We’ve been reading about Abraham since Genesis 12 when God promised to make him into a great nation and to give him a land of his own. And after a long wait, eventually Abraham and his wife Sarah had a son of their own. Well, Isaac has now grown up and he needs a wife. And that’s what this chapter is about: it’s about finding a wife for Isaac.
So, let’s consider the story, first of all. And really we can divide the chapter into five acts. First of all, in verses 1 to 9 we see Abraham — who we’re told is now old and well-advanced in years — asking his chief servant to swear an oath. Abraham asked the servant to place his hand under his thigh, which seems strange to us, but it appears to be the way solemn oaths were made in those days. And Abraham asked the servant to swear that he will find a wife for Isaac from his own people back home in his native country. Do you see that in verse 4? He must not let Isaac marry one of the Canaanite woman, the woman living around them in the land of Canaan. Under no circumstances must Isaac marry one of these woman. Instead he must marry someone from their own people, back home in Abraham’s native country.
Now in verse 5 the servant asked a reasonable question:
What happens if I find such a woman, but she’s unwilling to leave her country and come to live in the land of Canaan? Should I take Isaac out of Canaan and bring him to her country?
‘No!’ says Abraham. Under no circumstances must Isaac leave the land of Canaan. Why not? Look at verse 7: Abraham explained that the Lord had taken him from his native country and had brought him to the land of Canaan which God had promised to give to Abraham and to his offspring. So Isaac must not give up this land which God has promised to them. And look at the end of verse 7: Abraham believed that God would send an angel to guide and direct the servant and to lead him to the right person so that Isaac will not have to give up the promised land. And so this first act closes with the servant placing his hand under Abraham’s thigh and swearing the oath.
In the second act the servant arrived in a town which in verse 10 is named Nahor. When the servant arrived, he stopped at the well, which was a natural place to meet people. And we read in verse 12 how he prayed for guidance from the Lord. When he asks a young woman for a drink, let her also offer to water his camels — which was a significant undertaking, given the amount of water ten camels are capable of drinking. So, this was quite a task which no-one, but the Lord’s choice, would be willing to do. So, if one of the young women who came to the well to draw water was prepared to do this major task, then it would be clear that this is the woman for Isaac.
Well, the Lord heard his prayer, because even before he had finished praying, Rebekah appeared. The servant asked her for a drink, and not only did she give him water, but — just as he had prayed — she also offered to water his ten camels. She didn’t know it, but Rebekah was clearly the answer to the servant’s prayer. Well, the servant presented her with gifts: a gold ring and two gold bracelets. And when the servant asked about her family, he discovered that she was from Abraham’s people: she was the grand-daughter of Abraham’s brother. And so the second act closes in verses 26 and 27 with the servant offering up a prayer of thanks to God:
Praise be to the Lord, the God of my master Abraham, who has not abandoned his kindness and faithfulness to my master. The Lord has led me to the house of my master’s relatives! Praise be to the Lord.
Do you see? Abraham had insisted: under no circumstances must Isaac marry a foreign woman. And who is Rebekah? She’s from Abraham’s people. She’s one of his relations. She’s just what Abraham wanted for his son.
Well, in the third act, which begins at verse 28, Rebekah ran back home to tell her family about these things; and Laban, her brother, came out to invite the servant to stay with them and to have something to eat. But before they eat, the servant explained the purpose of his visit and how he was sure that Rebekah was the one for Isaac. Laban and the rest of the family seem convinced too and so it’s agreed that Rebekah should return with the servant to marry Isaac. And so the servant brought out more gifts for Rekekah and gifts for her family as well. And this, too, was the custom in those days: to pay a price for the bride.
In the fourth act, which begins at verse 54, Rebekah’s mother and brother want to delay her departure for ten days, but the servant was anxious to get on his way. So they asked Rebekah what she wanted to do and she agreed to leave immediately. And so it’s underlined for us that she was a willing participant in this story. She wasn’t going reluctantly, but was happy to leave her family home, and her native land, and to go to the land of Canaan, to the promised land, to marry Isaac, Abraham’s offspring. And do you see the importance of this? Abraham had insisted: under no circumstances must Isaac leave the promised land of Canaan. The woman must be willing to leave her home and move to Canaan. And Rebekah was prepared to go. She was just the kind of wife Abraham wanted for his son.
Well, in the final act — and we could easily imagine this scene being shown on a big screen in some movie — Isaac was out in the fields. And he looked up and saw some camels approaching. And at the very same moment, Rebekah looked up and saw this figure in the fields. She asked the servant who this man is. And look, he’s coming to meet her. And so, she slipped down from the camel and Isaac and Rebekah met for the first time. And so they’re married. Isaac had found his wife.
That’s the story and it’s a great story. But what does it mean? What’s the significance of this story for us? Well, let’s remind ourselves of how this chapter begins. It begins with Abraham. He was the one who initiated this story. Isaac — who needed a wife — does nothing in this chapter until the very end. And while the servant is the main character in this story, nevertheless he’s only acting on orders; he wouldn’t have had a part in this story if it were not for Abraham. So the chapter begins with Abraham and he’s the one who initiates things. He’s the one who gets things started and he’s the one who has been the focus of attention since Genesis chapter 12. So let’s think about him. And, in particular, let’s think again about his faith, because the events of this chapter highlight for us once again Abraham’s faith in God and in God’s promises.
So, back in chapter 12, the Lord promised to make Abraham into a great nation. And at other times, the Lord promised him that his descendants would be like the stars in the sky and the sand on the seashore. He’ll have so many descendants that you won’t be able to count them. God was going to make him into a great nation.
Well, the Lord had begun to keep his promise, because he enabled Abraham and Sarah to have a child in their old age. And now Abraham believed that the Lord would lead his servant to the right person so that Isaac would have a suitable wife and be able to start a family. And from that family there would come more descendants and more descendants and more descendants so that in due course, God’s promise to Abraham would come true: He would indeed be the father of a great nation. God promised it. And Abraham believed it. And so he expected his servant to find a suitable wife for his son.
But then the Lord also promised to give Abraham and his descendants a land to live in. The land of Canaan, on which he was now living, would become his. And so, not only did God promise Abraham a people, he also promised him a place. And Abraham believed God’s promise. He believed that he was now living in the Promised Land; and even though he didn’t own any of it — apart from the graveyard where he’d buried his wife — he believed that one day all of the land around him would belong to his descendants. And because he believed it, because he believed God would give the land to his descendants, Abraham insisted that under no circumstances should Isaac leave the Promised Land. He must not move from Canaan in order to find a wife; the woman who will become his wife must be willing to move to Canaan. Do you see how he insisted on that? Look again at verse 6:
Make sure that you do not take my son back there.
And the reason Abraham insisted on this is because he believed God’s promise to him. That’s in verse 7. Abraham said:
The Lord, the God of heaven, who brought me out of my father’s household and my native land spoke to me and promised me on oath, saying: ‘To your offspring I will give this land.’
That’s what God had promised and Abraham believed God’s promise. And so, he insisted that Isaac must not leave the Promised Land.
And so, we see Abraham’s faith in action. God promised to make him into a great nation with lots of descendants. And so he expected the Lord to guide his servant to the right woman. And God promised to give them the Promised Land. So he insisted that Isaac should not leave it.
And, of course, when you think about it, it was a remarkable thing he was expecting Isaac’s prospective wife to do. I mean, why would this woman be prepared to leave her home and her native land and move all the way to Canaan to marry a man she’d never met who lived in a country she had never seen? And the servant must have realised this. That’s why he asked what he asks in verse 5:
What if she’s unwilling to come back with me to this land?
We can see what he’s thinking, can’t we? He’s thinking:
Abraham, what you’re suggesting is mad! Why would she come? Who in their right mind would do this!
But Abraham was counting on what God had promised and he was counting on God to prepare the way for the servant and to make sure that the servant would find someone who was willing to leave everything.
Here we see Abraham’s faith in action. And we too must share Abraham’s faith and trust in God and in all his promises. We’ve seen before that God’s promise to make Abraham into a great nation is fulfilled not only in an earthly way in the people of Israel, but in a spiritual way in the church of Jesus Christ. Christians are Abraham’s spiritual descendants and God has promised to make us like the stars in the sky and like the sand on the seashore, a great multitude of people who will fill the earth. And Jesus Christ has promised to build his church. And though it might seem unbelievable to us, and though the church might often seem very small to us, and we worry because we see so few people being converted to faith in Christ, nevertheless, we must follow Abraham’s example and we must continue to believe God’s promises and count on him to do what he said he will do and fill the earth with his people who love him and trust him.
And God’s promise to Abraham to give him the Promised Land was not only fulfilled in an earthly way in the land of Canaan, but it’s also going to be fulfilled in a spiritual way in the new heavens and the new earth which is the place where all of God’s people will live for ever and ever. And though we look at the world and see so much sin and rebellion, and though we look at ourselves and see so much that is not right in our own lives, and though we may wonder sometimes how people as sinful as we are will ever manage to reach heaven, nevertheless, we must follow Abraham’s example and we must continue to believe that God will do what he has promised and that he will pardon all our sins for the sake of Christ who died for us and he will bring us at last to our heavenly home to be with him for ever and ever.
Was it likely that this woman would leave her family and move to Canaan? The servant knew that what Abraham was expecting was impossible. And yet, even though it seemed impossible, Abraham believed. And when we look at ourselves and our sins, it seems impossible that God should ever bring us into heaven. But that’s what he has promised. And so, we need to trust in him to keep his promise. And when we look around the world and see the unbelief and the sin, and how resistant people are to the gospel, it seems impossible to us that the church should grow. And yet that’s what God has promised. And so, we need to trust in him to keep his promise, and we need to continue to preach his word and pray to him to convince and convert sinners to faith in Christ so that his church grows and the number of Abraham’s spiritual descendants becomes like the stars in the sky and the sand in the seashore.
And the more we believe this, the more we will expect it and pray for it. You know, what it’s like. Aunt Agatha has said she’ll call. And because you know it and believe it and are waiting for it, you find yourself looking out the window, expecting to see her. You’re looking at your watch, wondering what time she’ll arrive. You know she’s coming, and so you’re expecting it any moment. Well, when we believe what Abraham believed, that God will make his people like the stars in the sky and the sand on the seashore, the more we believe that, the more we’ll look for it and pray for it. Think of James Cochrane who was here last week in that little church. At the moment it’s just something like six adults and their children. But they’re hoping and praying that God will make his church in Portugal like the stars in the sky. Or what about Sebastian Heck in Heidelberg. We pray for him on Wednesdays. Just another tiny church. But he’s hoping and praying that God will make his church in Germany like the sand on the seashore. Think of the Apostle Paul in Corinth. Think about how discouraged he was because so the Jews were against him and had been abusive. But the Lord spoke to him and encouraged him and said:
I have many people in this city.
So Paul stayed on for another year, teaching the people the word of the Lord, hoping and praying that the church in Corinth would grow.
In this chapter, we see Abraham’s faith in action. He believed God’s promises and so he expected the Lord to lead his servant to the right person to become Isaac’s wife, because God had promised to make his descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and the sand on the seashore. He believed, even though what he was expecting seemed impossible. And we must share his faith.
So this story is important because it shows us Abraham’s faith. And it therefore teaches us to keep believing and to keep counting on God to fulfil his promises. But this story is also significant because of it’s place in salvation history. God not only promised to make Abraham into a great nation, and he not only promised to give him the Promised Land, but he also promised that all the nations of the earth would be blessed through one of Abraham’s offspring. He not only promised Abraham a people and a place, but he also promised that the Saviour would come from Abraham’s family who would bring blessings to the world.
Now, if that’s true, if that was God’s plan for Abraham and his descendants, then it was necessary for Isaac to have a wife, because unless Isaac had a wife, and unless he had children of his own, then God’s plan to send the Saviour into the world would come to nothing.
And so, it was necessary for Abraham to find his son a suitable wife. And later, when Rebekah and Isaac were married, they had two sons: Jacob and Esau. And though Esau was older, Jacob received his father’s blessing. And from Jacob there came the Twelve Tribes of Israel. And from out of the Twelve Tribes of Israel there came the Lord Jesus, the Son of God, who according to his human nature, was descended from Abraham.
And the Lord Jesus, when he was on the earth, was able to do what none of us has been able to do. He was able to obey God’s laws perfectly and perpetually. He was able to love the Lord with all his heart and soul and mind and strength. He was able to love his neighbour as himself. He did everything right. And though he did everything right, and though he never did anything wrong, nevertheless, he was nailed to a cross and suffered all of God’s wrath. And he was nailed to that cross and he suffered all of God’s wrath for our sake. He was endured the punishment we deserve and he suffered the curse we deserve so that the blessing he deserved for his perfect life of obedience could come to us so that instead of being condemned, which is what we deserve, we are now pardoned by God and we receive the hope of everlasting life.
You see, that was God’s plan from the very beginning. That was his plan when, in Genesis 12, he promised Abraham that all nations of the earth will be blessed through one of Abraham’s offspring. He was talking about his Son. And because Abraham believed God’s promise, Abraham knew that it was vital for his son to have a wife so that his family line could continue. He knew it was vital for his family to continue so that in due course the Saviour would be born. Abraham had to ensure that his son would find a suitable wife, because he knew that it was always God’s plan to send the Saviour into the world.
You know, we look at the world at times, and all the different things that are going on: the wars, and the violence and all the terror now. We hear about all kinds of natural disasters and all the disasters we cause ourselves. And people get worry and anxious:
Where is the world headed? What’s going to become of us?
Well, we need to remember and believe that the Lord is in control. He’s always been in control: He was in control when he first appeared to Abraham and revealed his plan to send the Saviour into the world. He was in control whenever Isaac was born even though Abraham and Sarah were so old. He was in control here, in the events of this chapter, leading the servant to the right woman. He was in control throughout the rest of the history of the Israelites, as he protected them and helped them and sustained them until the time came for his Saviour to be born. And he’s still in control today as we wait for the time for the Saviour to come again. We worry where the world is headed and what will happen to us. But the Lord God is still on his throne, and he’s still guiding and directing all things so that his plan for us and for the world will happen just as he has planned it. And so, whenever we read our newspapers, and whenever we watch the news, we needn’t be afraid, because the Lord is working out his will for the world.
And that’s also the case for each one of us personally. Whatever disappointments we suffer, whatever problems we face, whatever troubles we have, we need to remember and believe that the Lord is still on his throne, and he’s still in control. Whatever disasters befall us, he’s able to turn them to our good. And so, we needn’t be afraid, because the Lord is working out his will for us.
Christ and the church
So, this story is significant because it speaks to us of Abraham’s faith which we ought to share. And it’s significant because of it’s place in salvation history. It’s also important because what the servant did in this story points forward to someone greater.
You see, Abraham sent off his servant to find a wife for his son. And the servant went off and found him a wife. And he gave her gifts: a gold ring and gold bracelets, and other gold and silver jewellery and articles of clothing to make her beautiful and ready to meet Isaac so that they can be married.
Now, doesn’t that remind us of something else in the Bible? Doesn’t that remind us of another bride who is found and made beautiful in order to appear before her husband? I’m talking about the church. In Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, he likens the church of Jesus Christ to a bride and Jesus Christ is our husband. But whereas in Genesis 24 it’s the servant who leaves home and goes off to find a bride for the son, in the gospel we learn how the Son himself left his home in heaven and went all the way down to earth in order to find his bride. And whereas in Genesis 24 the servant gives gifts to the bride to make her beautiful, in the gospel it’s the Son himself who makes his bride beautiful. When he finds us, we’re not really very attractive, and we’re covered in all kinds of spots and blemishes and stains — all kinds of sin — that spoil us. But what does Paul tell us? That Jesus Christ loved us and gave himself up for us on the cross in order to make us holy, cleansing us from all that is wrong with us, so as to present us before himself as a radiant bride, without strain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless and perfect and beautiful in his sight. He left his home and came all the way down to earth in order that we might one day return with him to his home to be with him forever and ever.
Look, Isaac just stayed at home and someone else had to do the hard work to find his bride. He just stayed at home and waited. But Jesus Christ loved us so much that he came looking for us. He came searching for us. And in order to make us beautiful, he was prepared to be beaten and whipped and stripped naked and crucified. And he did all this so that we might be united to him forever.
And so, we’re reminded once more of why we ought to love him. We ought to love him because of the way he loved us. And so, we ought to love him, and praise him, and give thanks to God the Father for him, because of the greatness of his love for us and his willingness to come to earth to find us. And we ought to praise him and give thanks to God the Father for him, because not only did he find us, but he gave us everything we need to make us beautiful in his sight and fit for heaven.