A Wife for Isaac
Reading: Gen. 24:1-25:19
- Where was Abraham's servant to find a wife for Isaac?
- Why couldn't Isaac find his own wife?
- How did the servant pick a woman to ask if she would be Isaac's wife?
- How was Rebekah related to Isaac?
- After Isaac married, whom did Abraham marry? How many more sons did Abraham have?
- How long did Abraham live? Where was he buried?
A Wife for Isaac
With the passing of his wife, Abraham became concerned about whom Isaac would marry. After all, Abraham is now quite old, having reached the age of 140. Isaac, himself, is approximately 40 years of age (Genesis 25:20). Abraham was determined that Isaac would not marry a local woman. It was probably due to the lack of belief in God in the local population, though we have seen that some in the area did believe in God, such as Melchizedek. It may also be that since Abraham knew his descendants would occupy the land of Canaan, the promise implies that the current people would be destroyed, and it is possible that Abraham did not wish to taint his bloodline.
Abraham decided to send a trusted servant back to his relatives in Haran to find a wife for Isaac. He knew Nahor had granddaughters who would be about Isaac's age (Genesis 22:20-24). Abraham, himself, was too old to travel that far and he did not want Isaac to leave the land of Canaan. Perhaps he feared that Isaac would be persuaded to settle in Haran near his future wife's family. The servant selected was the oldest living servant born in Abraham's household. The man is not necessarily Eliezer. The last time Eliezer was mentioned was 65 years ago, and then he was the oldest servant born in Abraham's household. Not everyone lives as long Abraham did.
Abraham extracts a solemn vow from his servant not to look among the Canaanites for Isaac's wife. Before taking the vow, the servant had the terms spelled out carefully. Abraham's servant is a careful man who takes his promises seriously. If no woman is found among Abraham's relatives who is willing to return with the servant, then the servant was released from the vow. The vow was made by placing his hand under Abraham's thigh. This type of vow is only mentioned in one other place in the Bible (Genesis 47:29). It also doesn't appear in archeological records. Commentators guess that the placement of the hands indicates a vow based on the future generations (Abraham's seed in this case). The vow is also made in the name of the God of Heaven and Earth. Abraham and his servant did not hold a view that God was limited to a certain region or to certain elements as most idol worshipers of their time did. Abraham also states that God would send an angel to guide the servant in fulfilling the vow.
The servant travels in a caravan with ten camels laden with supplies and gifts. As they approach the city, the servant prays to God, asking for a sign that he might know he has found the right woman. The servant shows wisdom in his request. The actions he looks for are indications of an admirable character. A woman carrying a water jug shows someone who is strong and healthy. It also shows she is industrious. Giving a drink to a stranger who asks shows kindness. Offering drinks for the rest of the travelers and to water the camels until they are satisfied shows a person who is not afraid of hard work and who is willing to go the extra mile. Ten camels after a long journey will drink a large quantity of water. All the events are not likely to happen without the Lord's intervention on behalf of the servant.
God answers the servant's prayer before he even finishes his prayer (Isaiah 65:24). Everything the servant asks for happened precisely as he had prayed. In thanking Rebekah, the servant gives her a gold nose ring weighing about 0.2 troy ounces and two gold bracelets weighing 36.5 troy ounces. It is then that the servant learns she is a relative of Abraham and he bows in thankful prayer to God. Rebekah, learning that the servant is from a relative whom the family had not seen in 65 years, runs home to tell her mother. On hearing the news and seeing the rich gifts, Rebekah's brother Laban runs out to greet the servant. It is possible that he is acting as a generous host, but notice the emphasis on the gold jewelry. Perhaps Laban was hoping that if his sister received rich gifts for watering camels, that he too would be well paid for his services.
The servant is impatient to tell his tale and would not even wait until after the meal to speak. He tells them of Abraham's financial status (after all, this is a marriage proposal) and mentions that Isaac is full-heir of that wealth. He mentions God's blessings to Abraham in granting him this wealth and a son in his old age. He mentions, too, that it was God who led him to Rebekah and this house.
Both Bethuel, Rebekah's father, and Laban acknowledge that with all this evidence they would not oppose God. Notice that Rebekah is not asked if she was willing to be Isaac's wife. Since she was present, perhaps her answer was obvious, though it is typical for families to arrange marriages for their women. The servant gives lavish gifts to the bride's family as a dowry.
When the servant first prays to God in Genesis 24:12-14, no mention is made of his bowing before God. Yet, when his prayer is answered exactly as he asked and he is led to the family of his master, the servant bows low before God in a thankful prayer (Genesis 24:26-27). Now that his request is granted immediately, beyond any reasonable expectation -- for surely there should have been extended negotiations, the servant prostrates himself on the ground before God (Genesis 24:52). The humble servant has been shown mighty proof of the power of God and he could do no less than fall on his face before the true God.
Because of his great success, the servant desired to return immediately, but the family hesitated until Rebekah agreed to leave. Her willingness to leave shows she is willing to marry a man she has never met. Because of those sent with Rebekah, we can tell that her own family is financially well off.
Isaac is now living in the Negev near Hagar's well. He notices the caravan's return during his evening meditations. Rebekah noticed him as well and quickly dismounted from her camel. Actually, the Hebrew literally says she fell off her camel. One commentator speculates that it may have been discourteous for a woman to be above a man. On learning that this man is to be her husband, she quickly veils herself. It is supposed that it was custom that a groom could not see his bride until after his marriage. Perhaps this is where we get our custom of the bride wearing a veil and the groom not seeing his bride on the wedding day until the ceremony. The actual marriage ceremony was quite simple: Isaac carried his bride into his mother's tent. At this point, they were considered married. This custom also remains with us when the groom carries his wife across the threshold.
Now that he has his son married off, Abraham marries a woman named Keturah. She is called a concubine (Genesis 25:6, I Chronicles 1:32), indicating she was a servant in his household. Abraham lived 35 additional years after Isaac's marriage. During this time he fathers six more sons. One of these sons is the founder of the Midianite nation. Before his death, Abraham gives gifts to each of his sons, including Ishmael, but the bulk of the inheritance went to Isaac. These sons are sent eastward, out of the land Isaac's descendants would one day inherit. The descendants of these children founded many of the Arab nations (I Chronicles 1:31-33). Other passages that mention the sons of Abraham are Isaiah 21:11, 16; 60:7; Jeremiah 49:28; Psalm 120:5; and Luke 3:1.
Verse 8 records the death of Abraham, but it is stated that he was gathered to his people. Even at this time, the people believed in life after death (see Hebrews 11:13-16; Genesis 15:15; 25:17; 35:29; 49:29,33; Numbers 20:26; 27:13; 31:2; Deuteronomy 32:50). Both Isaac and Ishmael attended the funeral and they buried their father with Sarah.
Ishmael was now 90 years old. While they were together, Ishmael's family records are added to Isaac's account. Eventually, Ishmael dies at the age of 137 (57 years before Isaac's death). His death was sudden. The Hebrew text states he fell in the presence of his family. He, too, was gathered to his people, indicating that Ishmael was also a follower of God.