Genesis 24

In life things rarely work out just so; we wander and wonder, try and fail, move now here and now there, start something different before our previous endeavour has even finished, give up when we ought to persevere, persevere when we ought to give up. The beauty of a good narrative is that none of these “what if’s” hold: the creator knows beforehand what type of story is to be told and sets to crafting it; would that it were thus for you and I. It is not, of course, and as we flail about in the – unintended! – messes of our own making we can do little but respond. In this chapter we have an example par excellence of the courage to find serendipity in what must have seemed the most random of chances.

Many readers will approach this longest section of Genesis from the point of view of Abraham’s servant, and this is not surprising since he is clearly the main character in the tale and it is his actions around which the plot revolves. Seen from his perspective the events that unfold are examples of perfect divine providence, and grace and blessings that do not even have to be waited for. He has barely completed setting out his own parameters for the extremely precise sign he wishes to have from God/“God” when it is obligingly provided: bada bing! Exactly that sought served up on a silver platter, one could not ask for a smoother and easier end to things. Which is the point, after all: God/“God” provides, Abraham’s faithfulness and steadfast trust is rewarded; and the servant’s as well, let us not forget.

This, though – while important, no doubt – misses something else in this narrative arc that I think is quite remarkable, a detail which is small and thus easy to overlook but once noticed its significance becomes clear. This is Rebekah’s response. If we make an effort to see through her eyes a bit – if we place her (rightfully) central – what is there? She had gone out to the well to draw the necessary household water as she always did at that time of day; a stranger approaches and asks for a drink; she is hospitable with him and even quite generous in her offer to additionally draw sufficient amounts for his animals to refresh themselves too (again, demonstrating the very biblical virtue of generosity, as we have already noted and as readers can find throughout the Tanakh, the deuterocanonical texts, and especially in the Gospels and some of the Epistles of the Christian scriptures); suddenly and out of nowhere this same man produces copious amounts of expensive jewelry and requests to be given room and board at her father’s home, to which she assents. All this is remarkable enough, but upon arrival and with further details from this traveling mystery it is explained that he is seeking a spouse for his extremely wealthy master who currently lives far, far away but is in fact related to them. More goods are forthcoming for her, her brother, and her mother (although not for her father, who only makes the briefest of appearances in verse fifty, making the reader question if whether or not this was some kind of extra scribal flourish that crept in), and – pausing to remember sociohistorical and cultural details of the time and place – Rebekah finds herself essentially bought. If this were me, I would probably be both besides myself and also somewhat upset; likely highly frightened as well. Yet that is not how Rebekah takes these developments; hers is a braver heart.

Whatever the complications and expectations might have been in regards to the aforementioned bride-price (did acceptance signal acquiescence?), Rebekah is still ostensibly given a choice in the matter: her brother and mother, whom evidently are negotiating on her father’s behalf (history and culture again), tell Abraham’s servant (verse fifty-seven): “Let us call the girl and ask for her reply.” What will she do? The most astonishing thing:

24.58: “They [mother and brother] called Rebekah and said to her, ‘Will you go with this man?’ And she said, ‘I will.’”

She says “yes”. Rebekah had been going about her fully ordinary routine, the unlooked for occurred, a series of connections she had hitherto been entirely unaware of were outlined to her, fate – or providence – extended its open hand, and she grasps it and goes. She could have declined: she could have stayed where she was and probably had a very nice, secure, and stable life, being cared for by her family and caring for them. Instead, and – amazingly – without having any specific idea of what the other end will entail (she may have guessed, there were admittedly a few vague hints), she agrees. She demonstrates to us what it is to live a life that takes happenstance as revelation and that is unafraid to trust, to undertake, and to see what becomes. Naturally from our contemporary concerns we might argue that Rebekah did not need a man, that her going to marry a stranger was perhaps not the wisest nor the most empowering choice, but we must recall the setting and context within which this ancient myth takes place. Thinking in those terms, and taking her “yes” to Abraham’s servant as an equal “yes” to the numinous, what Rebekah did is really quite heroic. May we be so willing to roll life’s dice, to do and to hope.

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