The Bible unveils priceless histories of women that God specifically chose to advance His masterful plan for mankind. How well do we know these real people that so courageously met the tests and trials laid before them? Remember, we can be as much exhorted from a heroine as from a hero (1 Corinthians 10:11). Let’s study Rebekah. She played a pivotal part in building the house of Jacob.
A Bible Idyll
Lange’s Commentary tells us that the introduction of Rebekah into Israel’s earliest history “glows in all the freshness and fullness of a sacred biblical idyll.” An idyll is an extremely happy, peaceful and beautiful episode or scene. Moses’s opening snapshots of Rebekah are some of the most beautifully written passages in the Bible.
Rebekah’s chronicle, according to Lange’s, is the first in a series that give religious glorification to the human bridal state. God intends for us to see her as the sparkling diamond in a string of jewels that includes the likes of Rachel and Ruth. Her bride’s tale is unique. Why? It is a divinely orchestrated and consecrated love story.
Rebekah’s life is an example for all brides. In fact, as Isaac is a type of Christ, Rebekah is a type of the Church. Looking into her history helps us comprehend the sterling characteristics Christ wants in His Bride. Coming to know Rebekah gives us a sense of Christ’s thrill over marrying us—His fetchingly beautiful wife.
News From Home
Rebekah is first mentioned within the genealogical records of Nahor, her grandfather and Abraham’s brother (Genesis 22:20-24). This genealogy comes to us in an unusual way. It is not just a dry list of names and begettals. It was news from home!
Genesis 22 is the record of God confronting Abraham with the paramount test of faith—the sacrifice of Isaac. Witnessing Isaac freed from certain death not only relieved Abraham, it filled him with intense joy. To add to his joy came word from home. His only living brother, Nahor, had grown into a large family of 12 sons. Remember, Abraham and Sarah had to forsake family to obey God. The couple’s endeavor to have a family of their own was filled with frustration. Being constantly on the move in a strange land, without family, would have been a lonely struggle. Think about it. About half a century had passed since Abraham had any physical contact with his brother. To hear of Nahor’s familial success was good news. The Bible does not tell us who brought the long-distance report to Abraham, but it does show us why.
Study this genealogy carefully. Its underlying subject is family growth! Could it be that God was giving Abraham a glimpse of his own family’s future? His grandson Jacob would also father 12 sons. Also notice that only one of Nahor’s granddaughters—Rebekah—is included on the list (verse 23). Surely with a big family of 12 sons there were other granddaughters. However, Rebekah is put on center stage. Why? It should be obvious to us that God wanted her in the spotlight.
This message from Mesopotamia was a divine nudge for Abraham to get the family of promise moving forward. Abraham had just successfully completed a crucial test that identified him as a type of God the Father. It was now time for the next step in God’s plan. To move events forward, Isaac needed a wife. God showed Abraham where to find him one.
Immediately following Rebekah’s introduction, Moses gives us details of Sarah’s death and burial. “And Sarah was an hundred and seven and twenty years old: these were the years of the life of Sarah. And Sarah died in Kirjath–arba; the same is Hebron in the land of Canaan: and Abraham came to mourn for Sarah, and to weep for her” (Genesis 23:1-2). As originally written, there was no chapter break here. Moses deliberately coupled the news of Rebekah with the death of Sarah.
In previous articles we have shown that God inspired Moses to give great honor to Sarah. Not only was she the mother of Isaac, in type she is the mother of all the faithful (Isaiah 51:2; 1 Peter 3:6). In all respects she was co-regent with Abraham and co-heir of God’s promises (Hebrews 11:11-13). The remainder of chapter 23 is devoted to Abraham’s purchase of the cave Machpelah to provide a proper burial place for his dead queen. Underscoring this history is the knowledge that a new queen is about to come on the scene.
Abraham and Isaac cried many tears over the loss of Sarah. She was 90 when Isaac was born (see Genesis 17:17; 21:5). Dying at 127 gave her 37 years with him. That’s a lot of time to be together. Isaac being Sarah’s only son made them intensely close. Understandingly, she doted on the boy. His mother was his strengthening support at the most crucial stages of his life. When Isaac was an infant, Sarah was his first line of defense against his half-brother’s cruel mocking (Genesis 21:8-10). During his teenage years she comforted him through all the awkward changes to manhood. Surely she gloried in his maturity as a young prince. So, for Isaac, standing over his mother’s lifeless corpse with Abraham was deeply agonizing. Yet, fresh solace would soon be on its way.
Wooing the Bride
Sarah’s passing was another prod for the aged patriarch. Moses tells us: “And Abraham was old, and well stricken in age: and the Lord had blessed Abraham in all things. And Abraham said unto his eldest servant … thou shalt not take a wife unto my son of the daughters of the Canaanites, among whom I dwell: But thou shalt go unto my country, and to my kindred, and take a wife unto my son Isaac” (Genesis 24:1-4). Sarah’s death forced Abraham to consider his own. He was 137 years old. It was time to set his house in order. Abraham knew that God intended the promises to be passed through time—handed down by each future generation of family (Genesis 17:18-19). He had one major task to finish. Acting swiftly, he set a process in motion. It was time to journey to Nahor’s country for Isaac’s bride.
Yet, Isaac would not make the trip. Abraham chose a trusted and wise servant to woo the bride. We can safely assume this servant is Eliezer (Genesis 15:2). This man had been a loyal steward over Abraham’s vast estate for 60 years. The wealthy patriarch was fully confident Eliezer could successfully complete such an important mission. Because we often think carnally, it seems radically strange to us that Isaac was not involved at all in the selection of his own bride. Even Abraham’s servant assumed that Isaac would go on the journey (Genesis 24:5). However, Abraham warned his servant to never take Isaac to Mesopotamia (verse 6). There was no future for him in that land saturated with temptation and sin.
Acting from a reservoir of faith, Abraham knew that God would personally pick Isaac’s wife. Isaac believed that too, though the Bible does not state this specifically. Abraham assured his servant, “The Lord God of heaven … shall send his angel before thee, and thou shalt take a wife unto my son from thence” (verse 7). This is an outstanding lesson for us. God should always be directly involved in the selection of a mate. His vision and choice is perfect and will produce the happiness all humans long for. Remember, Jesus Christ is fully submitted to God’s choice of His Bride. We must learn to rely fully on God and His wisdom.
Enter the Shepherdess
Without delay, Eliezer led a large caravan lavish with gifts on the long journey to Nahor. He arrived at his destination in the evening; the perfect time to meet Isaac’s wife. “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” (Genesis 24:11). There is wonderful charm in this peaceful scene. Can we imagine it? See the rose-red sun setting at the end of a day. Sense a sigh of relief floating on the breeze—a journey is at an end. Hear the lilting sounds of women talking at the well harmonizing with the bird songs trilling in the trees. We should feel as refreshed as Eliezer at the promise of thirst-quenching cool water being drawn from the well.
Eliezer’s firm fix on his purpose opened the way to the immediate and successful completion of his assigned task. Sensing the spiritual seriousness of his delegation he instantly dropped to his knees and prayed: “O Lord God of my master Abraham, I pray thee, send me good speed this day, and shew 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 shewed kindness unto my master” (verses 12-14). Having grown up in the school of Abraham, he knew that faith is fulfilled by continual prayer for God’s intervention. God responds to those who depend on His power to bring events to pass.
Before Eliezer was even done praying, Rebekah walked on stage. Her appearance caused everything and everyone else to fade into the background.
Moses writes, “… Rebekah came out … with her pitcher upon her shoulder. And the damsel was very fair to look upon, a virgin, neither had any man known her: and she went down to the well, and filled her pitcher, and came up” (verses 15-16). The name Rebekah comes from the Hebrew root word ribqah. Strong’s Concordance tells us that the word probably means “to clog by tying up the fetlock,” or to be “fettering (by beauty).” A fetter is a chain or shackle fixed to the foot or ankle. Essentially, the name Rebekah means to hold captive by beauty. Seeing Rebekah would stop you cold—frozen by her stunning looks. Moses stresses she was very beautiful.
More importantly, Moses shows that she was very diligent at her chores. Coming to the well, she did not stop to chatter. She carried a water pitcher on her shoulder, demonstrating her readiness to work. She instantly went down the steps into the well, drew water and was on her way home. She was very focused on her work.
She-bang and Cyclone
Eliezer was arrested by her fresh, invigorating presence. Not wanting her to slip away, the elderly man ran to meet her (verse 17). He instantly tested her according to his earnest prayer: “Let me, I pray thee, drink a little water of thy pitcher.” Looking into his eyes with tenderness, without hesitation she humbly answered, “Drink, my lord” (verse 18). Rebekah’s response reveals the comeliness of her character. The Hebrew root word for “lord” is adown or adon and means to rule. God’s name Adonai comes from this same word. Because of Eliezer’s age, the young woman showed him the deepest respect. Essentially she called him master. How beautiful is that? Then, she “hasted,” or hurried, to give him a cool drink. Her willingness to serve an elderly stranger is truly becoming.
She did not stop there. Without delay she graciously offered, “I will draw water for thy camels also, until they have done drinking” (verse 19). Amazing! She was attuned to the needs of the camels that were worked hard on the journey. What a bright-eyed beauty!
Pay particular attention to verse 20. She hasted to pour the remainder of her pitcher into the trough. Then she ran to the well to obtain more water for the camels. Remember, there were 10 camels (verse 10). She had to go down into the well several times to fully replenish the camels. This was not easy work, yet she did it with real zest.
In order to see a full picture of Rebekah, remember some descriptions Herbert W. Armstrong gave us of his wife, Loma, in his autobiography. Meeting her for the first time, he wrote, “I hadn’t seen such fresh, joyous, ‘zip and go’ in a long time. She literally exuded energy, sparkle, good cheer, the friendly warmth of a sincere, outgoing personality. … I learned later that her brothers dubbed her with two nicknames—‘She-bang’ and ‘Cyclone’! She was full of fun, yet serious—with the unspoiled wholesomeness of an Iowa country girl. And, most important of all, strength of character!” This is exactly how Moses wants us to know Rebekah. Understanding the incredible value Mrs. Armstrong was for Mr. Armstrong and the Work gives us a picture of how invaluable Rebekah was for Isaac.
Study verse 21. As Eliezer watched Rebekah work, he was astonished. His prayer had been answered so quickly. The stunning shepherd girl gave him and the camels water to drink. The word wondering in verse 21 literally means whirling to giddiness. Participating in the incident at the well left him stunned and dizzy with joy at the same time. Assured that God directed him to the right woman, he answered her kindness with some expensive gold jewelry. She must have wondered at the gifts.
Yet, there was one question Abraham’s servant still had to ask, “Whose daughter art thou?” Certain of her answer, he added quickly, “[I]s there room in thy father’s house for us to lodge in?” (verse 23). Simply and sweetly Rebekah answered, “I am the daughter of Bethuel the son of Milcah, which she bare unto Nahor. … We have both straw and provender enough, and room to lodge in” (verses 24-25).
Moved emotionally, Eliezer bowed his head and worshiped God then and there. He told Rebekah, “Blessed be the Lord God of my master Abraham, who hath 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 brethren” (verse 27). Now it was Rebekah’s turn to be astonished. Her great uncle Abraham had sent a caravan of goods to find them. Unaware of Eliezer’s real mission and still full of energy, she ran home to tell the family of her curious encounter at the well.
Seeing Rebekah wearing fine jewelry and hearing his sister’s tale about the man at the well caused Laban to run and invite him to stay with them (verse 30). A convoy of camels from Abraham held a thrilling mystery that had to be unraveled. Locating Eliezer, he warmly said, “Come in, thou blessed of the Lord; wherefore standest thou without?” (verse 31). Because of his position in the family it was appropriate for Laban to welcome the stranger to their home rather than Rebekah.
Before tearing off to the well, Laban prepared suitable accommodations for the man and beasts (verse 31). Arriving at the family’s property, in a genuine spirit of hospitality, Laban gave Eliezer real rest. He personally took care of the camels and gave him water to wash his feet. Laban also laid out a sumptuous meal before Eliezer. Yet the servant would not eat until his true purpose was made known. Laban told him, “Say on.” Eliezer delivered one of the most skillfully woven, dignified speeches in the Bible.
Back to Canaan
Bethuel’s family listened intently as the articulate servant explained the motives for his expedition. Study verses 34 through 49. He gave the good news that the God Abraham followed to Canaan had blessed their brother with great wealth. He spoke fondly of Sarah giving birth to a son. He told the family that this son was sole heir to all of Abraham’s vast fortune. He explained Abraham’s warning that Isaac was not to marry a Canaanite but a woman within his own family. He highlighted God’s guidance of his trip. He spoke about his earnest prayer. Then he was very clear. There was no room for doubt. Abraham’s God led had him directly to Rebekah, granddaughter of Nahor.
It’s not hard to imagine that the young princess sat there stunned.
Eliezer concluded his saga asking, “And now if ye will deal kindly and truly with my master, tell me: and if not, tell me; that I may turn to the right hand, or to the left” (verse 49).
Hearing such a compelling story, Rebekah’s brothers Laban and Bethuel answered quickly, “The thing proceedeth from the Lord: we cannot speak unto thee bad or good. Behold, Rebekah is before thee, take her, and go, and let her be thy master’s son’s wife, as the Lord hath spoken” (verses 50-51). Mesopotamian law at that time allowed her brothers the legal right to give her in marriage.
At the sound of that great news, Eliezer sublimely worshiped God again. He presented Rebekah more jewels and fine clothing. He enriched her brother and mother (verse 53). Acceptance of the gifts confirmed that the young maiden was officially engaged to an unseen husband. Laban’s meal was transformed into a joyous, late-into-the-night celebration (verse 54). No one was happier than Eliezer.
The very next morning, Abraham’s servant sought a quick departure. He said boldly, “Send me away to my master.” Shocked, her brother and mother ask that Rebekah remain with them for at least 10 days (verse 55). Commentaries suggest that the family was actually requesting that Rebekah remain at home for 10 months to a year. Knowing that God arranged all the events, Eliezer saw no need to delay the return to Canaan. He sincerely insisted that he be allowed to return to Abraham as soon as possible (verse 56). Since Rebekah was essentially married, the family left the decision to her. Calling her into the meeting, the family asked, “Wilt thou go with this man?” Rebekah responded quickly, “I will go” (verse 58).
These three words tell us much about this young woman. She was as vigorous in her decision as she was at drawing water from the well. Her bold and courageous full consent to go immediately with Eliezer shows that she wanted to get on with her new life. She sets an example of active faith for us. How ready are we to get on with our new life married to Christ?
Rebekah’s family consented to her decision. They gave her their blessing by saying, “Thou art our sister, be thou the mother of thousands of millions, and let thy seed possess the gate of those which hate them” (verse 60). This blessing is a prophecy looking far into Rebekah’s future. Surely this blessing impacted her thinking as she journeyed to Canaan.
It is interesting to note that she arrived in Canaan in the evening and immediately met Isaac, who was meditating in a field. Learning who Isaac was, she rushed to introduce herself. This chapter closes as beautifully as it opened. Moses tells us, “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” (verse 67). Yet, as our history continues, we’ll see that the beautiful Rebekah would be severely tried—in order to prepare her to become the mother of millions.