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The Almighty gave his favoured servant, Abraham, a promise that his seed should be called in Isaac, the son of his old age, and of his beloved Sarah. This promise was not to be forgotten, and, accordingly, about three years after the death of Sarah, and when Isaac was about forty years of age, Abraham called his trustworthy servant, Eliezer of Damascus, and made him take a solemn oath that he would journey to the family of his brother Nahor, in Mesopotamia, and procure for him a wife from thence. At the same time he gave him complete authority to conclude the marriage.
Eliezer departed on this important mission with a train consisting of ten camels and a proper proportion of attendants. He carried with him also valuable presents for the damsel and her friends, it being customary in the East, not only to purchase the bride from her friends at a costly price, but to bestow upon herself rich presents.
How long Eliezer was performing his journey is not related. The sacred penman conducts him at once to the vicinity of Nahor's residence.
It was towards evening when Eliezer arrived in the vicinity of his master's family, and he immediately adopted those measures which seemed best calculated to ensure the object of his journey. As the hour was approaching at which the females were wont to come forth to draw water at the wells, and he knew that among them he might expect to see one suited to be the bride of his young master, he allowed his camels to kneel down in their usual posture of rest by the side of a well, and resolved to tarry there as one who desired leave to give them water.
Such was the human contrivance to which Eliezer resorted in order to accomplish the object of his mission. But he did not rest here. Like his master, Abraham, he knew that without a blessing from on high he could not hope to meet with success. Hence, while he was yet waiting by the side of the well, he breathed this touchingly simple prayer: "0 Lord God of my master Abraham, I pray thee, send me good speed this day, and show kindness unto my master Abraham. Behold, I stand here by the well of water; and the daughters of the men of the city come out to draw water: and let it come to pass, that the damsel to whom I shall say, Let down thy pitcher, I pray thee, that I may drink; and she shall say, Drink, and I will give thy camels drink also: let the same be she that thou hast appointed for thy servant Isaac; and thereby shall I know that thou hast showed kindness unto my master."
The prayer of Eliezer was heard and answered. While yet he was uttering it, some young women came to the well to discharge their evening duty. To one of these, who was distinguished by great beauty, his attention was attracted, and as she was returning from the well, with her pitcher on her shoulder, he ran to meet her, requesting that she would allow him to take a draught of water from her vessel. The damsel replied, "Drink, my lord;" and when he had done so, she said that she would give the camels drink likewise, and, so saying, she hastened again and again to the well, emptying her pitcher into the trough for that purpose. Eliezer seems to have looked upon this as an indication that the kind-hearted damsel was to be the bride of his master's son; whence, after observing her with an eye of wonder, and when the camels had done drinking, he took from his treasures a nose-jewel and a pair of bracelets, and presented them to her, asking at the same time whose daughter she was, and whether her father's house afforded room for him and his party to lodge. Her answer could not have been more gratifying to the ears of Eliezer. He was told that she was Rebekah, the daughter of Bethuel, one of the sons of Nahor; and when he heard it, he exclaimed, in the fulness of his heart: "Blessed be the Lord God of my master Abraham, who hath not left destitute my master of his mercy and his truth: I being in the way, the Lord led me to the house of my master's brethren."
As soon as Rebekah heard that the man to whom she was speaking was servant to Abraham, whose memory appears. to have been fondly remembered by his relatives, she hastened home to tell the tidings. Nahor, it would seem, was dead, and, although Bethuel, the father of Rebekah, still lived, the management of affairs appears to have fallen into the hands of his son, Laban, who no sooner heard his sister's statement, and saw the presents which had been given to her, than he hastened forth, and brought Eliezer into the house. Arrived there, a meal was prepared for him and his companions, with the usual promptitude of Eastern hospitality. Eliezer, however, was too much interested in the result of his mission to sit down and eat before he had related his errand. This he did in a precise and simple narrative; and Laban, in his own name, and that of Bethuel, declared that the finger of a Divine Providence was so visible in the event that no objection could be raised against his proposition. He added: "Behold, Rebekah is before thee; take her, and go, and let her be thy master's son's wife, as the Lord hath spoken." Eliezer bowed his head in gratitude to God; and on the morrow, having first bestowed upon the elected bride and her brother and mother the presents which he had brought with him, he requested permission to return immediately with Rebekah. He was pressed to tarry a few days; but, as he persisted in his request, and Rebekah expressed her willingness to go at once, Laban dismissed her with this characteristic Oriental blessing: "Be thou the mother of thousands of millions, and let thy seed possess the gate of those which hate them."
In the East, the nurse is an influential person in the household of great men, and she often accompanies the young female she has nourished to the house of her husband. This is more frequently the case when her new abode is far distant from that of her parents, of which an example is afforded on this occasion. Rebekah's nurse and some of her damsels were sent with her, all mounted on camels, the whole group being under the direction of the trustworthy and pious Eliezer.
In the engraving prefixed to this article, which represents the departure of Rebekah, the more striking peculiarities of patriarchal life are vividly exhibited. The crouching camel, the free and picturesque costumes, the grave etiquette of ordinary occasions, and the hearty hospitality of the shepherd's tent, are placed before the reader; and they teach him, in their combination, by giving a right direction to his imagination, to conceive with truth the simple histories contained in that most ancient record of human action, the Book of Genesis. The engraving has been chiefly designed from the celebrated picture by Schopel, and dressed by him from the sketches of modern French travellers.
Rebekah and Eliezer journeyed onward; and one evening, as Isaac went out into the field to meditate, he discovered their advancing camels. He knew whose they were, and he walked on to meet them. As he approached, his destined hride observed him, and asked Eliezer who he was. She was informed that it was his master, and she immediately dismounted from her camel and enveloped herself in the veil of a bride. Isaac knew by this that the mission of his servant had been successful, and he was confirmed in it by the narration of Eliezer. He told him all that had taken place; and Isaac took Rebekah to the tent of his mother, Sarah, which belonged to her as the chief woman of the tribe, and he loved her, and she became his wife. Since the death of his mother, he had mourned her loss, but now he received comfort. God had taken from him one friend; but in his mercy he bestowed upon him another, lest he should be swallowed up with overmuch grief.
The circumstances of this expedition point the reader's attention to the superintending care of a Divine Providence. It was by the direction of the Almighty that Eliezer travelled onward, and he it was that crowned his mission with success. And what momentous consequences followed! The union of Isaac with Rebekah was not a transaction that concerned their happiness alone. The salvation of a guilty world was involved in the event. From Isaac not only an illustrious progeny was to descend, but One who should save his people from their sins, even the Lord Jesus Christ.