Thank you for joining me, I am your host Randy Duncan, and we are continuing in our exploration of the book of Genesis.
In the last episode, we covered the death and burial of Abraham’s wife, Sarah. We also spent time discussing Abraham’s purchase of a tomb in which to bury Sarah, which was the first piece of real estate purchased after Abraham’s call.
The last chapter, chapter 23, was one of the shortest chapters in the book of Genesis. But now, we are going to begin chapter 24, which is the longest chapter in Genesis. 67 verses in this chapter. And so we will take a couple of episodes to get through them. But what do you think is the subject of the longest chapter in the book of Genesis? Creation, the Fall, the flood, sin? No, the longest chapter in the book of Genesis is about….a marriage. Which should give us a clue as to how important marriage is. In fact, a wedding is where Jesus performed his frst miracle.
The first 11 chapters in Genesis dealt with four great events; Creation, the Fall, the flood, and the Tower of Babel. The rest of Genesis deals with four great individuals: Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph.
As I mentioned in the last episode, Abraham’s story in the Bible is almost complete. And now that he has taken care of Sarah after her death, he now turns his attention to his son Isaac. And what we are going to see is the transfer of Biblical focus from Abraham to his son Issac.
So with that, let’s jump right in.
24 Now Abraham was old, well advanced in years. And the Lord had blessed Abraham in all things. 2 And Abraham said to his servant, the oldest of his household, who had charge of all that he had, “Put your hand under my thigh, 3 that I may make you swear by the Lord, the God of heaven and God of the earth, that you will not take a wife for my son from the daughters of the Canaanites, among whom I dwell, 4 but will go to my country and to my kindred, and take a wife for my son Isaac.”
Now, as I mentioned, Abraham is nearing the end of his life, and he now focuses on obtaining a bride for Isaac. So he commissions his chief servant to go and secure a bride for Isaac. One thing you will notice as we read through this entire scene, is that the servant is never named. Many commentators assume that this servant is Eliezer, who was mentioned back in chapter 15. If you remember, Eliezer was Abraham’s chief servant, and was set to inherit everything that Abraham had if Abraham would have remained childless. He was entrusted with considerable power and responsibility. Abraham would have sent only his most trusted servant on a mission as crucial as this one.
So Abraham makes his servant swear that he will not take a wife for Isaac from among the Canaanites, which is the land in which he was living, but that he would go and find a wife from Abraham’s homeland. He makes him swear that he will find a wife for Isaac back in the land of his birth, and not from among the corrupt Canaanites who inhabited the land in which he was currently living.
Now there is this strange act, where Abraham tells his servant, “Put your hand under my thigh, 3 that I may make you swear by the Lord…” That definitely sounds strange to us. I mean, in our time, agreements or oaths are performed with the signing of a contract, or even placing one hand on a Bible and raising the other, as is done in a courtroom. Or even in past generations, many times it required just a simple handshake between honorable men. Honestly, it’s too bad that is no longer good enough.
But what is this strange act of placing your hand under another’s thigh all about. Well, there appears to be no consensus on exactly what is going on here. But the one thing that is unanimous amongst interpreters is that the “thigh” here is actually a euphemism for the genitals. The reason for this is what is uncertain.
However, there are a couple of reasonable interpretations. First, it may be that this may be a reference to circumcision. Circumcision was a sign of the covenant, and so it would have invoked the power or precense of God as the guarantor of the oath. And so this gesture would have been meaningless to an uncircumcised person. Another possibility is that this gesture was taken because the oath had to do with Abraham’s posterity, and so the “thigh” was the seat of procreative powers. But either way, I have to admit, I would much prefer to look a person in the eye and just shake their hand!
V 5-9…5 The servant said to him, “Perhaps the woman may not be willing to follow me to this land. Must I then take your son back to the land from which you came?” 6 Abraham said to him, “See to it that you do not take my son back there. 7 The Lord, the God of heaven, who took me from my father’s house and from the land of my kindred, and who spoke to me and swore to me, ‘To your offspring I will give this land,’ he will send his angel before you, and you shall take a wife for my son from there. 8 But if the woman is not willing to follow you, then you will be free from this oath of mine; only you must not take my son back there.” 9 So the servant put his hand under the thigh of Abraham his master and swore to him concerning this matter.
You may not realize it yet, but these are the last recorded words of Abraham in scripture. And in them, Abraham is expressing his faith in God, that God would work things out through His divine providence. This once again demonstrates how far Abraham has come in his faith, where, in the beginning, he expressed doubt, asking God how He was going to do things and how can these things be? And then ater, rather than trusting God, Abraham tried to engineer his own solutions with other women, other Kings, and pharohs. But at this point, Abraham has matured in his faith, and he has learned to trust in God’s supernatural provision to fulfill His promise
But the servant asks Abraham, “what is the woman is unwilling to follow me back to this land?” IOW, what if she doesn’t want to come? Am I to then come back and take Isaac to her land? Abraham’s response is firm and direct here. Absolutely not! And you can almost hear it in Abraham’s voice, absolutely not, under no circumstances is Isaac to leave this land! Canaan is the Promised Land, and Isaac, the one God will work through to fulfill His promise, must remain there. Abraham remains faithful to God’s call to leave his homeland behind, and now he is making sure that his descendents do the same.
God’s promise contained two elements, descendents and a national territory, the Promised Land. Isaac represented both of those. He symbolized, by his person and his presence in the land, the fulfillment of both of those promises. Incidentally, Isaac is the only one of the three patriarchs that never left the Promised Land.
Then Abraham tells his servant that if the woman is unwilling to follow him back, then he would be free from his oath. The Hebrew meaning is that he would be free from any further obligation. Abraham has faith in God, but maybe not so much in people. The woman will have to make a choice, and if she chooses not to come, then she is unworthy.
V 10-11….10 Then the servant took ten of his master’s camels and departed, taking all sorts of choice gifts from his master; and he arose and went to Mesopotamia to the city of Nahor. 11 And he made the camels kneel down outside the city by the well of water at the time of evening, the time when women go out to draw water.
So Abraham’s most trusted servant takes 10 of his camels. These probably served a few different purposes. One, to make an impression on the woman and her family. Abraham was wealthy, and so he sends a sample of his wealth. Two, simply the practical purpose of providing the transportation for the bride and perhaps her entourage on their return trip. But thirdly, as we will see when we get to that point, these 10 camels also set the stage for the testing of Rebekah
So the servant sets off for Mesopotamia, to the town of Nahor,. And when he arrives, he makes the camels kneel down by the well of water outside the city gates. It was normal that when a stranger would arrive at a city, he would head to the public wells, and would ask permission to replenish his supply of water. At the same time, that was a good place to gather information about the city, because that was a common meeting place for people of the community.
But Abraham’s servant was intentional as to when he came to the well. Notice that it says he came to the well ‘at the time of evening, the time when women go out to draw water.” Aaaah! Nicely played! You see, in our day, when men want to meet women, where do they go? Some head to the club, some hang out in bars, or on social media, some are looking for a nice church woman. But in that day, when the chores had been completed and the sun was setting, and the heat of the day had passed, the young women whose chore it was to draw water, would head for the well. It was also a place they could spend time in leisurely conversation, catching up, see what’s going on, etc..
If you remember the story of Jesus and the Samaritan woman, remember that she came out to the well at noon, not at the end of the day. She did that because she was a social outcast. But typically, the women went to draw water in the evening, after the intense heat of the day.
Well, guess what? Abraham’s servant knew this. He was well aware of this, and so he strategically arrives at the well at this time.
V 12-14…12 And he said, “O Lord, God of my master Abraham, please grant me success today and show steadfast love to my master Abraham. 13 Behold, I am standing by the spring of water, and the daughters of the men of the city are coming out to draw water. 14 Let the young woman to whom I shall say, ‘Please let down your jar that I may drink,’ and who shall say, ‘Drink, and I will water your camels’—let her be the one whom you have appointed for your servant Isaac. By this I shall know that you have shown steadfast love to my master.”
So, when he prays for God to grant him good fortune, in the Hebrew, what it actually means is “to make it occur”. He is not necessarily praying for a miracle. What he is praying for is that the criteria he has established himself in finding a suitable woman might be in accordance with God’s will, and that it would be effective in finding the right woman.
You may not have realized this, but Abraham’s servant here is the first person that scripture records as praying for personal guidance at a critical moment. This is both interesting and important. It’s interesting because its a prayer that is spontaneous, it’s from the heart, with no formality. It’s also interesting that the first recorded prayer of this sort in the Bible involves a person praying on behalf of another person! Abraham’s servant here is praying for the welfare of Abraham and Isaac, not just uttering a laundry list of things he wants God to do for him personally. No, he is praying for the welfare of others
And this prayer is also important because it demonstrates individual, direct contact with God, that’s not associated with the community as a whole, and was not part of a religious ceremony. The servant has an understanding that God is approachable for an individual, and that a person doesn’t need to go through some sort of religious intermediary on their behalf. Anyone can talk to God.
I mean, that’s what prayer is, talking to God.
Jesus taught us in Matthew 5, that “when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words. 8 Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him
And this is exactly what Abraham’s servant does here. He just pours out his heart to God, and he is asking for God to somehow confirm his choice in a bride for Isaac. And so he says, “Let the young woman who shall say, ‘Drink, and I will water your camels’—let her be the one whom you have appointed for your servant Isaac.”
And we read now in verses 15 -21 how his initial encounter goes…15 Before he had finished speaking, behold, Rebekah, who was born to Bethuel the son of Milcah, the wife of Nahor, Abraham’s brother, came out with her water jar on her shoulder. 16 The young woman was very attractive in appearance, a virgin, whom no man had known. She went down to the spring and filled her jar and came up. 17 Then the servant ran to meet her and said, “Please give me a little water to drink from your jar.” 18 She said, “Drink, my lord.” And she quickly let down her jar upon her hand and gave him a drink. 19 When she had finished giving him a drink, she said, “I will draw water for your camels also, until they have finished drinking.” 20 So she quickly emptied her jar into the trough and ran again to the well to draw water, and she drew for all his camels. 21 The man gazed at her in silence to learn whether the Lord had prospered his journey or not.
So before he even finishes speaking, Rebekah shows up. How about God’s timing on this one? Now it mentions who Rebekah’s parents are simply to demonstrate that she was not the granddaughter of a concubine, and so was a remark to her higher standing social status.
So, let’s take a closer look at exactly what is going on here. Rebekah arrives at the well, and the servant asks her to “Please give me a little water to drink”, and Rebekah does so. But then what does she do? It tells us that “When she had finished giving him a drink, she said, “I will draw water for your camels also, until they have finished drinking.” 20 So she quickly emptied her jar into the trough and ran again to the well to draw water, and she drew for all his camels.
Now, you might be thinking, oh, ok, so she gave his camels some water too. That was nice, in fact, that was a little more than he asked for. But know this; a camel would need to drink about 25 gallons of water to rehydrate. And they can drink this amount of water in about 10 minutes. I mean, camels can drink up to 50 gallons at a time, but even if they only drank 25 gallons, it would have taken about 10 minutes for each camel. Oh, and remember, there wasn’t just one camel, there were 10 camels!! Which means Rebekah would have had to draw 250 gallons of water, and it would have taken over an hour and a half for them to drink this much water!
Ancient jars for drawing water usually held no more than about 3 gallons of water. IOW, Rebekah’s offer to water 10 camels required in the neighborhood of 80-100 drawings of water! And also, keep in mind that water weighs 8 pounds per gallon, which means for 250 gallons, Rebekah is about to lift and carry 2000 pounds of water. That’s one ton of water!! So let’s make sure we have the right picture in mind here. And this was at the end of the day after all other chores had been completed. And so this offer from Rebekah is definitely an extraordinary offer.
You see, the criteria that Abraham’s servant established for a wife for Isaac were aspects of nobility of character. It tells us that Rebekah was beautiful, but In that society, the ideal wife needed to be hospitable to strangers, kind to animals, and willing to give of herself to others. And so the test he has set up here was rather difficult, and required all of those very character traits. It was a test that would reveal a person’s kindness, their hospitality, and their willingness to help a stranger. And so to volunteer to do what she did required far more than just being willing to give a stranger a drink of water. She made the offer knowing full well what all was involved and how much work it required.
You know, when you meet someone who might potentially want something from you, whether in a business dealing, a relationship, or whatever, you are going to see the very best of them. They will put their best foot forward. And so it is sometimes difficult to access their true character. If you want to learn someone’s genuine character, watch how they treat others, specifically, how they treat other people who can offer them nothing in return.
And so Rebekah’s very generous offer here far exceeded what the servant actually requested. And the servant just watches her, observes, in silence, to see what she will do. And as he watches, what does he see? It tells us how Rebekah ‘quickly” emptied the water, and “ran” again to the well to draw water for the camels. IOW, her performance probably surpassed anything the servant could have expected.
22 When the camels had finished drinking, the man took a gold ring weighing a half shekel, and two bracelets for her arms weighing ten gold shekels, 23 and said, “Please tell me whose daughter you are. Is there room in your father’s house for us to spend the night?” 24 She said to him, “I am the daughter of Bethuel the son of Milcah, whom she bore to Nahor.” 25 She added, “We have plenty of both straw and fodder, and room to spend the night.” 26 The man bowed his head and worshiped the Lord 27 and said, “Blessed be the Lord, the God of my master Abraham, who has not forsaken his steadfast love and his faithfulness toward my master. As for me, the Lord has led me in the way to the house of my master’s kinsmen.” 28 Then the young woman ran and told her mother’s household about these things.
Well, needless to say, the servant must have been very impressed by what he saw. Because he takes out a gold ring and gold bracelets, and gives them to Rebekah. Now this was no doubt to reward her for her hospitality, but also to make an impression on her and her family.
The servant then asks if there is room in her father’s house for them to stay. And once again, Rebekah goes above and beyond the call of duty. She tells him they have plenty of room for them, as well as plenty of straw and feed for their animals.
And what does the servant do next? He bows his head, and thanks God. He realizes that he didn’t just accidentally happen to cross paths with a woman like Rebekah. He understands that God was involved. And he pauses to give thanks.
So not only did the servant pray before any of this took place, he also stopped and offered us prayers of thanksgiving and gratitude after the fact.
You know, any of us can petition God, and pray for the things we want God to do for us. We all have our lists. And it seems like often that’s what we do. And there isn’t anything inherently wrong with that. But when God answers our prayers in the way we would like, do we give Him thanks? Do we remember to routinely express our thanksgiving and gratitude for all of the many blessings He has provided?
Well, this servant of Abraham certainly did. He prayed before, and gave thanks afterwards. And remember, none of this is even about him. It was about Abraham and Isaac.
We’ll wrap-up this scene in the next episode, but until then, I pray you keep in mind all of the many ways God has so richly blessed us, and that you remember to thank Him, and to lift up to Him all praise, honor, and glory. Until next time, God bless.