About this study: Rebekah can be confusing to us because her actions are so contradictory. In Genesis 24, when we first meet her, she is a shining example of how to live the life of faith. But by the time we get to Genesis 27, it’s hard to see anything but unbelief and ugliness. So right at the start of this study you can know that Rebekah is no perfect heroine. she has big flaws. And Rebekah is not the only flawed character in this story. There are also Isaac, Rebekah’s somewhat passive husband, and her competing twin sons, Jacob and Esau.In fact, only one character shines consistently. And that is God! Through all four chapters, he shines in His initiating love, in His providence, in His nearness to His people, and in His faithfulness to His promises. Though there may be two Rebekahs, there is only one unchanging God.
Believing in God, Rebekah is a worthy heroine, a lovely role model. Without faith in God, she is ugly beyond words. The thing that makes the crucial difference in Rebekah’s life is simply whether at any given moment, she will trust Him or not!
The Christian life is not just one decision of faith. It’s a life of faith. God invites us day after day to go with Him where He is going. How are you responding? Are you still just as willing as at the beginning? Or have you begun to resist, to moan, groan and complain? To procrastinate and stall? To manipulate and disobey? If so, let God teach you through Rebekah and let Him change you by His grace.
Two Rebekahs, But One Unchanging God
How many of you had a chance to read Genesis 24-27 in the last week? Then you have at least an idea of the events that happened to her. But if you tried to understand Rebekah’s responses to those events, like me, you may have become confused. Because when you study her reactions you really wonder, “Who is Rebekah? Is she a believer or not?”
It’s as if there are two Rebekahs. One filled with faith, joyously responds to God’s invitation to join Him in His purposes. But the other Rebekah reacts completely differently. It’s as if she has no faith. It’s as if she no longer believes God is able to carry out His plans. In fact, she acts as if God no longer matters to her. She has to get her way no matter what. To do so, she becomes a traitor to her husband and a horrible example to her son. She is so determined to control events that she says she is ready even to be cursed by God if necessary.
So right at the start of this study you can know that Rebekah is no perfect heroine. She has big flaws. And Rebekah is not the only flawed character in this story. There is also Isaac, Rebekah’s somewhat passive husband, and her competing twin sons, Jacob and Esau.
In fact, only one character really shines in this story. And that’s God. Through all four chapters, he shines in His initiating love, in His providence, in His nearness to His people and in His faithfulness to His promises. Though there may be two Rebekahs, (as there are sometimes two Kristas, two Ancas) there is only One God, who is unchanging, and who remains faithful though His people are faithless.
Believing in God, Rebekah is a worthy heroine, a lovely role model. Without faith in God, she is ugly beyond words. The thing that makes the crucial difference in Rebekah’s life is simply whether at any given moment she will trust God or not. You need to see this, because the very same thing is true about your life.
Like Rebekah, God has not chosen you for your perfection. 1 Corinthians 1:26-31 says:
26 Brothers and sisters, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. 27 But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. 28 God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, 29 so that no one may boast before him. 30 It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. 31 Therefore, as it is written: “Let the one who boasts boast in the Lord.”[a] (NIV)
So yes, you are weak, but that does not disqualify you, and that is no excuse for unbelief. So many believers who are responding sinfully to a hard trial make this excuse, “Anyone in my situation would act like me!” No! God knows all about your inadequacies, but the passage says God has purposely chosen the weak, because in Christ they will put the strong to shame and God will get the glory! God has not chosen you so that you’ll respond sinfully to your trials, but so that in Christ you’ll put the strong to shame. Trusting in Christ is the key. And I hope studying Rebekah will encourage you to do this.
Part One: A Rebekah of Beauty
Rebekah’s story starts with Abraham realizing that at age forty it is high time for his son Isaac to be married. He himself is advanced in age by now and his wife Sarah has died. But Abraham has not forgotten God’s promises to him. He remembers clearly the promise God reaffirmed the day he come down from Mt. Moriah. That day, God had said to him, (Genesis 22:16-18)
16 and said, “I swear by myself, declares the LORD, that because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son, 17 I will surely bless you and make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as the sand on the seashore. Your descendants will take possession of the cities of their enemies, 18 and through your offspring[b] all nations on earth will be blessed,[c] because you have obeyed me.”NIV
Descendents like the stars of heaven and like the sand on the seashore! All the nations being blessed through his seed! The Savior was supposed to come through Isaac’s line. But Abraham knows that for these promises to be fulfilled, Isaac must have a wife. And Abraham has learned lessons from mistakes of the past. He’s not going to compromise this time. He’s not going to take a Canaanite woman for his son. He knows they’re wicked. He knows they’re under God’s curse.
But meanwhile, probably through a passing caravan, he has heard news of his family back in Haran. He’s heard that his brother has had eight children. Surely among his relatives there is a suitable girl. So, knowing that he can trust God to prepare a wife for his son, he calls his most trusted servant to him and sends him out on a solemn mission to find that girl.
Meanwhile, Rebekah knows nothing of all of this. She doesn’t know that God is about to invite her to join Him in His purposes. She is simply a beautiful, energetic young woman who is going about her duties as usual. Yet God has been preparing her heart for the choice she must make. If Abraham had news of her family, it’s likely that she also has heard stories about Abraham and his God. She might know of the miracles surround her great uncle’s life. It’s possible that when she went to the well, she would look off in the direction of Canaan and wonder, “What would I do if God asked me to go, like He did Great Uncle Abraham?” It’s possible.
Now let’s pick up the story in Genesis 24, verse 10.
10 Then the servant left, taking with him ten of his master’s camels loaded with all kinds of good things from his master. He set out for Aram Naharaim[a] and made his way to the town of Nahor. 11 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.
12 Then he prayed, “LORD, God of my master Abraham, make me successful today, and show kindness to my master Abraham. 13 See, I am standing beside this spring, and the daughters of the townspeople are coming out to draw water. 14 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.”
Rebekah passes the test
In these verses you see the quality of this servant, why Abraham trusted him so much. He’s practical. He arrives in Rebekah’s hometown and parks his camels by the well where the young women of the town are likely to show up. But he wants to depend on God for everything. So he asks God to put it in the right girl’s heart to offer to water his camels too, when he asks her for a drink. This would be a real test of her character, since camels drink a lot of water, and watering all ten of them would be hard work for her.
15 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. 16 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.
17 The servant hurried to meet her and said, “Please give me a little water from your jar.”
18 “Drink, my lord,” she said, and quickly lowered the jar to her hands and gave him a drink.
19 After she had given him a drink, she said, “I’ll draw water for your camels too, until they have had enough to drink.” 20 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. NIV
After that, verse 21 says:
21 Without saying a word, the man watched her closely to learn whether or not the LORD had made his journey successful. NIV
I like this verse. You see such a reverence and seriousness in the servant. He sees the hand of God, and feels in his heart that his mission has been fulfilled. But restraining himself, he asks her one last vital question. If she is not Abraham’s relative, then she is the wrong girl.
22 When the camels had finished drinking, the man took out a gold nose ring weighing a beka[c] and two gold bracelets weighing ten shekels.[d] 23 Then he asked, “Whose daughter are you? Please tell me, is there room in your father’s house for us to spend the night?”
24 She answered him, “I am the daughter of Bethuel, the son that Milkah bore to Nahor.” 25 And she added, “We have plenty of straw and fodder, as well as room for you to spend the night.”NIV
I’m sure Rebekah doesn’t understand why this makes the servant so happy, but he is overwhelmed with God’s goodness and is not ashamed to show it.
26 Then the man bowed down and worshiped the LORD, 27 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.”NIV
And she said, ” I will go!”
I think the servant’s prayer intrigues Rebekah and she’d like to ask him about this God, but the name Abraham jolts her back to reality. Rebekah knows that name. That’s her long lost great uncle!!! She can’t wait to tell her brother, Laban. So Rebekah runs back to the house and tells her family all she knows at this point, which isn’t really all that much, but she tells them Abraham’s servant has come asking for lodging and that he has given her gifts of gold jewelry.
Now we meet Rebekah’s brother Laban. Laban is a very greedy man. When he sees the gold jewelry, he doesn’t need to hear anything else. He becomes Mr. Hospitality instantly, crying loudly, “Come in, blessed of the Lord!” He begins scurrying around, feeding the camels and putting food before the servant.
But the servant won’t touch the food. All he cares about is his master’s business. He must make sure his mission has been successful. So, in verses 28-48, he tells the whole story in detail for all of them. He wants there to be no doubt in their minds that he has arrived at their home by God’s sovereign hand and for God’s holy purpose, and that that purpose is to bring back Rebekah as wife for Isaac, Abraham’s son and heir.
I’m sure Rebekah is listening more carefully than anybody. And that’s good, because what she hears has such a strong impact upon her that it changes her life forever. As we read this, imagine you are her, listening to the servant’s story for the first time.
34 So he said, “I am Abraham’s servant. 35 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. 36 My master’s wife Sarah has borne him a son in her old age, and he has given him everything he owns. 37 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, 38 but go to my father’s family and to my own clan, and get a wife for my son.’
39 “Then I asked my master, ‘What if the woman will not come back with me?’
40 “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. 41 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.’NIV
Let’s stop here for a moment and see what Rebekah has learned so far. Did you notice that after the servant says, “I am Abraham’s servant”, the next words out of his mouth are, “The LORD…”? God was such a vital part of Abraham’s life that his servant couldn’t mention his name without mentioning the Lord in his next breath. Let me ask you, is God’s hand so obvious in your life that no one can mention your name without immediately talking about God to explain it? If you are the Lord’s, this should be true of you, because God comes into our lives to rule every part, not to stay hidden away in a closet!
In verse 35, Rebekah learns that the Lord is the source of the family’s great wealth. In verse 36, she learns of the miraculous birth of a son, who is heir of all that Abraham has. In verse 37, she sees that there is distinctiveness about this family, a separation from the world around them…a refusal to be joined together with the Canaanites. In verse 39, Rebekah learns that the servant realizes that she could say no, that he understands how she might view such a proposal. He respects her feelings. But hearing about Abraham’s confidence in his God would make a deep impression on her. She learns that Abraham has faith in his God to take care of everything, down to the smallest detail. What kind of man is this? What kind of God is this who is so strong, yet so personal, so near in time of need and perplexity?
Next, in verses 42-46, the servant describes how his encounter with Rebekah came about and why it was so significant to him .
42 “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. 43 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,” 44 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.’
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.’
46 “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.NIV
Rebekah is seeing that this faith in a personal God is not confined to Abraham. It seems to be contagious. The servant is infected with it as well. And the amazing thing is that God is just as near to the servant as He is to the master. He hears his prayer and causes Rebekah to do just what he had prayed the right person would do. And Rebekah had not even been aware of God’s hand upon her. Rebekah must have gotten goose bumps hearing this. She is suddenly realizing that this God who is so might and so amazing has seen her and has chosen her for his purposes!
Now she understands why the servant had been so overwhelmed to find out that she was Bethuel’s daughter. Now she understands why he had bowed his head in worship before doing anything else.
Down in verse 49, she hears the servant urge her brother and father to give their answer. There can be no delay, they must either accept or reject the offer. Of course after hearing how rich Abraham is, Rebekah’s brother and father say, “Oh, it’s obviously from the Lord. Take her and go.”
But what about Rebekah? Will she resist this marriage to a complete stranger? We find out the next day. After a good night’s sleep, the servant is ready to return to Abraham with Rebekah. He is anxious to complete his mission and share in Abraham’s joy for Isaac. But Laban and Rebekah’s mother want ten days to get used to the idea of her leaving. To resolve this conflict they agree to call Rebekah and ask her if she is willing to leave immediately. This is where Rebekah really shines, so really think about her response.
In verse 58 they call Rebekah and say to her, “Will you go with this man?” And without any hesitation she says, “I will go!” It was as if she had complete peace in her heart.
Faith makes the difference
How could she have made this adjustment so fast, to marry a man she had never seen in her life and to move to a land far away from everyone she had ever known? Wasn’t she taking an awfully big risk? Or was she that desperate for a husband? One writer says, “though no one knew it and Rebekah herself did not know it, her heart had been Isaac’s all along.” Well, that’s true from the perspective of God’s sovereign purposes, but I think that God must have been powerfully working in her heart from the very first moment that the servant came, for her to have come to this point so quickly. Specifically, God had been showing Rebekah glimpses of Himself, glimpses of a different life.
This wasn’t simply a marriage proposal that had been offered to her. Rebekah saw that alongside of Isaac, she could experience a life of faith, the presence of God and miracles. She could know this personal God who had reached out to her and invited her to be part of His family. I think she saw how privileged she was and how wrong it would be to hesitate.
Sure, there were things she didn’t know. Faith always involves not knowing some things. Otherwise it wouldn’t be faith. But she had the gifts as evidence that Isaac was who the servant said he was, and she had the servant’s testimony of God’s providential care and guidance to show her what Isaac’s God was like. So, trusting in the revelation she had been given, responding in reverence, realizing that she wouldn’t know everything in advance, but considering that God would be faithful to her, she made her commitment and she gladly said, “I will go.”
It’s good for you to know that this is how faith works. First, faith always begins with God speaking, with his revelation to us of who He is or what He will do. Faith must hang or be built upon what God has promised, or it isn’t faith… it’s presumption.
Second, there must be an inner response. For example, in Hebrews 11, the writer lists heroes of faith. And before he writes about what they did, he always writes about what they thought. Verse 7: Noah was filled with holy fear. Verse 8: Abraham went out not knowing where he was going. So there was a point where he said in his heart: “It’s okay that I don’t know. God knows.” Verse 11: Sarah believed in the faithfulness of the One who had promised. Verse 10: Abraham’s goals changed. He wasn’t looking for an earthly city, He was waiting for a city with strong foundations that would last eternally.
Last comes the outer response, based on the inner response. Noah built an ark. Abraham left Ur. Sarah started getting together diapers. John Piper said, “If you trust God, you will do things that cannot be explained without God. Ask yourself, ‘What am I doing that is unexplainable apart from God.’ If there’s nothing, tremble! Faith causes an inner revolution of values.”
The deeper significance
Maybe you have realized by now that there is a more majestic story behind this account of Isaac seeking a bride. Do you see it? The story of Isaac and Rebekah points to Christ and His bride, the church.
God does that in the Old Testament. He’s put portraits of Christ all over it, but until you know the Word well, you probably won’t see them. Jesus rebuked the Pharisees for not knowing that the Old Testament scriptures were talking about Him. Also, Luke tells us that after Christ rose from the dead, he sat his disciples down and starting with the first five books of the Bible, He explained to them the things concerning Himself that had been written there! I wish I could have heard that Bible study, don’t you?
Then how does this passage point to Christ and the church? Well, we know that Jesus told many parables in which he used a wedding analogy. And the character of the bridegroom always stood for Him and no one else. The church is frequently depicted as the bride of Christ, so when we see a bridegroom in the Old Testament we should be sensitive to the possibility that we are being told something about Christ.
In this story there are many clear parallels to Christ and the church. First, there is the timing. Isaac sends for his bride after he comes down from Mt. Moriah, the place of sacrifice. Jesus sends for His bride after his sacrifice on Calvary has been completed and He has risen. Then there is the messenger, the servant. Isaac waits at home with his father while the servant goes out to find the bride. Neither does Christ leave His place by the Father’s side in heaven, but the Spirit is sent out on Christ’s behalf.
Then, just as Abraham’s servant never draws attention to himself, but is focused on bringing Rebekah to Isaac, so the Holy Spirit never draws attention to Himself, but is intent on bringing the church to Christ. As the servant brought gifts, and described Isaac’s wealth, position and intentions, so the Spirit offers us Christ’s gifts, describes Christ’s riches and intentions towards us. Just as the servant presses for an urgent answer, so the Spirit urges us, “Today is the day of salvation.” So it’s a very rich portrait. I especially think it’s significant that Rebekah has all this attention poured out on her when she has done nothing to deserve it. She didn’t find Isaac. Isaac found her and called him to himself.
Now think about Rebekah’s journey to join her bridegroom, Isaac. We too are on a journey because we are not yet with our bridegroom either. We are on our way to join him, accompanied by the Holy Spirit. I love the way John Phillips has imagined this journey:
“Then came the long journey to meet the one to whom she had now given herself. What a journey it must have been as she, and those influenced by her, “rode upon the camels and followed the man.” Here again the golden strands of that greater story can be seen woven into the fabric of a very human tale. The servant was there to guard and to guide. He knew the way. Rebekah wasn’t left to stumble along as best she could. Every provision had been made to bring her safely to her new home. Just so, the Holy Spirit at once begins to guide those who commit themselves to Christ, and it is He who undertakes to see us safely home.
We think of Rebekah learning of Isaac. She had a hundred questions to ask. “Is he tall, dark and handsome? How old is he? What is his occupation? Is he really rich? What is he really like?…Is he kind and thoughtful? …It is astonishing how little we really know of Christ when first we give ourselves to Him. The Christian life is one long learning experience under the tutorship of the Holy Spirit, who delights to talk to us about Christ.
Imagine the delight with which the servant spoke to the eager young woman about the man that she was going to meet. He would tell her about the father and about his love for Isaac, how Isaac was heir to all things, how all the plans and purposes of God were centered in Him. He might tell her that every mile of the road they were now traveling had been given by God to Isaac. He would tell of Ishmael’s mockery. And, above all, he would tell of Mount Moriah and how father and son had gone together to that dread place and how Isaac had returned, as it were, from the dead. She learned of Isaac. This was the servant’s work: to speak of him.
Think too of Rebekah’s longing for Isaac. The more she learned about him, the more her heart yearned. At first he was just a name, but gradually he began to form in her mind and heart and she came to love him more and more. She loved him now, not just for the gifts he had bestowed through the servant—they were mere trinkets, after all, but for himself, for who he was and for what he had done. She would dream of him at night. She would tell her companions all that she had learned of Isaac. She began to long for him.
As the journey wore on, Isaac became more and more real to her. He was less and less a shadowy person and more and more a real, vital, wonderful man to whom she had given her heart. As the past began to recede in her mind, so the future loomed ever bigger and more important—a future filled with Isaac.
That is what the Holy Spirit is after in our own hearts—to fill them with longing for the Lord Jesus, until like the psalmist we cry from the depths of our hearts, “As the hart panteth after the water brooks, so my soul after thee, O God.” (Psalm 42:1) The Spirit of God would have us think less and less about the world and its ways and more and more about Christ. Our hearts, like those two disciples on the Emmaus road, must begin to burn within us with longings for our Lord.
Think also of Rebekah looking for Isaac. “And Rebekah,” we read, “lifted up her eyes… and…she said unto the servant, “What man is this that walketh in the field to meet us?” (24:65) She learned that Isaac would be coming for her, and that was the most precious truth of all. Isaac was as eager to meet her as she was to meet him. So she would begin looking for him as the end of the journey drew near.” [i]
I love the picture we get of Rebekah, squinting her eyes into the distance, trying to Isaac’s face. Is that true of you? Do you long to see the bridegroom’s face?
Those of you who were at Joey and Mihaela’s wedding had a good picture of this. Remember the emotion visible on their faces as Joey waited for Mihaela to come down the aisle to him? Now imagine the Lord Jesus Christ in Joey’s place and us in Mihaela’s! That day is coming!
In verse 67 the waiting is over for Isaac and Rebekah and they wed.
67 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.NIV
Conclusion to part one
So, as the chapter ends, we see that Isaac and Rebekah are happy together. Rebekah is loved by Isaac and she comforts him. And so we leave behind the lovely portrait of a Rebekah controlled by faith.
Many years go by. The second portrait we will look at is a much darker, uglier portrait. It is the portrait of a Rebekah controlled by her sinful response to circumstances. But you’re going to have to wait till next month for us to continue the story.
Before we close, let’s return and think for a moment of that joyful “I will go!” of Rebekah’s. Let me ask you a question. Have you responded with this same willingness to God’s invitation to join Him in His purposes? Maybe you are thinking, “Oh, yeah, I did that a long time ago! I’ve been a Christian for years! I’ve even been baptized!”
But the Christian life is not just one decision of faith. It’s a life of faith. God invites us day after day to go with Him where He is going. How are you responding? Are you still just as willing as at the beginning? Or have you begun to resist, to moan, groan and complain? To procrastinate and stall? To disobey? Ask God to search your hearts and show you if this is you. And let Him change you by His grace.
[i] John Phillips, Exploring Genesis, Kregel Publications, 1980, p. 193-195