THE BEGINNING – PART V – SECTION II
THE RISE OF
ISAAC: THE COVENANT GOES TO THE NEXT GENERATION
I. Starting in chapter
23, the older generation begins to die off and the covenant is transferred
to Isaac, the first covenant given to the next generation.
A. In chapter 23,
Sarah dies and Abraham insists on purchasing land for her burial, thus
staking his first claim to the Promised Land.
- Her body is the first one to
consecrate the ground.
- In addition, it
is clear from chapter 11, verse 32 that Terah died two years earlier.
(Terah was seventy when he became the father of Abraham, and thus 80
when Sarah was born. Sarah lived 127 years. Thus, Terah
would have been 207 when Sarah died; Genesis says that he lived for
205 years.) The previous generations are dying off; the new generations
must now take over.
- Chapter 25, verse
20 indicates that Isaac was forty when he married Rebekah. Thus,
Terah would have died three years before his marriage. There is
a poignancy that she did not live to see her son marry and have children.
That is perhaps one reason why the text does not say she lived to a
ripe old age, as it does with Abraham.
- When she dies, Abraham
not only wants a fitting burial, which the local people would gladly
have given, but also to purchase the land for her burial.
- The local people,
the Hittites want to give him a burial place for free. At one
level, they do not want to take money from a guest. But at a deeper
level, they may not want this powerful man to have a legal claim to
any of the territory.
- Abraham then specifies
exactly which land he wants and who the owner is, namely the cave of
Machpelah owned by one Ephron. We do not know much about the place,
except that it faced Mamre, which Abraham considered home. At
one level, the place may have been important because it faced Abraham
and Sarah's home. But Abraham may have name that particular
land because Ephron would be the most likely to sell at the right price.
- Later Abraham himself,
and then Isaac and Rebekah, and Jacob and Leah were all buried there.
See Gen. 49:29-32, 50:13. While the Israelites were in Egypt,
the burial sites of the patriarchs would remain, keeping their legal
ties to that land.
- That site has
ever since been reverenced by Jews, than Christians and Muslims, which
is in the current town of Hebron. There is a mosque on the site,
which is still surrounded by massive walls (8-9 feet thick and 197 feet
long) that were probably built by Herod in the first century B.C.
- At first, Ephron
also wants to give Abraham the land. But then, when he says that
he would gladly give even a field worth 400 shekels (about 160 ounces)
of silver, Abraham takes advantage of the opportunity and offers him
that exorbitant amount for the field. (Later, Jeremiah would pay
only 17 shekels for a field, and Omnri would pay 6000 shekels for land
upon which the entire city of Samaria was built. See Jer. 32:7;
1 Kings 16:27.
- It is noteworthy
that, even with God's promise of the land eventually, Abraham thought
it important to establish a legal claim. The claim would come not through
military or technological power (i.e. conquest, annexation or agriculture)
but rather through reverence for the dead. Filial piety would
ever be a hallmark of the Chosen People.
II After Sarah dies,
Abraham sends a servant to find a wife for Isaac. The unnamed
servant is most faithful in arranging for the marriage of Isaac with
his distant cousin Rebekah.
- The scene begins
with recounting Abraham's blessings of prosperity and old age.
But now he wants to see the final blessing, a daughter-in-law and grandchildren.
- Noteworthily, he
does not speak directly to Isaac, but rather to a trusted servant.
But he is still in charge of Isaac's affairs. It would appear
that Isaac is among Abraham's people, but desiring to start being
his own man.
- He insists that
the servant swear a deep oath that he would find a wife for Isaac from
Abraham's own kindred, which would most likely come from the descendants
of Abraham's brother Nahor, mentioned in chapter 22.
- The servant prudently
asks what he should do if the eligible women will not come to the Promised
3. The servant
is never named, despite his obvious importance and talents. The
most likely candidate is Eliezar, whom Abraham mentioned in chapter
15 as the one who would inherit the covenant, with Abraham at the time
childless. However, he is not named, possibly to focus on the
centrality of God's providence.
- The servant, who
is both intelligent and prayerful, goes to the city where Nahor is living,
which is in Aram Naharim
- Aram Naharim was
apparently in northern Mesopotamia, near Harah, where Abraham's father
Terah stopped. Apparently, some of the children of Nahor, Abraham's
brother lived there.
- The servant shows
his intelligence: (1) by bringing many gifts, showing Abraham's prosperity;
and (2) proposing a test for the woman he meets, namely, that she be
hospitable by offering him and his camels a drink.
- However, the servant
asks God to make this test work and give him a sign that he is right
by the woman saying the right words. He refers to God as "God
of my master Abraham," indicating a humility in not wanting to invoke
God in his own name.
- The servant
twice asks God to deal "with grace" toward Abraham. The term
here for grace, hesed, will become a central theme in the Bible, reflecting
God's determination to make the covenant work.
- The prayer and test
work perfectly as Rebekah immediately comes out with a jar of water
and responds generously to the servant's request.
- Rebekah is the daughter
of Bethuel and granddaughter of Nahor, Abraham's brother. The
text, however, focuses not on Nahor, but upon his wife Milcah; this
grandmother seems to be the more important figure in raising Rebekah
with such character. At the beginning, the servant knows none
- Rebekah is shown
as a fitting wife on every count. She is a beautiful virgin who
shows great generosity.
- In response to the
servant's request for a drink, she not only offers to give drink to
the camels, but to get enough for all the camels to "fill up."
Camels can drink 25 gallons of water, indicating that the task of giving
them enough water is an enormous one, but one she takes on cheerfully.
- It sounds odd that
the man simply watched her as she got all of this water. But in
that culture, it was women who carried water; she may also have had
servants helping her.
- Confident that she
is the one that God wants, he immediately gives her expensive gifts
before she identifies herself.
- He gives a small
gold nose ring and two gold bracelets of ten shekels (about 4 ounces)
- She then tells him
that she is of the family of Nahor, with emphasis, however, again on
Milcah. Micah was the daughter of Abraham's now deceased brother
Haran. She had married her uncle Nahor, Abraham's other brother.
- The servant remembers
to thank God for his success, crediting His grace.
- Rebekah then tells
"her mother's house" about the event and her brother Laban, who
seems to be in charge, is agreeable.
- The focus on her
mother indicates that Bethuel, her father, does not seem to be a central
- Upon seeing the
gold ring and bracelets, Laban is favorably disposed to the visitor.
Here, as with his dealings with Jacob later, Laban is on the alert for
- The servant recounts
his mission and the encounter with Rabekah, with some details added
or embellished to make his case more favorable.
- The servant basically
describes the mission accurately, but he makes the command to find a
wife from Abraham's own people stricter, saying in verse 40 that the
woman must be of his father's (Terah's) house. Terah died
five years earlier and seems to have been rather forgotten. The
servant is honoring him.
- The servant emphasizes
the prayer and test he had set forth, and how Rebekah was plainly the
one set aside by God.
- In describing Rebekah's
response, the servant does not emphasize Milcah as much as Rebekah did.
Laban may have been somewhat resentful that his household is known more
for his grandmother than his father or himself.
- The servant also
gets the order mixed up. He says he gave her the gifts after she
told him who she was rather than before. He may not want Laban
to think he has been reckless; or he may want to flatter Laban by emphasizing
the importance of his family.
- Laban and the household
are immediately favorable and they consent to the wedding proposed.
- They recognize the
hand of God at work. They may also have been favorably disposed
to the wealth that the servant brings.
- No one seems to
worry that Isaac is not present. Unlike the servant, they seem
to be more concerned with the joining of the families than with the
- The servant, probably
seeing their concern with wealth, brings out all of his costly presents.
- Having succeeded
in the mission, the servant wants to depart immediately, and finally
is able to do so.
- On the next morning,
with Rebekah's mother apparently back (her father Bethuel is presumably
deceased), the household wants the servant to wait awhile. The
motive is not clear. They may have simply wanted a longer farewell,
although they do not seem that concerned with Rebekah. They may
also have wanted to bargain or investigate the matter more.
- In any case, the
servant wants to leave as soon as possible. One reason may have
simply been eagerness to return home with the mission accomplished.
Another reason may be that he was nervous that they may try to go back
on the arrangement.
- The family finally
thinks to call Rebekah and ask what she thinks about the whole arrangement,
not just departing immediately, but whether she wants to go with the
servant to an unseen husband. Perhaps to the family's surprise,
she agrees eagerly. It seems that she was anxious to get away
from what looks like a rather greedy household.
- The family, to its
credit, gives her a blessing that is remarkably similar to the one God
gave to Abraham after he passed the test regarding Isaac. But
in this context the recipient is the woman leaving, not the father,
or the family whom she is leaving.
- The servant then
returns to Isaac, who at this point is in the Negeb region, to the south
of Abraham's location.
- This text indicates
again that Isaac is being at least somewhat independent of Abraham.
- The text emphasizes
that Rebekah does not even recognize Isaac when she first meets him.
Nevertheless, when the servant explained the situation, Isaac wanted
her for his wife, and they were married very soon. Despite the
complete ignorance of each other before the marriage, it begins on a
very happy note, as she gives him consolation for the death of Sarah.
There will be disputes later, however, as Isaac favors the more earthy,
athletic son Esau, while Rebekah favors the smaller, cleverer (in both
a good and bad sense) Jacob.
III. The text then switches
back to Abraham and Isaac one more time to conclude its discussion of
- Perhaps to everyone's
surprise, Abraham marries again and has six children. These children
would become the founders of various Arab tribes. Most important
are: Midian, Sheba and Didan.
1. Midian apparently
is at least one of the founders of the Midianite tribe, who would play
a part in Isreal's history, beginning with the fact that it is Midianite
traders who buy Joseph as a slave and sell him in Egypt. See Ex.
2, 18; Judges 6.
- The Dedanites would
become associated with the Edomites, descendants of Esau who lived to
Israel's east. See Is. 21:13; Jer. 25:23, 49:8.
- Abraham then dies
at the age of 175.
- This death actually
takes place after the birth of Jacob and Esau, described in the next
chapter. Their births occur when Abraham is 160. His death
is described here in order to wrap up the account of him and pass onto
- Ishmael returns
to help bury Abraham. Despite the injustices done to him, Ishmael,
who is now 90 years old, still loves Abraham and perhaps realizes the
blessings that have come to him through Abraham.
- The text makes it
clear that the blessings of Abraham passed onto Isaac. This is
the first intergenerational transfer of the blessings of God.
From now on, the blessings will be transferred from one generation to
- The text does not
say it here, but according to chapter 10 Shelah the grandson of Shem
and great-grandson of Noah dies the year before Abraham. Arpachshad,
the son of Shem had died some years earlier.
- Then, in order to
complete the discussion of Ishmael, the text turns to him and describes
his children and his death.
2. Ishmael dies
47 years after the death of Abraham. This event occurs well after
the birth and struggles of Jacob and Esau. The text does not describe
it here, but Shem the son of Noah has recently died; only eber from
the first people after the Great Flood is still living, and he will
die soon. The past generations are all going away and the age
of the covenant with the Chosen People has arrived.