24 : Isaac & Rebekeh: Love is a Gift of Angels
As Train 8017 made its way through Salerno, Italy, on March 2, 1944, there was no indication of impending disaster. The chugging train didn't collide with anything on that rain-soaked evening. It didn't derail or burn. But shortly after 1:00 a.m., the train loaded with 600 passengers lumbered into the Galleria delle Armi. When the two locomotives pulling the train were halfway through the tunnel, their drivewheels began to slip. The wheels lost, traction and the train stopped. All else is speculation since both engineers died. Carbon monoxide snuffed out the lives of nearly 500 people. As analysts surveyed the wreckage, they found that the leading locomotive was unbraked, its controls set in reverse. The second locomotive was also unbraked, but its throttle was positioned "full ahead." The two locomotives had pulled and pushed against each other, each engineer obviously having fatally different ideas about what to do! Some have speculated that no lives would have been lost if the engineers had been in agreement about which direction to go.
There is a lesson here for those who are married or contemplating it. Are you travelling in the same direction? And what part does 'love' and 'romance' play in this journey? We know that God instituted marriage but what about romance? "Do you think God really cares about romance?" How do we keep the fire of love burning so that we stay on the right track for all our lives? As we look to the Bible for the answers in the next few weeks we are going to discover an abundance of couples in love.
In fact, we are going to discover that God even took time to record details of first looks, tender conversations, and physical attractions. In some of the stories, he got directly involved playing matchmaker. And he devoted an entire book of the Bible, the Song of Songs, to expound on the mysteries of passion and pursuit. Our purpose in retelling God's love stories these Sunday evenings will be to help you meet the flesh-and-blood people behind the familiar Bible characters, women and men with whom we can immediately identify. Like us, some of them rose to great acts of devotion, ardor, and sacrifice under the influence of love. And like us, others made silly or foolish choices and suffered painful losses. Regardless of each couple's success, we're thankful that God took time to include their stories. After meeting these lovers, I believe you'll be inspired to cherish your own love relationships with more understanding and commitment.
Even more important though, I believe as God pulls on the thread of each human love story, he is really weaving together the greatest love story of all - his eternal love for and pursuit of each one of us. So lets look again at Genesis 24 and the story of how God brought together Isaac and Rebekah.
When the old servant heard Abraham's request, his eyes must have widened with surprise. In all his years of loyal service, his duties had never included matchmaking. Abraham was worried that with Isaac's mother gone, his son would get lonely and - God forbid! - marry one of the local pagan women.
Now, Abraham was asking Eliezer, his chief servant, to travel all the way back to their people in Paddan-Aram in order to find a wife for Isaac. "But what if the woman won't come back with me without meeting Isaac?" he asked doubtfully "Can I take your son back there with me?" "Never!" Abraham exclaimed. "The Lord promised me, 'To your offspring I will give this land.'" He spread his bony arms wide. "This land!" he repeated. "And now, this same God will send an angel ahead of you to help you get a wife for my son." Upon hearing this, Eliezer promised to do exactly as his master wished. Before Eliezer left, I suspect Isaac offered a few suggestions to his father's servant. "Let her be beautiful," he'd whispered to Eliezer as he filled his camel's pack. "Let her be as beautiful and as radiant and good as my mother." The old servant may have nodded and grunted. "I will do my best for my master Abraham.. So far as his son, Isaac, is concerned.." His eyes twinkled mischievously at the young man. "I will do my best for him also."
Soon he and his men were making the 700-mile journey away from Canaan and toward Paddan-Aram. With each step Eliezer heard the soft clinking of coins, gold ornaments, and inlaid ivory treasures hidden in his bags. The sound reminded him of a young girl's laughterand that he carried dowry gifts for a new bride for Isaac. When finally Eliezer's caravan arrived by a well outside the town of Nahor in the region of Paddan-Aram, Eliezer lifted his hands in prayer. "See, I am standing beside this spring, and the daughters of the townspeople are coming out to draw water," he prayed. "May it be, Lord, that when I say to a girl, 'Please let down your jar that I may have a drink,' and she says, "Drink, and I'll water your camels too" let her be the one you have chosen for Isaac." Before he had even finished praying, a young woman approached carrying a jar on her shoulder. Eliezer would have been able to tell by her dress that she was not married. When the girl went down to the well and filled her jar, Eliezer went to her and said, "Please give me a little water." "Drink, my lord," she said brightly, and quickly lowered the jar to give him a drink. The servant drank slowly. As he watched the lovely maiden, perhaps he found himself hoping she might be the one. But would God answer his prayer so quickly? After the girl had given Eliezer a drink, she said, "I'll draw water for your camels too, until they have finished drinking." It may have taken her an hour while Eliezer watched silently in amazement and with growing excitement as this energetic young woman brought water to his whole caravan. When the camels had finished drinking, Eliezer approached her and asked. "Whose daughter are you?" And please tell me, is there room in your father's house for us to spend the night?" "I am Rebekah," she offered, "the daughter of Bethuel. We have plenty of straw and fodder, as well as room for you to spend the night." By now Eliezer could hardly contain himself.
"Praise be to the Lord, God of my master Abraham!" he blurted out to the startled girl. "He has not abandoned his kindness and faithfulness to my master. As for me, the Lord has led me on the journey to the house of my master's relatives." With a flourish, Eliezer reached in his saddlebags and pulled out carefully wrapped jewellery including a gold nose ring and two gold bracelets. These he held out to young Rebekah. She shyly took the gifts, offered a few fumbling words of thanks, and then turned and ran in the direction of home. Soon Eliezer was seated around the table with Rebekah's family but he refused to eat until he had told them the purpose of his journey. He explained why Abraham had sent him.
Then he recounted in detail how the Lord had answered his prayer. Then Eliezer turned to Laban and Bethuel. "Please, show kindness to my master and tell me if your answer is yes or no." The men of the household could only raise their palms to heaven. "This is from the Lord," they said as one. 'Here is Rebekah; take her and go, and let her become the wife of your master's son, as the Lord has directed' (Genesis 24:50,51). When the time came to depart, Bethuel's family gathered around the bride-to-be and pronounced an ancient blessing on her: "Our sister, may you increase to thousands upon thousands. Then, Rebekah and her maidservants rode away from her family with Eliezer's caravan toward marriage to a man she had never seen.... Day after day on the journey back to Canaan, Rebekah tried to imagine the new life that awaited her. Around the fire each night, she would have plied Eliezer with questions about his master's mystery son. How did he live?
What was his family like? What did he look like? Eliezer perhaps would have tried to explain, but found himself tongue-tied. "He is a chosen son," he would say, as if this should be enough to satisfy the curiosity of any bride-to-be. Meanwhile, one evening in Canaan Isaac had gone to the field to stroll and meditate. But he was distracted by anticipation and endless unanswered questions. But this evening as he looked up and saw camels approaching. Soon he could see Eliezer's caravan-and traveling with him were several women. At that very moment, Rebekah also looked up and saw Isaac. 'Eliezer," she asked, "who is that man in the field coming to meet us?" "He is my master's son, Isaac," Eliezer answered. A faint smile may have hovered on Rebekah's lips as she covered her face with her veil. Then Isaac walked up, Eliezer dismounted and bowed to the ground. With his face beaming, he began, "Praise be to the Lord, God of my master Abraham, for leading me by an angel on the right road...!" Riding back to the family tents, Eliezer retold the story yet again, exactly as it had happened, from start to finish. When the whole clan arrived for the wedding feast, it must have been apparent to Abraham and everyone else that the angel had made a good match. Even behind her veil, who could mistake the light in Rebekah's eyes? Who could fail to notice Isaac so bright and talkative? From that first glance in the fields, Isaac had been in love with his young Rebekah. Eliezer watched the happy proceedings with great relief and glowing pride. Gazing on Rebekah's wholesome, radiant beauty, he felt sure Isaac's mother Sarah would have approved. An angel had brought bride and groom together, and now, perhaps, an angel had come to stay in Isaac's tent.
1. Cultural Context
Now before we look for the abiding lessons of the story lets first notice the cultural aspects specific to that time and region.
1.1 Making an Oath (24:1-4)
In Abraham's culture, putting a hand under the thigh was how an agreement was sealed or a covenant ratified. To accomplish the same purpose, we shake hands, swear oaths, or sign documents in the presence of a vicar, registrar or solicitor.
1.2 Respect and Singleness (24:64-65)
When Rebekah learned that the man coming to greet them was Isaac, her husband-to-be, she followed two oriental customs. She dismounted from her camel to show respect, and she placed a veil over her face as a bride.
1.3 Arranged Marriage
The way a man secured a wife in Bible times resembles how we negotiate to buy a house today. Success depended on sufficient finances, a good agent and smart negotiating, First, the suitor's family needed enough money for a sizable down payment - the mohar, or "brideprice' Besides money, this could take the form of work or gifts. The suitor was represented to the family of the bride by an agent who knew how much the suitor could afford. When the agent or the suitor's father arrived at the prospective brides home, they would decline food or drink to indicate the serious nature of the business at hand. Both sides negotiated until an agreement was reached.
Then everyone celebrated together over a meal. The brideprice helped compensate her family for the loss of a daughter but the bride's parents would give her a dowry 'a personal wedding gift of valuables, property, or servants. Traditions of the brideprice and arranged marriages are still practiced in Eastern cultures. But then as now, the aim is usually to find not just a wife for the home, but a bride for the heart and a bridge between two families. In the West we tend to marry the one we love. In the East they often love the one they marry. The high divorce rates in the West should make us cautious of any sense of superiority. If these are some of the cultural factors, lets now look at the specific lessons - what does the Lord want us to learn from this beautiful story?
2. Specific Lessons
2.1 Marry in the Family (24:4)
Abraham wanted Isaac to marry within the extended family. This was a common and acceptable practice at this time that had the added advantage of avoiding intermarriage with pagan neighbours. One reason for this was because it invariably led to the worship of pagan gods and idolatry. The story of Solomon in 1 Kings 11:1-8 is a good example. We would do well to learn from it. In 1 Corinthians 7:39 Paul says, "A woman is bound to her husband as long as he lives. But if her husband dies, she is free to marry anyone she wishes, but he must belong to the Lord" In 2 Corinthians 6:14, Paul reiterates this insisting we should not be "yoked with unbelievers."
If you are married to someone who is not yet a Christian, or you became a Christian after you got married, then stay with them says Paul. That's a different matter to choosing to marry someone who is not a Christian. If Jesus Christ is the most important person in the world to you. If Jesus dwells in your heart how can you marry someone who is at this moment in rebellion against Jesus? "But I might convert him or her" is just a hormonal driven excuse. So is the other one, "But there are not enough single Christian men or women in the church."
That's an excuse. Current estimates suggest there are around 2 billion Christians in the world. Discounting those that are too young to marry and those already married that leaves around 500 million men and 500 million women to choose from. Abraham was prepared to send Eliezer 700 miles to find a wife for his son. In those days that was equivalent to going to the other side of the world to find a partner. With the internet its somewhat easier and Christian dating agencies its a whole lot easier. So the first lesson is this - if you are single and contemplating marriage, marry in the family.
To have Isaac stay and marry, or send him back to marry a relative would have been easier. But Abraham wanted to obey God in the who as well as in the where. Make your obedience full and complete.
2.2 Seek God's Guidance (24:12-16)
Abraham's servant asked God for guidance in this very important task. Obviously Eliezer had learned much about faith and about God from his master. What are your family members, friends, and associates learning about God from watching you? Be like Abraham, setting an example of dependent faith. And be like Eliezer, asking God for guidance before any venture.
From an early age we have prayed not only for our children but also their future partners. Katie's question. I think I would give a different answer now. I pray for God to guide them instead. It wasn't just Eliezer who needed to seek God's guidance. Rebekah did also. We cannot help but admire her decision: "I will go." This was an act of faith just as ours is to trust in jesus. The Apostle Peter writes, "Though you have not seen him you love him" (1 Peter 1:8) That step of faith changed her life. She was changed from being a servant to being a bride, from the loneliness of the world to the joy of love and companionship, from her poverty into Isaac's wealth. Did she see all of Isaac's wealth? Of course not! That would be impossible! Did she know all about him? No. But what she saw and heard convinced her that she must go. Rebekah's faith was rewarded. Her name was recorded in God's Word; she shared Isaac's love and wealth, and she became an important part of God's plan.
2.3 Develop a Servant Heart (24:19-23)
Was it right for Abraham's servant to ask God for such a specific sign? The sign he requested was only slightly out of the ordinary. The hospitality of the day required women at the well to offer water to weary travellers, but not to their animals. Eliezer was simply asking God to show him a woman with an attitude of servicesomeone who would go beyond the expected. An offer to water his camels would indicate that kind of attitude. Eliezer did not ask for a woman with looks or wealth. He knew the importance of having the right heart, and he asked God to help him with his task. Rebekah had physical beauty, but the servant was looking for a sign of inner beauty. Appearance is important to us, and we spend time and money improving it. But how much effort do we put into developing our inner beauty?
Patience, kindness, and joy are the beauty treatments that help us become truly lovelyon the inside. Instead of looking for the right one, its more important to become the right one. Rebekah's servant spirit was clearly demonstrated as she willingly and quickly drew water for Eliezer and his camels. The pots used for carrying water were large and heavy. It took a lot of water to satisfy a thirsty camelup to 25 gallons per camel after a week's travel. Seeing Rebekah go to work, Eliezer knew this was a woman with a heart for doing far more than the bare minimum.
Do you have a servant spirit? When asked to help or when you see a need, go beyond the minimum. Imagine the dynamic of two servant hearts becoming one.
The Blue Nile is a rushing, churning river, which gains its energy from the mountains down which it descends. It carries with it much of the rich and muddy soil from the country through which it passes to the Nile delta far away. In the delta, the Blue Nile is joined by the White Nile, a sleepy, peaceful river which flows across the plains. As their names indicate, the White Nile is a clear river in comparison to the Blue. Once they join together into the same riverbed, these two rivers maintain their distinct qualities and colours for many, many miles. From high above, one can clearly see the muddy currents of the Blue Nile, and the clear waters of the White. They are separate, yet united. The longer the rivers share the same riverbed, however, the more their currents intermingle, until the two rivers truly become one powerful and life-giving waterway.
When tough times hit a marriage or disagreements erupt, make a decision that you will pull together, rather than allow yourself to be pulled apart by temporary circumstances, momentary conflicts, or resolvable differences. Choose to flow together. The longer you do, the more "one" you will become.
2.4 Give Glory to God (24:26-27)
As soon as Abraham's servant knew that God had answered his prayer, he prayed and thanked God for his goodness and guidance. God will also use and lead us if we are available like Eliezer. And our first response should be praise and thanksgiving that God would choose to work in and through us. Thank God for your partner, for your children, for your family. Give glory to God.
3. Conclusions: Broad Principles
In many ways, Isaac and Rebekah's marriage reads like a fairy tale. One day Rebekah wakes up and discovers that the glass slipper fits. Her kind gesture to a stranger suddenly transforms her from a watering girl into the bride-to-be of a rich, important man. Now it's time to run off and marry him. There's just one small catch. She has never met him. Isaac and Rebekah's love story is full of such intriguing twists. God (through an angel) plays matchmaker on the father's behalf, while a servant does the courting. Not a single word is recorded between the lovers, yet the word "love" is used romantically here for the first time in the Bible"So she became his wife, and he loved her" (Genesis 24:67). Today is Pentecost when we remember God gave the Holy Spirit. Love is often called the "queen" of the fruit of the Spirit, the supreme manifestation of the Christian character (see Galatians 5:22, 23):
If Love is the key.
Joy is love singing.
Peace is love resting.
Longsuffering is love enduring.
Kindness is love's touch.
Goodness is love's character.
Faithfulness is love's habit.
Gentleness is love's self-forgetfulness.
Self-control is love holding the reins.
A strong marriage is founded upon love. Sustaining that love is an ongoing privilege. Begin and end each day with words of love and acts of kindness for each other. Pour your love out upon one another; don't withhold it in anger or resentment. Let your love spill over into joy. Let love fill your home with peace. Endure irritations and difficulties with kindness and goodness. Be faithful to your spouse in word and deed.
Love gently, controlling anger or displeasure. Rebekah and Isaac's marriage may have been arranged but they loved each other. Naturally, Rebekah and Isaac both had to put extraordinary faith in God's matchmaking abilities.
What if the servant had returned with a woman Isaac couldn't imagine being intimate with? And how could Rebekah know what life would bring her with an unknown man in a foreign land? Isaac and Rebekah's example encourages us to be brave for loveto wait patiently; to cross deserts, leaving behind what is easy and familiar; to take risks to truly know our partners; and above all to have faith that God is the gentle keeper of our heart's desires. Genesis reveals that Isaac and Rebekah went on to have struggles in their marriage, mostly over their children. This doesn't mean they 'were wrong for each other. It simply reminds us that even a marriage "made in heaven" must be lived out day-by-day on earthwith and in spite of our human shortcomings. How encouraging to know that God is not only a matchmaker but a marriage maker. He has promised whether we are single, married, divorced or widowed, "I will be with you always even to the end of the age."
| ||About Him||About Her|
|Age||40 approx||15-18 approx|
|Personality||A loner, peace-loving, trusting. Loved his mother||High spirited, helpful, a servant. Scheming in later life|
|Family Background||Only son of Abraham and Sarah born in their old age.||Grew up in Mesopotamia|
The grandneice of Abraham
|Place in history||Called "the child of promise" second in line of Jewish patriarchs||She and Eve are the only Bible brides 'personally selected" by God.|
|Compatibility||Probably good: they shared a||heritage of faith and family|
|Greatest Obstacle||Trusting that God was||making the match|
|Most Memorable Scene||First sight of||one another|
With grateful thanks for insights and ideas taken from David and Heather Kopp's 'Love Stories told by God' by Harvest House and 'God's Little Devotional Book for Couples' by Honor Books.