Isaac and Rebekah: a true love story
by Jonathan Spurlock
(Holts Summit, MO)
Text: Genesis 24
Introduction: Abraham’s wife Sarah had died but Isaac, the son, was apparently still grieving over her death. Father Abraham decides now that it’s time for Isaac to seek a wife of his own. He sends a trusted servant to find a suitable bride for Isaac, but she has to be from Abraham’s own original territory. God intervened and this made Biblical history!
This story comes from Genesis 24. It’s a rather long chapter so I won’t be reading it at one time. We’ll look at the various sections and make an application at the end.
I The mission: find a bride for my son! (vv. 1-9)
The first nine verses have Abraham’s charge to his servant. Now, the custom of parents finding suitable mates for their children seems to go back a long way, certainly to Abraham’s time. We’re not told, though, about the arrangements for Abram and Sarai, years before they left Ur of the Chaldees (Genesis 12) but their marriage worked well. Abraham must have known how important a good wife was, as well as what could happen when there is a bad spouse.
Abraham gave the servant two specific conditions. First, he said, do NOT choose a wife for Isaac from the women where I’m living. He was wise to do this. The Canaanites (verse 3) were never part of Abraham’s family; neither, apparently, did they worship the God of Abraham. Abraham knew, even better than some might want to admit, that a marriage between a believer in the One True God and a spouse who did not was not going to work.
Many years later, Solomon encountered this very thing. The writer recorded that King Solomon’s wives (foreign princesses and other women like concubines) “ . . .turned his heart away after other gods . . .(1 Kings 11:4)”. Solomon should have learned from Abraham not to marry any woman who didn’t believe in the God of Abraham!
There was another condition. The servant asked if he should take (escort?) Isaac back to the land where Abraham came from (verse 5, paraphrased) and Abraham promptly said, NO! In so many words, he said, don’t even think about it.
Now, I sometimes wonder why Abraham wanted to keep Isaac close by. Some reasons why that might have been include these: first, God had told Abraham to offer Isaac as a burnt offering some years before and Abraham didn’t want to risk someone else doing the same thing—human sacrifice was alive and well in those days; b) since Abraham was a very rich and powerful chieftain, for lack of a better term, someone might have tried to kidnap Isaac or even kill him; c)Isaac may have rebelled against his father’s conditions or stipulations; d) Isaac had to learn to trust not only his parent, Abraham, but also his Heavenly Father.
Abraham also gave the servant an “out”, namely, he would be free from the mission if the bride-elect refused to come back to Abraham’s and Isaac’s current location. The obvious thing, though, was that the servant had to go there and explain the situation before the girl would say yes or no.
II The test: how will I know if she’s the right one? (vv. 10-32)
We don’t know if the servant was a believer in the True God or not, but at least he did the right thing here. He prayed! I’m sure there was a lot of prayer before and during the trip, as, after all, he had ten camels’ loads of the best Abraham had to offer. God protected the entire caravan and they made it safely to Mesopotamia, Abraham’s home country.
The servant made this specific request. He couldn’t have known which young lady to pick for Isaac’s wife unless God directed the right people together. And that’s exactly what he prayed: if she’s willing to provide water for the animals, she was bound to be the right one.
We’re not told how long the servant or the caravan waited for the water but eventually here came Rebekah—before he finished his prayer, according to verse 15! And not only did she give the servant some water, she got water for the animals too. We don’t know how much water she pulled from the spring but there was enough for everyone and everything.
The servant was no doubt pondering if Rebekah was truly the right one or not, but she did have a kind spirit. So the servant gave her some gifts, perhaps as a reward for her kindness. These gifts included a gold ring and two wrist bracelets, all of gold. Then he asked, “whose daughter are you, and is there room for us at your father’s house (verse 23, paraphrased)?”. She replied that there was room and plenty of straw and feed for the animals.
One other thing Rebekah replied was that she was the daughter of Bethuel, who was Nahor’s great-granddaughter! Nahor was Abraham’s brother (Gen. 11:27), but remained in Mesopotamia when their father, Terah, Abram, Sarai, and Lot, and perhaps others, left there on the journey to Canaan (Gen 11:31). So at the very least, she was a distant member of Abraham’s family. This was a part of the original conditions, namely, that the girl was to be related to Abraham (verse 4).
III The proposal: what would Rebekah say? (vv. 33-60)
This section is quite long and has a lot of narrative. The servant, for example, related his story as to who he was and why he had come so far. He also explained how Rebekah had met the very test or condition he had requested. Then he went on to make a request. He wanted to know if Laban and Bethuel, Rebekah’s brother and father, respectively, would “deal kindly and truly (verse 49)”. I can almost imagine those two men looking at Rebekah’s new gold jewelry and wondering if the servant had more “stuff” he was willing to give!
Laban and Bethuel definitely made a reply to the servant’s request. We might say, “It’s okay with us but . . .wait a bit, won’t you?” According to verse 51, they said , “take her and go” but I find it a bit odd that Rebekah herself wasn’t involved in this decision! The servant then gave all of them gifts of silver and gold, clothing, and “many precious things (verse 54)”.
Not only did this prove Abraham’s generosity but it demonstrated God’s blessings. Had Nahor ever come to believe in the True God, as his brother Abraham had done? Had Milcah, Bethuel, or Laban? We may never know the true spiritual condition of these folks but we do know that they couldn’t argue with the servant’s testimony of God’s goodness and God’s blessings.
Verse 54 tells about a feast they all enjoyed. They “ate and drank, and spent the night”, then they rose up and were ready to head back to Abraham. And guess what: the mother and brother decided they wanted to keep Rebekah for a while. They wanted her to stay for 10 days and then “okay, you can leave”.
What had changed their minds? I’m sure the family wanted Rebekah to look her best for the wedding or at least give her a bridal shower (if such existed in those days) or who knows what else. It’s all spelled in one word-DELAY. Did they really want her to go?
The servant wasn’t having any of that, however. I can see him, perhaps mounted on his own camel, and saying, “Nope, we’re leaving now. ‘Send me away, that I may go to my master (verse 56)’’. Now the family decides to ask something they probably hadn’t asked Rebekah before, and it’s a beautiful question:
“Will you go with this man?” Will you leave the land of your birth, your family and friends, your sheep and the other animals, will you leave all you ever knew and go to a place you know nothing about? Will you leave us and marry a man you’ve never seen before?” Oh, there were many emotions, I’m sure, in that question; all of them valid to one degree or another. But Rebekah had made a decision, and it’s a simple, three-word response: “I will go.”
As Abraham himself had left his home country, so did Rebekah. Abraham had left to follow the Lord, the True God; Rebekah was leaving to become his daughter-in-law. Rebekah may not have been the first bride to leave her home country and marry someone she had never seen but she wasn’t the last. Over the years many other women have left their home to marry the man they loved.
Ruth, years later, would leave Moab with her mother-in-law to find God’s best in Bethlehem. Abigail would leave her estate from Carmel to be a wife of David. We also read of a few women from Egypt who married men of Israel. Thus, Rebekah may have blazed a trail for others like her who followed their husbands into a new life in a new land.
IV The completion (vv. 61-end)
The writer gives some very fast-moving, vivid descriptions in the last several verses as to the key players in this story. First we see Rebekah and her maids, getting on the camels and heading to the land of Abraham. How much they knew of it, we’re not told, but I’m sure the servant gave her all the info he could about Isaac and Abraham.
Then we’re told about Isaac himself. Oddly, I don’t read where Abraham told him anything about the servant’s mission, namely, he was going on a wife-hunting trip. Isaac may have thought, “OK, fine” but can you imagine his shock when he’s told, “It’s a wife for YOU!”
So Isaac is out in the fields meditating. Give him credit, he wanted his “quiet time” with God. Then he sees a camel train coming and starts walking towards it. Now think of the camera giving a glimpse of Rebekah again. She’s already dismounted from the camel, and she’s asking the servant, “Who’s he, walking in the field heading this way?”
Now imagine the delight of the servant when he says, “That’s Isaac, my master!” Rebekah took a veil and covered herself then became his wife. We’re not given any details of the wedding ceremony, if any, but they were surely joined in marriage. The proof is in these three words: “he loved her”. And we don’t read where they ever stopped loving each other.
When we truly have God’s love in our hearts, it will be easy to share that love with our spouse. It worked for them, and it can work for us, too, if we’re willing. Please continue to always love your spouse!
Scripture quotations taken from the NASB. http://www.lockman.org