant and his men. 60 And they blessed Rebekah and said to her,

“Our sister, may you become
    thousands of ten thousands,
and may your offspring possess
    the gate of those who hate him!”

61 Then Rebekah and her young women arose and rode on the camels and followed the man. Thus the servant took Rebekah and went his way.

__________________________

After the servant is told that he can take Rebekah, he bows to the earth before the Lord. Then he starts distributing expensive gifts to Rebekah. Then he gives costly ornaments to Laban and her mother. After, they ate, drank, and celebrated.

You might wonder why Abraham’s servant did not give a gift to Bethuel, Rebekah’s father.

From an article titled Rebekah Ran to her “Mother’s Household” – Where Was her Father?, by Dr. Rabbi Zev Farber, Rabbi Daniel M. Zucker at TheTorah.com:

The story continues with Abraham’s servant being very happy with Laban and Betuel’s answer. He prostrates himself to YHWH in thanksgiving and then gives out gifts:

Why do the family gifts go only to Rebekah’s brother and mother? What about her father? Abraham’s servant could not possibly have intended to snub the father of the bride he was acquiring for Isaac in the middle of a delicate negotiation! The story again seems to be assuming that the father is absent.

Again, it is Rebekah’s brother and mother doing the negotiation with Abraham’s servant, and they are the ones who give the final go ahead for Rebekah to leave with him and offer her a blessing (vv. 56-60). The father plays no role, and is not really part of this story. If so, what is Betuel doing in v. 50?

Noting the sudden disappearance of Betuel after v. 50, a number of traditional commentaries suggest that he died in the middle of negotiations. For example, Genesis Rabbah (Theodor-Albeck, 60), the earliest source with this view (which is also quoted by Rashi), states:

“[Her brother and mother said] etc.” – Where was Betuel? He wanted to detain her so he was struck down that night… [4]

Most creatively, Yalkut Shimoni (ca. 13th cent.; Chayei Sarah 109) suggests that the townspeople were going to force Betuel to rape Rebekah as part of his prima nocta (“first night”) practice[5] and that he died (God struck him down?) to protect her:

Why did Betuel die? He was king of Aram-naharayim and every virgin who would get married, he would lie with on the first night, and afterwards she would return to her husband. [During the negotiations with Abraham’s servant], all of the ministers gathered and said: “If he does it to his own daughter the same way he did it to ours, then fine. Otherwise, we will kill him and his daughter.” Therefore, he died, in order to save Eliezer and Rebekah.

Nothing in the text supports these highly creative scenarios. Betuel just slips away without the text taking any notice. Moreover, such a reading might work if Betuel had been part of the story from the beginning, but as noted above, the opening of the story also assumes no father was present. But if the story takes it for granted that Rebekah’s father is deceased, why does Betuel appear in v. 50?

Stanley Gevirtz (1929–1988), late Professor of Biblical Studies at Hebrew Union College, suggested to his students—among whom was one of the authors (DZ)—that the verse in its entirety is original, but we are misunderstanding who Betuel is in J.

When Laban speaks in this story with some else, it is with his and Rebekah’s mother (v. 55). When Abraham’s servant wants to express gratitude for agreeing to the match by giving gifts, it is to Rebekah’s brother and mother (v. 53). It only seems logical that the people who agree to the match in vv. 50-51 are Laban and Rebekah’s mother. Thus, I suggest that in J, Betuel is the name of Rebekah and Laban’s mother.

I quoted a lot here but the article goes on at some length and with more theories.

Looking at Ellicott’s Bible Commentary regarding the gifts:

(53) Jewels of silver, and jewels of gold.—Heb., vessels. In ancient times a wife had to be bought (Genesis 34:12), and the presents given were not mere ornaments and jewellery, but articles of substantial use and value. Quickly indeed in a country of such ceremonial politeness the purchase took a more honourable form, but Orientals do not let their courtesy interfere with their interests, and the relatives would take care that the freewill offerings did not fall below the usual standard. These went partly to the bride, and partly to her relatives: and as they are described here as going exclusively to the brother and mother, Jewish tradition has invented the story that Bethuel was ill at the time, and died on the day of the servant’s arrival. But the manner in which Isaac speaks of him in Genesis 28:2 does not allow us to suppose that he was either dead at the time of her departure, or that he was a person of no ability or importance. Possibly, therefore, polygamy had led to the custom of the purchase presents going to the mother’s tent.

The Pulpit Commentaries describes the transaction – and it was a transaction – as follows:

And the servant brought forth jewels—literally, vessels (σκεύη, LXX.), the idea being that of things finished or completed; from כָּלָה, to finish (cf. Genesis 31:37Genesis 45:20)—of silver, and jewels (or vessels) of gold, and raiment,—covering garments, e.g. the outer robes of Orientals (Genesis 20:11Genesis 20:12Genesis 20:13Genesis 20:15Genesis 41:42); especially precious ones (1 Kings 22:10)—and gave them to Rebekah—as betrothal presents, which are absolutely essential, and usually given with much ceremony before witnesses. He gave also to her brother and to her mother (here mentioned for the first time) precious things, מִגְדָּנֹת from מֶגֶד precious, occurring only elsewhere in 2 Chronicles 21:3 and Ezekiel 1:6; both times as here, in connection with gold and silver—probably describes valuable articles in general. And (having thus formally concluded the engagement) they did eat and drink,—i.e. partook of the victims which had been set before them at an earlier stage (verse 33)—he and the men that were with him, and tarried all night;—literally, and passed the night (cf. Genesis 19:2Genesis 24:25)—and they rose up in the morning (indicative of alacrity and zeal), and he said, Send me away unto my master—being impatient to report to Abraham the success of his expedition.

The following morning, we run into our first conflict of this tale. The servant wants to leave right away with Rebekah. Her brother and mother want the servant to tarry for a few days – at least ten days. (As we will eventually read later in Genesis, Laban is famous for making one wait for marriage to begin.)

From Ellicott:

(55) A few days, at the least ten.—Heb., days or a decade, which Onkelos, Saadja, Rashi, and others translate as in the margin: “a year or ten months.” But while this rendering has high Jewish authority for it, yet more probably decade was the name for the third part of a month. It would be curious thus to find that the family of Terah, either with or instead of weeks, measured time by periods of ten days, as was certainly the custom of the Egyptians at one period of their history.

days = יוֹם yôwm, yome; from an unused root meaning to be hot; a day (as the warm hours), whether literal (from sunrise to sunset, or from one sunset to the next), or figurative (a space of time defined by an associated term), (often used adverb):—age, always, chronicals, continually(-ance), daily, ((birth-), each, to) day, (now a, two) days (agone), elder, × end, evening, (for) ever(-lasting, -more), × full, life, as (so) long as (… live), (even) now, old, outlived, perpetually, presently, remaineth, × required, season, × since, space, then, (process of) time, as at other times, in trouble, weather, (as) when, (a, the, within a) while (that), × whole ( age), (full) year(-ly), younger.

This is the same word used for “day” in Genesis Chapter 1.

ten = עָשׂוֹר ʻâsôwr, aw-sore’; or עָשֹׂר ʻâsôr; from H6235; ten; by abbreviated form ten strings, and so a decachord:—(instrument of) ten (strings, -th).; עֶשֶׂר ʻeser, eh’ser; masculine of term עֲשָׂרָה ʻăsârâh; from H6237; ten (as an accumulation to the extent of the digits):—ten, (fif-, seven-) teen.

This seems relatively straight-forward to me, using Strong’s, but I will leave it to Biblical scholars to say that the debate between ten literal days, or some longer period of time, might be less straight-forward a discussion point.

Laban and Abraham’s servant do not come to an accord on their own, as to when the servant can depart, so they ask Rebekah to decide. From The Pulpit Commentaries:

Still urging his suit for permission to depart, Laban and the mother of Rebekah proposed that the maiden should be left to decide a matter so important for her by her own inclinations. When consulted she expressed her readiness at once to accompany the venerable messenger to his distant home; and accordingly, without more delay, she was dismissed from her mother’s tent, attended by a faithful nurse (Genesis 35:8) and enriched by the blessing of her pious relatives, who said unto her, Thou art our sister, be thou the mother of thousands of millions (literally, our sister thou, become to thousands of myriads, i.e. let thy descendants be very numerous), and let thy seed possess the gate (vide Genesis 22:17) of those which hate them.

Verse 60 as translated in quotes a though it is a traditional send-off blessing or song for the now departing bride.

“Our sister, may you become
    thousands of ten thousands,
and may your offspring possess
    the gate of those who hate him!”

I really love this verse. I’d love to see it incorporated is more modern wedding ceremonies.

Finally, Rebekah departs. Earlier in the text we are told that she is traveling with her nurse. In verse 61, it appears that others are mentioned as coming with her. From The Pulpit Commentaries:

And Rebekah aroseand her damsels,—probably a company, at least two, though Laban afterwards only gave each of his daughters one (Genesis 29:24Genesis 29:29)—and they rode upon camels (most likely those which Abraham’s servant had brought), and followed the man (not in fear, but in hope): and the servant took (in the sense of undertook the charge of) Rebekah (who, in his eyes, would now he invested with additional charms, as his young master’s intended bride), and went his way—returning by the road he came.

We do not know how many traveled in her company. That said, I suppose a trip with a total stranger, to an unfamiliar place, to be married to a total stranger, is less frightful if you travel with a nurse and perhaps some familiar servants.

And with all of that, the servant’s mission is complete. Isaac’s bride-to-be is on her way.

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