In Genesis 24, which is the longest chapter in Genesis, and one of the longest single narratives in the Bible, we find the account of the search for a wife for Isaac. It’s so long, we won’t be able to read every verse in the time we have, so let’s start with a summary.
Abraham is 140 and Isaac is 40, and unmarried. Abraham decides to send his servant back to his homeland to seek a wife for Isaac from his family. Isaac’s wife must not come from the ungodly pagans that surround them.
The servant travels back to the town of Nahor where he prays that God would reveal the right woman with a specific sort of test—that she haul water for his camels. Providentially, Rebekah walks up and does just that.
After meeting with the family, who agrees that this must be God’s will, the servant and Rebekah (and the camels) travel back to Canaan, where Isaac marries Rebekah and loves her.
There are two main lessons I wish to draw from this chapter. One is the importance of choosing a believer to be your spouse. The second is the importance of commitment in a marriage.
LESSON ONE: CHOOSE A CHRISTIAN BELIEVER FOR A SPOUSE
Genesis 24:1 And Abraham was old, and well stricken in age: and the LORD had blessed Abraham in all things.
Genesis 24:2 And Abraham said unto his eldest servant of his house [possibly Eliezer, Genesis 15:2], that ruled over all that he had, Put, I pray thee, thy hand under my thigh:
This, obviously, was an act that, shall we say, invaded one another’s personal comfort zones. Among other things, it pointed to the seriousness of the task that Abraham was assigned his servant to do.
Genesis 24:3 And I will make thee swear by the LORD, the God of heaven, and the God of the earth, that thou shalt not take a wife unto my son of the daughters of the Canaanites, among whom I dwell:
Genesis 24:4 But thou shalt go unto my country, and to my kindred, and take a wife unto my son Isaac.
Genesis 24:5 And the servant said unto him, Peradventure the woman will not be willing to follow me unto this land: must I needs bring thy son again unto the land from whence thou camest?
Genesis 24:6 And Abraham said unto him, Beware thou that thou bring not my son thither again.
Why is Abraham so insistent that the servant find Isaac a wife from his own family? And why does he insist that Isaac not even leave the land and go find his wife himself? He explains in the next verses:
Genesis 24:7 The LORD God of heaven, which took me from my father’s house, and from the land of my kindred, and which spake unto me, and that sware unto me, saying, Unto thy seed will I give this land; he shall send his angel before thee, and thou shalt take a wife unto my son from thence.
Genesis 24:8 And if the woman will not be willing to follow thee, then thou shalt be clear from this my oath: only bring not my son thither again.
Abraham wanted to preserve God’s promise of descendants and land. If Isaac had married a Canaanite unbeliever, that promise would have been diluted. This is what would happen in the next generation with Isaac’s son Esau. He married pagan women:
34 And Esau was forty years old when he took to wife Judith the daughter of Beeri the Hittite, and Bashemath the daughter of Elon the Hittite: 35 Which were a grief of mind unto Isaac and to Rebekah. (Genesis 26:34–35)
What happened with Esau’s descendants? They became the nation of Edom, a thorn in the side of God’s people for generations. The lesson is: don’t marry unbelievers. And this lesson is repeated throughout the Bible. For example, when Israel was finally about to enter and conquer the land of Canaan, Moses warned them:
3 Neither shalt thou make marriages with them; thy daughter thou shalt not give unto his son, nor his daughter shalt thou take unto thy son. 4 For they will turn away thy son from following me, that they may serve other gods: so will the anger of the Lord be kindled against you, and destroy thee suddenly. (Deuteronomy 7:3–4)
And, in the New Testament, we read the words of Paul:
39 The wife is bound by the law as long as her husband liveth; but if her husband be dead, she is at liberty to be married to whom she will; only in the Lord. (1 Corinthians 7:39)
Why is it so important to marry a believer?
One reason is that the fight to raise godly children is hard enough with two Christian parents (I know), it’s doubly hard if one parent merely tolerated the faith of the other. It would be unbelievably difficult if the unbelieving parent was actively against Christianity.
Much of what children learn is caught, not taught. Even if the unbelieving parent was tolerant of the other’s faith and desire to raise the kids in the faith, the kids would eventually pick up his or her lack of faith.
A second reason to only marry a believer is even more important. When you trust in Christ, you become a new creature in Christ. Christ lives in you. You are in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17). Now, link that with the fact that marriage, biblically speaking, is becoming one flesh (Genesis 2:24). To marry an unbeliever is like inviting them into a holy temple. They don’t belong there. As Paul said:
14 Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? and what communion hath light with darkness? (2 Corinthians 6:14)
The believer who is married to an unbeliever misses out on the joy of sharing Christ together. They miss out on praying together. They miss out on life in Christ together.
I encourage you unmarried folks, seek a mate that is a believer and don’t settle for merely checking off the box. Find someone who will share Christ together with you.
The Servant Goes
Genesis 24:10 And the servant took ten camels of the camels of his master, and departed; for all the goods of his master were in his hand: and he arose, and went to Mesopotamia, unto the city of Nahor.
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.
Genesis 24:12 And he said, O LORD God of my master Abraham, I pray thee, send me good speed this day, and shew kindness unto my master Abraham.
Genesis 24:13 Behold, I stand here by the well of water; and the daughters of the men of the city come out to draw water:
Genesis 24:14 And let it come to pass, that the damsel to whom I shall say, Let down thy pitcher, I pray thee, that I may drink; and she shall say, Drink, and I will give thy camels drink also: let the same be she that thou hast appointed for thy servant Isaac; and thereby shall I know that thou hast shewed kindness unto my master.
The servant devised a test—whatever woman came and offered to give water to his camels would be the one that God wanted for Isaac. As it turned out, a young lady named Rebekah came and did so—in fact, she offered to draw water until the camels were done drinking…that could have been up to 300 gallons for 10 camels!
Genesis 24:20 And she hasted, and emptied her pitcher into the trough, and ran again unto the well to draw water, and drew for all 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.
Genesis 24:22a And it came to pass [drawing that much water could have taken several hours], as the camels had done drinking,
I am tempted to tell you single guys that one thing you should look for in a potential wife is someone who is willing to haul 300 gallons water. But I don’t think that’s the point here!
There’s actually a lot we could discuss here: like how God providentially works in our lives, or to what extent we should pray for God to make such or such happen as a sign.
I just want to address one issue: sometimes a Christian will want to marry an unbeliever and they might look to a supposed providential occurrence like this as God’s approval. They might look to a “chance” meeting or some other seemingly providential happening as proof that God wants them to be together.
Listen, that is not what this passage is teaching. The servant already had instructions from Abraham (who understood them to be God’s will) that the woman for Isaac must come from his kindred (24:4).
The servant obeyed those instructions and went to Nahor, a town just a few miles from Haran, where Abraham and his family lived for a time. Abraham and his immediate family continued on to the land of Canaan, but most of his extended family stayed in Nahor.
One of my former seminary professors wrote, “The servant was fishing in the right pond.” 1 It would be like going to Bible college to study and find a spouse. Most, if not all, of the students there will be believers. You would be fishing in the right pond. The unofficial motto of one Bible college I went to was, “A ring by spring or your money back.”
If another woman who was not a kindred of Abraham’s had walked up instead of Rebekah, I am certain the servant would have had second thoughts. It was after he asked whose daughter she was and she confirmed that she was from Abraham’s extended family that he knew God had led him to the right woman (Genesis 24: 22-26, 47-48).
So if you think that God has providentially led you to a certain person, the first test you should make to see if it really is God’s will is to find out, for certain that they are a believer. If they are not (and don’t accept a simple, “Oh, sure, I believe in Jesus” for an answer), then move on and be patient for God’s timing.
But don’t say that something is God’s providence when it violates God’s Word. God wants us to marry a fellow believer in Christ.
There is a second helpful lesson that we learn from this chapter and that is the importance of commitment to the spouse you choose.
LESSON TWO: CHOOSE COVENANTAL COMMITMENT
I have no doubt that most couples who get married understand on some level that they are making a commitment to one another. I mean, how could you get married and miss that?
However, there is a difference in the kinds of commitment that people make when they get married. Generally speaking, there are two kinds of commitment. One is what the Bible describes, a covenantal commitment. The other is what I’ve heard called, a consumer commitment.
What is a consumer commitment? Tim Keller explains,
Such a relationship lasts only as long as the vendor meets your needs at a cost acceptable to you. If another vendor delivers better services or the same services at a better cost, you have no obligation to stay in a relationship to the original vendor. In consumer relationships, it could be said that the individual’s needs are more important than the relationship. 2
You can tell that this is most common sort of commitment in our culture today. We do this with our insurances, our cars, our favorite places to shop, and so on.
When the idea of consumer commitment is applied to marriage, the result is that many people enter marriage because of what they can get from the other person. Maybe it’s because the other person looks great. Maybe it’s because the person has a good job or is rich, so they offer security. They are in it for emotional and personal happiness.
This isn’t to say that there isn’t a place for spouses making one another happy in marriage, but when it becomes the basis for the marriage, it’s a disaster. What happens when the looks, the sex, or the riches fail? Then it’s time to move on because, they will say, “I am just not happy in my marriage anymore.”
When someone says, “I am just not happy in my marriage anymore,” what do many of their friends say? Do they encourage them to keep their commitment that they made in their wedding vows? No, most people in our culture will deeply sympathize with them. “Oh, that’s terrible…you should get out right away.”
The reason that there’s such a strong empathy expressed when someone says, “I am just not happy in my marriage anymore,” is because our culture is a consumer culture. When something doesn’t please you anymore, you sell it or throw it out and buy something new. It’s a consumer commitment.
What is a covenantal commitment? A covenant is a binding agreement made between two people or groups of people. There are covenants all over the Bible. In fact, Genesis 24:7 mentions a covenant between Abraham and God. God covenanted with Abraham to give him land and a people.
It is a covenantal commitment that we see Isaac and Rebekah make with one another. After talking to the servant, Rebekah ran home and told her family. Her brother Laban went and met with the servant and invited him back to their home. The servant then explained to her entire family how Abraham had sent him to find a wife for Isaac, and how he prayed at the well, and how Rebekah came and did everything he had prayed about.
Genesis 24:48 And I bowed down my head, and worshipped the LORD, and blessed the LORD God of my master Abraham, which had led me in the right way to take my master’s brother’s daughter unto his son.
Genesis 24:49 And now if ye will deal kindly and truly with my master, tell me: and if not, tell me; that I may turn to the right hand, or to the left.
Genesis 24:50 Then Laban and Bethuel answered and said, The thing proceedeth from the LORD: we cannot speak unto thee bad or good.
Genesis 24:51 Behold, Rebekah is before thee, take her, and go, and let her be thy master’s son’s wife, as the LORD hath spoken.
“Laban and Bethuel” recognize that the Lord has chosen Rebekah to be Isaac’s wife, and they release her from their oversight. But they ask that that he delay going back for ten days so that they can spend some last time together as a family. The servant, however, is impatient (it’s a 400 mile journey on camel) and says that he and Rebekah must leave immediately.
Genesis 24:57 And they said, We will call the damsel, and inquire at her mouth.
Genesis 24:58 And they called Rebekah, and said unto her, Wilt thou go with this man? And she said, I will go.
I love that her response sounds almost like a modern marriage vow, because, in fact, it is a marriage vow. Have you ever noticed that, in a wedding, the couple says a double vow?
First, the couple says something like this:
…wilt thou have this woman to thy wedded wife…Wilt thou love her, comfort her, honour and keep her, in sickness and in health? and, forsaking all others, keep thee only unto her, so long as ye both shall live?
Then they say something like this:
I…take thee…to my wedded wife, to have and to hold from this day forward, for better, for worse: for richer, for poorer; in sickness and in health…
In the first part, they make a covenant with God. In the second part, they make a covenant with each other. It’s a double commitment, and it’s a commitment to remain married no matter what happens—for better or worse.
Rebekah makes this covenantal commitment, and so does Isaac. Move down to verse 65. The servant and Rebekah had just arrived back in Canaan:
Genesis 24:65 For she had said unto the servant, What man is this that walketh in the field to meet us? And the servant had said, It is my master: therefore she took a vail, and covered herself.
Genesis 24:66 And the servant told Isaac all things that he had done.
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 bring Rebekah into Sarah’s tent? There could be several reasons, but I couldn’t help but think of Genesis 2:24—
24 Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh. (Genesis 2:24)
In marriage, we break a certain bond with our parents and we make a new bond with our spouse. Death had already taken Sarah from Isaac, but there was still a hole in his heart where she had been. Rebekah filled that hole “and he loved her.” Isaac’s love for Rebekah wasn’t a love based on physical beauty (perhaps that is why the Bible mentions that Rebekah put the vail down over her face before Isaac saw her).
His love was a covenantal love. The servant had explained all that had transpired and Isaac, like Laban and Bethuel, saw that Rebekah was God’s choice for him. He committed to love her forever.
This is what we are missing from our marriages today. A covenantal commitment. Nowadays we, when the going gets tough, get divorced.
Many people get divorced because they think it will make them happy again—but that’s not usually the case. A study from the University of Chicago revealed that unhappily married people who got divorced were, on average, were no happier than those who stayed married. And, even more striking, was that “Two out of three unhappily married adults who avoided divorce or separation ended up happily married five years later.” 3
If we could just hold on a little longer! Isn’t that what we vowed? “For better, for worse”? This is why we need the power of a covenantal commitment.
Isaac and Rebekah understood, I don’t doubt, that they were entering into a covenantal relationship that was bigger than both of them. The Lord had promised land and descendants to Abraham. They were part of the continuing of that promise.
When Christians make a wedding vow, we also are entering into something that is bigger than the both of us. Marriage, according to the Bible, symbolizes Christ’s relationship with the church (Ephesians 5:22-33). As Christ is committed to his bride—the church—through thick and thin, so we should also be committed to our spouses.
This is why Christians should marry believers—so that we can both be in Christ together and married together with Christ.
And this is why Christians should have a covenantal commitment to remain married, because marriage is a reflection of Christ’s commitment to remain faithful to the church. As we remain faithful to one another in marriage, the world around us will see a picture of Christ faithfulness to his people. It will be a witness to them.
1 Gary T. Meadors, Decision Making God’s Way: A New Model for Knowing God’s Will (Gary T. Meador, 2003), 114–115.
2 Timothy Keller and Kathy Keller, The Meaning of Marriage: Facing the Complexities of Commitment with the Wisdom of God, 1st ed. (New York: Dutton, 2011), 81.