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The Search for a Bride

The Covenant Continues (The Life of Isaac)

Part I

Series: Genesis: The Foundations of the Faith

Sermon by J. Ligon Duncan on Jun 6, 1999

Genesis 24:1-27

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Genesis 24:1-27

The Search for a Bride

If you have your Bibles with you I'd invite you to turn with me to Genesis, chapter 24. This week we begin a new series of studies in Genesis concentrating on the life and times of Isaac. Abraham is still alive, but Genesis 24 turns the focus upon Isaac and his future. Genesis 24, verse 1 through Genesis 25, verse 11 record for us the last days of Abraham. But they are in large measure taken up with establishing Isaac. The approaching death of the now aged Abraham raises some natural questions in the mind of the reader when you get to this point in the book of Genesis. What is going to become of Abraham's descendants when he is gone? Will they continue in a unique, covenant relationship with the Lord? How will the chosen line of promise withstand the innumerable threats to its continuance from within and without.

Well, the perpetuation of the promised seed here in Genesis, in spite of all these threats, furnishes one of the greatest exhibitions of divine providence ever recorded. So as we come to Genesis 24 we're going to see the first of these exhibitions of divine providence. Genesis 24, verses 1 through 67, is one of the longest chapters in all of the Bible. It breaks down basically into five parts. The first nine verses give you Abraham's charge to his servants. Then verse 10 through verse 27 gives you the story of the beginning of the servant's journey. Then if you look at verses 28 to 53 you see the servant's interaction with and explanation of his mission to the family of Rebekah. In verses 54 through 58 you see the servant go ahead and boldly ask to immediately take Rebekah home to Isaac. And then finally in the last verses of the chapter from 59 to 67 we see Rebekah's departure from her home and her marriage to Isaac.

Tonight, we're going to concentrate on the first two sections in our study of Genesis 24, verses 1 through 27. So let's hear God's holy word.

Genesis 24:1-27

Our Lord and our God we thank you for this glorious passage, and we pray that our faith would be strengthened by it. In Jesus' name, Amen.

The old saying goes, “It takes two to make a marriage.” A single daughter and an anxious mother. But in this passage the matchmaking is clearly in the hands of three: An aged father, now a widower. A very faithful servant, the oldest servant of the house and one above all else the gracious and sovereign God of Abraham.

But this passage is about much more than simply a God-fearing parent desiring a believing spouse for his child. This passage is about the continuation of the line of promise. And I'd like to look at it with you tonight in two parts. First of all, verses 1 through 9 where you see Abraham's charge and the oath that he makes with his servant. And then in verses 10 through 27 where we see the beginning of that faithful servant's journey.

I. Abraham's charge and oath.

First, let's begin in verses 1 through 9 where we see Abraham's instructions to his servant and his demands upon his faithful servant. And we learn in this passage that we never outgrow the need to trust in God. This passage displays for us faith as trust in divine providence. It begins with a reminder of Abraham's advanced age. He was now about 140 years old. And he was turning now to the final important task of his life, making sure that the line of promise continued, making sure that his son, Isaac, was well married. And we're told at the very beginning in verse 1 that Abraham was old and that the Lord had blessed him in every way. And those two statements remind us that we are never relieved of the responsibility to continue believing in God. Here Abraham is at an advanced age, and he's still being called upon to trust that the Lord will indeed be faithful to his promises. And even though the Lord had blessed him in every way, the most important blessing of the Lord lies ahead of him. And so it is with us, the most important blessing of the Lord always lies ahead of us. “To the very end,” Derek Kidner says, “To the very end God's will for Isaac continued to make demand on Abraham's faith.” And so right up to the end Abraham is called upon to trust that the Lord will indeed provide a bride for Isaac. The whole story here is a living illustration of Proverbs 3:6: “In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight.”

This story is so well told that to dissect it would be to do a disservice to it. It stands as a whole. It's beautifully told and it has obvious implications. Abraham calls his servant to him. He tells his servant that he wants to promise him that he will not marry his son, Isaac, to a woman of Canaan, nor will he take his son back to Mesopotamia for fear that Isaac will stay there and never return from the land. Abraham asks Him to give him a solemn vow that He will not do these things and that He will carry out the tasks that Abraham is requesting of him. And I'd like to look at some of the highlights of that particular part of the story.

From our vantage point, we can look back and we can see how the courageous obedience of a few people in a family matter can decisively shake the course of history. What if Abraham had allowed Isaac to enter marriage with the daughters of Canaan.? What if the servant had not persevered in the task which Abraham had given him? How would history have been impacted? So often the difficult decisions of life that we are called upon to make are right in the context of our own family. But we see from this passage how rewarding faithful obedience to God, even in those family matters are, in terms of His providence for His people. This chief servant is one of the great characters in the Bible. He's a minor character, but his character stands out. We’re not told who he is. Maybe this is still Eliezer of Damascus about whom we were told about back in Genesis 15. But this servant has common sense and piety and faith. He is utterly devoted to his master, Abraham, and he is a prayerful man. And all those qualities commend him to us.

As we look at this passage, several things stand out. First of all when you look at verse 2. This strange ritual of the servant placing his hands under the thigh of Abraham to affirm the oath which Abraham is asking from him. What in the world is going on there? Well, apparently, this particular action is designed to remind the servant of two things, the solemnity of the oath that he is taking, and the connection of his obedience of to this oath and the fulfillment of the promise of the covenant of circumcision. In this passage the covenant is being reinforced by this ritual action. It's interesting isn't it, that at the end of the book of Genesis, in Genesis 47, verse 29, Jacob's dying charge to Joseph is ritually enacted in the same way.

Notice also this particular request of Abraham in verses 3 and 4. What is the significance of Abraham not wanting Isaac to marry into the daughters of Canaan? Perhaps it is connected with Abraham's knowledge that God is going to bring destruction to the Canaanites. You remember in Genesis 15 that the Lord had promised him that there would be a day when the sins of the Canaanites would be so filled up as to warrant God's judgment and destruction. So Abraham had heard from the lips of the Lord that God was going to bring curse and destruction on the Canaanites, and therefore he did not want to intermingle the line of promise with the line which would be condemned. Certainly Abraham's action here foreshadows the Old Testament and the New Testament command of God that believers marry only in the Lord.

Notice also in verse 5 how this servant shows wisdom in not too quickly agreeing to this oath. Abraham is asking the servant to do something, or to promise to do something, which in some senses is beyond his capacity to promise. This servant cannot guarantee that a woman will want to come back from Mesopotamia to Canaan to live with a man that she's never met before. And so the servant wisely asks, “Well, Master, what if she doesn't want to come? What if I go all that way and no one wants to come back?” And Abraham tells him two things: “God is going to provide a wife for my son Isaac and don't you dare marry him to a Canaanite and don't you dare take him back to the land of Mesopotamia.”

And so in Abraham's reaction we see his attitude toward God's providence in verses 6 through 8. Abraham is convinced that God is going to provide not only a wife, but the right wife for Isaac. And he's so convinced of that, that he refuses to make either of two mistakes. He refuses to give in and lower his standards and see Isaac married off to a Canaanite. And he refuses to allow Isaac to go back to the land of Mesopotamia, where he might stay, and therefore never, ever take possession of the land of promise which God has made to Abraham.

By the way, in Hebrews, chapter 11, verse 13, this very thing is mentioned that at any time Abraham could have turned and gone back to Mesopotamia. But because he believed in God's promise he did not do that. And this is just a fulfillment of that faith of Abraham in God.

Now this passage has obvious implications for Christian parents’ prayers for their children's marriages. It reminds us of the importance of marrying in the Lord and of praying for the spouses of our children in the future. But ultimately this passage is about God continuing the promised seed of Abraham. Vanderwaal says this: “Abraham must have been sorely tempted to establish a close relationship with one of the local families by marrying Isaac to one of their daughters. By virtue of such a marriage, Abraham and Isaac would no longer be regarded as ‘foreigners’ in the land of Canaan. And yet such a marriage would have involved a Canaanizing of the seed of promise.” And so Abraham would not do that. Again, Abraham trusts in God's providence. He believes that the Lord will provide and up to the very end of his life he is still waiting and resting and trusting in the Lord to fulfill his promises to him. What an example he is to us of faith as trust in divine providence.

II. The servant's journey.

Then we look at verses 10 through 27, the beginning of this journey of Abraham's faithful servant. And again in this passage we see the two sides of faith.

Faith has both a passive side and an active side. Faith has a side in which we rest in God's providences and faith has an implication whereby we act on God's word. Faith in God requires trust, resting in God's promises, and faith requires action. It flows forth in obedience to God's word. And so in this passage in the actions of the servant we see a beautiful combination of prayerful trust in God, canny decisions on the part of this servants, but also humble reliance upon the Lord, as well as humble honor for the Lord.

Let's look at the passage together, beginning in verse 10. Camels are mentioned here. The servant takes ten camels with him to the land of Mesopotamia. Camels in those days were a sign of wealth and station. We know that camels were not used on a widespread basis until about 800 years after the time of Abraham. The only people who could have afforded domesticated camels in the time of the time of Abraham were the super rich. So when this servant shows up at the well with ten camels, this young lady knows that he comes from a family of means. When a servant shows up with ten camels, how many camels must the master have? And so this is a sign of wealth and station.

Note also the combination of common sense, wisdom in the servant's choosing of the place where he is going to land. He stays by the well. This is a natural place where he could meet eligible young bachelorettes, and yet he's prayerfully dependant upon the Lord. The minute he gets to the well, he begins to lift up an urgent prayer to God. Realize what the servant has done. He has traveled perhaps for a month. He has covered 450 miles, praying along the way, not really knowing exactly where he is going. He arrives at the city or the outskirts of the city of Nahor, and he goes to a well and he pauses there and he lifts up a prayer that the Lord would show him the right woman for his master's son, Isaac. And again, let's look at some of the high points in this wonderful story.

Look at the servant's prayer. And I'd like you to see two things that the servant emphasizes. First of all, he pleads the covenant of God with his master, Abraham. This does not mean that the servant does not acknowledge Abraham's God as his God. This simply means that the servant recognizes the uniqueness of God's promises and relationship with Abraham. And so he pleads the covenant promises of God as he prays. “O Lord, the God of my master, Abraham, please grant me success today.” And then he asks for a sign that will show the very qualities that God prizes in the wife of Isaac, a woman who is friendly, who is hospitable, who is humble, who is hardworking. He requests for a response that is far out of the ordinary. He says, Lord, when I asked this woman for a drink, cause her to further offer to water my camels. And this was an enormous task. The jars that would have held the water with which she would have been drawing would probably have held three gallons. Thirsty camels after days in the wilderness are known to drink as many as twenty-five gallons. There were ten thirsty camels. We’re talking about 250 gallons of water. The servant is asking for a woman who is not only going to give him a drink from her jar, but who is going to fetch 250 gallons for his camels. This is an out of the ordinary request. Almost instantaneously Rebekah appears, and in verse 17 we are told that the servant sprints for Rebekah. I don't know whether it was because she was so beautiful, or because he was so anxious. But for whatever reason, he sprints to Rebekah and he asks for a drink of water.

Verses 15 through 21 describe in excruciating detail the tense, anxious waiting of this servant to see if his prayers are going to be answered. Sure enough, after happily offering him a drink from her jar, she empties the jar and she proceeds to begin to fill and fill and fill her jars of water and water these thirsty camels of the servant. We are told in this passage that the servant stood there in silence watching her, wondering if this was the woman that God had intended for his master's son, Isaac. When she finished her arduous and kindly work, he produced bracelets and rings. Now we're told that those bracelets and rings were worth more than ten and a half shekels. That would have been the equivalent of a common man's wages for a year. So here's the picture. This woman has just perhaps fetched forty or has gone on forty trips to fetch water for the camels. Hard work, but he's basically breaking out fifteen thousand dollars worth of jewelry and saying here. This would have made an impression, to say the least. And so he gives her the jewelry. This would have been, of course, very important to her in showing her that this servant represented a master of considerable means. That would have been an important factor, no doubt, in her willingness to leave Mesopotamia and make a one month's journey to a land where she had never been to marry a man whom she had never seen or met.

But verses 22 through 25 are the clincher. Here the servant learns who this woman is who has just watered the camels. She turns out to be part of Abraham's brother's family. She is a granddaughter of his brother, Nahor, by Milcah. What is the servant's reaction? He instantaneously falls on his face and he worships God. Success inflates the ego of the natural man, but it humbles the man of God. First, he thanks God. Then he thinks of his master, and then he says that all of his success is due to the Lord's guidance of him. Can you imagine Rebekah's response to his prayer? Here she is, having just met this man, she's just received $15,000 in jewelry. She tells him who she is. How does he respond? He falls on his face and worships God after she tells him who her parents are. In the midst of the prayer she hears him say this name. Oh, I thank you, I praise You, O Lord, the God of my master, Abraham. She has grown up hearing the name of Abraham in her household. He was that strange relation who had many, many years before gone off to a land and had never been heard of since. And now this stranger that she has met at the well, who has shown her kindness for kindness is now praying to the God of his master, Abraham. What an impact that would have been upon her! What an impact of God's providence. How wise, how gracious His providence.

You know the servant's response here is a real witness to us all. Male bravado would normally not respond in this way. Ladies, if you have ever been around men when they find a parking lot, the only parking space in a parking lot, and say, yes, am I good or what? Or when they do something that really is not to their credit and they begin to praise themselves. You see the spirituality of this servant. He travels 450 miles. He travels for a month, he goes right to the right place, he gets the girl, and he still praise God for it. This is the work of grace in a man's heart. There is no chest feeding, there is no taking credit for what God has done as if he was the one who accomplished this. As canny as this man was, as wise, as shrewd as he was, he gives all the praise to God. God's providence is sweet. It's worth trusting in and resting in even as we obey the principles of the word and the promise of God. That's just what this servant did. What an example he is to us all. Let's pray.

Our Lord and our God, we thank you for this glorious story of how You provide for Your people against all hope, against all odds, against all expectations in the most surprising of ways you bring together your grand design. As we see this, we pray that by faith, we would appropriate the truth for ourselves, and that we, too, would walk in faith, trusting in You, resting in Your promises, and obeying Your word. We ask these things through Jesus’ Christ our Lord, Amen.

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