The first thing in the Bible even remotely resembling today’s dating scene might be the marriage between Isaac and Rebekah. Lots of people were married before Isaac and Rebekah, but we don’t read about anyone getting married. Well, except in the garden, and I think we can all agree the situation (and surgery) there were extraordinary.
You may remember the story: Abraham, Isaac’s father, sends a servant back to his hometown to find a wife for his son. Rebekah gives the servant’s camels a drink, he gives her a couple heavy bracelets, her family approves, she meets Isaac at a tent — and they’re married.
If you’ve wanted to be married and aren’t, you might read Genesis 24 (as strange as it may seem today) with at least a little bit of curiosity and even longing — it just seems so simple and clean. After dating off and on for fourteen years, I know I did.
Think about it any longer, though, and you’ll probably dismiss their story as ancient and out-dated, as irrelevant for twenty-first-century Christians.
Five Old Principles for Pursuing Marriage
The cross, modern philosophy, and the advent of the Internet have certainly changed things for Christians wanting to be married. But what if there’s more to see in Isaac and Rebekah than meets the eye? Before you skim their story too quickly, remember that it is the same God, it is a man seeking a wife (or at least a man and a woman on a path to marriage), and marriage is the same institution, only now with its deeper, fuller meaning revealed in the coming of Christ.
On top of that, the Old Testament is for our encouragement and help today, even in our pursuit of marriage. “Whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope” (Romans 15:4, see also 1 Corinthians 10:11).
The Old Testament may not be prescriptive when it comes to dating, but it is certainly profitable. Don’t (necessarily) go buying a couple camels and some heavy bracelets. Certainly don’t marry a woman and her sister (Jacob, Leah, and Rachel in Genesis 29). But you might apply the five following principles from Genesis 24 on the way to your wedding day.
1. Put the pressure on God, and not yourself.
When Abraham commissioned his servant to find a wife for Isaac, the servant worried that a woman might not go for the whole arranged-marriage-to-a-man-in-a-far-away land idea. Abraham responds,
“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.” (Genesis 24:7)
The longer you long to be married and aren’t, the more likely you are to think the problem is with you, that you have to change or try something new. God may be revealing that to you, or he might simply want you to wait while he works.
There’s really only one Worker in the wedding industry. While the servant ran ahead to find a woman in Mesopotamia, God went ahead of him to do the real work Isaac and Rebekah needed.
The [servant] gazed at [Rebekah] in silence to learn whether the LORD had prospered his journey or not. (Genesis 24:21)
God not only joins a husband and a wife (Matthew 19:6), but he brings them to each other. If you’re mainly looking to yourself to get married, you’ve put the pressure in the wrong place. Lean on God while you wait and date.
2. Pursue him or her with an open hand.
Before Abraham lets the servant leave, he gives him clear instructions and ends by saying,
“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.” (Genesis 24:8)
Abraham had waited decades to finally have his promised heir born to his 91-year-old wife. This is a man of great faith, who has watched God do miraculous things. And God had promised that through Isaac, Abraham would have too many offspring to count. Abraham believed God would provide a wife for his son.
And yet he holds out open hands before God. “If the Lord wills,” my son will have a wife, and my servant will find her on this journey (James 4:15).
In all of our dating, we must be able to humbly pray, “Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done” (Luke 22:42). Until you say your vows at the altar, know that God may write a different wedding story than you would write for yourself. And with all of his wisdom, power, and love, we have reason to praise him that he does.
3. Pray, and pray, and pray.
Before the servant saw a single woman, he stops and prays,
“O LORD, God of my master Abraham, please grant me success today and show steadfast love to my master Abraham.” (Genesis 24:12)
When do you start praying? When did you stop?
We love praying prayers that are answered in twenty-four hours. What if God withholds what we want for a year? Or ten? Or more? God doesn’t want us to take anything for granted in this life, certainly not our spouse. He wants all the glory in giving you what’s best for you whenever he gives it to you.
If we desire a husband or wife, we should love casting our anxiety and longing on the one who cares for us (1 Peter 5:7; Philippians 4:6–7). Don’t start dating without praying, and don’t stop praying while you’re waiting.
4. Date for more than marriage.
If you’re single and want to be married, marriage can begin to feel like the end of your life, your own long-awaited promised land. Said another way, we’re prone to idolize marriage in dating, resting our hope and happiness on him or her rather than on God.
How did Abraham’s servant react when God brought him the right woman?
The man bowed his head and worshiped the LORD and said, “Blessed be the LORD, the God of my master Abraham, who has not forsaken his steadfast love and his faithfulness toward my master. As for me, the LORD has led me in the way to the house of my master’s kinsmen.” (Genesis 24:26–27, 48)
The servant saw through Rebekah to God, and he worshiped. Worship is the end of all Christian dating, because worship is the end of the Christian life. God did not make you to be married, but to make much of himself. Marriage is worth having because you get God in your lifelong commitment to one another. Marriage is about knowing God, worshiping God, depending on God, displaying God, being made like God.
If your dating — any given night out or a decade of trying — ends in marriage and not worship, it will be empty and unsatisfying. Date for more than marriage.
5. Look to loved ones for confirmation.
Lastly, let the people around you who love you confirm he or she is the one. Abraham’s servant explains to her father (Bethuel) and brother (Laban) all that’s happened, and why he believes she might be the one to marry Isaac.
Then Laban and Bethuel answered and said, “The thing has come from the LORD; we cannot speak to you bad or good. Behold, Rebekah is before you; take her and go, and let her be the wife of your master’s son, as the LORD has spoken.” (Genesis 24:50–51)
If God has brought the two of you together, he will make it clear to other believers in your life. If people who love you and follow Jesus have serious reservations about your relationship, you should probably have serious reservations, too. If they are enthusiastic about your relationship and encourage you to get married, you should feel greater peace and confidence about moving forward.
Don’t rely only on your own instincts (or your significant other’s) to give you confidence he or she is the one. Infatuation in dating relationships will blind and deafen you to things you would never miss in other relationships. Trust God enough to listen to other believers in your life.
Who Gives This Woman to This Man?
As we finish the chapter, you can hear the wedding bells:
Then Isaac brought her into the tent of Sarah his mother and took Rebekah, and she became his wife, and he loved her. (Genesis 24:67)
His name doesn’t appear in this verse, but by this time you should hear it anyway: God did this. In every case, it is God who gives this woman to this man, and this man to this woman. From beginning to end, and everywhere in between, God was working, and he rewarded those who waited for him (Isaiah 64:4; 2 Chronicles 16:9).
It all happens so fast here in Genesis 24 that it can feel even more foreign to those of us today who have waited for years and years to be married. The story of Isaac and Rebekah, though, is not about how immediate the answer came, but that it came from God.
While you wait and want and date, don’t take more on yourself in your pursuit of marriage. At every step, look to God, every person’s hope for true happiness and the author of every Christian love story, and let your longing for marriage, your prayers, and your life make much of him.
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