The story of how Rebekah came to be Isaac’s wife is truly remarkable, especially to me, since I do not come from a culture where arranged marriages are common. Isaac’s father, Abraham, had come to dwell in a land far away from his people, in a land where he was a stranger. Isaac was of an age to be married, and Abraham wanted to choose a wife from among his own people for his son. So he sent his oldest and most trusted servant back to his hometown in the land of Mesopotamia to find a bride for Isaac. The servant was given strict instructions to bring her to him, for Isaac must not return to the fatherland. God had called them to a new place, and they would stay where God had led them. The servant swore to Abraham to obey all that he had commanded, and he took ten camels laden with provisions and gifts and went on his way to seek a bride for Isaac.
And he made his camels to kneel down without the city by a well of water at the time of the evening, even the time that women go out to draw water. And he said, “O LORD God of my master Abraham, I pray Thee, send me good speed this day, and show kindness unto my master Abraham. Behold, I stand here by the well of water, and the daughters of the men of the city come out to draw water. And let it come to pass, that the damsel to whom I shall say, ‘Let down thy pitcher, I pray thee, that I may drink,’ and she shall say, ‘Drink, and I will give thy camels drink also,’ let the same be she that Thou hast appointed for Thy servant Isaac; and thereby shall I know that Thou hast shown kindness unto my master” (Genesis 24:11-14).
Do you have any idea how much water ten camels can drink? The request this servant made of Rachel was no small order. It would have required many trips back and forth to the well, and a fair amount of time that she had not planned on spending there. No doubt she had other plans for her evening, things she wanted to do with her friends when the chores were done; but if you keep reading in your Bible, you will see that she laid her plans aside to help this stranger by giving him the drink he requested and watering his ten camels. In fact, she didn’t even give him a chance to ask her if she would water the camels. He only asked a drink for himself, and she hastened and gave him a drink. And while he was drinking, she said, “I’ll water your camels too.” Again she hastened. What an act of selflessness and graciousness from such a young woman! She was beautiful on both the inside and the outside. Right from the start we see in her character a spirit of humility, joy, gentleness, patience, kindness, and diligence. See how quickly and efficiently she worked.
As Rebekah darted back and forth from the well to the watering trough, the servant stood by wondering at her. It certainly seemed as though God had answered his prayer, but there were two more things he had to be sure of: her marital status and her lineage. Was she from his master’s family? When she had finished, the servant took out some jewelry to give her, jewelry which in their culture signified an engagement, and he asked, “Whose daughter are you? And is there room in your father’s house for us to lodge in?”
She accepted the gifts, indicating that she was eligible to be married, and she told him of her lineage, which the servant immediately recognized to be the family of Abraham. Then she continued, “We have both straw and provender enough, and room to lodge in.”
With that, the servant bowed down his head and worshiped God, saying, “Blessed be the Lord God of my master Abraham, who has not left destitute my master of His mercy and His truth. I being in the way, the Lord led me to the house of my master’s brothers.”
Rebekah ran and told her mother and the other women all the news. Wow! It was an exciting day in that household, to be sure. This reminds me of Proverbs 25:25, “As cold waters to a thirsty soul, so is good news from a far country.” Back in those days they didn’t have social media, or even the pony express, so it is possible that the family had received little if any any news from Abraham and Sarah in all the years that they had been gone. And there were no photographs to exchange either. Rebekah did not have the advantage of getting to see so much as a picture of Isaac before receiving his hand in marriage. Sure, Isaac was her second cousin, but the two of them had never met. They had grown up under totally different circumstances and likely would not have the same interests. They had the same lineage and worshiped the same God, but apart from that, they were as different as night is from day. So what motivated Rebekah to accept this marriage proposal?
In all honesty, there were a few factors at play here. Rebekah had a brother named Laban who apparently had some say in family affairs, and Laban was a very greedy man. Upon seeing the jewels that were given to his sister, he went to meet the man himself, saw the camels laden with even more riches, and immediately invited him to come to the house (Gen. 24:29-31). We already know that the servant gave a dowry to the family, but no mention is made of Rebekah’s father receiving any of it, only Laban. So greed was one motivating factor in the marriage, though not Rebekah’s greed, but her brother’s.
Another factor was the clear leading of God, which no one could deny. The language in Genesis 25:50-51 might indicate that the men made the decision without Rebekah’s consent, which would not be unusual in their culture; but she had already accepted the jewels and was obviously excited about the proposal. The next morning the servant was ready to pack up and go home, but Rebekah’s mother and brother begged him to give Rebekah at least ten more days at home with them first. I can understand her mother wanting her daughter to linger longer, for she didn’t know when she might see her again; but Laban’s motive may have been merely to milk more gifts out of Abraham’s servant. At any rate, the servant insisted he was ready to leave, and they settled the dispute by asking Rebekah her opinion. She promptly replied that she too was ready to leave. So they sent her off with their blessings, and she was gone.
The journey was long and hot, but Rebekah hardly noticed the dust collecting on her sweaty face as she marveled at the changing scenery from day to day, both in the topography of the land and in the structures, for houses gave way to tents. As the caravan neared home, servants and animals alike excitedly traveled greater stretches in the final days of their journey. One day Rebekah looked up and saw someone running to meet them. She asked the servant who it was. “It is my master.” Not Abraham, but Isaac. Immediately, the bride covered her face with her veil and slid down from off her camel. This part is so romantic, you simply must read it for yourself.
And Isaac came from the way of the well Lahairoi; for he dwelt in the south country. And Isaac went out to meditate in the field at the eventide: and he lifted up his eyes, and saw, and, behold, the camels were coming. And Rebekah lifted up her eyes, and when she saw Isaac, she lighted off the camel. For she had said unto the servant, “What man is this that walketh in the field to meet us?” And the servant had said, “It is my master.” Therefore she took a veil and covered herself. And the servant told Isaac all things that he had done. And Isaac brought her into his mother Sarah’s tent, and took Rebekah, and she became his wife; and he loved her: and Isaac was comforted after his mother’s death (Genesis 24:62-67).
If only we could leave off right here with Rebekah’s life story, but to do so would leave the portrait incomplete. Rebekah did have a weakness in her character, and it showed up in motherhood. Actually, she and Isaac both picked favorites among their children. Genesis 25:28 tells us that Isaac loved Esau, but Rebekah loved Jacob. Rebekah had a difficult pregnancy. She asked God what the problem was, and He explained that she was carrying twins, and they would both be leaders of strong nations, but the elder would serve the younger.
Years later, when Isaac was old and ready to pass the family blessing on to the boys, he tried to give the greater blessing to Esau, the firstborn (and his favorite). But Rebekah went to great lengths to deceive him so that the birthright ended up going to the younger twin Jacob (her favorite). On the surface this looks like two parents squabbling and refusing to grow up, but in the end, God’s will was accomplished. Isaac knew it too. He knew God had intended from before the boys were born that the birthright would go to the younger son, so why did he try to resist God’s will?
Did Isaac make it necessary for his wife to deceive him? Could God’s will have been accomplished some other way? Is it ever right to do wrong in order to accomplish right? Was Rebekah justified in what she did? Many people from the Old Testament are remembered in the New Testament for their acts of faith. Rebekah is not among them. Sadly, I believe that if Jesus had come to her, He would have said, “Why are you so fearful? How is it that you have no faith? For truly I say to you, if you have faith as a grain of mustard seed, you shall say to this mountain, ‘Go over there,’ and it shall go, and nothing shall be impossible unto you.” The fact remains that God’s will was done—and would have been done, with or without Rebekah’s “help.”
This is the last act we see of Rebekah’s. Her next mention is her burial. It’s rather anti-climactic, isn’t it? If there is something to be learned from her life, is it this: It is better to finish well than to begin well. As the apostle Paul said centuries later:
Acts 20:24 But none of these things move me, neither count I my life dear unto myself, so that I might finish my course with joy, and the ministry, which I have received of the Lord Jesus, to testify the gospel of the grace of God.
Next week: Rachel