God Provides a Bride for Isaac. Genesis 24
The basic subject of Genesis chapter twenty-four is that God provides a bride for Isaac. It is an example of God's ongoing gracious provision for Abraham and the Abrahamic family as He is working out His plans and purposes in relation to the Abrahamic covenant. The transition from Abraham to Isaac will be almost complete by the end of this chapter. It is a focus on the future, on the fullness of the promise, and the application principle for us is that God is always moving history towards a final fulfillment. And so there is always hope, which is the idea of a confident expectation that God will ultimately bring about the resolution of all of His promises and all of the prophecies of Scripture, and everything points to that completion in the Millennial kingdom that comes about after the second coming of Jesus Christ.
In this chapter the background doctrine that incorporates everything in this chapter is really the faithfulness of God, that God is faithful to His promise, faithful to His Word, and God is the one who is going to oversee how His plan and purpose works out in history. God is the one who in going to oversee how His plan and purpose works out in each of our lives. So that just as we see the servant of Abraham here going about his mission and task under the providential care of God, the same kind of thing takes place in our life. The foundational doctrine for this is really encapsulated in a promise that is familiar to all of us: Proverbs 3:5, 6, "Trust in the LORD with all your heart; and lean not unto your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths." The command is to trust in the Lord, it is not just faith in faith. It is faith in something specific; it is faith in a promise of God, faith in principles that are encapsulated in the Scripture. The focus is always ultimately on God who is behind the promises and the principles and procedures that are revealed in Scripture. So we are to completely trust in Him, not partially. The word "heart" here focuses on the internal part of man. The word is used not in a metaphorical sense for the part that pumps blood through the body but to describe that which is at the center, the focal point of something. So it refers to our soul and the thinking that dominates and controls our soul. We are to trust the Lord with all of our thinking. Trust, the act of faith itself, is not an emotion, it is an intellectual process of the mind. We have to understand something in order to believe it. We can't believe things we don't understand. In contrast, we don't lean on our own understanding, our own frame of reference and depending on human viewpoint understanding of life. We have limited knowledge, we don't understand everything that is going on around us, the demons that are around us, the holy angels that are around us. We don't understand all that God is doing in our life, we just see a very small part of it; so what we have to do is trust that God is dealing with those things that we can't see, that He is the one who is working out His plans and purposes in our life. So the contrast here is, either we are trusting in the Lord and in His promises and procedures, or we are trusting in our own understanding, our own interpretation of events, and our own limited frame of reference.
Proverbs 3:6 completes the idea. "In all our ways acknowledge him." The word here for "ways" is the Hebrew word derek, which means paths. In all of the paths of our life, in all of the courses of our life, in all the many directions of our life—life in our family, in our profession or job, our thought life, our friendships, every dimension of life—we are to acknowledge Him. That means we are to place God first, we are to submit and subordinate every category of thought in our life to the Word of God. The Word of God provides that framework, that frame of reference for all thought. There is no area of human intellection that is outside of God's framework.
The Scriptural standard is that what is required of a steward is that he is found to be faithful. When a pastor stands before the judgment seat of Christ God is not going to be concerned with how many numbers he got saved, He is not going to be concerned with how many people were in the church; what He is going to be concerned about is whether he was faithful in fulfilling the task of feeding the sheep and equipping the saints to do the work of the ministry. The thing he will be evaluated on is whether he fulfilled that particular task. We just get so away from the Word of God that we start interpreting everything within a non-biblical framework, we lean on our own understanding. But if we acknowledge Him, put the Word first, think things out in terms of a divine viewpoint framework, then God directs our paths. This is a foundational verse for understanding divine guidance.
As we look at Genesis chapter 24 the fundamental doctrinal framework for understanding it is the faithfulness of God in providing guidance and direction for the fulfillment of His plan. As a result of that there are three corollaries to that principle that we see in the passage. First of all, the key operational doctrine in the passage in the faith-rest drill: trusting God to provide the resources to fulfill His plan and destiny. The faithful servant that Abraham sends on the mission to find a wife for Isaac is trusting God to provide along the way. This is exhibited by his prayers in the passage. Prayer is one way we express our trust in God. The second corollary is that the grace of God is sufficient to fulfill His plan and purpose. God in His grace is going to provide everything we need to fulfill His purpose. In His grace God is going to provide the bride He intends for Isaac in this early foundational stage for the nation Israel. The third corollary is that the foundation understanding God's plan and purpose is His revelation, His revealed Word. What have we just been talking about here? Three operational spiritual skills: faith-rest drill, grace orientation, and doctrinal orientation. This is exactly what goes on here.
The servant, as well as Abraham, recognizes God's grace is going to provide a wife for Isaac, the person that God has in mind. Both of them are oriented to the Abrahamic covenant: that if God has promised descendants then there has to be a wife for Isaac. Their orientation to the Abrahamic covenant is their frame of reference for thinking, planning, and decision-making. So they are going to trust in the Lord completely, not relying on their own frame of reference, and God is intentionally working in the background. The idea throughout this whole passage is given in Genesis 24:27, "And he said, Blessed be the LORD God of my master Abraham, who hath not left destitute my master of his mercy [grace orientation] and his truth [revealed Word: doctrinal orientation]: I being in the way, the LORD led me to the house of my master's brethren." First he takes his step, walking by faith, and as he walks by faith the Lord, then, behind the scenes, working providentially through the circumstances, leads him to the correct decision. So it is not as though he was in some sort of guessing game. Too many people present divine guidance in this way, that somehow we have to figure out what God's perfect choice is for us. That is not how it works. If we trust the Lord we know that He will guide and direct us along the way.
This episode is a lot like what we experience in the church age. God is working in the background. He is intentionally keeping in the background. We don't see any direct revelation taking place, God isn't providing any miracles, there is no prophetic word, no casting of lots; God is working completely in the background and He is working through the circumstances to bring about His desired will. So that helps us in understanding to day how to follow the Lord's guidance. We trust in Him and He works in the circumstances and makes our path straight. The object of faith that underlies this whole passage is again given in verse 7, a reiteration of the Abrahamic covenant. Abraham is talking to the servant. "The LORD God of heaven, which took me from my father's house, and from the land of my kindred, and which spoke unto me, and that swore unto me, saying, Unto your seed will I give this land; he shall send his angel before you, and you shall take a wife to my son from there." The backdrop on this is that he understands the Abrahamic covenant. Because he understands that promise he is able, then, to make these decisions.
The first nine verses of this chapter deal with the commissioning of the servant to find a wife for Abraham's son, the promised seed. Abraham takes his oldest and most reliable servant, his faithful servant, and his unnamed servant. Many commentators just assume that because Eleazar was the one he was willing to adopt as his son in Genesis chapter 15 that that must be who this is, but the Scripture doesn't put a focus on the person. That is another principle we have to note here. Throughout this chapter the emphasis is not on the person but on their character. The emphasis in on his character as a faithful servant in comparison to God who is a faithful God. On the other hand, when we come to look at Rebekah the test to discern who God is leading him to is a test that focuses on her character and not her other qualities.
Genesis 24:1, "And Abraham was old, and well advanced in age: and the LORD had blessed Abraham in all things." The verb is barak, which means to bless, and it is in the perfect tense which, in a construction like this, should be understood to be the same kind of things we would have in English, the completed or perfected action. This means that the writer is saying, Remember the Lord had already blessed him in all things. It is the same thing that Paul says to us in Ephesians 1:3, that at salvation Goid has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenlies. We already have it; it is our possession. So it is a reminder that God had already blessed Abraham in all things.
Genesis 24:2, "And Abraham said unto his eldest servant of his house, that ruled over all that he had, Put, I pray you, your hand under my thigh." When he says that it is a request that shows respect for his servant. The idea of putting the hand under the thigh is something that is very foreign to us, and when we read abut the customs of that time we learn that it is an indication of an extreme oath. This I an extremely serious and binding oath, and the idea is that by placing the hand under the thigh it brought the hand into contact with the genitals or it was a symbol of that contact. The genitals, of course, were a sign of life, the place of circumcision within the Abrahamic covenant, and so there is a symbolism here that is extremely serious.
Genesis 24:3, "And I will make you swear by the LORD, the God of heaven, and the God of the earth, that you shall not take a wife unto my son of the daughters of the Canaanites, among whom I dwell." When he says the God of heaven and the God of earth, this is the God of the universe. Hebrew doesn't have a word for universe. It is an emphasis on God as the creator God. What we should hear in the background is the creator-creature distinction, but as the creator God, God is the sovereign God, the ruler and director of human history, and specifically the history of Abraham's family and his descendants. Why doesn't Abraham want his son Isaac to marry from among the Canaanites? This goes back to the principle of separation. In the New Testament it is emphasized in 2 Corinthians 6:14-16 that believers have no business being involved in a close association with an unbeliever, because as Paul states it in 1 Corinthians 16, "bad company corrupts good morals." There is always the tendency that the believer is going to be influenced by the values and the thinking of the unbeliever, and if Isaac were to marry a daughter of the Canaanites then he would come under the influence of her family and relatives. This could lead to assimilation into the pagan culture surrounding him. Abraham recognizes the importance of recognizing that distinction.
Genesis 24:4, "But you shall go unto my country, and to my kindred, and take a wife to my son Isaac." They are involved in paganism as well but we know from some other passages of Scripture that even though they were worshipping the moon god and other gods of the culture there was also a recognition of the reality and existence of Elohim. They are all mixed up but there is some element of truth in the home town family.
Genesis 24:5, "And the servant said unto him, Peradventure the woman will not be willing to follow me unto this land: must I bring your son again unto the land from where you came?" The servant raises and objection. As we move through the narrative there are four different points of conflict that are potential problems. How do you handle the problems?
Genesis 24:6, 7, "And Abraham said unto him, Beware thou that you bring not my son thither again. The LORD God of heaven, which took me from my father's house, and from the land of my kindred, and which spoke unto me, and that swore unto me, saying, Unto your seed will I give this land; he shall send his angel before you, and you shall take a wife unto my son from there." What Abraham is enforcing here is that God will direct and oversee the circumstances of this visit because He is working out His promise given in the Abrahamic covenant. Then Abraham tells his servant that if the woman is not willing to follow him then he is released from his oath.
In verse 10 we come to the second part of the narrative where the servant travels back to the city of Nahor, and when he arrives it is evening. Genesis 24:11, "And he made his camels to kneel down without the city by a well of water at the time of the evening, even the time that women go out to draw water." He decides to pray. He doesn't quite know how he is going to attack this problem of finding a woman that is a kinsman and who would be willing to return as Isaac's wife. This is his use of the faith-rest drill as exhibited in prayer.
Genesis 24:12, "And he said, O LORD God of my master Abraham, I pray you, send me good speed this day, and show kindness unto my master Abraham." He addresses Yahweh. One thing we learn from this servant is that he is faithful because he understands doctrine. This servant exhibits spiritual maturity throughout this entire chapter. Why is he calling God "God of my master Abraham," and not "My God"? Because he is emphasizing that promise to Abraham. The whole foundation for this episode is the further development of the promise to Abraham, the Abrahamic covenant. Then he sets up a test.
Genesis 24:13, 14, "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 your pitcher, I pray you, that I may drink; and she shall say, Drink, and I will give your camels drink also: let the same be she that you have appointed for your servant Isaac; and thereby shall I know that you have showed kindness unto my master." This exactly what took place.
Genesis 24:15, 16 "And it came to pass, before he had done speaking, that, behold, Rebekah came out, who was born to Bethuel, son of Milcah, the wife of Nahor, Abraham's brother, with her pitcher upon her shoulder. And the damsel was very fair to look upon, a virgin, neither had any man known her: and she went down to the well, and filled her pitcher, and came up." So the servant is watching her. He wouldn't have known this information about her, this is supplied by Moses by means of the Holy Spirit. All he sees is this young woman, and perhaps her dress indicates that she is not married.
Genesis 24:17, "And the servant ran to meet her, and said, Let me, I pray you, drink a little water of your pitcher." He runs to meet her, which indicates his enthusiasm.
Genesis 24:18, "And she said, Drink, my lord: and she hasted, and let down her pitcher upon her hand, and gave him drink." She shows respect for him, she shows that she understands protocol, she is kind to him and exhibits generosity of spirit and grace orientation. Then she just walks over and gives water to his camels.
Genesis 24:21, "And the man wondering at her held his peace, to wit whether the LORD had made his journey prosperous or not." All of this takes a while and he patiently sits back and watches. Notice he is waiting on the Lord to fulfill the answer to his prayer. As he watchers her he is learning about her, he watches how she moves, watches her enthusiasm, her desire to help. She doesn't do this grudgingly, she does it out of the generosity of her own soul. When she finishes, because he realizes that God has answered his prayer, and to indicate who he is, he gives her a present of jewelry. This represents a wealthy patron and they give credential, significance and credibility to the offer that he is eventually going to make. So far he is convinced that God has answered the prayer but he doesn't know the family. This is the last part of her requirement.
Genesis 24:23, "And said, Whose daughter are you? tell me, I pray you: is there room in your father's house for us to lodge in? And she said unto him, I am the daughter of Bethuel the son of Milcah, which she bore unto Nahor." So she refers to her father and his mother as the wife of Nahor. Then she invites him home. His response: Genesis 24:26, "And the man bowed down his head, and worshipped the LORD." Grace orientation: he is thankful. He bowed down, and that is what worship is. Worship is the idea of submitting ourselves to God. Here we see one of the many different dimensions to worship. Worship is any act of obedience to God, recognizing that God is in authority over us. So worship takes place in obeying God's Word. That is why we talk about Sunday morning, or any Bible class, as a time of worship, because we are learning what God expects of us, we are learning how to think biblically. And when we are responding to that by learning His Word, by taking the time out of our busy schedule to submit to God by learning His Word, that is worship. When we apply doctrine, that is worship. Whenever we are involved in Christian service, that is worship. Whenever we bow our heads and thank God for whatever the circumstances are, that is worship. Whenever we sing praises to God that is a response to what has done graciously in our lives, so the singing of hymns in church is a form of worship. So this is what is taking place here, the servant bows his head and is thankful to God for how God has answered his prayer, and that is worship.
Genesis 24:27, "And he said, Blessed be the LORD God of my master Abraham, who has 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." Here we see two crucial words in this passage: mercy and truth. The word for mercy is the Hebrew word chesed which means lovingkindness, and frequently it is used in covenant context indicating faithfulness to the covenant. A preferred translation is "loyal, faithful love." Truth is the Hebrew word emet which means firmness, truth, stability. It is the stability of God's Word. God's Word is the rock on which we build our lives. It is that which is stable and dependable.
Genesis 24:28, "And the damsel ran, and told them of her mother's house these things."
Genesis 24:29, "And Rebekah had a brother, and his name was Laban: and Laban ran out unto the man, to the well." This is foreshadowing the future, because Laban is such a conniver. He tries to out-connive Jacob who is the conniver. Laban can't be trusted for anything. Laban saw the gold the servant gave and he wants to ingratiate himself into the good favor of this traveler in the hope that he will give him some gold. This is a foreshadowing of his character once he comes back into the scene later on when Jacob is trying to negotiate with Laban for his daughters.
Genesis 24:33, "And there was set meat before him to eat: but he said, I will not eat, until I have told my errand. And he said, Speak on." They are very hospitable and offer him food, but he recognizes the priority of his mission and the seriousness of that oath that weighs heavily on him. He is not going to stop until he explains his mission. He explains to them that he has been sent by Abraham who made him swear that he would come and find a wife, and not provide a wife for his son from the daughters of the Canaanites. So he rehearses everything from the commissioning by Abraham to the meeting of Rebekah at the well, showing that all of this fits God's providential care. It becomes clear to the family that God is leading.
Genesis 24:50, "Then Laban and Bethuel answered and said, The thing proceeds from the LORD: we cannot speak to you bad or good." It is interesting that Laban is mentioned first, before Bethuel his father. That indicates that by this time Laban has become the head of the house. Bethuel is probably very old by this time. They use the term Yahweh again, so that shows that Abraham's family has some awareness of who God is and they are not just idolaters but do have some understanding of the nature of God. They couldn't contradict what the servant said, they were left speechless, and it was obvious that God was working.
Genesis 24:51, "Behold, Rebekah is before you, take her, and go, and let her be your master's son's wife, as the LORD has spoken." But there is going to be another problem to overcome. That is, that by the next morning Laban and the girl's mother decide that maybe they can keep her here for another year. We see another foreshadowing here of how Laban first offers Rachel to Jacob and then says he has to work for her for seven years.
Genesis 24:56, "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." The faithful servant demonstrates his trust in God and puts it in the Lord's hands. They say, Well, let's ask her. They think they can manipulate the situation. But when she is asked she says she will go. Genesis 24:60, 61, "And they blessed Rebekah, and said to her, You are our sister, be the mother of thousands of millions, and let your seed possess the gate of those which hate them. 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." There is a prophetic nature to this blessing, that through her nations would come. "Let your descendants possess the gate of those which hate them." The gates of the town in the ancient world was where the city council would meet, where the judges would meet. It was the power center. What this is indicating is that they are saying, "May your descendants take over the places of power and influence away from their enemies. It foreshadows the fact and prophecies the fact that their descendants would eventually take the land of Canaan and possess the cities of those who were their enemies.
Now they head back, and we are told in verse 62 that is down in Lahairoi. These things aren't just thrown in there by the Holy Spirit out of coincidence. He is at this well that was named that by Hagar. It means "the God who sees." Hagar recognized that God sees in the sense that He understands history and He overrides history, and God is taking care of history providentially. So Isaac is at that same place, so as soon as we read that name we should be thinking about God's control of history. Isaac is out there to meditate in the field. He knows the mission that the servant is on, and he praying continuously through this period for the success of the servant's mission. So he is pictured here as being faithfully dependent upon the Lord, waiting upon the Lord to provide a wife for him.
As they approach they come to Isaac first. Then, Genesis 24:64, "And Rebekah lifted up her eyes, and when she saw Isaac, she lighted off the camel." This is a sign of respect to someone in authority. If a woman is on a camel and the man is on the ground, to show respect, good manners and deference she gets off the camel to speak to him.
Genesis 24:67, "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." Why did Isaac take her into his mother Sarah's tent? Because Rebekah is replacing Sarah now as the matriarch within the descent of the Abrahamic seed.
From this point on little is said about Abraham. The shift now has taken place to where Isaac is center stage, and his wife Rebekah. We have just a short note in gthe next chapter in verses 1-11 on Abraham's marriage to his second wife, Keturah, and then his death in verses 7-11.
In conclusion, what we learn from this is that the background for this whole episode is the Abrahamic covenant. It is God's promise of positional reality to Israel. On the basis of that positional reality the Jews can make decisions from this point out in terms of their spiritual life, because there is this bedrock of God's provision of blessing in the Abrahamic covenant.
The application for us is that we have the same positional reality in the fact that we are baptized into Christ. That is our positional truth, and in that identification with Christ Ephesians 1:3 says we are blessed with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places. That is our spiritual positional truth. Just as in the Old Testament this servant is able to exploit what God provided in the promise of the covenant, in the same way in the New Testament, as church age believers, we are to exploit what the Holy Spirit has provided for us at salvation.
Secondly, we see that because of God's foundational promise to Abraham He is going to providentially guide and direct their fortunes to bring about their fulfillment. In the same way, because of our position in Christ, God is going to work His way providentially in our life to work out His plan and purposes. If we are disobedient that is going to bring about discipline and problems in our life because God is not going to back off His plan to conform us to the image of His Son. We are to operate on the basis of doctrine. We need to understand the positional reality that we have in Jesus Christ. Then we need to operate on the basis of grace, recognizing that God has already blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, and we need to exploit that.