Abraham is old and widowed. He entrusts a servant to arrange a marriage for his son. Just two chapters after the interrupted sacrifice of Isaac (Imagine the family baggage in that clan!) the rare wedding Mass is treated to a highly edited version of this adventure in matchmaking followed by love.
Genesis 24 tells the whole tale. The omissions are interesting. The servant swears obedience on Abraham’s private parts. He is instructed to search for a generous and hospitable young woman. Rebekah offers both the servant and his ten camels a drink. Unbeknownst to her, this is God’s sign of good character.
The bride price, a golden nose ring and two gold bracelets, sparks the greed of Rebekah’s brother Laban, who enthusiastically welcomes his visitor. In turn, the servant announces his mission is in part inspired by God:
The servant of Abraham said to Laban: “I bowed down in worship to the Lord, blessing the Lord, the God of my master Abraham, who had led me on the right road to obtain the daughter of my master’s kinsman for his son. If, therefore, you have in mind to show true loyalty to my master, let me know; but if not, let me know that, too. I can then proceed accordingly.”
Laban and his household said in reply: “This thing comes from the Lord; we can say nothing to you either for or against it. Here is Rebekah, ready for you; take her with you, that she may become the wife of your master’s son, as the Lord has said.”
The narrative skips the servant’s gifts of silver, gold, and clothing to Rebekah’s family to seal the deal. One night of feasting follows. Also skipped is the servant’s insistence the next morning that Rebekah return immediately with him to his masters. Laban, reminded that God is behind this marriage, consents. Presumably, Rebekah’s father is dead. According to custom, she is asked for her consent to this arranged marriage, which she gives:
So they called Rebekah and asked her, “Do you wish to go with this man?”
She answered, “I do.”
At this they allowed their sister Rebekah and her nurse to take leave, along with Abraham’s servant and his men. Invoking a blessing on Rebekah, they said: “Sister, may you grow into thousands of myriads; And may your descendants gain possession of the gates of their enemies!”
Then Rebekah and her maids started out; they mounted their camels and followed the man. So the servant took Rebekah and went on his way.
Meanwhile Isaac had gone from Beer-lahai-roi and was living in the region of the Negeb. One day toward evening he went out . . . in the field, and as he looked around, he noticed that camels were approaching. Rebekah, too, was looking about, and when she saw him, she alighted from her camel and asked the servant, “Who is the man out there, walking through the fields toward us?”
“That is my master,” replied the servant.
Then she covered herself with her veil. The servant recounted to Isaac all the things he had done. Then Isaac took Rebekah into his tent; he married her, and thus she became his wife. In his love for her Isaac found solace after the death of his mother Sarah.
Genesis 24 is a charming story. Few western couples appreciate the custom of arranged marriages, so it’s not surprising this hacked-up excerpt is pretty much always passed up in favor of another passage. The re-ordering of the romantic ideal has become for Isaac, “First comes marriage, then comes love.” It wasn’t unheard-of when in custom of matchmaking.
Rebekah and Isaac share the loss of a parent. They each have known or will experience a permanent separation from the only family they have known. Their own sons will be a source of division in the family. More dysfunction will follow in the stories of these patriarchs. Yet this couple finds solace in one another. Is that an important aspect of the life of an engaged couple? If so, I would hope this reading would be chosen for that, not the dysfunctional family history.