September 16, 2014

Commentary on the Book of Genesis

By: Tom Lowe

 

PART II: AN ACCOUNT OF ABRAHAM. Gen. 11:10-25:18.

Topic #F: DEATH AND MARRIAGES. Gen. 23:1-25:18.                                                           

                


Lesson II.F.6: The Marriage Contract. (Gen. 24:50-60)

 

 

Gen. 24:50-60 (KJV)

 

50 Then Laban and Bethuel answered and said, The thing proceedeth from the LORD: we cannot speak unto thee bad or good.

51 Behold, Rebekah is before thee, take her, and go, and let her be thy master's son's wife, as the LORD hath spoken.

52 And it came to pass, that, when Abraham's servant heard their words, he worshipped the LORD, bowing himself to the earth.

53 And the servant brought forth jewels of silver, and jewels of gold, and raiment, and gave them to Rebekah: he gave also to her brother and to her mother precious things.

54 And they did eat and drink, he and the men that were with him, and tarried all night; and they rose up in the morning, and he said, Send me away unto my master.

55 And her brother and her mother said, Let the damsel abide with us a few days, at the least ten; after that she shall go.

56 And he said unto them, Hinder me not, seeing the LORD hath prospered my way; send me away that I may go to my master.

57 And they said, We will call the damsel, and enquire at her mouth.

58 And they called Rebekah, and said unto her, Wilt thou go with this man? And she said, I will go.

59 And they sent away Rebekah their sister, and her nurse, and Abraham's servant, and his men.

60 And they blessed Rebekah, and said unto her, Thou art our sister, be thou the mother of thousands of millions, and let thy seed possess the gate of those which hate them.

 

 

 

Commentary

 

50 Then Laban and Bethuel answered and said, The thing proceedeth from the LORD: we cannot speak unto thee bad or good.

 

Then Laban and Bethuel answered

The name of the father is placed after that of the brother; and we don’t need to look any further for an 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 likewise it was Absalom who avenged Tamar (2Samuel 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.

 

The word rendered "answered" is singular, therefore it can be assumed that Laban answered in the name of Bethuel; he was agreeable to it, but he might have been an old man, and left the management of his family affairs to his son, who surpassed his father in wisdom and integrity. Some commentators represent Laban as a wicked and rude man, who disrespectfully spoke before his father did. Others hold the opinion that this Bethuel was not old Bethuel, the father of Rebekah, but young Bethuel his son, the younger brother of Laban and Rebekah; and that father Bethuel was dead at this time; and this seems to be substantiated by Genesis 24:59, where they are represented as blessing Rebekah, and calling her their sister. The brothers conduct all the marriage negotiations, without consulting their sister [this arrangement would not work today]. Their language seems to indicate they were worshippers of the true God.

 

And said, the thing proceedeth from the Lord

“The thing proceedeth from the Lord” (Jehovah); that Rebekah should be given to Isaac. This matter appears to be according to His will and pleasure; He seems to have appointed it in His decree, and to be bringing it about by His providence; for these men, who were in part still idolaters had some good perceptions of the true God, and of His government of the world, and of His arranging and directing all things in it according to the counsel of His will.You might say, they had knowledge of the true God and worshipped Him, though they added idols to their worship. We cannot without opposing God speak or act in any way which may hinder His plans, or oppose His desires.

 

God, in his providence, evidently favored marriage between Isaac and Rebekah, and therefore they correctly concluded that it was His will; which is the only safe rule of conduct in all cases. And in those cases which are of particular importance, as the proper choice of a partner in marriage certainly is, we should use every practical means to know God’s will, especially the means used by Abraham’s servant, fervent prayer, and watching for the beginning of providence. A marriage which is initiated by the providence of God is likely to be successful and happy.

 

We cannot speak unto thee good or bad

The servant had revealed the reason for his visit; to obtain a wife for his master’s son. Now Laban and Bethuel must reject or accept his choice of Rebekah, and that meant they must weigh the “good and bad” of rejecting and accepting his request. To accept will mean a good marriage for Rebekah, but she would be separated from her familyby a great distance. If they refused, they would deny her a chance for wealth and happiness, as well as to act in apparent opposition to the signs of Jehovah’s will. “Bad and good,” “yes and no,” are evenly balanced. It is a proverbial phrase, found in:

  • Genesis 31:24: “And God came to Laban the Syrian in a dream by night, and said unto him, Take heed that thou speak not to Jacob either good or bad.”
  • Genesis 31:29: “It is in the power of my hand to do you hurt: but the God of your father spake unto me yesternight, saying, Take thou heed that thou speak not to Jacob either good or bad.”
  • 2 Samuel 13:22: “And Absalom spake unto his brother Amnon neither good nor bad: for Absalom hated Amnon, because he had forced his sister Tamar.”

 

“We cannot speak unto thee good or bad,” that is to say, we cannot deny the marriage proposal; the request so clearly represented God’s will (Divine providence) that they did not have anything to object to; or to say anything about it, either good or bad. God has settled the matter. Their attitude was proof of the underlying piety of those descendants of Nahor.

 

 

51 Behold, Rebekah is before thee, take her, and go, and let her be thy master's son's wife, as the LORD hath spoken.

 

Behold, Rebekah is before thee

“Rebekah is before thee,” that is, in your power and at your disposal. Not only was she present, but she was delivered to him, or his request was granted.

 

Take her, and go, and let her be thy master's son's

“Take her, and go;” does not mean that he should go immediately and take her with him, since afterwards they ask her to stay with them for a while longer, so they could celebrate her marriage and give her the proper send-off; but they agreed that he should take her and escort her to Isaac, to be taken by him for his wife. 

 

“And let her be thy master's son's”—with these words, the betrothal is instantly settled. Rebekah is not consulted!The approval of the maiden is not required, nor was it ask for—but that was not due to the fact that according to ancient custom, Oriental women were at the absolute disposalof their parents and elder brothers, when it came to marriage. Rather, in this case, tacit approval had already been given by her acceptance of the bridal presents; or her approval, might be taken for granted due to her amiable and pious disposition; and because she, no more than they, would resist the clearly-revealed will of Jehovah.

 

As the Lord hath spoken

It is clear from what came before this that Laban and Bethuel understood that the way given to the servant, by which he was to know God’s choice of a wife for Isaac, was determined by God. Events, not words, had been the means of revelation.

 

The words, “As the Lord hath spoken,” once again kindled the flame of reverential piety in the old man's heart.

 

 

52 And it came to pass, that, when Abraham's servant heard their words, he worshipped the LORD, bowing himself to the earth.

 

“And it came to pass, that when Abraham's servant heard these words;” refers to what Laban and Bethuel said in the previous verse; that they approved of Rebekah’s marriage to Isaac. And though their approval was not necessary in order to validate the marriage contract, no doubt, the mother of Rebekah and Rebekah herself gave their consent, believing it was agreeable to the will of God.

 

The servant gave thanks to Jehovah before proceeding to formerly sanction the betrothal; “He worshipped the Lord, bowing himself to the earth”—in the most humble manner he prostrated himself before the Lord, and acknowledged His kindness, and goodness, His faithfulness and truth, His power and His providence in this affair. 

 

 

53 And the servant brought forth jewels of silver, and jewels of gold, and raiment, and gave them to Rebekah: he gave also to her brother and to her mother precious things.

 

And the servant brought forth jewels of silver, and jewels of gold

The old servant had brought along with him, “Jewels of silver, and jewels of gold;” presents,a profusion of rich things to bestow on the person that would become his son's wife: and which were furnished him by Abraham as proof of his riches, and of his generosity and liberality. We are not told specifically what these presents were, but two things have been suggested:

  1. Ornaments for women, Jewelry.
  2. Vessels made of silver and gold.

 

The servant’s first act is to indorse the engagement by giving the betrothal gifts to the bride. Oriental custom required that at the betrothal, gifts should be given to the parents or nearest relatives of the bride. Mention of marriage gifts for the bride’s family is found also in Genesis 34:12Exodus 22:16-17Deuteronomy 22:191 Samuel 18:25. The custom must be viewed as a leftover from earlier times, when the bride was purchased, and the marriage ceremony consisted chiefly of a financial transaction. In ancient times a wife had to be bought (Genesis 34:12), and the presents given were not mere ornaments and jewelry (And the servant brought forth jewels of silver, and … gold—these are the usual articles, along with money, that form a woman's dowry among the pastoral tribes.), but articles of substantial usefulness and value. These went partly to the bride, and partly to her relatives: 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—Arise, go to Padanaram, to the house of Bethuel thy mother's father; and take thee a wife from thence of the daughters of Laban thy mother's brother” (Genesis 28:2).]

 

And raiment, and gave them to Rebekah

“And raiment” implies costly suits of clothes such as were given, in those times, to persons at their marriage; a custom which still continues among the Arabs, where the marriage contract is made between the parents.  

 

The servant showed Rebekah and her family “jewels of silver, and jewels of gold,” and then he showed them “raiment;”  covering garments, perhaps the outer robes of Orientals (See Genesis 20:11, 12, 13, 15; Genesis 41:42); but mainly precious ones—“And the king of Israel and Jehoshaphat the king of Judah sat each on his throne, having put on their robes . . .” (1 Kings 22:10)—“and gave them to Rebekah” as betrothal presents, which are absolutely essential, and usually given with much ceremony before witnesses.

 

And he gave also to her brother, and to her mother, precious things

“Precious things” are things of worth and value given to him by Abraham (Genesis 24:10), which were part of the good things he brought with him. The word “precious” is sometimes used for various kinds of fruits of the land of Israel; but it is not likely that the servant would carry fruit with him on so long a journey. It is more likely that the “precious things” were good and costly raiment. Some writers believe that the word in general signifies everything valuable and excellent, like gold and silver.

 

Notice that no mention is made of her father, only of her brother Laban, and of her mother, which seems to confirm the notion that he was dead; or maybe he had no further interest in this affair than to give his consent to the marriage, and left everything else to his wife and son to take care of, and therefore the presents are only given to them.

 

 

54 And they did eat and drink, he and the men that were with him, and tarried all night; and they rose up in the morning, and he said, Send me away unto my master.

 

Since everything had been settled with respect to the betrothal, the servant sat down at the table, and ate from the food set before him; both he and the men that came along with him; and they refreshed themselves. That night, they lodged in the home of Bethuel; “and (when) they rose up in the morning,” the servant “said, send me away to my master;” either to Abraham, who was anxiously waiting to hear that his servant was successful; or to Isaac, who was also concerned about the outcome of the matter. The idea is that he wanted to go home, and begged them not to detain him any longer, since he had completed the business he came about. He showed that he remained a diligent faithful servant, totally and sincerely devoted to his master's interests and wellbeing, and not much concerned with his own comfort and pleasure, which might have been indulged by staying longer in a family, where he would have been entertained in a luxurious manner.

 

 

55 And her brother and her mother said, Let the damsel abide with us a few days, at the least ten; after that she shall go.

 

“And her brother and her mother said”—here her brother Laban is mentioned before his mother, as it was in verse 50, where his name is placed before his father’s, indicating that Laban was the chief speaker and the principal manager of the families’ business. It might also have something to do with the prominence which, from this time forward he assumes in the theocratic history of Israel.

 

Laban made a request to the servant, “Let the damsel abide with us a few days, at the least ten;” which was a reasonable request, if he didn’t have other intentions to which the servant should object and not readily agree to it. Secretly, he planned to delay Rebekah’s leaving for "a full year" or "ten months.” (The Jews sometimes put days for years and months; thus, ten days could mean a year or ten months.) Some Bible scholars say that it was customary for a virgin to be allowed twelve months to provide herself with ornaments (jewelry and clothing); and therefore, if a full year could not be agreed upon, it is requested that at least ten months would be granted. This was considered by many to be unreasonable, that a servant would be asked to be away from his master for so long, and especially it would not be a proper request, when he has indicated that he wants to leave immediately, and to go directly to his master. But when it is observed that it was the usual custom in those times for virgins who are engaged, to continue in their father's house for a considerable time before the marriage was consummated, and since Rebekah was going to a distant country, and very likely will never see her friends again, the request will not appear so very unreasonable.But it is very improbable that Rebekah’s friends would desire or expect such a thing from this man, considering how anxious he was to return immediately.

 

“Let the damsel abide with us a few days, at the least ten; after that she shall go.”

 

 

56 And he said unto them, Hinder me not, seeing the LORD hath prospered my way; send me away that I may go to my master.

 

And he (the servant) said unto them, hinder me not,” that is to say, “Do not detain me, let me leave, so I can return to my master.” Seeing (that) the Lord hath prospered my way,” and so quickly brought me success in the business I came about; it seems to indicate that the will of God is for me to return to my master as soon as possible.The servant’s request was Send me away, that I may go to my master,” and bring him the good news that I have obtained a wife for Isaac, from the family of Bethuel. He wishes to return with the bride to his master. Whether this is Abraham or Isaac, is not stated. But, judging from Genesis 24:65, there is ground for the supposition that Isaac is intended—“Rebekah also looked up and saw Isaac. She got down from her camel and asked the servant, "Who is that man in the field coming to meet us?" "He is my master," the servant answered. So she took her veil and covered herself” (Genesis 24:64, 65). Otherwise, the servant’s haste may be supposed to have been dictated by a knowledge of Abraham’s failing condition. If so, it is strange that there is no mention of Abraham on the return.

 

 

57 And they said, We will call the damsel, and enquire at her mouth.

 

“And they said, we will call the damsel.” Perhaps Rebekah, out of modesty, had withdrawn herself and gone to her own apartment, while the servant, her family, and her friends were discussing this subject—whether she should stay longer or immediately depart with the man. They had been unable to agree upon a solution, so they decided to ask Rebekah to join them, so they couldinquire at her mouth,” that is, to ask her whether she is willing to leave immediately or not. In other words, the matter in question will be referred to her, and left to her decision.

 

We understand from the previous verses that the discussion did not concern the marriage itself, since she had left that matter for her parents and friends to decide. Besides, she had given tacit approval to the marriage when she accepted those presents which were given to her to signify that both parties agree to the marriage. The only thing still undecided waswhether she is willing to leave immediately or not.

 

 

58 And they called Rebekah, and said unto her, Wilt thou go with this man? And she said, I will go.

 

“And they called Rebekah,” or ordered one of the servants to let her know that they requested her presence.When she arrived, someone in the room asked her directly, Wilt thou go with this man?  The question was not about her marriage to Isaac, since that was already agreed upon, and no doubt she had given her consent, but about taking the journey immediately.

 

A woman in the East has little choice in the matter of her marriage, and in this instance, everything was so clearly providential; therefore, Rebekah, like her father and brother (Genesis 24:50), would have felt that it was wrong to do or say anything in opposition to God. “And she said, I will go,” expressing her readiness to leave at once, though she will never see her relatives again. It appears that Rebekah had no objections to leaving immediately; but on the contrary, she had a strong inclination to leave, and was determined to go; and perhaps she was under a divine impulse, which strongly acted upon her, and caused her to be very willing to leave her own people, and her father's house. Of course, there would be a little delay for preparation, but none for departing and saying good-by.

 

 

59 And they sent away Rebekah their sister, and her nurse, and Abraham's servant, and his men.

 

“They sent away Rebekah their sister,”not in an angry huff, but with love and good will; they agreed she should go, and took their leave of her in a very proper and affectionate manner. “They” is to be understood to mean her brother Laban, and other brothers and sisters she might have, though only Laban is mentioned; or, in view of the context of the entire passage, it could refer to her brother and mother, who spoke last; or it may indicate all her relatives, who call her their sister, because they are so closely related.

 

Rebekah would not have to make the long journey alone, because her nurse would go along with her. She had probably been her nurse in former times, when she was an infant, and Rebekah had great affection for her,which is often the case. Her name was Deborah, according to Genesis 35:8—But Deborah Rebekah's nurse died, and she was buried beneath Bethel under an oak: and the name of it was called Allonbachuth.”Although she is called a nurse here, she had not acted as such for a long time, but had been serving her as a special personal attendant. (Compare, Genesis 29:24; Genesis 29:29). How dear Deborah was, first to Rebekah, and afterwards to Jacob, may be seen by the expressions of grief at her death (Genesis 35:8). She was held in great esteem, as nurses in general were in ancient times, both in Asia and in Greece.

 

In this corrupt family, the mother and the nurse are two distinct persons; but in Abraham’s pious family there was no such person; no one who served Abraham’s family as a nurse.

 

 “Abraham's servant, and his men(his retinue)were sent on their way by Rebekah’s familyin an appropriate and friendly manner.The servant’s retinue is mentioned in Genesis 24:32And the man came into the house: and he ungirded his camels, and gave straw and provender for the camels, and water to wash his feet, and the men's feet that were with him.”

 

 

60 And they blessed Rebekah, and said unto her, Thou art our sister, be thou the mother of thousands of millions, and let thy seed possess the gate of those which hate them.

 

Her parents and her friends, “blessed Rebekah.” Though she was going away from them into a distant country, and they might never see her again, they wished for the best and grandest of blessings to descend upon her. They said, Thou art our sister”—our near kinswoman (a female relative); your distance from us shall not alienate our affection for you; but we will still acknowledge you as our sister, and be ready to carry out all the duties of brethren to you.

 

The blessing they wished for Rebekah had two parts:

(1)   “Be thou the mother of thousands of millions.” In Hebrew, “thousands of millions” would be stated as thousands of ten thousands. A million was a number which at this early period the Hebrews had no means of expressing. This blessing is the hope of fruitfulness based on the command given to Adam and Eve—“God blessed them and said to them, "Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground." (Genesis 1:28).The Edomites and Israelites both have Rebekah as their source.

(2)  “And let thy seed possess the gate of those that hate them.” The idea here is that herdescendants would exercise dominion and authority over their enemies: let them not only be numerous, but powerful and victorious, as both the nations (Edomites and Israelites) were at different times, and especially the latter; and principally this had its accomplishment in Christ, who sprung from her in the line of Jacob (Matthew 1:2). In some respects this seems to be similar to the promise made to Abraham, in Genesis 22:17; which this family might have learned from Abraham's servant, who may have reported not only how great his master was, but also those promises made to him, by God, with respect to his posterity.

 

The meaning of this verse is, that they prayed that God would make her very fruitful, and cause her posterity to be victorious over their enemies.

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