Passing the Baton: Part 1
Topic: The Faithfulness of God Passage: Genesis 22:20– 24:67
PASSING THE BATON: PART 1
An Exposition of Genesis 22:20-24:67
By Pastor Brian Wilbur
Date: March 12, 2023
Series: The Book of Genesis
Note: Unless otherwise indicated, Scripture quotations are from The ESV Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version), copyright 2001 by Crossway. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
SPECIAL NOTE TO THE READER
In keeping with my usual practice, the Scriptural text is written below. The text for this sermon is unusually long (92 verses) and runs into page 6. The sermon itself begins on page 6.
THE SCRIPTURAL TEXT
Holy Scripture says:
22 20 Now after these things it was told to Abraham, “Behold, Milcah also has borne children to your brother Nahor: 21 Uz his firstborn, Buz his brother, Kemuel the father of Aram, 22 Chesed, Hazo, Pildash, Jidlaph, and Bethuel.” 23 (Bethuel fathered Rebekah.) These eight Milcah bore to Nahor, Abraham's brother. 24 Moreover, his concubine, whose name was Reumah, bore Tebah, Gaham, Tahash, and Maacah.
23 1 Sarah lived 127 years; these were the years of the life of Sarah.2 And Sarah died at Kiriath-arba (that is, Hebron) in the land of Canaan, and Abraham went in to mourn for Sarah and to weep for her. 3 And Abraham rose up from before his dead and said to the Hittites, 4 “I am a sojourner and foreigner among you; give me property among you for a burying place, that I may bury my dead out of my sight.” 5 The Hittites answered Abraham, 6 “Hear us, my lord; you are a prince of God among us. Bury your dead in the choicest of our tombs. None of us will withhold from you his tomb to hinder you from burying your dead.”7 Abraham rose and bowed to the Hittites, the people of the land. 8 And he said to them, “If you are willing that I should bury my dead out of my sight, hear me and entreat for me Ephron the son of Zohar, 9 that he may give me the cave of Machpelah, which he owns; it is at the end of his field. For the full price let him give it to me in your presence as property for a burying place.”
10 Now Ephron was sitting among the Hittites, and Ephron the Hittite answered Abraham in the hearing of the Hittites, of all who went in at the gate of his city, 11 “No, my lord, hear me: I give you the field, and I give you the cave that is in it. In the sight of the sons of my people I give it to you. Bury your dead.” 12 Then Abraham bowed down before the people of the land. 13 And he said to Ephron in the hearing of the people of the land, “But if you will, hear me: I give the price of the field. Accept it from me, that I may bury my dead there.” 14 Ephron answered Abraham, 15 “My lord, listen to me: a piece of land worth four hundred shekels of silver, what is that between you and me? Bury your dead.”16 Abraham listened to Ephron, and Abraham weighed out for Ephron the silver that he had named in the hearing of the Hittites, four hundred shekels of silver, according to the weights current among the merchants.
17 So the field of Ephron in Machpelah, which was to the east of Mamre, the field with the cave that was in it and all the trees that were in the field, throughout its whole area, was made over 18 to Abraham as a possession in the presence of the Hittites, before all who went in at the gate of his city. 19 After this, Abraham buried Sarah his wife in the cave of the field of Machpelah east of Mamre (that is, Hebron) in the land of Canaan. 20 The field and the cave that is in it were made over to Abraham as property for a burying place by the Hittites.
24 1 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.”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.
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. 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.”
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 maiden 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.
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.
29 Rebekah had a brother whose name was Laban. Laban ran out toward the man, to the spring. 30 As soon as he saw the ring and the bracelets on his sister's arms, and heard the words of Rebekah his sister, “Thus the man spoke to me,” he went to the man. And behold, he was standing by the camels at the spring. 31 He said, “Come in, O blessed of the LORD. Why do you stand outside? For I have prepared the house and a place for the camels.” 32 So the man came to the house and unharnessed the camels, and gave straw and fodder to the camels, and there was water to wash his feet and the feet of the men who were with him. 33 Then food was set before him to eat. But he said, “I will not eat until I have said what I have to say.” He said, “Speak on.”
34 So he said, “I am Abraham's servant. 35 The LORD has greatly blessed my master, and he has become great. He has given him flocks and herds, silver and gold, male servants and female servants, camels and donkeys. 36 And Sarah my master's wife bore a son to my master when she was old, and to him he has given all that he has. 37 My master made me swear, saying, ‘You shall not take a wife for my son from the daughters of the Canaanites, in whose land I dwell, 38 but you shall go to my father's house and to my clan and take a wife for my son.’ 39 I said to my master, ‘Perhaps the woman will not follow me.’ 40 But he said to me, ‘The LORD, before whom I have walked, will send his angel with you and prosper your way. You shall take a wife for my son from my clan and from my father's house. 41 Then you will be free from my oath, when you come to my clan. And if they will not give her to you, you will be free from my oath.’
42 “I came today to the spring and said, ‘O LORD, the God of my master Abraham, if now you are prospering the way that I go, 43 behold, I am standing by the spring of water. Let the virgin who comes out to draw water, to whom I shall say, “Please give me a little water from your jar to drink,” 44 and who will say to me, “Drink, and I will draw for your camels also,” let her be the woman whom the LORD has appointed for my master's son.’
45 “Before I had finished speaking in my heart, behold, Rebekah came out with her water jar on her shoulder, and she went down to the spring and drew water. I said to her, ‘Please let me drink.’ 46 She quickly let down her jar from her shoulder and said, ‘Drink, and I will give your camels drink also.’ So I drank, and she gave the camels drink also.47 Then I asked her, ‘Whose daughter are you?’ She said, ‘The daughter of Bethuel, Nahor's son, whom Milcah bore to him.’ So I put the ring on her nose and the bracelets on her arms. 48 Then I bowed my head and worshiped the LORD and blessed the LORD, the God of my master Abraham, who had led me by the right way to take the daughter of my master's kinsman for his son. 49 Now then, if you are going to show steadfast love and faithfulness to my master, tell me; and if not, tell me, that I may turn to the right hand or to the left.”
50 Then Laban and Bethuel answered and said, “The thing has come from the LORD; we cannot speak to you bad or good. 51 Behold, Rebekah is before you; take her and go, and let her be the wife of your master's son, as the LORD has spoken.”
52 When Abraham's servant heard their words, he bowed himself to the earth before the LORD. 53 And the servant brought out jewelry of silver and of gold, and garments, and gave them to Rebekah. He also gave to her brother and to her mother costly ornaments. 54 And he and the men who were with him ate and drank, and they spent the night there. When they arose in the morning, he said, “Send me away to my master.”55 Her brother and her mother said, “Let the young woman remain with us a while, at least ten days; after that she may go.” 56 But he said to them, “Do not delay me, since the LORD has prospered my way. Send me away that I may go to my master.” 57 They said, “Let us call the young woman and ask her.” 58 And they called Rebekah and said to her, “Will you go with this man?” She said, “I will go.” 59 So they sent away Rebekah their sister and her nurse, and Abraham's servant and his men. 60 And they blessed Rebekah and said to her,
“Our sister, may you become
thousands of ten thousands,
and may your offspring possess
the gate of those who hate him!”
61 Then Rebekah and her young women arose and rode on the camels and followed the man. Thus the servant took Rebekah and went his way.
62 Now Isaac had returned from Beer-lahai-roi and was dwelling in the Negeb. 63 And Isaac went out to meditate in the field toward evening. And he lifted up his eyes and saw, and behold, there were camels coming. 64 And Rebekah lifted up her eyes, and when she saw Isaac, she dismounted from the camel 65 and said to the servant, “Who is that man, walking in the field to meet us?” The servant said, “It is my master.” So she took her veil and covered herself. 66 And the servant told Isaac all the things that he had done. 67 Then Isaac brought her into the tent of Sarah his mother and took Rebekah, and she became his wife, and he loved her. So Isaac was comforted after his mother's death. (Genesis 22:20-24:67)
The Bible is written in such a way that sometimes it makes sense to preach two sermons on 5 verses (as I did with Genesis 22:15-19), and at other times it makes sense to preach one sermon on 92 verses. Sometimes the text summons us to slow down and drink deeply from a short passage that packs a lot of punch, and at other times the text bids us to catch the flow of thought and see the big picture. When it comes to Genesis 22:20-24:67, there is an unfolding drama that is helpfully seen all at once.
The focus of this unfolding drama is reflected in my sermon title: “Passing the Baton: Part 1”. Although Abraham lives another 38 years after Sarah’s death, as far as the Genesis narrative is concerned, Abraham’s life is winding down after the highwater mark of Abraham’s obedience in Genesis 22:1-18. After Abraham demonstrated his willingness to sacrifice Isaac, the Lord commended Abraham for his obedience and the Lord assured Abraham that He would most certainly keep His promises to Abraham. After that climactic moment in his walk with God, Abraham is now on the verge of making a gracious exit from the narrative. Of course, the Lord has made plans for the baton of the covenant to be passed from Abraham to his son Isaac. Part of the Lord’s initial promise to Abraham was: “in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” (Genesis 12:3) The Lord’s final promise to Abraham is: “in your offspring shall all the nations of the earth be blessed” (Genesis 22:18). Last week we talked extensively about what is meant by Abraham’s offspring, and it certainly includes Isaac. The Lord’s covenant promises are being moved forward to and through the next generation. The baton is being passed from Abraham to Isaac, and – at the same time – the baton is being passed from Sarah to Rebekah.
SUMMARY OF THE TEXT
Summary of Genesis 22:20-24
In Genesis 22:20-24, Abraham receives news about his extended family. We know that Abraham had two brothers, Nahor and Haran (Genesis 11:26-27). Haran had died decades earlier when the family still lived in Ur of the Chaldeans (Genesis 11:28). We learned back in Genesis 11 that other brother, Nahor, had married his niece Milcah. Nahor and Milcah dropped out of the narrative at the end of Genesis 11, but now they resurface at the end of Genesis 22. As it turns out, Nahor and Milcah had eight children: Uz, Buz, Kemuel, Chesed, Hazo, Pildash, Jidlaph, and Bethuel (v. 21-22). Nahor had four additional children with his concubine Reumah: Tebah, Gaham, Tahash, and Maacah (v. 24). Nahor probably had many grandchildren, but only two are mentioned in these verses. First, we are told that Kemuel fathered Aram (v. 21). Second, we are told that “Bethuel fathered Rebekah” (v. 23). Since we know how the storyline unfolds, we know that this is the most important detail in verses 20-24: readers of Genesis, meet Rebekah, the soon to be wife of Isaac. Taken together, verses 20-24 set the stage for Chapter 24, when Abraham sends his servant to visit his extended family in order to find a bride for Isaac.
Summary of Genesis 23:1-20
But before Chapter 24 comes Chapter 23. At the beginning of Genesis 23, we learn that Sarah died at the age of 127 years (v. 1-2). “Sarah died at Kiriath-arba (that is, Hebron) in the land of Canaan” (v. 2). Abraham and Sarah were living in the Gerar/Beersheba region in Genesis 20:1-22:19. But they had lived in Hebron in Genesis 13:18-18:33. As some time had passed – and possibly several years had passed – since Genesis 22:19 when they lived in Beersheba, it is possible that Abraham and Sarah had returned to Hebron in the intervening years.
For Abraham, Sarah’s death was a heartbreaking moment: “and Abraham went in to mourn for Sarah and to weep for her” (v. 2). Abraham and Sarah had married when they were living in Ur of the Chaldeans (Genesis 11:29-31), so they had probably been married for about one hundred years. Further, Sarah was Abraham’s half-sister (Genesis 20:12), and Abraham was ten years older than Sarah (Genesis 17:17). Sarah had known Abraham her entire life, and Abraham had known Sarah for most of his life. Under the gracious promises of God, they had shared together extensive travels as well as the gamut of human experience – from the pain of barrenness to the joy of Isaac’s birth, from all kinds of tense circumstances to the Lord’s reliable protection over their lives. Now Sarah was gone, and Abraham wept.
Even so, the majority of Chapter 23 is about Abraham’s successful attempt to obtain a burial site for Sarah. Abraham wanted to bury Sarah in a plot of land that he himself owned. The problem, of course, is that Abraham was “a sojourner and foreigner” (v. 4) in the land of Canaan. One of the Canaanite peoples was the Hittites, with whom Abraham interacts throughout the chapter. Abraham makes a request of the Hittites, that they might give him “property… for a burying place” (v. 4). When a foreigner makes a request of the natives, it is really helpful if the foreigner has a good reputation with the natives. Abraham the foreigner was held in high regard by the Hittites, as evidenced by the fact that they tell him “you are a prince of God among us” (v. 6). This is another indication that God had blessed Abraham and made Abraham great in the presence of the pagans. The Hittites were willing to allow Abraham the use of any of their tombs.
Abraham, however, had his sight on one particular area: “the cave of Machpelah” in a field (v. 9) owned by “Ephron the son of Zohar” (v. 8). Further, Abraham didn’t merely want permission to use this cave; he wanted to buy it outright and thus have legal ownership of the property.
For Ephron’s part, he was willing to give the field and the cave as a gift to Abraham (v. 10-11). Abraham, however, insisted on paying for the field with his own money (v. 13). Ephron agreed to accept payment from Abraham, and so Abraham paid “four hundred shekels of silver” (v. 16) and obtained legal ownership of the land. Verses 17-18 emphasize that the purchase of property was a legal transaction, and thus part of the public record, and it was done “in the presence of the Hittites, before all who went in at the gate of his city” (v. 18). In the ancient world, the city gate was the place where important business was transacted.
Why did Abraham insist on paying for the land when he could have received it as a gift? The text doesn’t tell us. Perhaps he had the same mindset that he had when he refused gifts from the king of Sodom: “I would not take a thread or a sandal strap of anything that is yours, let you should say, ‘I have made Abram rich.’” (Genesis 14:23) Abraham would not be indebted to the pagan king. Perhaps in Genesis 23 Abraham was resolved to not be indebted to the pagan Hittites. Apart from that consideration, there is also the simple reality that it is honorable for a man to dignify his deceased loved ones by assuming the cost of burial. Perhaps Abraham wouldn’t offer his dear wife a resting place that didn’t cost him anything.
Once Abraham obtained possession of the field and cave, he proceeded to lay the body of Sarah to rest (v. 19). Although Abraham was “a sojourner and foreigner” (v. 4) in the land of Canaan, and although Abraham’s offspring wouldn’t receive the land of Canaan as a possession until several hundred years later, nevertheless at the age of 137 Abraham obtained for himself a tiny part of his offspring’s future inheritance. Abraham was buried alongside his wife in the same cave 38 years later (Genesis 25:9-10). Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebekah, and Jacob and Leah were all buried in the same cave that Abraham purchased from the Hittites (Genesis 49:29-32, 50:12-13).
Summary of Genesis 24:1-67
Now we are ready for Chapter 24. The end of Chapter 22 introduced us to Rebekah. Chapter 23 recounted the death and burial of Sarah. Rebekah is introduced into the narrative just before Sarah steps away from it. Now it is time for Isaac to meet Rebekah. And this comes about through Abraham’s initiative to find Isaac a wife.
Genesis 24:1 begins, “Now Abraham was old, well advanced in years.” Abraham was 137 years old when Sarah died, and Abraham was 140 years old when Isaac married Rebekah (see Genesis 21:5 and 25:20). So Genesis 24:1 is referring to the fact that Abraham was in his late 130s. Verse 1 continues: “And the LORD had blessed Abraham in all things.” What follows is aged and seasoned Abraham, blessed by God, taking initiative to find Isaac a wife. Abraham is operating from a place of blessedness – from a place of confidence in God’s faithfulness and provision – for Abraham had experienced God’s kindness “in all things”.
The task at hand is to find Isaac a wife. In order to do this, Abraham commissions his oldest and chief servant to go to Abraham’s extended family (the extended family we learned about at the end of Chapter 22) and take a wife for Isaac. Abraham doesn’t merely commission this trustworthy servant, but binds him under an oath:
“Put your hand under my thigh, 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, but will go to my country and to my kindred, and take a wife for my son Isaac.” (v. 2-4)
At a very basic level, Abraham’s approach anticipates the fact that Deuteronomy 7:3 will prohibit the Israelites from intermarrying with the Canaanites. The reason for this prohibition is not the preservation of ethnic purity but the preservation of faithful devotion to the Lord: “You shall not intermarry with them, giving your daughters to their sons or taking their daughters for your sons, for they would turn away your sons from following me, to serve other gods.” (Deuteronomy 7:3-4) In due course, Isaac will have two sons: Jacob and Esau. Jacob, like his father Isaac, married within Abraham’s extended family. Esau, on the other hand, married two Canaanite women (Genesis 26:34-35) – and as we will soon learn, Esau’s whole life went far off course, to his own ruin. The carryover principle for Christians is that a Christian must only marry another Christian, that husband and wife might follow the Lord together. We don’t know how developed this line of thought was in Abraham’s mind, but his approach establishes a pattern that will carry on throughout the Scriptures.
In verse 5, the servant envisions the possibility that the woman he finds won’t be willing to make the trip to Canaan. In that scenario, the servant asks if he should take Isaac to Abraham’s native country. Abraham’s answer in verses 6-8 displays both clarity and confidence.
First, Abraham’s answer begins and ends with a clear answer to the servant’s question. Verse 6: “See to it that you do not take my son back there.” (v. 6) Abraham says this again at the end of verse 8: “only you must not take my son back there.” However, if the woman the servant finds is unwilling to accompany the servant to the land of Canaan, then the servant will be released from the binding oath (v. 8).
Even so, Abraham himself is confident that the Lord will see to it that the servant is successful. Abraham says to his servant: “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.” (v. 7) Abraham is confident that the Lord, who had already proven His faithfulness over and over again, would demonstrate His faithfulness in this particular matter by leading Abraham’s servant on a successful journey.
In verse 9 the servant swears an oath to carry out Abraham’s instruction, and in verse 10 the servant departs with ten camels, choice gifts, and a group of fellow servants (as subsequent verses in Chapter 24 tell us).
The 52 verses that run from verses 10-61 tell us about the servant’s faithful implementation of the assignment given to him. Thus the servant makes his way “to Mesopotamia to the city of Nahor” (v. 10). The phrase “city of Nahor” doesn’t necessarily mean that the city was named Nahor, but may simply mean that this city is the city associated with Nahor, Abraham’s brother. In other words, “the city of Nahor” may simply refer to the city where Nahor and Nahor’s family lived, which of course are the very people that the servant intends to visit. The word translated “Mesopotamia” is literally ‘Aram-naharaim’, and many scholars think that it refers to the same place called “Haran” in Genesis 11:31-32. Abraham, though originally from Ur of the Chaldeans in southeastern Mesopotamia, had later settled in Haran in northwestern Mesopotamia (modern-day Syria). Although Nahor hadn’t accompanied Abraham to Haran back in Genesis 11:31-32, apparently Nahor and his family did eventually move to Haran.
So, the servant arrived in the place where Nahor’s family lived. One of the things that stands out about Abraham’s servant is that he wasn’t a pragmatist. Abraham’s servant leaned on the Lord, asked for the Lord to grant success, and prayed for very specific guidance:
“O LORD, God of my master Abraham, please grant me success today and show steadfast love to my master Abraham. Behold, I am standing by the spring of water, and the daughters of the men of the city are coming out to draw water. 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.” (Genesis 24:12-14)
If you had a trusted old servant who had spent time with you for many years (as this servant had been with Abraham), would it be evident that your faith in the Lord had rubbed off on your servant? The prayer of Abraham’s servant displays a vibrant faith. The servant sees the whole situation in view of the Lord’s covenant with Abraham – twice speaking of the Lord showing steadfast love to Abraham (v. 12, v. 14). The servant has a high view of the Lord’s active involvement in this particular matter, believing that there is a woman whom the Lord has appointed as wife for Isaac (v. 14). The servant also believes that the Lord is able to “grant [him] success today” (v. 12) and reveal to him who the appointed bride is.
The servant’s prayer sets the stage for what follows. In verses 15-20, a certain Rebekah acts in accordance with how the servant had just prayed. This prompted the servant to “[gaze] at her in silence to learn whether the LORD had prospered his journey or not.” (v. 21)
At this point, the servant gives Rebekah some gifts of jewelry (v. 22), and then asks Rebekah about her father and inquires if there is room in her father’s house for him to “spend the night” (v. 23), which there is (v. 25). The servant would have known the names of Abraham’s extended family members, so when Rachel identified herself as “the daughter of Bethuel the son of Milcah, whom she bore to Nahor” (v. 24), the servant knew that the Lord had led him to Abraham’s extended family. In view of these favorable circumstances and the forthcoming hospitality from Rebekah’s family, the servant honored the Lord:
“The man [Abraham’s servant] bowed his head and worshiped the LORD and said, “Blessed by 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.” (v. 26-28)
In view of these remarkable circumstances, Rebekah “ran and told her mother’s household about these things” (v. 28). Then Rebekah’s brother Laban took the lead in showing hospitality to Abraham’s servant, his other traveling companions, and his camels (v. 29-32). Food was set before the servant to eat, but the servant was rightly focused on the business at hand and wouldn’t eat until he told Rebekah’s family about the important matter that had brought him there (v. 33).
We can summarize verses 34-49 in short order, for in these verses Abraham’s servant is telling Rebekah’s family what we the readers already know. In verses 35-36 he shares that blessed Abraham and Sarah have a son who is the sole heir of Abraham’s large estate. In verses 37-41, the servant restates the instruction that Abraham had given him about finding Isaac a wife. In verses 42-47, the servant explains what had happened when he came to the city, and how he prayed for specific guidance from the Lord, and how Rebekah’s actions corresponded to his prayer, and how he learned of her family background and gave her jewelry. In verse 48 he tells them that in light of all these things, he worshiped the Lord:
“Then I bowed my head and worshiped the LORD and blessed the LORD, the God of my master Abraham, who had led me by the right way to take the daughter of my master’s kinsman for his son.” (v. 48)
Of course, the servant knows that he cannot impose himself on Rebekah’s family. The servant knows what the Lord has done in leading him to Rebekah, but Rebekah’s family has to be persuaded in their own minds that the matter is from the Lord. If a man comes up to a young woman and her family that he has known for only a few hours and says, ‘I know it is God’s will for her to marry my master’s son’, you’re not going to give your consent unless you are persuaded that it is indeed God’s will. This is why the servant’s retelling of all the background leading up to the specific circumstances of that day is so important, because Rebekah’s family needs to know that the servant is not attempting to pull a fast one. For the servant’s part, he knows that Rebekah’s family must give their consent freely. Thus verse 49:
“Now then, if you are going to show steadfast love and faithfulness to my master, tell me; and if not, tell me, that I may turn to the right hand or to the left. (v. 49)
The answer given by Rebekah’s brother Laban and her father Bethuel is beautiful: “The thing has come from the LORD; we cannot speak to you bad or good. Behold, Rebekah is before you; take her and go, and let her be the wife of your master’s son, as the LORD has spoken.” (v. 50-51) Once are you are persuaded that a matter has “come from the LORD” – once you are convinced that “the LORD has spoken” – the only fitting response is to yield yourself to the Lord’s will. While we are attempting to discern the Lord’s will, our respective opinions matter in the sorting out process; but once we know the Lord’s will, our opinions are neither here nor there. It is wise to not speak “bad or good” from our own personal opinions and feelings, once the Lord’s will is made clear to our mind. Laban and Bethuel knew that the Lord had done it; therefore, as Rebekah’s protectors, they knew that they needed to release Rebekah to become the wife of Abraham’s son.
After receiving this favorable reply, the servant once again paid homage to the Lord (v. 52). Then he gave additional gifts to Rebekah, and also gave valuable gifts to Rebekah’s brother and mother (v. 53). Only after transacting these important matters did the servant and his traveling companions eat and drink before retiring for the night (v. 54). The next morning, the servant was ready to make the return trip back to Abraham (v. 54). Rebekah’s brother and mother wanted Rebekah to remain at home for “at least then days” (v. 55), but the servant was urgent: “Do not delay me, since the LORD has prospered my way. Send me away that I may go to my master.” (v. 56) At this point Rebekah’s brother and mother decided to put the ball in Rebekah’s court (v. 57). Rebekah indicated her willingness to go, and so in short order Rebekah and her nurse accompanied “Abraham’s servant and his men” (v. 59) on the journey to the land of Canaan (v. 58-61). Bethuel’s family sent Rebekah away with a blessing in verse 60, and we’ll return to this shortly.
The passage concludes in verses 62-67 with the servant taking Rebekah all the way to Isaac, who “was dwelling in the Negeb” (v. 62) in southern Canaan. For Isaac, an evening of meditation unexpectedly and quickly turned into his wedding night. The servant informed Isaac about all that had transpired in recent days (v. 66), and then Isaac and Rebekah were joined together in marriage (v. 67). Let’s hear the whole thing again:
"Now Isaac had returned from Beer-lahai-roi and was dwelling in the Negeb. And Isaac went out to meditate in the field toward evening. And he lifted up his eyes and saw, and behold, there were camels coming. And Rebekah lifted up her eyes, and when she saw Isaac, she dismounted from the camel and said to the servant, “Who is that man, walking in the field to meet us?” The servant said, “It is my master.” So she took her veil and covered herself. And the servant told Isaac all the things that he had done. Then Isaac brought her into the tent of Sarah his mother and took Rebekah, and she became his wife, and he loved her. So Isaac was comforted after his mother's death." (v. 62-67)
GETTING TO THE POINT
Thus concludes our 92-verse passage. This passage is not a ‘how to manual’ for pursuing good burial practices, finding a wife, or discerning God’s will. Even if the passage could be mined for nuggets of wisdom on such topics, they aren’t the main point.
If we had time, we could ponder the praiseworthy example of Abraham’s servant. In Chapter 24, Abraham is named, Isaac is named, Sarah is named, Rebekah is named, Laban is named, and Bethuel is named, but Abraham’s servant is not named. He identifies himself by saying, “I am Abraham’s servant” in Genesis 24:34. This unnamed servant is an exemplary servant: he prayerfully depends on the Lord, he humbly worships the Lord, he conducts himself honorably and honestly as he relates to other people, and he faithfully, diligently, promptly, and successfully carries out the work assigned to him. Abraham’s servant is the type of servant who will one day hear the great commendation: “Well done, good and faithful servant.” (Matthew 25:21)
Even so, there can be no doubt that the main point of the passage is God’s faithfulness in seeing to it that the baton is passed from Abraham and Sarah to Isaac and Rebekah. This passing of the baton comes to the fore in at least three ways.
First, did you notice that the servant’s final reference to his master involved a switch from Abraham to Isaac? Throughout Chapter 24 the servant refers to “my master Abraham” or simply to “my master” with Abraham in view. But this changes at the end of Chapter 24. When Rebekah first set her eyes on Isaac, she didn’t know that it was Isaac. So Rebekah asked the servant, “Who is that man, walking in the field to meet us?” The servant replied, “It is my master.” (v. 65) Of course, on a purely factual level Abraham’s servants would be Isaac’s servants, too. But in terms of the flow of the text, Isaac is being set forth as the new master.
Second, do you remember who was weeping for Sarah at the beginning of Chapter 23? Abraham, right? “Abraham went in to mourn for Sarah and to weep for her.” (Genesis 23:2) But who is the one who finds comfort for his grief at the loss of Sarah? Isaac: “Then Isaac brought her into the tent of Sarah his mother and took Rebekah, and she became his wife, and he loved her. So Isaac was comforted after his mother’s death.” (Genesis 24:67) The comparison is profound: in Genesis 23:2 it is Abraham grieving the loss of his wife. Now three years later, in Genesis 24:67, Isaac is in Sarah’s tent, and the newlywed is comforted by the presence of his bride Rebekah. In this way we are meant to behold the changing of the guard: the torch of covenant promises is being passed to Isaac and Rebekah.
Third, do you remember the promises that the Lord declared to Abraham in Genesis 22:16-18? Two of those promises were: “I will surely multiply your offspring as the stars of heaven and as the sand that is on the seashore. And your offspring shall possess the gate of his enemies” (Genesis 22:17). Remarkably, when Rebekah’s family blessed her at the time of her departure, their words of blessing echo God’s promises to Abraham. Genesis 24:60 says,
“And they blessed Rebekah and said to her,
“Our sister, may you become thousands of ten thousands,
and may your offspring possess the gate of those who hate him!””
The blessing spoken over Rebekah is that she would have innumerable descendants, and that her offspring would possess the gate of his enemies. The point is obvious: Sarah has died, and Abraham will follow her soon enough, but God’s promises will live on in the next generation through Isaac and Rebekah.
This is the faithfulness of God: to see to it that His promises never fall to the ground, but to ensure that they endure through the ages and are brought to their intended fulfillment. The baton would be passed for millennia, until it was placed into the hands of a young couple from Nazareth. That holy offspring, conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the virgin Mary, would seal all of God’s promises with His blood. “For all the promises of God find their Yes in him [Jesus Christ].” (2 Corinthians 1:20)
Then and now, we must anchor our lives in the promises that never fail and that continue from generation to generation:
“The grass withers, the flower fades when the breath of the LORD blows on it; surely the people are grass. The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God will stand forever.” (Isaiah 40:7-8)
Assohoto, Barnabe and Samuel Ngewa, “Genesis.” In Africa Bible Commentary: A One-Volume Commentary Written by 70 African Scholars. Tokunboh Adeyemo, General Editor. Zondervan Edition (first edition published in 2006).
Fruchtenbaum, Arnold G. The Book of Genesis (Ariel’s Bible Commentary). Fourth Edition. San Antonio: Ariel Ministries, 2020.
Steinmann, Andrew E. Genesis (Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries). Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2019.