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.
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. 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. – Genesis 24:1-11 ESV
With the death of Sarah, Abraham found himself an elderly widower attempting to raise his 37-year-old unmarried son. At least 137-years-old himself, Abraham would have recognized that he faced yet another challenge in his long and storied life. While God had given him a son through whom all the divine promises would be fulfilled, there was still a need for Isaac to find a mate. God’s promise to produce a great nation through Abraham would come to a screeching halt if Isaac failed to marry and bear the next generation of descendants.
Sarah’s death marked the end of Abraham’s role in producing that great nation. He would father no more sons. But he knew that God was far from finished when it came to fulfilling His promises, and he remembered the words God spoke concerning Isaac more than 37 years earlier.
“Sarah, your wife, will give birth to a son for you. You will name him Isaac, and I will confirm my covenant with him and his descendants as an everlasting covenant.” – Genesis 17:19 NLT
So, he prepared to pass the mantle of leadership and responsibility to Isaac. And because Abraham viewed himself as an alien and a stranger in the land of Canaan, he determined to find a bride for his son from among his own people living back in Mesopotamia. But, unlike so many other episodes from the life of Abraham, this one is not an example of Abraham operating solo and trying to make things happen on his own. He is simply playing the role of the loving father and attempting to ensure that his son finds the right kind of wife. Yet, in all his decisions concerning the matter, one can sense that Abraham recognized the sovereign will of God. After 137 years of life, he had come to trust that God would providentially operate behind the scenes and ensure that Isaac found just the woman through whom all His promises would be fulfilled.
Chapter 24 is the longest of all the chapters in the book of Genesis, and it is a love story. But it is less about the love that develops between Isaac and Rebekah than it is about the love of God for Abraham and his descendants. Moses opens the chapter by stating that “the Lord had blessed Abraham in all things” (Genesis 24:1 ESV). He had given Abraham a faithful and loving wife. He had showered him with great riches and abundant flocks and herds. For more than 60 years, God had protected and provided for Abraham as he wandered through the countryside of Canaan. And now, He would guide the steps of Abraham’s servant as he made the long journey back to Mesopotamia. This entire chapter is meant to remind Abraham’s future descendants, the people of Israel, of God’s love for them. The details contained in this story provide insights into their very existence. Had these events not taken place, just as God ordained them, there would be no nation of Israel.
But it all began with Abraham’s decision to send his servant back to his homeland of Mesopotamia. And Abraham forced his servant to swear a binding oath.
“…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.” – Genesis 24:3-4 ESV
As part of the oath, the servant was required to place his hand under Abraham’s thigh. This rather strange gesture was probably meant to signify that the oath was all about the continuation of Abraham’s line. But placing his hand near Abraham’s genitals, the servant would be making an intimate and binding commitment to the future of his master’s house.
But before taking this solemn oath, Abraham’s servant expressed his reservations. He questioned what he was to do if the woman he found refused to return with him to Canaan. This was a legitimate concern because most residents of Mesopotamia would have viewed Canaan as an unsophisticated backwater occupied by unruly and unfriendly nations. Abraham had tasked this man with a formidable task and he wanted to know what he was supposed to do when the women he approached turned him down. Was there an option involving the return of Isaac to Mesopotamia? But Abraham flatly rejected any notion of Isaac leaving Canaan.
“See to it that you do not take my son back there.” – Genesis 24:6 ESV
Abraham understood that this trip and the task of finding a bride for Isaac could take a very long time, and there was a high likelihood that he would not live long enough to attend his son’s wedding or see the birth of his first grandson. So, Abraham made sure his servant knew the terms of his assignment and the reason for its uncompromising rigidity.
“For the Lord, the God of heaven, who took me from my father’s house and my native land, solemnly promised to give this land to my descendants. He will send his angel ahead of you, and he will see to it that you find a wife there for my son. If she is unwilling to come back with you, then you are free from this oath of mine. But under no circumstances are you to take my son there.” – Genesis 24:7-8 NLT
This statement reveals Abraham’s unwavering faith in God’s promise. He recalled the day that God commanded him to leave Mesopotamia and relocate his family to Canaan. If God had done it once, He could do it again. And Abraham assured his servant that Yahweh would prepare the path before him. He even declared that God would guide the servant to just the right woman. And, if that God-ordained woman should refuse to accompany the servant to Canaan, the binding nature of the oath would be automatically rescinded.
Abraham was letting his servant know that this trip was going to have God’s hands all over it. Yes, his task appeared daunting and even dangerous. It’s likely that this servant was a foreigner, just like Sarah’s handmaiden, Hagar. Perhaps he was too was an Egyptian. And he was being asked to make a long journey through hostile territory and somehow convince a Mesopotamian father to give the hand of his daughter to a man he had never met – who just happened to live in Canaan. But Abraham was assuring his reluctant servant that God was in full control. So, the servant swore the oath and prepared to make the journey to Mesopotamia.
Moses provides no timeline for the trip. One minute, the servant is standing in the presence of Abraham somewhere near Hebron, and then he suddenly appears by a well outside of Nahor. The journey itself, while obviously long and arduous, was unimportant. It was the destination that mattered. Abraham had sent his servant to the region of Haran, the place where he had been living when God had called him. These names are significant because they reflect the family members of Abraham.
Now these are the generations of Terah. Terah fathered Abram, Nahor, and Haran; and Haran fathered Lot. Haran died in the presence of his father Terah in the land of his kindred, in Ur of the Chaldeans. And Abram and Nahor took wives. The name of Abram’s wife was Sarai, and the name of Nahor’s wife, Milcah, the daughter of Haran the father of Milcah and Iscah. – Genesis 11:27-29 ESV
This area of Mesopotamia had become the home of Abraham’s extended family. His brothers, Haran and Nahor, had settled and raised their families there. Of course, Haran had died, forcing Abraham to take on Haran’s son, Lot, as his ward. But Nahor had remained in Mesopotamia where he eventually married his late brother’s daughter, Milcah. And she would bear Nahor a son named Bethuel, who would father a daughter named Rebekah. So, all the while Abraham had been living in the land of Canaan, God had been working behind the scenes to prepare the woman who would become the future bride of the long-awaited son of the promise.
Little did Abraham’s servant know that his path had been sovereignly directed to the very well where he would meet the very woman whose very life God had ordained years earlier.
English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.