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Genesis 24: Isaac Marries His Cousin

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Genesis 24: when family meets with family to form family.


Abraham was now a widower in his 120s and very much feeling his age.  He was obviously pretty thin-skinned for feeling so old, since others like Noah and Adam lived well past age 800.  Abraham was still pretty young, by Genesis standards.  Still, it was time to start planning for what came next.  What came next, of course, was his son Isaac’s future bride, whoever she might be.  Since Abraham was so concerned, he took the reasonable course of action and talked to his household’s chief servant about this.

“Place your hand under my thigh,” Abraham told the servant.

“Er… beg pardon, sir?”

“Place your hand under my thigh.”

“Sir, I don’t suppose I need to tell you that this is not an orthodox demand to make of one’s own butler.  I may be your servant, but I am still an individual with rights and dignity, and…”

“Enough!” interrupted Abraham.  “This is so you can swear something to God.”

“Oh,” said the servant, “that’s different,” and he placed his hand where his boss told him to, no matter how squeamish it made him feel.

“So now that your hand is underneath my thigh, you have to swear to God, the God of heaven and earth, that you will not choose a wife for my son from the daughters of these infernal Canaanites around here.  You have to go to my native land and pick out a wife for Isaac there.”

Eager though he might have been to get his hand out from under his master’s thigh, Abraham dragged this out more.  “But what if the girl doesn’t want to follow me from your homeland to Canaan?  I mean, if you can’t stand the Canaanites, I don’t see how you could expect your son’s future wife to feel any differently.  It might be simpler if I just took the boy back to your homeland, if the purity of your line means so much to you.  That way we could find lots of girls who…”

“No!  No way are you to go back there.  God promised me I could have this land, that it would belong to my descendents.”

“But it’s the Canaanites’ land, isn’t it?  Won’t they mind if you start filling the place up with non-Canaanites?”

“I get the feeling that’s not going to matter.”

“How do you mean?”

“Things… things happen.  I don’t ask questions, and neither should you.  Anyway, God’s sending an angel to the old country ahead of you so that it’ll be easier to convince that lucky girl that her future is here in Canaan (or whatever we’re going to wind up calling it when the Canaanites are gone).  If that angel doesn’t convince the girl, I won’t hold you to this oath.  Just don’t let Isaac go back there.”

The servant did as he was told.  He set out for the old country with ten of Abraham’s camels, all laden with wedding gifts for the lucky bride-to-be.  He made those camels kneel down near the town well one evening, when the women come to get water for the household.  “God,” implored the servant, “here’s what I’m thinking.  Could You help me out by participating in this call-and-response thing I’ve come up with?  I’m going to say to one of these girls, ‘Please lower your pitcher and give me a drink.’  Then, if she’s the one I’m looking for, have her say, ‘Drink, and I shall water your camels, too.’  That way I’ll know which one it is.  Of course, if that’s too complicated, you could just shine a beam down from heaven or something.  I know You can do it.  You’re omnipotent, aren’t You?”

He was still setting up the meet-cute with God when a gorgeous virgin named Rebekah came out with a pitcher.  The servant, cool as you please, came running up to her and asked for a drink of water.  “Drink, my lord,” she said, just like he’d asked God to arrange.  “I’ll take care of your camels, too,” Rebekah told him.  As she did this, the servant just stood there, not daring to speak, which wasn’t creepy at all.  Could this be God’s work, he wondered?

To make Rebekah even more comfortable, the servant put a gold ring weighing half a shekel right through her nose, and put two bracelets on her arms, each weighing ten shekels.  “Who’s your dad?” he asked smoothly, adding, “Can I sleep over?”

Unfazed by this perfectly normal, not at all forward behavior, Rebekah told him.  “I am the daughter of Bethuel, the son whom Milcah bore to Nahor.  There’s lots of straw, and we’ve got plenty of space for you to stay.  I don’t bring strange men home all the time, but I’m sure my folks won’t mind.”  The servant was very grateful.  He didn’t thank her, but he promptly thanked God.  This was a score, after all.  Rebekah, he realized, was Abraham’s brother’s son’s daughter.  What better wife could a man hope for his own son than his own grand-niece?

Rebekah ran into the house, presumably to ask permission for the strange man who’d just covered her in gold to stay in the house.  Her brother, Laban, came out and welcomed the servant in, took care of the camels, and washed the servant’s feet.  They offered the servant food, but he said he wouldn’t eat until he said his piece.  They then asked him to spill it.  “I work for your Uncle Abraham,” he told him.  “Your uncle headed out west and has done pretty well for himself.  His wife died, but she bore him a son.  A real son, too, not like the one he had with the maid.  We had to kick the maid and that boy out of the tent, once the real heir was born.   I’m sure you understand.”

“Of course,” they said.

“I’m here to bring back a local girl for Isaac to marry.  Abraham says there’s no way he can come back here.  I asked God for a sign showing me who the right girl is, and I’m pretty sure it’s his cousin.  That’s why I gave her all that gold.  You in?”

“Well, if God says so, I guess we have no choice, right?” said Rebekah’s father and brother.  “I mean, who would just make up something like that?”  The servant then gave them more gold, and silver, and other nice things.  Then they all went to bed.

The next morning, the servant said to his hosts, “Okay, I’m ready.  Call Rebekah over and we’ll get going.”

Rebekah’s brother and mother said, “Um… can we have, say, ten more days with her before she goes?  We’ve known her all her life, and we’re kind of attached to her, you see, and…”

“No,” the servant cut them off.  “We have to get going.  Now.”

“All right.  Let’s see what Rebekah says.”  They called Rebekah over and asked her how she felt about leaving right away.

“Okay,” she said.

There wasn’t much else to say, so the family blessed her and said a little farewell poem:

“Sorry you’re leaving, but Yahweh bids.
Hope your line spawns thousands of kids.
May the kids of your kids grow so grand
That they take possession of your enemies’ land!”

And off they went, with Rebekah and her own servants in tow.  It was clearer than ever why Abraham didn’t want Isaac marrying a Canaanite girl.  Things were starting to look grim for Canaan.

When the party reached Canaan, they found Isaac living in the Negev, farming.  The servant told Rebekah that the strapping lad in the field was her new husband, so she promptly covered herself with a veil while the servant related the story to Isaac.  Luckily Isaac and Rebekah really hit it off.  It was such a match that Isaac found he felt better about having lost his mother, which isn’t a creepy way to think about your new wife at all.

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