Disclaimer: After I finish the long quotation from Genesis, the end of this blog post is just some things that have occurred to me regarding this particular Bible passage. I’m not trying to claim that what I’m saying here is official doctrine or that my thoughts constitute theological truths. In fact, since the notes in the Lutheran Study Bible (which are extensive and very awesome) don’t make these connections, I’m willing to accept the possibility that they aren’t valid. It is entirely possible that I’m really stretching things and that it’s just plain wrong to take these things from this text. If anyone reading this has anything to say, particularly if it involves quoting Bible verses or good biblical commentary, your comments are welcome and appreciated.

Rebekah at the wellGenesis 24 is the account of how Abraham sent his servant back to his native land to find a wife for his son Isaac. The chapter begins with the conversation between Abraham and the servant, and then the servant sets off on the journey. Starting at verse twelve, here is the text as quoted from the ESV (English Standard Version):

And he [Abraham’s servant] said, “O Lord, God of my master Abraham, please grant me success today and show steadfast love to my master Abraham. Behold, I am standing by the spring of water, and the daughters of the men of the city are coming out to draw water. Let the young woman to whom I shall say, ‘Please let down your jar that I may drink’, and who shall say, ‘Drink, and I will water your camels’ – let her be the one whom you have appointed for your servant Isaac. By this I shall know that you have shown steadfast love to my master.”

Before he had finished speaking, behold, Rebekah, who was born to Bethuel the son of Milcah, the wife of Nahor, Abraham’s brother, came out with her water jar on her shoulder. The young woman was very attractive in appearance, a maiden whom no man had known. She went down to the spring and filled her jar and came up. Then the servant ran to meet her and said, “Please give me a little water to drink from your jar.” She said, “Drink, my lord.” And she quickly let down her jar upon her hand and gave him a drink. When she had finished giving him a drink, she said, “I will draw water for your camels also, until they have finished drinking.” So she quickly emptied her jar into the trough and ran again to the well to draw water, and she drew for all his camels. The man gazed at her in silence to learn whether the Lord has prospered his journey or not.

RebekahWhen the camels had finished drinking, the man took a gold ring weighing a half shekel, and two bracelets for her arms weighing ten gold shekels, and said, “Please tell me whose daughter you are. Is there room in your father’s house for us to spend the night?” She said to him, “I am the daughter of Bethuel the son of Milcah, whom she bore to Nahor.” She added, “We have plenty of both straw and fodder, and room to spend the night.” The man bowed his head and worshiped the Lord and said, “Blessed be the Lord, the God of my master Abraham, who has not forsaken his steadfast love and his faithfulness toward my master. As for me, the Lord has led me in the way to the house of my master’s kinsmen.” Then the young woman ran and told her mother’s household about these things.

Rebekah had a brother whose name was Laban. Laban ran out toward the man, to the spring. As soon as she saw the ring and the bracelets on his sister’s arms, and heard the words of Rebekah his sister, “Thus the man spoke to me,” he went to the man. And behold, he was standing by the camels at the spring. He said, “Come in, O blessed of the Lord. Why do you stand outside? For I have prepared the house and a place for the camels.” So the man came to the house and unharnessed the camels, and gave straw and fodder to the camels, and there was water to wash his feet and the feet of the men who were with him. Then food was set before him to eat. But he said, “I will not eat until I have said what I have to say.” He said, “Speak on.”

[Verses 34- 49 are spoken by Abraham’s servant and repeat everything from the previous 33 verses. Then Rebekah’s father and brother agree to send Rebekah back with Abraham’s servant, and they all eat together. The next day, Rebekah and the servant depart, and Rebekah marries Isaac at the end of the chapter.]

This is what I find really interesting about this passage: Abraham’s servant recognizes Rebekah as Isaac’s bride because of the words she speaks (“Drink” and “I will water your camels”) and the water she gives, in the same way that Christians can recognize the true church by the words it speaks (the Bible) and the water it gives (Baptism). In fact, the reason that Abraham’s servant has to take this trip in the first place is because any potential brides in Isaac’s current homeland belong to pagan religions, which is to say that they’re associated with false churches.

I'm reusing this picture of a sign I stuck on my dorm room wall, because it's a cool sign.

I’m reusing this picture of a sign I stuck on my dorm room wall, because it’s a cool sign.

That’s something I noticed while ago that I thought was cool, but this morning it occurred to me that the order of events in this account could be significant, too. First comes the part about the water, then Rebekah and her brother invite the servant into their home, then they talk things over and agree that Rebekah will marry Isaac, and then Abraham’s servant eats the food that Rebekah’s family provides. (The Lutheran Study Bible does have a note that points out that it would have been customary for the guest to eat before such a discussion, but in this case, it was important to the servant to get that matter taken care of first.) Likewise, Christians enter the church through baptism; baptism can occur even before a person makes a conscious decision to enter the church. (In this case, my opening disclaimer doesn’t apply. It is official doctrine in the Lutheran Church that infant baptism is valid because baptism is a gift from God that does not require a deliberate decision to accept Jesus. It is something that the church can give to us even before we have the knowledge to recognize what we are receiving in baptism.) However, when the church offers us food, (Holy Communion, aka The Lord’s Supper, aka the Eucharist, etc.) before we partake in this meal, we should be sure that we’re in the right place and that we are in agreement with the congregation with whom we’re eating. In the case of Abraham’s servant, that means negotiating the betrothal before accepting dinner. In the case of communion, that means two things. First, unlike baptism, communion isn’t something that should be offered to babies or to people who have not yet been instructed in the church’s teachings. Second, it’s an argument for close communion (aka closed communion), which is the practice by which a congregation only offers communion to members or to visitors who believe the same thing. (Basically, that means members of another congregation of the same denomination.)

Matthew 6The English major part of my brain is wondering if there’s something metaphorical to say about the camels. It seems important that Rebekah is so attentive to them, offering them water and then assuring Abraham’s servant that her family has plenty of straw and fodder for the camels, even though he hasn’t specifically asked about that. Obviously, Rebekah was a generous and caring hostess, but if there’s a parallel to be drawn here, I’m going to guess that it’s along the same lines as what Jesus says in Matthew 6: 25-34. (See accompanying picture) If the camels stand for something, they stand for Abraham’s worldly possessions, and the fact that they are well provided for stands for the fact that, by God’s grace and love, our worldly needs are met, in addition to the forgiveness, salvation, and eternal life that God has already given us.

The end. I reiterate that comments, corrections, and additional remarks are welcome and requested.