Notes on the Bible, by Albert Barnes, , at sacred-texts.com
- The Marriage of Isaac
26. קרד qādad, "bow the head." השׁתחוה shâchâh, "bow the body."
29. לבן lābān, "Laban, white."
In this circumstantial account of the marriage of Isaac, we have a beautiful picture of ancient manners in the East, the living original of which the present customs of that cradle of mankind are a striking copy.
Abraham binds the chief servant of his house to seek a wife for his son Isaac among his kindred. The first movement in this matrimonial arrangement is on the part of the father, who does not consult his son, but the chief manager of his household affairs. Abraham is now a hundred and forty years of age, and Sarah has been three years dead. Isaac seems to have been of an easy, sedate turn of mind, and was not in circumstances to choose a partner for life such as his father would approve. The promise of a numerous offspring by the son of Sarah is before the mind of the patriarch. All these considerations impel him to look out for a suitable wife for his son, and the blessing of the Lord encourages him to proceed. The person whom Abraham intrusted with this delicate task has a threefold designation. First, he is "his servant" or minister. Secondly, he is the old man, ancient, or elder of his house. Here the term "elder" approaches its official signification. In early times age was taken into account, along with good conduct and aptitude, as the qualification for services of trust. Thirdly, he "ruled over all that he had." He was therefore a master as well as a minister. If this be Eliezer of mascus Gen 15:2, he was the steward of Abraham before the birth of Ishmael fifty-four Years ago. "Under my thigh." The thigh was the seat of generative power, and the region of sacramental consecration, and to put the hand under the thigh was to acknowledge and pledge obedience to him who requires the oath.
The appeal is to God as "Yahweh, God of heaven and God of the earth." Yahweh is the personal name of God, which is properly used by those who are in fellowship with him. He is the Author of all being, and therefore of heaven and earth; and hence the arbiter of the destiny of the oath-taker, both in spiritual and material things, both in this life and in what is to come. "Not of the daughters of the Kenaanite," a race sinking fast into ungodliness and unrighteousness, doomed to extirpation, to whom the promised seed is to succeed. The kindred of Abraham were Shemites, Hebrews, and still retained some knowledge of the true God, and some reverence for him and his will. The experienced elder of Abraham's house does not wish to bind himself by an oath to what it may be impossible to fulfill. He makes the supposition of the unwillingness of the bride whom he may select, and obtains a quittance from his oath in that ease. The patriarch, however, charges him not to bring his son back to the land of his fathers, and expresses his confidence in the God of promise, that he will direct his servant to the suitable wife for his son. "His angel" Gen 16:7. This is the Lord in the function of an angel or messenger opening the way for the servant of Abraham. He does not make any appearance to the servant, though a superintending Providence is strikingly displayed in the whole affair. The faithful elder now understands and takes the required oath.
He proceeds on his journey. "Took ten camels." These are designed for conducting the bride and her companions home to his master. "All the best belonging to his master in his hand." This refers to the presents for the bride and her friends, and to the accommodations for her comfort on the journey. "Aram-Naharaim." Aram was an extensive area, embracing not only the country west of the Frat and north of Palestine, but the northern part of Mesopotamia, or the country between the Frat and the Dijlah. The latter region is for the sake of distinction called Aram of the two rivers. It did not include the southern part of Mesopotamia, which was called Shinar Gen 11:2, and probably extended only to the Chaboras, Khabour. The part of it in which Haran was situated was called Padan-aram Gen 28:2. "The city of Nahor." It is probable that Nahor accompanied his father, Terah, to Haran Gen 11:31. If not, he must have followed him very soon.
Made the camels kneel, - for repose. "The time when the maidens that draw water come out." The evening was the cool part of the day. The simple maidens of primitive days attended personally to domestic affairs. The experienced steward might therefore naturally expect to see the high-born damsels of the land at the public well, which had probably given rise to the neighboring town. The prayer of the aged servant is conceived in a spirit of earnest, childlike faith. The matter in hand is of extraordinary importance. A wife is to be found for the heir of promise. This was a special concern of God, and so the single-hearted follower of Abraham makes it. He takes upon himself the choice of a maiden among those that come to draw, to whom he will make the request of a particular act of kindness to a stranger, and he prays God that the intended bride may be known by a ready compliance with his request. The three qualifications, then, in the mind of the venerable domestic for a bride for his master's son, are a pleasing exterior, a kindly disposition, and the approval of God.
The answer is immediate and direct. "He had not yet done speaking," when the answer came. A damsel "very fair to look upon," satisfying the taste of the old man, appears. He thereupon prefers his request, with which she promptly complies. The old man waits in wonder and silence to see if the Lord's approval will follow.
Rebekah makes herself known in reply to his inquiries. "A ring of gold." The single ring was worn in the nose, the side cartilage of which was pierced for the purpose. This is a custom of the East. "A beka" was half a shekel, somewhat less than a quarter of an ounce. "Ten of gold in weight." Ten bekas would be about two ounces and a quarter. If shekels, however, be understood, the weight will be double. These were merely a reward for her kindness and courtesy to a stranger. Two questions are now asked by the stranger - the one relating to her kindred, and the other to the means and the inclination they had to entertain a stranger, when inns were not yet in existence. She announces herself to be the daughter of his master's nephew, and assures him of the requisite accommodation.
Bowed his head and worshipped. - The bowing of the head and of the body are here combined to indicate the aged servant's deep thankfulness for the guidance of the Lord. The utterance of the mouth accompanies the external gesture of reverence. "Her mother's house;" those who were in the department of the females. We may imagine with what excitement and alacrity Rebekah would communicate the extraordinary intelligence.
The reception of Abraham's servant. Laban now comes on the scene. He is ready to run with his sister to find the man, and invite him, as a matter of course, to his father's house. "When he saw the ring." The presents to his sister assure him that this is the envoy of some man of wealth and position. "Thou blessed of the Lord." The name of Yahweh was evidently not unfamiliar to Laban's ears. He calls this stranger "blessed of Yahweh," on account of his language, demeanor, and manifest prosperity. The knowledge and worship of the living God, the God of truth and mercy, was still retained in the family of Nahor. Being warmly invited, the man enters the house. "And he ungirded the camels." Laban is the actor here, and in the following duties of hospitality. "The men's feet that were with him." It comes out here, incidentally, as it was reasonable to infer from the number of camels, that Abraham's steward had a retinue of servants with him. The crowning act of an Eastern reception is the presenting of food. But the faithful servant must deliver his message before partaking of the friendly meal.
The servant's errand is told. He explains his business in a singularly artless and pleasing manner. He then leaves the matter in the hands of the family. "Given unto him all that he hath." His children by Hagar and Keturah were dismissed with portions during his life, and the main bulk of his property was conveyed to Isaac.
The servant's return with Rebekah. So plain an interposition of Providence admits of no refusal on the part of those who revere the Lord. Bethuel now appears as a concurring party. Laban, as the full brother of Rebekah, has a voice in the disposal of her hand; but the father only has the power to ratify the contract. The patriarch's servant first bows in acknowledgment to the Lord, who had now manifested his approval of the choice he had made, and then proceeds to distribute costly gifts to the bride, and to her brother and mother. Now at length the thankful guest partakes of the fare set before him along with his entertainers, and after the night's repose requests to be dismissed. "A few days;" perhaps a week or ten days. The mother and brother naturally plead for a little time to prepare for parting with Rebekah. They could not expect the servant, however, to stay months.
"Inquire at her mouth." This is the only free choice in the matter that seems to be given to Rebekah. Her consent may have been modestly indicated, before her family ratified the contract. It is plain, however, that it was thought proper that the parents should receive and decide upon a proposal of marriage. The extent to which the maiden's inclinations would be consulted would depend very much on the custom of the country, and the intelligence and good feeling of the parents. In later times the custom became very arbitrary. Rebekah's decision shows that she concurred in the consent of her relatives. "And her nurse." Her name, we learn afterward Gen 35:8, was Deborah. The nurse accompanied the bride as her confidential adviser and faithful attendant, and died in her service; a beautiful trait of ancient manners. The blessing consists in a boundless offspring, and the upper hand over their enemies. These are indicative of a thin population, and a comparatively rude state of society. "And her damsels." We here learn, again, incidentally, that Rebekah had more female attendants than her nurse.
Isaac receives his bride. He had been at Beer-lahai-roi, the scene of the interview of Hagar with the angel of the Lord - a spot calculated to awaken thoughts of an overruling Providence. "To meditate." This is a characteristic of Isaac's retiring, contemplative mood. Abraham was the active, authoritative father; Isaac was the passive, submissive son. To meditate was to hold converse with his own thoughts, to ponder on the import of that never-to-be-forgotten scene when he was laid on the altar by a father's hand, and a ram caught in the thicket became his substitute, and to pour out his soul unto the God of his salvation. In this hour of his grave reflection comes his destined bride with her faithful escort upon his view. Rebekah lights off the camel. Doubtless the conversation by the way with the elder of Abraham's house had made her aware of their approach to the residence of her future husband.
She concludes at once that this must be he, and, alighting, asks if it be. On being informed by the servant that this is his young master, she puts on the veil, which covers the head, and hangs down gracefully both behind and before. The aged servant reports the success of his mission, and presents Rebekah. Isaac brings his cousin's daughter into the apartments formerly occupied by his mother, and accepts her as his wife. The formalities of the interview, and of her presentation to Abraham as his daughter-in-law, are all untold. "And he loved her." This is the first mention of the social affections. It comes in probably because Isaac had not before seen his bride, and now felt his heart drawn toward her, when she was presented to his view. All things were evidently done in the fear of God, as became those who were to be the progenitors of the seed of promise. We have here a description of the primeval marriage. It is a simple taking of a woman for a wife before all witnesses, and with suitable feelings and expression of reverence toward God, and of desire for his blessing. It is a pure and holy relation, reaching back into the realms of innocence, and fit to be the emblem of the humble, confiding, affectionate union between the Lord and his people.