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Thursday, September 29, 2016

Genesis the Book of Beginnings Part 33 - Isaac Gains a Wife

As we reach the halfway point of the book of Genesis, we begin to see a transition in the story from Abraham to Isaac.  Isaac's story is actually rather brief in the narrative, as it is often interwoven with either his father Abraham's story or with his son Jacob's.  The remainder of Genesis, as a matter of fact, will actually focus more on the stories of Jacob and Joseph than it does anything else.

As we begin chapter 24, Abraham begins to realize that Isaac has come of age and needs a wife, and he enlists the assistance of his faithful servant Eleazar to make sure this happens the right way.  If you recall from earlier studies, Eleazar was almost like a son to Abraham, and when Abraham was trying to figure out God's covenant to him before Isaac's birth, he was even considering naming Eleazar his heir.   Not much is said about Eleazar in the Genesis narrative, but apparently he had served Abraham for a long time, and perhaps came with him from Haran when Abraham first arrived in Canaan.  It is even quite possible that Eleazar could have been a second cousin, as he may have even been the son of one of Terah's brothers - again, this is speculating, as Scripture is silent as to the details of Eleazar's life because he only plays a peripheral role in the story.  However, given his status with Abraham, what can be certain is that there was a close bond between Abraham and Eleazar, so much that Abraham made him a sort of steward of his estate and trusted his judgment and counsel.  That is why it was Eleazar that Abraham charges with the particular task of finding Isaac a suitable mate.

It is at this point the story gets somewhat bizarre for our modern sensitivities, as Abraham demanded from Eleazar a special type of oath in the first ten verses.  The oath entailed a ceremony in which Eleazar had to actually lay his hand on Abraham's inner thigh and then swear to carry out what Abraham wanted him to do.  This practice, although weird to us in this day and age, was actually a standard oath, and there is much to discuss about this.  To begin, an oath like this was always in regard to a family issue.  Secondly, the thigh was considered a source of posterity, and in essence what this meant was that the taker of the oath had to swear literally on the testicles of the one he was swearing the oath to ( - accessed September 2, 2016).  There are two reasons for this type of oath in particular, and they are as follows:

1. Seed - Abraham was making his servant swear literally "on his seed" to find Isaac a wife.
2. Circumcision - This was also swearing on the covenant of circumcision as well.

The reason for this practice may be found in the etymology of the word testify itself, which shares the same root as the word testicle.  According to psychologist Dario Mastripieri, the Romans named this from observing baboons bonding in their journeys to northern Africa (  Accessed September 2, 2016)  However, upon further research, the word testis, which forms the root for so many terms such as testify, testament, and of course testicle, comes from a Latin cognate consisting of two terms involving the concept of "a third standing by," a legal supporter or witness.  It also translates as "two glands side by side," and has the same basic idea.  This being the case, the concept for testify in Scripture most likely came from St. Jerome's Vulgate translation of Scripture, and hence why it is used here in regard to swearing an oath - if you swear an oath, after all, you are testifying to your own word.  Catholic writer/teacher Taylor Marshall also notes in regard to this practice that the testicles of Abraham symbolize in a very real way his descendants ( - accessed September 2, 2016).  Rabbinic sources on this seem to bear this out, in that the phrase "hand under the thigh" was an idiom for the male genitalia, an due to the sign of the covenant (circumcision) happening there, its implication in this case would be invoking the power and presence of God as guarantor of the Covenant promises ( - accessed 9/29/2016).  So, there is a deeper truth here that is being conveyed by this ceremony - the assurance of Abraham's seed carrying out the fulfillment of the Covenant hinged very much on getting the right wife for Isaac, one of God's choosing.  Abraham wanted to make sure that Eleazar understood the implications of this, and swore him to faithfully execute the task.  

Painting of Abraham giving his servant Eleazar instruction

Eleazar, who is committed to his master Abraham, faithfully does carry out Abraham's order by departing the following day for the city of Nahor in upper Mesopotamia, where Abraham's brother (whose name the city is given) and his family lives.  One part of the oath Eleazar swore to Abraham as well was to assure that Isaac did not marry a Canaanite woman, and there are two possible reasons for this:

1.  A Canaanite woman would be outside the covenant, and thus would jeopardize it in at least two ways:
a.  Taints of immorality and idolatry.
b.  Possible recessive Nephilim genetics evident in Canaan's descendants would pollute the chosen bloodline.

2.  God's direction was important in all of this as well - the chosen bride would have to be one of God's choosing.

Also of note is that Isaac was not allowed to go with Eleazar to Nahor to pick his own wife.  The theory here is that at the time Abraham almost sacrificed Isaac on Moriah, it is possible that the resulting encounter with God bound Isaac to the land so he could not leave lest he risk being harmed or killed, thus disrupting God's plan. This would mean that as a condition of the covenant promises, Isaac was to be sheltered and protected at all costs.  

Eleazar begins his trek north with ten camels, and as one final instruction, Abraham tells Eleazar to await the "Angel of the Lord" (recall from earlier studies that this is not an angel in the normal sense, but rather is rendered in some translations as Word, and is substantiation for a possible pre-Incarnational appearance of Christ) for guidance. Also, the chosen girl was not to be forced to go, but would do so on her own free will.  In verse 14, the guidance is given, and essentially the instructions are to wait for a virgin who agrees to give water from the well to him and the camels - the woman who did this would be the chosen bride for Isaac. 

Rebekah watering the camels of Eleazar (Genesis 24:15-28)

Eleazar arrives at Nahor, and upon his arrival he sees a strikingly beautiful shepherdess at a well and asks her for a drink.  This shepherdess is in reality Rebekah, the daughter of Abraham's nephew Bethuel.  Rebekah, who is an undefiled virgin, gives Eleazar a drink, and then she offers to water the camels as well, and an inner voice of God affirms to Eleazar that this is who Isaac will marry.  So, having the assurance that she is the one, Eleazar gives her the gifts he brought once the camels finished their drink, and this consists of a large amount of gold baubles and other jewelry.  He then asks her if he can lodge at her father's house, and he is warmly welcomed.

At this point, it is also worth mentioning that a trusted servant like Eleazar had a lot of privilege he was allotted.  Essentially, he would be received and honored as if he were Abraham himself, as that is who he represents.  It is an important point to mention in that the "faithful servant" parables we hear later from Jesus convey that same context - the trusted servant of one's household is given great responsibility, and that the reward for obeying and carrying out the responsibility is great for a faithful servant.  The lesson for us is very Christological as well - if a mere servant is treated with such respect by a godly master, then how much so will we, who are actually adopted as sons in the Son, be loved by our heavenly Father?  That is just a side issue to ponder. 

Eleazar is first introduced to Laban in verses 29-47, who as eldest son was also more or less the one who ran the estate.   Laban would figure prominently later as well, as this is the same Laban whose daughters Rachel and Leah Isaac's son Jacob would marry later on.  Laban extends hospitality to Eleazar by having his feet washed and then offering bread.  However, Eleazar has little time to spare and gets to the point, which is that he is there to find a wife for Isaac.  After stating his case, Laban and his father Bethuel give their blessing to this proposal, as they know that God is ordering all this.  Eleazar then distributes the gifts he has brought, and then he eats, drinks, and spends the night.  He needs to rest up for the long journey back the next day!

Before starting back to Canaan, Rebekah's family tries to negotiate her waiting ten more days before leaving, but Eleazar reminds them that there is no time and he insists on the departure at that point.  As God had instructed, the question was then put to Rebekah as to what she wished, and she agrees to leave immediately as well.  So, they travel back, and upon getting close to home, Isaac from a distance spots Rebekah for the first time, and he is immediately smitten with her.  The narrative doesn't give a lot of detail, but only says that somehow a ceremony happens in Sarah's tent, and she became Isaac's wife.  Why Sarah's tent?  Two theories have been proposed in research I have come across, one being that perhaps this symbolized the end of Isaac's mourning over his mother's recent passing, and that the love he and Rebekah now have was to be his new focus.  The second theory is that now Rebekah has assumed the role of her deceased mother-in-law as the new matriarch of the family, and the symbolism of her being in Sarah's tent seals that role for her ( - accessed 9/29/2016).  I personally believe that both of these are involved, and may add another idea.   This is totally speculation, but given that Melchizedek was still around (being our thesis in these lessons is that he is synonymous with Shem) it is totally within possibility that he or another person endowed with priestly authority would have formalized the ceremony, and that Sarah's tent would have been the place for that to happen.  After a formalization of the ceremony, it is also possible that Sarah's tent served as a sort of "honeymoon suite" for the young couple to consummate their new lives together in the marriage covenant.  If this is the case, we see an early picture of sacramental grace happening.  This is also one reason why the sacred covenant of matrimony is also sacramental as well, being it was ordered by God Himself and blessed by His holy priest.  

Icon depicting Rebekah's returning with Eleazar to meet Isaac

At this juncture, we have a break in the narrative in which an interlude regarding Abraham's second wife is interjected at the beginning of Genesis 25.  As Sarah has passed away and Abraham was a widower, he chose to remarry, and the girl he remarries is named Keturah.  In the Book of Jasher Chapter 25, Keturah is said to be of Canaanite origin, which is odd considering that there was a prohibition of Isaac marrying a Canaanite, so why did Abraham do so?  My speculation here is that perhaps Abraham, after much soul-searching, got the blessing from God to marry this particular Canaanite girl because she may have been free of the taint of Nephilim DNA that plagued her family as a descendant of Ham's son Canaan.  Also, being that any offspring from this point would not have any bearing on the Covenant promises, maybe it just didn't matter and God allowed Abraham this woman.   Whatever the case, Abraham marries her when he is very old, and she bears him five sons - one of them, Midian, would become the father of the Midianite nation we hear about later, the same Midianites from whom Moses's future father-in-law, Jethro, would be descended.  Midian, along with his five brothers as well as Ishmael's clans, would also constitute what would later be the Arab peoples, and Midian's descendants in particular during the time just preceding the New Testament would establish a powerful desert empire called the Nabataean Kingdom which would prove a formidable trading power as well as providing resistance against Roman expansion later.   In other words, we will be hearing more about the descendants of Midian in ages to come!

Despite the fact Abraham now had at least six other sons by other women, Isaac is still the son of promise and it is Isaac that receives the full inheritance of Abraham along with the promises of the Abrahamic Covenant.  This means that when they came of age, the other sons were sent eastward, which essentially means the Arabian Desert, and this is why their descendants today are known as "Arabs."  

In Genesis 25:7, Abraham passes away at the age of 175, and Isaac and Ishmael come together to bury him at the Cave of Machpeleh with Sarah.  It is now that the legacy of  Abraham is passed onto his descendants, and we begin to see an acceleration of the promises of the Covenant begin to happen.

Painting depicting the burial of Abraham by Isaac and Ishmael

At this point, a number of genealogies, both of Ishmael and Isaac, are documented.   Ishmael's is addressed by the passage first, as it notes that he has 12 sons by two wives.  The Book of Jasher in Chapter 15 verse 18, names one of the wives as Ribah, who is an Egyptian (possibly the same marriage his mother Hagar arranged for him) and the second is a Canaanitess by the name of Malchath.  The sons are called "Twelve Princes" and each son has a city named after him (v. 16).  
The passage then goes on to record Ishmael's death at the age of 137 (v. 17).  Effectively, this ends the specifics of Ishmael's family in Holy Scripture, although we do know that these 12 sons of his became a major base of the future Arab nation as well. 

The focus now shifts back to Isaac.  Scripture says Isaac was about 40 when he married Rebekah, who obviously was considerably younger.  It took about 20 years, when Isaac became 60, for Rebekah to conceive and have their first children, and she becomes pregnant with twins.  The pregnancy is of interest, because these twins are struggling inside her even while she carries them, and a prophecy of two nations surfaces regarding them - "the older shall serve the younger."  The first-born of the twins ("the older") is Esau, and he comes out red with a hairy body - he therefore is named accordingly.  However, the second-born of the twins, Jacob (whose name can mean "persuader," "deceiver," or "supplanter," depending on the context) takes hold of Esau's heal with his hand as they are birthed.  They ended up being radically different from each other, and the narrative of their birth changes gears to some years later at this point.  It is also worth noting that The Book of Jasher also inserts a detail to this narrative regarding Arphaxad, Shem's son, who reposed according to that account when Isaac was 48 years of age.

The story now shifts to some years later, when the boys were either in their late teens or early adulthood.  Esau, as he grows, is skilled at hunting, and is an outdoorsman.  Jacob, on the other hand, is agrarian and tends to flocks and crops.  You will notice something oddly parallel to the earlier story of Cain and Abel as well, and in this case the outcome will be different.  This difference is not lost on the parents either, as Isaac favors Esau yet Rebekah favors Jacob.  God was about to teach Isaac a lesson in His plans that will blow away Isaac's preconceptions, and oddly He uses a covert situation to do it.

One day, Jacob is making himself a lunch while out doing his farm work, and it is possibly a red lentil stew.   Esau soon appears, and is exhausted.  Although Esau is a hunter by profession, a normal stag hunt would not cause the type of exhaustion Esau displays here, and when we begin to look outside the narrative of Scripture, there may just be something that provides the missing link to the story.  Back again to the Book of Jasher in Chapter 27, there is an odd account of an encounter Esau had with the despotic Antichrist-like figure Nimrod.  Nimrod, if you recall from Genesis 10, was also this "mighty hunter," and may have also been a gigantic Nephilim as well.  In reading this story, you get the picture of a sort of rivalry going on between Nimrod and Esau, and for some reason Esau wants to "off" Nimrod.  So, upon seeing Nimrod's hunting posse approach, Esau hides in a clump of woods, and when Nimrod and two of his attendants get too close, Esau jumps out and decapitates Nimrod.  At this point in the Book of Jasher, Nimrod is said to have been 215 years of age. Nimrod's attendants also engage Esau, and he kills them as well.  When Nimrod's accompanying guard rush to see what is going on, Esau flees the scene and is reported to have taken the "sacred garments" (which were believed to be the first clothing of Adam and Eve, which Noah took with him, Ham then stole, and they passed onto Nimrod).  The Jasher account asserts that this is the reason for Esau's exhaustion when he encounters Jacob.  There is some logic in this too, for if Nimrod was a Nephilim, it would have been an epic battle for Esau to kill him, and Esau could have even sustained some injury from the encounter too.  

Any rate, Esau is wiped out, hungry, and Jacob sees this as an opportunity.  He tells Esau that he can have some of this lentil stew if he gives Jacob the birthright privilege.  Esau is sort of like "Whatever! just let me eat!" and therefore surrenders the birthright without conflict.  Jacob then makes Esau swear by it, thus securing the right for himself, and we see that story picking up in the next lesson in Genesis 27.

Esau sells his birthright to Jacob for a bowl of lentil stew

A post-script to all this entails us revisiting the story of Cain and Abel in Genesis 4.  There is a marked contrast here between these two accounts, in that in the Genesis 4 account it is Cain, the older sibling, who prevails when God rejects his sacrifice in favor of Abel's.   Esau in reality was like Cain, but if we take the Jasher story as valid, he also did a tremendous service to civilization by committing tyrannicide which rid the world of an oppressive dictator named Nimrod.   Also, like Cain, Esau was not overly concerned about covenant or anything else - he was more concerned with self-preservation.  However, whereas Cain sinned grievously by slaying Abel, Esau gave up something that actually meant little to him with hardly a struggle, and God used that to fulfill His plan.  However, it would dawn on Esau later as to what he lost, and when that happens, it will create a conflict with Jacob that almost ends in disaster, until Esau is blessed in his own right and he and Jacob make up their differences later in the next lesson.  It is here we will continue next time. 

All references to the Book of Jasher come from Ken Johnson, Ed.  Ancient Book of Jasher.  Lexington, KY:  Biblefacts Ministries, 2008.