AUDIO VERSION: YouTube Podbean
Our story begins with a very old Abraham calling the manager of his household to him for a serious talk. We aren’t told what the manager’s name is, but his high-ranking position tells us that Abraham trusts him. Abraham’s wife Sarah has recently died, which has been a great grief to everyone. Now Abraham has decided that it’s time for his adult son Isaac to get married, and this is why he has called a meeting with his manager.
At this time, Abraham is living in the land of Canaan. This is the land that Joshua would later be invading with his army after the death of Moses. This is the famous Promised Land, only right now there are no Jews living in it, for a “Jew” is a descendant of Jacob (aka Israel), and Jacob hasn’t been born yet. Right now Canaan is filled with idol worshiping pagans, but Abraham is very attached to the land for he knows that Yahweh has promised it to him and his descendants as some kind of inheritance. He doesn’t want to leave. He doesn’t want his son Isaac leaving, either, but he also doesn’t want Isaac marrying one of the local Canaanite women. Even though Abraham’s own people are as into idol worship as these Canaanites are, he’s got it in his head that it would be so much better for Isaac to marry someone from his own family tree.
In these times, arranged marriages were common affairs, and Isaac isn’t going to have any say in who he marries. Abraham is dispatching his most trusted servant to go and find a wife for his son from among Abraham’s blood relatives who are residing far away. This is the task he now lays on his manager: to go find a suitable virgin woman for Isaac to marry. It is so important to Abraham that Isaac marry a relative, that he orders his servant to make an oath to God.
“Take an oath by putting your hand under my thigh. Swear by the Lord, the God of heaven and earth, that you will not allow my son to marry one of these local Canaanite women. Go instead to my homeland, to my relatives, and find a wife there for my son Isaac.” (Gen. 24:2-4)
The language here makes it clear that Abraham is expecting to die himself very soon, otherwise he wouldn’t be speaking of his servant “allowing” Isaac to do things. Abraham is most anxious about marrying Isaac off, and the servant wants to help, but he has some reasonable concerns.
The servant asked, “But what if I can’t find a young woman who is willing to travel so far from home? Should I then take Isaac there to live among your relatives in the land you came from?”
“No!” Abraham responded. “Be careful never to take my son there. For the Lord, the God of heaven, who took me from my father’s house and my native land, solemnly promised to give this land to my descendants. He will send His angel ahead of you, and He will see to it that you find a wife there for my son. If she is unwilling to come back with you, then you are free from this oath of mine. But under no circumstances are you to take my son there.” (Gen. 24:5-8)
Even though it’s not right for Abraham to demand that his servant swear things in God’s Name, he backs off the pressure by giving the servant a way to be morally released from this verbal contract. If no woman can be found who is willing to leave her homeland to come marry some guy she’s never even laid eyes on, then the servant will be let off the hook.
So is Abraham’s paranoia about Isaac leaving this promised land appropriate? No, but it’s human. Whenever God prophesies that He’s going to do something in our futures, we immediately start trying to help Him. Suppose God shows you a vision in which something fantastic happens in the house where you are currently living. While you’re waiting for that vision to come true, you fall on hard times and you can no longer afford to pay your mortgage. Normally you would move, but instead you refuse because you figure your vision won’t come true if you change residences. Of course this is silly, because you can’t stop God from doing what He wants to do. This is the trap we often fall into once we receive future promises from God: we get so focused on the literal fulfillment of those promises that we forget to remember that God never tells us the whole story. When God promised Abraham that he’d have a son, the boy He was referring to was Isaac. But God never said that the son He was talking about would be Abraham’s only son, nor did He say that Isaac would be the firstborn. What a surprise when Isaac was preceded by Ishmael. No one saw that coming (see Rethinking Ishmael).
God likes to surprise us. He might call you to preach for Him without mentioning the fact that first you’ll work in some totally different industry for ten years. He might say He wants you to serve as a missionary in Africa and then pack you off to Iceland because there’s work He wants you to do there first. God never tells us the whole story—He only gives us an occasional glimpse of what’s coming. We need to remember that a glimpse is all we have and not let one word from God stop our lives. Maybe God has told you that one day you’ll get married. That’s great, but who knows what He has planned for you in the meantime? Life is a series of seasons, and each season comes with its own set of lessons and opportunities. In Genesis 24, Abraham is clearly concerned that if Isaac physically moves out of the land of Canaan, that might somehow mess up God’s future plans. Of course it won’t. Ironically, God is going to move all of the Jews out of Canaan and park them in Egypt for centuries before finally bringing them back to Canaan to settle down. So while Abraham clings to this land and orders his son to stay in it in order to help God do what He said, God has no intention of working things out the way that Abraham assumes He will.
Well, Abraham’s servant has his orders and he swears to do his best. He then loads ten camels up with expensive gifts that will serve as a bride price, and starts the long journey back to Abraham’s homeland. Now Abraham doesn’t come from a large family. He only has two other brothers: Nahor and Haran. The intermarrying in this family makes for one crazy family tree, so let’s look at a picture of how things are going to work out:
As you can see, Abraham’s brother Nahor married his niece Milcah. Nahor and Milcah had a son named Bethuel. That son had two children: Laban and Rebekah. So Abraham is Rebekah’s great-uncle—that’s the important point for us to understand because Rebekah is the sexy young maiden who Abraham’s servant meets when he arrives in the town where Abraham’s brother Nahor settled.
Now as Abraham’s servant comes riding into town with his ten camels, he’s feeling the pressure of his task bearing down on him. Where does he start? Well, the camels need to be hydrated, so he has them kneel down beside the well. It’s evening and the women of the town are coming out for their daily water collection. As he sees them coming, Abraham’s servant asks God for a sign.
“O Lord, God of my master, Abraham,” he prayed. “Please give me success today, and show unfailing love to my master, Abraham. See, I am standing here beside this spring, and the young women of the town are coming out to draw water. This is my request. I will ask one of them, ‘Please give me a drink from your jug.’ If she says, ‘Yes, have a drink, and I will water your camels, too!’—let her be the one You have selected as Isaac’s wife. This is how I will know that You have shown unfailing love to my master.” (Gen. 24:12-14)
We’re told that before the servant can even finish his petition, sexy Rebekah goes down to the spring, fills her jug, and is coming up again. She looks old enough to be married and is probably indicating her virgin status through some external sign because Abraham’s servant dashes over to her to try out his first test.
Running over to her, the servant said, “Please give me a little drink of water from your jug.”
“Yes, my lord,” she answered, “have a drink.” And she quickly lowered her jug from her shoulder and gave him a drink. When she had given him a drink, she said, “I’ll draw water for your camels, too, until they have had enough to drink.” So she quickly emptied her jug into the watering trough and ran back to the well to draw water for all his camels. (Gen. 24:17-20)
There’s nothing speedy about watering ten thirsty camels with a single jug of water. The servant watches silently, wondering if this is God answering his request. When she finally completes the task, he decides she’s the one, so he gives her some jewelry. The process of proposing marriage has begun and everyone knows it. The servant asks who Rebekah is and if she can put him up for the night. She eagerly tells him who her parents and grandparents are, thus revealing a clear connection to Abraham. Then she races home to tell her family what’s going on. Now it’s obvious that Abraham’s servant is rolling in wealth, so this is an opportunity the family doesn’t want to miss out on. Rebekah’s brother Laban sprints all the way back out to the spring and urges the servant to come and stay with them.
When the servant gets to Bethuel’s house, he fills Bethuel and Laban in on the details of his mission. He makes a point to say that Abraham is super rich and that he’s leaving everything to his son Isaac. He tells them about his prayer by the well and Rebekah’s confirmation of his sign. Then he says:
“Then I bowed low and worshiped the Lord. I praised the Lord, the God of my master, Abraham, because He had led me straight to my master’s niece to be his son’s wife. So tell me—will you or won’t you show unfailing love and faithfulness to my master? Please tell me yes or no, and then I’ll know what to do next.”
Then Laban and Bethuel replied, “The Lord has obviously brought you here, so there is nothing we can say. Here is Rebekah; take her and go. Yes, let her be the wife of your master’s son, as the Lord has directed.” (Gen. 24:48-51)
If some billionaire’s representative showed up at your house saying that his boss was looking for a spouse and God seemed to indicating that you were it, how would you react? Everyone wants to move up the economic ladder, and for Rebekah this is like a dream come true. When her brother and father ask if she wants to go with this servant, she’s all for the idea. The next day she and her servant girls head off to parts unknown to meet her husband.
Meanwhile, Isaac, whose home was in the Negev, had returned from Beer-lahai-roi. One evening as he was walking and meditating in the fields, he looked up and saw the camels coming. When Rebekah looked up and saw Isaac, she quickly dismounted from her camel. “Who is that man walking through the fields to meet us?” she asked the servant.
And he replied, “It is my master.” So Rebekah covered her face with her veil. Then the servant told Isaac everything he had done.
And Isaac brought Rebekah into his mother Sarah’s tent, and she became his wife. He loved her deeply, and she was a special comfort to him after the death of his mother. (Gen. 24:62-67)
This story reads like a fairytale, doesn’t it? The prince has his princess brought to him and they all live happily ever after. Well, before we get too enamored, we need to keep reading. This happy couple is going to struggle with infertility, which was a major grief in this culture. Abraham will die before ever seeing Isaac’s children. Eventually Rebekah will give birth to those infamous twins Esau and Jacob. Favoritism in the home will cause division and strife. Esau will bring great misery to his parents by marrying two troublesome women. Something will happen to the love between Isaac and Rebekah, for she’ll deceive him on several occasions and eventually send her favorite son Jacob back to live with her brother Laban. We’ll learn that Laban is a conniving jerk who treats his daughters like strangers and mistreats his nephew for as long as he can. Both Esau and Jacob will stray far from God. Isaac’s home won’t be a happy one.
So what can we learn from this story? When we’re single and dying to get married, it’s easy to believe that finding our life partner is going to be the permanent cure for our loneliness blues. And yet the truth is that when we look for personal completion through human relationships, we don’t find it. Marriage isn’t a cure for loneliness. For many, it just ends up being a change of context. After we get married and the honeymoon hormones settle down, the loneliness and dissatisfaction return, along with the bitter realization that another human simply can’t supply the core fulfillment we were looking for. We need to realize that we were created by God to revolve around HIM. Certainly marriage is a wonderful thing, but to get the most out of it, it can’t be your anchor in life. God must be your anchor. There needs to be something real going on between you and Him in the privacy of your own soul before the addition of another human relationship is going to be a blessing instead of a hindrance. When we marry for the wrong reasons, we end up with a new set of miseries.
When you’re feeling tormented by raging hormones and it seems like every friend you know is either getting engaged or pregnant, being single feels like a terrible persecution. Why is God taking so long to bring you your mate? Because He wants you to have something better than what Isaac and Rebekah ended up with. God doesn’t want your honeymoon to be the highlight of your marriage. He doesn’t want you to end up like these people who go around pining for their glory days back in high school. That’s just sad. Life is supposed to be like a good wine: it’s supposed to be improving with age. Yes, we’re going to go through some tough valley seasons, but if we’re living with the right priorities, we’re going to find that our soul satisfaction is going to keep growing deeper over time. It is the pursuit of a deeper relationship with God that leads us to true joy in this world.
God considers your human relationships to be tools which He uses to draw you closer to Himself. Everything comes down to your own walk with God. We are not designed to revolve around each other—only around our Makers. When we try to seek completion and fulfillment in another human, it always backfires on us. When we idolize our spouses and children, we end up languishing in our souls. God must become our First Love, yet getting Him securely into that place takes time. When God is delaying in introducing you to your life partner, it’s because He wants to secure His own position with you first. It doesn’t mean you’re rebelling or resisting. It doesn’t mean your priorities are wrong. Are we going to trust the One who really loves us or are we going keep accusing Him of trying to shaft us in some way?
No one cares more about you being happy than God does. But He wants you to experience His best, not some lousy compromise, and that means helping you develop a strong foundation with Him before another human is added to the mix. Now very few of us are willing to wait for God’s timing in these matters. When we grow impatient, we just grab the next fish to swim our way and tell ourselves it’s better to have someone than to be alone. Yet let’s be honest: what we’re really saying is that God can’t be trusted. While we claim that God is good, we simultaneously accuse Him of not caring about how hard our struggle is, or of forgetting about us entirely and being glad to leave us down here to rot in misery. If this is really how we think God views us, have we developed a good foundation with Him? Not hardly. And if we go into a marriage while we secretly believe that God is a jerk, how much satisfaction are we going to find?
We were created to revolve around God. We cannot shove some human onto His throne in our lives and think it will be good enough. If we want to experience God’s best, we need to submit to His wisdom and align with His program. Yes, it is brutally hard and painful to wait on God while all your friends are flashing diamonds in your face. But consider the choices those friends of yours are making. Are they waiting on God or trying to bypass Him in order to get some instant gratification? Have they put in the time and work necessary to develop strong core foundations with God or have they been too busy scheming and flirting and sleeping around so that they could get their hands on some prize they had picked out for themselves? The single Christian’s plight comes down to one issue: TRUST. How much are you willing to trust God’s intentions for you? Are you willing to go through the training that He says is so vital to you experiencing His best? Or are you going to cut corners and invent excuses for why you should just marry the next person who turns you on?
If we want to play games with signs, we can. “God, make the next guy to come in line behind me be the man I’m supposed to marry.” In our story, Abraham’s servant was put in a very tough spot and he was doing right to seek God’s leading in the midst of it. But you haven’t been sent to some other country with a small window of time in which to find the perfect mate. You belong to God, and if you are wise, you will look to Him to do your matchmaking for you. When He stirs you up to go out and meet people, then that’s what you do. If He tells you to not focus on dating and just do your normal routine, then that’s what you do. The leading will be different in every case. Some of us need to grow by getting out there and practicing, while others of us need to take a break from the emotional rollercoaster ride of dating and focus on other lessons that God is teaching us. Every soul is different, there is no one “right” way. What matters is what God’s plan for YOU is, and that’s something only He can tell you. You need to ask Him to have His total way in your life, and then practice trusting that He will.
For some of us, God will spring our spouses on us unexpectedly, while others of us will do a lot of strategic pursuing. God likes variety—He isn’t going to lead us all in the same direction. You’re not a slacker if you’re waiting for God to bring your woman to you, and you’re not being carnal to aggressively seek her out. What matters is that you’re listening for God’s leading in your own life and following any promptings that He gives you. Remember that there is only one relationship which is going to last for an eternity, and that is your relationship with God. Every human that you meet down here is only going to be a part of your life for a limited season of time. Recognize the way that God has set things up and prioritize accordingly. God must be first.