Ministry Resources

Carrying on the promised line—Genesis 24

Author: Dr. Craig Keener

I used to relish reading Genesis 24 in my Hebrew devotions, because it encouraged my faith that as God provided the right wife for Isaac, God would also provide the right wife for me.

How God brought my wife and me together makes for an interesting story itself (a subject of our book Impossible Love), and I do indeed believe that God cares about providing us life partners. Although some people think otherwise, it seems clear from this chapter that, at least in many cases, God does care whom we marry (Gen 24:4). Getting a wife for Abraham’s son was an important expression of God’s kindness and promise just as getting a son was; the line must continue beyond Isaac. One who finds a wife finds something good (Prov 18:22).

But we might underestimate what was at stake in Isaac getting the right wife. This story is narrated at such length in the Bible not merely because it is a nice love story (though it is), but because this would make a big difference for the future history of God’s people. (The Book of Ruth is also a wonderful love story, but the reason the Bible gives us that love story infused with divine grace rather than a thousand other love stories also infused with divine grace is that this Gentile turned out to be King David’s great-grandmother.)

The narrator offers clues to what is coming in advance. Genesis 22 might seem to end in an anticlimactic way. After recounting Abraham’s offering of Isaac but before narrating Sarah’s burial arrangements, Abraham receives news concerning relatives in Mesopotamia, including about a young nephew of Abraham who would become father of Rebekah (22:23). One reason for mentioning this here is presumably simply chronological: that is, travelers brought Abraham family news between the offering of Isaac and before Sarah’s passing. Nevertheless, the mention also serves a literary function, foreshadowing what is to come. Because Abraham has passed the test, God is working to prepare the right bride for Isaac, so ensuring the plan for Abraham’s seed.

The right bride does indeed choose to be key. Eventually Rebekah is born, and it will be through her trust in his word to her (25:23) that God would ensure that Jacob rather than Esau will inherit the line of blessing.

In Genesis 24, Abraham’s confidence that God will supply the right wife for Isaac rests on God’s promise of multiplied descendants and on God’s proven trustworthiness (24:7). Yet Abraham was not afraid to at least entertain the contrary possibility (24:8), like Caleb in Josh 14:12 or Daniel’s three friends in Dan 3:18. (Abraham was not afraid of making what some today call a “negative confession.”)

Like many people in antiquity, Abraham practices clan endogamy—marrying within the clan. In Abraham’s case, this would help guarantee finding a wife for his son who would share the right values, rather than local Canaanites with their different moral and religious beliefs (even though Abraham remained on favorable terms with them). For us, the principle would be spiritual endogamy—marrying those with our shared faith and relationship with God (cf. e.g., 1 Cor 7:39; 9:5), if such are at all available.

God arranges matters so providentially that the servant could not have heard from God any more clearly that Rebekah was the one for Isaac. The narrator could have simply summarized what follows, but he chooses to repeat the servant’s retelling of how he encountered Rebekah, rehearsing for us again those providential circumstances (24:37-48), lest we miss the point. (I do not re-narrate them here only because I have nothing to add except further illustrations how God often provides such dramatic arrangements, showing us his care for us on keys matters—indeed, sometimes, though not always, even just in fairly small ones that lavish his love on us.)

A further matter raises my interest, however. In Gen 24:54-56, the servant was in a hurry to leave. It would be unusual to want to leave so quickly after such a long journey, but perhaps the servant wants to fulfill his commission while things were going well. Perhaps the servant does not want to risk any change of mind. When God has opened the door, we should take advantage of it while the door is open.

Yet the servant might also be eager to leave (24:56) because of concerns of extended delays. Given kind, traditional Middle Eastern hospitality, the proposed ten days (24:55) might be stretched out longer and longer (as happened in Judges 19:4-9). Indeed, we need only read one more generation in Genesis to discover that Rebekah’s brother Laban tries to keep his daughters and his new son-in-law as permanently as possible (Gen 29—31).

Being nice and polite counts for something, but when we are sent on a divine mission we must never forget that first things come first. For us, that may mean gently sharing the good news even if we fear that others may be displeased with us, or following a call to ministry even if that ruins some others’ plans for us, or the like. God’s plan is the best, and when we have good evidence that he has confirmed it, we need to follow it.

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