A Wife for Isaac
If you have your Bibles, I'd invite you to turn with me to Genesis, chapter 24 as we continue the story of the search for a wife for Isaac. Last month we began a new series of studies in Genesis, concentrating on the life and times of Isaac. Abraham is still alive, but as of Genesis 24, the focus turns to Isaac and his future. In fact, the passage we see tonight is very much of a transitional passage. It sets forth one of those turning points and the focus is clearly on Isaac and on Rebekah and on their future.
Genesis 24, beginning in verse 1 all the way through Genesis 25, verse 11, record for us the last days of Abraham. But in large measure they are taken up with the issue of Isaac as the successor to the promises of the covenant. The approaching death of Abraham raises in our minds the very obvious and logical question what is to become of his descendants? God has done great things in the life of Abraham. He's done great things to give him a son. But his son is yet to be married, and we immediately ask the question, what is going to happen to the chosen line here at the end of Abraham's day. As we outlined Genesis 24 the last time we saw that it breaks down into five parts. Genesis 24, verses 1 through 9 contain for us that charge that Abraham gave to his servants. “Go find a wife for my son, Isaac.”
And then in verses 10 through 27 we see a description of the journey that the servant took and all the providential things that occurred along the way. Then the third part of this great passage is found in verses 28 through 53 where we see the servant giving the explanation to Rebekah's family of the charge that he had been given and of the journey that he had taken. Then the fourth part of the chapter you see in verses 54 through 58 where the servant immediately requests to take Rebekah home to Isaac, his master.
And then finally the closing verses of the chapter, verses 59 through 67 we see Rebekah's departure from her home and her marriage to Isaac. We looked at the first two sections of this passage last time.
This week we’ll look at the last three sections, beginning in verse 28. Remember that as we looked at the first verses of Genesis 24 we learn two great lessons. First of all, in verses 1 through 9 we never outgrow the need for faith in God. Abraham had trusted in the Lord all throughout his pilgrimage, and here he is at the very end of his life having to do what? Trust in the Lord now to provide a wife for his son. So there's never a time where we outgrow faith in God. And again in verses 10 through 27, we see another aspect of faith displayed in the faithfulness of Abraham's servant as he trusts in the Lord, but as he also takes action in obedience, not only to the oath that he had given to Abraham, but in obedience to the Lord. So we see these beautiful aspects of faith set forth in Genesis 24. So let's turn to Genesis 24 and verse 28 and read to the end of the chapter. Let us hear God's holy word.
Our Lord and our God, we are struck by Your providences. We read this word and we know from our own experience how Your kind providence has often visited us and how it always protects us every step of our way. We ask, O Lord, as we study this word tonight that we would not only be moved by the spectacle of the wondrous story set before us, but that we would be moved to trust in You in our own situations and circumstances, knowing that all things work together for good for those who love God and who are called according to His purpose. We ask it through Jesus Christ, our Lord, Amen.
This passage is not just the story of a God-fearing parent desiring a believing spouse for his son. This is the story of the continuation of the line of providence, of promise, and how God in His providence brought about that continuation of the line of promise. And there are several great lessons in this passage and we're going to have to restrict ourselves to a few. As we look at the third section of chapter 24, which will be our first section tonight, we see that servant's explanation to Rebekah's family. And in that passage we learn that prayer is the instrument of and the response to God's providence. That's the first lesson we're going to learn. Then when we look at verses 54 through 58 where the servant requests to leave immediately with Rebekah we see another important lesson that awareness of the Lord's providence promotes an urgency to our obedience. Not complacency, but urgency in our obedience. And then finally, we’ll look at verses 59 through 67 where Rebekah actually departs from her family and goes to join Isaac and to marry him. And we learn there again this great truth that when we seek first the kingdom, God takes care of all things. I'd like to look at these things with you tonight.
I. Prayer is the instrument of God's providence.
First, let's cast our eyes on verses 28 through 53. One of the things that stands out in this great passage is that prayer is the instrument of God's providence, but it's also the proper response to God's providence. This servant's prayers are large in this story. In response to his prayers, God does marvelous things, and God uses his prayers to carry out God's own plan and design. But we also see in this passage that the servant's response to God's providence unfolded is to bow himself to the ground in praise to the God who has done such marvelous things.
Now I want to point out a few things before we recount the story itself. If you’ll look, for instance, at verse 30, isn't it amazing how Moses captures Laban's character in just a few words. Notice what he says. “When he saw the ring, and the bracelets on his sister's wrists, and when he heard the words of Rebekah, his sister, he immediately goes out to the man.” The first thing that Moses tells you about Laban is that his eyes lit on those jewels. How perfectly he captures the character of Laban as we will see it revealed more fully in the life of Jacob. Laban is a man who does not miss the gift of the jewels. He will not overlook such wealth. But Laban does in verses 31 and 32 provide superb hospitality.
But isn't it interesting that even as Laban spreads this feast before Abraham's servant, Abraham's servant will not allow himself to be deterred from the task of divine providence. He will not sit down to feast while work is to be done. God's business comes first for this servant. And so he refuses to even begin to eat until he is told his mission.
Verses 34 through 49 recount the story that he tells and they culminate with an incredibly bold request. In fact, we feel it almost audacious. But the servant didn't think it was audacious, because he knew the providence of God. Let's walk through his words. He cuts right to the chase. And the power of his words, oh, their power, to his utter honesty. He doesn't leave anything out, and he makes it clear that God's hand has been in this from the beginning. Look at verse 34. He immediately identifies himself as the servant of Abraham. This connection with the family is thus established. And then in verse 35 he tells them of Abraham's riches. That, no doubt, would have been an appealing factor to Rebekah's family. But he stresses that the Lord is the one who gave Abraham these riches. And then in verse 36 he says, and by the way Abraham has one son. Now this says, of course, that all of Abraham's riches are going to that one son. There aren't nineteen sons for his wealth to be spread amongst. No, one son will be the great inheritor of his wealth. And again, this is an attractive thing. So verses 35 and 36 would no doubt have been very appealing to a family who was getting ready to engage in a marriage contract with another family.
But, he goes on to explain in verses 37 and 38 why Abraham did not take a wife for his son from those who were in the land of Canaan. No, he says, Abraham wanted a wife for his son from amongst his people.
And then in verses 39 through 41 the servant puts his cards on the table. And he says, now let me tell you, even if I come back from here with no wife, Abraham has told me that if you refuse me, in this case Rebekah, he will release me from this oath. Now we might have been tempted to leave out that little detail when we were talking to the family. “Boy, I'm going to be in big trouble if you don't give me Rebekah,” we might be tempted to say. But the servant of God so trusting in God's providence tells the whole story. The servant himself raises the issue of the girl or the family refusing to agree to the marriage in verse 39. And then he repeats verbatim Abraham's promise to free him from his obligation, one way or the other. If he brings back the girl from his relative's family, he is free from his oath. If he goes and his relatives refuse, he is free from his oath. We see this in verses 40 and 41. And in verse 40, again notice that he stresses what? It is the Lord who will give his journey success.
Then in verses 42 through 48 he says, “Let me tell you a story that you won't believe.” Let me tell you how God has been at work in this incredible, in this impossible mission that God has given to me. And he tells the story of the Lord's providence in revealing Rebekah to him at the well. He recounts in verses 42 through 44 his prayer. Thus again emphasizing God's providence and provision. In verses 45 through 47, he tells the story of his immediate initial encounter with Rebekah. Not but a few moments after the prayer had been uttered in his heart did Rebekah show up. And then he tells the content of his prayer of thanksgiving in verse 48 after Rebekah had appeared.
Then immediately in verse 49, he asks for Rebekah. He asked for an immediate answer to his request for Rebekah as a bride for Isaac. The whole situation is so obviously the result of God's promise, that Rebekah's family exceeds to this request at once. They said how in the world can we possibly refuse something in which God's hand is so apparent. God's hands are all over this. There is no way that this could have come about if God had not brought it about. Yes, Abraham was rich, and yes, Abraham was a relative. But the emphasis of this story you will find in four things: the oath, the promise, the prayer and God's providence. Abraham extracts an oath, and then he gives a promise, and this man proceeds in his work prayerfully and God's providence walks before him every step of the way. The message of this passage is that the Lord has done this. This is the doing of the Lord.
And so in verse 52 the servant prays again. Isn't it interesting how we see this servant praying. If you look back in the chapter, back to verses 12 through 14 you will see the first prayer of the servant of Abraham. That prayer he prayed standing. It was his prayer that God would prosper his mission, and he stood as he praised it because he was standing like a watchman on watch, waiting for the Lord's answer. But do you notice what he does in the next two prayers? Having prayed in verses 12 through 14 standing and watching for the Lord's answer. When the first answer comes in verses 26 and 27, he bows to the ground in prostration before the Lord, in awe at the wonder of God's answer. His heart is overflowing with thanksgiving, and he bows to the ground. And again here in verse 52, we are told explicitly that he falls to the ground in astonishment at God's goodness. This family immediately says, “Yes, take Rebekah. She can be the wife of Isaac.”
And thereafter in verse 53 he showers the family with gifts. Just as the bride's family was responsible to give a dowry, so in these days the groom's family was required to give a bride's price. And so these gifts that are showered upon the family of Rebekah are those gifts that are related to the bride's price. Do we appreciate the importance of prayer in the plan of God? Do we see the central role of this man's prayer? God uses his prayer as the instrument of his providence. His prayer in verses 12 through 14 is the precursor to God's blessing and his prayers in verses 26 and 27 and in 52 are the response to God's blessing. God's hand is all over this great deed, and prayer is the instrument that he uses in this man.
Prayer is the instrument of and the response to God's providence. Do we appreciate the importance of prayer in God's plan? Do we thank God as we ought? I've shared with you the story when I went to Edinburgh to study. One of the things that my family prayed for was that I would have a network of Christian friends who would support me. It can be a dangerous and a lonely thing to pursue postgraduate studies, especially when you’re surrounded by people who do not believe in the faith as we have been brought up to believe that faith. And so one of the great blessings and supports in that kind of a circumstance are godly Christian friends in all walks of life that surround us and keep us on the way. And I could tell you story after story about how God provided, but one of the most striking was this. One Wednesday night – I had been told by Doug Kelly, whom I had never, ever met in my life. I had talked with him on the phone – but I'd been told in a phone conversation by Doug Kelly that I should attend Hollyrood Abbey Church of Scotland when I went to Edinburgh. So the first Wednesday night there, I wandered into the prayer meeting, and I met a young man named Steve Carvel. And Steve began speaking with me and of course he immediately knew that I was an American and a southerner from my accent, and he poked a little fun at me, and then we began talking. He said, “You know, I know only one American.” And I said, “Isn't that interesting.” And he said, “I wonder if you know him?” And I laughed. I said, “You know one American. There are 250 million of us and you want to know whether I know him.” And he said, “Yeah, it was very interesting. This guy was here about four or five years ago, and he was over studying for a summer, and he stumbled into prayer meeting by accident. It was a Wednesday night just like this one. It was pouring rain. A storm had come up suddenly, and he dipped into the prayer meeting, just to get out of the rain. And I met him and we struck up a friendship.” I said, “That's real interesting. Where is he from?” “Well, you know, I think he's from Carolina.” “Well there are two of them North or South. Which is it?” “Well, I don't know. He's from a city called Greenville.” “Well, that's interesting. I'm from Greenville, South Carolina.” “Well, I don't know whether it's Greenville, North Carolina, or Greenville, South Carolina.” “Well, what is his name?” “Well, his name is Jimbo Simpkins.” He grew up across the street from me. And I struck up a friendship with Steve and his wife-to-be and family and was immediately enfolded into that congregation. God had provided every step of the way. This story is far more marvelous than that, but God provides for us in those ways. And all of us could give testimony about how God and his surprising providence responds to our prayers in faith.
Do we appreciate the importance of prayer in God's plan? That certainly was one of God's kind providences to me in that time.
II. The awareness of the Lord's providence promotes urgency not complacency.
I'd like you to look at verses 54 through 58. Here we see the second great truth that we learn from the passage. As the servant requests to take home Rebekah to Isaac immediately, we gasp. This section actually begins in the middle of verse 54. We’re told that after he had told this story that he ate and the men who were with him ate and drank, and they spent the night and so in the second half of verse 54, the servant arises in the morning and he says, “Send me away, that I may return to my master.”
This is the beginning of the second section of the passage. And as we said before, the truth that we learn here is that awareness of the Lord's providence promotes urgency, not complacency. Immediate obedience is a theme that runs throughout the book of Genesis. Remember Genesis 22, verse 3? God has commanded Abraham to take his son, his only son, Isaac, whom he loves, and we're told that Abraham did what? He rose early the next morning to journey to the land of Moriah. And here as we look at verse 33 in Genesis, chapter 24, again the immediacy of the servant's faithfulness is apparent. When food was set before him to eat, he said I will not eat until I have told my business. This servant was focused on the Lord's will, and he would not be deterred by anything. So now here in verse 54 he gets up in the morning, and he says, we need to go now, both the servant and Rebekah in this passage – If you look at verse 58 you’ll see what I'm talking about. Both the servant and Rebekah are commended in this passage by Moses because of their instant expression of obedience to God.
Interesting, by the way, that laws in the ancient near East about marriage contracts differed. Apparently, most of those laws did not require the wife to give her consent to the marriage. Hurrian marriage laws did require the wife to give her consent. Normally the marriage was simply arranged by the families and the wife just went along with it. But Hurrian marriage laws did require the wife to give consent. I don't know what the custom was in Mesopotamia at this time. But in this case, Rebekah is at least asked whether she wants to go immediately. Now I don't know whether this is a mother and a brother's delaying tactic, or whether this is something that Rebekah actually had to do by custom. But clearly the mother and the brother think that Rebekah is going to say 'please don't take me away from my family so quickly. Give me a few days to spend with them before I go to another land.' But Rebekah, in response to the question, immediately answers, “I will go.” And the implication is, I will go now. I will go right away. Moses is letting us know that Rebekah was totally willing to be married to Isaac. He is telling us about something about this mother in the faith. And it is one of the characteristics in Genesis of the man of God, that he or she is always ready and willing to do God's bidding, and it's one of the winning characteristics of both the servant and of Rebekah.
You know Rebekah's character has been revealed in many ways in this passage. She's been revealed as a courteous woman. She's beautiful, but she's humble, she's courteous, she has a buoyant spirit, she's hard-working and here we are told she was a woman who was ready to execute the will of God. She was ready and willing to obey instantly. And so again we learn that awareness of the Lord's providence promotes urgency, not complacency. The servant of God, the servant of Abraham, knew that God's hand of providence was upon him. Did it make him sit back and say, well, God will work it out. I don't need to do anything. No, it made him urgently obedient to God's will. Rebekah saw God's hand of providence in this strange meeting. Did it make her think well, God will work all the details out? No, it made her to respond urgently to God's calls for obedience.
III. When we seek first the kingdom, God takes care of all things.
One last thing we see here in verses 59 through 67. Here Rebekah departs and goes to marry Isaac. And we learn that when we seek first the kingdom, God takes care of all things. You know there's something much bigger than just this relationship between Isaac and Rebekah going on in this passage. As beautiful and as poignant is this story, and especially in this section about Isaac and Rebekah, there's something much bigger going on in their lives than just their personal needs and their personal relationship. And as gracious as God is in providing for those, we immediately sense the significance of this union for the whole of redemptive history. This union is necessary for the carrying on of the line of promise. This union is necessary for providing the continuance of the line of the godly seed, the seed of woman in the book of Genesis. And yet God provides for their details and their needs even as they seek first his kingdom.
It's interesting isn't it that Deborah, Rebekah's nurse, goes along in the retinue that attends her as she goes back to Canaan. She was a faithful retainer of the family for two generations, and we're told that Deborah would live until the day she died at Bethel in Genesis 35, verse 8. The family of Rebekah sends her away with a rich greeting. You see it there in verse 60: May our sister become thousands of ten thousands and may your descendants possess the gate of those who hate them. This is probably a conventional blessing. Something that would have been said certainly sincerely, but not something that was necessarily going to be fulfilled literally. But if you look back to Genesis 22, verse 17, you see that God had already promised this to Abraham and to those who followed after him in the faith. Rebekah's family had no idea how gracious God would be in fulfilling that conventional blessing.
If you go the Highlands of Scotland, and you’re greeted by someone in Gaelic, you may well be given a greeting that basically means 'a hundred thousand welcomes.' It's just a gracious way of welcoming you. This conventional blessing that Rebekah's family gave was probably something like that. It was simply a gracious blessing upon a daughter and a sister. God fulfills this more than literally. God is rich in his blessings in supplying our needs.
The passage is poignant in verses 62 and 63. You have a picture of a lonely man dwelling in the south, out in the field, meditating by himself, and he lifts up his eyes, and he sees the caravan of camels coming. Rebekah comes as God's supply for his need in verses 64 and 65. When Rebekah sees him she immediately dismounts. She does not want to meet her groom standing over him on a beast but looking up to him, showing him respect. She immediately veils herself to identify herself to him as his bride, and out of modesty. This veil was a sign of betrothal and it identified her to Isaac as his bride.
And in verse 67, Moses tells us explicitly that Isaac had a genuine love for her. She was taken into his mother's tent. This indicated that she was now the mistress of the household. She was the woman that God had appointed as matriarch in this family.
Have we purposed to follow God no matter what and to let him supply all our needs? Isaac, a very different character in personality from Rebekah, and Rebekah both trusted the Lord to supply all their needs and they played a role, greater perhaps than they could have imagined in this time, but they sought first the kingdom, and God took care of all other things.
I want to close with a beautiful passage from R.S. Candlish's commentary on Genesis 24. He says, “What a meeting on the serene summer night. It is faith meeting faith. Faith, venturous and bold. Rebekah. Meeting faith. Meditating and meek. Isaac. On the one hand there is the faith that not all the perils of a long journey and an unknown issue can daunt. Rebekah. On the other hand, there is the faith that seeks quiet rest in communing with the God of nature as the God of covenanted grace. Isaac. Rebekah dropping your modest veil as if half afraid or half ashamed of your adventurous spirit, and you Isaac lifting your eyes as if awakened out of a trance, you two are now one in the Lord. You are different characters, already perhaps slightly indicated in the different acting of your common faith may cause, alas, some dispeace and sin and your future course when they come to be more fully unfolded and brought into collision with one another amid the cares and trials of your common pilgrimage. But in the name, you, too, are congenial souls. And the marriage thus arranged by divine wisdom and grace and love has its fair share of the happiness which that blessed estate is fitted to yield to those who marry in the Lord. God is good, and when we seek first His kingdom, He adds to us all things. Let us pray.
Our Lord and our God, we bless you for the kindness of Your providence, and we pray, oh Lord, that You would cause us to be instant in our obedience in light of Your providence and trusting in our prayer in light of Your providence and thankful to God in response to Your providence through Jesus Christ, our Lord, Amen.