Genesis 24 is the longest chapter in Genesis. And rather than recounting some revelation about God or some aspect of his covenant with Abraham, it spins a tail of how Isaac got a wife. Indeed, the longest narrative event in Genesis is a love story, one that seems Dickens-like in its profusion of extraneous information.
Certainly, as the promises of God are given to Abraham and his offspring, the marriage of his son is no small matter. Yet, it seems as though the account of the servant traveling back to Mesopotamia to find a wife for Isaac is prolix detour from the rest of Genesis. At least, it is not as crisp as the equally-important, but shorter accounts of the Tower of Babel (Genesis 11:1–9) and the meeting with Melchizedek (Genesis 14:18–24).
So why the long drama of finding Isaac a wife? My answer is that this story reflects God’s story for the world, and the long-time-in-coming union between God’s beloved son with his bride. Let’s consider.
To read Genesis correctly, we need to learn something from the New Testament—actually three things, plus one in the Pentateuch itself. First, the entire Old Testament is written to prepare the world for the Son of God (John 5:39; Luke 24:27). It is not a historical record for ancient Israel alone. As Peter tells us, the Old Testament Prophets, Moses included, served a generation to come (see 1 Pet. 1:10–12; cf. 1 Cor. 10:11).
Second, the message of Abraham and his offspring is the message of the gospel. Galatians 3:8 says the gospel was preached beforehand to Abraham. This gospel message begins in Genesis 12:1–3 with God’s promised of blessing the nations through Abraham. And it continues right through to Isaac, and his sworn oath in Genesis 22:16–18. As God says,
By myself I have sworn, declares the Lord, because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son, 17 I will surely bless you, and 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, 18 and in your offspring shall all the nations of the earth be blessed, because you have obeyed my voice.”
In fact, there is good reason for seeing the quotation in Galatians 3:8 as combining the language of Genesis 12:3 and Genesis 22:18, almost as if Paul is saying that the gospel preached to Abraham comes to us over the course of 11 chapters. (Importantly, because Paul’s gospel focused intently on the resurrection, it would seem to necessitate Genesis 22 as part of the gospel message to Abraham).
Third, from what Paul says in Galatians 4:24, we should read the book of Genesis typologically. The ESV says that Paul “interpreted allegorically” the account of Sarah and Hagar (from the word allēgoreō), but it is far better to understand Moses writing the accounts of Genesis with intentional patterns. Thus, we should read the “allegory” (better: typology) of Moses as it is written, but we should not create our own allegory of the text.
Fourth, in the context of Genesis there are multiple events that connect to Exodus. For instance, Moses uses the same word for “ark” in Genesis 6 that he uses for his “basket” in Exodus 2. In this way, Moses makes a connection between Noah’s baptism and his own—this reading is confirmed by Peter (1 Pet. 3:18–21) and Paul (1 Cor. 10:2). Likewise, he speaks of Noah (8:20–22) and Abraham (Gen. 22) making burnt offerings—something not explained until Leviticus. Moreover, Moses styles the events of Abraham’s exile into Egypt in Genesis 12 after the exodus itself. All in all, the whole book of Genesis is written by Moses with conscious themes of the Exodus. Therefore, we should read Genesis informed theologically by the events of Exodus.
From these four observations, we have reason to read Genesis 24 as a narrative meant to point to Christ, just as the firstborn son of Abraham points to Christ (cf. Rom. 8:31–32). We should likewise see the account of Isaac and Rebekah’s marriage as patterned after the original marriage and foreshadowing a greater marriage—after all, this is the mystery marriage, that every husband and wife are types of Christ and the Church (Eph. 5:22–33). Last, we should consider how Moses intended to tell the history of Isaac and Rebekah and perhaps something else—namely another rehearsal of the exodus event he had experienced with Israel.
Isaac, Rebekah, the Mission of Israel, and the Bride of Christ
With these “reading requirements” in place, what do we find in Genesis 24? In short order, we find at least 12 points in the story which we should observe and consider.
- The Father prepares his beloved son a bride. All that follows in Genesis 24 is in service to this end.
- The Father employs a trustworthy servant to bring a bride to his son (vv. 2–3).
- The servant finds a faithful bride in the midst of the nations. Abraham instructs the servant to find a woman from his country and kindred (v. 4).
- The bride must follow the same course as Abraham. Abraham recalls God’s call on his life (v. 7), and this woman must follow in the same path (v. 8)
- The master funds the bridal mission (v. 10), and the Lord answers the prayer of the servant to find a bride (vv. 12–14).
- The Lord answers the servant’s prayer and Rebekah is brought to the servant (vv. 15–21).
- The answer to prayer and the discovery of Rebekah leads to praise (v. 27).
- The servant proclaims the word of Abraham before he eats (v. 33) The servant’s food was to do his master’s will.
- The servant proclaims the story of Abraham (vv. 34–49). This is the longest section of Genesis 24 and it leads to the effect of bringing Rebekah to Isaac.
- The servant also gives a bridal price for Rebekah (v. 53).
- Rebekah’s father grants permission for her to go (vv. 50–51), in language reminiscent of Pharaoh (Gen. 12:19) and preparatory for the exodus.
- Like Pharaoh, Laban again sought to hold Rebekah back (vv. 52–55). But the servant persisted (v. 56) and forced Rebekah’s decision (vv. 56–59).
- Agreeing to go, Rebekah followed the servant to the place where Isaac was (vv. 59–62). Upon seeing him, she veiled herself and entered his tent (vv. 62–67), where Rebekah became his wife and enjoyed his love.
What are we to make of these observations?
For those familiar with the Exodus story, the events at Jacob’s Well (John 4), and the gospel, it is impossible not to see in shadow form the storylines of salvation in these later events. Especially, when we consider the way Abraham and Isaac, typify the Father and the Son (Rom 8:31–32), the events of Isaac’s marriage make the perfect counterpart—dare we say helpmate—to the gospel of Genesis 22.
In the events at Mount Moriah, God provided salvation for Abraham’s beloved son. Isaac is spared by a substitute sacrifice (Gen. 22:13–14) and resurrection from the dead (Heb. 11:17). Yet, Isaac is still alone. The promise to Abraham of a multitude of offspring has not come to fruition. Yet, now in the marriage of Isaac and Rebekah, that promise comes one step closer.
Putting Genesis 24 on the Cosmic Stage
In Genesis 24 the events of Rebekah’s election, the servant’s mission, the purchase of freedom, and exodus-journey add up to foreshadow the way God the Father will bring a bride to his Son. Consider again the movements in this story, and how they form the storyline for redemptive history.
- The Father employs trustworthy servants to call his bride for his son.
- The servant finds a faithful bride in the midst of the nations. This bride is from the same (spiritual) family as the bridegroom.
- The bride must follow the same course as her husband.
- The master funds the bridal mission and the Lord answers the prayer of his servants who go in search of the bride.
- The Lord answers the servant’s prayer as he brings his elect to Christ.
- The answer to prayer and the discovery of the bride leads to praise—both now and forever.
- The servant’s food was to do his master’s will and to proclaim the word God. Indeed, this is modeled by Jesus in John 4 and it is the way of God’s people who live on his word more than food or drink.
- In calling the bride, the servant proclaims the story of his master and his bountiful grace. He invites the bride to come join her husband.
- The liberation of the bride comes from the bountiful provision of God himself. He doesn’t require the bride to free herself; he provides the means to come to him.
- The bride must forsake her family and her father in order to be joined to her husband. This comes by means of hope in a greater husband.
- The masters of this world will not permit the bride to go, but the bride will come—for she cannot finally resist her masters call.
- Following the Lord’s servant(s), the bride will follow the same path as her husband.
- The final goal is a covenant of love and spiritual union in the Bridegroom’s tent.
From all that we see here, we learn how the Father has ordered the entire universe to bring the Bride to his Son. All that occurs in the world is for this purpose, even the story of Isaac and Rebekah.
In the end, from reading Genesis 24 as Scripture teaches us to read it, we learn not only the history of Isaac and Rebekah, we learn God’s purpose for the world. He has called his bride to join his Son in a covenant marriage. He calls us by his word of the gospel, the story that begins with Abraham and comes to us in Jesus. He has made provision for this journey in his Son’s death, the Spirit’s life, and the Word’s promise. Finally, God sends his servants out into the world to proclaim their Master’s story and to pray for God to lead us to the Bride.
Incredibly, Genesis 24 is not the longest chapter in Genesis by accident. It is a pure and holy story of covenant marriage, set against all the other debauched stories of sexual immorality in Genesis. And in the middle of Moses’s first book, it teaches us how to look at the entire world with hope in Christ and the marriage he offers to those who forsake their fathers and join themselves to God’s Son.
Read this way, this story may have even encouraged Moses as he forsook the pleasures of sin in Egypt to bear reproach with Christ (Heb. 11:26). It surely should encourage us as we the bride serve our Master and call others to come to him!
Soli Deo Gloria, ds
Photo by Sylwia Bartyzel on Unsplash
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