REBEKAH looked out over the rugged landscape as the shadows lengthened. After weeks of travel, she was finally getting used to the swaying gait of the camel as she sat perched high atop its back. Her childhood home in Haran was far behind her, hundreds of miles to the northeast. She might never see her family again. Questions about her future surely flooded her mind
The caravan had passed through much of Canaan and was traversing harsher terrain, the Negeb. (Genesis 24:62) Rebekah likely saw sheep. The country here might be too wild and arid for extensive farming, but it provided ample pasturage for grazing. It was familiar ground to her elderly guide. He was bursting with good news to tell his master
In many parts of the world today, arranged marriages may seem strange. In other regions, such unions are common. Whatever your background, you may agree that Rebekah was heading into the unknown. She was, in fact, a woman of remarkable courage and faith. We need both qualities when we face changes in life. There are other beautiful and rare qualities associated with Rebekah’s faith.
“I WILL ALSO DRAW WATER FOR YOUR CAMELS”
The great change that came into Rebekah’s life began in a way that may have seemed fairly ordinary to her. She grew up in or near Haran, a city in Mesopotamia. Her parents were different from most people in Haran. They did not worship the moon-god Sin. Rather, their God was Jehovah.
Rebekah grew up to be a very beautiful young woman, but she was no passive, vain beauty. She was spirited, and she remained morally pure. Her family was prosperous enough to have servants, but Rebekah was not coddled or treated like a princess; she was raised to work hard. Like so many women of those times, Rebekah had some heavy chores to do, including fetching water for the family. Early in the evening, she would hoist a vessel onto her shoulder and head off to the spring.
One evening, after she had filled her jar, an elderly man ran up to meet her. He said to her: “Please give me a little sip of water from your jar.” It was such a modest request and so politely made! Rebekah could see that the man had traveled far. So she quickly swung her water jar from her shoulder and let the man drink, not a mere sip, but a real drink of the fresh, cool water. She noticed that he had a train of ten camels kneeling nearby and that the trough had not yet been filled to water them. She could see that his kind eyes were watching her attentively, and she wanted to be as generous as she could. So she said: “I will also draw water for your camels until they are done drinking.”
Note that Rebekah offered not merely to give the ten camels a drink but to water them until they were satisfied. If very thirsty, one camel might drink over 25 gallons (95 L) of water! If all ten camels were that thirsty, Rebekah faced hours of hard work. As matters turned out, it seems unlikely that the camels were extremely thirsty. * But did Rebekah know that when she made her offer? No. She was willing, even eager, to work as hard as need be to show hospitality to this elderly stranger. He accepted her offer. Then he watched her intently as she ran back and forth, filling and refilling her jar and emptying it into the trough again and again.
Rebekah’s example speaks eloquently to us today. We live in an age when selfishness seems to reign supreme. As foretold, people have become “lovers of themselves,” unwilling to go out of their way for others. (2 Timothy 3:1-5) Christians who seek to fight the influence of that trend do well to contemplate the Bible’s picture of that young woman so long ago, running back and forth to the well.
Rebekah surely noticed the elderly man’s gaze upon her. There was nothing improper in his look; it suggested amazement, wonderment, and joy. When Rebekah was done at last, he gave her gifts
Clearly, Rebekah was raised to be hospitable. Here is another value that seems to be on the wane today
“YOU MUST TAKE A WIFE FOR MY SON”
Who was that old man at the well? He was a servant of Abraham, the brother of Rebekah’s grandfather. Thus, he was welcome in the home of Bethuel, Rebekah’s father. This servant’s name was probably Eliezer. * The hosts offered him a meal, but he refused to eat until he had disclosed the reason for his visit. (Genesis 24:31-33) We may imagine him speaking excitedly, for he had just seen powerful evidence that his God, Jehovah, was blessing him on this vital mission. How so?
Imagine Eliezer telling his story as Rebekah’s father, Bethuel, as well as her brother Laban, listened with rapt attention. He told them that Jehovah had blessed Abraham greatly in Canaan and that Abraham and Sarah had a son, Isaac, who was to inherit everything. Abraham had given this servant a commission of great importance: He was to seek a wife for Isaac among Abraham’s relatives in Haran.
Abraham made Eliezer take an oath that he would not select a wife for Isaac from among the women of Canaan. Why? Because the Canaanites neither respected nor worshipped Jehovah God. Abraham knew that Jehovah intended in due time to punish those people for their wicked practices. Abraham did not want his beloved son, Isaac, to be bound to those people and their immoral ways. He also knew that his son had a vital role to play in fulfilling God’s promises.
Eliezer went on to tell his hosts that when he arrived at the well near Haran, he prayed to Jehovah God. He asked Jehovah, in effect, to choose the young woman for Isaac to marry. How? Eliezer asked God to ensure that the girl He wanted Isaac to wed would come to the well. When asked for a drink, she should volunteer not only to give Eliezer a drink but to water his camels as well. (Genesis 24:12-14) And who had come along and done precisely that? Rebekah! Imagine how she might have felt if she overheard the story Eliezer told her family members!
Bethuel and Laban were moved by Eliezer’s account. They said: “This is from Jehovah.” As was the custom, they concluded a marriage covenant, betrothing Rebekah to Isaac. (Genesis 24:50-54) Does that mean, though, that Rebekah had no say in the matter?
Weeks earlier, Eliezer had raised that very issue with Abraham, asking: “What if the woman is unwilling to come with me?” Abraham had responded: “This will release you from your oath.” (Genesis 24:39, 41) In the house of Bethuel too, the young woman’s preferences mattered. Eliezer was so enthusiastic about the success of his mission that on the following morning, he asked if he could return to Canaan with Rebekah immediately. The family, however, wanted her to remain with them for at least another ten days. Finally, they resolved the matter this way: “Let us call the young woman and inquire of her.”
Here, then, was a great crossroads in Rebekah’s life. What would she say? Would she play on the sympathy of her father and brother, pleading for a release from this journey into the unknown? Or would she view it as a privilege to have a part in events that were clearly being guided by Jehovah? When she answered, she revealed how she felt about this sudden, perhaps daunting, change in her life. She simply said: “I am willing to go.”
What a remarkable spirit she had! Today, our customs regarding marriage may be quite different, but we can still learn much from Rebekah. What mattered most to her was, not her own preferences, but those of her God, Jehovah. When it comes to marriage today, God’s Word still offers the best guidance available
“WHO IS THAT MAN THERE?”
Bethuel’s family blessed their beloved Rebekah. Then she and her childhood nurse, Deborah, along with some servant girls, set off with Eliezer and his men. (Genesis 24:59-61; 35:8) Before long, Haran was far behind them. The journey was a long one, 500 miles (800 km) or so, and it lasted perhaps three weeks. It was likely not a comfortable trip. Rebekah had seen camels aplenty in her life, but we cannot assume that she was an experienced camel rider. The Bible portrays her family as shepherd folk, not as traders who drove caravans of camels. (Genesis 29:10) Novice camel riders often complain of discomfort
At any rate, Rebekah looked ever forward, no doubt trying to learn all she could from Eliezer about Isaac and his family. Picture the old man talking to her by an evening campfire, telling her of Jehovah’s promise to His friend Abraham. God would raise up from Abraham’s family line an offspring who would bring blessings to all mankind. Think of the awe that filled Rebekah’s heart when she realized that Jehovah’s promise would be fulfilled through her own husband-to-be, Isaac
Finally, the day came that we described at the outset of this article. As the caravan traversed the Negeb and twilight began to fall over the land, Rebekah saw a man out walking in the fields. He looked thoughtful, contemplative. “She quickly got down from the camel,” we read
Isaac, a man of about 40, was still grieving the loss of his mother, Sarah, who had died about three years earlier. We may infer, then, that Isaac was a man of warm and tender feelings. What a blessing for such a man to be given a wife who was so industrious, hospitable, and humble! How did the two get along? The Bible says simply: “He fell in love with her.”
Even for us, some 39 centuries later, it is easy to love Rebekah. How can we help but admire her courage, her industriousness, her hospitality, and her humility? All of us
^ par. 10 It was already evening. The account contains no indication that Rebekah was detained at the well for hours. It does not imply that her family was asleep by the time she finished or that anyone came to see why her errand was taking so long.
^ par. 15 Eliezer is not named in this account, but he was likely the servant involved. Abraham once intended to bequeath all his property to Eliezer in case there was no natural heir, so he was surely the eldest and most trusted of Abraham’s servants. That is also how the servant in this account is described.