Elizabeth Cady Stanton
Vol. 1: Comments on
Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus,
Copyright © 1895. All Rights Reserved.
37. And my master made me swear, saying, Thou shall not take a wife to my son of the daughters of the Canaanites in whose land I dwell.
38. But thou shalt go unto my fathers house, and to my kindred, and take a wife unto my son.
39. And I said unto my master, Peradventure the woman will not follow me.
40. And he said unto me, The Lord, before whom I walk, will send his angel with thee, and prosper thy way; and thou shalt take a wife for my son of my kindred, and of my father's house:
42. And I came this day unto the well, and said, O Lord God of my master Abraham, if now thou do prosper my way which I go:
43. Behold, I stand by the well of water; and it shall come to pass, that when the virgin cometh to draw water, and I say to her, Give me, I pray thee, a little water of thy pitcher to drink:
44. And she say to me, Both drink thou, and I will also draw for the camels: let the same be the woman whom the Lord hath appointed out for my master's son.
45. And before I had done speaking in mine heart behold Rebekah came forth with her pitcher on her shoulder; and she went down unto the well, and drew water: and I said unto her; Let me drink, I pray thee.
46. And she made haste, and let down her pitcher from her shoulder, and said, Drink, and I will give thy camels drink also: so I drank, and she made the camels drink also.
47. And I asked her, and said, Whose daughter art thou? And she said, The daughter of Bethuel Nabor's son, whom Malcah bare unto him: and I put the earring upon her face, and the bracelets upon her hands.
49. And now, if ye will deal kindly and truly with my master, tell me: and if not, tell me; that I may turn to the right hand, or to the left.
50. Then Laban and Bethuel answered and said. The thing proceedeth from the Lord: we cannot speak unto thee bad or good.
51. Behold, Rebekah is before thee; take her, and go, and let her be thy master's son's wife, as the Lord hath spoken.
53. And the servant brought forth jewels of silver, and jewels of gold, and raiment, and gave them to Rebekah; he gave also to her brother and to her mother precious things.
56. And he said unto them, Hinder me not, seeing the Lord hath prospered my way; send me away that I may go to my master.
57. And they said, we will call the damsel and inquire at her mouth.
58. And they called Rebekah, and said unto her, Wilt thou go with this man? And she said, I will go.
59. And they sent away Rebekah their sister. and her nurse and Abraham's servant, and his men.
61. ¶ And Rebekah arose, and her damsels, and they rode upon the camels, and followed the man: and the servant took Rebekah and went his way.
63. And Isaac went out to meditate in the field at the eventide: and he lifted up his eyes, and saw, and behold, the camels were coming.
64. And Rebekah lifted up her eyes, and when she saw Isaac she lighted off the camel.
65. For she had said unto the servant, What man is that walketh in the field to meet us? And the servant had said, It is my master: therefore she took a vail, and covered herself.
66. And the servant told Isaac all things that be had done.
67. And Isaac brought her into his mother Sarah's tent, and took Rebekah, and she became his wife; and he loved her: and Isaac was comforted after his mother's death.
ELIZABETH CADY STANTON
HERE is the first account we have of a Jewish courtship. The Women seem quite as resigned to the custom of "being taken" as the men "to take." Outside parties could no doubt in most cases make more judicious selections of partners, than young folks themselves under the glamour of their ideals. Altogether the marriage of Isaac, though rather prosaic, has a touch of the romantic.
It has furnished the subject for some charming pictures, that decorate the galleries in the old world and the new. "Rebekah at the well," has been immortalized both on canvas and in marble. Women as milk-maids and drawers of water, with pails and pitchers on their heads, are always artistic, and far more attractive to men than those with votes in their hands at the polling booths, or as queens, ruling over the destinies of nations.
In fact, as soon as man left Paradise, he began by degrees to roll off of his own shoulders all he could of his curse, and place it on woman. Why did not Laban and Bethuel draw the water for the household and the cattle. Scott says that Eliezer had attendants with him who might have saved Rebekah the labor of drawing water for ten camels, but he would not interfere, as he wished to see whether she possessed the virtues of industry, affability and cheerfulness in being serviceable and hospitable.
It was certainly a good test of her patience and humility to draw water for an hour, with a dozen men looking on at their case, and none offering help. The Rebekahs of 1895 would have promptly summoned the spectators to share their labors, even at the risk of sacrificing a desirable matrimonial alliance. The virtue of self-sacrifice has its wise limitations. Though it is most commendable to serve our fellow-beings, yet woman's first duty is to herself, to develop all her own powers and possibilities, that she may better guide and serve the next generation.
It is refreshing to find in the fifty-eighth verse that Rebekah was really supposed to have some personal interest and rights in the betrothal.
The meeting of Isaac and Rebekah in the field at eventide is charming. That sweet restful hour after the sun had gone down, at the end of a long journey from a far-off country. Rebekah must have been in just the mood to appreciate a strong right arm on which to rest, a loving heart to trust, on the threshold of her conjugal life. To see her future lord for the first time, must have been very embarrassing to Rebekah. She no doubt concealed her blushes behind her veil, which Isaac probably raised at the first opportunity, to behold the charms of the bride whom the Lord had chosen for him. As Isaac was forty years old at this time, he probably made a most judicious and affectionate husband.
The 67th verse would be more appropriate to the occasion if the words "took Rebekah" had been omitted, leaving the text to read thus: "And Isaac brought her into his mother's tent, and she became his wife, and he loved her." This verse is remarkable as the first announcement of love on the part of a husband at first sight. We may indulge the hope that he confessed his love to Rebekah, and thus placed their conjugal relations on a more spiritual plane than was usual in those days. The Revising Committees by the infusion of a little sentiment into these ancient manuscripts, might have improved the moral tone of our ancestors' domestic relations, without falsifying the important facts of history. Many ancient writings in both sacred and profane history might be translated into more choice language, to the advantage of the rising generation. What we glean in regard to Rebekah's character in the following chapter shows, she, too, is lacking in a nice sense of honor.
With our ideal of the great first cause, a God of justice, wisdom and truth, the Jewish Lord, guiding and directing that people in all their devious ways, and sanctioning their petty immoralities seems strangely out of place; a very contradictory character, unworthy our love and admiration. The ancient Jewish ideal of Jehovah was not an exalted one.
E. C. S.
ELIZABETH CADY STANTON
CLARA BEWICK COLBY
This romantic pastoral is most instructive as to the high position which women really held among the people whose religious history is the foundation of our own, and still further substantiates our claim that the Bible does not teach woman's subordination. The fact that Rebekah was drawing water for family use does not indicate lack of dignity in her position, any more than the household tasks performed by Sarah. The wives and daughters of patriarchal families had their maid-servants just as the men of the family had their man-servants, and their position indicates only a division of responsibility. At this period, although queens and princesses were cooks and waiters, kings and princes did not hesitate to reap their own fields and slay their own cattle. We are told that Abraham rushed out to his herd and caught a calf to make a meal for the strangers, and that while he asked Sarah to make the cakes, he turned over the calf to a man servant to prepare for the table. Thus the labor of securing the food fell upon the male sex, while the labor of preparing it was divided between both.
The one supreme virtue among the patriarchs was hospitality, and no matter how many servants a person had it must be the royal service of his own hands that he performed for a guest. In harmony with this spirit Rebekah volunteered to water the thirsty camels of the tired and way-worn travellers. It is not at all likely that, as Mr. Scott suggests, Eliezer waited simply to test Rebekah's amiability. The test which he had asked for was sufficiently answered by her offering the service in the first place, and doubtless it would have been a churlish and ungracious; breach of courtesy to have refused the proffered kindness.
That the Jewish women were treated with greater politeness than the daughters of neighboring peoples we may learn from the incident narrated of the daughters of Jethro who, even though their father was high priest of the country were driven away by the shepherds from the wells where they came to water their flocks. Of all outdoor occupations that of watering thirsty animals is, perhaps, the most fascinating, and if the work was harder for Rebekah than for our country maidens who water their animals from the trough well filled by the windmill she had the strength and the will for it, else she would have entrusted the task to some of the damsels of whom we read as her especial servants and who, as such, accompanied her to the land of Canaan.
The whole narrative shows Rebekah's personal freedom and dignity. She was alone at some distance from her family. She was not afraid of the strangers, but greeted them with the self-possession of a queen. The decision whether she should go or stay, was left wholly with herself, and her nurse and servants accompanied her. With grace and modesty she relieved the embarrassment of the situation by getting down from the altitude of the camel when Isaac came to meet her, and by enshrouding herself in a veil she very tactfully gave him an opportunity to do his courting in his own proper person, if he should be pleased to do so after hearing the servant's report.
It has been the judgment of masculine commentators that the veil was a sign of woman's subject condition, but even this may be disputed now that women are looking into history for themselves. The fashion of veiling a prospective bride was common to many nations, but to none where there were brutal ceremonies. The custom was sometimes carried to the extent, as in some parts of Turkey, of keeping the woman wholly covered for eight days previous to marriage, sometimes, as among the Russians, by not only veiling the bride, but putting a curtain between her and the groom at the bridal feast. In all cases the veil seems to have been worn to protect a woman from premature or unwelcome intrusion, and not to indicate her humiliated position. The veil is rather a reflection upon the habits and thoughts of men than a badge of inferiority for women.
How serenely beautiful and chaste appear the marriage customs of the Bible as compared with some that are wholly of man's invention. The Kamchatkan had to find his future wife alone and then fight with her and her female friends until every particle of clothing had been stripped from her and then the ceremony was complete. This may be called the other extreme from the veil. Something akin to this appears among our own kith and kin, so to speak, in modern times. Many instances of marriage en chemise are on record in England of quite recent dates, the notion being that if a man married a woman in this garment only he was not liable for any debts which she might previously have contracted. At Whitehaven, England, 1766, a woman stripped herself to her chemise in the church and in that condition stood at the altar and was married.
There is nothing so degrading to the wife in all Oriental customs as our modern common law ruling that the husband owns the wife's clothing. This has been so held times innumerable, and in Connecticut quite recently a husband did not like the gowns his wife bought so he burned them. He was arrested for destruction of property, but his claim was sustained that they were his own so he could not be punished.
As long as woman's condition, outside of the Bible, has been as described by Macaulay when he said: "If there be a word of truth in history, women have been always, and still are over the greater part of the globe, humble companions, play things, captives, menials, and beasts of burden," it is a comfort to reflect that among the Hebrews, whose records are relied on by the enemies of woman's freedom to teach her subjection, we find women holding the dignified position in the family that was held by Sarah and Rebekah.
C. B. C.
CLARA BEWICK COLBY
May the Wisdom Force
be with You.
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