Genesis 24: 58&59 “So they called Rebekah and asked her, ‘Will you go with this man?’ ‘I will go,’ she said.”
I have preached two moral exemplary sermons on this long and happy chapter, and I want to return to it tonight and look at it within the history of redemption and God’s covenant dealing with his people. We need the Old Testament to bring our hearts to an appreciation of the relationship of the people of God with their Lord. It helps us understand with affection the relationship of Christ and the church, the primary marriage. The Lord Christ is the archetypal husband; what happened in paradise when God designed marriage exactly as he did with the union of a man and a woman was precisely because of what was to happen subsequently, when the Father gave a bride to his Son. In paradise God looked everywhere and saw that everything was very good, but there was yet an imperfection. It was not good that Adam should be alone, and so God created Eve for Adam. The creation of woman was an improvement of paradise. Wives are an improvement to paradise.
I am saying that the marriage union is at the heart of God’s covenant of grace. God’s covenant with Abraham is in a line which begins with the first promise of the Seed of the women (in Genesis 3) that that Descendant of the woman will crush the head of the serpent. Then the covenants between God and man develop on and on through the Scriptures right through to the consummation of all things. I am reminding you of the string of covenant pearls that runs right through the Bible beginning with the promise of the conquering Seed in Genesis three and ending with the marriage supper of the Lamb in Revelation 22. It is a line of covenant redemption and covenant grace and covenant salvation and the pearls themselves are revealed at certain specific points as the covenants that God makes with his people through his chosen mediators. Abraham is one of the first to be given grace to enter into covenant with God; favoured children of Abraham will be God’s; the seed of the women will come from the line of Abraham, and so in him all the nations of the earth will be blessed.
Then God renews and enlarges that promise, that covenant, with his people through Moses – that is another pearl. He enlarges and renews that covenant with his people through David – another pearl. He culminates and consummates that covenant in its recasting and its final form in Jesus Christ, the pearl of great price. It is so glorious that Jeremiah cannot find any other way to describe it but as a ‘new covenant.’ It is not a brand new thing; it is the same old, old story of the Messiah and his love, but it is now cast in such a glorious form accomplished and applied by Christ. I don’t need to prove that thesis. All I need is to pick up Paul’s great word in the epistle to the Galatians; “God preached the gospel to Abraham.” What Abraham heard was that same covenant salvation, and he was saved in exactly the same way as you and I are saved, through faith alone in the covenant promise. Where did our father Abraham get his justification? He believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness. Therefore being justified by faith we too have peace with God. It is the same gospel; the same covenant that now comes to us in this gloriously new and final way through Jesus Christ.
So here is Abraham; he has been given these exceeding great and precious promises concerning a son in old age, and a land to live in, and the Seed of the woman coming through his descendants, and then all the nations of the earth being blessed through him. Abraham is in covenant with God, and God deals with him in a remarkable way, testing, strengthening, forgiving and making him fruitful with Sarah in great old age. That is the background to this chapter and its narrative of the marriage of Isaac, the marriage of the heir of the covenant. It is all against the backdrop of the covenant promise made to Abraham. This marriage is bringing us to the very blessedness of the covenant, because at its heart there is the prospect of people like us from the nations of the world being brought into the blessing of an eternal covenant relation with God through our union, a marriage union, with the promised Son, our eternal Bridegroom.
So along the time line of redemptive history from Genesis to Revelation something is going on here that draws its power from the One who said, “Before Abraham was I am.” And yet who is also declared in the very opening word of the New Testament to be Jesus Christ “the son of Abraham.” Again Paul comes to address the wobbling Galatian congregation and he asks, “What were those promise all about? The promises that in Abraham’s Seed the earth would be blessed?” You remember how Paul puts it in Galatians 3 “The promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed. The Scripture does not say ‘and to seeds’ meaning many people, but ‘and to your seed’ meaning one person, who is Christ” (Gals. 3:16). So there in the covenant promise to Abraham, in the promise that in his Descendant the earth would be blessed there is initially a literal, immediate fulfillment of course in Isaac, but then it is awaiting its glorious ultimate fulfillment in the one who always was the object of the promise, the promised Descendant who is Christ.
So, as we have seen, in the story of the marriage of Abraham’s son, the writer was permitted by the Holy Spirit to extend the narrative substantially and take in all the glorious details of the messenger going and finding Isaac’s wife. I believe that there is a depth here that draws its whole meaning from the magnificent ultimate consummation of the greater union of Abraham’s Descendant Jesus Christ with his bride
the people of God. So what happens in this chapter is what God always intended to be the case, that Abraham’s son should have a wife. Now I want to highlight three things about how the son of the covenant received his bride. I want to say three things about Rebekah (and I have taken this material from Dr Iain Campbell and added to it. May you be blessed by it as I have been.)
- REBEKAH WAS A SOUGHT OUT BRIDE.
Abraham sent his servant to search for her. “Go and get a bride for my son!” “Yes, all right,” the servant says, “but what if I don’t find her? What if she is not willing to come, and where will I know where to go?” “Don’t worry about any of these things,” says Abraham. “There is a bride for my son out there. She is there among my own clan and kinsfolk, and the angel of the Lord will lead the way. He will go before you and blaze the trail. Of course it will not be apart from your work as my servant that a wife is going to come back into the tents of covenant blessing. Be assured that there is a bride out there and she is going to find a place in the tents of Shem, and she also will come into the bonds of the covenant. She too will know all the blessing that God has promised me, and she will experience them through union with Isaac the promised heir of the covenant.”
So off goes the servant; he’s never been that way before; it is all uncharted territory and he’s not sure at all where she lives, but he goes off in the direction God leads and by a remarkable series of providence arrives at the well. Rebekah comes out and does all that he asked God that the designated one would do. He enters Laban’s house and explains his missionand we say Amen to Laban’s conclusion, “This is from the Lord.” The servant has gone out searching for her simply on the strength of a covenant promise, because the whole narrative is driven by the promise. It is quoted in verse seven, “To your offspring I will give this land.” That is the promise, but there is no offspring except Isaac and he is about forty and unmarried. Where is the generation going to come from who will be blessed as a result of the covenant? He needs a wife and will get one. The covenant pearl shines brightly, and the promise stands firm. God knows where the wife is. God has made these arrangements and the servant simply has to go out and find her.
So that is exactly where we are today as a servant congregation of our Lord. We are sent out every day to fulfil the commission of our Master. This is exactly our calling, and we are not labouring in the light of all our successes. I am not preaching the gospel week after week, Lord’s Day after Lord’s Day, in the light of the revivals we are seeing. We are not sowing the seed of the kingdom in the light of the harvest. We know that a great harvest day is to come because of the covenant promise, and it’s in the light of that promise we are steadfast, unmovable and always abounding in the work of the Lord because we know, because of that promise, that our labour in the Lord will not be in vain. We keep working in the church, and in the Christian Union, and with the Book Shop, and with the deaf people of the county, and with the young people not because of all the great things we are experiencing; it’s not in the light of a full church that we labour; it’s not in the light of a revival taking place in Wales today or even regular conversions that we know our work is not in vain. We know it’s not in vain in the light of a covenant promise, that the seed of Abraham is going to bless all nations. The ultimate Son of the Covenant has heard the voice of his Father saying, “Ask of me and I will give you the ends of the earth to be your possession.” From the fallen lost sons of Adam he has purposed to give a bride to his Son. Men and women, the bride is out there somewhere, and I keep preaching because she is definitely out there. “I have my people in this place,” God says. You keep witnessing because she is out there. You go on in the strength of the covenant promise because she is there somewhere in the streets and halls of residence and in the villages in the hills and the farms and white houses on the hilltops. Among them all is the bride for God’s Son.
Let me put it another way. What is the basis of my confidence every time I enter the pulpit, and expound the word and preach the gospel? What is the basis of my hope that someone in the congregation may be saved on this occasion? I come into the pulpit, and hopefully I have done all my preparation, and I have made the message as clear, and interesting, and logical, and well constructed, and illustrated as I can make it with all my experience of more than 44 years of preaching here. Then what is my confidence that someone here tonight may be saved? It is not in my experience, or my preparation or any mastery of the techniques of preaching, because when I have done everything that needs to be done there is so much more to be done for redemption to be applied to a favoured sinner. Application is not in my oratory or my eloquence. It is not in my argumentation. I am not hoping that if I get the organ played quietly, and the lights dipped, and then say, “Shall we pray . . .” but then, just as everyone is quiet with their heads bowed, I start to talk intensely and quietly and slowly to you . . . “There is a woman here tonight who is concerned about her family . . .” Yuk! I don’t make you feel vulnerable and tearful and then manipulate you and give you an experience of helplessness and tell you that your feelings of frustration and hope mean you are now a Christian. No! I am not hoping that my preparation will be so immaculate, and my speaking so persuasive that you will lodge in them all your hopes of eternity. No! I want your hope to be in the wounded side of Christ. I want your hope to be that your name is engraved in the palms of Jesus hands. I want you to plead before God the death of God the Son on Golgotha. No, my whole hope in preaching to you is in this, that God has promised by the foolishness of this gospel to save those who believe. My certainty is this, that all that the Father has given the Son shall come to him and whoever comes to him he shall in no wise be cast out.
Yes I preach and entreat and beseech and persuade everyone who is listening to come to Christ. Please come to Christ! I fling wide the door of gospel invitation as far as I can. God has so loved you that he has brought you to read this very message, that if you believe on his Son you will not perish but have everlasting life. Whosoever will let him take of the water of life freely. Whoever thirsts let him come to Christ and drink. All who labour and are heavy laden let them come to Christ and find rest, and an easy yoke and a light burden. My only confidence that anyone will come is that the Father has given to the Son a company of people more than any man can number and the Son has told the Father that he has lost none of them. Not one of them is going to go to hell. These magnificent gospel invitations come propelled by the power of divine grace crashing onto the shores of Aberystwyth. God is determined that his Son shall have the glory of saving all of those people. He is determined that his Son will have a bride, and just like Abraham’s servant God has sent his people out to search for them. One here and one there is born again because God has determined it shall be so, and it shall be said of Zion at last that this one and that one was born there.
Some of you are familiar with Brownlow
North’s little book whose title is the words of the question put to Rebekah, Wilt Thou Go With This Man? You know that Brownlow North was an aristocrat who had wasted his life into middle age and then God saved him and gave him an awakening ministry. He was much used in Ireland and Scotland in the 1859 revival. He says in his opening words, “The chapter from which this verse is taken explains the object for which Abraham sent his servant into Mesopotamia: to seek a bride for his master’s son. Now my object in sending this little book into the world is to seek a bride for my Master’s Son. I profess to be a servant of the God and Father of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ; and as Abraham’s servant went to Rebekah, and in the name and by the command of Abraham, asked her to enter into a marriage covenant with Isaac, so I come to you, in the name and by the command of Abraham’s God, and offer you union with the Lord Jesus Christ.
“‘Wilt thou go with this man’ – the Man Christ Jesus? The question thus put may be abrupt and startling, but, nevertheless, a more real or genuine offer was never made. God helping me, I will tell you more about Jesus and His offer presently, but I begin with this statement: no matter what you have been or what you are, if you will accept Jesus, Jesus will accept you. Only let God hear you say what Abraham’s servant heard Rebekah say and this very instant, for better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health, His people to be your people, and His God your God, Christ is yours, and you are His. ‘They called Rebekah, and said unto her, Wilt thou go with this man? And she said, I will go.’ By the power of the Holy Ghost, may you answer as she did” (Will Thou Go With This Man?, Banner of Truth, 1966, p. 12).
Don’t we have the highest authority for the offer of the gospel of Jesus Christ? The Son of Man came to seek and to save that which was lost. He himself said to others, Seek and you shall find, and he knew whereof he spoke. He was a seeker, in fact he was the supreme seeker. One day it was essential for him to go to Samaria and go to a village called Sychar. He sent his disciples away that he might meet alone a woman of the town and speak to her. There seems much less hope for us than for Rebekah. We may not be of the right family – we were born children of the world. We were not pure virgins like Rebekah and all of us have certainly lusted after others in our hearts. We were not hospitable – as she and her family were. We were selfish people, wrapped up in ourselves and our own little lives. We had no vision for the great kingdom of God. How could we ever become the pure and righteous bride of Isaac’s greater son, the true seed of Abraham the Lord Christ?
If you are thinking like that then see this Jesus constrained to enter this out of the way Samaritan village and there he meets a Samaritan woman, one of a mixed heritage. Her ancestry went back to both Abraham and to pagans. She was exactly what Abraham feared when he told his servant, “Don’t take a wife for Isaac from around here. Don’t mix the people of faith with those marked for death.” She was not a virgin. She was not pure. She had had five husbands and was now living with a man who was not her husband, and yet Jesus took the initiative. He asked her for a drink, just like Abraham’s servant, and yet unlike Rebekah she was slow to respond, not because she was inhospitable but because she was surprised. She was already disqualified from being the one Jesus sought. She was a Samaritan and he shouldn’t even have been talking with her. Yet he came to her; he came to this unchaste, adulterous woman that he might make her pure. He came to this many-husbanded, husbandless woman that he might take her as his bride. Holy Jesus came to this woman of mixed race, of mixed family that he might make her once and for all the child of God. He came to this woman though she had no water to give him, and he offered to her the waters of eternal life. Jesus found her, and isn’t this true for every Christian?
I sought the Lord and afterward I knew
He moved my soul to seek him, seeking me.
It was not I that found O Saviour true
No, I was found of Thee.
Yet not I alone was found by the great Shepherd but all who believe on the name of Jesus. The people of the town of the Samaritan woman heard of him and then heard him for themselves and they testified with joy; “They said to the woman, ‘We no longer believe just because of what you said; now we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this man really is the Saviour of the world’” (Jn. 4:42). They had become the bride of Christ, and you may too when you hear for yourselves this great news of a seeking Saviour willing to take all who will come to him. In Rebekah, you may see yourself along with all the rest of the church, though you were once a Samaritan woman, unfit for any marriage. Now we are the bride of Christ, and in Rebekah we may see ourselves as Christ sees us, virginal, pure, perfect, delightful and full of service to him. Your status has become the same as Rebekah’s solely by the grace of God, and what extra blessings are yours than were ever hers. So walk in this grace, as Rebekah walked in it. What life from heaven she displayed, hard-working for strangers, given to hospitality, willing to leave behind her homeland, this earth and all it has to offer in order to seek the kingdom of God. Devote yourself to your Lord and Saviour who is your loving Husband and know that life with him is worth far more than all you have abandoned.
Here is this tremendous Saviour. Isn’t this a remarkable thing? We believe in the perpetual virginity of Mary’s Son. You are glad that I finished the sentence like that. We believe in the perpetual virginity of Mary’s Son, and yet no one is a more intimate Husband than him, and through his word he draws sinners to himself into this glorious union. So here is a sought bride. Then let me also say
- REBEKAH WAS A TAUGHT BRIDE.
The family gather together and hear the servant’s account of all that has happened. Once again at length, even including what he had prayed, the servant sets it out before them explaining what God has done, and the glorious promises and providences. The unseen and unmentioned angels had kept and guided him bringing him to the meeting that had been appointed from all eternity. The servant simply teaches Rebekah everything he has learned about the living God and his master. Then he sets before them all the will and purpose of the Son of the covenant, and he concludes, “Now if you will show kindness and faithfulness to my master, tell me; and if not, tell me, so I may know which way to turn” (v.49). Laban says, “This is from the Lord,” and the servant responds by giving more gifts to Rebekah and gifts to them, and then they retire for the night. But the next morning, as soon as they are meeting one another he only has one matter on his heart; “Send me on my way to my master” (v.54), but they hesitate. They ask the girl what she wishes to do. She has had the night to think about it; I don’t suppose she had much sleep that night. “Will you go with this man?” (v.58) she is asked. She has already heard her mother and brother saying, “Let her stay here for ten more days or so and then you may go.” Do you know that o
ne of the wishes of that war cabinet run by the gates of hell is that this marriage does not to occur? That war cabinet always sends messages to those who hear the invitations of the gospel saying, “Delay! Have second thoughts. Put it off. Why be in a rush? Wait!” But the servant is fearless. No, it cannot be delayed; it cannot be put off; it has to be now or never. He has kept nothing back; all the facts have been laid out before them, and here is the only question and the key issue: “Will you go with me back to Abraham’s home and marry his son?” It demands a response, yes or no.
It is interesting that the only New Testament reference to Rebekah is precisely in the context of the covenant purposes of a sovereign and distinguishing God. Romans chapter nine, “Rebekah’s children had one and the same father, our father Isaac. Yet, before the twins were born or had done anything good or bad – in order that God’s purpose in election might stand: not by works but by him who calls – she was told, ‘The older will serve the younger’ (vv.10-12). What is this? As the servant is teaching the bride and sets before her the glories of the household from which he has come, and all of God’s blessing upon it, then what, I ask, is going on here? What else but the continuation of God’s purposes of election coming now to be personalized in the experience of Rebekah through a beseeching call bursting into her life.
I do not know of any other way that God determines to provide a bride for the son of Abraham except by unfolding the riches of covenant grace. What are we to do in our churches? Isn’t that what so many people are asking? What should we do in our churches? And so many people are beginning with the world out there and picking up and aping its patterns and its styles to set the agenda for what goes on in our churches. So we do things just like the world to attract the world, forgetting that the world does its own things far better than we can ever do them. The drama groups from the world, and the clowns, and the world’s bands are so much better than church groups and bands which are so pathetic because drama and choreography and clowns are much funnier and dramatic and musical when the world does them. Christianized rock styles and dancing are such an anti-climax. What should be done in our churches? Let us hear of the extraordinary works of God, who he is and what he has achieved in redemption, in giving his life for us and in rising from the dead on the third day. Let’s bring that to bear on the minds of our hearers. That is the way God calls sinners. It is the truth that sets men free.
Dr. Iain D. Campbell of Point Free Church inherited two sets of sermon notes. One set belonged to his grandfather John Mackenzie who preached in the Isle of Harris for many years. Iain speaks of him as a very winsome preacher. He died within just a few weeks of Lloyd-Jones’ death in 1981. The other sermon notes came from his brother-in-law, John MacIvar who had laboured in Carloway on the west side of the Isle of Lewis during the late thirties and forties. One of the most notable revivals that took place on this Hebridean island was the Carloway revival. These two sets of sermon notes were passed down to Iain and one of his first writing projects was to type these notes out in full to make a little book of devotional readings from the sermon notes of these two men. One had seen revival while the other had not, but the content of the notes was amazingly similar. Yet in John MacIvar’s sermons going through the time of an awakening there was scarcely a mention of any revival at all, not in a single sermon. He made no mention of events that were going on around him. There may have been references to revival in passages of Scripture but you could never tell from what was preached that these sermons were preached in times of unusual blessing, that there was a remarkable movement of the Spirit of God going on.
Now if you read the book of Evangelistic Sermons of Dr Lloyd-Jones (Banner of Truth) preached in Sandfields Port Talbot in the late 1920s and thirties you will come across an identical phenomenon. You would never guess from these sermons that there were people being converted virtually every week and that the place was packed and over a hundred people were brought into membership one year. Let me give you an explanation for this phenomenon. I am saying this; when God comes in extraordinary ways to bless his people and revive his church then all you get is more of the same, more of the same preaching of the same Christ, more of the same expositions of the same doctrines. The emphasis doesn’t suddenly shift from preaching Christ to preaching the Holy Spirit, or from preaching Christ to preaching human experience! Quite the opposite! A true religious awakening only makes people more grounded in the same truths that set men free.
One of Iain Campbell’s predecessors in the Back Free Church was converted in the Carloway revival, and in writing about some of his experiences afterwards he said, “No effort was ever made to cater to the stirred feelings of the hearers.” That is how he put it because for all their stirred feelings the hearers simply wanted to hear about Christ. They wanted to hear about the covenant of grace with lost sinners. They wanted to be confronted with the great challenge, “Will you go with this man?” Then sinners are saved as moved by the Spirit of God; they are moved to respond to that invitation.
And even those who have been going with this Man for years and years and years they hear this same gospel and it becomes blessed with extraordinary power and they fall in love with him all over again. For some of them it is as if they have never been converted at all, but once again they want to say, “Yes. Yes we will go with this man.” And the world walks on by pretending it hears and sees nothing precisely because it is offended by the claims of Christ. It does not want the teaching. Here is the greatest teacher of the world, and he attracts the crowd until he starts his teaching and then he loses the crowd. He doesn’t go chasing after them with gimmicks; he preaches the Sermon on the Mount. The crowd took offence, and he turns to his own disciples and asks them, “Will you also go away?”
It is a bit like the Hebrew slave in Exodus who is offered his freedom. It is possible, the law said, that the slave would turn around and say, “I love my master. I will not go free.” Don’t you hear echoes of that in Peter when he says, “To whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.” These great unfoldings of covenant truths from these great mines of God’s election, home in our lives by the call of the gospel as it was in the case of Rebecca and later in the case of Lydia. Will you go with this man? You see the evidences of his love not in baubles of gold and silver but in the kisses of my Husband’s mouth that become so sweet to the believer’s ear. A single smile from Jesus given will lift a drooping soul to heaven. Christ is preached, extolled and paraded before the bride in all the magnificence of his person and the glory of his work.
What does go on in our church? It is not enough to say that we don’t go for gimmicks and the current fads. Is the Son of the Covenant being proclaimed, exalted, glorified and magnified? Does the word preached lead me to the Word that became flesh? Do the words of the text lead me to discover the glories of his person? If I hear the gospel then will I say as a Christian in the depths of my heart, “Yes I will become a Christian all over again just to go with this Man?” And those who are n
ot believers come under the sweet influences of his Spirit and they will come to know him as the only safe resting place for sinners. I want to know that this great Triune purpose of the living God is set before the bride of Christ to be their God, the Triune God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit will be their God. And in the saving purposes of God one of these three Persons becomes flesh so that I might know all of these Persons and be brought into union with him through the call of God, brought by a faithful God into the fellowship of his dear Son.
- REBEKAH WAS A BROUGHT BRIDE.
After servant of God had found her and taught her and challenged her to become the bride of the Son of the Covenant and she had accepted, did he say to her, “Then make your own way there? Off you go through many dangers, toils and snares. Do your best!” No of course not. We are told, “So the servant took Rebekah and left” (v.61). In other words, he took her all the way to Isaac. He presented her free from any harm, safe and secure in his master’s presence. She did not go one step by herself, and so it is with everyone who says by the help of the Holy Spirit, “I will go with this man,” then our Lord says, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” He says, “Lo I am with you always even unto the end of the world.” He says that even if we go through the valley of the shadow of death he will be with us. He promises that the Father will be in us, and the Holy Spirit will be in us, and he himself will be in us as we are in him, joined to him for ever and ever. He doesn’t promise freedom from trials and suffering and persecution but he does promise that in all these things we will be more than conquerors. He will work all things together for our good. He will cause all grace always to abound to us. He will provide for all our needs richly as we go with this Man. He will not go home alone; he will bring us with him. She came with him.
Spurgeon, in his Morning and Evening Readings talks about the end of this chapter and in what a glorious exercise Isaac was engaged that day when the camel train with Rebekah arrived. He was meditating, and what a splendid place he did it in, under the heavens, and what a glorious time of the day, meditating in the field toward evening. Spurgeon says that when you go off with the Lord to meditate upon him wonderful things happen. Isaac lifted up his eyes and saw the camels were coming. Rebekah lifted up her eyes and she saw Isaac. It is the loveliest story ever told. She became his wife and he loved her. All the blessings Rebekah knew became hers because of being united with Isaac. She became an heir of all the promises of the covenant God had made with Abraham through being united with Abraham’s son, and as I read the Scriptures I see Isaac gradually fading away and I realise what it is all about, my union with my Saviour Jesus Christ. He, my husband and I, his bride for ever. May we be diligent in seeking a bride for our Master.
13th December 2009 GEOFF THOMAS