A Wife for Isaac
Philippe R. Sterling
A philosopher was asked to explain the meaning of history. He took a length of string and with a flick of his finger turned it into an intricate design. With another flick he let the string unravel. He seemed to imply that there is no grand design to history but history is simply a random unraveling of names and dates and places. He seemed to say that your life is but a meaningless twist in a string of history.
The Bible looks at history and presents a different story, a story with meaning, a story under God’s control and direction. The Bible advances the doctrine of God’s providence.
The doctrine of providence deals with God’s government of the created world and God’s direction of human affairs. God’s direction of human affairs extends to both the public realm and the personal realm, to international affairs and interpersonal affairs, to the relationship between North Korea and the United States and to the relationship between Philippe and Brenda. Our focus today is going to be on God’s direction in the personal realm of our lives.
There are two sides to the personal aspect of providence: the activity of God in the events of life and the responsibility of men and women in the events of life. Genesis 24 illustrates these two sides of providence.
Genesis 24 presents a drama of God’s providence, a story of God’s activity in the lives of His faithful people to make their way straight and successful. From it we can learn how to live our lives in such a way that at its end we can testify “God led me all the way.”
Genesis 24 is the longest chapter in Genesis. It is about Abraham finding a wife for his son Isaac through his servant. It is about Rebekah’s willingness to leave her family and travel across a great desert to share her life with a man she had never seen before. The emphasis of the chapter is on the providential activity of God in the circumstances of His faithful servants. It is a story of God’s guidance and human faithfulness. There are five parts to the story:
- The commission given by Abraham to his most trusted servant to find a wife for Isaac among his own people.
- The course of the servant’s journey across the desert to the city of Nahor and his meeting with Rebekah at the well.
- The communication of the servant’s mission and the family’s positive response to his request.
- The contract that finalizes the betrothal.
- The completion of the mission in the marriage of Isaac to Rebekah.
Review of the Drama
I. The Commission: Abraham entrust to his servant the responsibility of finding a wife for Isaac requiring that
he swears to fulfill his task (24:1-9).
A. Abraham is old having greatly experienced the blessing of God (1).
B. Abraham charges his servant to go to his relatives and find a wife for Isaac (2-8).
C. Abraham requires the servant to take an oath (9).
II. The Course: After the servant arrives at his destination, he prays for a sign of God’s guidance and then praises
God for sending Rebekah as the sign (24:10-27).
A. The servant arrives at the city of Nahor and prays that God would be faithful to Abraham by clearly guiding
him to Isaac’s future wife (10-14).
B. God sends Rebekah to the well as the answer to the prayer where she displays kindness and reveals
C. The servant acknowledges God’s faithfulness in guiding him to Rebekah (26-27).
III. The Communication: After Laban receives the servant, he recounts his pilgrimage and resolves to settle
the betrothal (24:28-49).
A. Laban extends hospitality to the servant and his party (28-32).
B. The servant recounts to Laban his commission from Abraham and his experience of God’s guidance (33-48).
C. The servant seeks to settle the betrothal (49).
IV. The Contract: Laban finalizes the betrothal of Rebekah and sends them off with a blessing (24:50-59).
A. After Laban agrees to the marriage, the servant praises God (50-54a).
B. The servant requests that he return with Rebekah immediately but Laban stalls and consults with Rebekah
who agrees to go (54b-58).
C. The family sends Rebekah away with a blessing (59-60).
V. The Completion: Rebekah returns with the servant and becomes the wife of Isaac (24:60-67).
A. Rebekah returns with the servant (61-65).
B. The servant recounts to Isaac everything that transpired (66).
C. Isaac weds Rebekah and is comforted by her (67).
Summary: Abraham, trusting in God’s loyal love to provide a wife for his son Isaac, entrusts the responsibility of the betrothal to his servant, who loyally carries out his task under the providential guidance of God.
Reflection on the Drama
Two things interplay in the outworking of God’s design for our lives: God’s providential control and our proven character.
I. The Proven Character of the Actors: Believers have the responsibility of acting in faith.
Let us consider a few of the ways the servant and Rebekah demonstrate their character.
A. The Character of the Servant: His attitude and his actions illustrate the qualities of faithful service.
1. He acts with obedient faith.
He was at hand ready to work. Informed of his task, he committed himself to the task. He promptly set out on his important errand.
2. He acts with prayerful faith.
He bathes the expedition in prayer. He fervently seeks God’s direction and blessing on every step of the journey.
One part of the servant’s prayer is important. It involves a test upon which the story turns. This was not a haphazard test, but a test appropriate to the task at hand. He had thought out his prayer carefully.
3. He acts with grateful faith.
Upon seeing God’s hand in the events, the servant immediately worships and praises.
4. He acts with focused faith.
The servant refuses to be distracted from his mission. He tactfully pursues the interests of Abraham until he experiences success.
B. The Character of Rebekah: Her attitude and actions illustrate the qualities of faithful response.
1. She acts with kindness.
She offers the visiting stranger a drink and then offers to draw water for his camels. A camel drinks more than twenty gallons of water, especially after a long day’s journey in hot lands. Here were ten camels! She makes repeated trips from the well to the watering trough. She does this willingly and energetically for a stranger.
2. She acts with decisiveness.
When Laban asks Rebekah “Will you go with this man?” she replies “I will go.” If this was of God, she was prepared to go immediately. This puts her in in a similar spiritual line as Abraham.
When God indicates new directions for us, we should go. If we delay we might accomplish little. Ten days will turn into ten months and then ten years, and the time for service might pass.
This is a story that intertwines human activity with divine activity. Let us now look at God’s activity.
II. The Providential Care of the Director: Believers may be confident that God will lead them in their faithful actions.
The story emphasizes the providential working of God in the circumstances of His faithful servants. God providentially ensures the fulfillment of His promise by guiding Abraham’s servant in acquiring a wife for Isaac.
A. The story shows God’s direction of events from behind the scenes.
God is the hidden director of all the events in the story. The servant’s words, “The LORD has guided me” (verses 27 and 48) capture God’s role.
God is behind the scenes, directing the acts. The story records no direct word from God, no divine miracle. It does not even restate the Abrahamic covenant. It is unique in Genesis, yet realistic for our experience today. It emphasizes the role of faith, expressed in personal prayer and perception of circumstantial evidences of God’s working, because God is not visibly active.
B. The story reveals God’s plan to bless mankind.
The story reveals more than God’s providence. It is also part of the development of His plan to bless mankind. Potential hurdles are overcome. The servant could have failed. Laban might have refused. Rebekah might have been unwilling. God steered through all the hazards and put all the parts together. The marriage of the son takes place. The line of the seed that leads to Jesus continues. God directed in the continuance of the seed and the Abrahamic covenant.
We marvel at God’s providence in this event. We should not let the fact of our human responsibility escape our notice and our practice.
III. The Prescribed Course for the Audience: We who act in faith can be fully assured of God’s leading.
A. Let us so live that we can testify “God led me all the way.”
Would you like to be confident that you are in the will of God? Would you like to be assured of the fact that God is guiding your life for your good and His glory? If you put the principles that emerge from this passage into your practice then you can be sure.
1. Receive instruction.
Abraham instructed his servant on what he required of him. The Bible instructs us on what God requires of us. You need to inform yourselves of God’s instructions.
What are some explicit examples of God’s will for us? Our sexual purity (1 Thess. 4:3). Our thankful attitude (1 Thess. 5:18). Our silencing of critics by doing right (1 Peter 2:15).
2. Faithfully follow the instructions.
The servant is faithful in following the instructions of Abraham. We are to be faithful in following the instructions of the Bible. The Bible does not give us a road map for our lives but it does give us a compass. We need to follow the direction to which the compass points.
The servant asked God to guide him in the choice of a wife for Isaac. We can ask God to guide us in our choices.
As the servant prayed, he kept on working. Prayer is no substitute for action. We are to pray and work at the same time. Prayer does not make work unnecessary but makes it effective.
4. Discern and test circumstances.
God answered the prayer of the servant and led him. God will guide us. Now, the will of God cannot be divined (forecasted), but it can be discerned afterwards, after we have prayerfully and obediently discharged our duty. We can look back on our circumstances and testify “God has led me all the way.”
It may be legitimate to look for evidence of God’s leading in the circumstances. Note that the sign which the servant requested was practical. After the occurrence of the sign, the servant did not give himself blindly to first impression but tested the circumstances.
5. Praise God.
The servant praised God for His leading. The praise is an important part of the story. It is repeated in the passage. We are to praise God for His work in our lives. We are not to receive the benefits of God without offering praise in return. Cultivate an attitude of gratitude.
6. Seek the affirmation of those involved.
Everyone recognized the leading of God in the matter and granted their permission. God’s leading in our lives will be recognized and affirmed by those who are sensitive to His ways.
7. Complete your task.
The servant completed his mission when Isaac and Rebekah were united in marriage. God calls us to be faithful in completing our mission. Let us so live that we may say as Paul said, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith” (2 Tim. 4:7).
B. Let us so live that God can declare “Well done, good and faithful servant.”
Paul looked forward to the crown that the Lord will award him on the day of His appearing (2 Tim. 4:8). Let us so live that we will gain Christ’s praise and reward.
Some years ago there was a play acted on two stages. On a big stage players played their parts. Over to one side there was a little stage where one actor played the role of the playwright, scribbling the lines while the players played. Whenever the actors missed a line or messed up a step, he would make the proper adjustments. In the second act he leaped across the stage and played a part, rearranged the players, added new lines, and held the play together. Back and forth he went, writing, directing, and entering until at last he brought the play to a climactic curtain call.
That’s the picture! God writing the script, directing the actors, and entering on the human stage to play a part. God will bring the story to His great conclusion. However, there are two sides to providence: Divine guidance and human faithfulness.
If we faithfully and prayerfully do the revealed will of God then we can be assured of His guidance. God leads those who prayerfully and obediently do His will.