************ Sermon on Genesis 24:3-4 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on May 26, 2013
Genesis 22:20-24; Genesis 24
"Isaac Gets a Wife"
"Neither men nor women need to be married to have sex or companionship or professional success or respect or even children." This comes from TIME Magazine (November 29, 2010; "Marriage: What's It Good for?"). To buttress its statement, TIME presents the following facts:
-Today, 52% of adult Americans are married; in 1960, 70% of American adults were married.
-Today, just 26% of twenty-somethings are married; in 1960, 66% of twenty-somethings were married.
-41% of all American kids are born to unmarried women.
-5.5% of adults age 20 and older are cohabitating.
In the light of these statistics, no wonder TIME Magazine reports that "Neither men nor women need to be married to have sex or companionship or professional success or respect or even children."
I am not going to condemn TIME Magazine – after all, they are only reporting the news. I do condemn, however, the deplorable state of marriage and family in our society.
Now, what do you need to get married and to stay married? According to TIME Magazine, research indicates two things are needed in today's world: money and education. To support this, they point out that 64% of college graduates get married while only 48% of those with no higher education get married. And, in the general population, those with college degrees and higher income have fewer divorces than those with no college degrees and lower income. According to TIME Magazine, the richer and more educated you are, the more likely you are to marry or to stay married.
Now, let's take a look at what the Bible says.
I A Marriage Planned by God
A A number of years ago I was talking to the person beside me on the plane. He was on his way home to LA after a trip to Pakistan to visit his parents and attend his brother's wedding. "You won't believe what happened to me," he said. When he got to Pakistan his parents informed him that he was getting married. The bride was a neighbor girl that they had selected for him.
Imagine that: he went "home" for his brother's wedding and was informed that he would also be married and was given no say on either the bride or the wedding.
In some cultures parents arrange this kind of marriage for their children. We don't do that in our culture. But perhaps we should because parents – with their wisdom and concern – will pick someone who is compatible, someone with whom you can build a lifelong relationship.
B In the passage in front of us this morning we see one of those arranged marriages. Isaac got married at the age of 40 to Rebekah, a woman selected for him by one of his father's servants! Isaac and Rebekah never laid eyes on each other until a day or so before they were married. And the Bible tells us that Isaac loved his wife a lot. We see, then, that arranged marriages aren't so bad after all.
On the other hand, many unarranged marriages – like the kind we have in our country – don't do very well at all. In countries where young people meet someone, fall in love, and then get married, the statistics indicate that too many of them also fall out of love and split up.
Because of this many people today are taking a second look at arranged marriages. No, young people are not asking their parents to arrange a marriage for them. What they are doing is hiring a professional search team to find them a prospective spouse. Or, they are using online dating services.
C Now, before going any further, let me make this clear: the Bible does not tell us that a woman or a man must be married to be fulfilled. Many people choose singleness, which is certainly a reasonable option and even a calling from the Lord. However, according to TIME Magazine, the truth is that 46% of unmarried people would like to be married. And, many women not only want to be married but also to have children.
D A close reading of Scripture indicates to us that the marriage of Isaac and Rebekah was planned by God. It is God Who arranged this marriage.
Genesis 24 tells us that it was God, through His angel, that prepared the way for Abraham's servant. It was the Angel of the Lord that led Rebekah to the well at just the right time. It was the Angel of the Lord that gave her a spirit of submission so that she was willing to become Isaac's wife. It was the Angel of the Lord that moved the hearts of her brother and father to give her away as Isaac's bride. It was the Lord Who brought Isaac and Rebekah together. It was the Lord, we can say, Who gave away the bride.
E It was the Lord Who arranged this marriage. Think about what this means for romance. The story of Rebekah and Isaac tells us that a successful marriage does not require a hormone-driven romantic love before the wedding. There was no romance in their relationship before the wedding, no starry nights, no walks on the beach, no breathless proposal. Our concept of romance is not really necessary. But what is necessary are thinks like chastity and faithfulness, and a shared commitment in the Lord Jesus.
F It was the Lord Who arranged this marriage. Now, keep in mind that in the New Testament the marriage relationship illustrates the relationship between Christ and His church (Eph 5:22ff). According to the plan of God, we are to see Isaac as a type of Christ and Rebekah as a type of the church, the bride of Christ.
The marriage of Isaac and Rebekah does not begin with the love of the couple, but with the choice of the father to secure a bride for his beloved son (Gen 24:3-4). Once the servant had identified the chosen bride, a great price was paid to her family (Gen 24:53). She then left all her family to join the bridegroom.
Does any of this sound familiar? Isn't this a picture of the Gospel of grace? For our betrothal began with the sovereign choice of God the Father to take a bride for His beloved Son. Once we were chosen, a great price was paid at the cross of Christ. And we, like Rebekah, are called to leave everything behind for the sake of our bridegroom, Jesus Christ.
II A Marriage Valuable to God
A Now, why did God arrange the marriage of Isaac and Rebekah? The Bible is telling us that marriage in general and this marriage specifically is important and valuable in the Lord's sight – important enough for His involvement.
The retail industry recognizes the value of marriage and weddings – but in an entirely different way. The wedding industry is now a $40 billion plus generator of cash. Wedding commerce has made a booming secular market of what was once a church-centered event. A lot of what they sell is meaningless and impersonal. A couple of months ago, when I was flipping through TV channels, I came upon the show "Say Yes to the Dress." Brides were walking away with $15,000 dresses. It was all about the bride, regardless of the price, and had nothing to do with the marriage.
Now, let's face it, many people today don't treat marriage as valuable and worthwhile. This is the result of several decades of failing to honor marriage. In some instances, the church has not spoken out strongly enough for the holiness of marriage. In more instances, schools and government programs have de-emphasized the importance of marriage. And even more frequently, parents have not shown their children a good example of a marriage that endures through thick and thin.
B Closely connected to this is the relationship between sex and marriage. Scripture makes a point of telling us that Rebekah was a virgin before her marriage (Gen 24:16). She kept her virginity for her husband. This, of course, is God's will for marriage. He has created sex for marriage. This shows us how important marriage truly is in God's eyes.
Let's not fool ourselves. As TIME Magazine indicates, many people today no longer see a connection between sex and marriage. Many men and women can have all the sex they want without getting married. Sex is out there for everyone – all kinds of sex, sex that has nothing to do with a strong marriage commitment.
A number of years ago I went to hear a renowned Christian speaker. She told us that abstinence is the best and only Christian form of birth-control for the unmarried. One man I know didn't like this speech at all. "You people all treat sex like it is something dirty," he said. "Not at all," I said back. "Sex is beautiful, but within marriage." His mouth fell open and he looked at me in amazement that I would actually believe something so old-fashioned.
You won't believe the next thing he told me. He said to me, "I told my daughter she could not get married until they had lived together for at least a year." Do you hear what this father was saying? He was telling his daughter, his precious daughter, to have sex before marriage. What kind of parent talks this way to their kids?
C One final thing which shows us how valuable marriage is: when Rebekah became his wife we are told that Isaac "was comforted after his mother's death" (Gen 24:67). This reminds us that God intends marriage to be a place where husband and wife can help and comfort each other and find companionship. God does not intend marriage to be a place where the husband and wife criticize and run down each other. God does not intend marriage to be a place where the other person is knocked down and out. For those who are married, your first source of human comfort is supposed to be your spouse. He or she is to be your best and greatest friend and companion.
III Marriage is Between a Man and a Woman
A In a single week in March of this year, Senator Rob Portman, social analyst Charles Murray, and writer Jonah Goldberg – conservatives all – said that same-sex marriage is all but certain, and America will have to adjust.
In the last 60 years we have had three great civil-rights movements. The race riots of the 60's challenged society. The feminism movement of the 70's challenged the family. But the gay-rights and gay-marriage movement of today challenges our very being as created by God. The Bible says God created us male and female (Gen 1:27) and marriage is between one man and one woman (Gen 2:24).
B Abraham recognizes God's order when he instructs his servant to "get a wife for my son Isaac" (Gen 24:4). Homosexual relations were not unknown to Abraham. He knew, for instance, what was going on in Sodom before it was destroyed by the Lord. Yet, he instructs his servant to find a wife, not just a partner, for Isaac. The Hebrew makes clear that the servant is to find someone of the opposite sex, a woman, a female.
C Some Christians say that abortion is a far greater threat than same-sex marriage because millions of souls have been killed by abortion. I would put it this way: abortion is the greatest sinful threat to the individual and same-sex marriage is the greatest sinful threat to the very fabric of society. Because we believe the family is the very building block of society, anything that destroys the family also destroys society.
IV Marriage is Christ-Centered
A The last thing we learn about marriage is that not just anyone will do as a marriage partner.
Let's backtrack for a moment and take a look at Abraham. The Lord called Abraham to live a life apart. Therefore he had to leave Ur of the Chaldeans and later Haran. Abraham was called to live a life apart from all the other people, who were sinking away in idolatry. He and his descendants were to live a wholly different life. In short, he was to be a type of the Christ, the Holy One, Who was different from all other men.
Two dangers constantly threatened – mixing with the Canaanites and returning to Haran. If Abraham chose either of these paths, his separate state would be destroyed. Abraham understood this. He was well aware that the separation had to be preserved.
B Abraham was determined that his son Isaac also would remain separate. He saw to it that Isaac was separated from the sons of Hagar and Keturah. He gave gifts to the sons of his concubines and sent them away from his son Isaac to the land of the east (Gen 25:6).
Now, this separation became especially evident when it came to Isaac's marriage. Abraham was determined that Isaac would not lose his separate identity as one of God's holy children. Accordingly, he did not permit Isaac to marry one of the Canaanite women and would not allow him to return to the town of Nahor and the old way of life.
Where was Abraham going to find a wife for Isaac? That brings us to the verses of Genesis 22 that I read. Abraham was told that "Milcah is also a mother; she has borne sons to your brother Nahor" (Gen 22:20). Knowing this, Abraham made his servant swear an oath that he would seek a wife for Isaac in the town of Nahor – a wife who was not a pagan, a wife who loved and served the Lord, a wife who would help Isaac to live and walk holily before the Lord.
What a long trip this entailed. Remember Abraham's long journey from Ur of the Chaldees to Haran and then down to Canaan? Abraham's servant had to retrace the long route. This was no quick overnight trip or weekend away. We can imagine a trip that took weeks or even months. But the trip was necessary to find a godly spouse for Isaac.
C Many years later the Apostle Paul agreed with Abraham when he wrote to the church of Corinth, "Do not be yoked together with unbelievers" (2 Cor 6:14a). Paul was referring to a double yoke used by the farmers of Palestine. A double yoke is a sturdy wooden frame used to tie two animals together so they could pull heavy loads evenly. Almost certainly Paul was thinking of Deuteronomy 22:10 which says, "Do not plow with an ox and a donkey yoked together." Two animals as different as an ox and donkey just cannot work together as a team because they vary in temperament, speed, strength, and endurance.
"Do not be yoked together with unbelievers." Paul is telling believers not to marry unbelievers. Or, to put it positively, Paul is telling believers to marry believers – someone who also believes in Jesus, loves Jesus, worships Jesus, prays to Jesus, and helps you in your walk with Jesus.
Why does the Spirit admonish us not to be yoked together with unbelievers? The Spirit's basis for talking this way is that there is an ultimate and radical division of persons before God. Before God you are either a believer or an unbeliever, either you are in Christ or you are not. Between the two groups there is such a vast difference that they have very little in common. Like Abraham, believers are called to be separate, holy, and different.
Think again of the image of the ox and donkey being yoked together. It just doesn't work for them to plow a field together because the two animals cannot pull and work in unison. They are at cross-purposes with each other. The same is true for the yoking together of a believer and unbeliever. There is such a vast difference between them that they can not pull and work together. They also are at cross-purposes to each other: they can't agree on how to raise the children or what school the children should attend, they can't agree on Sunday observance, they can't agree on donating money for the Lord's work by giving to church and kingdom causes, they can't agree on the purpose of life and their priorities and goals for life.
Rebekah's engagement to Isaac constitutes one of the longest narratives in Genesis. It accounts for no less than 67 verses in our English Bibles. In fact, this story is twice as long as the creation account.
Why? Don't forget Moses' original audience. Marriage to unbelievers was a constant threat and temptation to the children of Israel. So God, through Moses, wants to teach His people the importance of a godly marriage.
This is a lesson that we, too, need to take to heart.
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