Calvary Chapel – Leesville, SC – Wednesday Night Service September 2nd, 2020
In Genesis 23, we saw the story of the death of Sarah, and Abraham’s purchase of the cave of Machpelah near Mamre as a family burial place in the Land of Promise.
Genesis 24 – A Man on a Mission
Now here in Genesis 24, we find the story of Abraham sending his trusted service to the land of Haran out of which God had called Abraham over a half-century before. In preparing this lesson, God really stretched me. Those familiar with my Bible studies, know that my usual practice is to teach sixty-seven lessons on one verse. In this instance, I’m going to switch that around and teach one lesson on sixty-seven verses. So with that challenge before us, I suppose we’d better set out on it.
1Now Abraham was old, well advanced in age; and the LORD had blessed Abraham in all things. 2So Abraham said to the oldest servant of his house, who ruled over all that he had, “Please, put your hand under my thigh, 3and I will make you swear by the LORD, the God of heaven and the God of the earth, that you will not take a wife for my son from the daughters of the Canaanites, among whom I dwell; 4but you shall go to my country and to my family, and take a wife for my son Isaac.”Genesis 24:1-4 – NKJV
This bizarre way of swearing oaths by placing one’s hand under the thigh of the person to whom one is making the promise is found twice in God’s Word – here and in Genesis 47 when Isaac’s son Jacob asked his own son Joseph to swear that he wouldn’t bury Jacob in Egypt, but would return his remains to the cave of Machpelah near Mamre which Abraham had bought as the family burial place. In researching this tradition, I found a number of interpretations from various scholars which we won’t bother to delve into right now. The important thing to note here is that the unnamed servant wasn’t taken aback by Abraham’s request as we in modern society likely would be, so we can infer that swearing oaths in this way was common practice in Hebrew society at the time.
Many hundreds of years after the time of Abraham, Moses warned the people not to intermarry with the people of the land of Canaan, which God had promised as an inheritance to Abraham’s descendants. But even here in Genesis 24, Abraham determined not to allow his son to take a wife from among them. Abraham knew that if Isaac married one of these women, she would turn Isaac’s heart away from worshiping the one true and living LORD – יְהֹוָה Yehovah – to worshiping the pagan idols of the Canaanites. Indeed, as we study God’s Word, we find many Israelite men who disobeyed this command (e.g. Esau, Samson, and Solomon). In every one of these instances, the foreign marriage was a catastrophe.
Why was it so important for the Jewish people to refrain from marriage among the Gentiles? Because Jesus the Messiah was to be born a Jew over a thousand years after Abraham’s time in fulfillment of Biblical prophecy. Therefore, it was essential that the lineage of Jesus’ mother remain purely Jewish. Furthermore, even after the Jews were cast out of the Promised Land by the Romans, they needed to keep their bloodlines pure so that when the time came to return them to the Land in fulfillment of Ezekiel’s prophecy nearly two thousand more years later, there would be a Jewish remnant alive on the earth.
ASIDE – It is illuminating to contrast the purity of the line of Isaac leading to Jesus of Nazareth with the worldly line of Isaac’s half-brother Ishmael who took a wife from among the Egyptians (Genesis 21:21). These facts have symbolic significance. Paul gives a thorough exposition of this subject in Galatians 4:21-31.
21Tell me, you who desire to be under the law, do you not hear the law? 22For it is written that Abraham had two sons: the one by a bondwoman, the other by a freewoman. 23But he who was of the bondwoman was born according to the flesh, and he of the freewoman through promise, 24which things are symbolic. For these are the two covenants: the one from Mount Sinai which gives birth to bondage, which is Hagar— 25for this Hagar is Mount Sinai in Arabia, and corresponds to Jerusalem which now is, and is in bondage with her children— 26but the Jerusalem above is free, which is the mother of us all. 27For it is written:
“Rejoice, O barren, You who do not bear!
Break forth and shout, You who are not in labor!
For the desolate has many more children
Than she who has a husband.” [Isaiah 54:1]
28Now we, brethren, as Isaac was, are children of promise. 29But, as he who was born according to the flesh then persecuted him who was born according to the Spirit, even so it is now. 30Nevertheless what does the Scripture say? “Cast out the bondwoman and her son, for the son of the bondwoman shall not be heir with the son of the freewoman.” [Genesis 21:10] 31So then, brethren, we are not children of the bondwoman but of the free.Galatians 4:21-27 – NKJV
5And the servant said to him, “Perhaps the woman will not be willing to follow me to this land. Must I take your son back to the land from which you came?” 6But Abraham said to him, “Beware that you do not take my son back there. 7The LORD God of heaven, who took me from my father’s house and from the land of my family, and who spoke to me and swore to me, saying, ‘To your descendants I give this land,’ He will send His angel before you, and you shall take a wife for my son from there. 8And if the woman is not willing to follow you, then you will be released from this oath; only do not take my son back there.”Genesis 24:5-8 – NKJV
Initially, it seems the servant may have misunderstood Abraham’s intentions, believing Abraham wanted Isaac to go with him to Haran. So Abraham made it abundantly clear that Isaac was to remain behind in Canaan, and this faithful, unnamed servant was to undertake this mission himself. Why was Abraham so adamant? By this time, it had been over fifty years since God had called Abram to leave Haran and journey to Canaan (Genesis 12:1). More importantly, we see in this passage that Abraham remembered God’s promise to give the land of Canaan as an inheritance to his descendants – specifically to Isaac and his people (Genesis 12:7, 15:7, 15:18). Abraham was rightly concerned that if Isaac returned to Haran, he would be tempted to stay there, and not return to the promised land of Canaan. As we shall see later in Genesis, Abraham’s fear was well-founded. When his grandson, Jacob returned there seeking a wife, his scheming uncle Laban contrived to keep him there for over twenty years.
There is an object lesson for us in this as well. Jesus has rescued us from the bondage of sin by His sacrifice on the cross. Yet we are continually tempted to stray from the narrow way upon which God’s Spirit guides us.
As a dog returns to his own vomit,
So a fool repeats his folly.Proverbs 26:11
Like Abraham did, protecting his son Isaac from the temptation to return to Haran and stay there rather than receiving the land of God’s promise, so we must guard against returning to those places and sinful situations out of which Jesus has rescued us. Tragically, this admonition applies not only to places, but also to friends and even to family that we have left behind to follow Jesus. As Paul warned the Corinthians…
Do not be deceived: “Evil company corrupts good habits.”1 Corinthians 15:33 – NKJV
9So the servant put his hand under the thigh of Abraham his master, and swore to him concerning this matter. 10Then the servant took ten of his master’s camels and departed, for all his master’s goods were in his hand. And he arose and went to Mesopotamia [אֲרַם נַהֲרַיִם ‘Aram Naharayim], to the city of Nahor. 11And he made his camels kneel down outside the city by a well of water at evening time, the time when women go out to draw water.Genesis 24:9-11
The land from which God called Abram to which the servant returned seeking a wife for Isaac is called in English – Mesopotamia, which means the land between the rivers. Abram’s family had migrated there from Ur of the Chaldeans in the plain of Shinar where the tower of Babel had been (Genesis 11). Later, the city of Babylon was built there. Mesopotamia is known as “the cradle of civilization.” Some of the oldest known written records have been unearthed in that area. The area called Mesopotamia in this passage refers to the upper reaches of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers in what is now northern Iraq near the southern skirts of the Mountains of Ararat where the Ark of Noah came to rest after the great flood (Genesis 8). The Hebrew phrase translated Mesopotamia in Genesis 24:10 is אֲרַם נַהֲרַיִם ‘Aram Naharayim, meaning Aram of the two rivers. Aram is a proper name which means highland. It was the name of the fifth son of Noah’s son Shem. The Word of God also uses this name to refer to what is now Syria.
12Then he said, “O LORD God of my master Abraham, please give me success this day, and show kindness to my master Abraham. 13Behold, here I stand by the well of water, and the daughters of the men of the city are coming out to draw water. 14Now let it be that the young woman to whom I say, ‘Please let down your pitcher that I may drink,’ and she says, ‘Drink, and I will also give your camels a drink”—let her be the one You have appointed for Your servant Isaac. And by this I will know that You have shown kindness to my master.”Genesis 24:12-14 – NKJV
The faithful servant’s prayer that we read here is quite remarkable. His prayer is very specific, and the servant was obviously hoping in genuine faith that God would give a specific and immediate answer, as indeed God did. Obviously, God intended from the outset that the servant’s mission to find a wife for Isaac in the land of Abraham’s family would be successful. The servant’s prayer that we see here was clearly being directed by God’s Spirit. So it should be with our own prayers. We shouldn’t pray formalistically, or ritualistically, but in genuine faith as the Holy Spirit leads. In faith, we know that God always answers our prayers albeit in His own time, in His own way, and for His own glorification. Jesus promised that whatever we ask in His Name, He will do.
13And whatever you ask in My name, that I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. 14If you ask anything in My name, I will do it.John 14:13-14 – NKJV
So does that mean we can join with Janis Joplin – asking the LORD for a Mercedes Benz, a color TV, and a night on the town – and God is somehow obligated to give it to us as long as we tack “in the Name of Jesus” onto the end of our request? Certainly not! Asking in Jesus’ Name is more than simply uttering the sound. It means asking in accordance with His will for us as it truly is, not just as we in our limited capacity understand His will for us. By the same token, God’s commandment – “You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain, for the LORD will not hold him guiltless who takes His name in vain.” (Exodus 20:7 – NKJV) – doesn’t mean we’ll be okay when we curse someone by bleeping out the “God” and leaving in the “damn” like they do on TV. We take the name of God in vain whenever we promise someone we will pray for them, and then don’t do it or pray for them halfheartedly out of a sense of duty. Professing Christians use the Name of God in vain if we take an oath in court to “tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth,” but then turn around after taking the witness stand and bear false witness (whether or not the oath in that particular jurisdiction actually includes the words “so help me, God”). As Christian’s we are called to follow Jesus in Spirit – honestly acting in accordance with His will insofar as we understand it, not just following some formula for Christian behavior. When Jesus says that whatever we ask in His Name He will do, His unspoken implication is that He Himself will guide our prayers in accordance with His will. Thus David wrote…
4Delight yourself also in the LORD,
And He shall give you the desires of your heart.
5Commit your way to the LORD,
Trust also in Him, And He shall bring it to pass.Psalm 37:4-5 – NKJV
15And it happened, before he had finished speaking, that behold, Rebekah, who was born to Bethuel, son of Milcah, the wife of Nahor, Abraham’s brother, came out with her pitcher on her shoulder. 16Now the young woman was very beautiful to behold, a virgin; no man had known her. And she went down to the well, filled her pitcher, and came up. 17And the servant ran to meet her and said, “Please let me drink a little water from your pitcher.” 18So she said, “Drink, my lord.” Then she quickly let her pitcher down to her hand, and gave him a drink. 19And when she had finished giving him a drink, she said, “I will draw water for your camels also, until they have finished drinking.” 20Then she quickly emptied her pitcher into the trough, ran back to the well to draw water, and drew for all his camels.Genesis 24:15:20 – NKJV
Here we see God’s specific and immediate fulfillment of Abraham’s servant’s very specific prayer offered in faith and in accordance with God’s will exactly as David wrote in Psalm 37, and as Jesus promised He would do for us whatever we ask in His Name.
The Hebrew name רִבְקָה Ribqah – means “ensnarer.” It’s certainly not a particularly flattering name for a little girl. Unlike many of the proper names we find in God’s Word though, the Bible is silent on why she was given this name, so we won’t speculate on it. Certainly Rebekah did pull some fast ones on her husband Isaac regarding his blessings on their two sons Esau and Jacob, so in that sense her name was prophetic. That story is an object lesson for all parents with regard to playing favorites among our children, but we’ll leave that discussion until later when we study Genesis 27.
21And the man, wondering at her, remained silent so as to know whether the LORD had made his journey prosperous or not. 22So it was, when the camels had finished drinking, that the man took a golden nose ring weighing half a shekel, and two bracelets for her wrists weighing ten shekels of gold, 23and said, “Whose daughter are you? Tell me, please, is there room in your father’s house for us to lodge?” 24So she said to him, “I am the daughter of Bethuel, Milcah’s son, whom she bore to Nahor.” 25Moreover she said to him, “We have both straw and feed enough, and room to lodge.” 26Then the man bowed down his head and worshiped the LORD. 27And he said, “Blessed be the LORD God of my master Abraham, who has not forsaken His mercy and His truth toward my master. As for me, being on the way, the LORD led me to the house of my master’s brethren.”Genesis 24:21-27 – NKJV
The servant’s reaction to God’s answer to his prayer was to give God the glory. The servant understood that it was not by his own efforts that his mission had prospered, but that God Almighty Himself had directed it. Thus we see his reaction was humble worship. Of course we are called to continually worship and praise our God, knowing that all that we have comes from His provision. Indeed, God had sent His angel to be with the servant on his mission, just as his master Abraham had said.
28So the young woman ran and told her mother’s household these things. 29Now Rebekah had a brother whose name was Laban, and Laban ran out to the man by the well. 30So it came to pass, when he saw the nose ring, and the bracelets on his sister’s wrists, and when he heard the words of his sister Rebekah, saying, “Thus the man spoke to me,” that he went to the man. And there he stood by the camels at the well. 31And he said, “Come in, O blessed of the LORD! Why do you stand outside? For I have prepared the house, and a place for the camels.” 32Then the man came to the house. And he unloaded the camels, and provided straw and feed for the camels, and water to wash his feet and the feet of the men who were with him.Genesis 24:28-32 – NKJV
In this passage, we first encounter Isaac’s cousin, Laban – Rebekah’s brother. Laban was a schemer as we will soon see. Knowing the story of Laban and Jacob – Isaac’s son – in Genesis 27-31 perhaps makes us unfairly suspicious of him even in the genuine hospitality he showed to Abraham’s servant. Notice the special mention of Laban providing of water for the guests to wash their feet. In the desert, water is of course a very precious resource. So offering water to strangers for them to wash their feet is a notable token of hospitality.
33Food was set before him to eat, but he said, “I will not eat until I have told about my errand.” And he said, “Speak on.” 34So he said, “I am Abraham’s servant. 35The LORD has blessed my master greatly, and he has become great; and He has given him flocks and herds, silver and gold, male and female servants, and camels and donkeys. 36And Sarah my master’s wife bore a son to my master when she was old; and to him he has given all that he has. 37Now my master made me swear, saying, ‘You shall not take a wife for my son from the daughters of the Canaanites, in whose land I dwell; 38but you shall go to my father’s house and to my family, and take a wife for my son.’ 39And I said to my master, ‘Perhaps the woman will not follow me.’ 40But he said to me, ‘The LORD, before whom I walk, will send His angel with you and prosper your way; and you shall take a wife for my son from my family and from my father’s house. 41You will be clear from this oath when you arrive among my family; for if they will not give her to you, then you will be released from my oath.’ 42“And this day I came to the well and said, ‘O LORD God of my master Abraham, if You will now prosper the way in which I go, 43behold, I stand by the well of water; and it shall come to pass that when the virgin comes out to draw water, and I say to her, “Please give me a little water from your pitcher to drink,” 44and she says to me, “Drink, and I will draw for your camels also,”—let her be the woman whom the LORD has appointed for my master’s son.’ 45“But before I had finished speaking in my heart, there was Rebekah, coming out with her pitcher on her shoulder; and she went down to the well and drew water. And I said to her, ‘Please let me drink.’ 46And she made haste and let her pitcher down from her shoulder, and said, ‘Drink, and I will give your camels a drink also.’ So I drank, and she gave the camels a drink also. 47Then I asked her, and said, ‘Whose daughter are you?’ And she said, ‘The daughter of Bethuel, Nahor’s son, whom Milcah bore to him.’ So I put the nose ring on her nose and the bracelets on her wrists. 48And I bowed my head and worshiped the LORD, and blessed the LORD God of my master Abraham, who had led me in the way of truth to take the daughter of my master’s brother for his son. 49Now if you will deal kindly and truly with my master, tell me. And if not, tell me, that I may turn to the right hand or to the left.”Genesis 24:33-49 – NKJV
It would have been disingenuous of Abraham’s servant to accept Bethuel’s and Laban’s hospitality without making them fully aware of his motives for coming to them. We see here that he insisted on making the situation clear before sharing a meal with them. There’s no need for us to analyze the servant’s reiteration of the story of his mission. The crux of this passage is found in verse 49 where the servant asked Rebekah’s father and brother bluntly whether or not they would allow him to take Rebekah back to Canaan as a wife for Isaac.
50Then Laban and Bethuel answered and said, “The thing comes from the LORD; we cannot speak to you either bad or good. 51Here is Rebekah before you; take her and go, and let her be your master’s son’s wife, as the LORD has spoken.” 52And it came to pass, when Abraham’s servant heard their words, that he worshiped the LORD, bowing himself to the earth.Genesis 24:50-52 – NKJV
From their reaction to the servant’s blunt request, we can clearly see that Bethuel and Laban feared and worshiped the one true God. Their response is reminiscent of what Paul’s teacher – Gamaliel – said to the Jewish council of elders (The Sanhedrin) when they had brought Peter and John before them to punish them for preaching and performing miracles in Jesus’ Name.
38…keep away from these men and let them alone; for if this plan or this work is of men, it will come to nothing; 39but if it is of God, you cannot overthrow it—lest you even be found to fight against God.”Acts 5:38b-39 – NKJV
Nevertheless as we shall see in Genesis 31, Rebekah’s brother Laban had fallen into the ritual worship of idols by the time Rebekah and Isaac’s son Jacob came to him seeking a wife. Abraham may have been aware of the idol worship within his brother’s family, and that may have been one reason why he was so adamant that his servant not take Isaac along when he went to them seeking a wife for Isaac.
53Then the servant brought out jewelry of silver, jewelry of gold, and clothing, and gave them to Rebekah. He also gave precious things to her brother and to her mother. 54And he and the men who were with him ate and drank and stayed all night. Then they arose in the morning, and he said, “Send me away to my master.” 55But her brother and her mother said, “Let the young woman stay with us a few days, at least ten; after that she may go.” 56And he said to them, “Do not hinder me, since the LORD has prospered my way; send me away so that I may go to my master.”Genesis 24:53-56
We’ll likely never know exactly what Rebekah’s brother Laban and their mother had up their sleeves asking for at least a ten day delay before allowing Rebekah to depart with Abraham’s servant. Given Laban’s later shenanigans in his dealings with Rebekah’s son Jacob, it may be that they were hoping to sweeten the deal, squeezing a larger bride price out of the servant in the meantime. But the faithful servant wasn’t having any of it, and insisted that they release Rebekah to him immediately as they had agreed. Their reaction to his insistence was truly remarkable.
57So they said, “We will call the young woman and ask her personally.” 58Then they called Rebekah and said to her, “Will you go with this man?” And she said, “I will go.” 59So they sent away Rebekah their sister and her nurse, and Abraham’s servant and his men. 60And they blessed Rebekah and said to her:
“Our sister, may you become
The mother of thousands of ten thousands;
And may your descendants possess
The gates of those who hate them.”
61Then Rebekah and her maids arose, and they rode on the camels and followed the man. So the servant took Rebekah and departed.Genesis 24:57-61 – NKJV
With perhaps the single exception of Ruth’s marriage to her kinsman redeemer Boaz in the book of Ruth, this is the only instance we find in the Bible of a woman being given any say whatsoever in the arrangements for her own wedding. It simply wasn’t done. All marriages in ancient Hebrew society were arranged between the fathers of the prospective bride and groom. Even the bridegroom had virtually no involvement in the actual arrangements such as the negotiation of the bride price. Here in this passage though we see that Rebekah was at least given some say as to when she would depart from her family to be married. Like Abraham’s servant and even her own father and brother, she clearly recognized that her marriage to Isaac had been ordained the the LORD Himself, and she was anxious to obey God’s will in the matter immediately.
62Now Isaac came from the way of Beer Lahai Roi [בְּאֵר לַחַי רֹאִי Be’er la-Chay Ro’iy – well of the Living One seeing me], for he dwelt in the South. 63And Isaac went out to meditate in the field in the evening; and he lifted his eyes and looked, and there, the camels were coming. 64Then Rebekah lifted her eyes, and when she saw Isaac she dismounted from her camel; 65 for she had said to the servant, “Who is this man walking in the field to meet us?” The servant said, “It is my master.” So she took a veil and covered herself. 66And the servant told Isaac all the things that he had done. 67Then Isaac brought her into his mother Sarah’s tent; and he took Rebekah and she became his wife, and he loved her. So Isaac was comforted after his mother’s death.Genesis 24:62-67
This amazing story culminates now with the consummation of the marriage between Abraham’s son Isaac and Abraham’s great neice Rebekah – the wife ordained for Isaac by God Himself. Thus Rebekah became the matriarch of God’s chosen people Israel as we will see in the next chapter.
ASIDE – בְּאֵר לַחַי רֹאִי Be’er la-Chay Ro’iy where Isaac was living when Rebekah arrived for the wedding, lies at the extreme southern border of Canaan. It was named by Sarah’s Egyptian maidservant Hagar. She had fled there from the camp of Abraham and Sarah after she became pregnant with Ishmael – Isaac’s half-brother. God visited her there, telling her that He had seen her distress. Thus Hagar called the place בְּאֵר לַחַי רֹאִי Be’er la-Chay Ro’iy which means “well of the Living One seeing me” (Genesis 16:14). The place figures prominently in the history of the Israelite people. It was later called Kadesh Barnea.