The marriage of Isaac and Rebekah must be important: Genesis 24 is the longest chapter in Genesis. The narrator repeats details multiple times. It’s a royal wedding, and we’re introduced to the princess of the kingdom, or at least of the nation that will represent YHWH’s kingdom.
How is Abraham’s servant to choose a suitable bride for Isaac? He designs a test. As the girls approach the well, he will ask for a drink. When a girl offers to water his camels too, he will offer her Isaac’s hand (24:11-14).
Why this test? In Abraham’s world, hospitality to strangers was an important virtue. Abraham’s servant asks Rebekah for “a wee drink” (24:17), and she volunteers to keep drawing for the camels “until they have finished drinking” (24:19). After a journey, a camel can drink 100 litres. Rebekah keeps lowering her bucket down the well, again and again, until all ten thirsty camels are refreshed. This girl understands kindness! She’ll be a kingdom princess: people will see God’s kindness in her.
What Abraham’s servant found in Rebekah is not just part of Abraham’s culture. Kindness to strangers is a core kingdom value. It’s something YHWH kept emphasizing when he gave his Law to his nation (e.g. Deuteronomy 10:18-19; 16:11, 14; 23:7; 24:14, 17, 19-21; 26:11-13; 27:19; 29:11). It is also a core message of the prophets. Abraham’s servant was right about the kind of person Isaac’s bride must be.
Do you think Jesus is looking for a bride like this too?
Our world is different to Abraham’s. The Australian government is not very kind to strangers. We have a track record of locking up foreigners through suspicion (they might hurt us) or selfishness (we’ll be worse off if they come). That cannot be the attitude of any of us who represent God’s kingdom. It disturbs me deeply when I hear people who claim to be Christians advocating anti-asylum seeker attitudes. Abraham’s servant would never have chosen a bride who was hostile to strangers. I doubt Jesus would be pleased with a bride like that either.
We’re called to express the ḥě·sěḏ (kindness) and ʾěměṯ (faithfulness) of our groom. Do you know how much he cares for the people who’ve been doing it tough in other places? His sovereignty has nothing to do with our national borders. Pushing suffering people away or locking them up indefinitely on the pretence of protecting our “sovereign borders” is an insult to our true sovereign, an impoverished understanding of the extent of his reign.
It’s time to water some camels.
What others are saying
K. A. Mathews, Genesis 11:27–50:26, New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 2005), 332–333:
The servant seeks a woman for Isaac who demonstrates the revered quality of hospitality, including costly provisions for his many livestock (on this custom see comments on 18:3–5). The details “she went down” to obtain the water and “came up” indicate the added difficulty she faced in repeatedly drawing water for others (v. 16b). The Abraham narrative earlier depicts the patriarch’s mistreatment by local residents (chaps. 12, 19, 20) and idealizes him as the perfect host (chap. 18). By favorable treatment of Abraham’s servant, Rebekah’s welcome contributes to the narrative’s depiction of a “female Abraham” whose virtue matches that of the patriarch.
John E. Hartley, Genesis, Understanding the Bible Commentary Series (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2012), 224:
Given that a camel requires at least twenty-five gallons of water after a journey, according to Sarna (Genesis, p. 164), Rebekah was obligating herself to descend the steps to the well and fill her water jar many times. Her concern for the camels and the servant’s welfare confirmed Yahweh’s word to the servant.
As Rebekah undertook the arduous task of watering the camels, the servant looked on in astonishment, restraining his excitement as he sought to discern if this truly was the woman Yahweh had chosen.
Read Genesis 24:13-21.