A Wife for Isaac

Genesis 24
A man takes his Bible, opens it at random, and points to a spot on the page. That spot says, “Judas went out and hanged himself.” Then he did the same thing again, and came up with this passage, “Go thou and do likewise.” After doing it a third time, he saw this, “And what you do, do quickly.” Another person goes to his astrologer for information on the future, so that he might know what fate has in store for him. Another person throws the dice, trusting in fate. Many people will claim to have a direct revelation from God about something in their life. What is common to all these people is this question: “How can I know what God’s will is for my life?” How can I know beyond a shadow of a doubt what God’s will is? How can I know whether or not this is the right person to marry, or whether or not I should take this business deal, or whether or not I should plant wheat or corn this year? We are not talking about something that is unimportant. These affect our whole lives.

We have seen Abraham’s ups and downs. We have seen him in faith, and we have seen him in doubt. But at the end of his life, there is no doubt left. He knows exactly what God’s will is for his life, since God has revealed it to him in His Word. Scholar Gordon Wenham says it this way: “He comes into history through the divine promises; he passes out of history with this promise on his lips.” Abraham’s command to his servant is the last recorded thing that Abraham says in Genesis. We see him live for awhile longer after Isaac acquires Rebekah. However, this is the last speech of Abraham. It is the last will and testament, if you will.

The first nine verses tell us of Abraham’s commissioning his servant to go and find a wife for Isaac. The most important thing about this commission is that the wife must not be a Canaanite, but must come from Abraham’s own kin. This practice of marrying only relatives is called “endogamy.” Any Israelite hearing this would immediately have understood the significance of this. Israelites were only to marry other Israelites. They were never to marry the foreign women either of Canaan or of Egypt. In the same way, Christ only married the flesh of His flesh and the bone of His bone. Those who are married to Christ are those who believe in Him, and are therefore the children of Abraham, as Paul says in Galatians. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 7:39 that we must marry only in the Lord.

Young people, this is directly addressed to you. You will be wondering about whom you are to marry in this life. You’ll be wondering about what God’s will is. Here part of God’s will: marry only in the Lord. It should not be even a remote option to marry someone who does not know Jesus as Lord and Savior. That should be your very first concern, as it was Abraham’s. Notice his vehemence about the topic: verse 3: Abraham wants the servant to swear by the Lord, the God of heaven, that the servant will not try to find a wife for Isaac from the daughters of the Canaanites. He even makes his servant place his hand under his thigh in confirmation of this. Probably the phrase “under the thigh” is a euphemism for the male organ of procreation: what Abraham is saying is that the servant must swear also by the offspring that comes from Abraham’s own loins, ultimately, by Christ Himself. Now, the command here to marry only in the Lord does not limit us to people only in our own denomination. The church is one universal church. The key here is whether that person believes in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior apart from any works of their own. That person must believe the Gospel. If that person does not, then you may not marry that person. Victor Hamilton says it this way, “If Isaac is to inherit the land, he must not marry among those destined to disinherit the land.” So with us today: if we are going to inherit the entire earth, then we must not marry anyone who is not destined to inherit the entire earth. Differences in religion are perhaps the most difficult to overcome. It is hard enough marrying someone from another denomination. But to marry an unbeliever means that religion becomes a taboo subject and a source of strife between the married people. Abraham knew this; Jesus Christ knew this, and so must we. Young people, take note!

The second scene shows us the servant at the well, having gone a long way with these ten camels loaded down with presents. Then the servant utters a prayer. This is most instructive for us. We cannot know God’s leading hand without prayer. Notice, though, that the servant does not presume to know God’s mind. He does not put God to the test. Instead, he petitions the Lord to show him the way. We have seen, then, two ways in which we can know the will of God: God’s Word, and prayer. Jesus Christ was the premier example of this. In the garden of Gethsemane, the Lord of Glory talked with His Father. If Jesus felt the need to pray to His Father, even while being close to the Father already, how much more do we need to pray to God. It is a certainty that those closest to God will always be those who are most in prayer to God.

The servant chooses something quite shrewd to petition the Lord about. He knows that Isaac needs a hospitable wife, who is humble and kind. This sign is rather remarkable. A camel, after it had been on the road for that long, could drink 25 gallons of water. The servant had ten camels. This would require 250 gallons of water. The average pot in those days could hold about 3 gallons of water. Hence the person who would do this would take slightly over 83 trips down into the well to get the water back up again, bringing a total of 1500 pounds of water up from the well, three-quarters of a ton. He was asking for something rather extraordinary. Verse 15; as if on cue from the Lord, Rebekah walks onto the scene, even before he had finished speaking. The Lord answered the servant’s request even better than he had asked, because this girl was not only of the right genealogy, and of the right disposition, kind and generously hospitable, but she was also beautiful! Rebekah was probably a teenager at this time, much younger than Isaac, who was forty years old at this time.

She does what the servant had asked God for her to do, and all the time, he watches her closely to see if this is what the Lord had in mind. He is watchin with bated breath, with a suppressed excitement that he can barely conceal. He takes the next step of offering her the gold and silver. These gifts are worth quite a bit of money. A beka is about 1/5 of an ounce, and ten shekels is worth about 4 ounces. At today’s prices then, we are talking about several thousand dollars worth of jewelry. Rebekah offers the servant hospitality. Verses 26-27 show us the worship that the servant offers up to God, when the Lord God had prospered his trip so thoroughly. Notice how humble it makes the servant. Most of the time in today’s world, if God has given us success because of our prayers, then it makes us think well of ourselves. One sure mark that God has really led us is that success makes us humble. You can say that all true Christians are humble. And you can say that those closest to God are the most humble. Derek Kidner says it this way, “Success, which inflates the natural man, humbles the man of God.”

The next scene takes us to an introduction of someone who will be quite important for the rest of our study in Genesis: Laban. Laban is a greedy man. This is evident from verse 30: As soon as he had seen the nose ring, and the bracelets on his sister’s arms…he went out to the man.” Literally, he ran. This servant is a friend worth cultivating in Laban’s eyes! One almost gets the impression that he is relieved that the servant has not gone elsewhere. There is an implied contrast between Laban and Rebekah. Rebekah runs to take care of other people’s needs, even animals’ needs, while Laban runs to take care of his own pocketbook.

The servant, though, far from being interested in his own concerns, such as his own hunger, hurries to do his master’s bidding. This starts the third scene of the chapter. He will not eat until he has found out whether his enterprise is successful or not. He repeats most of what we already know. We might ask why Moses felt it necessary to repeat so much information that we already have. The answer is that we can actually learn a few things from the servant’s account. We learn that he is tactful. He does not mention the fact that Abraham left his father’s house. Instead, he concentrates on the fact that they are related. After al, it would be much more difficult to refuse the request of a person who is related to you than a person you don’t know at all. The servant also leaves out mention of the fact that Isaac did not come along with him. Isaac was not supposed to leave the promised land, and there is no record that he ever did.

At the end of this record, Laban says in effect that this is a match made in heaven. The customary bride-price was exchanged, and then they spent the night there. But what is unusual is what happens next. Normally, after a marriage contract was drawn up, there would be a feast or a celebration of some sort, usually lasting about ten days. But the servant wants to get home. First, he is very excited about the success that God has granted him. He is also concerned lest he arrive home after Abraham passes away. There is always that possibility in his mind. So he asks if Rebekah can come with him now. That is a question for Rebekah to answer, and her answer sparkles with faith, “I’ll go.” When God called His people, they are supposed to go immediately. When Jesus called the disciples, they were supposed to go immediately. When God calls us to something, we should not delay in fulfilling the commandment. When Rebekah left her father’s house, she might not have known for sure what the reason was for this leading of God’s. She little knew that the reason was that she would be the progenitor of Jesus Christ. Her line leads to Jesus Christ. In fact, this whole episode can be seen in the light of Christ pursuing His church, through his messengers, the missionaries of the church who say to the prospective bride, “Come.” Will you come? You need it. Abraham knew the importance of the promise. He knew that the promise given to Adam of a Seed that would crush the serpent’s head depended on the promise to Abraham being fulfilled by God. We have here in Genesis 24 a stage in the solution to the sin problem. It is a picture to us of Christ marrying His church both as a whole, and as an individual. Don’t delay in coming to Christ. That is not the way of faith. Don’t say, “I can come to Him tomorrow.” There might not be a tomorrow, as the servant knew of his master Abraham.

Lastly, we come to the fourth scene of our little drama: the marriage act itself. He is meditating in the field, probably about whether or not he will have a wife when the servant comes back. He lifts up his eyes, and she lifts up her eyes at the same time, and they see each other for the first time. She asks if this is the man. Then she puts on her wedding veil. That is the signal to Isaac that this is the woman brought for him. She replaces Sarah as the matriarch of the tribe. That is the significance of his bringing her into Sarah’s tent. Notice one little detail: Isaac is now the master of the servant. Just as Abraham is the master of the servant, so also is Isaac. Just as God the Father is the God of all missionaries, so also is Jesus. Will you go into the tent of Sarah? That is, will you go into the tent of the church? Will have the church for your mother? It is said that you cannot have God as your father without also having the church as your mother.

So, the question of guidance comes up again at the very last. How do you know what God’s will is? You see what is written in God’s Word, not by “lucky-dipping” as the man did picking scriptures at random. No. You read carefully, understanding what it meant to the original readers, how it shows us Christ, and how it applies to us as a result. You pray to the Lord, recognizing that no one can know the will of God without talking to him. But then you must recognize that it is God’s program that is God’s will. We so often think of what we want as God’s will, and we twist all the facts in order to come to that conclusion. However, that is not wise. God’s program is for us to know Jesus, and to do what Scripture commands us to do. That is God’s will for your life. All you really need to know about God’s guidance can be summarized in this one sentence: God is faithful, so obey Him. Whether or not that seems likely to work is not your business. Being faithful to God’s revealed will is your business. Read, pray, be humble, and come to Christ.


  1. Jessica said,

    August 3, 2006 at 9:24 am

    Thank you for this post, Lane! What an encouragement, a spur to good works.
    Blessings to you and your family!

  2. Mr. Baggins said,

    August 3, 2006 at 11:19 am

    Thanks for your kind words, Jessica.

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