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One Way to Find a Wife -- a study of Genesis 24

Updated: Mar 11

Trusting God is a good "life plan".


Bible Study Ideas and Commentary for Genesis 24

This week's passage -- a nearly-bizarre story of very specific prayers and even more specific fulfillments -- actually teaches us a lot about Abraham's faith and how it rubbed off on his household. We also meet Rebekah, a "new Abraham" who is willing to leave her family and home and go where God sends her.

By this I will know that you have shown kindness to my master. (24:14)

When We Studied This Passage in 2015

We actually focused on the verses at the beginning of the chapter, so by all means skims this post for more of the context:

I had sections on

  • Founding Fathers

  • Arranged marriages

  • Chains of succession

  • Betrothal gifts

  • "Hesed" (lo


Getting Started: Things to Think About

The Toughest / Strangest Thing Your Boss Ever Asked You to Do

This is a favorite internet topic, and I'm not always sure I believe the internet. But, here are some things with reputable sources that are just believable enough ...

  • My boss asked me to buy a rifle for him, and he would reimburse me.

  • My boss asked me to come up with a science fair project for her daughter.

  • My boss asked me to remove her stitches.

  • My boss asked me to help plan her wedding.

  • My boss asked me to like all of his LinkedIn articles.

  • My boss asked me to help the janitor do HVAC work.

  • My boss asked me to run the company while he was on vacation for a week.

  • My boss asked me to search the dumpster for a document we accidently tossed.


Those are pretty good, but how about, "Go find a wife for my son, and you can't take him with you to meet her."


Yeah, I didn't think so.


So, what about you? What's the strangest thing you've ever been asked to do by your boss? (Or you could ask What's the hardest thing you've been ask to do?)


[Serious Aside: The relationship between Abraham and his unnamed servant actually speaks very well of both of them. The servant is honored to do this task (and Abraham isn't up to it). I think the way we feel about the tasks we are given in our jobs depends a great deal on our relationship with the person who gave us the task. Just pointing that out. But I still can't help but laugh about what must have been going through this poor man's mind as he sat next to a well in a strange country...]


How You Were Introduced to Your Significant Other

This week's passage gives us two ways of looking at this -- we have the servant who is looking for Isaac's wife ("I wanted someone to voluntarily water my camels"), and we have Isaac ("You brought me someone who voluntarily watered your camels?").


How did you meet / how were you introduced to your significant other?


Shelly and I love our story, as I know many of you love your stories. A person she sat next to in a class at Wichita State started inviting her to her Bible study group. Shelly eventually said, "Will you stop pestering me if I go with you one time?" As you might have guessed, I was in the group. I helped lead the singing. I came straight from my engineering job at Koch, so I was always overdressed (did not impress her). Anyway, Shelly met Jesus in that group. To say that she only had eyes for Jesus in those months would be an understatement. I eventually convinced her to go on a date with me via the "it's a free meal" argument to a college student. And there you go. Our first date was in March, and we got married in July. We were so young.


Y'all have some great stories, too. I never get tired of hearing "how we met" stories.


But to be fair, Isaac and Rebekah's story is pretty tough to top.

 

Where We Are in Genesis

We skipped a chapter-and-a-half, and there are two critical events:

  1. Abraham's brother had kids.

  2. Abraham's wife died.


If we didn't know the rest of the story, these verses would seem tacked on:

22:20 Now after these things Abraham was told, “Milcah also has borne sons to your brother Nahor: 21 Uz his firstborn, his brother Buz, Kemuel the father of Aram, 22 Chesed, Hazo, Pildash, Jidlaph, and Bethuel.” 23 And Bethuel fathered Rebekah.

But in fact, they're pretty critical to this week's passage.


At the beginning of chapter 24, Abraham makes it very clear to his servant that Isaac must not marry a Canaanite. A logical conclusion is that Abraham learned his lesson from his experience with Hagar and decided that family was trustworthy (and no, no incest jokes! we talked about this before; the world was very different back then). And lo and behold, we just learned that Abraham's brother had a whole bunch of sons who might have had daughters.

Remember that Abraham left his father's family in Haran; that's almost certainly where his brother was still living. (In Genesis 27/28, we read that Laban was living in Haran, so I think it's a pretty good inference.) This map from the internet shows the common understanding of how long this journey was -- 500 miles!


It could interpreted that the town's name is also "Nahor". All that would mean is that Abraham's brother either founded the town or he became the most important resident of the town.


[We are supposed to think very highly of this servant! Is it strange that we never learn his name (though some scholars associate him with Eliezar)? I don't think so. This story is about Abraham and his family.]


And I believe that the timing is driven by Sarah's death. I really can't think of any reason why Abraham would have waited to find a wife for his son, unless it had something to do with Sarah. (According to 25:20, Isaac was 40 when he got married! That's very late in those days.) Perhaps Sarah had too close of a relationship with Isaac (after all, he was a child of God's promise and almost sacrificed by her husband) for there to be a comfortable marriage in Abraham's estimation.


(And no, I strongly discourage you from getting sidetracked on in-law dynamics this week.)


At the end of chapter 24, we read,

24:67 And Isaac brought her into the tent of his mother Sarah and took Rebekah to be his wife. Isaac loved her, and he was comforted after his mother’s death.

I'm doing some armchair psychology here, but perhaps that explains the timing.


The beginning of chapter 24 also has the odd "put your hand under my thigh" line. The only other place I see this is in chapter 49 between Jacob and Joseph. This is not a common custom; it is extremely intimate and serious.


Here is the setup for our passage:

24:7 The Lord, the God of heaven, who took me from my father’s house and from my native land, who spoke to me and swore to me, ‘I will give this land to your offspring’—he will send his angel before you, and you can take a wife for my son from there. 8 If the woman is unwilling to follow you, then you are free from this oath to me, but don’t let my son go back there.

Abraham has (rightly) concluded that if God is going to turn his family into a great nation, then He will make this critical step possible. Abraham's faith is so great that (1) he gives his servant an out if he is wrong, and (2) his servant completely believes him.


How strong is your faith in God? Is it so strong that it rubs off on the people around you?

 

Part 1: An Incredible Circumstance (Genesis 24:12-14)

12 “Lord, God of my master Abraham,” he prayed, “make this happen for me today, and show kindness to my master Abraham. 13 I am standing here at the spring where the daughters of the men of the town are coming out to draw water. 14 Let the girl to whom I say, ‘Please lower your water jug so that I may drink,’ and who responds, ‘Drink, and I’ll water your camels also’—let her be the one you have appointed for your servant Isaac. By this I will know that you have shown kindness to my master.”

Today, we are quick to quote "do not put the Lord your God to the test" right? So, what's different about this situation?


The servant's earnestness is palpable. He's in an awkward spot. His master Abraham truly believes that there is a wife for his son in this location, and he really doesn't know how to find that out. So, he just asks God for some help.


Look at the tone (as best as we can translate this into English). This isn't "demanding" or "skeptical" like we see with Zechariah in Luke 1; this is honest and respectful like we see with Mary. "I need help, and my master told me that You would help me."


But more than that, note that this is all about Abraham. The servant isn't asking for kindness for himself -- he's asking for kindness to Abraham. I find this very sincere, humble and selfless. And that's certainly why Abraham sent him on this task.


It's really not a difficult passage. There aren't difficult interpretive issues in it. There are two key lessons in this passage that we want to make clear:

  1. God superintends the fulfillment of His promises.

  2. Rebekah is like Abraham -- leaving her family to follow God.


The servant doesn't make an outlandish request. He "stakes out" the water source for the town, a place where all of the women are eventually going to come. And he's there in the evening, a normal time for women to come to the well. He just needs God's help identifying "Miss Right".


We can also look at the request the servant proposes to make of the girl/woman. It's actually extremely clever. What is the servant going to learn based on the response to this request?


This section of the lesson is about our faith in God as well as how we ask for God's help and guidance. What can we learn from Abraham's servant?


Aside on Camels

Camels are fantastic. ("Watch out, they spit.") First, realize that they don't store water in their hump! (They store fat.) But, their bloodstream is especially designed to store more water than other animals. Camels today can drink as much as 50 gallons of water in one quick sitting, and they "use" about 10 gallons for a day of walking.


How many camels did Abraham's servant take? (see verse 10) Let's say that they were going to drink about 30 gallons apiece (start doing math).


One gallon of water is about 8 pounds. Let's say that Rebekah is a fit woman and has no trouble carrying 5 gallons of water a long distance.


How many loads of water would Rebekah be volunteering to bring? You can check my math; I'm calling it a minimum of 60 loads of water.

A "spring" is not a "well". (Springs eventually became wells when people overused the spring.) Here's a picture of a spring in Egypt. You aren't drawing water from a well; you're kneeling and filling a jug. BUT animals would not have been allowed near it -- they would contaminate it. That's a lot of kneeling and scooping.


A few years ago, I emptied one of our birdbath fountains (about 60 gallons) by kneeling and scooping. Not carrying the water; just dumping it out onto the ground next to the fountain. I can't explain how bad I felt for the next few days.


What Abraham's servant was hoping would be volunteered for him was definitely a "she's the one" kinda thing. Like in this great meme from a few years ago.


 

Part 2: Sure Enough (Genesis 24:15-20)

15 Before he had finished speaking, there was Rebekah—daughter of Bethuel son of Milcah, the wife of Abraham’s brother Nahor—coming with a jug on her shoulder. 16 Now the girl was very beautiful, a virgin—no man had been intimate with her. She went down to the spring, filled her jug, and came up. 17 Then the servant ran to meet her and said, “Please let me have a little water from your jug.”18 She replied, “Drink, my lord.” She quickly lowered her jug to her hand and gave him a drink. 19 When she had finished giving him a drink, she said, “I’ll also draw water for your camels until they have had enough to drink.” 20 She quickly emptied her jug into the trough and hurried to the well again to draw water. She drew water for all his camels.

I love, love, love this story. By all intents and purposes, this is a pretty bold request. This is going to take a whi.....


Nope -- before he even stops speaking, here comes Rebekah. Wait, was this supposed to be a challenge for God? How do you think the servant reacted? Was he surprised? Was he relieved?


Biblical skeptics respond to this story as a "see, the Bible is just a myth; there's no way that happened". Well, that's why we shared our own stories at the beginning. We've had some "unlikely encounters" or "unlikely pairings", and nobody doubts it because we have living proof. I'm sure that Rebekah would be happy to tell us about her living proof when we one day get to meet her.


The literal Hebrew description of Rebekah is "the young woman was of good appearance; a virgin, and a man she had not known". A few observations --

  1. Don't tell Tinder, but dating doesn't have to be about initial impression/superficial appearance. That said, I'm sure the servant was rather relieved that the woman he was going to take to his master's son was hot. I'm sure that "good appearance" was the polite ancient Hebrew equivalent of "hot".

  2. The word "virgin" can also mean "young woman", but the context seems to be emphasizing the "virgin" part of the description.

  3. If that's so, then why repeat that by defining her virginity? Isn't that being tautological? Perhaps, but remember that we're talking about the mother of the Hebrew people. The Bible is just making clear her sexual purity.


To me, this section is all about how we react when God clearly answers a prayer. Are we surprised? Are we amazed? How do you react to God's work in your life?


[To be fair: God's answers to prayers in my life don't often follow the clear formula we see in this passage. I think God enjoyed Himself with this answer.]

 

We Skip Some Verses

I'm not exactly sure why, but the lesson skips the verses about the jewelry Abraham's servant gives to Rebekah. The gold bracelets weighed about 4 ounces. You might have seen the news that gold hit all-time highs yesterday (more than $2,000 per ounce). A not-insignificant gift.


Today, we do engagement rings (that go on fingers). Apparently in those days, engagement rings went on noses. Sure, why not.


If you wanted to take a detour about your own engagement stories, this would be the time to do it. It doesn't look like we're going to be specifically covering Jacob's very interesting betrothals to Leah and Rachel.

 

Part 3: Welcome to the Family (Genesis 24:24-27)

24 She answered him, “I am the daughter of Bethuel son of Milcah, whom she bore to Nahor.” 25 She also said to him, “We have plenty of straw and feed and a place to spend the night.” 26 Then the man knelt low, worshiped the Lord, 27 and said, “Blessed be the Lord, the God of my master Abraham, who has not withheld his kindness and faithfulness from my master. As for me, the Lord has led me on the journey to the house of my master’s relatives.”

In my head, I imagine Abraham's servant giving Rebekah those expensive pieces of jewelry while she is telling him her name. What is she thinking right then?


(Separate modern/current sensibilities from your answer, please.)


What Abraham's servant's mind completely blown at that moment? Mine is.


It's just a very pleasant, uplifting event in Abraham's life. God blesses him, and God blesses his household.


I think it's worth continuing to read a bit further. The bewildered (frightened?) Rebekah goes home where we meet her bother Laban. Laban is a bit hesitant about all of this (understandably) but does not stand in the way of God (although to be honest, the whole story could have been made up, right?). The expensive gifts from Abraham probably help smooth over any doubts. If this guy was a thief, why would he be giving us so much money?


The one warning sign we get is in verse 55 -- Rebekah's family asks to delay her departure by 10 days. We are not told why, but Abraham's servant doesn't like to request. Rebekah agrees to leave with him immediately. I can't help but wonder if this is in Laban's mind when Jacob shows up years later.


Things go a bit sideways between Isaac and Rebekah late in life, but for all I can tell, the story of Isaac and Rebekah is a true and beautiful love story.

24:62 Now Isaac was returning from Beer-lahai-roi, for he was living in the Negev region. 63 In the early evening Isaac went out to walk in the field, and looking up he saw camels coming. 64 Rebekah looked up, and when she saw Isaac, she got down from her camel 65 and asked the servant, “Who is that man in the field coming to meet us?” The servant answered, “It is my master.” So she took her veil and covered herself. 66 Then the servant told Isaac everything he had done. 67 And Isaac brought her into the tent of his mother Sarah and took Rebekah to be his wife. Isaac loved her, and he was comforted after his mother’s death.

The reference to Sarah's tent is important. Rebekah brought her own servants back with her. By inhabiting Sarah's "tent complex", Rebekah was taking the position as the new matriarch of the entire clan.


We learn a good bit about Isaac in the next few chapters. God repeats His covenant with Abraham (26:2), and Isaac also makes some Abraham-like mistakes (26:9), but Isaac also shows some Abraham-like growth (26:28).


But even godfearing Isaac and his loving wife will run into trouble in their later days.

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