At the beginning of this chapter we remarked that Abraham was probably about 137 years old and had to make a decision about where to bury his wife Sarah who had just died. There was a strong tradition, at this time, for people to be buried near their ancestors. We talked about the strength of Abraham’s faith when he chose to bury Sarah in the ‘land of promise’ instead of returning to the land where some of his ancestors had been buried. As a nomad he had travelled far away from the home of his ancestors and did not own any part of the land where he was living. But he believed God’s promise that both he and his descendants would be given the land forever (Genesis 13 v 14-18).
Abraham decided to approach a wealthy Hittite called Ephron in order to buy a cave on his land in which to bury Sarah. The discussion about this transaction took place at the gate of the city (Genesis 23 v 10). Public agreements like this were normal as they took place in front of witnesses and this made the transaction legal. The agreed price was 400 shekels of silver. We talked about the fact that this was in weight, not coinage, and was weighed in front of all the witnesses. Although Ephron the Hittite offered to give Abraham both the cave and the land around it, under Hittite law Ephron would still have been responsible for the upkeep of the field. By buying the land Abraham turns his back on the previous generations of his family. He ensures that the rights and responsibilities for the land remain with his family and he establishes a new burial place for his own and future generations. This shows his faith in God’s promise that both he and his descendants would live in the land forever.
We discussed the betrothal and marriage customs of the Semitic tribes. Abraham knew that God’s promises were to be realised through Isaac and he wanted to organise a suitable marriage for his son. This involved travelling to find his brother Nahor and arranging a marriage within the family. The custom of arranged marriages to cousins was common amongst Semitic tribes but Abraham’s main concern was that Isaac would not marry a Canaanite woman. The Canaanites believed in pagan gods and did not worship the one true God.
As Abraham was too old to make the journey himself he trusted his loyal servant to go instead. Abraham emphasises the importance of the task by asking the servant to make a solemn oath before God (Genesis 24 v 2 – 9).
Abraham’s servant took ten camels and various other presents and provisions for the journey. This was to show the family that Abraham was a wealthy man and that his son would inherit that wealth and would therefore make a good husband. We have already learned in Genesis 22 v 20 – 24 that Nahor had a large family. His granddaughter was a young woman called Rebekah.
When the servant arrived in North West Mesopotamia he was a stranger to the area and so went to one of the wells where he knew he would be able to obtain information about the people living nearby. While he waited for the women to come to the well to draw water in the cool of the evening he prayed to the God of Abraham and set out ways in which he hoped for guidance to find the right wife for Isaac (Genesis 24 v 14). The prayer was answered immediately because Rebekah was the first woman to arrive and she drew water for both him and the camels. The servant realised that he had be guided by God and he could see by her manner and appearance that she was exactly the right person to be a bride for Isaac. He was not surprised when he learned that she was the granddaughter of Abraham’s brother. The gifts that the servant gave to Rebekah, on behalf of Abraham, showed his intention and she willingly offered him her family’s hospitality. Offering hospitality to strangers was an important aspect of Middle Eastern life and Laban, Rebekah’s brother, recognised the importance of the visitor through the gifts and called him ‘blessed by the LORD.’ (Genesis 24 v 31). The servant showed his faithfulness to both Abraham and to God by refusing to eat or rest until he had explained the reason for his visit (Genesis 24 v 33).
The brothers, Laban and Bethuel, conducted all the negotiations so we decided that probably Abraham’s brother Nahor may have died. Laban and Bethuel recognised that the proposed marriage between Isaac and Rebekah was part of God’s purpose (Genesis 24 v v 50 – 51). Initially Rebekah was not consulted about the marriage proposal, as was the custom, but when the servant said that they needed to leave immediately her mother and brother suggested having a longer period of preparation, as was the custom with arranged marriages. However, Rebekah showed her understanding of God’s purpose when she agreed to go with the servant willingly with very little preparation. We talked about the way that, as true followers of Jesus, we must always be prepared.
When Rebekah saw Isaac in the distance she got down from the camel and covered her head with a veil. The veil was an essential part of female dress at this time. In country places it was not always worn but on the appearance of a stranger, it was drawn over the face. In a bride it was a token of her reverence to her future husband.
In the final part of the chapter we see that Isaac honours Rebekah by establishing her as the future matriarch of the family. He takes her to his mother’s tent (Genesis 24 v 67) and she becomes his wife.