Isaac and Rebekah
Genesis 24:34–45, 48
After participating in this lesson, each student will be able to:
1. Tell how God continued the promises to Abraham by providing a wife for his son Isaac.
2. Use the story of Isaac and Rebekah to suggest how God may be guiding his or her life choices today.
3. Seek God’s guidance in a particular area through prayer and obedience to his will.
How to Say It
Daily Bible Readings
Monday, Sept. 24—Wanted: A Wife (Genesis 24:1–9)
Tuesday, Sept. 25—A Drink for the Camels (Genesis 24:10–21)
Wednesday, Sept. 26—The Daughter of Bethuel (Genesis 24:22–27)
Thursday, Sept. 27—A Show of Hospitality (Genesis 24:28–32)
Friday, Sept. 28—The Errand (Genesis 24:33–41)
Saturday, Sept. 29—A Wife for Isaac (Genesis 24:42–51)
Sunday, Sept. 30—God’s Steadfast Love (Psalm 100)
I bowed down and worshiped the Lord. I praised the Lord, the God of my master Abraham, who had led me on the right road to get the granddaughter of my master’s brother for his son.
Why Teach This Lesson?
Some have described our life with God as a dance. This “dance of life” can be difficult at times. The sovereign God rightly insists on “leading,” although he doesn’t act as a puppet master, pulling our strings to get the desired movement. Rather, he guides us, giving us freedom to move.
In the dance of life, some of your learners may want to remain still, taking no action until they think they have a supernatural sign to show them the creator’s plan. At other times, your learners make decisions independently, calling on the Lord only after they’re in trouble.
Today’s lesson will help your learners avoid these two extremes. The servant in today’s lesson shows us some great steps for the dance of life: humbly call on God for his wisdom and guidance while doing everything that you know is right to do. Acknowledge and thank God for his help. Share the details of your dance with others. Who knows, your learners may inspire others to join the dance!
A. How to Choose a Spouse—or Not!
When I was in graduate school, students were surprised when one of our classmates made plans to return to her home country rather suddenly. When asked what the reason was, she said, “My parents have found a husband for me, and I am going to marry!” She was very happy.
To us, this seemed strange. She had never met her future husband. Yet she trusted her parents and the process of arranged marriage. Thus she looked forward to becoming the wife of someone she did not know.
Arranged marriage is still practiced in some places in the world today, but it is becoming rarer. For example, all marriages in Japan were once arranged, but today this has slipped to no more than 10 percent. Western influences have convinced young people all over the world that they should be able to choose their own marriage partners and that marriage should be based on love, not the perceived standards of parents.
A key figure in some societies is the matchmaker, the marriage arranger. This person suggests marriage combinations that will be satisfying and successful. Ironically, a more recent variation of this is online matchmaking services. In this system men and women seeking marriage undergo testing to develop a personality profile. These profiles are matched by a computer, supposedly yielding a higher probability of compatibility. Therefore, we have come full circle and may be returning to arranged marriages, but with a machine doing the arranging rather than parents or tribal elders!
No matter what system is used, there is no “sure thing” when it comes to selecting a marriage partner. People change over time, and circumstances arise that can be allowed to destroy a commitment. The story of Isaac and Rebekah is the record of God’s special provision for a blessed marriage. We should not expect God to control our marriage choices today at the same level. But the match of Isaac and Rebekah also involved their parents. Isaac was not left to wander around looking for a wife, dating and hoping. Abraham guided the process.
B. Lesson Background
Sarah, Abraham’s wife, died at age 127 (Genesis 23:1, 2). Since she was 90 years old when Isaac was born, we assume that Isaac was nearing age 40 when Abraham began the search for that son’s future wife (25:20). Sarah’s death probably caused Abraham to realize that his own passing was coming, and that he must see to the marriage of his son before it was out of his hands.
This week’s lesson is about an arranged marriage that was crucial to the history of Israel. God’s promise to Abraham was that he would be followed by many descendants (Genesis 12:2), and that one of those descendants would be a blessing to “all peoples on earth” (Genesis 12:3). We know this person to be Jesus Christ (Galatians 3:16). God had provided Abraham with Isaac. But there would be no descendants unless Isaac had a wife and they produced children. How that wife was provided is the focus of this lesson.
I. Mission Explained (Genesis 24:34–41)
Abraham decided that Isaac should not marry a Canaanite woman (Genesis 24:3). The wisdom of this decision was borne out later in the Old Testament, for marriage to foreign women often resulted in the introduction of paganism into Israel (see Judges 3:5-6). That led to various disasters.
So in the first part of Genesis 24, Abraham directs a trusted servant to return to Abraham’s kindred to find a wife for his son. This is not a small matter! The servant takes 10 camels loaded with goods and provisions for this lengthy trip of approximately 500 miles. When the servant leaves his master, Abraham probably does not expect him to return in less than a year.
The text tells us that the purpose of the journey is fulfilled relatively quickly, as the future wife of Isaac is identified and negotiations for her begin. She is Rebekah, the granddaughter of Abraham’s brother Nahor (Genesis 24:15, 48). She is pictured as a beautiful, chaste, and obedient young woman, the perfect wife for Isaac (24:16–18).
We should pause to consider the importance of that name Nahor. This is both a personal name and a place name in Genesis. Nahor was the name of Abraham’s grandfather (Genesis 11:23–26) and of his brother (11:27). While we know little about this brother, Genesis tells us that Nahor worshiped God as Abraham did (31:53). This means that Nahor and his family practiced the worship of one God as opposed to the worship of multiple gods of the Canaanites and other surrounding peoples. This was undoubtedly a central factor in Abraham’s desire to find a wife for Isaac from his own family (24:1–4).
Nahor is also the name of a city in northern Mesopotamia (Genesis 24:10). Although the exact location of this city is unknown today, there is frequent mention of a city called Nakhur in the ancient Mari tablets (discovered in 1935, dated eighteenth century bc). This leads us to understand that the extended family of the Nahor clan is well known, prosperous, and influential in this region.
A. God’s Blessings (vv. 34–36)
34. So he said, “I am Abraham’s servant.
We do not know the name of this servant. Some believe it is Eliezer, mentioned as the steward of Abraham’s household in Genesis 15:2. This reference to Eliezer, however, is 40 to 50 years prior to the text in front of us. It is thus likely that he has already died.
The unnamed servant of this story is probably in a similar position to Eliezer’s, the senior servant (Genesis 24:2). He is presented as a person whom Abraham trusts without reservation. He is a man of prayer and integrity (see 24:12–14). He is speaking to Laban, Rebekah’s brother, shortly after arriving at the town of Nahor (24:10-11, 28–33).
Visual for Lesson 5
Keep this chart posted all quarter to give your learners a chronological perspective.
35. “The Lord has blessed my master abundantly, and he has become wealthy. He has given him sheep and cattle, silver and gold, menservants and maidservants, and camels and donkeys.
Abraham’s wealth is measured in the number of animals he owns, the number of servants he has, and the amount of precious metals he has accumulated. In all of these things, God has richly blessed Abraham. The servant said that Abraham has become wealthy and recognized in his community (compare the description of Isaac’s wealth in Genesis 26:14).
36. “My master’s wife Sarah has borne him a son in her old age, and he has given him everything he owns.
Abraham’s servant provides another important piece of information. Abraham has only one son considered to be an heir, and this son will inherit all of Abraham’s wealth. This means that the servant is searching for a woman to marry a man who will be very wealthy when his father dies. The fact that Isaac was born in the time of old age of his parents implies that Isaac should receive his inheritance in the near future.
B. Abraham’s Desire (vv. 37, 38)
37, 38. “And my master made me swear an oath, and said, ‘You must not get a wife for my son from the daughters of the Canaanites, in whose land I live, but go to my father’s family and to my own clan, and get a wife for my son.’
Although Abraham has prospered in the land of the Canaanites, he has been unwilling to assimilate into their culture. This is largely a religious issue. Abraham and his family have a tradition of worship of the one true God. The Canaanite people, on the other hand, practice fertility cults. These involve ritual, temple prostitution and other abominations to the Lord. The conquest of the promised land of Canaan that occurs later, as described in the book of Joshua, indicates that such abominations were still being practiced in Canaan long after Abraham’s time (compare Deuteronomy 7:22–26).
What Do You Think?
Isaac was not to marry outside of his culture, his people. How can this ancient principle speak to the people of God today, if at all?
[Hint: Be sure to consider 2 Corinthians 6:14.]
C. Servant’s Oath (vv. 39–41)
39, 40. “Then I asked my master, ‘What if the woman will not come back with me?’
“He replied, ‘The Lord, before whom I have walked, will send his angel with you and make your journey a success, so that you can get a wife for my son from my own clan and from my father’s family.
The servant is frank about the providential circumstances surrounding this quest for a wife. Abraham has lived by faith his entire life (see Hebrews 11:8-9, 17). The servant has carried out his master’s will confidently, believing that God’s angel has prepared his way.
41. “ ‘Then, when you go to my clan, you will be released from my oath even if they refuse to give her to you—you will be released from my oath.’
The servant is also practical in his negotiations. He does not know what type of reception he will receive from Abraham’s kin. They may not be open to sending one of their young women away with an unexpected stranger. If this happens, then the servant’s obligation is fulfilled, and he is released from his oath to Abraham.
II. Woman Identified (Genesis 24:42–45)
Abraham’s servant now recounts for Laban the events that have just happened. The story the servant tells about how he encountered Rebekah must sound very strange to those listening. It seems strange to us too, unless we understand the ways of God. God’s promise to Abraham requires that Isaac become a father, and God is ensuring that this will happen.
A. Servant Sets Conditions (vv. 42–44)
42. “When I came to the spring today, I said, ‘O Lord, God of my master Abraham, if you will, please grant success to the journey on which I have come.
The long journey of Abraham’s servant ended at the well or spring that is mentioned in Genesis 24:11. There the servant expected to meet a suitable woman, as women are the ones who come to draw water. The servant did not leave this to his own discernment, however, but prayed to God for the right match.
43, 44. ‘See, I am standing beside this spring; if a maiden comes out to draw water and I say to her, “Please let me drink a little water from your jar,” and if she says to me, “Drink, and I’ll draw water for your camels too,” let her be the one the Lord has chosen for my master’s son.’
The servant was looking for a young, unmarried woman, all of whom normally would be virgins in that culture. The servant had devised a little test for any woman who might come to the well. He wanted to see if he could find a maiden who would be willing to show generous hospitality to a stranger.
What Do You Think?
What can we learn from the prayer of Abraham’s servant that can apply to the way we pray?
To pass the test, however, she needed to go beyond the bare minimum of giving a drink to the thirsty man. Abraham’s servant wanted someone who would volunteer to draw enough water out of the well to satisfy his entire entourage (Genesis 24:14). This is many gallons for thirsty camels! It is estimated that a camel can drink 25 gallons of water in a few minutes. The woman the servant wanted thus would be committing herself to hoisting perhaps 200 to 250 gallons of water out of the well. At one or two gallons a dip, this would be a commitment to raising and lowering her pitcher for an hour or more.
B. Conditions Are Met (v. 45)
45. “Before I finished praying in my heart, Rebekah came out, with her jar on her shoulder. She went down to the spring and drew water, and I said to her, ‘Please give me a drink.’ ”
Abraham’s servant had come much too far not to carry out his plan. Even though he had arrived at a new place and knew no one, he boldly had proceeded to ask Rebekah for a drink. She responded just as he envisaged. Then he knew that God had directed him to the right woman to be Isaac’s wife.
What Do You Think?
What are some ways to respond when God answers our prayers?
Right Person, Right Place, Right Time
Which statement do you think has greater validity: “The times make the person” or “The person makes the times”? Sometimes it’s hard to tell. Sometimes it’s a little of both as one reinforces the other.
Take the case of Rosa Parks. It was December 1, 1955, in Montgomery, Alabama, when she refused to give up her seat on a bus to a white man. She was African-American, and she was tired of the injustices inflicted on people of her race through segregation laws.
Parks was arrested, convicted, and fined. In response, African-Americans boycotted the bus system for 381 days. In 1956, the U.S. Supreme Court banned segregation on public transportation. Parks was just a private person trying to better the lot of her people in a small way. But that day she was the proverbial “right person in the right place at the right time.” History was made because of it.
When Abraham’s servant approached the well in Nahor, he met a young woman who would do what she could under the circumstances that confronted her. As a result, Rebekah’s name has become known to devout people ever since.
We don’t know how aware Rebekah may have been of God’s leading, but she did what was right in the circumstance. As such, she became a vital link of the blessings that come to us today from the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. What small thing will you do today that may set in motions ripples through history? —C. R. B.
III. God Worshiped (Genesis 24:48)
In Genesis 24:46-47 (not in today’s text), Abraham’s servant recounts Rebekah’s generosity. The servant is able to taste success for his long mission! God has blessed his efforts and has granted the desires of Abraham.
A. Remembering God (v. 48a)
48. “And I bowed down and worshiped the Lord. I praised the Lord, the God of my master Abraham,
Abraham’s servant continues to recount the events that have just happened. It is curious that the servant does not say that he approaches God as his own Lord, but as the Lord, the God of my master Abraham. This shows that while he is confident, capable, and entrusted with a large, expensive expedition, he is still a humble, devoted man. As he begins to see Abraham’s quest fulfilled, he takes joy for his master. His first impulse is to thank God for the success.
We can certainly learn a lesson from this. Prayer is every bit as appropriate in our times of victory and success as in our times of desperation and need.
What Do You Think?
What lessons for Christian servanthood do we learn from the servant of Abraham?
B. Acknowledging Divine Leading (v. 48b)
48b. “… who had led me on the right road to get the granddaughter of my master’s brother for his son.”
The servant does not take credit for the success. He understands that he has been led to Rebekah. While we may take this for granted, we can feel a sense of wonder at what has been accomplished. Abraham has been largely out of touch with his relatives “back in the old country.” He took a risk to find a wife for Isaac.
This mission could have been thwarted in many ways. The servant could have run away with the camels and their precious loads, and Abraham never would have been able to find him. The caravan could have been attacked by bandits and wiped out. The servant might have been unable to find Abraham’s kin in the vast territory of Mesopotamia. The servant could have schemed and conspired with a woman to pose as the right wife for Isaac, thus deceiving Abraham.
Finding Rebekah is something along the lines of finding the proverbial needle in a haystack. From a human standpoint, the odds that this quest would be successful must have been very low. Yet God, who always keeps his promises, works to ensure Isaac gets the right wife. God thus ensures that the line of Abraham will be continued through the birth of God’s Son, Jesus Christ.
What Do You Think?
In what ways do you need to honor God for his personal leading in your life?
Praising God in Good News and Bad
On January 2, 2006, an explosion in a coal mine near Sago, West Virginia, trapped 13 miners deep underground. The eyes of the world had been on the situation for nearly two days when the first hint of good news came at 11:50 pm on January 3.
CNN cautiously reported that 12 miners had been found alive. CNN then reported that news as fact some 15 minutes later. Newspapers started printing their morning editions with the good news. The headline of the Atlanta Journal Constitution was typical: “Miracle in Mine.” As church bells rang, the families waiting at the Sago Baptist Church that night changed their prayers from petition to thanksgiving. They began singing praise songs.
Three hours later the thanksgiving and praise turned to anger when news arrived of a miscommunication. Only one miner was alive. We can understand the feelings of those relatives and friends whose hearts were torn by that terrible mistake in communication.
It’s easy to praise God when the news is good. Abraham’s servant demonstrated this fact as he praised God for the way his quest was concluded. This is not hard to understand. But the real test of our faith in God is when the news is bad. What do we say then? Can we still thank God for his care even when things do not go the way we want? —C. R. B.
Many believers have thought that life’s decisions would be simpler if they could just hear an audible word from God telling them what to do. If only God were like a magic mirror on the wall, which could speak directly into our situation and unambiguously tell us what to do!
But if God were to speak this way, would we listen and heed his voice? We all have been given solid advice by our parents that we ignored. As acts of rebellion and as assertions of independence we shunned this advice.
God has given us loads of “advice” in the form of his Word, the Holy Scriptures. Yet we often disregard this form of divine guidance and think that our way is better. This is to our detriment and loss. We learn hard lessons. We come back to God, ask for forgiveness, and admit that his ways are best for us. Do we really believe that an audible voice of God would keep us from ignoring his direction? On the contrary, just as we heard Mother’s warnings and still did the wrong thing, we would be found guilty of disobeying God’s direct, personalized counsel.
This has bearing when it comes to finding a marriage partner. It is unrealistic to expect a return to a system of arranged marriages today, but we can learn from this process. The young person would be well served to trust the opinions of his or her parents and other wise family members. The parents would be prudent to consider the best interests and happiness of their son or daughter before they attempt to veto a potential partner.
And all sides would be sensible to act as people of faith, praying fervently for God’s guidance and blessing. For parents, such prayer should begin when the son or daughter is very young. That will make it more likely that a pending marriage will be the cause of great celebration and joy, as it was for the servant of Abraham in this lesson.
God’s Word should be the guide to the one seeking a spouse and to the parents who provide counsel. While we should not expect to hear God’s voice pointing us to marriage partners, we can easily use God’s standards to “narrow the field,” so to speak (see 1 Corinthians 7; 2 Corinthians 6:14). We can pray persistently that God will lead us to the right person. We can ask others to pray for us. And in all things, whether married or unmarried, we can resolve to be used by God and be joyful in his service.
Thought to Remember
God still wants to guide our decisions.
Ageless and timeless God, you are always faithful and merciful. We acknowledge that you guide your people if they follow your lead. We know that you will never abandon us if we trust in you.
May we be resolved to seek your will and follow your paths in all our decisions, small or great. We pray this in the name of the author of our salvation, Jesus Christ, amen.