It was sunset on the plains of Mesopotamia. Around them stood the mountains, with their brows bathed in the glow of an oriental day, as it dropped gloriously behind them. Far down their darkening sides, the flocks were gathering to their folds, and with a softened murmur the echoes went up from the distant city in the vale of Haran, towards whose gates from the interlocking hills of the south, wound slowly a strange cavalcade. The camels were laden richly, and walked wearily, for they had travelled from Palestine, which was more than four hundred miles from Haran. They were led by an aged man of patriarchal air, whose calm face revealed both a thoughtful mind, and the dignity of goodness; while his flowing beard fell upon his breast white as a wreath of snow. He was the faithful steward of Abraham, and with an oath of fidelity in his mission, journeyed to the land of Nahor to choose a bride for Isaac, worthy of the honor, and educated in the religion of his father. (Gen 24:1-11.) The shadows of twilight were deepening upon the landscape, when he passed beside a well in the suburbs of the city, and gazed upon its walls with the intense emotion which agitates the heart, when the conflict between hope and fear is drawing to a final issue. And besides his contemplations of the Invisible, he had but one thought during all his days of lonely travel, and his nights of wakefulness beneath the beaming sky above his roofless head: “Where shall I find the maiden my master will approve, and his only son receive to his home, as the second princess in their illustrious line?” It was the time of evening when the women came out to draw water, and he determined, to make the occasion decisive, under the direction of God.
He made the camels kneel about him, and bowing himself in prayer, he besought the Lord “to give him speed” (Gen 24:12) in the matter for Abraham, his servant’s sake. It was no formal prayer he breathed upon the quiet air, which scarcely lifted the hoary locks from his anxious brow. It was no wavering faith that cast all the care of his troubled spirit on Jehovah, desiring the sign of his approval in a simple expression of Eastern hospitality. And while he was communing with God, Rebekah the daughter of Bethuel, came out bearing her pitcher; and, “the damsel was very fair to look upon.” (Gen 24:15-16.) Her singular beauty arrested the eye of Eliezer. He watched her while she ran to the fountain, so airily,
“The light spring‐flower would scarcely bow
Beneath her step,”—
and stooped to the waters, like a white swan bending to the glassy wave. Then lifting the pitcher to her shoulder, upon which the raven ringlets fell wavingly from her fair forehead, she stood before him in the fading light, the impersonation of virgin loveliness. She did not see the charmed Eliezer, and hastened nymph‐like along her star‐lit path, towards the city gate. Starting as from a dream, he ran forward to meet her, and asked permission to drink of the water. She immediately dropped the pitcher upon her hand and said, “Drink, my lord.” (Gen 24:18.) Just then she observed the panting camels, and with the same disinterested kindness, and a voice which was the very music of love, offered to draw water “for them also, until they had done drinking.” (Gen 24:19.) He was so absorbed by a solemn interest of which she knew nothing, that “he held his peace,” without even rendering aid to Rebekah; but mutely admiring her faultless person, and generous deed, he wondered if that beautiful being was the object of his toilsome pilgrimage. She had given the sign unconsciously, of his own choosing, and the fact gradually spread hopeful tranquility over his bewildered thought. He gave her an ear‐ring of pure gold, and a pair of costly, bracelets, inquiring after her father’s house, and if he could have entertainment there for the night. The maiden modestly told her lineage, assuring him both of a kind reception and abundant provision for his animals. When he knew it was the family of Nahor, the pious and shrewd old man doubted no more, but recognized the hand of the Lord. He bowed in grateful adoration on the dewy earth, amid the stillness of nature reposing upon the bosom of God, and poured forth from a fall heart his thanksgiving. Rebekah ran to her mother, told her what had happened, and the mysterious words the man had spoken. This simple incident is a sweet glimpse at the amiable and filial character of Milcah’s daughter.
While they were talking over the marvellous occurrence, Laban, a brother, went out to see who the wealthy stranger might be, and learn his design in visiting their beautiful city. Doubtless he was more interested in the shekels of gold than the devotional expressions his sister repeated. But when he found him at the well, in the apparent disinterestedness of a true patriarch, with a benediction, he bade him come to his dwelling, for every preparation was made for his accommodation. Soon the girdle and sandals were removed, and he was invited to partake of the evening repast. And now appears the tact, eloquence, and religious principle of this servant, which were evidently the ground of Abraham’s confidence in his management, in the discourse and special pleading before the household of his entertainer.
With solemnity becoming his responsibility, he refused to eat till he had made known his errand. He then introduces himself as the servant of Abraham, who by the blessing of God, he adds, “is become great.” After describing the magnitude of his vast possessions, he makes a graceful transition to Isaac, the sole heir of this fame and splendid inheritance. He gives the reason for his long journey in search of a bride, the irreligious character of the Canaanites, narrating the conversation with his master, and the hesitation he felt in entering upon the delicate undertaking. The entire scene at the well is minutely delineated, to convince them that the Almighty had sanctioned the transaction, and bestowed unequivocal signs of his approbation of the choice. Without doubt, he marked the impression his address made on the listening group, and was not afraid to throw the entire matter upon their decision. He had completely won the father and brother to his purpose, and they referred the whole question to Rebekah. There was a struggle in the mother’s bosom, and Rebekah hung upon her neck in tears. Eliezer evidently regarded the matter as settled, and distributed with princely liberality his magnificent presents among the members of the family. (Gen 24:29-53.)
At a late hour they retired for repose, but how little slumber in that dwelling! The successful servant may have fallen into pleasant dreams, Bethuel and Laban, proud of the prospective alliance, may have slept, thronged with golden visions; but the heart of the maiden never beat so wildly before, and life assumed a strange reality, to her musing and restless spirit. The mother was sorrowful and prayerful, for an only daughter was the sacrifice demanded, and sending her to Canaan, was like burying her from sight forever.
In the morning came the final trial—when God’s eternal purposes were borne onward by the unostentatious incidents of a touching domestic scene. And who can tell the influence, though unseen, of the history of any family upon the destinies of a succeeding generation! Eliezer signified the necessity of his immediate departure. (Gen 24:54.) Milcah and Laban besought him to tarry a few days, for they could not part thus suddenly with the damsel. (Gen 24:55) But there were mightier interests than those of time at stake, and he was firm in his purpose. Rebekah was called, and asked if she were willing to go immediately with the man. She was prepared by a higher communion than that with kindred, and the heroism of cheerful piety, to answer unhesitatingly, “I will go.” (Gen 24:58.) When the circumstances are considered, there is here a moral sublimity, pure and impressive, as that which hung around the first female who abandoned the land of her birth and the friendships of home, for the wide ocean, and a grave on plains overshadowed by the temples of idol‐worship.
With blessings upon her head, and tearful adieus, in her queenly womanhood, the more beautiful for her sadness, she mounted the kneeling camel, and accompanied by the nurse of her infancy, and the retinue that came to escort her, moved silently from the city of her fathers. And how often with swimming eye, she turned to gaze on the receding valley, upon whose peaceful breast, like a white speck, lay the beloved city. But a new world soon spread around the fair traveller. Sometimes wild summits cast their shadows upon her way; then from a hill‐top she looked off upon luxuriant plains, with their isles of foliage dallying with the passing wind, and a horizon of mountains pencilled on the haze of the dreamy sky. And there were hours when her thoughts wandered from all these, and brooded with painful intensity upon her unfolding destiny.
It was eventide of such a day as dawns on Palestine, when Rebekah saw in the distance, a man in meditative mood, walking in the fields. (Gen 24:64.) With that presentiment which seemed often almost prophetic when near an expected event, and probably aided by the indication of devotional spirit, she suspected him to be Isaac, and alighted from her camel. Eliezer confirmed her suspicions, and veiling herself; she modestly awaited his approach. He was a stranger, and might not fall in with her guide’s admiration—or there might be something in him repulsive to her own taste.
While these conflicting emotions were passing, Eliezer had informed Isaac of his travels, the interview with Rebekah at the well, the objections he overruled in obtaining consent of her relatives, and the sad farewells that still haunted his memory. Isaac felt that the Almighty, whose voice he heard when on the altar of Moriah, had brought him a wife, he could love for her own sake, and he took her joyfully to his tent. (Gen 24:67.) It was the very place where Sarah died, and he had mourned deeply for his sainted mother. Rebekah came to his solitude, like an angel of consolation, and his pensive home was lighted with a smile of returning hope. Time passed on, and with all his riches, there were hours of sadness in that home, because no children were given him. (Gen 25:21.) He prayed earnestly for the covenant blessing, and Rebekah bore him twins, who were named Esau and Jacob—the beginning of sorrows to her, and of suffering to them all, till they slept in death. The sons grew to manhood—Esau, the inheritor of the birthright, was a sports man, and a passionate man, but the favorite of Isaac because he gratified his father’s fondness for venison; Jacob, a quiet shepherd, became the idol of his mother;—a parental partiality, which resulted at length in the overthrow of Esau, while his brother rose upon his ruin.
Driven by famine like Abraham before him, to seek bread at a foreign court, the patriarch went to Gerar. (Gen 26:1.) Apprehensive of assassination on account of Rebekah’s beauty, he also was guilty of the cowardly act of dissembling, in which she was accessory. She told the admiring princes that Isaac was a brother. Abimelech the king discovered the deception accidentally, and bitterly reproved the stranger. (Gen 26:7-11.) It is somewhat remarkable, that the grand trio of primal patriarchs, married handsome women; who, notwithstanding their exalted character and fidelity, cost two of them days of gloomy fear, and crime that left ever after burning on the conscience, the living coals of remorse.
Isaac now reached his dotage; feeble and blind, he knew death was near. (Gen 27.) He called Esau, and told him as he might die suddenly, to get him venison and prepare for the solemn occasion of receiving his parting blessing, which should secure the privileges and pre‐eminence of the first‐born. The hunter went into the fields; and Rebekah, recollecting that Jacob had purchased the birth‐right of his brother for a mess of pottage, one day when he came in from the chase faint with hunger and exhaustion, determined by a stroke of management to seal with the patriarchal benediction, that transfer of the unappreciated distinction by Esau, who was disinclined manifestly, to a religious life.
She sent him to the flocks after two kids, which were prepared with the savory delicacy his father loved, and assuming the responsibility of any anathema that might follow, she dressed him up in Esau’s apparel, covering his hands and neck to imitate the hairiness of the rightful heir, and sent him to the bedside of the dying Isaac. When the patriarch inquired who he was, he replied, “I am Esau, thy first‐born” This was passing belief, because even the skilful hunter, could scarcely without a miracle so soon bring in the game, and dress it for his table. Jacob was called to his side, and he felt of his hands the disguise completed the delusion, although his voice had the milder tone of the young shepherd, to that father’s ear. He repeated the interrogation concerning his name, then embracing him, pronounced in a strain of true poetry, the perpetual blessing of Jehovah’s favor upon his undertakings, and his posterity. The stratagem had succeeded, and Jacob hastened to inform his mother of the victory, just as Esau returned. When Isaac discovered the mistake, he trembled with excitement, while his son cried in anguish, “Bless even me also, O my father!” That cry pierced the breaking heart of the aged man, but it was a fruitless lament. He was inflexible, and Esau wept aloud over his blasted hopes; plotting at the same time, in his awakened enmity, the murder of Jacob. Rebekah was alarmed at his fury, and sent “the supplanter,” to her kindred in Haran of Mesopotamia.
Her tent was now a spot of deepening gloom; there were hours of mournful meditation in the apartment of approaching dissolution, and of weeping in the solitude of the noble yet erring mother. Though strangely fallen from her youthful purity, she exhibited decided religious principle in her grief, when Esau to obtain revenge for her neglect of his boyhood, married an idolater. Accumulating troubles, made her weary of life, but where or when she died, the sacred historian has not given the slightest intimation. There is something significant in the fact, which justifies the inference, that her departure was a dreary one—cheered only by penitential trust in the Lord. It may be that she was glad to leave a pathway on which the morning of her existence shed a heavenly radiance, but which, strewed with the sere leaves of blighted innocence and hope, met the grave o’erclouded with sorrow, and wet with tears.
As a maiden, Rebekah was a model, an acknowledged beauty, and amiable in all the relations of life. She was a devoted wife, and only when corrupted by favoritism towards Jacob, and the example of Isaac in falsehood, did her character as a mother pass under eclipse. The crowning act of her guilty fondness and ambition, was presumption. Because God had made known his purpose to reverse the rule of primogeniture in her family, she determined in her own way to carry out the design. This one object took possession of her mind, until like a kind of madness, it urged her onward to crimes that made existence a burden; and which invested with a painful uncertainty her abode in the world to come.