Genesis 26:23–33

26 23Then Isaac went up from Gerar to Beer-sheba. 24 And YHWH was seen by him on that night and said, “I am the God of Abraham your father. Fear not. I am with you and will bless you, and I will multiply your seed, for the sake of Abraham, my servant.” 25 And Isaac built an altar there and called out the name of YHWH. Isaac pitched his tent there, and Isaac’s servants began digging a well.
     26 And Abimelech came to him from Gerar, with Ahuzzath his aide and Phicol the commander of his troops. 27 Isaac said to him, “Why have you come to me when you hate me and sent me away from you.”
     28 They said, “We have repeatedly seen that YHWH is with you and thought, ‘Let there be an oath between us and you.’ We want to cut a covenant with you, that you will do no harm to us, just as we have not harmed you. We have not touched you; we have only dealt well with you and sent you away in peace. You are blessed by YHWH.” 30 Isaac prepared a feast for them, and they ate and drank. 31 They rose early in the morning and swore an oath to each other. Isaac sent them off, and they went from him in peace.
     32 On that same day, Isaac’s servants came and told him about the well they had been digging and said to him, “We found water.” 33 He called it Shibah; therefore, the name of the city has been Beer-Sheba to this day.

The well at Rehoboth is a sign of open space between Isaac and Abimelech—both allies and adversaries. This tension is soon to become evident between the twins, Esau and Jacob. A question for Readers  is whether Esau and Jacob will find space for each other.

Isaac was associated with Beer-Lahai-Roi after his biding. A famine brought them to Gerar. He left there and traveled to Beer-Sheba, where Abraham had gone after binding Isaac. This physical connection is confirmed with a night-vision of the G*D of Abraham, his father.

After receiving a specific blessing for himself, Isaac builds yet another altar at Beer-Sheba and begins to dig yet another well, or re-dig the well of Hagar and Ishmael.

While digging a well, Abimelech and his counselors, and, presumably, troops to protect them, come calling. A question arises about their intent. The last encounter between Isaac and Gerar resulted in being sent away and his wells destroyed.

YHWH’s blessing to protect Isaac’s seed begins by turning an antagonistic relationship to an oath-taking pact between the people of king Abimelech and the people of Isaac. There will be space enough for both.

A formal alliance followed a great feast. The peoples parted in peace.

With the completion of a political and military pact, the well is completed and water secured. We revisit a first naming of Beer-Sheba in Chapter 21 that left some confusion about emphasizing the number seven or the oath that was honored by the sacrifice of seven ewes. In this instance, there is a feast, not a sacrifice, and the name is connected only with oath-taking. To double down on space for the protection of Isaac’s seed, we can also return to the blessing Ishmael received in the wilderness of Beer-Sheba—to have his seed develop into a great nation.

Whew. All seems to be going well for Isaac after some tense times.

Genesis 26:1–22

26 1 Now a famine was in the land, aside from the former famine that occurred in the days of Abraham. Isaac went to Abimelech, king of the Philistines, to Gerar. YHWH appeared to him and said, “Do not go down to Egypt. Continue to settle in the land that I will tell you. Sojourn in this land that I may be with you and bless you — to you and your seed I will give all of these lands. I will fulfill the oath I swore to Abraham, your father. I will make your seed as many as the stars in the sky, and I will give your seed all these lands. All of the nations of the earth will be blessed through your seed 5 because Abraham listened to my voice and kept my charge, my commandments, my statutes, and my instructions.”
     So Isaac stayed in Gerar. When the men who lived there asked about his wife, he said, “She is my sister,” for he was afraid to say, “My wife”— thinking, The men who live there will kill me over Rebekah, for she is beautiful to look upon. It was after Isaac had lived there for a long time that Abimelech, king of the  Philistines, looked out a window and saw Isaac laughing-and-loving with Rebekah, his wife.
     So Abimelech summoned Isaac and said, “Look, she is your wife, so how could you say, ‘She is my sister’?”
     Isaac responded, “Because I thought I might be killed over her.”
     10 Abimelech said, “What have you done to us? One of the people might have lain with your wife, and you would have brought guilt upon us!” 11 Abimelech commanded all of the people, “Anyone who touches this man or his wife will be put to death. To death!”
     12 Isaac sowed in that land and reaped that year a hundredfold, and YHWH blessed him. 13 The man grew ever greater and richer until he was exceedingly great. 14 He possessed flocks and herds and many slaves. The Philistines envied him. 15 All the wells his father’s servants had dug in the days of Abraham, his father, the Philistines closed up and filled with dirt. 16 Abimelech said to Isaac, “Go away from us, for you have become too numerous among us.”
     17 So Isaac went from there, camped in the Wadi of Gerar, and settled there. 18 Isaac again dug the wells that were dug during the lifetime of Abraham, his father, which the Philistines had closed up after Abraham’s death. He called them the same names his father had given them. 19 Isaac’s servants dug in the wadi, and they found there fresh water. 20 The shepherds of Garar argued with Isaac’s shepherds, saying, “The water is ours.” So Isaac named the well Esek/Bickering because they argued with him. 21 They dug another well and argued about it, too, and he called it Sitnah/Animosity. 22 He moved on and dug another well; they did not argue over it. He named it Rehoboth/Space and said, “Look, the Lord has made space for us that we may bear fruit in the land.”

In the midst of the story of Esau and Jacob, we have a flashback to a previous time in Isaac’s life when he was an actor, not someone standing in the wings. Even so, he so closely follows Abraham that he remains a repeat figure caught between Abraham the Covenanter and Jacob the Wrestler. Isaac was passive at Moriah. We have only heard of his initiative with a plea, which is questionably his, to YHWH for a child for Rebekah. Now in a repeat famine, he moves toward Egypt but cannot escape the covenant made with Abraham about this land. Isaac carries the shell of Abraham’s seed along until it can spring forth from Jacob, as Israel.

As a result of being a pale image of Abraham, Isaac repeats some of Abraham’s life. Another famine arrives and Isaac revisits Abimelech. YHWH warns Isaac not to go to Egypt where Abram passed Sarai off as a sister. YHWH does not warn Isaac for his own sake but because of a promise made to Abraham. Isaac seems not to be taken into YHWH’s confidence and is a partial reason for the lack of Isaac’s references to YHWH as his “Lord.”

At Gerar, it is the men of that place who now ask after Rebekah (not Abimelech who had learned his lesson and paid the price of livestock and property). Isaac, still recognizing the comeliness of Rebekah in his first sight of her, fears the men will desire her and kill him. Like Abraham, Isaac fudges the truth and even goes further, for even though a relative, Rebekah is of a different generation. There is no divine intervention as with plagues for a Pharaoh or a dream for Abimelech. Here, Abimelech merely glances out a window to see Isaac fondling Rebekah. Abimelech figures out what was happening had happened to him once before.

Under Abimelech’s protection, Isaac flourishes to the point of the still anachronistic Philistines to apply economic pressure by stopping-up his wells—as a repeat of Abraham’s experience.

Isaac moves on and digs more wells that were also stopped-up. Finally, a well is left alone and Isaac names that well and place, Rehoboth/Open Space—fruitfulness is now on the horizon.

Genesis 25:27–34

25 27When the lads grew up, Esau became skilled in hunting, a man of the field, and Jacob became a simple man who stayed among the tents. 28 Isaac loved Esau for he hunted game for his mouth, but Rebekah loved Jacob. 
     29 Once, when Jacob was boiling boiled stew, Esau came in from the field, famished, 30 and said to Jacob, “Let me gulp down some of the red-stuff, that red-stuff, for I am weary.” Therefore they called his name Edom/Red One.
     31 Jacob said, “Right here-and-now, sell me your birthright.”
     32 Esau said, “Since I’m at the point of death, what good to me is a first-born right?”
     33 Jacob said, “Swear. Here-and-now.” And he swore and sold his birthright to Jacob. 34 Jacob gave Esau bread and lentil stew. He ate, drank, rose, and went off. Thus did Esau spurn the birthright.

The twins grew. Growth and multiplying, on their own, are not signifiers of maturity. Growth alone is not a basis for moral judgment. This is confirmed in a system that desires maximum, short-term capitalistic profit. The description of this grown indicates Esau grew in the skill of hunting. Jacob, whose name carries a Hebrew root meaning “crooked heart” is said to have grown to be a “simple” person. A combination of deviousness and innocence describes tricky leaders down to this day—pragmatically underhanded.

Isaac “loved” Esau for his belly’s sake. There is no reason given for Rebekah’s love of Jacob other than proximity in the tents.

Then, one day, the story begins with Esau returned from a hunt, weary and famished. Esau speaks gutturally, wanting to “gulp” (like an animal in a feedlot) nameless food (red, red stuff). He is a crude appetite impatient for satisfaction.

Jacob goes beyond simply reaching for primogeniture by grasping a heel to taking advantage of Esau’s hunger. Jacob the Slyly Simple could have seen this time coming and even prepared it as a trap. The Hebrew phrase about boiling boiled-stew can indicate something cooked up as in stirring up trouble. It can also go so far as to indicate intentional harm.

Esau, feeling compelled to gulp food—now!—dismissed any thought of inheritance or, anachronistically, retirement. In a moment, the transaction is over. Esau is renamed Edom (Red), the name by which his descendants will be known. As in every family feud, the displaced descendants will become a stumbling block for their usurper.

Esau, who brought meat from the field to satisfy Isaac’s stomach, is taken in by a vegetarian stew from the garden. Jacob, second-born, has the first half of what is needed to become the primary heir—a birthright sold by Esau for a mess of pottage.

Esau does seem to be unfit for tribal leadership. There are questions to be raised about the ethics of Jacob and his current fitness to be a tribal leader. Both lads need additional experience to mature.

Genesis 25:12–26

25 12 These are the begettings of Ishmael, son of Abraham, whom Hagar the Egyptian, Sarah’s slavegirl, bore to Abraham. 13 These are the names of Ishmael’s sons, by their names and according to their birth order: Nebaioth, Ishmael’s firstborn, Kedar, Adbeel, Mibsam, 14 Mishma, Dumah, Massa, 15 Hadad, Tema, Jetur, Naphish, and Kedmah16 These are Ishmael’s sons. These are their names by their villages and their circled encampments, twelve leaders according to their tribes. 17 These are the years of Ishmael’s life: one hundred years and thirty years and seven years. He breathed his last and died, and was gathered to his ancestors. 18 They ranged from Havilah to Shur, which faces Egypt, back to the road to Assyria. In defiance of his kin, he fell.
     19 These are the begettings of Isaac, son of Abraham. Abraham begot Isaac. 20 Isaac was forty years old when he took as wife Rebekah the daughter of Bethuel the Aramean and the sister of Laban the Aramean from Paddan-Aram. 21 Isaac pleaded with YHWH for his wife since she was barren. YHWH granted his plea, and Rebekah his wife became pregnant. 22 The children almost crushed each other inside of her, and she said, “Why me?” and she went to ask YHWH.
     23 And the Lord said to her,
          “Two nations are in your womb;
               two peoples will issue from your loins.
          People shall prevail over people,
               the older, the youngest’s slave.”
     24 When her time came to give birth, then, she discovered there were twins in her body.25 The first came out ruddy, like a hairy mantle all over, and they named him Esau. 26 Then his brother came out grasping Esau’s heel, and they named him Jacob/Heel Holder. Isaac was sixty years old when they were born.

After Ishmael and Isaac join to bury Abraham, we hear a second genealogy of Ishmael and a birth scene that will lead to a genealogy through Isaac.

With the Burial of Abraham, we are at the final scene with Ishmael present. In the fashion of Genesis, such genealogies mark a time of transition. We hear the details of Ishmael’s twelve tribes. These twelve will have overlapping territory with the sons of Keturah and, eventually, with the twelve tribes of Israel.

Readers have been spared a third telling of Rebekah’s entry into the line of Abraham’s fruitful seed. The condensed report is sufficient to bring it all back to mind.

Previously, Readers knew Rebekah’s presence consoled Isaac and Abraham took a wife or concubine. Though Sarah is no longer present, Keturah will not reach her status as mother of Isaac. As a result, Keturah will forever be caught between being a wife and a concubine.

An indeterminate amount of time has been condensed as we pass by Rebecah’s barrenness and arrive at conception and pregnancy. Without the aid of a sonogram, Rebekah has divined twins. This experience is a bit at odds with such information not being confirmed until the birth.

With a tradition begun with Isaac, a younger son claims the birthright of the eldest. It should be noted that the Hebrew is ambivalent enough that a Reader can’t be sure if the oldest will serve the youngest or, regarding the oldest, the youngest will serve them. The reading can only be determined later. Translators have great power in setting expectations of what seems to be on the horizon. We then see what is expected.

Hairy, ruddy Esau is born first, with Jacob holding on as Esau opens a way for him. Such trickery will continue. For now, though, thanks go to Esau, the Impetuous.

Genesis 25:1–11

25 1 Abraham took another wife, and her name was Keturah. 2 She bore him Zimran, Jokshan, Medan, Midian, Ishbak, and Shuah. 3 Jokshan begot Sheba and Dedan. Dedan’s sons were Asshurim, Letushim, and Leummim. 4 Midian’s sons were Ephah, Epher, Enoch, Abida, and Eldaah. All these were Keturah’s sons. 5 Abraham gave all that was his to Isaac. 6 To the sons of Abraham’s concubines, Abraham gave gifts while he was still alive, and sent them away from his son Isaac, eastward to the Eastland.
     7 The days and years of Abraham’s life were one hundred and seventy-five years. 8 Abraham breathed his last and died at a good ripe-age, old and satisfied, and he was gathered to his kinspeople. 9 Isaac and Ishmael, his sons, buried him in the cave in Machpelah, which is in the field of Zohar’s son, Ephron the Hittite, facing Mamre. 10 There were Abraham and Sarah his wife buried. 11 It was after Abraham’s death that God blessed Isaac his son, and Isaac settled at Beer-lahairoi (by the Well of the Living-One Who-Sees-Me).

Abraham dies at the age of 175, 38 years after Sarah. This genealogy marks the end of the story of Abraham.

Sarah waited long for a child. After her death, Abraham takes another wife/concubine—Keturah. The tradition sometimes places Keturah as a re-named Hagar. This designation has the benefit of placing all of Abraham’s sons, except Isaac, in a single extended clan of nomads. By receiving gifts from Abraham, Keturah’s sons receive their inheritance and have no further claim on Abraham or his descendants through Isaac—they are not Sarah’s children. They are sent further eastward, which would be at or past Sodom and Gomorrah.

The tradition sometimes sees Keturah as a third wife/concubine. This perspective gives two different sets of clans. One comes through the five sons of Keturah, and the other includes twelve tribes of Ishmael through Hagar. Each of these will have periodically difficult relations with the seed of Isaac.

At Abraham’s death, Ishmael and Isaac, together, bury him with Sarah in the cave purchased at Machpelah. You can read about the joining of estranged brothers as a model of potential peace in God Wrestling by Arthur Waskow.

There are Midrash stories about the physical and emotional distance between Abraham and Isaac. Abraham never does bless Isaac. The Binding never does get resolved between the two of them. It is only after Abraham’s death that we hear of G*D fulfilling Abraham’s duty to bless Isaac. There does come a question about the worth of a blessing from Abraham or Abraham’s god if Abraham’s blessing led to the Binding of Isaac. Is it worth receiving?

Isaac puts his roots down in Beer-Lahoi-Roi, Hagar’s place of being seen, not in Beer-Sheba or Hebron, places associated with Abraham.

Though Abraham’s story ends, the relationship of those associated with him remains fraught—Lot, Hagar, Ishmael, Isaac, sons of Keturah. Readers are invited to consider the results of their life-to-date and whether its consequences are already fated or can still be changed.

Genesis 24:61–67

2461 Rebekah rose, with her maids, mounted the camels, and followed the man. So the servant took Rebekah and left.
     62 Now Isaac had come from the region of Beer-lahai-roi and was settled in the Negeb. 63 Isaac went out to stroll the field at the turning of sunset. He raised his eyes and saw camels approaching. 
     64 Rebekah raised her eyes and saw Isaac. She got down from the camel 65 and said to the servant, “Who is this man walking through the field toward us?”
     The servant said, “He is my master.” She took a veil and covered her face. 66 The servant recounted to Isaac all that he had done. 67 Isaac brought Rebekah into the tent of Sarah, his mother. He took Rebekah; she became his wife, and he loved her. Thus was Isaac comforted after the death of his mother.

This story can be seen as a tale of the rich and famous. Abraham has demonstrated his wealth and position. Rebekah also comes with her servants/slaves. Historically, royal weddings are not about personal relations, but backroom orchestrated deals based on the realpolitik of the moment.

The last we heard of Isaac, he was trussed and laid on a pile of wood, about to be sacrificed. We don’t hear about his being rolled off the wood to make room for a ram. Here, Rebekah rises from her decision and proceeds to implement it. In short order, the trip to Canaan happens in a flash. Rebekah’s leaving to her arriving takes no time in this story-telling universe.

Isaac appears to have taken up residence at a distance from Abraham at the place where Hagar was seen and saw a well, just as Abraham was seen and saw a ram. He likely had no clue a wife was being prepared for him. His first glance and sight of camels may well have been considered a mirage. What’s up?

Rebekah dismounts a camel and sees someone walking toward her. What’s up?

Learning the stranger is Isaac, the one she is to wed, Rebekah distances herself with a veil over her face. She is as indistinguishable close up as she was when far away.

Abraham’s servant/slave does his final task of telling the whole story, one more time. This time we only hear that he told the tale and we know from his last telling how detail-oriented he is. With his task completed, we can also stop referring to him by his position and remember his name from 15:2, Eliezer. His full identifier is Dammesk Eliezer. This is often transcribed as a reference to Damascus, but his name is not Damascan. In Hebrew, this could be a simple play on “household maintenance.” His actions are worthy of a remembered name, even if he is not of Abraham’s seed.

Isaac, psychologically, weds his mother and continues in his passive ways. Rebekah will take care of things.

Genesis 24:28–60

2428 The maiden ran and told her mother’s household everything that had happened. 29 Rebekah had a brother named Laban, and Laban ran out to the man by the spring. 30 When he saw the nose ring and the bracelets on his sister’s arms, and when he had heard the words of Rebekah, his sister, say, “Thus the man spoke to me,” he came out to the man, who was still standing by the camels, by the spring. 31 Laban said, “Come in, you blessed by YHWH! Why are you standing outside? The house is readied and a place made for the camels.” 32 So the man entered the house. The camels were unbridled and provided straw and feed. Water was given for the man to wash his feet and also the feet of the men with him. 33 Food was set before him to eat.
     But the man said, “I won’t eat until I’ve spoken my word.”
     Laban replied, “Speak.”
     34 The man said, “I am Abraham’s servant. 35 The Lord has exceedingly blessed my master, and he has become great with flocks, cattle, silver, gold, men servants, women servants, camels, and donkeys. 36 Sarah, my master’s wife, bore a son for my master after she had grown old, and he’s given him all that is his. 37 My master made me swear: ‘You shall not choose a wife for my son from the daughters of the Canaanites in whose land I dwell. 38 No, you are to go to my father’s household, to my clan, and choose a wife for my son.’ 39 I said to my master, ‘Perhaps the woman will not come with me’ 40 He said to me, ‘YHWH, in whose presence I have walked, will send a messenger with you and grant success to your journey. You will choose a wife for my son from my clan and my father’s household. 41 You shall only be clear of my oath-curse if you come to my clan. If they provide no one for you, you will be clear of my oath.’
     42 “Today I came to the spring, and I said, ‘YHWH, God of my master Abraham, if you are going to grant me success on this journey, 43 when I have stationed myself by the spring, let it be that the young woman who comes out to draw water and to whom I say, “Please give me a little drink of water from your pitcher,” 44 and she responds to me, “Drink, and for your camels I will draw water, too,” may she be the wife whom YHWH has marked for my master’s son.’ 45 Even before I finished speaking in my heart, Rebekah came out with her pitcher on her shoulder and went down to the spring to draw water. And I said to her, ‘Pray, give me to drink.’ 46 She hurried to lower her pitcher and said, ‘Drink, and I will also give your camels to drink.’ So I drank, and she also gave water to the camels. 47 I asked her, ‘Whose daughter are you?’ And she said, ‘The daughter of Bethuel, son of Nahor whom Milcah bore him.’ I put the ring in her nose and bracelets on her arms. 48 In homage, I bowed before YHWH and blessed YHWH, the God of my master Abraham, who led me in the right way to choose the granddaughter of my master’s brother for his son. 49 Now if you shall act with steadfast kindness toward my master, tell me. If not, tell me so I may turn elsewhere.”
     50 Laban [and Bethuel] both responded, “This has come from YHWH. We have nothing more to say. 51 Here is Rebekah before you. Take her and go. She will be the wife of your master’s son, just as YHWH said.” 52 When Abraham’s servant heard their words, he bowed to the ground before YHWH. 
     53 The servant brought out ornaments of silver and ornaments of gold and garments and gave them to Rebekah. He gave presents to her brother and to her mother. 
     54 They ate and drank, he and the men with him, and they spent the night.
     When they rose in the morning, the servant said, “Send me off to my master.”
     55 Her brother and mother said, “Let the maiden stay with us a few days, perhaps ten, then she may go.”
     56 But he said to them, “Don’t delay me for YHWH has granted success to my journey. Send me off to go to my master.”
     57 They said, “Let us call the maiden and ask an answer from her own mouth.” 58 They called Rebekah and said to her, “Will you go with this man?”
     She said, “I will go.”
     59 They sent off Rebekah, their sister, and her nurse, Abraham’s servant, and his men. 60 They blessed Rebekah, and said to her,
     “Our sister, become thousands myriads!
      May your seed inherit the gate of their haters.”

The plan to find a wife for Isaac has cleared its first hurdles. The maiden Rebekah has run ahead to tell her mother’s family about the emissary from Abraham—not about their purpose but the wonder of their presence—camels and gold.

Rebekah’s brother, Laban, seeing the jewelry on Rebekah, runs out to the caravan still mobilizing at the well. Laban is quick with a confirmation of Rebekah’s invitation and claims the role of welcoming that is due the head of the household.

The visitors are brought to the household and the initial settling-in proceeds. Care is given for the camels and water provided to wash off the dust of journey. Before a feast, Abraham’s servant/slave speaks of the purpose of his journey and recapitulates in great detail the initial impetus of his quest and the recent encounter at the well. In this recounting, it becomes clear that Rebekah has been identified as the maiden being invited to return with Abraham’s servant/slave to wed Isaac, sight unseen.

When the ask is finally made, it is Laban who responds by agreeing that Rebekah will go to be Isaac’s wife [Note: Bethuel’s name appears to be a later insertion, as every indication is that he died before this. Except, of course, for the Midrash that notes his greed and attempts to poison Abraham’s servant/slave to get all the goods for himself but an angelic intervention made an inconceivable switch, and Bethuel died from his own poison.]

With Laban’s agreement, there come additional gifts to Rebekah, Laban, and Rebekah’s unnamed mother.

The next morning brought a request to stay for “some days, ten or so. ” This is an enigmatic phrase. In Bible-talk, “Days” sometimes means a year. Speculation also can suggest the “ten” may be ten months. At any rate, a longer time than ten regular days seems more likely, and a delaying process will also come into play when next we encounter Laban.

Abraham’s servant/slave asks not to be held back from completing his task. The matter is then put before Rebekah, who is again shown as a decider. Rebekah agrees to go with Abraham’s servant/slave.

Rebekah is sent off with her wet nurse and a blessing reminiscent of the one Abraham received in 22:17, after sacrificing a ram instead of Isaac.

Genesis 24:11–27

2411 He had the camels kneel down outside the town by the well of water; it was the evening hour when the town’s women go out to draw water.
     12 He said, “YHWH, God of my master Abraham, let it happen today for me and deal kindly with my master Abraham. 13 Here, I stand beside this spring of water, and the daughters of the men of the town are coming out to draw water. 14 May it be that the young woman to whom I say, ‘Please lower your pitcher that I may have a drink,’ if she says, ‘Drink, and your camels I’ll water, too’—let her be the one you have marked for your servant, for Isaac. By this, I will know that you have dealt faithfully with my master.”
     15 So it was: Before he had finished speaking, Rebekah came out—she had been born to Behuel, son of Milkah, the wife of Nahor, Abraham’s brother—with her pitcher on her shoulder. 16 The maiden was very beautiful to look at, a virgin; no man had known her. She went down to the spring, filled her pitcher, and came up again.
     17 The servant ran to meet her and said, “Please let me sip water from your pitcher.”
     18 “Drink, my lord,” she said and hurried to lower the jar to her hand and let him drink.
     19 After she let him drink his fill, she said, “I will draw water for your camels, too, until they drink their fill.” 20 So she quickly emptied her pitcher into the trough, ran again to the well to draw water and drew water for all his camels. 21 The man stared at her, keeping silent, watching closely to know whether or not YHWH had granted success to his journey.
     22 Then, when the camels had finished drinking, the man took out a gold nose ring weighing a half-shekel and two bracelets, ten gold shekels in weight.23 Then he asked, “Whose daughter are you? Please tell me, is there room in your father’s house for us to spend the night?”
     24 She said to him, “I am the daughter of Bethuel, the son that Milkah bore to Nahor.” 25 And she said, “Yes, we have an abundance of straw and fodder and room to spend the night.”
     26 The man did homage and bowed before YHWH, 27 saying, “Blessed be YHWH, God of my master Abraham, who has not refused kindness and faithfulness to my master. As for me, on this journey, YHWH has led me to the house of my master’s relatives.”

A long journey has ended at a place of refreshment—a well. This ending place is also the beginning of a motif—a betrothal scene. At a well in a foreign land, single people meet, water is drawn, running to the local family head occurs, a feast is held, a dowry arranged, and a betrothal made.

This particular scene is different in that a surrogate is present for the male (Isaac) and the woman (Rebekah) is the active one drawing water. This characterization accords well with a traumatized and passive Isaac and an arranging Rebekah.

Abraham’s servant/slave as well understood the source of their master’s concern—completing his god’s promise—and begins with a calling of that god’s attention to the servant now being in place and outlining a process whereby they will interpret everyday actions into a discernment larger than routine would predict.

The criteria for success are that the servant/slave will receive a drink and that the camels would also be watered. Rebekah does raise an anxious moment as she waits sometime before offering to water the camels. Ten camels, each holding gallons of water, provide a daunting task for a “comely maiden.” Rebekah seems to have stamina as well as beauty.

Upon further inquiry, this journey for a wife for Isaac has come to the exact place it needed to be to rejoin a divided family. This reunion is in place of rejoining all the families divided at Babel. Readers might also hear overtones of a passive ’adam and action-oriented Eve* as a betrothal scene is reminiscent of a new creation with a bone-sharing parallel to a water-sharing.

In today’s world, we travel by instructions from a disembodied voice that can be disappointed when the driver goes astray, and a recalculation is needed. We might wonder how many times the servant/slave had to ask the way. Were they given a divine GPS or were non-Aramaic persons helpful along the way? Perhaps a Reader will be inspired to write the parts missing between the setting out and the coming to rest.

Genesis 23:1–20

231AndSarah’s life was 127 years; thus her age. 2 Sarah died in Kiriath-Arba or Hebron, in the land of Canaan, and Abraham began to lament and weep for Sarah. After Abraham rose from the presence of his dead, he spoke with the Hittites, “I am a resident alien among you. Grant me a burial-holding with you so that I can bury my dead.”
     And the Hittites responded to Abraham, “Hear us, my lord. You are one favored by God among us. Take your pick of our burial sites and bury your dead. No man among us would deny you his own burial plots for burying your dead.”
     Abraham rose, bowed to the local citizens—the Hittites, and spoke with them, “If it accords with your wish that I bury my dead near me, listen to me and entreat Ephron, son of Zohar, to give me title to his own cave of Machpelah that is at the far end of his field. In your presence, I will pay the full price for a title for a burial-holding.”
     10 Now Ephron was sitting among the Hittites, and Ephron the Hittite answered Abraham publicly in the hearing of the Hittites and at the city’s gate, 11 “Not so, my lord. Listen, I grant you the field and the cave in it. I grant this in the presence of my kinfolk. Bury your dead!”
     12 Abraham bowed before the People of the Land 13 and spoke to Ephron publicly in the presence of the People of the Land, “If only you would hear me out. I will give you the price of the field. Take it from me and let me bury my dead there.”
     14 Ephron answered Abraham, 15 “My lord, hear me! A piece of land worth four hundred shekels of silver, what is that between me and you? Go bury your dead!” 16 Abraham heard Ephron’s offer and weighed out to Ephron the silver he had spoken of publicly before the Hittites: four hundred silver shekels at the going merchant’s rate.
     17 Thus Ephron’s field at Machpelah near Mamre—the field and the cave in it, and every tree in the field— 18 passed to Abraham as his property, in full view of the Hittites and of everyone at the city’s gate. 19 Then Abraham buried Sarah, his wife, in the cave of the Machpelah field near Mamre, which is Hebron, in the land of Canaan. 20 The field and the cave in it passed over to Abraham as a burial-holding from the Hittites.

First, a note honoring Sarah: She is the only woman whose life span is recorded in the bible. Sarah dies seven years beyond the latest standard of one hundred twenty. Both these numbers are symbolic of completeness.

Abraham has completed his proof-of-trust in YHWH. This trust has come at the expense of Sarah and Isaac.

After Isaac was released, Abraham returned from the Land of Seeing (Moriah) to the Well of Seven Promises (Beer-Sheba). That is the last known residence of his sojourn in a foreign land that was promised to him.

We then hear that Sarah died in Kiriath-Arba. For the moment, this can be understood as Hebron, some thirty miles away from Beer-Sheba. We have not heard of Abraham moving to Hebron, back to the Terebinths of Mamre.

There is also a tradition that Sarah never spoke to Abraham again after the pain of Abraham’s intention to sacrifice Isaac. This silence may put her at a remove from Abraham and account for the difference in location between Abraham’s return to Beer-Sheba and Sarah’s death at Kiriath-Arba. Though, this is difficult to imagine in that patriarchal society. Sarah would be at risk of again falling into the hands of a local Pharaoh or King.

Whether or not Abraham is nearby or at a distance, he mourns Sarah and uses this as an opportunity to finally move beyond being a resident alien in a promised land to being a holder of property.

There ensues an elaborate dance of bargaining with the Hittites, in general, and Ephron, in particular, regarding the purchase of a burial site for his dead, for Sarah. The Hittites could understand this as room for one, and possibly two. They would have no understanding that it is the vanguard of a nation, a people numberless as sand and stars—a nose of a camel under the edge of their tent.

When compared with other recorded sales in the bible, this is an extravagant price of four hundredweight of silver. It probably was the cause of a grand gloat by Ephron for his deal-making. If it is this difficult to get a piece of property for the dead, imagine the difficulty of getting a place for living strangers. Eventually, a different way than economic purchase will be used—military might. 

This cave for burial will become a seed, justifying conquest (to care for our ancestors: Sarah, Abraham, Rebekah, Isaac, Leah, and Jacob). A stop to raise an altar at the Terebinths of Mamre has become the purchase of a burial cave of Machpelah at Mamre. The multiple uses of one location is but one repetitive theme in Genesis.

The “Tomb of the Patriarchs” is currently under a mosque and is a bone of contention in a larger socio-political tension. This cycle of ownership can lead Readers to consider the cycles in their own lives.

Genesis 22:20–24

2220 After these events, it was told to Abraham, saying: “Look, Milcah has also borne sons to Nahor, your brother. 21 Uz his firstborn, Buz his brother, Kemuel the father of Aram, 22 Chesed, Hazo, Pildash, Jidlaph, and Bethuel.” 23 Bethuel begot Rebekah. These eight Milcah bore to Nahor, Abraham’s brother. 24 His concubine Reumah gave birth to Tebah, Gaham, Tahash, and Maacah.

The inexplicable story of the Binding of Isaac or the Boundness of Abraham has come to its conclusion. There are still many loose ends. Where is Isaac? How is Sarah? Was this the last test of Abraham? Did they leave the wood, fire, and cleaver at the scene?

As is typical in Genesis, a transition brings with it a genealogy. This tracing of Abraham’s brother, Nahor, might seem out of place as we are about to trace the generations that will continue through Isaac (vs. Sarah through Isaac). The writers could have gone back to Noah but chose to start again with Abraham’s generation and his brother Nahor (his other brother, Haran, already dead). There was a judgment that Noah was simply a technician for G*D’s decision to Flood creation. Abraham moves in the direction of a partner with G*D as he acts and interacts with YHWH. Abraham both questions the justice of G*D and blindly follows G*D into disregard for Sarah and Isaac.

This generational change does take place within a larger context. This genealogy posits a confederation of twelve Mesopotamian tribes parallel to the coming twelve tribes eventuating from Abraham. We are set up for how these two will interact keeping G*D’s choice of one people to be of one people.

This genealogy contains people we never hear anything more about. It also brings us to a crux of multiplication to become a nation. How to have Isaac both breed true and follow the tradition of Abraham’s G*D. These criteria require both physical and psychic transitions.

To move on, the writers set a stage by referring to a genealogy back in Chapter 11. There we not only heard about Abram’s brother but Nahor’s wife, Milcah. In Midrash stories, there are references to Sarai and Milcah being sisters. We then have brothers (Abram and Nahor) taking to wife, half-sisters (Sarai, and Milcah).

When women show up in patriarchal genealogies, readers need to pay attention. Now we hear that Milcah is the grandmother of Rebekah. This notice prepares us for a coming story of Abraham sending for a wife for Isaac from the other half of his family of origin.

Rebekah and Isaac may be of similar ages. However, Rebekah will come with an extra generation of experience more than Isaac, whose birth was so long delayed. This wisdom of the world will come into play as generational changes continue.

For the moment, this brief genealogical account marks the end of one storyline and prepares us for a next.