A Wife for Isaac


Genesis 24

By divine intervention, Isaac’s life had been preserved. The certainty of the covenant had been established in word and deed. For the continuance of the seed, Isaac must have not only life but a wife. Abraham was concerned that this wife be of the descendants of Shem. For this, he must necessarily look to his own family relations. He was determined to avoid mixing with the Canaanites (the “dogs” that later would be drawn to the Messiah in the new covenant community [Matthew 15:21]). This promise of the seed for its physical covenantal purposes must not be polluted with those placed under a curse, descendants of the son of Ham. Divine providence must guide this process of selection.

I. Verses 1–4 – Abraham made clear his insistence on the appropriate succession of seed.

A. Abraham was 140 years old, and Isaac was 40 (see 25:20).

B. This servant, doubtless was Eliezer. He was the “oldest of his household” and early in his time with Abraham had been considered as Abraham’s heir (15:2), and “had charge of all that he had.”

This story gives evidence of the rock-solid character of Eliezer in caring, not only for Abraham’s possessions, but for his place in God’s purpose. He would make sure that Isaac’s wife was fit to be daughter-in-law to this divinely-selected man of faith.

C. This gesture of the hand under the thigh was a symbol of submission to the strength and purpose of another.

That Abraham chose the language, “swear by the Lord, the God of heaven and God of the earth,” (cf. also 14:23) shows Abraham’s consciousness of his own submission to Yahweh and the covenant. It also was a clear statement of his monotheistic commitment and explains in part his deep conviction that any marriage with the Canaanites must be avoided.

D. Not only were the Canaanites gross idolaters, but they were descendants of the son of Ham, Canaan, who had been placed under a specific curse in the days of Noah.

Abraham was to possess this very land and the Canaanites and all their relations would be driven from it (Genesis 15:16, 18–21).

E. Abraham had learned several years ago that his brother Nahor had been given a large family (Genesis 22:20–24).

Though idolatry was mixed into the religion of that family (Genesis 31:30–35), Nahor nevertheless knew of Abraham’s call even while in Ur and accepted the reality of the God who had called him (Genesis 24:50).


II. Verses 5–9 – The servant swears to do as Abraham says.

A. The questions posed by Eliezer do not indicate doubt about Abraham’s intention but show his determination to be absolutely certain of the will of his master in this matter.

    1. The woman must be from Abraham’s kindred.
    2. She must be willing to come to the land of Isaac’s present dwelling; under no circumstance should the servant consent for Isaac to return to the land from which Abraham had moved. Isaac’s son, Jacob, went back to that land to escape from the anger and determined vengeance of Esau.
    3. God had promised to Abraham the land of Canaan and Isaac was not to be enticed with permanent residence among family in the fertile and prosperous region of Mesopotamia. He must be present in Canaan and be related to the small, but very important, piece of property that Abraham owned in the land (See the narrative of his purchase of the land in Genesis 23. “A piece of land worth 400 shekels of silver, what is that between you and me?”)
    4. The will of God would certainly be done, but those responsible for pursuing it, must not commit themselves to any compromise to accomplish it. The certainty of divine decrees does not minimize responsible action and prayer for guidance.


III. Verses 10–14 – The servant’s prayer

A. The words “He arose and went to Mesopotamia to the city of Nahor” includes a journey of some 25 days and more than 500 miles.

Throughout this narrative, the readers should discern the great sense of loyalty and love that the servant had for Abraham, his sense of urgency in accomplishing his mission, and the punctilious arrangements of Providence in culminating this event.

B. He called on God as the “God of my master Abraham.”

This address does not indicate that Eliezer had no faith himself in Yahweh but shows that he realized his mission concerned the place of Abraham and his seed in a covenant relationship of transcendent significance. Even as he received an earnest and specific commission from Abraham, so he called on the God who elected, sought, and designated Abraham as a blessing to the world for clear and unambiguous success to this appointment.

C. Knowing that his task was to find the right person for Isaac in a short amount of time, Eliezer asked for a specific character trait to be obvious in the woman that he would meet at this well.

It seems that “the daughters of the men of the city” already were congregating around the well. He needed some prompting of divine guidance. He could not spend weeks, or even days, observing and seeking to discern the necessary qualities, but made a specific request that would immediately reveal them. John Gill remarked, “For hereby he would know that she was a careful and industrious person, willing to set her hand to business when necessary; that she was humane and courteous to strangers; humble and condescending, and willing to do the meanest offices for the good of others; and such a wife as this he sought for.” Having lived for more than 55 years with Abraham, and having served as steward of all his possessions, Eliezer knew well the kind of life that the wife of Isaac would face and the kind of interaction with strangers she would face. His prayer for guidance was based on the discernment of years of experience with Abraham, growing knowledge of the content of the covenant the Lord had established, including full commitment to the status of Abraham and his seed in the will of God.

D. After having prayed for a specific action, appropriate to the time of day, the place where he had stopped, and the aspects of character, he closed his prayer, “By this I shall know that you have shown steadfast love to my master.”


IV. God Answers Immediately

A. “Before he had finished speaking…”

God delights to answer the prayers of his people and ordains that he will accomplish through the means of prayer much of what he has decreed for us (2 Corinthians 1:11; Philippians 1:19; Colossians 4:2–4). “Before they call, I will answer; while they are yet speaking, I will hear” (Isaiah 65:24).

B. Note that the narrative quickly points to every element of those things for which Eliezer prayed, facts that he would learn in the subsequent conversation.

Eliezer seems drawn immediately to her because her beauty stood out above that of the other young women—“very attractive in appearance.”

C. When Eliezer saw that she went to the spring to draw water, he sprang into action opening the opportunity to learn immediately all he needed to know about this woman.

His question would lead to a cascade of events showing God’s blessing on his journey. She gave him water and offered to water his camels, no mean offer in light of the amount of water a camel could drink and the fact that there were ten camels. In addition, she would not water the camels without helping the men that were with him (see verses 32, 59).

D. It happens that she is from the family of Abraham’s brother, in fact, Nahor’s granddaughter.

Also, she is carrying a water pot, perfect for Eliezer’s initiating a conversation that will allow her to fulfill the remainder of his request. He began to bring out gifts for her as he asked about her family and if there was room for hospitality for the evening (verses 22–25).

E. Eliezer told about Abraham, his prosperity, his mission and how God had granted his request.

The family immediately saw the hand of God in this and consented for Rebekah to be Isaac’s wife (24:50, 51). An evening of hospitality and celebration led to a request for a ten day delay in leaving. Eliezer, having accomplished his purpose in finding the wife and committed to the prohibition of allowing Isaac to go back to Haran, knew that he must now move quickly and not submit to any possibility that Rebekah would be gradually convinced by her family to stay. He asked for permission to leave immediately. In the same way, we must give no possible foothold to violations of God’s will for us or seek ways of delay in accomplishing it.

F. Eventually, upon their submitting the affair to Rebekah, she overruled the hesitations of her family about the time to leave (24:55–58) and consented to go immediately after only one night’s stay at home.


V. Observations

A. The length of the narrative, perhaps the longest in Genesis, shows how pivotal this event is for the future development of God’s covenantal purpose.

This is the time of transfer from Abraham to Isaac, the son of promise. After this, the rest of Abraham’s life is given a quick and candid summary (25:1–11), the earthly prosperity of Ishmael is summarized (25:12–18) and the attention turns to Isaac and his seed.

B. It demonstrates that God’s covenant purpose embraces and energizes the minds, hearts, and time of his people.

We see in this narrative an intensity about Abraham’s determination to plan in accord with what he knows about the intent of God’s call on his life. It demonstrates a mature trust that Yahweh will execute those events necessary for the continued efficacy of the promise.

C. We find in Eliezer a model of a deferential spirit in joyful service to the glory of God though he had been moved from a place of potential centrality to a peripheral position in that plan, so that in the narrative his name is not even mentioned.

The focus stays on the significant goodness of God in giving him clarity in the pursuit of this important event. There is joy in a willingness to be disposed of in this world just as a sovereign God sees fit.

D. We learn the value of seeking God for wisdom in all events, even those that seem self-evident in clarity (see Joshua 9:14).

Though we trust that God gives us wisdom as we mature in the faith and in scriptural discernment of his ways, nevertheless, central to that wisdom is a constant conscious realization of dependence on God’s present power in sustaining and directing our lives.

E. There is an almost hilarious joy that Eliezer experiences as he realizes how Yahweh has answered his prayer and how particular his providence has been throughout this experience.

He cannot bear even to eat before he tells of the answer to prayer in the pursuit of God’s purpose that he experienced. Such a joy should penetrate our observations about life as we discern with greater spiritual alacrity the ways of God with us each day and we consent with gladness to his prerogative over his world as he manifests his will in it to the glory of his Son.

F. We should also seek the well-being of the bride of Christ and recognize that the Holy Spirit has been sent to find, draw, convince, give gifts, separate from this world, and bring home the bride of Christ to the place where he lives, there to dwell eternally.


Abraham must have a son for promised blessings to give life.
The son was born of Sara’s womb, now the son must have a wife.
Not from Canaan, under curse,
Left by God to mind perverse.

A loyal servant and a friend trusted with the task at hand,
Pledged to find the chosen bride, must journey to the Shemite land.
The ride was long and trying,
But God’s guidance abiding.

The promise of the triune God would guide the servant clearly.
And prayer would give discernment so the choice was made sincerely.
The prayer asked for precision,
Assuring the decision.

The mother of the patriarch whose seed would grow God’s nation
Must be resourceful, filled with strength, not frightened by location.
Testifying to God’s plan
Gained the prize, Rebekah’s hand.

God’s providence and God’s decree are perfectly united.
By earnest prayer and honest work our spirits are ignited
To celebrate God’s graces
With joyful hearts and faces.

Tom has most recently served as the Professor of Historical Theology at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He previously taught at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School where he was Professor of Church History and Chair of the Department of Church History. Prior to that, he taught at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary. Along with numerous journal articles and scholarly papers, Dr. Nettles is the author and editor of fifteen books. Among his books are By His Grace and For His Glory; Baptists and the Bible, James Petigru Boyce: A Southern Baptist Statesman, and Living by Revealed Truth: The Life and Pastoral Theology of Charles H. Spurgeon.
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