A Wife for Isaac
Our last chapter ended with Abraham at Sarah’s graveside, mourning his wife.
Abraham was now a very old man, and the LORD had blessed him in every way.
Genesis 24:1 (NLT)
This is the longest chapter in Genesis, and it focuses on faith, hope, and love. His son Isaac was approaching 40 years of age. Abraham knew the time had come to establish the next generation.
His great concern was that, before he died, he would find a wife for his only son Isaac. Only then could God fulfill His covenant promises to bless Abraham with many descendants and give them Canaan for their inheritance (Gen. 12:1-3; 13:14-17; 15:18; 21:12).
In those days, the parents made the marriage arrangements. A man and woman got married and then learned to love each other (Gen.24:67). In much of the world today, the pattern is different.
Abraham said to his servant, the oldest of his household, who had charge of all that he owned, “Please place your hand under my thigh, and I will make you swear by the LORD, the God of heaven and the God of earth, that you shall not take a wife for my son from the daughters of the Canaanites, among whom I live, but you will go to my country and to my relatives, and take a wife for my son Isaac.”
We do not know who this “eldest servant” was. If it was Eliezer (Gen.15:2), then he must have been very old; the events recorded in Genesis 15 occurred more than fifty years earlier. Abraham made him swear to three things:
- He would not select a wife for Isaac from among the Canaanite women;
- He would choose her from Abraham’s relatives; and
- He would not take Isaac back to Abraham’s former home.
Notice that Abraham took responsibility for the marriage of Isaac. This is not popular today, but it was certainly used of God in this instance.
This was a godly desire on Abraham’s part not to have Isaac marry a Canaanite. The Lord later told the children of Israel the same thing through Moses and Joshua.
If the Israelites had intermarried with the Canaanites, then they would never have destroyed their relatives as God commanded.
These were the same kindred that the Lord had told Abraham to leave (Genesis 12:1). Abraham never went back, nor did he allow his son Isaac to go back. He had burned his bridges behind him. He didn’t consider the country he had left behind (Hebrews 11:15).
The servant asked, “But what if I can’t find a young woman who is willing to travel so far from home? Should I then take Isaac there to live among your relatives in the land you came from?”
Genesis 24:5 (NLT)
Even though Abraham and Bethuel took leadership in this marriage arrangement, this statement and the question in Genesis 24:58 shows that Rebekah had some say in this matter.
“No!” Abraham responded. “Be careful never to take my son there.
Genesis 24:6 (NLT)
Abraham deliberately refused to focus on the land God told him to leave, and he wanted Isaac to do the same. Isaac wouldn’t be tempted with something he had never thought on or seen.
The Lord, the God of heaven, Who took me from my father’s house and from the land of my birth, spoke to me and promised me. He said, ‘I will give this land to your children and to their children’s children.’ He will send His angel in front of you. And you will take a wife for my son from there.
Genesis 24:7 (NLV)
Knowing that he had assigned his servant a difficult task, Abraham also gave him some words of encouragement (Gen. 24:7, 39-41). God had guided and blessed Abraham for sixty-five years and would not forsake him now.
Furthermore, God had given Abraham a specific promise that his seed would inherit the land; so this meant that his son had to have a wife who would bear him a child. Finally, God’s angel would go before the servant and guide him to the right woman.
Abraham was a man of faith who believed God’s word and knew how to apply it to specific situations and decisions. He sought to obey God’s word because true faith always results in obedience.
The more you meditate on God’s Word, the more truth you will see in it and the more direction you will get from it. This applies to decisions about marriage, vocation, ministry, or any other area in life. Unless we trust God’s Word and obey it, He will not direct us (Prov. 3:5-6).
If for some reason the woman is not willing to follow you, then I free you from the obligation of my oath. But you must never take my son back there!
Genesis 24:8 (VOICE)
Notice that this servant wasn’t responsible if Abraham’s kindred wouldn’t supply a wife for Isaac. The servant was only responsible for what he could control. So it is with us.
We aren’t responsible for others’ acceptance or rejection of Jesus, but we are responsible to issue the invitation.
You can’t be tempted with something that you don’t think upon. Therefore, Abraham didn’t want Isaac being tempted to return to Ur of the Chaldees.
So the servant took an oath by putting his hand under the thigh of his master, Abraham. He swore to follow Abraham’s instructions.
Genesis 24:9 (NLT)
In our culture, taking an oath usually involves raising the right hand or placing a hand over the heart or on a Bible. In ancient Hebrew culture, we find something a little different.
Genesis 24:9 describes an odd practice that involved Abraham’s servant swearing to obey his master’s command to find a wife for Isaac: “So the servant put his hand under the thigh of Abraham his master and swore to him concerning this matter.”
In Genesis 47:29, Jacob makes his son Joseph swear to bury him in Canaan, not Egypt. The same ritual is observed: Joseph is required to put his hand under Jacob’s thigh as he makes the promise.
It seems strange to us, but placing one’s hand under someone else’s thigh had a symbolic purpose.In both cases, a patriarch nearing death makes the request. Also, both oaths deal with family matters. In the case of Abraham and Jacob, the family was blessed by God Himself (Genesis 15:5; 28:14).
The thigh was considered the source of future generations in the ancient world. Or, more correctly, the “loins” or the “testicles.” The phrase “under the thigh” could be a neutral term for “on the loins.”
There are two reasons why someone would take an oath in this manner:
1) Abraham had been promised a “seed” by God, and this covenantal blessing was passed on to his son and grandson. Abraham made his trusted servant swear “on the seed of Abraham” that he would find a wife for Isaac.
2) Abraham had received circumcision as the sign of the covenant (Genesis 17:10). Our custom is to swear on a Bible; the Hebrew custom was to swear on circumcision, the mark of God’s covenant.The idea of swearing on one’s loins is found in other cultures, as well. The English words testify is directly related to the word testicles.
Jewish tradition also offers a different interpretation. According to Rabbi Ibn Ezra, the phrase “under the thigh” means literally that. For someone to allow his hand to be sat on was a sign of submission to authority. If this is the symbolism, then Joseph was showing his obedience to his father by placing his hand under Jacob’s thigh.
Abraham’s servant kept his oath. He not only obeyed Abraham’s instructions, but he also prayed to Abraham’s God for help. In the end, God miraculously provided Rebekah as the choice for Isaac’s wife.
In the New Testament, believers are taught not to make oaths, but rather to let their “yes” mean “yes” and “no” mean “no” (James 5:12). That is, we should consider all our words to have the weight of an oath.
Others should be able to trust our words without requiring an oath.