Abraham was getting older, and he had lost his beloved wife. Yet he had been greatly blessed by God in every way. His mind turned to thoughts of Isaac, his son, and the future that lay ahead of him. Isaac would inherit all of the vast wealth that Abraham had received from God’s hand over the years. He would inherit his father’s power and reputation. Most importantly, he had inherited the promises of God. As Isaac moved into these high privileges and responsibilities, he needed a wife of his own. Who would God choose for him to carry on the promises?
Think about how important it was to find a good wife for Isaac. She would be the mother of all of Abraham’s descendants, the nation that God had promised. Abraham had hundreds of servants, but for this job, he went to the one whose wisdom and decisions he trusted most. This was his chief servant, the man whom Abraham had put in charge of everything he had.
Abraham said to him, “‘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’” (Genesis 24:2c-4).
This might seem like a strange thing to ask for, but that is simply because we don’t understand the culture of the Ancient Near East. Abraham was having his most trusted servant take an oath. They didn’t have cheap pens and paper or computers to create contracts with. There was no overarching governments to enforce the law in Canaan. Things like spoken oaths and covenants took on an importance that is hard for us to imagine. A sign of the seriousness of this oath was that the servant made his promise while laying his hands on the very body of Abraham himself. This oath was binding. It was a huge responsibility. If the servant did not carry it out, it was not only a violation against Abraham, the great prince. It was a violation against God.
Abraham knew the customs and lifestyles of the Canaanite people. The women of Canaan would bring false worship that violated his sacred faith. They had ways of living that would bring trouble and strife to their home. Marrying a Canaanite would bring the family of Abraham and Isaac into allegiance with people who were idolatrous and corrupt…and their wickedness was stubborn. They sacrificed their children to the gods as a trade to receive blessings from them. Prostitution was often an integral part their worship practices. The deeply imbedded habits, cultural customs, and beliefs would not go away because a woman married his son. In times of pressure, these practices were seen as the answer to the problem. But Abraham’s answer was to trust his God, to wait on him and pray. Abraham wanted a woman who was part of the same clan as he and Sarah had been a part of, whose deeply felt beliefs and ways of life would honor their God and bring Isaac honor and peace.
You may remember that Abraham had a brother named Nahor. He had married Milcah, the daughter of Abraham’s other brother. In those days, marrying widows who had been married to a brother was common. It was protection for the family. It insured that the women in the family were taken care of in a vulnerable land. Over the years, Milcah had given birth to seven boys, and those boys had grown and begun to have children of their own. Perhaps a good wife could be found for Isaac from among the grandchildren of Nahor.
Abraham and his great tribal clan were many miles from the family he had left behind. His servant would have to travel long days on camels to reach there. He would have to bring a magnificent dowry with him that would display the wealth of Abraham and please the family of the girl. But he would not bring Isaac. The family was going to have to decide to give their daughter to Isaac without ever having met him. The girl would have to leave her family far behind before she ever met her husband. Abraham’s chief servant was worried that once he had found a wife for Isaac, she wouldn’t want to come with him! He asked, “‘What if the woman is unwilling to come back with me to this land? Shall I then take your son back to the country you came from?’”
“‘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 an 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. 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.’”
It is interesting that Abraham defined his life by the promises of God. He understood the meaning of the events of his life according to God’s leading…and through his acts of obedience and response to God. It was the LORD who brought him out of his father’s land and into the land of promise. Not because of some psychological tweak in Abraham’s makeup. Not because circumstances drove him there. It was because of the hand of God on his life. And now he saw that hand on Isaac’s life as well.
Abraham had great faith that God truly had prepared a woman to be the wife of Isaac. The servant put his hand on Abraham’s thigh and swore to bring her back without the presence of Isaac. Abraham had left that land long before. It would not do for the family of God to return.
The servant swore an oath on Abraham’s thigh and ventured out for his task. Some of Abraham’s other servants went along with him. He took large amounts of gold and silver to bestow on the future bride of Isaac and her family. He took ten of Abraham’s camels with him. Camels were very expensive and a sign of great wealth. If a family were to give their daughter to this servant, they would want to know they were sending her to a life of prosperity. It was dangerous to travel through the wilderness with so many valuable treasures, but just as Abraham believed, the angel of the LORD was with them.
Abraham’s chief servant journeyed over the miles for many days. He crossed back through all the lands that Abraham and Sarah had left behind. It was evening when he arrived at the well of the town where the sons of Nahor lived. He had the camels kneel down nearby. As the sun lowered and the heated earth began to cool, the women began to come out to the well with their jugs. They filled them up with water to use for washing and for cooking food for their families. As they each waited their turn, they chatted with the other women and discussed the day.
It was the perfect time for the servant to see the women of the town. But there were so many of them! Abraham’s servant prayed to God for help. He believed that this task was an important part of God’s plan and that the Lord would guide him in it;
“‘O LORD, God of my master Abraham, give me success 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 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 your servant Isaac. By this I will know that you have shown kindness to my master.’”
The servant gave the LORD a way to show which girl was the one that God had specially chosen to marry Isaac. Now, it was very normal for a member of a town to offer to give a stranger a drink from the town well. But offering to draw water for camels was a totally different story. Especially if those camels had just come in from a long journey. A camel can drink up to twenty-five gallons at a time. The largest clay pots in that time would have held three gallons of water. The girl would have to fill her heavy clay jug up eight times for each camel. There were ten camels! That means the right woman would have to offer to lift three gallons of water and carry it to the animals eighty times!
That was a very generous thing for Abraham’s servant to hope for! But the servant wanted to be sure that the one he chose for Isaac was truly the will of the Lord. Any woman who would offer such help was not only kind and generous, but hard working. God could work through the character of the right girl so that she would do this lavishly generous work for a total stranger.
And sure enough, before God’s servant had even finished praying his prayer, a young woman came out to the well with a jar on her shoulder. Her name was Rebekah, and she was the daughter of Nahor, Abraham’s brother. But the servant had no way of knowing that. She was also very beautiful, and she was a virgin, a pure young woman at just the right age for marriage. She let her jar down into the water and brought it back up again.
The servant saw her as his prayer ended and rushed over to her, asking for some water. She gave him her jug and said “Drink.” She must have seen all of his camels, because then she said, “‘I’ll draw waters for your camels, too, until they have finished drinking.’” Then this beautiful girl set to work, filling up her jugs in the well and pouring out the precious water into the trough for the thirsty camels. Abraham’s servant watched her as she worked to see if she would truly do as she had said. If she did, then his trip was abundantly successful. She was the one that God had prepared for Isaac!
Rebekah filled the trough with water over and over until all ten camels were done drinking. When she finished, she must have been tired! But she was rewarded for her humble service to the visitor. Abraham’s servant went to her and gave her a golden nose ring. He took two golden bracelets and slid them on her arm. Each bracelet weighed ten shekels each. They were worth far more in gold than many farm workers could earn in a year. They were valuable treasures indeed. This was an act of great faith by the servant. He didn’t even know who she was! He just knew that God had answered his prayer!
“‘Whose daughter are you?’” He asked her. “‘Please tell me, is there room in your father’s house for us to spend the night?’”
“‘I am the daughter of Betheul, the son that Milcah bore to Nahor. We have plenty of straw and fodder, as well as room for you to spend the night.’”
Wow! The LORD had guided Abraham’s servant right to Nahor’s beautiful granddaughter!
The servant was overwhelmed at how perfectly God had answered his prayer. He bowed down and worshipped 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.’”