This article is part of a series of articles that resulted from my time preaching through the book of Genesis. The commentary on the passage is my own, resulting from hours of research and exegetical study. It is my intent to draw a biblical theology chapter by chapter through the book of Genesis that places the events of the narratives into the broad picture of the entire Bible, demonstrating the progressiveness of theology and the sufficiency of every Word of Scripture. It is my prayer that these articles are helpful to those seeking a better understanding of the book of Genesis and of the Bible as a whole. The sermon series and other resources can be found at www.fbcroxana.com.
God, the creator of heaven and earth, has a plan to redeem mankind and all creation from sin and death. He desires to restore all things to the perfection of creation as at the first. To do that, God singled out one family through whom He would send the Redeemer, the seed of the woman promised in Genesis 3. He promised to turn this family—starting with one man, Abraham, and his wife, Sarah—into a great and mighty nation who would inherit the land of Canaan and bring blessing upon the whole earth. God had miraculously given Abraham and Sarah a child, and now that Sarah had died, Abraham knew it was time to search for a wife for Isaac.
1 Now Abraham was old, advanced in age; and the LORD had blessed Abraham in every way.
2 Abraham said to his servant, the oldest of his household, who had charge of all that he owned, “Please place your hand under my thigh, 3 and I will make you swear by the LORD, the God of heaven and the God of earth, that you shall not take a wife for my son from the daughters of the Canaanites, among whom I live, 4 but you will go to my country and to my relatives, and take a wife for my son Isaac.”
It was important that Isaac and his family maintain a separate identity from the Canaanites. They would not inherit the land through intermarriage or friendships. They were promised the land by the unbreakable covenant of the LORD. If Isaac were to marry a Canaanite woman, his family would possibly be drawn away from the LORD into idolatry so that they would displease the LORD and come under His judgment. So Abraham sent his servant back to his homeland in order to secure a wife for his son.
5 The servant said to him, “Suppose the woman is not willing to follow me to this land; should I take your son back to the land from where you came?”
The concern of the servant was that he might never find a woman who would be willing to leave her family to move to a strange land and marry a man they had never met. How long was he to search until he gave up? In his mind, it would have been much easier to take Isaac back to Mesopotamia to live there and obtain a wife.
6 Then Abraham said to him, “Beware that you do not take my son back there! 7 The LORD, the God of heaven, who took me from my father’s house and from the land of my birth, and who spoke to me and who swore to me, saying, ‘To your descendants I will give this land,’ He will send His angel before you, and you will take a wife for my son from there. 8 But if the woman is not willing to follow you, then you will be free from this my oath; only do not take my son back there.” 9 So the servant placed his hand under the thigh of Abraham his master, and swore to him concerning this matter.
Earlier, Abraham had called the LORD ‘the God of heaven’ and ‘the God of earth’ (24:3). His understanding of God and His covenant was guiding this decision to send the servant to obtain a wife from his homeland. And this understanding of God and His promises assured him that God would make the servant successful in this venture. If God did not send His angel before the servant, it was according to His plan, and Abraham knew that God would provide a wife for Isaac. Thus, he prohibited Isaac from leaving the land, because he trusted that God would give his family the land of Canaan.
10 Then the servant took ten camels from the camels of his master, and set out with a variety of good things of his master’s in his hand; and he arose and went to Mesopotamia, to the city of Nahor. 11 He made the camels kneel down outside the city by the well of water at evening time, the time when women go out to draw water.
The servant took many gifts for the woman and her family. One camel can carry more than five hundred pounds. There were other men assisting the servant, but the servant continues to be the main character throughout the narrative. The narrator skips the details of the journey to Mesopotamia, and picks up with the arrival of the caravan of camels at Nahor, the city named after Abraham’s brother.
How would the servant find the woman whom the LORD had prepared to be Isaac’s wife? He had a plan:
12 He said, “O LORD, the God of my master Abraham, please grant me success today, and show lovingkindness to my master Abraham. 13 Behold, I am standing by the spring, and the daughters of the men of the city are coming out to draw water; 14 now may it be that the girl to whom I say, ‘Please let down your jar so that I may drink,’ and who answers, ‘Drink, and I will water your camels also’—may she be the one whom You have appointed for Your servant Isaac; and by this I will know that You have shown lovingkindness to my master.”
The servant prayed to the LORD, the God of his master. His prayer demonstrates a developed theology of God as sovereign over the affairs of men and faithful to His covenants. He knew that the LORD would show lovingkindness to Abraham according to His promises. Thus, he was sure that God had appointed a woman for Isaac, and that God had sent His angel ahead to orchestrate the circumstances of the search.
15 Before he had finished speaking, behold, Rebekah who was born to Bethuel the son of Milcah, the wife of Abraham’s brother Nahor, came out with her jar on her shoulder. 16 The girl was very beautiful, a virgin, and no man had had relations with her; and she went down to the spring and filled her jar and came up. 17 Then the servant ran to meet her, and said, “Please let me drink a little water from your jar.” 18 She said, “Drink, my lord”; and she quickly lowered her jar to her hand, and gave him a drink. 19 Now when she had finished giving him a drink, she said, “I will draw also for your camels until they have finished drinking.” 20 So she quickly emptied her jar into the trough, and ran back to the well to draw, and she drew for all his camels. 21 Meanwhile, the man was gazing at her in silence, to know whether the LORD had made his journey successful or not.
The prayer of the servant was not even finished, and Rebekah appeared. Just as he had prayed, she gave him water and offered to water his camels too. Watering the ten camels was a generous offer, for camels can drink up to fifty gallons of water at a time. It was remarkable providence that she was at the well at the same time as the servant and fulfilled the signs of the servant’s prayer. And the servant did not have to wait by the well for her to come! Only God could answer prayer to specifically and quickly!
22 When the camels had finished drinking, the man took a gold ring weighing a half-shekel and two bracelets for her wrists weighing ten shekels in gold, 23 and said, “Whose daughter are you? Please tell me, is there room for us to lodge in your father’s house?” 24 She said to him, “I am the daughter of Bethuel, the son of Milcah, whom she bore to Nahor.” 25 Again she said to him, “We have plenty of both straw and feed, and room to lodge in.”
The servant repaid the girl with jewelry. She must have been amazed that he would offer her such gifts just for providing water. Rebekah then identifies herself as the granddaughter of Nahor, Abraham’s brother, and offered the men and the camels a place to lodge. This was again, a generous offer toward a stranger.
26 Then the man bowed low and worshiped the LORD. 27 He said, “Blessed be the LORD, the God of my master Abraham, who has not forsaken His lovingkindness and His truth toward my master; as for me, the LORD has guided me in the way to the house of my master’s brothers.”
Before the servant explained everything to Rebekah, he bowed in prayer to the LORD, blessing Him for making his journey successful. He marveled that God had guided him to the house of Abraham’s brothers, and rejoiced that God had indeed kept His lovingkindness according to His covenant to Abraham. The girl must have heard the prayer and gathered some of the details of this man’s visit:
28 Then the girl ran and told her mother’s household about these things. 29 Now Rebekah had a brother whose name was Laban; and Laban ran outside to the man at the spring. 30 When he saw the ring and the bracelets on his sister’s wrists, and when he heard the words of Rebekah his sister, saying, “This is what the man said to me,” he went to the man; and behold, he was standing by the camels at the spring. 31 And he said, “Come in, blessed of the LORD! Why do you stand outside since I have prepared the house, and a place for the camels?” 32 So the man entered the house. Then Laban unloaded the camels, and he gave straw and feed to the camels, and water to wash his feet and the feet of the men who were with him.
Laban, who will become a prominent character in later narratives, treated the servant with great hospitality. One already gets the sense that Laban’s eye was fixed on the gold that Rebekah was wearing. Already, it is clear that Laban is motivated by greed. He treated the servant and the rest of the men with great kindness, and treated them to dinner.
33 But when food was set before him to eat, he said, “I will not eat until I have told my business.” And he said, “Speak on.” 34 So he said, “I am Abraham’s servant. 35 The LORD has greatly blessed my master, so that he has become rich; and He has given him flocks and herds, and silver and gold, and servants and maids, and camels and donkeys. 36 Now Sarah my master’s wife bore a son to my master in her old age, and he has given him all that he has. 37 My master made me swear, saying, ‘You shall not take a wife for my son from the daughters of the Canaanites, in whose land I live; 38 but you shall go to my father’s house and to my relatives, and take a wife for my son.’ 39 I said to my master, ‘Suppose the woman does not follow me.’ 40 He said to me, ‘The LORD, before whom I have walked, will send His angel with you to make your journey successful, and you will take a wife for my son from my relatives and from my father’s house; 41 then you will be free from my oath, when you come to my relatives; and if they do not give her to you, you will be free from my oath.’
Abraham’s servant launched into a long recounting of his mission. He left no detail out, even relating how Abraham was gracious in permitting the servant to be free of the oath if he could not find a wife for Isaac. In his story, the servant gives all glory to God for the providential meeting at the well.
42 “So I came today to the spring, and said, ‘O LORD, the God of my master Abraham, if now You will make my journey on which I go successful; 43 behold, I am standing by the spring, and may it be that the maiden who comes out to draw, and to whom I say, “Please let me drink a little water from your jar”; 44 and she will say to me, “You drink, and I will draw for your camels also”; let her be the woman whom the LORD has appointed for my master’s son.’
45 “Before I had finished speaking in my heart, behold, Rebekah came out with her jar on her shoulder, and went down to the spring and drew, and I said to her, ‘Please let me drink.’ 46 She quickly lowered her jar from her shoulder, and said, ‘Drink, and I will water your camels also’; so I drank, and she watered the camels also. 47 Then I asked her, and said, ‘Whose daughter are you?’ And she said, ‘The daughter of Bethuel, Nahor’s son, whom Milcah bore to him’; and I put the ring on her nose, and the bracelets on her wrists. 48 And I bowed low and worshiped the LORD, and blessed the LORD, the God of my master Abraham, who had guided me in the right way to take the daughter of my master’s kinsman for his son. 49 So now if you are going to deal kindly and truly with my master, tell me; and if not, let me know, that I may turn to the right hand or the left.”
There is no sales pressure. The servant did not press Laban and Bethuel for a positive response, but presented the matter to them and left it up to them. He knew that if the matter was indeed of the LORD, he did not need to pressure them. God would lead them to make the correct response. The circumstances were so providential that Laban and Bethuel could only reply:
50 Then Laban and Bethuel replied, “The matter comes from the LORD; so we cannot speak to you bad or good. 51 Here is Rebekah before you, take her and go, and let her be the wife of your master’s son, as the LORD has spoken.”
They recognized that this was the will of the LORD, and knew they could not stand in the way. Due to the presence of household gods in Laban’s house during the Jacob narrative, it is unclear if they worshipped the LORD. But they were unable to deny that the circumstances were extraordinary.
52 When Abraham’s servant heard their words, he bowed himself to the ground before the LORD. 53 The servant brought out articles of silver and articles of gold, and garments, and gave them to Rebekah; he also gave precious things to her brother and to her mother. 54 Then he and the men who were with him ate and drank and spent the night. When they arose in the morning, he said, “Send me away to my master.” 55 But her brother and her mother said, “Let the girl stay with us a few days, say ten; afterward she may go.” 56 He said to them, “Do not delay me, since the LORD has prospered my way. Send me away that I may go to my master.” 57 And they said, “We will call the girl and consult her wishes.” 58 Then they called Rebekah and said to her, “Will you go with this man?” And she said, “I will go.” 59 Thus they sent away their sister Rebekah and her nurse with Abraham’s servant and his men.
It was obvious that God was orchestrating everything quickly, so the servant was not willing to be delayed. His hurry will prove wise, for there is yet one more providential meeting to occur. Rebekah’s family was not willing to send her away so quickly, but Rebekah was willing to go with the man immediately. So they had no choice but to send her away.
60 They blessed Rebekah and said to her,
“May you, our sister,
Become thousands of ten thousands,
And may your descendants possess
The gate of those who hate them.”
Their blessing corresponds well with the Abrahamic covenant. Her offspring would indeed become a great and mighty nation.
61 Then Rebekah arose with her maids, and they mounted the camels and followed the man. So the servant took Rebekah and departed.
The journey is again skipped over in order to highlight the chance meeting in the evening:
62 Now Isaac had come from going to Beer-lahai-roi; for he was living in the Negev.
For whatever reason, Isaac was living in the southern part of Canaan. He had just arrived back home from the well where Hagar saw the angel of the LORD.
63 Isaac went out to meditate in the field toward evening; and he lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, camels were coming. 64 Rebekah lifted up her eyes, and when she saw Isaac she dismounted from the camel. 65 She said to the servant, “Who is that man walking in the field to meet us?” And the servant said, “He is my master.” Then she took her veil and covered herself. 66 The servant told Isaac all the things that he had done. 67 Then Isaac brought her into his mother Sarah’s tent, and he took Rebekah, and she became his wife, and he loved her; thus Isaac was comforted after his mother’s death.
God brought Isaac out to meet Rebekah. It is unclear whether Isaac even knew that the servant had gone to find him a wife. So through this chance meeting, God brought the two together in order to become husband and wife. And this was not a loveless marriage, even though arranged. For Isaac loved Rebekah.
Just as Abraham and the servant trusted God to be faithful to His covenant, so must we know that God will be faithful to His promises. To do so, we must know the promises. They are found in His Word, which we should set our hearts to know. At the same time, God does not wish us to be passive, but to actively wait on Him and engage Him in prayer to guide us into His will at the present. The attitude that must prevail is one of worship, unafraid to bow down to God and give Him the glory.
Many generations after Abraham and Isaac died, Jesus was born. He is the Messiah, the seed of the woman promised so long ago. He lived by the Word of God, becoming obedient in every respect. He humbly died on the cross, according to the will of God, to take away the sins of all people in the world that believe in Him. He did this by taking the wrath of God meant for them upon Himself. He bore their sins on the cross, and was resurrected three days later. He ascended to God’s right hand, where He awaits the time when He will come to rescue His own out of the world and judge those in the world who do not believe. He will then reign on the throne of David, His ancestor according to the flesh. Having completed all things promised to Abraham, He will then hand over the kingdom to His God and Father, and God will rule forever over the redeemed and perfected world.