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Go to Bible: Genesis 24
|Gen 24:1||- (top)|
”his servant.” Despite the elevated status of this servant, he is not named. The importance of continuing the line of descendants from Abraham is thus magnified.
“put your hand under my thigh.” This is a euphemism for “take hold of my genitals.” The word “thigh” was used in the biblical culture as a euphemism for the genital organs (cp. Gen. 24:2, 9; 46:26; 47:29; Exod. 1:5; Num. 5:21, 22, 27). The taking of solemn oaths in the ancient world took many forms. Perhaps the most common one we are aware of was raising a hand (Gen. 14:22; Deut. 32:40; Ezek. 20:5, 6, 15, 23, 28, 42; 36:7; 44:12; 47:14; Rev. 10:5). Also, another common form of oath was to hold a sacred object that was somehow related to the oath or to the god of the person who was making the oath. “Gestures accompanying oath-taking are universal in the ancient world. Most frequently, they involve the raising of a hand, as in Genesis 14:22, and/or the holding of a ritual object. In later times, a Torah scroll, phylacteries, or a Bible might be held for such a purpose” (Nahum Sarna, The JPS Torah Commentary: Genesis).
Although a few scholars have asserted that Abraham asked his servant to take hold of his genitals as part of a curse that would be brought upon the servant if he did not follow through with his words, there is no evidence of that. Instead, parallels in ancient culture show us that it was a part of an oath that involved the descendants of Abraham, so grasping the genitals was deemed appropriate due to the seriousness and magnitude of the situation: after all, Isaac’s wife would be continuing the line to the Messiah.
In Genesis 47:29, Jacob requests that Joseph to hold his genitals and swear an oath to take Jacob’s body to the Promised Land and bury it. Although that certainly seems to have less to do with Jacob’s immediate descendants than in the case of Abraham’s oath, given the fact that God also promised Jacob the Promised Land (Gen. 28:13; 35:12; 48:4), and Jacob believed that he would have many descendants and then be resurrected and live among them, it makes sense that Jacob would also have Joseph swear on his genitals in that situation. Those are the only two occurrences of that practice in the Bible, and the purpose for it does not occur in ancient literature, so while swearing on the genitals was certainly not unknown, we believe it was not common, either.
Our English word “testicle” is derived from the Latin testis, which ordinarily means “witness,” and does, rarely, refer to the testicles. Some people assert that the word testis, or “witness,” and its association with “testicle” comes from the practice of placing one’s hands on the genitals and swearing on the “little witnesses.” However, there is both lexical and anthropological reasons for denying that.
From a lexical basis, although we do not know why the Latin word testis means “witness,” that is the case for most words in every language: the words, or their ancient roots, came from the Tower of Babel—the vocabulary came from God to mankind and we don’t know why most words mean what they do. And how testis came to refer to both a witness and a testicle is unknown; assumptions may be thrown around, but the fact is that we do not know.
The study of ancient Roman customs is more definitive. We have literally hundreds of ancient Latin documents about or involving oaths, and none of them refer to making an oath while holding genitals; there is simply no evidence that was done in the Roman world, which is quite good evidence that the Latin word testis for witness did not come from the custom of swearing on a person’s genitals.(top)
|Gen 24:3||- (top)|
|Gen 24:4||- (top)|
|Gen 24:5||- (top)|
|Gen 24:6||- (top)|
“who spoke to me and who swore to me.” God was not just an idea or theology to Abraham. The Creator of the heavens and earth had spoken to him about his descendants, and he had no doubt about God’s purposes and the success God would give him. The line to the Messiah was at stake.(top)
|Gen 24:8||- (top)|
“under the thigh.” The servant took hold of Abraham’s genitals and swore to him. See commentary on Genesis 24:2.(top)
“ten camels.” This is one of the records where a lot of the details are left unsaid so that the central point of the record gets the attention. It would be unheard of for Abraham to send off his servant with so much wealth in livestock and material goods without an escort or armed men, and the Bible tells us that the servant had some of Abraham’s men with him in Genesis 24:59. Besides, if the journey was a success, Abraham would have wanted to ensure that the bride-to-be for Isaac would get back from the long journey safely. So we know that the servant had Abraham’s men with him, but just how many is not stated. We can well assume more than just a few. The camels, now empty of their load, became the transportation for Rebekah and her ladies (Gen. 24:61).(top)
“camels kneel.” This is exactly according to custom. Camels are made to kneel down when they are stopped and resting, and people mount and dismount from that position.
“outside the city by the well.” William Thompson who was a missionary for over 40 years in Syria and Palestine, and traveled extensively in the East in the 1800s and wrote about biblical customs, wrote:
“The place is said to have been by a well of water, and this well was outside the city. In the East, where wells are scarce, and water indispensable, the existence of a well or fountain [spring] determines the site of the city. The people build near it, but prefer to have it outside the town, to avoid the noise, dust, and confusion always occurring at it, and especially if the place is on the public highway. It is around the fountain that the thirsty traveler and the wearied caravan assemble; and if you have become separated from your own company before arriving at a town, you need only inquire for the fountain, and there you will find them or hear of them. It was perfectly natural, therefore, for Eliezer to halt at the well. The time was evening; but it is further stated that it was when the women go forth to draw water. True to life again. At that hour the peasant returns home from his labor, and the women are busy preparing the evening meal, which is to be ready at sunset. Cool fresh water is then demanded, and of course there is a great concourse around the well. But why limit it to the women? Simply because such is the fact. About great cities men often carry water, both on donkeys and on their own backs, but in the country, among the unsophisticated natives, women only go to the well or the fountain; and often, when traveling, I have seen long files of them going and returning with their pitchers, at “the time when women go out to draw water” (William Thomson, The Land and the Book, Harper & Brothers, New York, 1880, pp. 260, 261. Thomson assumes Abraham’s servant is Eliezer, and that may be, but there is no way to be sure).
The Bible confirms Thomson’s observation that culturally it was the job of women, particularly young women, to draw water (cp. Gen. 24:11, 13, 43; 1 Sam. 9:11; John 4:7).(top)
|Gen 24:12||- (top)|
|Gen 24:13||- (top)|
“let down.” The young woman would have already filled the water jar and put it on her shoulder or on her head to return home, so to give this stranger a drink she would have had to take her water jug down.(top)
|Gen 24:15||- (top)|
“had known her.” The word “know” is the common idiomatic word used for sexual intercourse. Sexual intercourse gives the most intimate and personal “knowledge” of the other, so “know” was used throughout the biblical world as an idiom for sexual intercourse (cp. Gen. 4:1, 17, 25; 24:16; Matt. 1:25), which even included rape (Gen. 19:5; Judg. 19:25).(top)
“a little drink—a little water.” The word translated “little drink” is more literally “swallow,” (gama, #01572 גָּמָא, “to swallow; to drink), but was also used of taking a drink, nevertheless, it implied a little one, which Abraham’s servant makes clear in the last part of the verse: “a little water from your water jug.” Notice how what he says to the young woman is much more polite than the conversation he had with himself in his head, which is in Genesis 24:14. He was likely very thirsty, but he is asking a stranger for a favor, and it is polite and godly to be kind and understate the case, and it allows the woman room to be truly generous and not just give in to a demand. Kindness and respect are fundamental to a polite, fun, and godly society. His kindness and tact is likely part of the reason he was head over Abraham’s household. The young woman responds with equal kindness and says for him to “drink,” using a different Hebrew word (shatah, #08354 שָׁתָה, to drink), and implying he can drink freely (Gen. 24:18).(top)
|Gen 24:18||- (top)|
“until they have finished drinking.” This is an amazing act of care and hospitality to a stranger. A thirsty camel can drink up to 30 gallons (about 115 liters) in about 15 minutes. Given that Abraham’s servant had ten camels with him, that would have required a lot of effort of pulling water up out of the well, not to mention the time it would have taken. This verse gives us a wonderful look into Rebekah’s character.(top)
|Gen 24:20||- (top)|
|Gen 24:21||- (top)|
“nose-ring.” This “ring” was a nose ring (Gen. 24:47). Although some versions (cp. KJV) say “earring,” Genesis 24:47 makes it clear that the ring was a nose ring, besides, if it was an earring, it would have been plural for two earrings; but this is just one ring. It was not well known at the time that versions such as the King James Version was written (1611), that women in the biblical culture customarily wore nose- rings, which explains the translation earrings in the early versions. It was the custom in biblical times for women to wear nose-rings rather than earrings because the women not only had long hair, but they often wore head coverings, and those things covered any earrings such that they could not be seen. So, women customarily wore nose-rings for personal decoration (Isa. 3:21; Ezek. 16:12; cp. Prov. 11:22).(top)
|Gen 24:23||- (top)|
|Gen 24:24||- (top)|
“yes.” Everett Fox (The Schocken Bible: The Five Books of Moses) translates the particle gam (#01571 גַּם), which can mean “also, moreover, yes” as “yes” in this context because Rebekah is answering the question that Abraham’s servant asked, and confirming that he is welcome to stay. She is not just making a statement about the provisions her family has, but is graciously and enthusiastically extending hospitality—which is clearly demonstrated by the triple “yes.”(top)
|Gen 24:26||- (top)|
“relatives.” The Hebrew word is “brothers,” but “brothers” was used loosely in Hebrew for any relative, in the same way we call a good friend or fellow member of a group a “brother,” for example, in the army close friends are called “brothers.” If the English word “brother” was used here it might confuse many readers.(top)
“things.” The Hebrew text is dabar (#01697 דָּבָר), which is the common word for “word,” but also, like the Greek word logos, it had a wide range of meanings, including “thing,” “matter.” Thus the translation might well read, “These matters,” or “These things.” The semantic range of words used in the Bible is the reason translators cannot use the same English word to translate the same Hebrew or Greek word. The meaning of the Hebrew or Greek word must be understood in its context and then the proper English word can be chosen as a translation. In this case, Rebekah did not just tell her family about Abraham’s servants “words,” but about all that transpired.
“mother’s house.” This is most likely referring to the women’s part of Bethuel’s home, where the women lived with privacy from the men. Women had their own quarters even if the family lived in a tent. It has been suggested that young women of the time referred to where they lived as their mother’s house (JPS Torah Commentary), but the evidence for that seems to be very slim.
There are a number of reasons that Rebekah would have gone to her mother in the women’s quarters. As a young woman, she might have felt intimidated to go to the men in her family with such earthshaking news, and would have felt more comfortable going to her mother. Also, marriages were generally arranged by the parents, so it would have been natural for her as a woman to go to her mother.
Also, there were likely to be men around her father to whom she was not closely related. Her grandfather Nahor not only had Milcah as a wife, he had a concubine named Reumah who bore him four sons, who would have therefore been Rebekah’s half-uncles and who could easily have been with Bethuel or in the general vicinity because families often stayed quite close in those times. Under the circumstances we can see why Rebekah would have gone to her mother. Although her mother’s name is never given in the Bible, she was clearly alive (see commentary on Gen. 24:38).(top)
|Gen 24:29||- (top)|
“nose-ring.” This “ring” was a nose ring (Gen. 24:47). This is supported by the fact that Laban could see the ring. The nose ring was common in the biblical culture because the woman’s hair and/or head covering hid any earrings that she wore (cp. Isa. 3:21; Prov. 11:22).(top)
|Gen 24:31||- (top)|
“Laban.” The Hebrew text reads “he,” but that is very confusing in this verse, so Laban was put in for clarity.
“the men who were with him.” Here we learn that Abraham’s servant did not travel alone with all that wealth. No doubt he had a healthy accompaniment of able men to help safely transport the treasure north, and women south.(top)
|Gen 24:33||- (top)|
|Gen 24:34||- (top)|
|Gen 24:35||- (top)|
|Gen 24:36||- (top)|
|Gen 24:37||- (top)|
“my father’s house.” Abraham had asked his servant to get a wife for Isaac from among his relatives, and Rebekah qualified. Terah fathered Haran, Nahor, and Abraham (Gen. 11:27). Nahor married his niece Milcah, Haran’s daughter (Gen. 11:29). Milcah bore eight sons, one of whom was Bethuel, so Bethuel was Abraham’s nephew through Nahor and his great-nephew through Milcah. Rebekah was both Abraham’s great niece and great-great niece through her father. Interestingly, Rebekah’s mother is never named and is unknown. That might possibly be because she was not related to Abraham in any way and would not have helped fulfill Abraham’s request about a wife. However, she was alive when Abraham’s servant arrived and asked to take Rebekah home with him, because she was given gifts (Gen. 24:53).(top)
|Gen 24:39||- (top)|
|Gen 24:40||- (top)|
|Gen 24:41||- (top)|
|Gen 24:42||- (top)|
|Gen 24:43||- (top)|
|Gen 24:44||- (top)|
|Gen 24:45||- (top)|
|Gen 24:46||- (top)|
“wrists.” The Hebrew text reads “hands,” and this is an example of how the Hebrew word “hand” often includes the wrist.
“I put.” It is not likely that Rebekah would let this stranger touch her, but rather he gave her the nose ring and bracelets and she put them on, but because they came as a gift from him, in conversation he said he put them on her.(top)
|Gen 24:48||- (top)|
|Gen 24:49||- (top)|
|Gen 24:50||- (top)|
|Gen 24:51||- (top)|
|Gen 24:52||- (top)|
|Gen 24:53||- (top)|
|Gen 24:54||- (top)|
|Gen 24:55||- (top)|
|Gen 24:56||- (top)|
|Gen 24:57||- (top)|
|Gen 24:58||- (top)|
“the one who had nursed and raised her.” The Hebrew is simply “her nurse,” but that would be confusing today. The wet-nurse not only nursed and cared for the baby, but also often played a large part in raising the child. We learn later that this nurse was called “Deborah,” and she was with Rebekah for her whole life (Gen. 35:8).(top)
|Gen 24:60||- (top)|
“her young women.” Rebekah had her own young female slaves who attended her, as well as Deborah, who had nursed and raised her, as an advisor.(top)
“Beer Lahai Roi.” The Hebrew is, “the well of the Living One who sees me.” It was where Sarah’s slave Hagar met an angel (Gen. 16:14).(top)
“ponder.” The Hebrew is uncertain. It may also mean to relax, or to walk, and some translations have “meditate,” but due to the modern meaning of meditate, that seems like a poor translation in this case. It seems he was relaxing, thinking, praying, and perhaps walking as well.(top)
“dismounted quickly.” A sign of respect. Achsah dismounted before Caleb (Josh. 15:18), as did Abigail in the presence of David (1 Sam. 25:23). This shows Rebekah’s humility and general respect for the custom of the time. She did not yet know the man was Isaac, her future husband.(top)
“took her veil and covered herself.” The custom of women veiling their faces was not common in the biblical culture except in times of special modesty, such as when a young woman would meet her future husband, as is the case here. The custom of veiling became common in the Muslim world, but we must not read that custom back into the biblical period. The ancient Egyptian and Assyrian monuments do not show women veiled, and the Greek and Roman monuments, mosaics, and statues do not either.(top)
|Gen 24:66||- (top)|
“the tent of Sarah his mother.” According to Eastern custom, this could refer to the “women’s quarters” in Abraham’s tent, but that seems less likely than Sarah having her own tent like Leah did (cp. Gen. 31:33).
“and took Rebekah.” Often there was no formal marriage ceremony in these early times. The marriage had been arranged and financial arrangements had been taken care of, so Isaac simply took Rebekah as his wife and consummated the marriage. It is often taught in books on customs of the Bible that a marriage ceremony looked a certain way and had certain specific elements. Although there were certainly similarities in many cases, there were also huge differences as well, and that is especially true given the different languages and cultures, the long span of years the Bible covers between Genesis and the New Testament, and even variations in taste and feelings of what was appropriate.(top)