This is how the Bible does romance: a heartwarming story about a man sending a slave to purchase a woman to marry his son.
Abraham is terrified that after he dies his son Isaac will settle down with a local woman, a Canaanite, so he makes his head slave swear an oath to find someone from his clan, i.e. a direct relative. The slave never earns a name in the entire chapter, he is just referred to as “the servant.” By the way, apparently they don’t seal deals with handshakes back then, but with a hand under the thigh of the swearer. Unless that wasn’t customary and Abraham was just a pervert.
Abraham says that God has sent a messenger ahead of the servant to smooth the way. This messenger never materializes throughout the chapter. Either God lied to Abraham or Abraham lied to his servant.
When the slave makes it to his destination, he stops at a well to catch women when they come to get water. That’s sleazy but smart. No wonder he’s the head slave. He prays to God for a sign, a very specific sign: the right woman will be the one who responds correctly to his request for water, sort of a secret agent code-word exchange. When he asks for water, the right woman will give him water but also offer to water his camels. Interestingly, when the slave is talking to God, he refers to him as Abraham’s God, not his God or a collective God. It seems like slaves are not only unworthy of names, but unworthy of Jehovah as well.
It’s a very one-sided prayer without any response from God. Sound familiar? Remember, this is supposed to take place in the era when God had a very active presence in human affairs, walking and talking with his subjects, but he makes no response in this situation. He doesn’t even acknowledge receiving the request from the slave. Nor is there any appearance from the messenger that was promised.
Before the slave is even done speaking, a woman, Rebekah, shows up. She is Abraham’s grand-niece. She was probably standing there listening the whole time. We are informed that Rebekah is “of very good appearance, a virgin, and a man hath not known her.” That rounds out the God-approved woman checklist:
(1) Not a foreigner,
(2) Servile to men,
(3) Physically attractive, and
(4) A virgin.
That almost sounds like something a man would write. But we know better, these are the profound standards of a wise and thoughtful God (who is not the God of slaves, only real people).
Now comes the romantic part. Because Rebekah said the magic words, the slave lays claim to her by putting a gold ring in her nose like a prize bull. He asks who she is and whether he can visit her house, so the men can talk about how much it would cost to drive this pretty virgin off the lot and into Isaac’s driveway.
Rebekah’s brother Laban runs out to the fountain, presumably to kick the ass of the man he probably assumes is trying to devalue/devirginize his sister, but when he sees the dude has money, he takes a very different tone. “Come on in, let’s talk about selling my sister,” basically. Laban lays out some food and drinks, and the slave insists on retelling the entire secret-message story. He belabors the part about how rich Abraham is, a bad strategy when buying a wife. You want to pretend to be student or fixed-income when negotiating the purchase of a high-value possession like a wife. He ends up paying “vessels of silver, and vessels of gold, and garments, and precious things also to her brother and to her mother.” He probably could have bought her for just a couple asses if he hadn’t hyped Abraham so much.
The chapter briefly mentions that Rebekah’s mother tried to hang on to her for another ten days, and then asked Rebekah if she wanted to go, and it probably considers itself wildly progressive for this “courtesy,” but it’s hard to take the moral high-road when you’ve just sent a slave to purchase a woman.
When they get back to Canaan, Isaac catches a glimpse of his new wife riding in on her camel, and without even exchanging a greeting, he’s like “meh, good enough,” and then nails his new niece-wife in his dead mother’s tent.
It’s like the fucking Notebook. Tear. So romantic.
1 And Abraham [is] old, he hath entered into days, and Jehovah hath blessed Abraham in all [things];
2 and Abraham saith unto his servant, the eldest of his house, who is ruling over all that he hath, `Put, I pray thee, thy hand under my thigh,
3 and I cause thee to swear by Jehovah, God of the heavens, and God of the earth, that thou dost not take a wife for my son from the daughters of the Canaanite, in the midst of whom I am dwelling;
4 but unto my land and unto my kindred dost thou go, and hast taken a wife for my son, for Isaac.’
5 And the servant saith unto him, `It may be the woman is not willing to come after me unto this land; do I at all cause thy son to turn back unto the land from whence thou camest out?’
6 And Abraham saith unto him, `Take heed to thyself, lest thou cause my son to turn back thither;
7 Jehovah, God of the heavens, who hath taken me from the house of my father, and from the land of my birth, and who hath spoken to me, and who hath sworn to me, saying, To thy seed I give this land, He doth send His messenger before thee, and thou hast taken a wife for my son from thence;
8 and if the woman be not willing to come after thee, then thou hast been acquitted from this mine oath: only my son thou dost not cause to turn back thither.’
9 And the servant putteth his hand under the thigh of Abraham his lord, and sweareth to him concerning this matter.
10 And the servant taketh ten camels of the camels of his lord and goeth, also of all the goods of his lord in his hand, and he riseth, and goeth unto Aram-Naharaim, unto the city of Nahor;
11 and he causeth the camels to kneel at the outside of the city, at the well of water, at even-time, at the time of the coming out of the women who draw water.
12 And he saith, `Jehovah, God of my lord Abraham, cause to meet, I pray Thee, before me this day — (and do kindness with my lord Abraham;
13 lo, I am standing by the fountain of water, and daughters of the men of the city are coming out to draw water;
14 and it hath been, the young person unto whom I say, Incline, I pray thee, thy pitcher, and I drink, and she hath said, Drink, and I water also thy camels) — her Thou hast decided for Thy servant, for Isaac; and by it I know that Thou hast done kindness with my lord.’
15 And it cometh to pass, before he hath finished speaking, that lo, Rebekah (who was born to Bethuel, son of Milcah, wife of Nahor, brother of Abraham) is coming out, and her pitcher on her shoulder,
16 and the young person [is] of very good appearance, a virgin, and a man hath not known her; and she goeth down to the fountain, and filleth her pitcher, and cometh up.
17 And the servant runneth to meet her, and saith, `Let me swallow, I pray thee, a little water from thy pitcher;’
18 and she saith, `Drink, my lord;’ and she hasteth, and letteth down her pitcher upon her hand, and giveth him drink.
19 And she finisheth giving him drink, and saith, `Also for thy camels I draw till they have finished drinking;’
20 and she hasteth, and emptieth her pitcher into the drinking-trough, and runneth again unto the well to draw, and draweth for all his camels.
21 And the man, wondering at her, remaineth silent, to know whether Jehovah hath made his way prosperous or not.
22 And it cometh to pass when the camels have finished drinking, that the man taketh a golden ring (whose weight [is] a bekah), and two bracelets for her hands (whose weight [is] ten [bekahs] of gold),
23 and saith, `Whose daughter [art] thou? declare to me, I pray thee, is the house of thy father a place for us to lodge in?’
24 And she saith unto him, `I [am] daughter of Bethuel, son of Milcah, whom she hath borne to Nahor.’
25 She saith also unto him, `Both straw and provender [are] abundant with us, also a place to lodge in.’
26 And the man boweth, and doth obeisance to Jehovah,
27 and saith, `Blessed [is] Jehovah, God of my lord Abraham, who hath not left off His kindness and His truth with my lord; — I [being] in the way, Jehovah hath led me to the house of my lord’s brethren.’
28 And the young person runneth, and declareth to the house of her mother according to these words.
29 And Rebekah hath a brother, and his name [is] Laban, and Laban runneth unto the man who [is] without, unto the fountain;
30 yea, it cometh to pass, when he seeth the ring, and the bracelets on the hands of his sister, and when he heareth the words of Rebekah his sister, saying, `Thus hath the man spoken unto me,’ that he cometh in unto the man, and lo, he is standing by the camels by the fountain.
31 And he saith, `Come in, O blessed one of Jehovah, why standest thou without, and I — I have prepared the house and place for the camels!’
32 And he bringeth in the man into the house, and looseth the camels, and giveth straw and provender for the camels, and water to wash his feet, and the feet of the men who [are] with him:
33 and setteth before him to eat; but he saith, `I do not eat till I have spoken my word;’ and he saith, `Speak.’
34 And he saith, `I [am] Abraham’s servant;
35 and Jehovah hath blessed my lord exceedingly, and he is great; and He giveth to him flock, and herd, and silver, and gold, and men-servants, and maid-servants, and camels, and asses;
36 and Sarah, my lord’s wife, beareth a son to my lord, after she hath been aged, and he giveth to him all that he hath.
37 `And my lord causeth me to swear, saying, Thou dost not take a wife to my son from the daughters of the Canaanite, in whose land I am dwelling.
38 If not — unto the house of my father thou dost go, and unto my family, and thou hast taken a wife for my son.
39 `And I say unto my lord, It may be the woman doth not come after me;
40 and he saith unto me, Jehovah, before whom I have walked habitually, doth send His messenger with thee, and hath prospered thy way, and thou hast taken a wife for my son from my family, and from the house of my father;
41 then art thou acquitted from my oath, when thou comest unto my family, and if they give not [one] to thee; then thou hast been acquitted from my oath.
42 `And I come to-day unto the fountain, and I say, Jehovah, God of my lord Abraham, if Thou art, I pray Thee, making prosperous my way in which I am going —
43 (lo, I am standing by the fountain of water), then the virgin who is coming out to draw, and I have said unto her, Let me drink, I pray thee, a little water from thy pitcher,
44 and she hath said unto me, Both drink thou, and also for thy camels I draw — she is the woman whom Jehovah hath decided for my lord’s son.
45 `Before I finish speaking unto my heart, then lo, Rebekah is coming out, and her pitcher on her shoulder, and she goeth down to the fountain, and draweth; and I say unto her, Let me drink, I pray thee,
46 and she hasteth and letteth down her pitcher from off her and saith, Drink, and thy camels also I water; and I drink, and the camels also she hath watered.
47 `And I ask her, and say, Whose daughter [art] thou? and she saith, Daughter of Bethuel, son of Nahor, whom Milcah hath borne to him, and I put the ring on her nose, and the bracelets on her hands,
48 and I bow, and do obeisance before Jehovah, and I bless Jehovah, God of my lord Abraham, who hath led me in the true way to receive the daughter of my lord’s brother for his son.
49 `And now, if ye are dealing kindly and truly with my lord, declare to me; and if not, declare to me; and I turn unto the right or unto the left.’
50 And Laban answereth — Bethuel also — and they say, `The thing hath gone out from Jehovah; we are not able to speak unto thee bad or good;
51 lo, Rebekah [is] before thee, take and go, and she is a wife to thy lord’s son, as Jehovah hath spoken.’
52 And it cometh to pass, when the servant of Abraham hath heard their words, that he boweth himself towards the earth before Jehovah;
53 and the servant taketh out vessels of silver, and vessels of gold, and garments, and giveth to Rebekah; precious things also he hath given to her brother and to her mother.
54 And they eat and drink, he and the men who [are] with him, and lodge all night; and they rise in the morning, and he saith, `Send me to my lord;’
55 and her brother saith — her mother also — `Let the young person abide with us a week or ten days, afterwards doth she go.’
56 And he saith unto them, `Do not delay me, seeing Jehovah hath prospered my way; send me away, and I go to my lord;’
57 and they say, `Let us call for the young person, and ask at her mouth;’
58 and they call for Rebekah, and say unto her, `Dost thou go with this man?’ and she saith, `I go.’
59 And they send away Rebekah their sister, and her nurse, and Abraham’s servant, and his men;
60 and they bless Rebekah, and say to her, `Thou [art] our sister; become thou thousands of myriads, and thy seed doth possess the gate of those hating it.’
61 And Rebekah and her young women arise, and ride on the camels, and go after the man; and the servant taketh Rebekah and goeth.
62 And Isaac hath come in from the entrance of the Well of the Living One, my Beholder; and he is dwelling in the land of the south,
63 and Isaac goeth out to meditate in the field, at the turning of the evening, and he lifteth up his eyes, and looketh, and lo, camels are coming.
64 And Rebekah lifteth up her eyes, and seeth Isaac, and alighteth from off the camel;
65 and she saith unto the servant, `Who [is] this man who is walking in the field to meet us?’ and the servant saith, `It [is] my lord;’ and she taketh the veil, and covereth herself.
66 And the servant recounteth to Isaac all the things that he hath done,
67 and Isaac bringeth her in unto the tent of Sarah his mother, and he taketh Rebekah, and she becometh his wife, and he loveth her, and Isaac is comforted after [the death of] his mother.