In our study of Genesis chapter twenty four, we will look at arranged marriage from a biblical perspective.
Abraham was now very old, and the Lord had blessed him in every way.
Abraham was not only wealthy but he had an heir to carry on the family name. He was blessed by the fact that he did not have to worry about how he was going to survive or whether he would leave a lasting legacy.
He said to the senior servant in his household, the one in charge of all that he had, 'Put your hand under my thigh. I want you to swear by the Lord, the God of heaven and the God of earth, that you will not get a wife for my son from the daughters of the Canaanites, among whom I am living, but will go to my country and my own relatives and get a wife for my son Isaac.'
Abraham's last task was to arrange for the marriage of his son. Although it is not common in the world today, it was throughout the Bible. He wanted to ensure that Isaac was united to the woman that God had created for him. We should remember that Abraham had learned a valuable lesson about being united with a woman that was not chosen by God. He had suffered the heartache of Hagar and Ishmael and wanted to help Isaac to avoid a similar mistake.
The servant asked him, 'What if the woman was unwilling to come back with me to this land? Shall I then take your son back to the country you came from?'
"The servant" probably refers to Eliazer of Damascus and he asks a very reasonable question. When we hear the term "arranged marriage", we usually don't think of the woman having a choice in the matter but, here, we see that the woman would have a choice. We see that Abraham trusted God to ensure that the selected woman would agree to travel to Canaan. He did not want Isaac to go to his old homeland and it reminds us of a parent's wish to help their children to avoid some of the mistakes of life. Abraham knew that Mesopotamia was a pagan place and he did not want Isaac to go there.
'Make sure that you do not take my son back there,' Abraham said. 'The Lord, the God of heaven, who brought me out of my father's household and my native land and who spoke to me and promised me on oath, saying, "To your offspring I will give this land" - he will send his angel before you so that you can get a wife for my son from there.'
We see that Abraham is confident that his servant will get a bride for Isaac because he realizes that this marriage will be arranged by God. He remembered God's promise to him and has faith (trust in Him) that it will be kept. The biblical pattern from Genesis to Revelation is that the Father chooses the bride. This is true even today as God has created a spouse just for each of us and we can have the patience and faith to wait or we can choose to make the selection on our own.
'If the woman is unwilling to come back with you, then you will be released from this oath of mine. Only do not take my son back there.' So the servant put his hand under the thigh of his master Abraham and swore an oath to him concerning the matter.
Abraham trusted God enough to tell his servant that he was released from the oath if the woman did not come back with him. This reminds us that it is totally a work of God in both the man and the woman. God would have to put it in the woman's heart to accept the marriage proposal. She would not be forced to marry Isaac.
Then the servant left, taking with him ten of his master's camels loaded with all kinds of goods from his master. He set out for Aram Naharaim and made his way to the town of Nahor.
The servant left but took a large part of Abraham's wealth with him. This was to be the bride price but it was not to buy the woman and make her a slave. Instead, it was an assurance of the man's ability to care for the woman. No dad would want his daughter to marry a bum that couldn't provide for her and this was meant to make it clear that the man (Isaac) had the necessary means. This is also a picture of the fact that Jesus would give the ultimate price for His bride which is the church. We can be assured that He has the wealth to take care of our every need!
He had the camels kneel down near the well outside the town; it was toward evening, the time the women go out to draw water.
When the servant got to town, he went to the well because it was time for the women to come and draw water for the evening. This reminds us that the will of God involves both position and timing. He could have arrived in the middle of the day and sat at the well for a long time or he could have went to another part of town and waited. Instead, he arrived at the right time and place and could be assured of God's prompt provision.
Then he prayed, 'Lord, God of my master Abraham, make me successful today, and show kindness to my master Abraham. See, I am standing beside this spring, and the daughters of the townspeople are coming out to draw water. May it be that when I say to a young woman, "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 your servant Isaac. By this I will know that you have shown kindness to my master.'
The servant prayed to the Lord and was basically asking for discernment. Instead of trusting in his own thoughts and actions, he trusted in the Lord to work in the hearts and actions of the proper woman. We may not ask the same question but we can ask for the same type of discernment.
Before he had finished praying, Rebekah came out with her jar on her shoulder. She was the daughter of Bethuel son of Milkah, who was the wife of Abraham's brother Nahor. The woman was very beautiful, a virgin; no man had ever slept with her. She went down to the spring, filled her jar and came up again.
Even before Eliazer had finished his prayer, the Lord had already sent the answer. Once again, we see that being in the proper place at the right time resulted in God's prompt provision. We also see that, when God arranges a marriage and His people are willing to wait for His timing, He provides the best of brides (a beautiful virgin). God gives us the freedom to go ahead and make our own selection but that choice will always be second best to His choice for us.
The servant hurried to meet her and said, 'Please give me a little water from your jar.' 'Drink, my lord,' she said, and quickly lowered the jar to her hands and gave him a drink.
Abraham's servant proceeds to test Rebekah to see if she is the woman that God has chosen for Isaac. He had prayed for the woman to give him a drink and she passed this first part of the test. She was beautiful but this tested her hospitality which is a sign of inner beauty.
After she had given him a drink, she said, 'I'll draw water for your camels too, until they have had enough to drink.' So she quickly emptied her jar into the trough, ran back to the well to draw more water, and drew enough for all his camels. Without saying a word, the man watched closely to learn whether or not the Lord had made his journey successful.
The second part of the servant's test had been to see if the chosen woman would water his camels. We see that Rebekah did so as the servant watched. He did not try to talk her into it or to make her fit into the test that he had prayed. He did so because he realized that it was only through the power of God that the proper marriage could be arranged.
When the camels had finished drinking, the man took out a gold nose ring weighing a beka and two gold bracelets weighing ten shekels. The he asked, 'Whose daughter are you? Please tell me, is there room in your father's house for us to spend the night?' She answered him, 'I am the daughter of Bethuel, the son that Milkah bore to Nahor.' And she added, 'We have plenty of straw and fodder, as well as room for you to spend the night.'
After having it confirmed by her actions, the servant presented the gifts to her. He then asked to spend the night so that he could get permission from her father. This is a picture of the fact that God has chosen each and every one of us that accept Jesus Christ and become a part of the church which is His bride. When we do so, we are presented with gifts that mark us so that others can tell that we belong to Him. Thankfully, we do not all get our nose pierced but we are presented with internal gifts.
Then the man bowed down and worshiped the Lord, saying, 'Praise be to the Lord, the God of my master Abraham, who 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.'
The servant worships God by giving thanks for His guidance. That is a good reminder for us as well because sometimes we do a lot of praying when we need something but forget to say thanks. Our lives can be a continual worship as we pray, follow the leading of the Holy Spirit, and give thanks for the answers and guidance.
The young woman ran and told her mother's household about these things. Now Rebekah had a brother named Laban, and he hurried out to the man at the spring. As soon as he had seen the nose ring, and the bracelets on his sister's arms, and had heard Rebekah tell what the man said to her, he went out to the man and found him standing by the camels near the spring.
Rebekah ran and told her family about the servant and showed them the gifts that she had received. Her brother Laban immediately ran out to meet the servant. We see that Laban was more interested in the material wealth than anything else. As Christians, there are often people that want to run to us and grab onto the blessing that they see happening in our lives. Many times, they will want to join in the ministry but we must be careful because it is with the same motives as Laban. As we shall see later, people like Laban can cause some problems in any ministry.
'Come, you who are blessed by the Lord,' he said, 'Why are you standing out here? I have prepared the house and a place for the camels.' So the man went to the house, and the camels were unloaded. Straw and fodder were brought for the camels, and water for him and his men to wash their feet. Then food was set before him, but he said, 'I will not eat until I have told you what I have to say.' 'Then tell us,' Laban said.
We see some interesting things about Laban as he noticed that Eliezer was blessed by the Lord. Laban also took credit for preparing to receive the guests even though he had immediately ran out to meet them. That is the danger of having men like this associated with any ministry. They are quick to see what they can get for themselves and are slow to give the glory and praise to God. This is a sharp contrast to Eliezer's reaction of worship and thankfulness.
So he said, 'I am Abraham's servant. The Lord has blessed my master abundantly, and he has become wealthy. He has given him sheep and cattle, silver and gold, male and female servants, and camels and donkeys. My master's wife Sarah has borne him a son in her old age, and he has given him everything he owns.'
Eliezer begins to tell of how God has blessed Abraham. He did not have to worry about anything except for getting the proper wife for his son. You can almost feel how Laban would have gotten excited at the prospect of sharing in that vast wealth.
'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."'
Now, he shares his oath with Laban. As we will see later, Laban was not used to being a man of his word but he could see that Eliezer was. As Christians, we should not have to swear an oath. Instead, everyone should be able to simply know that we will tell the truth and keep our promises.
'Then I asked my master, "What if the woman will not come back with me?" He replied, "The Lord, before whom I have walked faithfully, 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. You will be released from my oath if, when you go to my clan, they refuse to give her to you - then you will be released from my oath."'
Eliezer shares the terms of the oath with Laban and so everyone can see that he has done his part and kept his word. He also tells them of how Abraham had trusted in the Lord to go before him and to select the proper bride for Isaac. It is interesting to note that Abraham had trusted God for many other things and had seen God in action. His past faith had prepared him for this latest test. We, too, will grow stronger in our faith (trust in God) as we see Him at work in our lives.
'When I came to the spring today, I said, "Lord, God of my master Abraham, if you will, please grant success to the journey on which I have come. See, I am standing beside this spring. If a young woman 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."'
Eliezer explains that he had asked the Lord for a sign to show him God's will. We also note that he did so and was not even claiming God as his god but was doing so on the basis of Abraham's relationship with God.
'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." She quickly lowered her jar from her shoulder and said, "Drink, and I'll water your camels too." So I drank, and she watered the camels also.'
The servant describes how Rebekah had fulfilled the sign that he had prayed for. We notice that it went down exactly as he had prayed.
'I asked her, "Whose daughter are you?" She said, "The daughter of Bethuel son of Nahor, whom Milkah bore to him." Then I put the ring in her nose and the bracelets on her arms, and 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. Now if you will show kindness and faithfulness to my master, tell me; and if not, tell me, so I may know which way to turn.'
Eliezer explained how he had proposed to Rebekah on behalf of Isaac. We also see that he knows that he has done his part and that the decision is in their hands. That reminds us of the fact that God gives all men "free will" to make decisions.
Laban and Bethuel answered, 'This is from the Lord; we can say nothing to you one way or the other. Here is Rebekah; take her and go, and let her become the wife of your master's son, as the Lord has directed.'
Now, we see that Rebekah's father made the decision based on the fact that he could tell that it was from God. It is interesting to note that they were in pagans in a pagan land and yet could see the hand of the one true God at work.
When Abraham's servant heard what they said, he bowed down to the ground before the Lord. Then the servant brought out gold and silver jewelry and articles of clothing and gave them to Rebekah; he also gave costly gifts to her brother and to her mother.
Eliezer fell down and worshiped God because he knew that it was only God that had arranged this marriage and got the family to see it. He then presented gifts (the bride price) to Rebekah and to her family.
Then he and the men who were with him ate and drank and spent the night there. When they got up the next morning, he said, 'Send me on my way to my master.' But her brother and her mother replied, 'Let the young woman remain with us ten days or so; then you may go.' But he said to them, 'Do not detain me now that the Lord has granted success to my journey. Send me on my way so I may go to my master.'
Abraham's servants celebrated the success of their journey and stayed the night. The next day, Rebekah's brother and mother tried to get them to stay. We do not know why but we can guess that it was in hopes of getting more gifts from Eliezer.
Then they said, 'Let's call the young woman and ask her about it.' So they called Rebekah and asked her, 'Will you go with this man?' 'I will go,' she said.
Now, we see that, even though God may arrange a marriage or other event in our lives, He allows us the choice. Rebekah agreed to marry Isaac and so the matter was settled.
So they sent their sister Rebekah on her way, along with her nurse and Abraham's servant and his men. And they blessed Rebekah and said to her, 'Our sister, may you increase to thousands upon thousands; may your offspring possess the cities of their enemies.' Then Rebekah and her attendants got ready and mounted the camels and went back with the man. So the servant took Rebekah and left.
Rebekah's family sent her with their blessing and her servants.
Now Isaac had come from Beer Lahai Roi, for he was living in the Negev. He went out to the field one evening to meditate, and as he looked up, he saw camels approaching.
Isaac was back at home with Abraham and we see that he went out to meditate. The Hebrew word for meditate is hagah and it is not the quiet reflection that we think of. Isaac had lost his mother and now he could surely see that the time of his father was close. He was going to be without any family and was probably crying out to God. Then, he looks up and sees the woman that God has created to be his wife. It is awesome to know that, when we cry out to God (meditate), He listens and will show us His provision!
Rebekah also looked up and saw Isaac. She got down from her camel and asked the servant, 'Who is that man in the field coming to meet us?' 'He is my master,' the servant answered. So she took her veil and covered herself.
At the same time, Rebekah saw Isaac and asked who he was. What a wonderful picture of God's perfect timing as they saw each other at the same time. She, then covered herself with her veil which must have been a sign that she was unmarried.
Then the servant told Isaac all he had done. Isaac brought her into the tent of his mother Sarah, and he married Rebekah. So she became his wife, and he loved her; and Isaac was comforted after his mother's death.
We see that they did not have a ceremony or even a marriage license or certificate. They were simply together physically and were considered to be married. As we shall see the result of this arranged marriage will be a chosen people for the Lord.