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B'resheet/Genesis 24:45 I was not yet finished to speak to my heart and behold! Rivkah coming out, and her jar upon her shoulder, and she came down to the spring and she drew water
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This piece of narrative is spoken by Avraham's servant, to Laban and Bethuel - Rivkah's brother and father. The servant has been welcomed into their house, the camels have been fed and bedded down, he and the men with him have been given water to wash their feet and a meal is set before him. But no, he will not eat until he has accomplished his mission; he must determine whether Rivkah is available and whether he may take her back to Canaan with him to be a wife for Yitz'khak as Avraham has charged him. So he relates his mission and the events of the evening so far since he arrived in "Aram-naharaim, the city of Nahor" (B'resheet 24:9).
The Hebrew text - a little tricky to translate in the first phrase - tells us something about how Rivkah's appearance struck the servant. The narrator has already told us that the servant prayed toHaShem - "the G-d of my master, Avraham" (v. 12) - and set up the criteria by which he asked HaShem to show him which girl He wanted to be the wife of Yitz'khak, but the servant explains this again for the benefit of Rivkah's family (vv. 42-44). is the 1cs subject pronoun; an adverb meaning "not yet" or 'before'; the Pi'el 1cs prefix form of the root , to complete, finish, end (Davidson); and is the Pi'el infinitive construct of the root , to speak. The last two words in the phrase give us "to my heart", considered the seat of thought and consciousness. The stand-alone pronoun generates emphasis, while the prefix form verb denotes incomplete activity and the adverb and the first verb are tightly coupled by the kadma/azla trope mark pairing. Together, they give a literal translation: "I, before I was finished speaking to my heart". Into this prayerful, or meditative state bursts Rivkah, heralded by the interjection , 'and behold!' or 'and look!', to draw water from the spring in the jar she carried on her shoulder. You can almost hear the servant jumping with surprise as she not only appears but fulfills his criteria perfectly (vv. 45-46).
Several of the commentators pick up on the fact that the servant knows Rivkah's name, although a careful reading of the story shows that although the narrator knows who this girl is, the only information that is explicitly revealed to the servant is that - in her own words - "I am the daughter of Bethuel the son of Milcah, whom she bore to Nahor" (v. 24, NJPS). TheRamban offers the idea that "though the text does not say so, he must have heard her name mentioned once he entered the house (or perhaps she had already told him her name)." Nahum Sarna points out that "the girl had not revealed her name," adding that, "how the servant knew it is not stated. Perhaps he had overheard her being addressed."
But is there more going on in this story than might appear? TheSforno says that the phrase "and before I had finished meditating" proves "that she was destined by the Almighty (to be Yitz'kak's wife)." Commenting on the level of detail in the servant's account to Laban and Bethuel, Gordon Wenham says that, "a simple account should suffice to persuade the open-minded that G-d has indeed guided him to Rivkah in a remarkable way."1 The use of the words 'destined' and 'guided' seems significant. Leon Kass addresses the whole story when he writes: "Though G-d does not directly intervene in the events of this story, readers are made to feel that a providential hand is guiding the whole affair. Avraham's servant will more than once credit the L-rd with leading him to Rivkah. He in turn leads Rivkah to Yitz'khak. Rivkah, in due course, will lead Yitz'khak both to Ya'akov and the G-d of his father, Avraham."2
The Psalmist knows of this leading: "He makes me lie down in green pastures; He leads me to water in places of repose; He renews my life; He guides me in right paths as befits His name" (Psalm 23:2-3, NJPS). David uses two similar verbs with overlapping meanings as the second half of each verse, , "to guide, lead along" and , "to lead, guide". The same leading or guidance will be available to the blind when G-d reveals Himself to the nations and the coastlands: "I will lead the blind in a way that they do not know, in paths that they have not known I will guide them. I will turn the darkness before them into light, the rough places into level ground. These are the things I do, and I do not forsake them" (Isaiah 42:16, ESV). Yeshua spoke of the leading of the Spirit - "When the Spirit of truth comes, He will guide you into all the truth, for He will not speak on His own authority, but whatever He hears He will speak, and He will declare to you the things that are to come" (John 16:13, ESV) - when He teaches the followers of Yeshua the truths of the kingdom of G-d. In the fullness of time Yeshua Himself will lead His people in the same metaphor that the Psalmist uses: "For the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of living water, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes" (Revelation 7:17, ESV).
Walter Brueggemann takes this theme on another step. Returning to the story of Avraham's servant, he writes, "It may well be asked of such a narrative: Does G-d in fact lead and guide in such a way? This text does not stress the leadership of Yahweh as much as it emphasises the faithful following of the actors. It asks people not first of all to anticipate the faithfulness of G-d, but to read it in retrospect. We do not always know the gifts of G-d in advance. But given a perspective of faith, we can in subsequent reflection discern the amazing movement of G-d in events we had not noticed or which we had assigned to other causes."3 That needs a little unpacking, but we can see his first point: the story isn't about G-d's leading per se, although it must be ever-present in the background; what we see and hear is the way the servant faithfully follows first his master Avraham's orders and then the direct guidance of the events that G-d provides. Rivkah follows the call of G-d brought by the miraculous arrival of the servant, and the other actors in turn take their place in following G-d, as Laban and Bethuel say: "The matter was decreed by the L-RD; we cannot speak to you bad or good. Here is Rivkah before you; take her and go, and let her be a wife to your master's son, as the L-RD has spoken" (B'resheet 24:50-51, NJPS). Brueggemann's second point is also illustrated by the way the servant relates his story: he arrives in Aram-naharaim at the end of the day, not quite sure what will happen and prays for guidance. Before he has finished, what he has asked for happens before his eyes, but he needs to make sure so he asks Rivkah who she is. At that point, he realises that God brought him to that well at exactly that time just as Rivkah came out. He did not know what might happen or how he was going to find the right girl, but now he knows that G-d has already done it for him.
The servant is struck by the way the HaShem answered his prayer before he had even finished praying it. In this case, it couldn't just happen on the spur of the moment; it required definite planning and arrangement to get all the players together at the right time and the right place. This is all, of course, within HaShem's control and ability, but it underlines the assurance He will later give the people of Jerusalem that in the days to come, "Before they pray, I will answer; while they are still speaking, I will respond" (Isaiah 65:24, ESV). It is as if He is saying that He has done this before and can easily do it again. Yeshua makes the same point when coaching the disciples about prayer. "Do not be like [the Gentiles]" with their many long words, He says, "for your Father knows what you need before you ask Him" (Matthew 6:8, ESV). A few verses later, talking about concerns over food and drink, Yeshua again compares the disciples to the Gentiles: "the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all" (v. 32, ESV). Our needs, wants and thoughts, even the state of our hearts, are already known to G-d before we open our mouths to ask Him. And His answer is already in hand!
In fact, the immediate concerns are simply a small part of G-d making good on the promises He has already made. Rav Sha'ul notes that "He chose us in [Messiah] before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before Him" (Ephesians 1:4, ESV). The bigger picture is that "He who did not spare His own Son but gave Him up for us all, how will He not also with Him graciously give us all things?" (Romans 8:32, ESV). This is the "hope of eternal life, which G-d, who never lies, promised before the ages began" (Titus 1:2, ESV).
1. - Gordon Wenham, Genesis 16-50 Word Biblical Commentary, (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 1994), page 148.
2. - Leon R. Kass, The Beginning of Wisdom: Reading Genesis (Chicago, IL: Chicago University Press, 2003), page 368.
3. - Walter Brueggemann, Genesis Interpretation, (Atlanta, GA: John Knox Press, 1982), page 201.
Further Study: B'Midbar 23:19; Isaiah 58:11; Romans 2:4; 2 Timothy 1:8-9
Application: Remind yourself today of those occasions when G-d answered your prayers before you had finished praying, when G-d's answer was already in process before you asked. Then, humbled by G-d's amazing prescience and care for you, go on asking in faith so that your testimony for the kingdom of G-d may grow and shine forth.
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© Jonathan Allen, 2020
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