LESSON 70.

ISAAC AND REBEKAH.

553.      Throughout Genesis, and in fact throughout the Bible, but decreasing in frequency, traces can be found of customs which characterized the early matriarchate. Many of these we are compelled to pass by for want of space leaving our readers to study them for themselves. But let us illustrate:

554.     In the 24th of Genesis we read that when Abraham was old, after the death of Sarah, he called a trusted servant, and told him to go and search for a wife for his son Isaac among his near relatives, as we understand it, but on the father's side (verse 7), showing that still the idea of kinship through the father was scarcely taken account of. To be sure, the Bible nowhere forbids marriage between cousins, and this might be explained as only the ignoring of so remote a relationship as constituting no bar to marriage. But since Abraham had married the daughter of his own father (but not of his mother) in ignorance of any wrong in the matter (though it was strictly forbidden 450 years later by the Lord, Leviticus 18:9), and in view of other points to be noted in this chapter, it is not improbable that up to this time the intimate relation between father and child was not given much importance, though we have noted how God was training the instincts of fatherhood in the character of Abraham.

555.     This training was needful,for there is nothing to be gained, and much to be lost, in the long run, by women as well as by men, in a weak tie between father and child. The child needs the protection and the support of a father; for the mother, so long as she is bearing children, ought to be circumstanced so as to be relieved entirely at these two points. And besides, she should have her own relatives to defend her rights, should there be need, against a domineering or defrauding husband. But there has been an immense loss to both child and mother through weakening the tie between mother and child, in order to set up the father-tie as a rival claim. At first, as a result of ignorance and want of observation, the only tie clearly recognized was between mother and child; this was undesirable. Later, the kinship of both parents to a child came to be recognized; this was desirable. But later still, because of that love of power which has always more or less characterized the male sex, father-kinship displaced mother-kinship claims, before the law, and this is deplorable. Under the softening influences of Christianity, and more especially the fact of the Virgin Birth, the tie between mother and child came into recognition; but we have inherited from Roman law a legacy of abuses along this line which still often deprives the Christian mother of most palpable rights, in order to bestow them upon the father.

556.     To return to Abraham: The servant said: "Peradventure the woman will not be willing." He said nothing about whether her parents would be willing; young women were free. On the other hand Isaac was not even consulted as to whom he wished to marry, so far as we know; his father settled that matter for him, and sent to get a wife for him whom he (a man of forty, Genesis 25:20), had never seen. The servant continued, "Must I needs bring [take] thy son again unto the land whence thou camest?" (verse 5). Shall this man of forty be expected to go and reside with his wife's kindred, if the young bride so desire?

557.     But in this case there were very important reasons why this should not be. The young woman's family was idolatrous (Joshua 24:2-3, and compare Genesis 31:30-34; 35:2), and God had called Abraham and Sarah away from this idolatry, promising to give their children the land in which they now dwelt (Genesis 12:1-5). Abraham knew his son would both lose this fair land for himself and his descendants, and would probably stray from the true God back into idolatry, if Isaac went back to Haran. Fidelity to God must be maintained at the cost of all claims of kinship, if necessary, so the servant was forbidden to take Isaac back to Haran.

558.     When the servant arrived at Haran, and found Rebekah (Isaac's cousin on his father's side), at the well, he gave her costly presents there, over one hundred dollars' worth,a very large sum for those days. He did not reserve these presents to give to the father of the girl as purchase money. It is in later Bible days that we read of the purchase of wives (Deuteronomy 22:29). The servant asks for room in Rebekah's "father's house" (v. 23), but Rebekah runs into "her mother's house" (v. 28), where her brother Laban is (and probably her father). Perhaps this signifies a division of the house into two parts, one for each sex. Perhaps it signifies that Bethuel had another wife and family. Again, perhaps it signifies that the same place is called by either name. The servant who was sent specially to Abraham's own kindred, on arrival would naturally (even if exceptionally) ask for the house of Abraham's nephew, not for the house of his wife,one who was related to his master only as a niece by marriage.

559.     But in view of the expression, "Sarah's tent." (See the next paragraph, and the interpretation put upon it by one so conversant with the customs of that land as Prof. Robertson Smith, and other late writers.) It is not unlikely that in that sentence, "The damsel ran, and told her mother's house these things, neither polygamy is implied, nor a strict separation of the sexes, but that the common family home is rated as the mother's rather than the father's. But in our own day, so far have we strayed from this dignity of woman that even when the wife is the actual and original proprietor of the house, the place will be called "Mr. So-and-so's," so long as she has a living husband.

560.      Afterward, in the house, the servant added to Rebekah's gifts (verse 53), and then gave good-will portions to Laban, her brother, and to the mother, who doubtless was expected to share with the father. This is no purchase of the bride from the father; the picture is very much in contrast to such a degrading scene. Mark the quiet part the father takes in this scene, as to the disposal of his daughter's hand, as compared with the mother. Laban is prominent, and officious, but for other reason than any custom; he is avaricious, and keenly alive to the approach of anyone who has riches,as his entire after-history shows. Rebekah is not, in the end, taken away from home excepting after her express consent is obtained (verse 58). Finally, on arrival in Palestine, Isaac takes her into "his mother's tent. Prof. Robertson Smith says: "Originally the tent belonged to the wife and her children, . . . for Isaac brings Rebekah into his mother Sarah's tent, and in like manner in Judges 4:17, the Kenite tent to which Sisera flees is Jael's, not Heber's. Prof. Smith does not hold (with earlier expositors) that such expressions imply either polygamy or a separation of the sexes, but that property rights were vested with the wife. This ownership of the family home by the mother belongs to the early matriarchate.[4]

561.     When Rebekah reached Isaac, "she lighted off her camel" and "took a veil and covered herself,not in "sign of subordination," as expositors would have us think, for that subordination did not exist. Nor was it as rendered, a "veil," for had veils existed at that early day, we may be sure Sarah would never have been imperilled by her beautiful face. The original Hebrew word signifies a "doubled" garment,a mantle, shawl, to cover up the dust of her travel-worn costume,see pars 262, 263, and the Dictionary Index at the end of the book, under Veil.

Notes:

[4] This, for instance: "Nine women of ten are jealous (of other wives, or concubines) . . . There are also many wives who are advanced in age and have no son, who are yet unwilling that their husbands should take concubines, content rather that the sacrifices to the ancestors (of the husband) should finally cease. There can be no punishment too severe for such women. Let them read the wise precepts of the ancients, and note the conduct of admirable and accomplished ladies as recorded in this book, and how can they help blushing (at their degeneracy)? "In ancient times a wise Empress and virtuous concubines, laying aside selfishness, and with all-pervading kindness sought for the harem of the lord pure and accomplished ladies.

(From Records of Virtuous Women of Ancient and Modern Times, a book highly esteemed among the Chinese, translated, in part, by Miss A. O. Safford.)

Lesson 71   INDEX      Home