About three years after Sarah’s death, Abraham arranged to obtain a wife for his son Isaac. (See Genesis 17:17; 23:1; 25:20.) By then, Abraham had lived about 140 years, and YHWH had blessed him in everything. To procure a suitable wife for forty-year-old Isaac (25:20), Abraham entrusted this assignment to the oldest servant in his household, an exceptionally reliable steward whom he had placed in charge of all his property. Neither the Hebrew text nor the Septuagint identify this steward by name, but Targum Jonathan says that it was Eliezer. This was the trustworthy servant whom Abraham considered to be his heir before the births of Ishmael and Isaac. (15:2) Abraham asked the steward to swear by YHWH, the God of heaven and earth, that he would not take a wife for his son from among the Canaanites but would go to his relatives in the country where he had formerly lived and there obtain a wife. (24:1-4)
When swearing the oath, the servant was to place his hand under Abraham’s thigh or hip (yarék). This may have signified that he, in full submission to his master, would carry out everything to which he had sworn. The Hebrew word yarék is also used euphemistically to apply to the generative organ. (46:26) According to Targum Jonathan, the servant was to place his hand on the “section of [Abraham’s] circumcision.” The circumcision was a sign of the covenant that included the divine promise regarding the continuance of the family line of Abraham and, ultimately, concerning the coming of the Messiah through whom people of all nations could obtain the blessing of forgiveness of sins and reconciliation to God. Viewed in this light, the servant would have sworn that he would faithfully do his part in sharing in the fulfillment of what the covenant of circumcision required. (24:2)
If the chosen woman was unwilling to leave her country, Abraham told the servant that he was not to take Isaac there. Abraham expressed his confidence that YHWH, the “God of heaven” (“and the God of the earth” [LXX adds]), would send his angel “before his face” or before him so that he might take a wife from there for his son. According to Targum Jonathan, Abraham said that “YHWH [Yy (Yeya)] whom I worship will appoint his angel to be with you, and will prosper your way.” Apparently the basis for Abraham’s confidence was YHWH’s past dealings with him. He had taken him from his father’s house and the land of his birth, promising to give his “seed” or descendants the land in which he was then residing. If the woman refused to accompany him, however, the oath would not be binding on the servant. By no means was he to take Isaac to her land. (24:5-8)
As requested, the servant put his hand under the thigh of his master Abraham and swore the oath. He then departed with ten of Abraham’s camels, fellow servants (24:32), and a variety of choice gifts from Abraham, heading north to Aram-naharaim (Aram of the two rivers, the Tigris and the Euphrates) or “Mesopotamia” (LXX) to the “city of Nahor” (either a designation for Haran or for a nearby place in northern Mesopotamia). (24:9, 10) In his Antiquities (I, xvi, 1), Josephus commented on the journey, indicating that it took considerable time under difficult conditions. In winter, the traveler had to contend with “the depth of the clay” and, in summer, the “lack of water.” The route also was one beset by robbers, requiring taking precautions beforehand.
Upon having safely arrived outside the “city of Nahor,” the servant had the camels kneel down by a well (apparently one fed by a spring) at evening time when, during the cooler part of the day, the women would be coming to draw water. He prayed that YHWH, the God of his master Abraham, would grant him success in finding a wife for Isaac and thereby show steadfast love or kindness (“mercy” [LXX]) to his master. To be sure about YHWH’s choice of the woman who was to become the wife of Isaac, the servant prayed that she might be manifest from the other women by her response to his request for a drink. She would offer him a drink and also volunteer to draw water for the ten camels. (24:11-14)
Before the servant had completed praying, a beautiful virgin, Rebekah the daughter of Bethuel, the son of Abraham’s brother Nahor by his wife Milcah, arrived, carrying a vessel on her shoulder with which to draw water. After seeing her filling her vessel with water, the servant ran to meet her and asked her to give him a little drink of water. Rebekah responded, “Drink, my lord.” Quickly, with one hand, she let down the vessel from her shoulder upon her other hand and gave him a drink. After giving him a drink, she offered to draw water for the camels until they were finished drinking. In the nearby trough, Rebekah quickly emptied the water she repeatedly drew from the well for all the camels. This required considerable effort on her part as she ran to the well again and again, for a thirsty camel may drink more than 30 gallons (c. 140 liters) of water. (24:15-20)
In silence, the servant gazed at Rebekah, wanting to know whether or not YHWH had prospered his journey. According to the Septuagint rendering, the servant observed Rebekah closely. Although she had responded in the manner that corresponded with his prayer, he did not know whether she was related to Abraham. (24:21)
After the camels had finished drinking, the servant presented Rebekah with a gold nose ring (24:47) weighing half a shekel and two gold bracelets weighing ten shekels. In response to his question whose daughter she was and whether there was room for lodging in her father’s house, she identified herself as the daughter of Bethuel, the son of Nahor and his wife Milcah, and added that there was ample straw and fodder for the animals and room for lodging. Her answer revealed that she was a relative of Abraham, the granddaughter of his brother Nahor. Recognizing YHWH’s guidance in having found a wife for Isaac, the servant bowed down in worship, saying, “Blessed [or praised] be YHWH, the God of my master who has not forsaken his steadfast love [righteousness or justice (LXX)] and his truth [faithfulness or trustworthiness] toward my master. YHWH has led me on the way to the house of my master’s kinsmen.” (24:22-27)
Rebekah ran to the “house of her mother.” In that culture, women had their own place of dwelling within the family property, and it would have been natural for Rebekah to tell her mother about what had happened at the well. When her brother Laban heard about the developments and saw the gold nose ring (24:47) and the gold bracelets on her arms, he ran out to meet Abraham’s servant. The reference to his seeing the precious gifts before taking action might be an indication that his motive in extending hospitality was not altogether pure. (24:28-30)
Laban greeted Abraham’s servant who was standing at the well by the camels, saying to him, “Come, O blessed one of YHWH. Why do you stand outside? I have prepared the house and a place for the camels.” The servant and the men who had accompanied him entered the house, and the camels were unloaded and given straw and fodder. (24:31, 32) According to Targum Jonathan, “Laban” was the one who cared for the animals and brought water to wash the feet of Abraham’s servant and the men who were with him. Josephus (Antiquities, I, xvi, 3), however, wrote that it was the “servants of Laban” who took care of the camels. The extant Hebrew text is somewhat ambiguous, for it does not identify the one or ones who attended to the animals.
Upon food being set before him, Abraham’s servant said that he would not eat until he had revealed the nature of his errand. After identifying himself as Abraham’s servant, he related that YHWH had greatly blessed his master Abraham, giving him flocks and herds, silver and gold, male and female servants, and camels and donkeys. His wife Sarah had borne a son to him in his old age, and this son was the heir of everything. (24:33-36)
From this point onward, the servant basically repeated what his master Abraham had said to him about obtaining a wife for his son, the oath he had sworn, his own prayer at the well, how Rebekah had fulfilled the sign that pointed to her as the woman YHWH had chosen to be the wife of his master’s son, and his prayer of thanksgiving for having been led in the right way to obtain this wife. (24:37-48; compare 24:3-8, 12-20, 22-24, 26, 27.) The servant presented the ones who could consent to the marriage of Rebekah the choice to manifest “steadfast love” or kindness (“mercy” [LXX]) and “truth” or trustworthiness [“righteousness” or justice (LXX)] toward his master Abraham by granting consent or to refuse consent for the marriage. He then would be able to turn to the “right or to the left,” meaning that their decision would allow him to act accordingly. (24:49)
Based on what the servant had told them, Laban and Bethuel acknowledged that YHWH had so appointed matters that there really was nothing they could say. They could speak neither “good” (consenting to the marriage) nor “bad” (objecting to the marriage). Therefore, they told the servant to take Rebekah and to let her be the wife of his master’s son just as YHWH had appointed. Thereafter the servant prostrated himself before YHWH, apparently to render thanks. He then gave silver and gold ornaments and clothing to Rebekah and costly items to her brother and her mother. (24:50-53)
With the decision having been made about the marriage of Rebekah, the servant and the men with him ate and drank and retired for the night. Upon their rising in the morning, the servant asked to be sent back to Abraham with Rebekah. Laban and Rebekah’s mother, though, wanted her to remain with them for at least ten days. It appears that the servant recognized that any delay in his departure would not work out well, for it was more likely for this to lead to a period of sadness about Rebekah’s leaving and also to talk that could have been designed to sway her from being willing to depart. He, therefore, insisted on not being detained, for YHWH had prospered his way. Rebekah’s brother and mother then called her and asked her whether she was willing to depart with the servant, and she replied in the affirmative. They sent Rebekah and her nurse and maids away with him and his men, blessing her with the parting words, “May you become thousands of myriads, and may your seed possess the gate of those hating him” (or may your descendants become very numerous and gain control over the people in the cities of their enemies). Seated on the camels, Rebekah and her maids rode away with Abraham’s servant and the men who had accompanied him. (24:54-61)
It was in the evening that they completed the long journey (well over 500 miles [800 kilometers]) from upper Mesopotamia to the Negeb south of the mountainous region that many years later came to be included in the territory assigned to the tribe of Judah. At the time of their arrival, Isaac was walking in the field somewhere near Beer-la-hai-roi and meditating, and he saw the camels approaching. It appears that Abraham’s servant, out of respect for his master, got off his camel when he saw Isaac. This seems to have been an indication to Rebekah that she should also alight from the camel when she saw him, and she asked, “Who is the man walking in the field toward us?” Upon being informed that he was the servant’s master, Rebekah veiled herself. The servant related to Isaac everything that had taken place, and he took Rebekah into the tent of his mother Sarah. Rebekah became his wife, he fell in love with her, and found comfort after having lost his mother in death about three years previously. (24:62-67)
Josephus, in his Antiquities, (I, xvi, 2), has Rebekah telling the servant that her father Bethuel was “dead” and then adding, “Laban is my brother and, together with my mother, takes care of all our family affairs and is the guardian of my virginity.” The Genesis account represents Bethuel as still being alive (24:50), but in a manner suggesting that he may have been unable to function as family head. Laban is the one who figures prominently in the interactions with the servant. Although the servant gave gifts to him and to the mother, he did not give any presents to the father. Moreover, when Bethuel is mentioned as speaking, Laban is the one whose name appears first in the account. It may be, in view of the seeming incapacity of Bethuel, that he was already considered to be dead. Targum Jonathan says that Bethuel died in the morning after he had eaten tainted food in the evening when Abraham’s servant arrived. According to a Jewish view from a later time, Bethuel wanted to prevent the marriage and, therefore, an angel killed him. This is then presented as the reason Bethuel is not mentioned as receiving any gifts.
An old Jewish interpretation about why Laban, not Bethuel, is mentioned first in Genesis 24:50 is that Laban was not an upright man and, therefore, rushed in to speak first.
In verse 63, there is a measure of uncertainty about what Isaac was doing in the field. The word in the Septuagint is a form of adoleschéo and may be translated “meditate.” Targum Jonathan indicates that he went into the field to pray. Numerous modern translations refer to “walking,” not “meditating.” The Tanakh (JPS, 1985 edition) uses “walking” in the main text, and a footnote indicates that others say “to meditate” but that the meaning of the Hebrew is uncertain.