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Bethuel seems strangely absent in Genesis 24.

First, Rebekah "ran and told her mother’s household about these things" (Gen 24:28).

Then, Laban is the one who ran out to meet Abraham's servant (v29), and is the one who told the servant to "speak on" (v33).

Only in v50 does Bethuel finally appear, before promptly 'disappearing' in v55 when "[Laban] and her mother said, 'Let the young woman remain with us a while, at least ten days; after that she may go.' "

Why does Bethuel seem to disappear? Or am I missing something in the text.

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  • It seams to me that Bethuel is just aged, says very little and has handed the management of the estate to his son Laban. He may have died soon after.
    – Dottard
    Commented Jan 13, 2021 at 22:49

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From the story-telling point of view, in Genesis 24, Bethuel is a minor character. His name appears 4 times, 3 of which have to do with referring Rebekah as the daughter of Bethuel. The 4th times, his name appears along with Laban in Genesis 24:50

Laban and Bethuel answered, "This is from the LORD; we can say nothing to you one way or the other.

The name Bethuel does not even appear by itself independently from other names. Bethuel is basically a character in the background if you can imagine the scene acting out in sequence. Laban is emerging as the character in charge of Bethuel's household.

54Then he [Abraham’s servant] and the men who were with him ate and drank and spent the night there.

When they got up the next morning, he said, “Send me on my way to my master.”

55 But her brother [Laban] and her mother replied, “Let the young woman remain with us ten days or so; then you may go.”

Laban is becoming more and more important than his father Bethuel. The script is preparing the readers for later that it is Laban whom Jacob has to deal with.

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  • Thanks @Tony! I noticed from googling that there is some debate over whether Bethuel in v50 was a later scribal insertion, whether it was a matriarchal/patriarchal society, and over the status of Bethuel... might be speculative, but would you have a view on some of these debates?
    – whiskey92
    Commented Jan 22, 2021 at 12:43
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Apparently Bethuel was struck dead overnight for his attempt to hinder the marriage. It's plausible that both Laban and Bethuel were motivated by a desire for greater gain, especially upon learning of Abraham's wealth. Their avarice becomes evident in Laban's swift approach to Abraham's servant upon spotting the valuable nose ring and bracelets bestowed upon Rebekah.

Rashi's Commentary on Genesis 24:55, as well as Bereshit Rabbah 60:12 referenced on Sefaria.com, offer further insights into this narrative.

וַיֹּאמֶר אָחִיהָ וְאִמָּהּ תֵּשֵׁב הַנַּעֲרָ אִתָּנוּ (בראשית כד, נה), וּבְתוּאֵל הֵיכָן הוּא, בִּקֵּשׁ לְעַכֵּב וְנִגַּף בַּלַּיְלָה, הֲדָא הוּא דִכְתִיב (משלי יא, ה): צִדְקַת תָּמִים תְּיַשֵּׁר דַּרְכּוֹ, צִדְקַת תָּמִים זֶה יִצְחָק, תְּיַשֵּׁר דַּרְכּוֹ שֶׁל אֱלִיעֶזֶר. (משלי יד, לב): וּבְּרָעָתוֹ יִדָחֶה רָשָׁע, זֶה בְּתוּאֵל שֶׁנִּגַּף בַּלַּיְלָה. תֵּשֵׁב הַנַּעֲרָ אִתָּנוּ יָמִים, אֵלּוּ שִׁבְעַת יְמֵי אֶבְלוֹ. אוֹ עָשוֹר, אֵלּוּ שְׁנֵים עָשָׂר חֹדֶשׁ שֶׁנּוֹתְנִין לִבְתוּלָה לְפַרְנֵס אֶת עַצְמָהּ. (בראשית כד, נז): וַיֹּאמְרוּ נִקְרָא לַנַּעֲרָ, מִכָּאן שֶׁאֵין מַשִּׂיאִין אֶת הַיְתוֹמָה אֶלָּא עַל פִּיהָ. (בראשית כד, נח): וַיִּקְרְאוּ לְרִבְקָה וַיֹּאמְרוּ לָהּ, רַבִּי יִצְחָק אָמַר מְרַמְזִים בָּהּ הֲתֵלְכִי הֲתֵלְכִי (בראשית כד, נח): וַתֹּאמֶר אֵלֵךְ, הוֹלֶכֶת אֲנִי עַל כָּרְחֲכֶם שֶׁלֹא בְטוֹבַתְכֶם.

“Her brother and her mother said: Let the girl remain with us for some days, or ten months; afterward she shall go” (Genesis 24:55). “Her brother and her mother said: Let the girl remain with us” – where was [her father] Betuel? He wanted to impede [the betrothal of Rebecca] and was stricken down overnight. That is what is written: “The righteousness of the honest will straighten his way” (Proverbs 11:5). “The righteousness of the honest” – this is Isaac; “will straighten his way” – the way of Eliezer. “In his evil, the wicked one is rejected” (Proverbs 11:5) – this is Betuel, who was stricken down overnight. “Let the girl remain with us some days” – this refers to the seven days of mourning for him [Betuel]. “Or ten months [asor]” – this refers to the twelve months that a virgin is given to secure her needs for herself.
“They said: We will call the girl, and ask her response” (Genesis 24:57). “They said: We will call the girl [and ask her response]” – from here we learn that one may marry off an orphan girl only with her consent. “They called Rebecca and said to her: Will you go with this man? She said: I will go” (Genesis 24:58). “They called Rebecca and said to her: [Will you go with this man?]” – Rabbi Yitzḥak said: They were hinting to her: ‘Will you [really] go? Will you [really] go?’ “She said: I will go” – I am going against your will, even if you disapprove.

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