As we continued our Genesis Sunday School series last week, we got to chapter 24 and the introduction of Rebekah. The notes for the class are here.
There’s a lot to be said about this chapter, but as a Bible teacher what I’m most struck by is a) how long it is, and b) the way its points of emphasis are different from what we would expect based on modern assumptions. For the length, it’s a whopping 67 verses, much longer than the sacrifice of Isaac which is usually considered to be a more important passage. Additionally, for a story about finding a bride, the wedding itself is basically absent. It seems but a passing thought in the final verse of the chapter. All of the interest is on the meeting between Rebekah and Abraham’s servant, and the real drama centers on the negotiation between the servant and Rebekah’s family.
Rebekah Makes the Decision
This all comes to a head in verses 54-57. An agreement has been reached, and Rebekah has been betrothed to Isaac. yet her family appears to delay things. It isn’t clear exactly what’s going on, but a disagreement does arise between Rebekah’s family and the servant, and the choice is then passed to her: “Will you go with this man?” (vs. 58)
It’s amazing, when we think in historical terms, that the young woman gets to make the final decision to a) marry and b) leave her family for a far-away land. But that’s what we see. Rebekah shows herself to be a woman of faith, and she reminds us of several other virtuous women in the Bible. Consider the following:
In the book of Ruth, Naomi encourages Ruth to stay in her native country and not return with her to Israel. Ruth refuses and pledges both love and faith to Naomi and Israel’s God:
And she said, “Look, your sister-in-law has gone back to her people and to her gods; return after your sister-in-law.” But Ruth said:
“Entreat me not to leave you,
Or to turn back from following after you;
For wherever you go, I will go;
And wherever you lodge, I will lodge;
Your people shall be my people,
And your God, my God.
Where you die, I will die,
And there will I be buried.
The Lord do so to me, and more also,
If anything but death parts you and me.” (Ruth 1:15-17)
The circumstances are a bit different, but Ruth still makes a decision to leave her native land and go to Canaan (now Israel) to live among the covenant people. She breaks with her “people” and joins the people of God.
In Psalm 45, we are told about the king and his wife. Listen to the description of the wife:
Listen, O daughter,
Consider and incline your ear;
Forget your own people also, and your father’s house;
So the King will greatly desire your beauty;
Because He is your Lord, worship Him.
And the daughter of Tyre will come with a gift;
The rich among the people will seek your favor.
The royal daughter is all glorious within the palace;
Her clothing is woven with gold.
She shall be brought to the King in robes of many colors;
The virgins, her companions who follow her, shall be brought to You.
With gladness and rejoicing they shall be brought;
They shall enter the King’s palace.
Instead of Your fathers shall be Your sons,
Whom You shall make princes in all the earth.
I will make Your name to be remembered in all generations;
Therefore the people shall praise You forever and ever. (Psalm 45:10-17)
This woman sound a bit like Rebekah, especially when we look at the blessing pronounced upon Rebekah in Genesis 24:60. She also carries the symbolic value of being the king’s wife or the messiah’s wife, and her children will be royalty. Notice again how she too must break with her family and join the king’s family.
Rebekah is blessed as she leaves:
“Our sister, may you become
The mother of thousands of ten thousands;
And may your descendants possess
The gates of those who hate them.” (Gen. 24:60)
This blessing is an exaltation of Abraham’s own blessing, as Rebekah is now promised “thousands of then thousands” as her descendants. Her children are also promised the “gates” of their enemies. While we don’t want to rely on the single word “gate,” the concept is still parallel to the victory promised to the Church, “…on this rock I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it” (Matt. 16:18). Gates were signs of the city’s strength and power, and possessing them signified victory. Rebekah’s children are promised triumph over their enemies, and this is a covenantal promise including all the children of faith.
The Church is also the bride of Christ, and it is pictured as a beautiful woman meeting her new groom in Revelation 21:9-13. In that place the bride is identified as a city, and so we learn that it isn’t a literal husband and wife but a spiritual union between Christ and all of His people. Still, the bridal imagery is used in order to make the connection to all of redemptive history.
Now, not all of this is necessarily included in Genesis 24. Genesis 24 is only setting up one piece of this larger portrait which the Spirit will paint over time. But I do think this larger portrait explains why Rebekah’s introduction is so important and why so much attention is paid to her own breaking with her family and joining the covenant people. She is a picture of faith, a type of the church, and a reflection of the bride of the messiah.