After coming down from Mount Sinai and the death of his mother, Sarah, Isaac was in a bit of a funk. He may not have been on speaking terms with his father and had gone off with his mother’s tent to live near Beer-lahai-roi, in the south of Israel. Abraham knew that the future of his line, of God’s promise, rested in the unsteady hands of his second son. But Abraham had a plan to set things right: he would find a bride for Isaac, someone that could take his mind away from his troubles. It was time for some matchmaking!
Although this is Isaac’s second story as an adult, this is really the story of Abraham’s final victory. This is the moment when he makes his inheritance secure and could go off and be happy on his own. In the process, we also get to meet one of the strong-willed wives of the patriarchs, Rebekah. What are you waiting for? Read on!
Who was the servant that Abraham sent away to find a bride for Isaac? The bible itself does not say, but out of habit I referred to him as Eliezer when I posted about the text on Facebook. Both Jewish and Christian sources agree that Eliezer, a man otherwise mentioned only once in Genesis 15, was the servant that Abraham entrusted the future of his line to.
This post is brought to you thanks to the generous help of Jeremy from Study With Jeremy. I’ve misplaced my copy of Genesis Rabbah and he was kind enough to delve into the original Hebrew to help bring this mystery to a satisfactory conclusion.
So, who was this Eliezer fellow anyway? Sounds like a great mystery! Read on for more.
A few months ago, I stalled on Genesis 24: it was too complex a chapter to comment on and instead of commenting, I found other things to write about until real life caught up with me. I’m determined to continue, so let’s start at the beginning.
Genesis 24 begins with a very odd oath. Abraham is too old to go off to find his son a wife on his own, so he sends his faithful servant to do it. But before he leaves, he asks his servant to “put […] thy hand under my thigh. And I will make the swear by the Lord” (Genesis 24:2). Why does this swearing on a thigh come from and what does the bible have to say about it? Sounds like a great topic to dig into a little more! (Hint: It may involve testicles.)
Somehow in all my reading of Genesis, I missed one of the great controversies of the bible: camels. Dromedaries appear in several Genesis stories, but most notably in the story of Isaac and Rebekah. In this story, Rebekah waters Abraham’s camels and fulfills a prophecy to be Isaac’s wife. I never thought twice about camels in biblical times, but science disagrees. Robert Alter summarizes the controversy best:
Archeological and extrabiblical literary evidence indicates that camels were not adopted as beasts of burden until several centuries after the Patriarchal period, and so their introduction to this story would have to be anachronistic.
Robert Alter, The Five Books of Moses
Rather than point at camels as an indication that the bible is “wrong”, I argue that the rarity of camels fits the biblical narrative. The authors may even connect Abraham to the rise of camels in all of Canaan. Read on for more.
Some of my favorite things about the Torah are the snippets of legends that the early Jews knew so well that they didn’t even need to write down. Passing references and later commentary are the only ways that we know figures like Enoch and Nimrod. Genesis 34 marks the transition between Abraham’s and Isaac’s stories, ironically with a sidebar where neither are protagonists. More on that later, but this scene also marks the second mention of Nahor, Abraham’s brother. Nahor may not be a prominent biblical figure, but this verse in Genesis 24 caught my attention:
Then the servant left, taking with him ten of his master’s camels loaded with all kinds of good things from his master. He set out for Aram Naharaim and made his way to the town of Nahor.
I admit it: I’m stuck on Genesis 24. It’s such a beautiful, complex chapter. In sixty-seven verses, it say so much and has so may allusions to other stories that I struggle to capture it all. This is the story of Abraham’s servant’s search for a wife for Isaac, a job that both seems incredibly important (his family will inherit Israel) and also unimportant. After all, neither Abraham nor Isaac could be bothered to do the mate-searching for themselves. Between that and fact-checking my Torah family tree, I’m just behind!
As I finish writing some actual content, here’s a blog that has some: Pondering Scripture by Justin Honse. The author is slowly working his way through the bible, but is still in Genesis after several years of writing. That sounds very familiar…
In the Jewish cycle, Genesis 23 begins the fifth Torah portion: Chayei Sarah, the Life of Sarah. Like all portions, it is named for its first phrase:
And the life of Sarah was a hundred and seven and twenty years; these were the years of the life of Sarah. And Sarah died in Kiriatharba—the same is Hebron—in the land of Canaan; and Abraham came to mourn for Sarah, and to weep for her.
Ironically, while the name of this portion celebrates life, its content is just the opposite: it begins with Sarah’s death and ends with Abraham’s. In the middle is Isaac’s marriage, a fitting reminder that the cycle of life continues even as the ones we love pass away.
The circumstances of Sarah’s final days is one of the smaller mysteries of the Bible, and one that Jewish and Christian sources tend to disagree on. We know how old Sarah was when she died, but why did she die alone? What caused her death? Was she the Bible’s first divorcee? Read on for more.
We’re up to one of those famous stories in the bible. The “Binding of Isaac”, as it is generally called, is almost as well known as Noah’s Ark or the Parting of the Red Sea and it does so without cute animals or Charlton Heston. In this story, God commands Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac to Him, only to relent at the last moment and provide a ram to use instead. Because of his commitment to God, Abraham proves himself worthy again to be the patriarch of the future Israel.
This test and validation narrative is a good one, but a careful reading shows that God wasn’t demanding an empty sacrifice of Abraham. Although Isaac was spared the knife, God dealt Abraham a tremendous hidden sacrifice: a family, a father and son, walked up the mountain together but two strangers walked down. In one stroke, Abraham’s family was shattered. He, his son, and his wife would never be together again.
In honor of my first wedding anniversary, I’m doing a week-long look at marriage in the bible. Monday was marriage in the creation story, which first depicts something akin to marriage equality, before casting women below men after Eve’s sin. Tuesday was Levirate marriage, which describes a method by which widows can be married off to their spouse’s brother. Wednesday was polygamy, the one-sided practice of marriage plurality. These all dance around an uncomfortable truth: in many cases and in many ways, wives were property.
I should make clear of course that this doesn’t mean that the women in the Torah were subservient or weak, only that they were working in a system that was unkind to them. Read on!