Bride of Isaac
She could hardly have been more than sixteen at the time, this young girl, verging upon womanhood, whom Ferrar Fenton, with his passion for the English vernacular, describes as "very beautiful to look upon, a maiden who had no sweetheart" which in any case is exactly what the Hebrew of Gen. 24.16 implies. Eliezer, steward to Abraham, the wealthiest man in faraway Canaan, followed her lithe walk with his eyes as she moved gracefully towards the well beside which he was standing, her water jar upon her shoulder. His men, waiting beside their laden camels, watched him as he cogitated within himself whether the Lord was about to make his mission prosperous. He had come four hundred miles into Aram-Naharaim, the Land of the Two Rivers, to find a bride for his master's son Isaac, but his instructions were that the woman chosen must be of Abraham's own relatives, settled here in the land from which Abraham had left many years ago, in response to the Divine call, to go to Canaan. Within the next few minutes he was to find that he had been led unerringly directly to the object of his quest.
Rebekah was the grand‑daughter of Nahor, Abraham's older brother. From Gen.22.20‑24 it would appear that only within the immediate past had Abraham known anything of his brother's family. Evidently travellers from the old homeland had brought news that Nahor had fathered a family of twelve sons of whom one, Bethuel, was the father of Rebekah. Since Abraham knew none of these children when he left Haran it must be that the daughter of Bethuel was very young when Eliezer met her. Now as he looked upon her he was reminded again of the importance of his choice. Isaac was the covenant child, the promised "seed" of Abraham. Did he know that from him was to spring the dedicated nation destined to preserve the knowledge and revelation of God in history, prepare for the coming of Christ, and ultimately become a light to the nations when at last God should turn to evangelise the world in the days of Christ's kingdom. The steward was cautious as he began to converse with this fresh young girl who might conceivably become involved in so great a destiny.
Rebekah, of course, could have had no such thoughts. Born and brought up in a pastoral community where life was probably remote from the political upheavals that were always in progress, with little thought of the future save what was involved in the growing of crops and the maintenance of flocks and herds, she probably had no knowledge at all of the wider world outside her father's lands. The story of her great‑uncle's migration into distant Canaan in obedience to a Divine command might well have been known to her but any thought of her own eventual involvement in that same Divine purpose could not have crossed her mind. The enthusiasm with which she received the stranger was prompted purely by the instinct of hospitality which was so deeply engrained a characteristic of Eastern peoples. It was with wonder and possibly a little apprehension therefore that she received Eliezer's gifts. A gold "earring" ‑ more properly, a ring to wear in the nose, a customary feminine adornment in those days ‑ of half a shekel weight, equal to a British gold sovereign, and two bracelets of gold, each containing ten shekels, as much metal as twenty gold sovereigns. Their effective value was much greater than would appear, however, for in that day and land the wages of an ordinary labourer or shepherd amounted only to six shekels a year and a large house could be purchased for seven or eight shekels. No wonder Rebekah ran quickly to her home to tell her family of the intriguing visitor and of what he had said to her.
This is where a Christian can begin to find a special significance in the story. At many times, in many places, by word and by pen, Eliezer's mission and the subsequent marriage of Isaac and Rebekah has been used as an illustration or symbol of the call of the Church and her union with Christ the heavenly Bridegroom. Perhaps former generations derived a greater measure of spiritual satisfaction from this kind of symbolism than does our modern down to earth age, but the picture is compelling none the less. Here is Eliezer, the messenger of Abraham, being received into the house of Bethuel the father of Rebekah as a welcome visitor. "You are a man whom the LORD has blessed. Why are you standing out here?" was her brother Laban's welcome. This is the commencement of the Christian call. The Holy Spirit of God goes abroad in the earth seeking "a people for God's name" (Acts. 15.14). Where there is a receptive heart, even although that heart is as yet ignorant of the implications involved in the calling, there the Spirit enters with its gracious invitation: "My son, give me thine heart". Knowing, as we do, that God is working all the time to bring his erring children back to himself, one can sense a world of meaning in the attitude of Eliezer as he looked upon Rebekah; "and the man kept watching her in silence, to see if the LORD had given him success" (Gen. 24.21). Will there be a willing response to the Gospel invitation or is the seed destined to fall upon stony ground? Surely God waits, as did that faithful steward of old, to see if the appeal is to be prosperous or not!
In the case of Rebekah, it did prosper. Eliezer told his story to the assembled family, enlarging upon the wealth and prosperity of their kinsman, Abraham, and his desire that Isaac, his heir, should be united with a woman of his own family rather than the more or less idolatrous people of Canaan. He told how God had guided him straight to the household he sought and how therefore he desired to take Rebekah back with him to be Isaac's bride. Having said all, he awaited their decision.
It is here we have evidence that the God whom Abraham served was equally acknowledged in the family of his brother Nahor. "Since this matter comes from the Lord, it is not for us to make a decision" said both Bethuel and Laban. "Here is Rebekah; take her and go. Let her become the wife of your master's son, as the LORD himself has said " (Gen.24. 50‑51). Here, in this house, the leading and the overruling providence of God was recognised and obeyed. They had never seen this man before; they had to accept his word that he was in fact who he said he was. He arrived out of the blue with a cool request that he be allowed to take their young daughter to a land four hundred miles away to marry a man none of them had ever seen and of whose very existence they had until then been ignorant. The name of Abraham they knew as that of Laban's grandfather's brother, but he had gone off into the wilds of Canaan some seventy years previously before any of them were born and they could have been excused if they had demanded some proof that he was in fact still alive. Nevertheless they displayed what can only be accepted as an acute perception of the hand of God in this thing; "the thing proceedeth from the Lord .... take her, and go".
And Rebekah herself; what of her? To show friendship to a stranger and accept his presents and introduce him into her family was one thing; to trust herself to a stranger and go with him into the trackless wilderness under promise of marriage to a man she had never seen, knowing that she was leaving her own people for ever, was quite another. Not unnaturally her family wanted her to remain with them a year, or at least ten months (the literal meaning of Gen. 24.55) before leaving for good, but at Eliezer's insistence that he must return with her at once or not at all, they referred the matter to Rebekah herself. "Let's call the girl and see what she has to say…. Do you want to go with this man? Yes, she answered" (v.58). That prompt decision speaks volumes for the character and the faith of this youngster. She evidently shared the conviction of her elders; she too believed that the hand of God was outstretched to lead her into a life of new experiences involving the Divine purpose, and like her illustrious kinsman nearly a century before her own time, she "went out, not knowing whither she went" (Heb.11.8). Abraham had been called out of Haran to Canaan in just the same fashion, knowing nothing of what awaited him; now his great-niece received the same call and answered it in the same certainty of faith. So the sixteen year old Rebekah, her chaperon Deborah, her attendant maids, Eliezer with his men, and his train of ten camels, set out from Haran to go to Canaan where Abraham and Isaac were waiting.
We can see in this a wonderful picture of the response to the Call, the act of consecration of life, and all that life holds, to God! "Hearken, O daughter, and consider, and incline thine ear. Forget also thine own people, and thy father's house. So shall the king greatly desire thy beauty: for he is thy Lord, and worship thou him" (Psa.45.10‑11). Thus does the Psalmist extol the coming of the Bride to the Heavenly Bridegroom, the union of Christ and his Church. He may well have had Rebekah in mind when he penned the words. No one, taking the decision to serve Christ and to belong to Christ, to yield life and powers to his service and to be his unto death, has any idea where or to what that decision is going to lead. Like Rebekah, they go forward in implicit faith, knowing only that God leads.
Nothing is said of the journey. Verse 61 tells of the departure from Haran and v.62 records the arrival in Canaan. Of that four hundred miles trek, over difficult mountain terrain for the most part, no account is given. It could not have been easy. The first part, after crossing the Euphrates, lay through the flat fertile lands of Northern Syria but the travellers would soon find themselves traversing the mountains of Lebanon, bleak and cold. Next came the semi-desert of the Hauran, where the sun blazed down from a cloudless skies and dust storms were frequent. Then down into the humid sweltering heat of the Jordan valley and the crossing of that river by one of its numerous fords, and the slow and painful climb up the ravines of the Canaanite highlands which were afterwards to become Samaria and Judea. Finally the little caravan made its way into the south country, the Negev, not so desert and waterless as it is today; more of a productive pastureland: and there Isaac was waiting for his bride.
That journey could not but be arduous and trying in the extreme for this young girl and her companions, accustomed as they were to the genial landscape and climate of their homeland. Day after day, for probably four or five weeks, they endured the heat by day and the frost by night, the hazards of brigands and wild animals, the difficulties of travel; but Rebekah, like her descendant Moses, "endured, as seeing him who is invisible" (Heb. 11.27). The depth of her devotion, the sincerity of her purpose and fixity of her faith carried her through all the difficulties and oppositions of the way and when at last she reached the goal of her hopes it was to her, as the hymn has it, "the trials of the road will seem nothing, when we come to the end of the way".
In the triumph of attainment, are the difficulties of reaching the end nothing to be regarded, not worth mentioning? Says the Apostle "our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory." Again, "I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us" (2 Cor.4.17: Rom.8.18). The experiences of life, oft times hard, wearisome and even bitter, must of necessity occupy the span of our pilgrim journey between our consecration to God and our attainment of its object in the glory of the 'First Resurrection', our ultimate union with Christ, but in the realisation of that consummation all the difficulties of the way there will pass from the mind and be forgotten. So nothing need be said about the journey.
"And Isaac brought her into his mother Sarah's tent, and took Rebekah, and she became his wife; and he loved her" (v.67). There would of course have been the usual wedding feast, in which all of Abraham's considerable establishment of servants, shepherds, herdsmen and land workers would participate. Abraham's farming interests covered an area of Canaan some forty by thirty miles and he must have employed several hundred workers. Rebekah's wedding was probably an event to be long remembered.