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Cover image via Celestial Grace.
Abraham decided that his forty-year-old son ought to have a wife and he made the necessary arrangements. He called his servant and made him swear an oath. “And Abraham said unto his eldest servant of his house, that ruled over all that he had, Put, I pray thee, thy hand under my hand: And I will make thee swear by the Lord, the God of heaven, and the God of the earth, that thou shalt not take a wife unto my son of the daughters of the Canaanites, among whom I dwell: But thou shalt go unto my country, and to my kindred, and take a wife unto my son Isaac” (Genesis 24:2 – 4, JST).
Principle #1: Find a Spouse Among Those Who Know of and Honor the Covenant.
No Canaanites allowed! They are available of course; Abraham lived among them. But they were death to the blessings of the covenant of eternal marriage. “Seek a wife for my boy,” Abraham instructed, “who will aid him on the journey to immortality and eternal life. Find a wife for him who loves the things of eternity.”
In the next chapter, Esau wondered aloud what good the birthright (including the blessings of the covenant) would offer him (Genesis 25:32), and then traded his birthright for a bowl of red pottage. He got a new name from his foolishness, but gave up some significant things. Acquaintances began at that time to call him ‘Edom,’ which means “Red” (see Genesis 36:1). That name must have been a bitter reminder to him for the rest of his life of what it cost him when he “despised his birthright” (Genesis 25:34).
And he did despise it. The oath under which Abraham’s servant acted was not a motivating factor to Esau. “And Esau was forty years old when he took to wife Judith the daughter of Beeri the Hittite, and Bashemath the daughter of Elon the Hittite: Which were a grief of mind unto Isaac and to Rebekah” (Genesis 26:34 – 35). In the Old Testament, Hittites are Canaanites, and Esau’s marriage to them barred his offspring from full participation in the Abrahamic Covenant.
Rebecca was terrified of the possibility of this disaster if her other son, Jacob, married in a like manner. “And Rebekah said to Isaac, I am weary of my life because of the daughters of Heth: if Jacob take a wife of the daughters of Heth, such as these which are of the daughters of the land, what good shall my life do me?” (Genesis 27:46, emphasis added).
Abraham’s servant took his supplies, his camels, and his companions headed for Haran, where Abraham and his family lived after their departure from Ur of Chaldea (see Abraham 2:4). Abraham had family there who would know of the covenant and the goodness of Jehovah.
For the journey, the servant took ten camels. The distance to be traveled from Hebron to Haran was probably over 400 miles, perhaps as many as 450. Camels average 3 miles per hour for about 8 hours a day. We may therefore assume that the trip required 18 days of travel each way, with two additional days for Sabbath observance without travel. The round-trip, not counting the time in Haran, probably required about 40 days.
The servant got to the well at Haran where the daughters came for water, and prayed, asking the Lord for assistance in finding the person “that thou hast appointed for thy servant Isaac” (24:14). He proposed a test that no one could pass casually: “And let it come to pass, that the damsel to whom I shall say, Let down thy pitcher, I pray thee, that I may drink; and she shall say, Drink, and I will give thy camels drink also: let the same be she . . . (Genesis 24:14).
We do not preach the doctrine that God has appointed a specific wife or husband for every covenant-conscious Latter-day Saint, but we must believe that this matter of the covenant is a necessary part of every enduring union.
Before he had said “Amen,” Rebekah arrived with her vessel.
A thirsty camel can drink 25-30 gallons of water. There are ten camels to be watered, and she must do it with whatever jar or container she has with her. The record calls it a pitcher (Genesis 24:18,20). Genesis 24:16 and 45 both indicate that this water in this well is in a hole, probably reached by descending a spiral path or stairs. Rebekah “went down to the well, filled her pitcher, and came up” (Genesis 24:16). At Gibeon, archeologists uncovered a well like the one suggested in this story. The water level was 80 feet below ground level (see Atlas of the Bible, p. 97). And note that she hasted (24:18,20) to serve this stranger. No girl volunteers for this kind of service and work unless it is an attitude woven into her character.
Principles 2 & 3: Find a Spouse Willing to Serve and Willing to Work
The servant must have been delighted at this meaningful beginning, but there were other issues to be resolved. “Whose daughter art thou?” the man asked (Genesis 24:23).
“And she said unto him, I am the daughter of Bethuel the son of Milcah, which she bare unto Nahor (Genesis 24:24). Nahor was the brother of Abraham. These were people who accepted and honored the covenant. Rebekah met every condition specified by Abraham for his son’s bride.
The servant bowed his head to give thanks. “And he said, Blessed be the Lord God of my master Abraham, who hath not left destitute my master of his mercy and his truth: I being in the way, the Lord led me to the house of my master’s brethren” (Genesis 24:27, emphasis added).
In his prayer the servant of Abraham teaches another important principle. He may not have meant to teach it, but the lesson is here. The servant said, “I being in the way, the Lord led me . . .” The search for a spouse must take place “in the way”–the strait and narrow way, next to the iron rod.
Abraham sent his servant to Haran. We must realize therefore that he will not find a covenant-worthy wife in Ninevah. Those who are looking ought to look in places through which the way passes: places like church dances and institute classes and conference and Sunday School and Family Home Evenings. All of us have known sorrowful people who, in their anxiousness to make a marriage, Esau-like, left the path and searched in the mists and the river and the great and spacious building. Mates can be found in these places, of course, but not eternal ones, unless there is some repentance.
Principle #4: Stay in the Way. Look on the Path
As the servant recounted his adventures to the relatives of Rebecca, he mentioned one other important principle, related to the one above. As he spoke of the prayer of gratitude he had offered at the well he said, “And I bowed down my head, and worshipped the LORD, and blessed the LORD God of my master Abraham, which had led me in the right way to take my master’s brother’s daughter unto his son” (Genesis 24:48).
This servant recognized that the Lord had assisted him in his task and testified that “the Lord God . . . led me in the right way…” In Genesis 24:40 he repeated the promise made by Abraham that “The LORD . . . will send his angel with thee, and prosper thy way.”
Principle #5: God Will Prepare a Way and, If We Are Willing, Lead Us in That Way
Everyone can quote 1 Nephi 3:7, and everyone knows that marriage is a commandment of the Lord. Adam said, “Now for this cause shall a man leave his father and his mother and cleave unto his wife . . .” If God does not give commandments without preparing a way to keep them and if marriage is a commandment . . . then God will provide a way.
The testimony of the servant convinced the relatives of Rebekah that the hand of God was in this matter. They were willing for the marriage to take place. But there were two questions yet to be answered. Would Rebekah be willing to accompany him? And when could Eliezer begin his return journey to Hebron?
Rebekah’s relatives were understandably reluctant to bid her farewell at once. They said, “Let the damsel abide with us a few days, at the least ten; after that she shall go” (Genesis 24:55). But Eliezer knew that Abraham was very old (“well stricken in age” Genesis 24:1), and he also knew that Isaac was not getting much sleep.
And he said unto them, Hinder me not, seeing the LORD hath prospered my way; send me away that I may go to my master. (Genesis 24:56)
To resolve the matter, they determined to ask Rebekah. The question they asked her must have sounded something like this: “Are you willing to travel over 400 miles with a man you have just met to marry a man you have never met because the Lord wants you to?”
She said, “I will go” (Genesis 24:58).
Her response is as powerful as that of Nephi when asked to get the plates from Laban. “I will go . . .” (1 Nephi 3:7).
Principle, #6: Find Someone Disposed to Obey the Lord.
When Rebekah saw Isaac walking toward them, she asked her companion who he was. When she learned that the man approaching was the one who was to be her husband, “she took a vail, and covered herself’ (Genesis 24:65). There are no other Old Testament accounts of brides wearing veils, although it is a custom still often observed in our own day. But the purpose seems to be clear enough.
I believe that Rebekah must have meant to communicate this to her future husband: You must be drawn to my character and my personality. Will you marry me even though my face is covered with a veil, because you know that my face is the lowest level of my true beauty? At least that possibility brings us to another principle:
Principle #7: Do Not Marry on the Basis of Physical Attraction Alone.
We are told that on the day the travelers arrived back in Hebron, “Isaac went out to meditate in the field at the eventide” (Genesis 24:63). Does anyone wonder what he is meditating about? No matter what other purpose he might have had, his eyes must have wandered constantly in the direction of Haran. He would have known from his father the distance and time required for the servant’s journey. Imagine his feelings when he saw the camels coming.
The sequence in the final verse of Genesis 24 is important.
And Isaac brought her into his mother Sarah’s tent, and took Rebekah, and she became his wife; and he loved her . . . (24:67)
The love came last. I know this is not a popular thing to say, but I believe it is true. What I feel for my wife is not what I felt for her 49 years ago when we were married. I loved her then, of course. But sixty thousand dirty diapers and twenty-seven cars and thirteen homes and twenty-four vacuum cleaners and twelve children and forty-two grandchildren have helped me learn what love really means. What I felt then and what I feel now are perhaps the same thing, but they are not the same amount. If my love is water, forty-nine years ago it was a puddle. Today it is the Pacific Ocean.
I made it a practice to have Family Home Evenings with my children and their fiancés just before they were married. I showed each of them a jar of fruit that had been canned years before. “There is no possibility that this fruit is still good, is there?” I asked. They were quick to observe that it was good because it was sealed. The word ‘sealed’ began to teach the lesson.
As the lesson continued, I gave each of them an empty fruit jar and explained that marriages, like fruit jars, do not get sealed until they are filled with something worth sealing. We talked about what things in a marriage were worth sealing. We then wrote the names of things worth sealing on pictures of fruit and put them in the jars.
It is that process of filling marriages with things that are good and eternal that enables God to make the marriages eternal. That is love.
Principle #8: Eternal Love Takes a While
The story of Isaac and Rebekah is powerful, but the purpose of the account is not to tell the story. The purpose is to teach the principles that accompany the story. As we search the scriptures, we must look for more than the things we can learn. We must look for the things we ought to do.