8. Courtship and Marriage
The years passed on, and Abraham and his wife came to a ripe old age in quietness and peace. Then, while they dwelled by the ancient city of Hebron, came the time for them to part. For there Sarah died, after her long pilgrimage, being a hundred and twenty-seven years old. In the silent tent, where his life’s friend lay still and white, Abraham mourned for her, and for the days that would not return; then he rose up and went forth to where the Hittites who dwelt around were wont to gather. “I am a stranger among you,” he said, “and have no land of my own. Grant me therefore a burying-place here that I may lay my dead in it.” And the sons of Heth answered him: “Listen, my lord; you are a great chief among us; bury your dead in the tomb of ours that you like best. Anyone of us will freely give you his burying-place.”
Abraham bowed low in gratitude for their kindness. “Since this is your mind towards me,” he said, “speak, I pray you, to Ephron, son of Zohar, that he may give me the cave of Machpelah, which is in the end of his field; and I will pay him its full value, that it may be a burying-place for me and mine forever.” “No, my lord,” said Ephron, “listen to me. Freely I give you the field and the cave before these witnesses; bury your dead.” Once again Abraham bowed. “Since you are willing to give it, let me give you the money for it.” And Ephron answered, as an Eastern answers in a bargain, “Hearken, my lord! Doubtless the land is worth four hundred shekels of silver — a trifle between such men as you and me. Bury therefore your dead.” So Abraham understood, and the scales were brought before the witnesses, and he weighed out the four hundred shekels of silver to Ephron.
Thus the first possession of Abraham in the Land of Promise was a tomb, and therein he buried Sarah, his wife.
Now when Sarah had passed away Abraham felt old age growing upon him, his heart was anxious for his son, lest Isaac should wed a young woman from the heathen around. Therefore he called to him his trustworthy steward, Ellasar the Damascene, and had him make an oath that he would take his journey into Harran, and bring back a wife of the stock of Terah for the young man. “God who has promised me this land,” he said, “will send His angel before you, and you shall bring a wife for Isaac from our own kindred.” So Ellasar pledged himself to do his master’s will, and with ten camels and many costly gifts he set out on his long journey.
It was evening when the little caravan drew near to the city where the descendants of Nahor dwelt in the Land of the Rivers; and the young women of the place were coming forth, as was their custom, to draw water from the well by the gate. Ellasar made his camels kneel down by the well, and in his heart he made a prayer to God to further the plan he had in mind. “O Lord God of my master Abraham,” he said, “send me now good fortune. Behold, I stand here by the well, and the young women come forth to draw water. I shall say to one of them, ‘I pray thee, let down your water vessel and give me to drink.’ If she answers, ‘Drink; and I will water thy camels also,’ then may this be the wife appointed for Isaac; and it shall be the sign of Your goodness to my master.”
While the prayer was yet on his lips, there came forth a young lady, very pretty to look upon, and her name was Rebekah, daughter of Bethuel, Abraham’s nephew. Her water carrier was upon her shoulder, and going down the steps to the well, she filled it, and came up again. As she was turning homewards, Ellasar ran to her and said, “May I ask you for a little water to drink from your water vessel.” Courteously she answered him, “Drink, my lord,” and letting down the heavy container upon her hand she gave him a draught. “Now,” she said, when his thirst was quenched, “I will draw water for the camels also, till they have had enough.” So she emptied her water holder into the trough beside the well, and ran down the steps and drew more water, till the camels were satisfied.
Ellasar stood by, marvelling at the grace and kindness of the girl, and hoping that God had given him the sign he sought. So when her task was done he took a costly earring and two heavy golden bracelets to give to her, and as he gave them, he said, “Tell me, whose daughter are you? And is there room in your father’s house for me to lodge in?” “I am the daughter of Bethuel, the son of Nahor,” she said, “and we have room and plenty both for you and for your camels.” Then Ellasar knew that his quest was ended, and there before the girl he bowed his head and gave thanks to God for that in His goodness He had led him to the house of all houses that Abraham’s heart would have desired.
So Rebekah ran home and told her family what had happened to her, and showed them her new treasures. Laban, her brother, was a crafty man and a worldly, and when he saw the valuable gold on his sister’s arms, he knew that such gifts must come from some great chief; and in haste he ran to Ellasar where he stood beside his camels by the well. “Come in, one blessed of the Lord,” he cried loudly as he came. “Why do you stand outside? All is ready for you and for your camels.” So Ellasar went with Laban, and Abraham’s nephew unharnessed the camels and spread fodder before them, and brought water to wash the feet of Ellasar and his companions.
But when food was set before him Ellasar said, “If I may, I will not eat until I have told my errand.” So he told them that he was Abraham’s servant, and how rich and great his master had become, how he had but one son, Isaac, and how his heart was anxious lest the young man should marry a non-believer. All the story of his journey, and his prayer by the well, and its answer, he told them, and when he had done, he said, “Now, if you will deal kindly and truly with my master, tell me; and if not, tell me, that I may know the way that I must take.” “This is God’s sending,” answered Laban and his father Bethuel; “we have no right to decide. Here is Rebekah; take her and go, and let her be your master’s son’s wife, as God has willed.”
When Ellasar heard their answer, he was glad at heart, and gave thanks to God. Opening his camel-packs, he gave costly robes and jewellery of gold and silver to Rebekah and to her friends; and in great contentedness he and his men sat down and ate and drank. One night they abode with Laban, and next morning they made ready to return. Laban and his mother begged that Rebekah might stay with them a few days before she left them forever, but Ellasar would not hear of delay. “Hinder me not,” he said. “God has prospered me. Let me go, that I may return to my master.” “We will leave it then to Rebekah herself,” they said. So they called her, and said, “Will you go with this man?” And she answered, I will go.”
So with blessings and good wishes they sent Rebekah away on her long journey, with her nurse Deborah, and with the faithful Ellasar and his men.
Now when they returned, Isaac was dwelling in the south country of Palestine. It was his custom at eventide to walk in the quiet country and meditate and pray. This night, as he looked northwards, a caravan was coming down the hill-track. Rebekah, seated on her camel, saw the solitary man, and dismounted, as was the custom, till he should pass. “What man is this,” she said to Ellasar, “who comes across the moor to meet us?” “It is my master,” answered the old servant; and when she knew it was her destined husband, she veiled her face, since a young woman must not be seen of her bridegroom till the wedding-day.
So Ellasar came to Isaac, and told him all the fortunes of the journey, and how he had brought him a bride of his own kindred; and Isaac led Rebekah to the empty tent of his mother Sarah, and in due course they were wedded; and Isaac’s heart, sore for the loss of his mother, was comforted with a new love.