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Gen 24:34-67

Genesis 24:34-67
Background to the Book of Genesis

Literary Features:
Genesis is a fascinating book which begins with two creation accounts of the world in Gen 1-3, continues with stories about humanity in general through to the end of Gen 11 before we come to the specific journeys of Abraham. Gen 1-11 is often referred to as universal history or primeval history and is applicable to all of humanity. The genealogies enable Abraham to be descended from Adam and Eve. Indeed, another purpose of the genealogies is to divide these eleven chapters as follows into a 5-fold division:

  • Gen 2:4a heaven and earth - these are the generations of the heavens and the earth ...
  • Gen 5:1 ff Adam - This is the book of the generations of Adam.
  • Gen 6:9 Noah - And Noah had three sons, Shem, Ham, and Japheth
  • Gen 10:1 Noah’s 3 sons - These are the generations of the sons of Noah. ...
  • Gen 11:10 Shem - These are the descendants of Shem ...

Besides the suggested division above, scholars have proposed different recurring literary patterns such as sin, speech, punishment - Gen 1-3, 4, 6-9,11 (Westermann) in Gen 1-11: von Rad includes forgiveness: sin, speech, forgiveness, punishment. Whether one wants to go along with any of the above suggestions about the literary divisions or patterns in Gen 1-11, there is almost unanimous agreement that there is a tightly formed literary pattern and we are meant read it as a unity. Creation of the world and humans is torn apart when the relationship between God and humans is told in Gen 3 and between humans and humans in Gen 4. One of the literary patterns which may be considered to not only be present in Gen 1-11, but also extend through into the remainder of the book of Genesis is that connected with the command in Gen 1:28 - ‘be fruitful and multiply’. Not only does the phrase occur in a number of places, but the lists of genealogies show that indeed the people have been fruitful and multiplied - Gen 5, 10, 11. The genealogies continue in Gen 12-50 at particular points: Gen 25:12 (These are the generations of Ishmael), Gen 25:19 (These are the generations of Isaac), Gen 36:1, (These are the generations of Esau), Gen 37:2 (These are the generations of Jacob). The genealogies not only show that God's command in Gen 1:28 has been followed, but the promises to Abraham in Gen 12:1-3, Gen 15:5 have come true. That is, Abram will have many descendants and become a great nation. At the point where each of the genealogies are listed we have the story of that person in the following chapters. Abraham in Gen 11:27-25:18: Jacob in Gen 25:19-36:43: Joseph, Judah and Jacob's family in Gen 37:1-50:26. There are a number of covenants mentioned in the Book of Genesis all of which come into the category of unconditional or promissory. Unlike the condition covenant in Exod 19 in which God seeks a response of obedience from the people, the covenants in Genesis are based on first person pronouncements by God. In Gen 9 it is an universal covenant with all living creatures, but once we move into Gen 12 the covenants are specific to Abraham and his descendants. The relationship has been set up from creation when humans were created to be in special relationship with God (Gen 1:26-27).

Attempts have been made since the 18th century to explain such things as: a different word used for God -Yahwist or Elohim: multiple versions of the same story = Abraham’s pretence, Gen 12:10-20, 20:1-18, 26:6-16: repetition within the same story = Gen 6:5-7, 11-12: contradictions - for example, Exod 20:24 gives permission to offer sacrifices at numerous altars v Deut 12:13-14 which forbids this and restricts sacrifice to one place only or Gen 7:17 in which the flood remains for 40 days v Gen 7:24 in which the flood remains for 150 days and other examples. The classic theory suggests that the Pentateuch has a number of written sources as well as the early oral traditions which account for the sort of differences mentioned above. In Gen 1-11 there is the Priestly source which can be seen in Gen1:1-2:4a, 6:9-22, some verses in Gen 7-8, 9:1-17, 10:1-7, 11:10-27 and the remaining texts come from the Yahwistic source. Some characteristics of what is know as the 'P' source are: the use of the Hebrew term toledoth/generations, the writing is sophisticated and often in a liturgical style (Gen1:1-2:4a), in the creation account God speaks and it happens, humans are made in the image of God, the covenant is unconditional and can be made with the animals, and an abiding concern to state numbers and years. The Yahwistic source uses myths and sagas to tell the story, God and animals speak (anthropomorphic), the world is very small (Gen 2:10-14) compared with the universal world of the 'P' source (Gen 1:1-2:4a).

Historical: (History within the text). Gen 12-50 tells the stories about Abram and his descendants as they move from Haran into the land of Canaan and begin wandering around the land and then into Egypt. These stories began as oral traditions passed down within the tribes long before they became part of the written tradition. It is the way many cultures remember their history, but in the Western world we became influenced by the enlightened definition of 'history' which understood 'history' as written facts from an objective viewpoint. This has caused many scholars to debate whether the Patriarchs can be proven to be true people through archaeological means. Other scholars say that this is not possible and therefore they cannot be historical people. If this argument was applied to Bedouin tribes or Australian Aboriginal people we deny them any history. History as oral tradition passed down is the history of a people, and does not need to be justified by Western values. The people are portrayed as very human with all their faults and strengths - they lie, deceive, steal, test God, they have courage, journey into the unknown, seek God, question God and are obedient. These traits apply to men and women, and many of the women (Sarah, Rebecca, Tamar) play a significant role in the working out of the promises of God. I encourage people to read these stories for themselves. After the story of Abram in Gen 11:27-25:18 the next block, Gen 11:19-36:43, tells us about Jacob and finally about Joseph in Gen 37:1-50:26. At the end of the book we are placed ready to begin the story of Moses, the release of the Hebrews from Egypt and their wanderings in the wilderness.

We know something of this period from the discoveries of the Mari Tablets - 20,000 tablets in old Akkadian of which 5,000 were official correspondence (J.Bright. A History of Israel. London: SCM Press, 57). Mari was a great city with highly sophisticated living conditions and the centre of trade. Terah and his family would have travelled through Mari to get to Haran. Mesopotamia was a centre of civilisation in the Far East in the same way that Egypt was in the Near East.

It is a period in which some people lived in cities and others lived a semi nomadic life travelling with their herds and stopping for periods, but rarely settling to an agrarian life style. We seem to have examples of both these life styles within the story of Abraham.

Context of Genesis 24:34-67
After the test of Abraham in Gen 22 we have Sarah's death recounted in Gen 23 in which Abraham bought land, after some discussion, from the Hittites and the cave east of Mamre became the burial place of Sarah. Abraham is getting on as well and becomes concerned that Isaac marry from within the family, and not a Canaanite woman. He makes his servant swear that he will travel and obtain a wife from his brother's family for Isaac. Nahor, Abram's brother, stayed in Ur in the Chaldeans and the servant of Abraham went there to obtain a wife for Isaac. The verses before the lectionary reading tell us how he met Rebekah at a well where she had gone to draw water. She not only gave him a drink but drew water for the camels as well. The servant offered her gifts and requested whether there was room for him to stay in her father's house. After telling the servant the identity of her father he praised God for showing him the right family. Rebekah runs to inform her mother's household (Gen24:28) of the events and it is Rebekah's brother Laban to whom the servant gives his message from Abraham. We will look at the continuation of the story in vv.34-67 in the next section. It is worth noting that this story is very long and drawn out compared with other aspects of the journey. Gen 25 tells us that Abraham remarried and had several more children whose genealogies are named in Gen 25:1- 6. The names appear to belong to Arabian tribes and Keturah is the name of the "Syro-Arabian desert east of the Jordan" (Westermann: Genesis 12-36, 396).The genealogy of Abraham's son Ishmael is noted in vv.12-18, followed by the story of Isaac's sons in Gen 25:19 - Gen 33:20.

Insights/Message of Genesis 24:34-67
Literary Insights:
We have noted that the lectionary reading comes in part way through the story at the point at which the servant is beginning his message from Abraham to Laban. As the readers we know already what the servant is telling Laban. The dialogue which Abraham and the servant had back in Canaan is repeated as is the story and dialogue which occurs between Rebekah and the servant. The final part of the servant's speech (v.49) is an interesting way to request the answer to v.48, which speaks of taking "the daughter of his master's kinsman for his son". Fretheim thinks the words in v.49 are an idiom which paraphrased means, "so I may know which way to turn" (Fretheim: 511). Bethuel (Rebekah and Laban's father) has come onto the scene in v.50 and agrees that Rebekah become the wife of Isaac because "it is of the Lord". More jewelry is given to Rebekah and gifts to her mother and brother. A request by Rebekah's mother and brother for her journey to be delayed ten days is rejected by the servant who wants to get back to Abraham. Rebekah is given the final decision (v.58). Rebekah is blessed by her family with a traditional blessing incorporating fertility and victory over enemies. the final verses of this section tell of Isaac who is dwelling the Negev and sees the camel train approaching. As is the case with many marriage/love scenes we get the action and little or no description of the feelings of those involved. Isaac has intercourse with her after which she become his wife and he loved her. V.67 links this chapter to the death of Sarah in Gen 23. Laban appears later in the narratives when he and Isaac's son Jacob come into contact. Both men are portrayed as deceitful and greedy and we have a precursor of that here when Laban sees the ring and bracelets on Rebekah's arms (v.30).

Message:The public retelling of events by the servant to Laban (Gen 24:34-48) emphases the role that God has in the events and it is this to which Bethuel (son of Nahor) and Laban respond with their own witness (v.50, Fretheim: 512) . The repetition of prayer and thanksgiving to God in this chapter (vv.12-14, 26-27, 42-44, 48, 52) make it very clear the reliance that these people had on God for guidance was part of the very fabric of their lives. Although Yahweh's steadfast love is mentioned only once in the set lectionary reading (v.27) it has been referred to twice already in the chapter (vv.12 & 14). The worship and thanksgiving of the servant acknowledges this steadfast love of Yahweh for Abraham and for God's guidance to this house of Abraham's brother. The mother plays an interesting part in the betrothal: the servant is taken to the "mother's household" and she receives gifts along with Laban. It is the mother and Laban who seek the standard ten days engagement period before her departure to Canaan and they are the ones who give the blessing. Although Nahor wasn't with his father in Haran when God spoke with Abram to go into the land of Canaan there appears to be an implied understanding that Laban and Bethuel know about God (v.50). The trust that Abraham displayed in Gen 22 is carried through in this chapter in that God will lead (Heb: nahah) the servant to find the right wife for Isaac (vv.27 & 48). Whilst it is the only place in Genesis that this word is used, we are very familiar with it when it is used in 23rd Psalm - He leads me beside still waters. Another motif that is important in this story about seeking a wife for Isaac is the need for her to be from the family of Abraham and not a Canaanite. The incongruity is in the chapter immediately following, in which Abraham has an Arabian wife. Two particular theological issues stand out for me in this passage which could be the focus for preaching. The trust in God's leading, and the response of worship and blessing to God for the steadfast love shown to us.

OT images/motifs used in the New Testament reading: Mth 11:16-19, contains no direct allusions or quotes in the Old Testament.

Resources/Worship for Genesis 24:34-67

This story has four acts which could be used as a basis for presenting the Scripture. They could be acted out as a narrator summarises them and so the repetition in later verses is not repeated but the congregation is aware of the whole story.

Act 1 = vv.1-9 - Abraham and the servant: v.10 - the journey

Act 2 = vv.11-27 - the servant and Rebekah: vv.28-31 - the excitement in the house

Act 3 = vv.32 - 60 - the servant in Laban's house; the betrothal: v.61 - the return journey

Act 4 = vv.62 - 67 Isaac and Rebekah the marriage (Scullion: 186)

A hymn that picks up a major motif from this story is, Lead us heavenly Father lead us (Together in song 580)isA xx


The Old Testament Guides (OTG) by Sheffield Academic Press are an excellent small resource which give many suggestions for readings on particular aspects in the Book of Genesis, the author is R.W.L.Moberly, 1992. (Genesis 12-50)

Brenner, Athalya, ed. A Feminist companion to Genesis. Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1993.
---. ed. Genesis. Feminist companion to the Bible (Second Series), 1. Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1998.
*Brueggemann, Walter. Genesis. Int. Atlanta, Ga.: John Knox 1982.
Coats, George W. Genesis, with an Introduction to Narrative Literature. FOTL. Grand Rapids, Mich.: W. B. Eerdmans, 1983.
Davies, Philip R., and David J. A. Clines, eds. The world of Genesis: Persons, Places, Perspectives. Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1998.
*Fretheim,Terrence E. "The Book of Genesis: Introduction, Commentary, and Reflections." In The New Interpreter's Bible. Vol 1. Abingdon: Nashville, 1994.
Hamilton,Victor P. The Book of Genesis: Chapters 1-17. NICOT. Grand Rapids, Mich.: W. B. Eerdmans, 1990.
---. The Book of Genesis: Chapters 18-50. NICOT, Grand Rapids, Mich.: W. B. Eerdmans, 1995.
Hess, Richard S., and David Toshio Tsumura, eds. I Studied Inscriptions from before the Flood: Ancient Near Eastern, Literary, and Linguistic Approaches to Genesis 1-11. Winona Lake, Ind.: Eisenbrauns, 1994.
*Moberly, R. W. L. Genesis 12-50. OTG. Sheffield: JSOT Press, 1992.
*Rogerson, J. W. Genesis 1-11, OTG. Sheffield: JSOT Press, 1996.
Scullion, John J. Genesis: A Commentary for Students, Teachers, and Preachers. Collegeville, Minn.: Liturgical Press, 1992.
Waltke, Bruce K., and Cathi J. Fredricks. Genesis: A Commentary. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, c2001. Call Number: 222.11077 W237g
Wenham,Gordon J. Genesis 1-15. WBC. Waco, Tex.: Word Books, 1987.
---. Genesis 16-50. WBC. Dallas, Tex.: Word Books, 1994.
Westermann, Claus. Genesis: A Practical Commentary. Grand Rapids, Mich.: W. B. Eerdmans, 1987.

The Dramatised Bible: ed. Michael Perry. London: Marshall Pickering: Bible Society, 1989

Web sites with helpful lectionary resources: These links were updated 30/12/11

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