Posted by: skokiecentralchurch | July 3, 2011

2011.07.03 “How They Found A Wife for Isaac” – Genesis 24

Central United Methodist Church

“How They Found A Wife for Isaac”

Pastor David L. Haley

Genesis 24

July 3rd, 2011

Abraham was now an old man. God had blessed Abraham in every way.

Abraham spoke to the senior servant in his household, the one in charge of everything he had, “Put your hand under my thigh and swear by God—God of Heaven, God of Earth—that you will not get a wife for my son from among the young women of the Canaanites here, but will go to the land of my birth and get a wife for my son Isaac.”

The servant answered, “But what if the woman refuses to leave home and come with me? Do I then take your son back to your home country?”

Abraham said, “Oh no. Never. By no means are you to take my son back there. God, the God of Heaven, took me from the home of my father and from the country of my birth and spoke to me in solemn promise, ‘I’m giving this land to your descendants.’ This God will send his angel ahead of you to get a wife for my son. And if the woman won’t come, you are free from this oath you’ve sworn to me. But under no circumstances are you to take my son back there.”

So the servant put his hand under the thigh of his master Abraham and gave his solemn oath.

The servant took ten of his master’s camels and, loaded with gifts from his master, traveled to Aram Naharaim and the city of Nahor. Outside the city, he made the camels kneel at a well. It was evening, the time when the women came to draw water. He prayed, “O God, God of my master Abraham, make things go smoothly this day; treat my master Abraham well! As I stand here by the spring while the young women of the town come out to get water, let the girl to whom I say, ‘Lower your jug and give me a drink,’ and who answers, ‘Drink, and let me also water your camels’—let her be the woman you have picked out for your servant Isaac. Then I’ll know that you’re working graciously behind the scenes for my master.”

It so happened that the words were barely out of his mouth when Rebekah, the daughter of Bethuel whose mother was Milcah the wife of Nahor, Abraham’s brother, came out with a water jug on her shoulder. The girl was stunningly beautiful, a pure virgin. She went down to the spring, filled her jug, and came back up. The servant ran to meet her and said, “Please, can I have a sip of water from your jug?”

She said, “Certainly, drink!” And she held the jug so that he could drink. When he had satisfied his thirst she said, “I’ll get water for your camels, too, until they’ve drunk their fill.” She promptly emptied her jug into the trough and ran back to the well to fill it, and she kept at it until she had watered all the camels.

          The man watched, silent. Was this God’s answer? Had God made his trip a success or not?

When the camels had finished drinking, the man brought out gifts, a gold nose ring weighing a little over a quarter of an ounce and two arm bracelets weighing about four ounces, and gave them to her. He asked her, “Tell me about your family? Whose daughter are you? Is there room in your father’s house for us to stay the night?”

She said, “I’m the daughter of Bethuel the son of Milcah and Nahor. And there’s plenty of room in our house for you to stay—and lots of straw and feed besides.”

At this the man bowed in worship before God and prayed, “Blessed be God, God of my master Abraham: How generous and true you’ve been to my master; you’ve held nothing back. You led me right to the door of my master’s brother!”

And the girl was off and running, telling everyone in her mother’s house what had happened.

Rebekah had a brother named Laban. Laban ran outside to the man at the spring. He had seen the nose ring and the bracelets on his sister and had heard her say, “The man said this and this and this to me.” So he went to the man and there he was, still standing with his camels at the spring. Laban welcomed him: “Come on in, blessed of God! Why are you standing out here? I’ve got the house ready for you; and there’s also a place for your camels.”

So the man went into the house. The camels were unloaded and given straw and feed. Water was brought to bathe the feet of the man and the men with him. Then Laban brought out food. But the man said, “I won’t eat until I tell my story.”

Laban said, “Go ahead; tell us.”

The servant said, “I’m the servant of Abraham. God has blessed my master—he’s a great man; God has given him sheep and cattle, silver and gold, servants and maidservants, camels and donkeys. And then to top it off, Sarah, my master’s wife, gave him a son in her old age and he has passed everything on to his son. My master made me promise, ‘Don’t get a wife for my son from the daughters of the Canaanites in whose land I live. No, go to my father’s home, back to my family, and get a wife for my son there.’ I said to my master, ‘But what if the woman won’t come with me?’ He said, ‘God before whom I’ve walked faithfully will send his angel with you and he’ll make things work out so that you’ll bring back a wife for my son from my family, from the house of my father. Then you’ll be free from the oath. If you go to my family and they won’t give her to you, you will also be free from the oath.’

“Well, when I came this very day to the spring, I prayed, ‘God, God of my master Abraham, make things turn out well in this task I’ve been given. I’m standing at this well. When a young woman comes here to draw water and I say to her, Please, give me a sip of water from your jug, and she says, Not only will I give you a drink, I’ll also water your camels—let that woman be the wife God has picked out for my master’s son.’

          “I had barely finished offering this prayer, when Rebekah arrived, her jug on her shoulder. She went to the spring and drew water and I said, ‘Please, can I have a drink?’ She didn’t hesitate. She held out her jug and said, ‘Drink; and when you’re finished I’ll also water your camels.’ I drank, and she watered the camels. I asked her, ‘Whose daughter are you?’ She said, ‘The daughter of Bethuel whose parents were Nahor and Milcah.’ I gave her a ring for her nose, bracelets for her arms, and bowed in worship to God. I praised God, the God of my master Abraham who had led me straight to the door of my master’s family to get a wife for his son.

“Now, tell me what you are going to do. If you plan to respond with a generous yes, tell me. But if not, tell me plainly so I can figure out what to do next.”

Laban and Bethuel answered, “This is totally from God. We have no say in the matter, either yes or no. Rebekah is yours: Take her and go; let her be the wife of your master’s son, as God has made plain.”

When Abraham’s servant heard their decision, he bowed in worship before God. Then he brought out gifts of silver and gold and clothing and gave them to Rebekah. He also gave expensive gifts to her brother and mother. He and his men had supper and spent the night. But first thing in the morning they were up. He said, “Send me back to my master.”

Her brother and mother said, “Let the girl stay a while, say another ten days, and then go.”

He said, “Oh, don’t make me wait! God has worked everything out so well—send me off to my master.”

          They said, “We’ll call the girl; we’ll ask her.”

They called Rebekah and asked her, “Do you want to go with this man?”

          She said, “I’m ready to go.”

So they sent them off, their sister Rebekah with her nurse, and Abraham’s servant with his men. And they blessed Rebekah saying, 



You’re our sister—live bountifully! 

And your children, triumphantly!

Rebekah and her young maids mounted the camels and followed the man. The servant took Rebekah and set off for home.

Isaac was living in the Negev. He had just come back from a visit to Beer Lahai Roi. In the evening he went out into the field; while meditating he looked up and saw camels coming. When Rebekah looked up and saw Isaac, she got down from her camel and asked the servant, “Who is that man out in the field coming toward us?”

“That is my master.”

She took her veil and covered herself.

After the servant told Isaac the whole story of the trip, Isaac took Rebekah into the tent of his mother Sarah. He married Rebekah and she became his wife and he loved her. So Isaac found comfort after his mother’s death. – Genesis 24: 1 – 67, The Message, by Eugene H. Peterson


It was, I think, the summer of 1970, and I had just finished my first year of college. At that time my major was still pre-med, and, to my good fortune, had gotten a job in the local hospital emergency room. It was ideal: rather than just studying boring things like botany and organic chemistry, I was already doing emergency medicine.


At the same time, I had begun down the path that would eventually lead to ministry, and was offered the opportunity to go to California for the summer, with Campus Crusade for Christ.  Of course, if I went, I’d have to give up that job in the emergency room. Eventually, I made the decision – regretfully – that I would give it up.


So I’ll never forget that day I met with the Director of Nursing, and told her of my decision. To my great surprise and joy, she said: “That’s no problem at all. We’ll hold the job for you until you return.”  In fact, though I eventually changed my career choice to ministry rather than medicine, I kept that job for 2½ years, until I graduated.  Little did I know that decades later, I would pick it up again, to work as a hospital chaplain and later as a firefighter/paramedic.


The reason I share this story is because it was one of the first experiences in my life of what we call divine providence, the sense that God is providing guidance and direction over our lives.


People of faith find themselves between two extremes:  on the one hand, the belief that – having set the world in motion – God steps back, and let’s us work out the details. At the other extreme is the belief that everything that happens is somehow God’s doing, for good and evil. I’ve always liked the story about the Calvinist (a person who might believe this way) who fell down the stairs, got up, and said, “Thank God that’s over.”


In reality, most of us find ourselves somewhere in between.  As people of faith, we believe God has a plan, not only for creation and humanity, but for us.  On the other hand, most of us also believe God’s plan is not fixed, but worked out through our decisions and participation (or lack of it), day by day.


Most of us would admit, sometimes God’s plan is murky and mysterious, and we are baffled, even lost.  Sometimes, as with my story, it seems we have to arrive at a certain place, to be willing to give up something, to find that when there appears no way, God will make a way. Sometimes it is pure grace: God’s provision is so beyond our planning, that we can only stand back in wonder and gratitude. When it all comes together, we call this synchronicity.


If you’ve ever prayed for a parking place, or before you take a test, if you’ve ever prayed to God for a husband or wife (I’m not talking about one to replace the one you got), if you’ve ever prayed for a job, you know what I’m talking about. In fact, I wish we had the time to share stories, of those times when we feel God provided for us or guided us. For some, that would definitely include the stories of how we met our wife or husband. As comic Rita Rudner once said: “It’s so great to find that one special person you want to annoy for the rest of your life.”


Well, we’ve come this far and we haven’t even gotten to the Scripture of the day, but I’ve said all this because it’s that kind of story. It’s a story about God’s providence in finding a wife for Isaac, the son of Abraham and Sarah.


Here’s the problem.  God made a promise to Abraham and Sarah, that if they would leave the country of their birth and move to a country God would show them, God would give them a son and family, through whom God would bless the earth. Finally, ob in their old age the promised child was born, whom they named Isaac (Laughter). In Genesis 22 (as we saw last week), Abraham himself almost killed off Isaac, believing that God had called him to do it, as a test.  Isaac was spared, but now Isaac is 40 years old, still living at home, and has no wife. (Frankly, he was never the same since that experience on Mt. Moriah.) But no wife means no children, and no children means no promise. Throughout Genesis – in fact throughout the Bible – God’s plan is constantly threatened by the fickleness and unfaithfulness of individuals, but – at the same time – carried forth by them.


So, when Sarah dies at the age of 127, at 137 Abraham really begins to feel old, and realizes the time has come to do something about a wife for Isaac. Abraham summons a servant and tells him to find Abraham a wife.

But not just any wife. We don’t want any of those Canaanite women, the local women. If Isaac marries one of them the next thing you know he’ll be worshiping Baal and bowing to idols and not keeping kosher and getting dreadlocks and tattoos, so don’t even think about that. Instead he tells the servant to go back to the old country, and get a gal “just like the gal that married dear old Dad.”


So the servant does. His job would have been a lot easier if he’d had internet, but he doesn’t, so he comes up with a plan.


To be sure, there were alternatives. In fact, someone has compiled a list of the Top 10 Biblical Ways to Get a Wife:


1.      Have God create a wife for you while you sleep, like Adam.

Note: this will cost you. (Genesis 2:19-24)


2.      Like Jacob, work seven years in exchange for a woman’s hand in marriage. Get tricked into marrying the wrong woman. Work another seven years for the woman you wanted to marry in the first place. That’s right; fourteen years of work for the right wife. (Genesis 29:15-30)


3.      Find a man with seven daughters and impress him by watering his flock, like Moses (Exodus 2:16-21)


4.      Find an attractive prisoner of war, bring her home, shave her

head, trim her nails, and give her new clothes. According to

Deuteronomy, she’s yours. (Deut 21:11-13)


5.      Wait for your brother to die and take his widow.  It’s not just a

good idea; it’s the law, according to Deuteronomy or Leviticus.


6.      When you see someone you like, go home and tell your parents:

“I have seen a woman; now get her for me.” If your parents

question your decision, simply say, “Get her for me. She’s the one for me,” as Samson did, not a person you’d want to argue with either (Judges 14:1-3)


7.      Purchase a piece of property, and get a woman as part of the deal, like Boaz did for Ruth. Talk about sale incentives!

(Ruth 4:5-10)


8.      Kill a husband and take his wife, like David did (Prepare to lose

four sons, though). (2 Samuel 11)

9.      Find a prostitute and marry her, like the prophet Hosea

(Hosea 1:1-3)


10.    Don’t be so picky.  Do like Solomon, and make up for quality

with quantity.  (1 Kings 11:1-3)


But the servant didn’t use any of those plans, he improvises his own.


Where would he go? Singles bars? Health clubs? Synagogues?  Nope, weren’t any.  He’d go where all the women went, to the town waterhole, and I don’t mean “bar”, I mean well or waterhole.  That’s where the eligible debutantes hung out, in a kind of ancient near eastern happy hour.


As the servant travels, he has time to think about what qualities he’s looking for. Beauty? Swimsuit competition? Talent? Here’s one: how about kindness and generosity? Maybe he knew his master and mistress, Abraham and Sarah, well enough to know that for all of their pioneering religious achievements, they were sometimes insensitive to members of their own household.  So kindness and generosity might be a good corrective to previous family dysfunction.


This servant is a religious man, so to his planning he adds praying. (Oh God please!) In fact this unnamed servant of Abraham is the first person the Bible records praying for personal guidance at a critical moment.  He asks God for a sign – give me a woman who shows kindness and generosity, by not only being kind to me, but to my camels.


It would be kind of like going to Hooters and saying, the first waitress who gives me a drink, well, she’s the one. And if she gives me chicken wings as well I’ll know for sure.  (I’m not saying I’d recommend this. I’m just saying, in my single years, I tried it. Just trying to be Biblical, you know . . .)


To his great delight, upon his arrival not only does a woman – whose name turns out to be Rebekah – offer him a drink, she offers water to his camels! If you owned camels, you’d know that a single camel requires 25 gallons of water to regain the weight it loses in a long journey. It takes about 25 minutes to drink this amount of water. And he had ten camels! Obviously, in the ancient near east the way to man’s heart was not through his stomach, but through his camels.


To make a long story short, the servant pull outs a nose ring and bracelets, and the rest is history. (Abraham won’t do Canaanites, but he’ll do piercings.) He’s invited home to meet the family, they like each other (did I mention Abraham is a very rich man and there is lots of dowry), and the deal is made. They even ask Rebekah what she thinks, thank you very much!  She agrees to go to help the poor guy out by becoming his wife, becoming the real heroine of the story. (And exactly how many camels does he have?)


Before Rebekah goes, they bless her with the words still used at the veiling of the bride that customarily precedes a Jewish wedding:


“O sister!  May you grow into thousands of myriads;

May your offspring seize the gates of their foes.”


When they arrive home, Isaac seems excited to meet her; though not as excited as Rebekah to meet him. The story concludes, “Isaac then brought her into the tent of his mother Sarah, and he took Rebekah as his wife.  Isaac loved her [the first reference in the Bible to love between husband and wife] and thus found comfort after his mother’s death.”  As the Rabbis say, “As long as Sarah was alive, a light shone over her tent signifying the divine presence. When she died, it disappeared. When Rebekah arrived, the light returned.”  Through these human interactions, God’s promise is renewed.


Such stories function for us both as a window into another time and place, but also as a mirror reflecting our own lives.


The time and place they reveal is exotic and foreign. They were, after all, goat herders, living in tents. It was a time and place when women were property and marriages were arranged, for the sake of dowries and property. I’m kind of glad the text doesn’t tell us how old they were, because for all we know they might have been child brides. Really, you might want to be cautious about wanting to a Biblical marriage, especially according to the Old Testament.


On the other hand, these texts also serve as mirrors, reflecting back to us the same issues we still struggle with.


Two things are clear: First, God is still working God’s purpose out.  But the second is this:  God chooses to use us – fallible as we are, as the means to do so.  In our puny little lives with their staggering choices, we can ignore God, go against God, or go with God. Finally, our lives are fulfilled not by how well we succeed in bending God’s plans to our lives, but by how well we blend our lives to God’s plan.


This is the way we ought to live. To do our best, yet also to understand that life is never fully under our plan or control.  To believe that even in the midst of tragedy and disaster, God can bring good. To believe that God has a greater plan than we can dream up for ourselves, in which we get the joy of participating.


Just think: how much of the best of our lives came about by our planning and shaping? How about our spouses, or our best friends?  Did we “plan” to meet any of them?  No, it was through synchronicity, where multiple factors came together at once, and God’s plan was served.


To those of you who are single, but don’t want to be, my advice to you (based upon experience) is that probably the worst thing you can do is to try to “make” meeting your future spouse happen. The best thing you can do is put your life into God’s hands, do what you enjoy, and eventually it will happen. Let go and let God.


Those of us who are parents may be tempted to plan our children’s life, like Abraham for Isaac. But just as we can ruin our children’s lives by not caring enough, so we can also ruin them by attempting to control them too much.  Maybe the best thing we can do for our children is to teach them when to let go and let God.


Long ago, the writer of Proverbs in the Bible put it this way:


Trust in the Lord with all your heart,

Do not depend on your own understanding.

Seek God’s will in all you do, and God will direct your paths.”

(Proverbs, 3: 5 – 6)


Not so long ago, before 911, Franciscan Friar Mychal Judge was the Chaplain of the Fire Department of New York. Sadly, he was the first one killed on that horrible day, and has been called the “Saint of 911.”  He was much loved by those who knew him, and perhaps one reason why may be this prayer he liked to pray. It could have been the prayer of Abraham’s servant, and it can be ours:


Lord, take me where You want me to go;

Let me meet who You want me to meet;

Tell me what You want me to say,

And keep me out of Your way.

         May God direct our way.  Amen.



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