Genesis 23:1–25:18: A time to rebel and a time to trust

The name of the Torah portion חיי שרה Chayei Sarah means “life of Sarah,” but it starts with the matriarch’s death. We see how Abraham works hard to find a final resting place for her, but her death had a huge impact on Yitzkhak (Isaac) as well, affecting him for years. Her death also played a larger than life role in how Abraham’s most trusted servant, Eliazer of Damascus, set out to find a suitable wife for Yitzkhak to carry out Abraham’s legacy.

The life of Sarah

Abraham’s first task is to find a place to bury her. They live near Hebron, which was called Kiriath-arba, which literally means “city of the four.” The four refers to four giants who founded the town. By the time of Moses, there were three still living in the town.

When you live as a nomad or a shepherd, your only security is in numbers. Abraham was able to get along with the people of the land. He was able to get along with almost everyone, except those leaders such as Abimelech or Pharaoh, who abused their power.

Abraham is not aggressive and doesn’t impose himself or his rules onto other people. He treated Sarah like a queen, like royalty. He cherished her, blessed her and deferred to her, particularly regarding Hagar and Ishmael.

Why didn’t Abraham accept the offer of the nobles of Kiriath-arba to give him a piece of land or a cave for free to bury Sarah? He didn’t accept a free gift from Sodom and he didn’t want to accpet a free gift for Sarah’s burial place either. He didn’t want to be beholden to the people of the land. He made sure to pay the full price for the land. He didn’t haggle, he just paid it so he owned the cave where he buried her as well as the land surrounding it.

“So Ephron’s field, which was in Machpelah, which faced Mamre, the field and cave which was in it, and all the trees which were in the field, that were within all the confines of its border, were deeded over to Abraham for a possession in the presence of the sons of Heth, before all who went in at the gate of his city. After this, Abraham buried Sarah his wife in the cave of the field at Machpelah facing Mamre (that is, Hebron) in the land of Canaan.” (Genesis 23:17–19 NASB)

Everyone knew that Abraham bought the land, so he could treat the death of his wife with the reverence he felt it deserved.

“The sons of Heth answered Abraham, saying to him, ‘Hear us, my lord, you are a mighty prince among us; bury your dead in the choicest of our graves; none of us will refuse you his grave for burying your dead.’” (Genesis 23:5–6 NASB)

Abraham was worried that the people around him didn’t have any fear of God but it appears that the people of Heth, of Kiriath-arba understand what was right and wrong. They knew that Abraham did what was right. They also knew that the God Abraham worship was not their god. Their conduct differed greatly from Abraham’s.

Eliezer was from Damascus, and was ethnically a Canaanite, yet he was circumcised along with all the other men. He understand that the God of Abraham was unique and more powerful. Abraham made sure that all his household knew God.

When you send a servant out to work on your behalf, they represent you. When the servant conducts him well, that reflects well on his or her master. When the servant conducts himself poorly, that reflects poorly on the master.

Finding Rivka

Those of us who follow the God of Abraham should look to Abraham as an example of proper conduct.

Eliezer had a godly character and he was looking for a wife for Yitzkhak who had a godly character like Abraham’s. You can’t find that by mere appearance. He had to pray to God for help to find her. He had an interesting test to find Yitzkhak’s future wife.

Eliezer’s test was to find a woman who would not only give him water when asked but to also provide water for his camels. Eliezer wanted to find a woman who would go above and beyond the call of “duty” in extending hospitality to strangers. Eliezer is not alone, he has 10 camels and an entourage of servants and guards with him. He never would have made the trip from Hebron to Haran alone and he was not a young man.

Rivka offered him water when he asked for water and she also offered to water his camels without asking. This tells us that Eliezer knew that Abraham would have done the same thing for a large group of strangers traveling through. Abraham’s hospitality was “overflowing” and Eliezer wanted to find a wife for Yitzkhak who also was overflowing with hospitality.

Eliezer hasn’t even finished praying before Rivka approached him.

“The LORD, the God of heaven, who took me from my father’s house and from the land of my birth, and who spoke to me and who swore to me, saying, ‘To your descendants I will give this land,’ He will send His angel before you, and you will take a wife for my son from there.” (Genesis 24:7 NASB)

Eliezer knew that Abraham was telling the truth that an angel of God was walking before him to help him succeed in this task.

“So she quickly emptied her jar into the trough, and ran back to the well to draw, and she drew for all his camels. Meanwhile, the man was gazing at her in silence, to know whether the LORD had made his journey successful or not.” (Genesis 24:20–21 NASB)

Giving all those camels water was a lot of hard work. Rivka (Rebecca) was determined to do what she set out to do, like she wanted to do it, like it gave her pleasure. She desired to succeed at what she set out to do. She extended the offer to water the camels without being asked and she is determined to finish her task and do it well.

Eliezer just sits there and observes her. He doesn’t offer to help, he doesn’t ask his servants to help her. He simply watches her to see what she could do and to reflect on what he was seeing. We talk about the faith of Abraham but here we see the faith of Eliezer.

The influence of Abraham, Yitzkhak and Ya’akob (Jacob) had on their families, servants and neighbors was great. This why one of God’s titles is “The God of Abraham, Yitzkhak and Ya’akob.” We don’t cite them flippantly, we recognize their status. Eliezer recognized that by addressing God as the “God of Abraham.”

Eliezer was not just committed to Abraham’s God, but to Abraham personally. When Eliezer was praying to find Yitzkhak’s wife, his primary goal was to keep his promise to Abraham.

Rivka did the same thing that God called Abraham to do: leave her family and her people and settle down in a foreign land. She did not question or hesitate. The oath Abraham makes Eliezer take is a plea, but Eliezer, the servant of Abraham, considered it a binding oath to find Yitzkhak a suitable wife. He had to find a wife for Yitzkhak who had a character similar to Abraham’s, which is a high calling.

Rivka is not stubborn, she is determined. Rivka is similar to Esau, while Yitzkhak was more similar to Ya’akob. Rivka and Esau were both adventurous people. Yitzkhak and Ya’akob were content with staying at home. This explains why each parent more closely bonded with the son who was their opposite in temperament. 

God knows the hearts of all these people, but we don’t. This is why Eliezer had to pray to the Lord to find the most suitable wife for Yitzkhak.

All of the men of Abraham’s house had the sign of circumcision. They were all tied together. There was no temple, no tabernacle. This is why Abraham made Eliezer swear on their marks of circumcision that he would find a wife for Yitzkhak in his home country, not in Canaan.

“and I will make you swear by the LORD, the God of heaven and the God of earth, that you shall not take a wife for my son from the daughters of the Canaanites, among whom I live,” (Genesis 24:3 NASB)

What did the Canaanites do that would make them unsuitable for Yitzkhak?

  • Idolatry
  • Enabled temple prostitution
  • Inhospitality to strangers
  • Wicked gain

God told Abraham that he was going to get rid of the Canaanites 400 years in the future because their wickedness. They were wicked during Abraham’s lifetime but God warns Abraham that they would get even worse after he was dead and gone. God knows they won’t repent, they won’t change. Canaanite culture was irredeemable and too disgusting to tolerate. The people of Canaan tolerated the wickedness of Sodom, Gomorrah and the other wealthy cities of the plain. They didn’t raise a finger to try to discourage the evil there. They actively traded with and participated in their evil. This is why Abraham did not want Yitzkhak to intermarry with them.

Rivka recognized the same thing when she told Yitzkhak:

“Rivka said to Yitzkhak, ‘I am tired of living because of the daughters of Heth; if Ya’akob takes a wife from the daughters of Heth, like these, from the daughters of the land, what good will my life be to me?’” (Genesis 27:46 NASB)

Hagar even understood how evil the Canaanites were and found a wife for Ishmael in Egypt instead? Now, were the people of Ur of the Chaldees (where Abraham was born) and the people of Egypt wicked? Yes, but their wickedness paled in comparison to the wickedness of the land of Canaan.

When Eliezer realizes that this kind young lady who watered his camels is a relative of Abraham’s, he praises God with a profound prayer:

“He said, ‘Blessed be the LORD, the God of my master Abraham, who has not forsaken His lovingkindness and His truth toward my master; as for me, the LORD has guided me in the way to the house of my master’s brothers.’” (Genesis 24:27 NASB)

“And I bowed low and worshiped the LORD, and blessed the LORD, the God of my master Abraham, who had guided me in the right way to take the daughter of my master’s kinsman for his son.” (Genesis 24:48 NASB)

One can be truthful without kindness and kind without truth, but Eliezer wanted both when finding a wife for Yitzkhak. She didn’t do what was convenient, she did what she set out to do, even though it was hard. She didn’t speak flippantly.

There was no kindness or truthfulness in Canaan. God put a degree of rebelliousness in all of us because sometimes we have to have a rebellious spirit. When the culture around us, whether it’s in our own family, or our national culture, is wicked and evil, we have to have the fortitude to rebel against that and stand firm in living the way that is right.

“Then they called Rivka and said to her, “Will you go with this man?” And she said, “I will go.”” (Genesis 24:58 NASB)

But Eliezer’s prayer was only the beginning. Rivka’s family and Rivka herself had to agree before she would leave to become Yitzkhak’s wife. This engagement ceremony was signed off by Eliezer, Laban (Rivka’s older brother) and Rivka herself. Once Rivka made up her mind to go, she left her family home forever to a new husband, a new land and a new life. 

Banner Image: “Different is Great” Vector art by Gabriella Fabbri/Freeimages.com

Summary: Tammy.

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