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Category Archives: Elijah

Rebekah: A Marriage in Ancient Israel

Now Abraham was old, well advanced in age; and the LORD had blessed Abraham in all things. So Abraham said to the oldest servant of his house, who ruled over all that he had, “Please, put your hand under my thigh, and I will make you swear by the LORD, the God of heaven and the God of the earth, that you will not take a wife for my son from the daughters of the Canaanites, among whom I dwell; but you shall go to my country and to my family, and take a wife for my son Isaac” (Genesis 24:1-4).

The Search Begins:  the Bride Price

The old man had two gold bracelets and a ring, gifts for a woman he didn’t know. Camels accompanied him with food and gear for the journey and with many gifts. These were intended for people living somewhere in Haran where Terah had settled.  Abraham insisted that his son marry someone from his own people and not a Canaanite woman. That’s why he sent his trusted servant to find a wife from Terah’s family (Gen. 22:20-24). Abraham believed the servant would find a bride in Haran because God “will send His angel with you and prosper your way” (Gen. 24:40). So, the old gentleman was on a mission of faith—Abraham’s faith.

(Note to readers: Many commentaries, like Nelson’s cited in the footnote, believe the servant’s name is Eliezer “because of his high position over all that Abraham had.” [1] I will occasionally use the name Eliezer in referring to the servant.)

English: Rebekah and Eliezer, as in Genesis 24...

English: Rebekah and Eliezer, as in Genesis 24, illustration published 1908 by the Providence Lithograph Company (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When Eliezer arrived in Mesopotamia, he stopped at the well of Nahor where Terah’s people lived. The old man prayed for immediate success in finding the right woman for Isaac. He asked that she be identified by three signs: she would come to the well for water; when he asked her for a drink she would give it to him; and she would offer to water the camels. Immediately, beautiful Rebekah appeared at the well, filled her pitcher, gave him a drink and drew water for the camels. If that were not enough reason for joy, Rebekah said she was related to Abraham’s brother Nahor. Out came the bracelets and the nose ring.

Gifts

Eliezer knew she was the answer to prayer. God had divinely singled out Rebekah as the young woman intended for Isaac. So he “put the nose ring on her nose and the bracelets on her wrists…and worshipped the LORD” (Gen. 24:47-48). In bestowing the jewelry, Eliezer claimed Rebekah for Isaac. In accepting the jewelry, she allowed Eliezer to touch her wrists and face—she was willing to proceed. She “ran and told her mother’s household these things” (Gen. 24:28). Rebekah’s appearing before them wearing bracelets and nose ring opened the way for Eliezer to meet her family and propose marriage. After hearing the servant’s remarkable story, Rebekah’s father and brother agreed that this “comes from the LORD…let her be your master’s son’s wife, as the LORD has spoken” (Gen. 24:50-51). Was she committed at this point? Not yet, although everyone began eating, drinking, and acting as if she were.

More gifts

Because the talks had been favorable, Eliezer presented mohar, a gift from the family of the groom to the parents of the bride. It was traditionally given to the bride’s father when the parents gave their consent to the marriage. Mohar could be in the form of money, land, jewelry, clothing or something “precious” (Gen. 24:53). Mohar had somewhat a feeling of being compulsory and expressed the legal aspects of an arranged marriage.[2] It was thought to compensate the bride’s family for her loss. Some fathers kept their daughter’s mohar as insurance in case she was widowed or divorced.[3] In Rebekah’s case, Eliezer gave precious things to her brother Laban and to her mother. The Bible does not mention why Bethuel, the father, did not receive mohar, although he did give permission for the marriage (Gen.24:50).

Even more

Arrangements had come together quickly. Eliezer gave Rebekah special gifts from the groom to the bride called mattan. Mattan[4] could be cash or property or something of a personal nature, “jewelry of silver, jewelry of gold, and clothing” (Gen. 24:53). Mattan was a voluntary assurance of the groom’s personal interest in his bride. Isaac was a wealthy man (Gen. 24:34-36) and his mattan must have been sumptuous—purple linens, exquisite jewelry, embroidered fabrics, gold and silver ornaments, fragrances—everything to delight Rebekah’s heart. Was she committed to marriage now that mattan had been given?

A Purchased Bride?

Not quite. The parental arrangements for marriage and the exchange of gifts may give the impression that men in Abraham’s time could buy their wives. If a man proposed and gave gifts to a girl’s father, did she have any say in the matter? Daughters and sons were very much under the authority of their fathers. Jewish practices, however, made it clear that a wife had to consent to be married.[5] “The opinion that Israelites were required to buy their wives from the parents or relatives seems unfounded.”[6] Rebekah was finally asked for her consent when Eliezer packed up for the return trip.

Eliezer:  Since the LORD has prospered my way; send me away so that I may go to my master.

 Family: We will call the young woman and ask her personally…will you go with this man?

 Rebekah: I will go.

A final round of gift-giving occurred when Rebekah departed. The family allowed Rebekah’s nurse and maids to leave Haran and serve her in Isaac’s household. Her nurse and maids became a parting gift, shilichin,[7] (something given by the family to a beloved daughter leaving home).

Not every man could afford the investment Isaac made in procuring a wife. “It would undoubtedly be expected that the mohar should be proportioned to the position of the bride and that a poor man could not on that account afford to marry a rich wife (I Sam. 18:23).[8] Isaac and Rebekah’s son Jacob, for example, paid his Uncle Laban in work for the privilege of marrying Rachel. The relationship between the two men got off to a bad start because of Laban’s deceit, and it didn’t improve over the years. When Jacob separated his family from Laban’s family, there was no shilichin, no happy parting gifts.

Where is love?

Marriage in ancient Israel was about family, property and alliances. Love was usually not the reason for an arranged marriage. The negotiations, exchange of gifts, consent of the bride, wedding celebration, and blessings for the departing bride preserved the identity of the family. Love was not a factor that Eliezer and Laban discussed in the marriage proposal. However, with Divine chemistry at work, Isaac and Rebekah began to love one another the day they met (Gen. 24:63-67).—Mary Hendren


[1] NKJV Study Bible, note on Gen. 24:2

[2] The Ultimate Wedding, “Ancient Jewish Marriage Traditions and Their Fulfillment in   Jesus the Messiah”

[3] 1bread.org/Teachings/Ancient Israel, “Marriage”

[4] The Ultimate Wedding, same article

[5] 1bread.org, same article

[6] New Unger’s Bible Dictionary, “Dowry,” p. 317

[7] The Ultimate Wedding

[8] Unger’s, p. 818

Evil meets its end

In the last post, Israel’s decline into Baal worship accelerated at Jezebel’s behest. What was the attraction that kept luring Israel into idolatry?

It’s about weather

For one thing, Baal was associated with weather, and his consort, Asherah, with fertility. Since rain was essential for survival, keeping in Baal’s good graces was imperative to staving off drought and famine.

According to the Jewish Virtual Library, “The worship of Baal in Syria-Palestine was inextricably bound to the economy of the land which depends on the regularity and adequacy of the rains. Unlike Egypt and Mesopotamia, which depend on irrigation, the Promised Land drinks water from the rain of heaven (Deut. 11:10–11). During the summer months the rains cease, but the temporary drought is no threat unless it is abnormally prolonged. Figs and grapes ripen during the dry season and the grain harvest also takes place before the rains resume. In a normal good year, when the rains come in due season, there is no hiatus in productivity, for the land yields its increase, the trees produce their fruit, the threshing overlaps, the vintage overlaps the sowing, and there is food aplenty, prosperity, and peace (Lev. 26:4–6). But not all years are good, and in a bad year, or a series of bad years, when the rains fail, the skies become like iron, the land like brass, and man’s toil is futile for the earth will not yield its increase (Lev. 26:19–20). A series of bad years, which were apparently believed to come in seven-year cycles (cf. Gen. 41; II Sam. 1:21), would be catastrophic. Thus in any year anxiety about the rainfall would be a continuing concern of the inhabitants which would suffice to give rise to rites to ensure the coming of the rains. Thus the basis of the Baal cult was the utter dependence of life on the rains which were regarded as Baal’s bounty.”

Whatever it takes

Slavish adherents participated in fertility rites (temple prostitution), and offered human sacrifices in hopes of blessings. “Corrupt, sensual practices involved in the worship of Baal were observed throughout the country, as Jezebel demanded that her god be considered equal to Israel’s God. Her insistence on the equality of Baal with God brought her into direct conflict with Elijah, the prophet of God” (The Woman’s Study Bible, topic “Jezebel”).

Who is the God of rain?

Clearly the Lord God of Israel had had enough (1 Kings 16:33). He answered the effrontery of this vile couple in no uncertain terms. First, He sent Elijah to Ahab with an ominous message: “As the Lord God of Israel lives, before whom I stand, there shall not be dew nor rain these years, except at my word” (1 Kings 17:1). Jezebel responded by ordering the massacre of the prophets of the Lord (18:4).

In a second meeting with Ahab, Elijah (by God’s instruction) issued a challenge: Gather the children of Israel, the 450 prophets of Baal, and the 400 prophets of Asherah who eat at Jezebel’s table (18:18-19), and let’s see whose God/god is God. The rest of the chapter chronicles dramatic events confirming the power of YHWH. Israel, convinced by His miracles, proclaimed,“the Lord, He is God!” (v 39), and Elijah summarily dispatched the odious prophets of Baal (v 40). In His mercy, the true God of rain ended the distress of a three-year drought.

The queen was not amused

Frustrated and incensed by the humiliating failure of her priests, Jezebel continued on a murderous course. She threatened Elijah’s life (to no avail), and schemed to take Naboth’s vineyard for her husband, a plot that ended in the murder of an innocent man (1 Kings 21:1-15). The latter spelled the demise of both Ahab and Jezebel. Elijah’s ensuing message to Ahab was grim: “Thus says the Lord, In the place where dogs licked the blood of Naboth, dogs shall lick your blood, even yours” (v 19).  Three years later he was dead, just as Elijah had foretold.

So ended the life of a wicked man, one of whom the Bible records, “But there was no one like Ahab who sold himself to wickedness in the sight of the Lord, because Jezebel his wife stirred him up” (v 25).

Like father…and mother

Ahab’s son Ahaziah assumed the throne, and stubbornly continued in the way of his parents, serving Baal and provoking the Lord God of Israel to anger (1 Kings 22:52-53). Two years later he suffered injuries when he fell from an upper room. Instead of turning to YHWH, he called on Baal-Zebub, the god of Ekron, to come to his aid. The Lord charged Elijah once more with a message: Because of his idolatry, Ahaziah would fail to recover and die (2 Kings 1:15-17).

Soon after, Jezebel’s vile atrocities ended when some of her servants threw her out a window to her death. Ravenous dogs consumed her body leaving only her skull, feet, and the palms of her hands—a violent end for a violent woman (2 Kings 9:30-37). There are no indications that she ever flagged in her devotion to her impotent god.

A woman of infamy

Jezebel is mentioned once more, this time in the book of Revelation:  “Nevertheless I have a few things against you, because you allow that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess, to teach and seduce My servants to commit sexual immorality and eat things sacrificed to idols. And I gave her time to repent of her sexual immorality, and she did not repent. Indeed I will cast her into a sickbed, and those who commit adultery with her into great tribulation, unless they repent of their deeds. I will kill her children with death, and all the churches shall know that I am He who searches the minds and hearts. And I will give to each one of you according to your works” (Revelation 2:20-23).

Opinions vary about this figure: She was a literal person of the time; she personified false prophets who troubled the current church and used the same tactics as Jezebel of old; and there are questions of prophetic ramifications. If nothing else, this is one more testimony of God’s uncompromising condemnation of idolatry and all its trappings. It also illustrates how long an infamous example can last.

 Jezebel through several lenses

Jezebel holds a certain fascination for Bible students and scholars. Some even champion her as courageous as she stubbornly pushes her agenda and when she meets her death. For most, though, she represents the embodiment of evil. Her name lives on today and has its own entry in most dictionaries as an offensive term for a women regarded as sexually immoral or manipulative (Encarta Dictionary online) or any woman regarded as shameless, wicked, etc. (New World Dictionary of the American Language, 2nd college edition).

What a sorry legacy.

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