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I’ll Have One “Foreigner at the Well” with a Twist

camel train foreigner at well sxc hu smallIn my recent post, “Wells: The Singles’ Bars of the Ancient Near East,”—I just call ‘em like I see ‘em Folks! Don’t judge me—I discussed the beauty of the ancient type-scene, “Foreigner at the Well.” We discussed how every culture has popular literary scenarios drawn from elements of their own culture that are paraded out for the entertainment of the community who recognize the patterns, anticipate the outcomes, and find great amusement in watching the scenario play out with subtle variations and at times anti-typical results.

It’s the biblical use of those subtle variations of “Foreigner at the Well,” that I’d like to consider today. There are two Old Testament versions of this type-scene that deviate enough from the standard form to warrant independent consideration, and I’d like to unpack one of them here—the marriage of Isaac and Rebekah in Genesis 24:1ff.

In the disclosure of the standard form of the type-scene “Foreigner at the Well,” we listed three parts to the pattern. 1. An unmarried foreigner travels to another region. 2. He goes to a local well. 3. He meets the woman who will be his wife. The story plays upon both romantic and theological notions of two strangers, destined by YHWH to change the world, meeting by “chance” in spite of astronomical odds.

While the theological intention of divine appointment may seem “iffy” to some for the two standard tellings of this type-scene in the love stories of Jacob and Moses, both of our variations on the tale make this interpretation explicit.

When “the servant” of Abraham is commissioned to solve a serious problem for his bachelor son, Isaac, by going to a foreign land on his son’s behalf, the author plays out the “Foreigner at the Well” love story with a proxy, i.e. “the servant” whom most assume to be Eliezer because of his description in Genesis 24:2.

The scene unfolds much the same as with Jacob and Moses save for the servants seeming willingness to watch in awe as this woman of obvious substance draws more than a little water to quench both his own thirst and that of some ten camels fresh from an arid journey. The servant arrives at the well; He encounters the girl destined for his master’s son; she takes him to “Daddy” (her brother); she and the master’s son live happily ever after… sort of… and together, they produce the father of the twelve tribes of Israel.

One special element in this tale, beyond the notion of proxy, is the constant and overt working of the theme of divine appointment.

We might consider the promise of YHWH’s angel going before the servant in Genesis 24:7, or the servant’s prayer bargain with YHWH once he arrives at the well in Genesis 24:12-14, whose granting, the servant calls divine חסד hesed (covenant loyalty). We might also consider the statement in Genesis 24:15, “Before he had finished speaking, behold! Rebekah…” We find that Rebekah not only satisfies the servant’s fleece bargain with YHWH in her telltale responses, but exceeds each. In Genesis 24:21, he gazes in amazement at her, waiting to see if YHWH had granted him success, is greeted by “Come in, O’ Blessed of YHWH in Genesis 24:31, twice repeats YHWH’s involvement in Genesis 24:40-42, and actually describes his hope for Rebekah by saying, in Genesis 24:44, “Let her be the woman whom YHWH has appointed for my Master’s son.”

The servant not only decrees, “Then I bowed my head and worshiped YHWH and blessed YHWH, the God of my master Abraham, who led me by the right way to take the daughter of my master’s kinsman for his son,” in Genesis 24:48, but also receives confirmation of his assessment from Rebekah’s brother, Laban, in Genesis 24:50-51 with the words, “The thing has come from YHWH; we cannot speak to you bad or good. Behold Rebekah is before you; taker her and go, and let her be the wife of your master’s son, as YHWH has spoken.” With these words, the servant bows to YHWH in Genesis 24:52 and seeks a rapid return to his master’s son in Genesis 24:56 saying, “Do not delay me, since YHWH has prospered my way.”

The beauty of this union, so perfectly crafted by YHWH’s guiding hand, reaches its climax in the long awaited meeting of the two would-be lovers in Genesis 24:63-67. As they near Abraham’s dwelling, Isaac goes out into the fields to meditate… like a mighty stag standing majestic in the fading half-light of dusk, no doubt. Isaac lifts his eyes; Rebekah lifts her eyes; she drops excitedly from her camel, landing, in the minds of the original listeners, like a delicate flower peddle wafting on a spring breeze. When she discovers that this approaching splendor of manhood is her betrothed, so she covers her face in beautific modest veil for the meeting. Love blooms and in Genesis 24:67, Isaac brings her into the tent; he takes her (picture any given Harlequin romance paperback cover and you’ll probably get close to the imaginings of those ancient listeners) and she becomes his wife, and he loves her.

YHWH ordered it all.

4 thoughts on “I’ll Have One “Foreigner at the Well” with a Twist

  1. Catherine Cusack says:

    I love the story of Isaac and Rebekah. She was truly a courageous and Godly woman, who left everything she knew to be with the man she was destined to marry. I also love how she lowers her veil before meeting him, that picture of modesty and mystery. This story is one of the key reasons why I had a veil as part of my wedding attire.

    1. sorry I missed that. And I agree, a great story. The longest in Genesis.

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