Early Bronze Age · Middle East

Dressed in Strength and Honor

sword
photo credit: Celeste Engelbrecht. https://pixabay.com/en/users/feralafrica-1977661/

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Discretion Advised

This story has some veiled innuendos to show the culture of Harran accurately and display the absolute antithesis between the protagonist and her world. 

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Ribqah breathed deeply as she exited Harran’s city gate, her clay water pot on her shoulder. The sun was about a hand’s-length above the horizon, close enough that the clouds were beginning to turn golden-orange. Breath deeply, she told herself. You have to go back home soon enough, but for now, enjoy being in the fresh air. 

Not like it was completely terrible at home. Just dramatic. Out here, she wasn’t constantly reminded of that her father was dead and her mother still mourned. At the well, surrounded by her friends, she wasn’t tainted by her brother Lavan’s crooked business deals like when she was in the market place.

“Ribqah!”

She barely had enough time to lower her clay water pot before her cousin ran toward her threw her arms around Ribqah.

“Adah!” Ribqah laughed, “That hug felt like you haven’t seen me in months. Did you forget that we talked about the new moon festival yesterday? Or how we complained about our brothers the day before that? And the day before that–”

“Oh, Ribqah, I’m so happy I could burst!” She clasped her own pitcher tight to her stomach. “I’ve been wanting to tell you for so long, but Father forbade me until they worked out the details, but they finally did last night!”

Ribqah sucked in a breath, suspicion blooming into realization. “So you’re–”

“I’m betrothed to Hazo!” She squealed. “Last night, the Priest of Tsin performed the sacred rites over us. The omens are good, but the priest, Hazo, and Father insist that I go to the temple of Inanna at the next full moon to insure my fertility.”

Ribqah froze. “The temple?” she squeaked. “But, Adah, the fertility rite requires you to…”

Adah raised an eyebrow. “Yes…”

“With just any man who approaches you…”

Adah nodded nonchalantly.

Ribqah’s stomach knotted. Her lips moved mutely for a few seconds. “Don’t you remember when Grandfather Nachor charged us to remain virgins until marriage?”

Adah rolled her eyes. “He was an old-fashioned idealist. He didn’t understand how things are now. Even if he did, I’m not as bad as most of the girls around here–look at Ettu. Anyway, how else can we insure that we’ll have good marriages? Come on, we’ve grown up. Woken up to reality.” She studied Ribqah’s face, hers growing condescending. “Well, I have anyway.”

Ribqah shook her head. “I still trust that Adonai Hashem is more powerful than Inanna and can provide blessed marriages for those who trust Him!”

“Grandfather’s God died with him. You’re the only one who ignores the rest of the gods for Adonai Hashem. Not even Grandfather did that!”

“Prince Avraham does, and Hashem has blessed him richly!”

Adah shrugged. “Mother says Avraham was lucky and has that kind of personality that everyone easily loves.”

“But–”

“What about you, huh? If Adonai Hashem cares so much about His loyal worshipers, how is it that you are nearly sixteen years old and still unmarried?”

Ribqah reeled as though Adah slapped her. “Adah, I…”

Adah rolled her eyes. “Look, I know you’ve been waiting for the perfect man, but he doesn’t exist. Don’t be so picky and you won’t be that embarrassing spinster in your brother’s house.”

“I won’t–”

Adah lifted her water pot. “Oh, that’s right. You won’t end up an old maid. Lavan will sell you in the bridal auction. It’s next month, right? And you’re the prettiest girl and one of the wealthiest in town. I’m sure you’ll be one of the first sold.”

Ribqah’s mouth fell open, as Adah marched up to the line at the well. Ribqah sighed and closed her mouth, willing herself not to cry.  How can she speak so openly about this? She gulped, her shoulders drooping. Mother’s friends’ condescension will be easy to deal with after this. She hefted her jug to her shoulder. Surreptitiously, she glanced around. Most of the people milling around didn’t seem to have noticed the argument.

Only one man with a long, curly beard was looking her way, but he quickly turned to inspect the ten camels behind him. He was tall and dressed in woolen traveling clothes. Well, he’s not Egyptian, nor is he wearing the northern styles. He must be from Canaan. A long scimitar hung at his side, which bumped noiselessly against his leg as he purposefully returned to his caravan. He’s confident. Plans ahead. He took off his headdress, revealing white-speckled dark hair, belying his unwrinkled cheek. Maybe he’s seventy-five? Or eighty? She shook her head. Middle age, at least. 

Laughter erupted from the back of the line leading to the cave-turned-city well. Ettu, a pretty local girl with a knack for storytelling, was surrounded by a group of enthralled young women. Ribqah reached the group just as their giggles subsided. Ettu leaned forward, everyone else following her motion. “And then his jaw dropped and he said, ‘I think I’ve had too much of Kinkasi’s beer.’ ”  The group again exploded in laughter.

“What did you tell him after that?” Another girl asked.

Ettu shrugged. “I told him to find someone else to enjoy the solstice feast with.”

The group assented, then split into smaller conversations. Ribqah glanced over at the Canaanite caravan, the argument with Adah playing over her mind. Maybe I was too forward. I shouldn’t have brought up Grandfather. She’s been so tense about him lately.

The man who had been watching her earlier called to the men. “Have the camels kneel!” Ribqah watched as the handlers rushed to obey the order, running her eyes over the beasts. Ten camels, all of them loaded. Maybe he’s a wealthy merchant? Whatever he was, several servants stood around. No one unpacked the camels, none were cooking an evening meal or heading toward the town to look for accommodations. Ribqah cocked her head. How odd. Do they plan to stay outside of the city walls tonight? Either he’s brave or foolish. 

Curly Beard looked back at her, and Ribqah averted her gaze, shuffling forward in line. He probably sent someone into town before I came out. Without the caravan distracting her, Adah’s taunts screamed in her mind, grating like sand in an open wound.  

As Ettu, who was directly ahead of her, descended the stone steps to the spring, Ribqah closed her eyes. Hashem, she prayed, Lavan has been threatening to sell me to the highest bidder for months! Grandfather always said I should wait for a man who worships You. Despair filled her. But ever since he died, everyone has been demanding that I lower my standards. 

Ribqah opened her eyes as Ettu’s footfalls resounded up the stairs. She perched the pot on her hip and raised her eyebrows at the other girls in line, soundlessly calling for an audience. Ribqah raise an eyebrow as Ettu boldly sauntered to one of the servant in the caravan and lowered the jug until the lip was level with her chest. “Thirsty, handsome?”

The man grinned. “As a matter of fact, I am.” He lowered his head until his eyes were level with the top of the pot.

Ribqah’s breath caught in her throat. Doesn’t she realize where he’s looking? She looked at Ettu’s face, her own warming. She does. And she’s enjoying it!

The servant reached into the pitcher, and brought a streaming cupped handful of water to his mouth. He drank slowly, then straightened, wiping his face. “Thank you,” he said, turning away. “I’ve heard a lot about Harran,” he called to one of the camel handlers, “But never knew how friendly this city is!”

Ribqah’s stomach tightened. Unfortunate, but true. The handler didn’t acknowledge the humor, either. Instead, he glanced at Curly Beard then returned his attention to his beast.

Ettu walked toward the city gates, her hips swaying slightly as she walked. Ribqah blinked. She doesn’t know anything about the man who just put his hands in her water pot, and now she’s taking it home to her family? Movement in the caravan caught her attention. Curly Beard, his face red and contorted, marched up to the servant and grabbed his arm. Pulling him away, Curly Beard whispered into his ear and pushed him back toward the camels.

“Ribqah!” The girl behind her said. “Are you planning on getting water tonight or are you just going to stand there?”

Ribqah glanced behind her before darting down the steps, her face suddenly feverishly hot. Thankfully the air was much cooler in the dim cave and she would be alone while she filled her pitcher. Sinking to her knees, she dunked the pot into the spring, air bubbles gurgling as it filled. “Hashem,” Ribqah whispered. “I praise You for the ministry of family service you have granted me. But I long to serve a husband who worships you so I can bless and serve him fully in Your name.” She sighed. “Yet, Adonai, I will continue to trust and bless You.”

She lifted the jug to her shoulder. Although the pitcher weighed over forty pounds now, her heart felt lighter than it had all day. She ascended into the evening light and turned her steps toward home.

Behind her, someone was running toward the gate. “Lady! Miss? Wait!”

She turned to see Curly Beard racing after her. “Forgive me, my lord, I didn’t realize you were calling to me.”

Curly Beard waved a hand, breathing hard. “I have a small request. May I have a sip of water?”

Ribqah raised an eyebrow and glanced at all the loitering girls he had ignored to reach her. A little eccentric… Nonetheless, she smiled graciously at him and lowered the pitcher to her hip, leaning it against her hands so it extended away from her body. “Of course.” Curly Beard blinked, eyeing the modest distance between the jug and Ribqah’s body as though measuring it. But his eyes were kind and glowed with a certain peace that she had never seen before, not even in Grandfather.

He worships Hashem. She couldn’t quite explain how she knew, but nonetheless she was quite sure of the fact. My lord?” Curly Beard’s eyes flitted to hers. “Please feel free to take as much water as you need to quench your thirst. The water from this spring is the best in Aram-Naharaim.”

“Thank you,” he said, dipping one cupped hand into the jug.

Ribqah pursed her lips as he drank, water streaming from his dusty hand back into her pitcher. She glanced around, licking her lips. I could dump the water on the ground and get back in line. No. That would dishonor him. I can’t take it home. So…

“You’re right,” Curly Beard said, wiping his mouth with his sleeve. The smile on his face rewarded her with a warm glow in her chest. “That is good water.”

“How long have you been traveling?”

“We live in Hebron, which is about seventeen days from here.”

“When was the last oasis?”

“Oh, about two days ago.”

She glanced at the grunting camels, then into the jug, dirt swirling toward the bottom. Seventeen days. All these men are probably exhausted. She smiled at Curly Beard. “If it please you, my lord, I’ll water your camels.”

His jaw dropped, awe filling his eyes. “You– you would?”

“Yes. Until they’ve had their fill.”

“Until… what?”

Ribqah rubbed one foot against the sand, biting her lip. “Unless my lord would not approve?”

“I… by no means… I mean… I…” He looked back at the camels, his brow creasing. He cleared his throat. “Forgive me, my lady. Please, do not let me hinder you.”

Her chest constricted as Ribqah ducked her head and ran toward the trough nearest the camels, her cheeks burning. How could I be so stupid? He has servants to do this kind of thing! He must think… no, I really don’t want to know what he thinks of me right now.

She dumped the water into the trough and ran to the well. Thankfully, the line was gone as she ran down the steps. Kneeling again, she submerged the jug, forcing her breath to come out normally instead of in sharp, anxious heaves. She ran a hand over her face. “Just do it and get it over with,” she whispered to her quivering reflection. She took a deep breath. “Adonai Hashem, forgive me. Don’t let disgrace settle on me for an act meant kindly.” She swallowed. “I’ll do it for you. Accept this as an act of worship, and I will be content.”

She raised the jug and returned to the trough. Already, the handlers were leading the camels over, but she shook her head. “Wait. Don’t bring them over here until I’ve filled it.” The handlers glanced at Curly Beard, who nodded.

She lost count of the number of times she went back and forth between the spring and the trough, but Curly Beard never took his eyes off her. She was used to men watching her when she was in public, but this one… It’s as though he’s asking a silent question and expecting me to answer it! was something about the way he was staring at her, as though he was asking a silent answer and expecting her to answer it. The next time she looked at him, he was squatting, as though he was writing in the dust. She dumped the water in the trough and turned toward the well, resolving to ignore him until she was done.

Ribqah sighed as the last handler led his beast away. The sun had just sunk beyond the horizon, dulled royal colors fanning into the sky like a bridal train. All of her friends had left long ago. Her arms and legs ached as she walked down the steps to the well one last time. Adonai, accept my offering of service. She dunked the jug and brought it up, setting it on her shoulder.

Slowly, she walked into the twilight. Curly Beard was waiting for her. “Good night, my lord,” she said as she turned toward home

“No please, wait.” He was holding something, but in the near-dark, she couldn’t tell what. Perhaps some sort of jewelry?

“My lady, do you have any idea how many times you went back and forth?” Ribqah shook her head, meeting his gaze.He nodded toward the caravan, then led her to a spot halfway between the well and the camels. He stopped and looked at the ground.

She blinked. The ground was littered with lines drawn in the sand. Curly Beard smiled at her, admiration glowing in his eyes. “There are sixty of them. One jot for each time you went to the well.” With that, he stretched out his hand toward her. On his palm were two wrought gold bracelets and a matching nose ring. Unlike most of her jewelry, these had no divine encryption or talismans of the gods. The simplicity added to their beauty.

Her jaw dropped. “I– For me? But, these are beautiful enough to be engagement gifts.”

Curly Beard nodded, a twinkle in his eye. “Maybe that’s what they are. In any case, I want you to have these.”

Ribqah’s heart skipped a beat as she lowered the jug to the ground, staring at the ornaments in his hand. If I accept them, it will be a nonverbal promise to marry him as long as my family agrees. She raised her eyes to his, staring deep into them. He didn’t blink or look away, like most people when she assessed them like this. Not that she did it very often. It was like looking into a person’s soul, their inner self laying bare before her. Yet this man didn’t seem to mind. It’s almost as though he expected something like this. She dropped her gaze. His willingness was unnerving yet strangely comforting. He’s honest and loyal. He’s seen and felt more than most, pain as well as great joy.

It was more than she could have hoped, and her insight revealed nothing about this man that gave her cause for great worry. Still… Hashem, I don’t even know his name! Do You want me to leave my father’s house and go into Canaan with him, following You as Prince Avraham did? Please, by Your great mercy, grant me wisdom. 

Peace flooded her mind, cascading over her tired shoulders. It was as close to hearing the voice of Hashem as she had ever come.

Slowly, she reached out her arm. Curly Beard’s breath caught in his throat. Almost reverently, he slid the bracelets over her hand, dropping them gently on her wrist. Even so, her arm wobbled slightly under their weight. Then, he placed the nose ring in her palm.

“Thank you,” she murmured. Her thoughts blurred. What would Adah say now?

“My lady, who is your father and does he have room for us to spend the night?”

She took a deep breath. Now for the hard part… meeting my family. “My name is Ribqah,” His eyes widened. “I am the daughter of B’tu’el, the son of Nachor by his wife Milkah.”

Curly Beard gasped, tears glistening in his eyes. Ribqah looked away, not wanting to intrude on his inner privacy any more than she already had. “We are a wealthy house, and can accommodate your whole caravan.”

A sob escaped his throat. “Oh, Adonai,” he bowed his head, placing his hands over his face. Slowly, he sank to the ground. “Adonai Hashem, God of Avraham, blessed is the almighty Judge of the earth!” Once on the ground, he lay face-down, his voice shaking with sobs. “You have not abandoned your chosen one, nor forsaken Your love for him! Rather, you lead him in the way of truth, and on his behalf, you led me to my master’s kinsmen, to his own niece!”

Ribqah’s chest tightened. She had never seen someone so in love with Hashem. The bracelets clinked together before she realized she had taken a step backwards. He didn’t look up. He’s not seeking marriage for himself. The realization washed over her like the current on the Euphrates. He serves Prince Avraham, which means that he’s arranging a marriage for either Avraham… or his son. 

Ribqah’s heart beat faster at the thought of Avraham’s son, Yitz’chak. Avraham and Nachor were brothers, but since they lived so far apart, Ribqah had only met them once when Avraham and his family visited. At that point, Yitz’chak had been thirty years old, just barely a man, yet he had been so kind to her. During that visit, Yitz’chak and Ribqah became good friends, despite the fact that he had been an adult and she hadn’t yet outgrown her dolls and toys.

Now, ten years later, Ribqah remembered her cousin with great fondness and often wondered if he thought of her the same way. Adonai? Is this servant looking for a wife for Yitz’chak? Am I–did I just agree to marry the son of the Prince of God?

She took another step back, then fled through the city gates, not daring to stop until she reached her own home. She stumbled through the door, landing on the packed-dirt floor, panting. The water jug… Ribqah closed her eyes. I forgot it at the well.

“Ribqah!” Mother shrieked. “Where have you been?”

Ribqah clutched her chest. “Lavan. Where– is– he?”

“I’m right here,” Lavan stepped into the room, concern creasing his handsome face. “What’s wrong?” His eyes ran over her, pausing at her bejeweled wrist. “Where did those bracelets come from?”

Ribqah sucked in a deep breath. “Sit. Down. We need… to talk.”

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That night, Ribqah was acutely aware of her clinking jewelry as she walked down the hallway to the garden door. As soon as Lavan heard her story, he left to invite Avraham’s servant to spend the night, leaving strict instructions to prepare a feast and charging Ribqah to dress to impress.

She paused at a window overlooking the courtyard before going outside. For having so little time, the servants did well, Ribqah thought. Torches blazed around the slightly raised table, which was surrounded by reclining pillows. The table itself was laid with their best embroidered tablecloth and decorated with myrtle and citrons. Lavan, Mother, and Curly Beard sat at the table along with some of their highest household servants and a few men she had seen at the well with Curly Beard. Beyond the torches stood many other servants. Some held decanters, others carried platters of fruit, nuts, meats, and sweets.

Curly Beard was speaking low enough that she could only catch a few words, but everyone was spellbound. Even the musicians were silent, straining to hear. She was suddenly very aware of her heartbeat. What is he saying? She took a deep breath and pushing aside the outer curtain, stepping into the cool night.

Gradually, every head swiveled her way. Ribqah dropped her gaze as she took a pillow near Mother, hoping that she wasn’t blushing. The silence stretched two breaths, then three. Why isn’t he talking? She looked up to find Curly Beard gaping at at her, eyebrows raised. He blinked twice, closed his mouth and looked at Lavan.

“And that is how I was charged by my master to find a wife for his son,” Curly Beard said, Ribqah’s heart flipped a little at the words. He looked at her and continued, “I am under oath to my master to bring back a worthy young lady from this area.” Ribqah nodded.

“So why Ribqah?” Lavan asked, reaching for his goblet. “I mean, she’s a beautiful young woman from an excellent family and I’m sure she will make your young master very happy. However, I fail to understand why you chose her over all the others you saw this evening.”

Curly Beard smiled. “Ah, and that brings me to the second part of my story. The task my master gave me was nearly impossible, which caused me great consternation on my journey. To be worthy of marrying Master Yitz’chak, a woman must be kindhearted and generous, yet have the discretion of a princess. How is such a woman to be found among strangers?”

Lavan shrugged. “Had it been me, I would have interviewed all the high houses, then thrown a banquet for the families. Between speaking with the families and watching the girl’s interactions, you could narrow it down.

Curly Beard shook his head. “It would be far too easy for a lie to be spoken and believed.” Lavan nodded in acquiescence. “When we arrived at the spring tonight, the oppression of my burden was so great that I turned to Adonai Hashem. I prayed, “Judge of the earth, God of my master, if you truly desire to prosper my master through my journey and purpose, then hear my prayer. I will approach a young woman and say to her, “Let me have a sip of water from your jug.” If she replies, “Yes, drink; and I will water your camels as well,” then let her be the woman You intended for my master’s son.”

“But why?” Lavan’s voice startled Ribqah. She was dumbfounded at the turn of events that afternoon. She blinked, looking back and forth between Lavan’s confused face and the servant’s serene one. “Of all the signs to ask for, why would you test my sister with water and camels?”

“If it please my lord,” Curly Beard answered. “A woman who is willing to give water to a dusty stranger, especially one like me who has little handsomeness to commend him, would be displaying a kind, generous heart. But then, she must decide what to do with the water that has been contaminated by a man she knows nothing about. Pouring the rest of the water in the trough for the camels shows discretion for her family’s safety and honor for me by not simply dumping it on the ground.”

Laban nodded. “I see. Such a little action shows far more character than you would ever be able to see if you met each family in town.”

Curly Beard nodded. “Exactly. But this is where my story takes an interesting twist. Before I finished praying, Ribqah came to the well and drew water. When I asked her, she immediately lowered her jug for me and agreed to water the animals. However, she took it one step further, drawing water from the spring until the camels had their fill. I came looking for a woman of character, and I found more than I bargained for by the grace of Adonai Hashem.”

Lavan leaned back, a bemused smile playing around the corners of his mouth. “By His grace indeed.” He glanced at Ribqah’s wrist, then back at Avraham’s servant. “Tell me about the bracelets.”

“Well, when she finished, I asked her about her family…”

Ribqah looked down at her hands clasped in her lap, allowing Curly Beard’s voice to fade into white noise. Looking back, she wanted to laugh about her anxiety earlier. You had it in hand all the time, Adonai! 

“I must say, your tale has rendered me speechless.” Lavan’s words drew Ribqah back to the conversation. She held her breath, hoping that speechless was a good thing. He stared at the door leading to the house for a moment then smiled at Ribqah. “This is obviously of Adonai. Who am I to stand in the way of any god, especially the God of Avraham!” He turned to Avraham’s servant, who was watching Lavan as though his next words would decide the course of history. “Ribqah sits here at the table before you. Let us determine the dowry and bride-price, then take her and go your way. Let her be your young master’s wife, according to the will of Hashem.”

Ribqah’s breath burst from her in a half-sob, half-laugh. Praise HashemAvraham’s servant looked up at the stars, his mouth moving soundlessly. Then he lowered his gaze, squeezing the bridge of his nose between his thumb and forefinger. Is he going to cry again? he stood, walked a couple steps away, and prostrated himself on the ground. “Blessed is Adonai Hashem, the judge of heaven and earth, who has taken notice of His servant Avraham…”

The rest of his prayer faded into murmurs. Ribqah’s shoulders hunched, her toes curling in her shoes. He must not know that only the priests demonstrate public divine devotion. Or perhaps he knows, but he loves Hashem so much that he doesn’t care. The beauty of his faith and fervor surrounded her like a pleasant aroma filling the room. Her shoulders loosened and she forced her toes to uncurl. As the man rose and took his seat, his eyes gleaming with boundless joy.

“Well,” Lavan’s voice had risen a full octave. He looked stiff, running his tongue over his lips, refusing to meet anyone’s eyes.

He doesn’t understand, Ribqah thought. He can’t. He doesn’t worship Hashem exclusively, so he can’t see beauty in this man’s love for Adonai. She cocked her head. What’s his name, anyway?

Lavan cleared his throat. He nodded at the musicians and their music filled the air. “Shall we eat, then? I’m so hungry I could probably eat this whole lamb.” He gestured to a platter on the table, chuckling. “We can negotiate while we eat just as well as on empty stomachs.”

Curly Beard nodded. “Better, I think.”

Lavan gestured for him to help himself, then turned to Ribqah. “Since the beer is at your side of the table, you may serve our guest of honor.”

She bowed her head, then rose to obey. Kneeling at Curly Beard’s right, she filled his cup. Handing it to him, she said, “You do us great honor, um….”

“Eli’ezer,” he supplied. Then he leaned closer. “I brought your water jug.” He glanced toward one of his servants, a boy who was probably as old as Ribqah. At his feet sat her pitcher. Ribqah looked down at the decanter in her hand, her cheeks burning. “Don’t feel bad. After everything that happened, it’s only natural that you forgot it. Besides, it’s the least I could do to return it. Adonai Hashem has used you to bless me quite thoroughly today, my mistress.”

Ribqah’s head snapped up to look at Eli’ezer, but he had respectfully lowered his head. She nodded. “I feel the same way.”

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18 days later

“Mistress?” Ribqah’s nurse D’vorah whispered, shaking her shoulder.

Ribqah blinked in the late afternoon sunshine and wiped the drool from her mouth. In contrast to the bland, grey desert they had traveled through since the morning after her betrothal began, the olive grove before them was so green it almost hurt her eyes. Stretching, she looked around. About a long arrow shot away on her right stood a walled city. On her left were fields and orchards. “Where are we?”

“That’s Hebron. Prince Avraham’s camp is on the other side of this wheat field,” D’vorah answered

Ribqah nodded, reaching for her sheer silk shawl. “Oh good. I’m sure I look absolutely marvelous after that nap. Just in time to meet my husband and father-in-law. Nothing like bleary eyes to make a good impression.”

“Why do you think I woke you up now?” D’vorah chuckled, smoothing Ribqah’s hair.

Eli’ezer pulled up his camel beside theirs. “Don’t worry. Even if Master Yitz’chak saw you right now–”

“Oh, please no,” Ribqah groaned. Meeting her husband and his family had haunted her dreams, leaving her with a vague–and constant–daytime anxiety. Fortunately, Eli’ezer had been kind enough to fill her days with stories of Yitz’chak and his family to ward off the worst of her boredom and apprehension.

Eli’ezer laughed. “I think he’d agree with me that you’re beautiful just as you are.”

“Thanks.” She sighed. “Still, can we stop long enough for me to freshen up?”

Eli’ezer nodded. “By all means. There’s a stream around the bend.”

When the caravan stopped a couple minutes later, Ribqah still felt groggy. And this is why I don’t take naps in the middle of the afternoon. She looked due east over a green wheat field, just making out the massive oak tree that marked the center of Avraham’s camp. Eli’ezer said that Yitz’chak has been living in the Negev since his mother died. I wonder if he’s arrive at the camp yet. 

Movement in the wheat field south-east of them caught her eye. A single man leading a horse moved through the stalks of grain. Even at this distance, Ribqah could tell that he was wiping his cheeks, almost as though he was trying to wipe away tears. Then their eyes met. It was almost as though she had a connection with him that she couldn’t quite name, like he was the answer to a question she’d been asking herself for years.

She leaned forward to get a better look at him just as her camel’s handler gave the command for the beast to lie down. “Whoa!” She squealed as she tumbled head-first off the camel.

Strong arms caught her before she hit the ground. “Careful there, mistress.” Eli’ezer said as he set her on the ground.

Ribqah’s heart pounded, but she was unhurt. At least I don’t feel tired anymore. She was clutching her shawl to her chest, her hair tumbling around her shoulders. Between servants and camels, she watched as the man reached the road and turned towards them. She blushed. I hope that’s not who I think it is. She pointed. “Eli’ezer, who is this man?”

Eli’ezer blinked. Servants milled around them, some tightening saddles, others helping Ribqah’s other maids to dismount from their camels. “Who?”

“The man in the field, walking to meet us.”

Eli’ezer followed her finger. He smiled warmly and waved. “That is my young master.”

Ribqah gulped. He can’t see me like this! My face is uncovered and my hair is all over the place! She glanced down at the shawl in her hands. I’ve used it as a veil before. Without another second’s delay, she draped it over her head so it covered her hair and whole face.

Yitz’chak raised a hand in greeting. He was of middling build with straight black hair and thick, dark eyebrows. His face, which boasted a large nose, was still wrinkle free, although he had laugh lines around his mouth. Fitting for a man named “laughter.” Once he was among the caravan, she could see his eyes. They were green, the irises ringed with dark brown, and possessed a depth that astounded her.

He smiled when he reached them, which illuminated his face with a breath-taking friendliness. Sudden shyness engulfed Ribqah. She wanted this man to look at her, to smile at her; yet at the same time, she wished she could disappear.

“Hello, old friend! It’s been far too long.” Yitz’chak said, wrapping Eli’ezer in a hug. “I trust your journey was successful and blessed by Hashem.”

“It was, my lord,” Eli’ezer replied as he pulled away. “But where are your attendants?”

Yitz’chak glanced at Ribqah then back at Eli’ezer. His voice was hushed when he continued, “I sent them ahead, so they’re probably already in the camp. I wanted to visit Mama’s tomb before…” He shrugged. “And I wanted to be alone.”

As Eli’ezer nodded, Ribqah looked awayHer heart went out to him. Eli’ezer had told her that Yitz’chak and his mother, who had passed away three years before, were close. They must have been closer than Eli’ezer let on!

“I understand.” Eli’ezer said. “I take it you’ve been praying, too?”

“Of course. Father’s sent a message to me explaining your errand and charging me to pray. In fact, that’s what I was doing on the way back from the tomb.” He looked at Ribqah again. His eyes were filled with curiosity, happiness, and… Is that nervousness? Is he just as frightened as I am? 

Eli’ezer followed his gaze, then beckoned for her. Panic engulfed to the point that D’vorah had to push her forward the first couple of steps “Ribqah, meet Yitz’chak. Yitz’chak, meet your bride.”

Yitz’chak bowed his head a little. Ribqah, her knees quaking, dropped into a surprisingly graceful curtsy. Yitz’chak held out his hand, which Ribqah took. He’s trembling! 

“It’s an honor, Ribqah bat-B’tu’el.”

Ribqah gasped as he brushed the back of her hand with his thumb, the action distracting her thoughts. No! Concentrate. This is your betrothed! You have to… His thumb rubbed her hand again. Say something. Anything! “I–” She cleared her throat. No, not anything. Something intelligent. “The honor is all mine, my lord.”

Yitz’chak smiled, the pleasure on his face touching his eyes and lighting them with more happiness than she had yet seen on his face. So handsome. 

“Would you care to walk with me to the camp, Ribqah? Father said that we can be married this very night, but I’d like to know you better before then.” She nodded, and the two turned down the road. “So tell me,” he prompted as he grabbed his horse’s reins again. “Do you worship Hashem?”

“Yes sir.”

Yitz’chak grinned down at her. “How about using my name?”

Ribqah blushed. “Yes, Yitz’chak. I’ve been worshiping Him alone since I was a little girl.”

“Really?”

She nodded. “When you visited us, you made a very deep impression on me. After you left, Grandfather then taught me how to worship Hashem as you did.”

Yitz’chak’s eyes brightened. “Ah! So you do remember that visit! I wasn’t sure if you would! You were so little, but I have fond memories of it.”

Ribqah smiled, her heart flipping in her chest. “So do I. Do you remember when you let me ride around on your shoulders in the courtyard?”

“Oh yes,” he chuckled. “I also remember Uncle B’tu’el telling me to stop because you were making too much noise.”

“Really?” She cocked her head. “I don’t remember that.”

He shrugged. “In Father’s camp, children are allowed to romp, even with adults. I didn’t realize social standards would be so different in Harran.” He chuckled. “I found out quickly enough, though.”

Ribqah looked toward Avraham’s camp. “I’m glad that children are allowed to play. That will be good when our children…” It was as though speaking the words would make her marriage to this man absolutely real. And he might find offense with my forwardness. She looked away as her face grew warm, thankful for the veil over her face. 

Yitzchak glanced at her, but didn’t force conversation. Just as the silence began to grow awkward, Ribqah’s eye was caught by her hand, grasped by Yitz’chak’s strong but gentle embrace. Her heart beat a little faster. Hashem, awaken his affection for me, just like mine is being awaken toward him! “Yitz’chak, on our way here, Eli’ezer said that I needed to ask you about Mount Moriyah.”

Yitz’chak smiled. “What happened on that mountain changed everything. I was twenty-five years old. Early one morning, Father woke me and said that God required a sacrifice, and we had to travel three days before we could build the altar.”

As Yitz’chak told the story of their trip, she found herself seeing into his soul. He’s gentle, kind, and peace-loving. Suddenly, he paused and just looked at her, as though he was studying her, too. “So, what happened when you got to the mountain and you still didn’t have a lamb for the sacrifice?”

He looked away and cleared his throat. “Well, I asked him about it…”

Ribqah sighed as he related their conversation up the mountain. Hashem, you have given me to a good, faithful man. Help me to serve him with respect and love as we begin our lives together and always! 

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That night

Ribqah sat on a chair fit for a queen while she waited for Yitz’chak to come get her for the wedding ceremony. After they arrived at the camp, he immediately introduced her to his father, who took her hands in his and pressed a fatherly kiss to her forehead. “Welcome daughter,” he whispered. After a brief conversation, Avraham and Yitz’chak left to finalize the wedding details and D’vorah and some of Avraham’s maidservants whisked Ribqah away to get her ready for her big night.

Although she waited expectantly for hours, Yitz’chak still hadn’t appeared. At least I haven’t been bored. For the last hour, Avraham’s and Yitz’chak’s servants had been introducing themselves. They were so jovial and pleasant, and most struck her as Hashem worshipers. Although the names and faces blurred in her memory, she was more confident than ever that she would love being part of this community.

“Mistress?” D’vorah murmured in her ear, holding out a cup. “Would you like some water?”

Gratefully, Ribqah nodded as she took the cup. So glad that I don’t have to wear the veil right now! According to Mesopotamian custom, she would be considered a married woman when Yitz’chak covered her with a veil before witnesses. However, while she bathed and dressed in the gorgeous white wool wedding dress they lay out for her, Avraham’s maidservants explained the extra wedding customs that their camp celebrated.

She rested the empty cup on her lap, gazing beyond the torchlight at the field where servants set up a canopied arbor for the ceremony. Certainly, it will be soon. She took a deep breath and looked up. The milky way spread across the sky, the moon nearly at the sky’s apex.

Suddenly, someone on the other side of the camp began clapping and singing, more joining as the celebrants drew nearer. Ribqah strained to see, but tents obscured her view. “D’vorah, is… is it him?”

Before D’vorah could answer, a large crowd of young men danced into the clearing, all of them singing at the top of their lungs. Ribqah’s heart beat faster. Somewhere in the middle of that crowd was Yitz’chak. She stood, straining to catch sight of him.

There he was, his arm linked with his father’s. For his age, Avraham sure is spry. Then she turned her attention to Yitz’chak. He was talking with Avraham, his eyes bright. Again, his handsomeness struck her, but he hadn’t looked at her yet. Look at me. Please, just… see me.

Then he turned to look at her and the whole world seemed to stop. The dancing and singing around them faded into distant ambiance. Yitz’chak’s jaw slackened, his chest still as though he had forgotten to breathe. He loves me. She knew it as certainly as she knew her own name.

Then he took a deep breath and the spell was broken. The pulsing crowd and the music filled her senses as Avraham ushered Yitz’chak to stand before Ribqah. Avraham raised his hand to silence the crowd. Nonetheless, Yitz’chak stared at Ribqah as though she was a sculpture he wasn’t allowed to touch. Finally, Avraham nudged his son, whispering in his ear. Avraham pushed him forward and Yitz’chak crossed to Ribqah alone.

Standing before her, Yitz’chak’s tongue ran over his lips. He leaned forward and brushed her cheek with his lips, whispering, “Hashem knows I’ve prayed for my bride for many years. By the strength He gives me, I will provide for you and protect you.” He grasped her hand, looking her in the eye. “Adonai Hashem has sown seeds of romance between us. By His grace, it will grow into a flourishing tree.”

“Amen.” Ribqah whispered back.

Then he reached for the veil cascading down her back and gently flipped it over her face. “May it be known that Ribqah bat-B’tu’el is my wife,” He proclaimed before leading Ribqah to Avraham.

Avraham smiled. “Since your father is not with us, will you permit me to lead you to the wedding canopy?”

Ribqah nodded, joy filling her heart. She linked her arm with Avraham’s, and Yitz’chak took his other arm. Together, they led the celebrating crowd toward the edge of the camp. Right before the wheat field, Avraham led them to the arbor. As soon as he released them, Yitz’chak took Ribqah’s hand, turning her toward him.

Avraham waited for silence, then closed his eyes and raised his hands to heaven. “Blessed art thou, O Lord our God, King of the universe, who hath created joy and gladness, bridegroom and bride, mirth and exultation, pleasure and delight, love and brotherhood, peace and friendship. May there soon be heard in our camp the voice of joy, gladness, and jubilation from the wedding canopy, and of youths from their feasts of song. Blessed art thou, O Lord, who gives the bridegroom joy in his bride.”

He lowered his hands and turned to Ribqah. “My child, as the wife and matriarch of your home, it is necessary for you to strive to protect your marriage, building walls so nothing can damage your relationship with your husband.” Ribqah smiled up at Yitz’chak. “To symbolize this, walk around your husband seven times.”

As she began, Avraham turned to the crowd. “In the beginning, Hashem created the heavens and the earth.”

Yitz’chak and the crowd answered, “The earth was formless and empty. Darkness covered the face of the deep and the sacred Breath of Hashem hovered over the waters.”

Ribqah finished her first turn.

The group recited the rest of the creation narrative as Ribqah finished walking around Yitz’chak. A servant approached with a glass of wine and handed it to Avraham, who raised it to heaven. “Blessed is Adonai Hashem, King of the earth, who brings forth the fruit of the vine! You have sanctified us by Your covenant, and have compelled us with your standards for sacred marriage.” He handed it to Yitz’chak, who drank a mouthful then handed it to Ribqah. She sipped it then handed the goblet back to the servant.

Avraham turned to his son. “You have come here with your bride, whom you have veiled in the presence of witnesses. You have drunk from this cup, blessed before God, with her. Do you have an object of great worth to give to her to show your commitment to the covenant you are making with her?”

Yitz’chak turned to a different servant, who handed him a simple hammered gold tiarra accented with tiny ruby pomegranates. “Oh, Yitz’chak!” She breathed.

He grinned as he gently positioned it on her head. “Behold, with this gift, I thee wed.”  With that, he unveiled and kissed her. Their mouths collided a bit awkwardly at first, then Yitz’chak’s arms stole around her back. Euphoria spread from Ribqah’s fluttering stomach as she threw her arms around his neck.

“My people!” Avraham shouted as Yitz’chak pulled away, his face shining with elation. “Just as God created the world in seven days, so we will celebrate the creation of this union for a week! But first, see these two to the matriarch’s tent!”

The crowd cheered and rushed the couple. Singing uproariously, they lifted Yitz’chak and Ribqah on their shoulders and carried them into the camp. Yitz’chak sang along with the crowd while Ribqah listened. “Yitz’chak! Yitz’chak!” She called when the crowds turned unexpectedly. He looked over at her. “Where are we going? My tent is that way!” She pointed in the opposite direction.

He shook his head, and pointed. “That was just the preparation tent! This one is yours!” Ribqah looked at the tent before her. It was large and in the center of camp, two others of equal size were erected nearby. Its dyed exterior was lit with torches from within, making it glow with brilliant designs. “Beautiful,” she whispered. The crowds dropped them off at the door and left, their song continuing as they left.

When the last one disappeared around the bend, he turned to her and extended his hand. “Shall we?”

Ribqah nodded and took his hand. He opened the tent flap and let her go in first. “Oh, Yitz’chak!” She breathed glancing around at her new home. A bedchamber was separated from the main room by a curtain. Beautiful rugs accented the ground, a reclining table laden with a feast for two. The tent had everything she could possibly want: chests of clothes, jewelry, and household tools.

She sighed, clasping her hands as she turned to her husband. “It’s wonderf–” The words died in her mouth. He was looking around the room with a sorrowful nostalgia on his features. “What’s wrong?”

He sniffed and looked up at the ceiling, blinking rapidly. “I’m sorry. I–uh–This is a happy day, and I don’t want to ruin it for you.”

“Ruin it for me?” She approached him and laid a hand on his arm, concern and pity filling her for him. “What about you?”

He shook his head. “I honestly didn’t expect that it would affect me like this.” He sighed. “Forgive me. This was Mama’s tent. I haven’t been in here since she died.”

Ribqah laid her head against his shoulder, burying it on his chest as his arms stole around her. She looked up at him and gently drew his face toward her. She kissed his cheek and whispered, “Grieve, my husband. It will help you heal.” She kissed his neck. “Hashem sees you and knows. He will comfort you.”

Yitz’chak pulled away, his eyes red-rimmed. “He already has.” He sniffed and ran his hand through her hair. “But, I don’t want tonight to be like this. Why don’t we eat? I’m starved.”

Ribqah nodded and let him draw her to the table. He poured her some wine then filled his plate. He smiled at her, but sorrow clung to his eyes. “Yitz’chak? Can you answer a question about Hashem?”

He paused, a slice of bread halfway to his mouth. “I’ll try.”

“All my life, I’ve called our God Adonai Hashem– “the Master, God of the Name” –but no one has ever told me His actual name. Can you tell me what it is?” Yitz’chak chewed thoughtfully for a moment before letting out a deep breath. Slowly he shook his head. Ribqah blinked. “But of anyone, certainly your father–”

“I agree, but not even Father knows Hashem’s name. He believes that it’s so high and holy that it must be revealed at the right time to the right person. He confided in me once that he is confident that Hashem will entrust his name to one of my–our–descendants.” Yitz’chak picked up a bowl of pomegranate halves, his ears turning as red as the fruit. “Want some?”

Ribqah placed one of the halves on her plate. “Well, then, I guess we’ll have to raise our sons and daughters to worship Hashem so that their minds can be ready vessels for that revelation.”

Yitz’chak smiled at her, reaching across the table to hold her hand. “I would say so.”

+++++

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This post is dedicated to Seth and Grace Rice, married on September 9, 2017. Your friendship means so much to me, and you have both been such a blessing and inspiration. May God continue to richly bless you in your marriage.

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Author’s Note

I chose to use the ancient Hebrew versions of the names in this familiar story, in part to remain true to the original details and in part to give readers who have known this story for years a new twist and perspective.

I purposefully left out parts of modern Jewish wedding traditions because many of those customs have been compiled over the millennia. The aspects of the wedding that I depicted here are the ones I think may be the most ancient. However, please take into consideration that I am by no means an expert in Jewish weddings.

Rebekah’s father posed an interesting challenge for me. In Genesis 24:50, Bethuel and Laban enter the marriage contract negotiations with Eliezer. By verse 53, everything is finalized, and the dowry is given to only Rebekah, Laban, and their mother. Bethuel is strangely left out. Some of the old tales I found indicated that God struck Bethuel down during these negotiations. However, the more probable (logical and cultural) explanation that I found was that in verse 50 Laban was speaking on behalf of his father, who had died some time before.

+++++

Sources and Further Exploration

Articles

Abraham and the Chronology of Ancient Mesopotamia by Answers in Genesis

Ancient Mesopotamian Customs and Traditions by Ancient Mesopotamians.com

Arabian Camel by National Geographic

Babylonian and Akkadian Names by Peiraeus Public Library

Feasting in Mesopotamia by All Mesopotamia

Guide to the Jewish Wedding by Aish.com

Harran: Ancient Crossroads City of Mesopotamia by Electrum Magazine

Harvest Seasons of Ancient Israel by Michael Morrison

The History of Mirrors by mirrorhistory.com

Jewish Wedding Readings by Modern Jewish Wedding

Marriage in Ancient Mesopotamia and Babylonia by Roberto Naranjo

Meaning of the color White in the Bible by Bible Study.com

Mesopotamia by Ancient History Encyclopedia

The Musical Instruments from Ur and Ancient Mesopotamian Music by Penn Museum

The Origin of Sin and the Queen of Heaven

Rebekah by Women in Scripture

Rebekah – Women of the Bible by The Living Word Library

Sacred Marriage and Sacred Prostitution in Ancient Mesopotamia

Books

Genesis 22-24

A Commentary on the Whole BibleGenesis Chap. XXIV by Matthew Henry

Book 1: The Antiquities of the Jews, Chapter 16 How Isaac Took Rebeka To Wife by Josephus

Women in the Ancient Near East by Marten Stol

 

Websites

Chabad.org

Ligonier.org

Videos

Ancient Jewish Wedding pt. 1 and pt. 2

Traditional Jewish wedding

Turkey-Şanlıurfa-Harran (The Beehive Houses of Harran) Part 9

Secrets of the Tomb of the Patriarchs in Hebron

 

 

 

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