Why another article on this well-known chapter?
Genesis 24 is a chapter on which many have written much. So much profitable expository material 1 on Rebecca abounds that one hardly dares to add another article on the subject, but two reasons encourage me to do so. Firstly, an overview of Old Testament types foreshadowing of the church would be extremely incomplete if this particular type – undisputedly the fullest of all – were to be omitted. Second, a brief and easy-to-read summary of typical aspects may be helpful to some who have not yet had opportunity to review the many detailed expositions.
The narrative of Rebecca’s call to leave her family and country in order to become the wife of Abraham’s son, Isaac, illustrates a number of features of the church which are not covered by the other types. The main ones are:
- the call of the bride, out of a heathen environment, to travel to meet the absent bridegroom;
- the involvement of all three Divine Persons in securing the bride and in giving her a most dignified place: the Father’s counsel (see vv. 1-9), the Spirit’s mission and activity (see vv. 10-61), and the Son’s love for the church (see vv. 62-67);
- the emphasis on the work brought about in the bride: how she reaches the stage where she is willing to abandon all in order to go and meet one she had never seen;
- the character of Christ as the heavenly Head;
- a number of beautiful details (e.g. the gifts given to the church illustrated in the gifts received by Rebecca).
In order to see the full beauty of the picture presented in Genesis 24 one has to look at the whole panorama of chapters 22 to 25:7:
- Genesis 22 reports how Isaac, in a figure, went through death. We already noticed in the section on Adam and Eve (Isha) that Adam had to fall into a ‘deep sleep’ before Eve could be presented to him. Likewise, Isaac has to be offered up on Mount Moriah before a bride could be called for him. Rebecca’s call illustrates further that it would not have been possible for the church to be called out unless the death of Christ was an accomplished fact. The middle wall of partition, separating Jews from other nations, first had to be broken down and both, Jew and Gentile, formed into one new man. But this could only be achieved by the cross: ‘that he might reconcile both unto God in one body by the cross’ (Eph. 2:16).
- Then, in chapter 23, we learn that Sarah died. She was, of course, the mother of the child of promise, Isaac. She therefore stands for the people of Israel because Christ, ‘concerning the flesh’, came out of Israel (Romans 9:5). So Sarah’s death gives us a hint regarding the point in time when the church would be formed and called out, namely when Israel was set aside. The New Testament confirms this. Just think of the formation of the church related in Acts 2 and Israel refusing to repent in Acts 3 (see also Acts 7 for Israel ’s final refusal).
- In chapter 24, the bride for the son is called.
- Chapter 25 confirms (in verses 1-6) the unique position of the son as the one and only heir of all things. Abraham’s other children are given presents and sent away to the east country, foreshadowing millennial blessings.
Verse 3: A firm basis
There was a firm basis for the call of Rebecca: it was founded on an oath between Abraham and the eldest servant of his house (not named here but generally assumed to be Eliezer of Damascus, see 15:2). The call of the church is founded on God’s eternal counsel (Eph. 1:3,4; Rom. 8:20,30) and effected by the Holy Spirit (Acts 2;1 Cor. 12:13). Just as Rebecca was unaware of this plan, so God’s counsel regarding the church dates back to a time when the church had no consciousness of it, long before it even existed.
Verse 4: Her call and His glory
The striking sentence ‘thou shalt go …and take a wife unto my son’ illustrates a point which is beautiful and fundamental at the same time: God’s counsel regarding the church cannot be separated from God’s desire to honour His Son. We are reminded of ‘a certain king, which made a marriage for his son’ (Matt. 22:2). Notwithstanding the refusal of the workers in the vineyard to reverence the son, the King ensured that He was honoured.
A second point to note in this verse is the suitability of the wife-to-be: a wife from the daughters of the Canaanites (verse 3) would not have been acceptable. Abraham states that she would have to be from ‘his kindred’. Whereas Asenath, the heathen wife given to Joseph, illustrates the fact that men and women from Gentile nations are brought into the church, Issac’s wife had to be of the same kindred. Only those in whom God has done a divine work, producing faith in Christ, can be part of the church. The Lord Jesus Himself said, ‘My mother, and my brethren are those which hear the word of God and do it’ (Luke 8:21). Through God’s grace we have been made morally suitable, of ‘his kindred’.
Verses 5-7: the heavenly Head, or: a ‘conditio sine qua non 2’
The condition that Isaac’s wife had to be – of the same kindred –raised a further difficulty. Given that Abraham lived about 400 miles away from the rest of his family (probably a more daunting distance at the time than London to New Zealand today) there was a strong possibility that, even if she consented to the marriage proposal, she might not be willing to leave her country to be joined to Isaac. In this case, would Isaac then go to live in her country? Abraham’s response is decisive. It was what we would call today, a ‘conditio sine qua non’ namely that Isaac’s wife would be willing to leave all, her family, friends, country, etc., in order to be with him. It is a striking illustration of the need for the church to be willing to become a stranger to her surroundings. Under no circumstances would Isaac move to Mesopotamia in order to live there with his wife. A well-known lesson, but how well has it been learned? The answer is very little whether we look at church history (e.g. the church losing her character of a stranger in the period of Pergamos, Rev. 2:12-17), or at modern multi-facetted endeavours to link Christ’s name with earthly or even worldly initiatives. These start with ‘Christian Socialism’ and ‘Christian’ political parties, and there is no end to them.
The Head of the body is a heavenly one. Christ, the risen Man is the heavenly Man, so the church should be a stranger and identified with Him. This is not only illustrated by the fact that Isaac was not to return to Mesopotamia, but clearly stated in the New Testament (1.Cor. 15:48). Those who compose the church are blessed with all spiritual blessings in the heavenly places (Eph. 1:3), seated in heavenly places (Eph. 2:6), and have warfare, not against flesh and blood, but against principalities and powers in heavenly places (Eph. 6:12). Even when the church is presented as the ‘new Jerusalem’ or the ‘holy Jerusalem ’ she is presented as coming ‘from heaven’ (Rev. 21:2.10). The reason for all this is simple: union of the church with Christ demands that she should be heavenly as He is heavenly (Eph. 5:25 -32).
A practical question for Christians today, therefore, is to what extent their minds are ‘in sync’, in harmony, with God’s eternal counsel. Do they see their role in Christianising the world (bringing Isaac back to Mesopotamia) or does the heavenly Head have such attraction for them that they are willing to become heavenly strangers? Abraham’s prohibition is recorded twice (verses 6 and 8) to emphasise its weight.
Verse 8: a willing response
A woman without an attitude of free-will would not be suitable: ‘and if the woman will not be willing to follow thee, then thou shalt be clear from this my oath’. The church must be marked by grace, not by legal obedience or requirements, in contrast to the Jewish system. Nor does she resemble the Gentile nations marked by lust and attempts to satisfy their own desires. Willingness to give up and to follow was to be looked for by the servant. The church is marked by grace.
Verse 10: well equipped, or the power of attraction
From verse 10 onwards (until verse 61) the servant is the main active character. Having considered the Father’s counsel in the first nine verses, we now learn, by way of typical teaching, that the Holy Spirit has been entrusted with the mission of calling the church out of this world for Christ. The church was formed through Him (Acts 2, 1 Cor. 12:13) and He works during the time of the church (dispensation) to reach this objective: to kindle, strengthen, and encourage her affections for Christ. How exactly does He do this?
We read of the servant that ‘all the goods of his master were in his hand’. He was well equipped to tell Isaac’s future wife about him. In the first instance ‘all the goods of his master’ would have been the possessions of Abraham. However, Abraham had given all things to Isaac as the only heir whereas his other children were only given presents and sent to the east country (24:36 and 25:5.6). Therefore, all the treasures really belonged to Isaac. So it is with Christ who could say, ‘All things that the Father hath are mine’ (John 16:15) and, ‘The Father loveth the Son, and hath given all things into his hand’ (John 3:35).
This is how the Spirit works: He shows us the things of Christ. We read in John 16:14: ‘he shall take of mine, and shall show it unto you’. It has been said, ‘God works by the power of attraction’.
The rather comprehensive expression: ‘all the goods’, reminds us that the Spirit has come to teach us ‘all things’ (John 14:26), to guide us into ‘all truth’ (John 16:13) and to show us ‘all things that the Father hath’ (John 16:15).
Verses 12-14: prayer, dependence and grace
The first two of these features (prayer and dependence) mark the servant; the latter one (grace) marks Rebecca. She is not only willing to give Abraham’s servant to drink, but also freely provides for his camels (which must have been hard work given the quantities these animals can drink, especially after a long journey), without negotiating conditions or asking a price. This is another indication that the church is marked by grace. Rebecca demonstrates the same feature later on when the servant asks for ‘room’ and she offers ‘straw’ and ‘provender enough’ and ‘room to lodge in’ (v. 25).
What may be less obvious to some is that the spirit of prayer and dependence that marked the servant should also mark the church. We are not mixing up types by simply applying everything to the church. However, the Spirit who indwells the church (1 Cor. 3:16) wants to form His mind in her. The well-known Bible expositor William Kelly points out that a spirit is identified with the person he indwells (whether the spirit is good or evil):
‘Indeed the case is equally true of those possessed by evil spirits. Thus the two demoniacs in Matthew 8:29 cried out, saying, ‘What have we to do with thee, Son of God? Didst thou come here before the season to torment us?’ Still clearer is this quasi-identification expressed in Mark 5:2, where, when asked his name, the chief of the two answers, ‘Legion is my name, because we are many.’ No less plainly does it appear in Luke 8:28 ,29 where the possessed said, ‘I beseech thee torment me not’; and the evangelist continues: ‘For He had commanded the unclean spirit to go out from the man.’ Hence we see how profoundly correct it is in the history that Eliezer, typifying the Holy Spirit’s action, should represent the church and the Christian also’.
God is not looking for a church that dominates the world, but rather a spirit in the church that is prayerful, as illustrated in Eliezer.
Verses 15 and 16: ‘Rebecca came out’
The servant did not have long to wait. He had hardly finished his prayer when Rebecca came out. Verse 15 shows that she was a daughter of Bethuel who, in turn, was Abraham’s nephew. Rebecca therefore met the requirement of being of Abraham’s kindred (v.4). She is further described as ‘very fair to look upon’, a comment which will remind the reader of the beauty which the church has in the eyes of Christ (Matt. 13:45.46).
The fact that she was a chaste virgin brings to mind Paul’s words: ‘For I am jealous as to you with a jealousy which is of God; for I have espoused you unto one man, to present you a chaste virgin to Christ’ (2 Corinthians 11:2). The professing church is far away from this state of heart where affections are reserved for Christ and forbidden associations are avoided. Finally, it will degenerate to be the very opposite of a chaste virgin. John has to describe the professing church that remains on earth after the rapture as ‘the great harlot’ (Rev. 17:15.16), which God has to judge (Rev. 9:2). But the true church will be presented to Christ, glorious (Eph. 5:27). In eternity, she will be seen prepared ‘as a bride adorned for her husband’ (Rev. 21:2).
Verses 17-22: left wondering…
Verses 17-20 show how the servant’s prayer appears to have been answered to the letter. Rebecca fully demonstrated the unusual willingness that could hardly have been expected to occur by chance. She even ‘hasted’ and, having given him to drink, says, ‘I will draw water for thy camels also, until they have done drinking…’
Observing this, the servant is left ‘wondering’. As far as I can see, the thought is not that the ‘wondering’ attitude reflects badly on the servant, but that, in antitype, the church is marvellous and something that is very much an object of wonder. Even the Lord Jesus wondered when considering the faith shown by a Gentile (Luke 7:9). And who would not wonder at the way the Spirit worked in forming the church and producing godly characteristics in the multitudes that believed (Acts 2-4)?
Verse 22 relates how Rebecca received gifts, namely a golden earring and golden bracelets. These initial gifts, early tokens of grace, were followed by further ones later-on (verse 53). Some have suggested that the initial gifts in verse 22 stand for the redemption we receive in Christ (Eph. 1:7) whereas those in verse 53 are an illustration of the fact that Christ has given gifts to men (Eph. 4:8). The latter ones are only brought in once the matter of Rebecca’s new privilege of being united with Isaac has been established, just as it is from Christ ‘ascended’ and ‘descended’ that gifts are given for the edification of the church (Eph. 4:8-16). But through the initial gifts (the earring and bracelets) Rebecca was clearly marked out and distinguished from all others. As has been said: ‘The hand and face bear witness to the work of grace’.
Verses 23-27: … and worshipping
The servant asks Rebecca two questions: who she was and whether there would be room in her father’s house for him to stay. The Spirit of God is not intrusive and does not force Himself upon anyone but asks whether there is ‘room’. Do we make ‘room’ for Him or do we ‘grieve’ Him (Eph. 4:30)?
Having heard Rebecca’s answer (vv 24,25) there was no doubt that God had indeed sent His angel to prepare the way (v.7), and to lead Eliezer in the right way (v.48). His immediate response is worship. Bearing in mind earlier comments (on verses 12-14) explaining why the Spirit’s features should mark the church, it will be easy to see the point: worship is characteristic for Christianity (John 4:24). This incident of worship is mentioned again in verse 48 (and hence was one of the significant things that had occurred). Further, once Rebecca’s brother Laban and her father Bethuel had given their consent, we read again: ‘when Abraham’s servant heard their words, he worshipped the Lord, bowing himself to the earth’ (v.52).
We hear that, in some places, opportunities for free collective worship are being replaced by all sorts of performances etc. Do we still know worship in our personal as well as in our collective lives? It is not just a matter of emotion but a state of heart where one is so overwhelmed with what God has done, and with what God is that one can only ‘bow’ and worship.
This passage, which mainly reports how the servant explains the situation to Rebecca’s family, illustrates a number of further features of the Holy Spirit and His work.
Firstly, we notice that the servant refuses to eat. Given the length of the journey he had made this was surprising. But he only allows his feet to be washed and the camels to be ungirded and looked after (v.32). ‘And there was set meat before him to eat: but he said, I will not eat, until I have told mine errand’ (v.33). The servant knew what his mission was, his priorities were right, and he did not allow himself to be deflected from his mission. Perhaps we sometimes only have a weak impression of the Holy Spirit’s relentless efforts in drawing out our affections for Christ.
And how exactly the Spirit does this is again illustrated by the servant’s report. After a very brief introduction he comes to the core of the matter: Abraham’s son, the heir of all things: ‘unto him hath he given all that he hath’ (v.36). Are you looking for evidence of the Spirit’s working? Then the thing to look for is that hearts are being occupied with Christ. Are you trying to discourage believers from worldliness and to encourage devotion and heavenly mindedness? Again, occupation with Christ is the answer.
Verse 50-56: ‘Hinder me not’
Only after full consent has been received, after the servant had worshipped 3 again, and after the gifts 4 had been given, is the servant ready to eat and to stay overnight, but only for one night (v.54). How many of us would travel for many days in order to stay somewhere for only one night? Understandably, from a natural perspective, Rebecca’s brother and mother ask the servant to prolong his stay (and Rebecca’s) for ten or so days (v.55). But this suggestion is categorically rejected by Eliezer who says, ‘hinder me not’ (v.56).
For the church, there are always a thousand factors to hinder her in going (and the Spirit in drawing her). Natural relationships may be one of the most potent and powerful influences. Yet, the Spirit knows His mission and does not rest until His aim is reached and the bride is fully detached from her previous environment. What are the factors in our lives where the Spirit has to say ‘hinder me not’?
Verses 57-60: ‘I will go’
The decision must come from Rebecca’s own lips. In a way, we reach the climax of the whole story here. We have seen the Father’s counsel, and the Spirit’s mission and its careful and untiring execution. The call has gone out, and it is unequivocal (she would have to come and Isaac would not go). What will the response be?
In Rebecca’s case it was just as unequivocal: ‘I will go’ (v.58). This is what the Spirit looks for in the hearts of those who form the church: that they might willingly and consciously decide that the link with the true Heir and Son, the heavenly Head, is worth more to them than anything else.
Rebecca’s affection for the absent bridegroom decided the matter. She took a decision of faith: if the report about Isaac, about her future and her high destiny was true, then nothing would keep her where she was. What was her former occupation of looking after Laban’s sheep compared to the place of the wife of the son who was the heir of all things?
The expectation of meeting the Lord will have an immediate and strong influence in our lives. This hope, and this hope only, will detach us from everything that wants to hold us back; it will make us live and serve the Lord (1 Thess. 1:10), and enable us to purify ourselves from all that is unclean (1 John 3:3). As has been said: ‘It is one thing to speak of the peculiar glories of the church, and quite another thing to be practically influenced by those glories’.
Verses 61-67: the journey and the meeting
Verse 61 provides a beautiful picture of the present situation of the church. Rebecca arose and ‘followed the man’. So the church is on a journey, in a desert where she will not find anything of interest to her. Guidance on this journey is given by the Spirit of God (not, of course, against or even without the written Word of God). As Rebecca, the church has never seen the One whom she is travelling to meet, but she follows the Spirit by faith. As long as she is occupied with the Lord Jesus the journey will not be hard; otherwise it would be unbearable. Returning to Mesopotamia was not an option for Rebecca. Going back was giving up Isaac.
Verses 62.63: the patience of Christ
But Rebecca is not the only one waiting in expectation. There is also Isaac who ‘went out to meditate in the field at the eventide: and he lifted up his eyes, and saw, and, behold, the camels were coming’. The church may be unsteady in her expectation – and so indeed may you or I – but the true Isaac is ‘meditating’, waiting, and ‘lifting up his eyes’. A verse such as this reminds us of Paul’s wish expressed in 2 Thessalonians 3:5: ‘But the Lord direct your hearts … to the patience of the Christ’ (JND). Christ is waiting, in patience, to receive those who are His to be with Him: ‘Father, I will that they also, whom thou hast given me, be with me where I am; that they may behold my glory’ (John 17:24).
Why is it mentioned here that Isaac had just returned from the well ‘Beer-lahai-roi’? This well is known to the Bible student from Genesis 16:13.14 where we learn why it had been given this name. Hagar had experienced God as a God who ‘sees’ and may be ‘seen’ and experienced. Even if, during the church’s journey, Christ often does not intervene, the assurance is there that He ‘sees’ and is conscious of every difficulty on the way. His interest in every detail of the journey may also be seen in verse 66 where we learn that the servant told Isaac ‘all things he had done’ (although Christ, of course, has no need to be ‘told’).
Perhaps this is what makes the journey appear so short. At any rate, no duration, days or nights, are mentioned. They left ‘in the morning’ (v.54), and Isaac saw them arriving ‘toward the beginning of the evening’ (v.63).
Verses 64-67: the meeting
Not only did Isaac ‘lift up his eyes’ (v.63), but so did Rebecca (v.64). And when she did ‘she saw Isaac’, the one whom she had been longing to meet and for whom she had followed the call and made the journey. This is the hope of the church, to see the Lord Jesus face to face: ‘For we shall see him as he is’ (1 John 3:2). This hope corresponds to what I believe is the highest blessing of those in the holy city, Jerusalem : ‘and his servants shall serve him: And they shall see his face’ (Rev. 22:4). Rebecca sees Isaac and knows that the journey is over. She alights from the camel and veils herself, demonstrating that her beauty is reserved for him.
The final verse tells us that Isaac led her into his mother Sarah’s tent, and that she became his wife and he loved her. This is the second mention of love in the Bible, the first being the mention in 22:2 where Abraham’s love for his son speaks of the Father’s love for His only-begotten Son. Here, we have a picture of Christ’s love for the church (Eph. 5:25). Through Rebecca, Isaac was comforted after his mother’s death. As pointed out in the introduction, Sarah stands for the people of Israel , set aside for a while. But the church has been called out in the meantime and Christ has found joy, comfort and satisfaction in her (Matt. 13:45.46, Isa. 53:11. Heb. 12:2).
The narrative of Rebecca’s call is the fullest and most complete type of Christ and the church in the Old Testament, showing an abundance of beautiful details as well as stimulating challenges for every Christian.
1 J N Darby (Synopsis), W Kelly (Isaac), F B Hole (Genesis), Hamilton Smith (Call of the Bride), J G Bellett (The Patriarchs), L M Grant (Genesis), F W Grant (Numerical Bible, Genesis in the Light of the NT, C H Mackintosh (Notes on the Pentateuch, Genesis).
2 An essential condition without which nothing could be done at all.
3 See earlier comments on ‘worship’ (v.52, see v.26).
4 See earlier comments on ‘gifts’ (v.53, see v.22).