Rebekah’s engagement to Isaac constitutes one of the longest narratives in Genesis. It accounts for no less than 67 verses in the English Bible. In fact, Moses allocates twice as much space to his report of this romance as he did to the immensely important account of the creation. Why would he do this? There is a profound theology expressed in this remarkable allocation. Creation, for all its magnificence, is merely the work of God’s “fingers” (Ps. 8:3). Redemption, however, is the labor of His arm, and the travail of His soul (Isa. 53:1, 11). The great picture of redemption in the Bible is the romance, as an earthly bride is chosen for the Son of heaven (Eph. 5:23; Rev. 21:2).
If Isaac is a type of Jesus, then certainly Rebekah is a type of the church, the bride of Christ. How does this romance develop, and what may we learn about our own calling from the providence that directed Rebekah to give herself in love to a man she had never seen? What may we learn about our destiny from a bride who was promised to a groom in a far country and for whom she would have to leave everything?
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). Trusting in the providence of God’s covenant faithfulness, Abraham sent his servant away to a far country to secure a bride for Isaac. Once the servant had identified the chosen bride, a great price was paid to her family for her release (Gen. 24:53). She then left all her family to undertake a long pilgrimage to come to her betrothed in a land she would share with him as an inheritance (Gen. 24:61). Such was the marriage custom in the ancient Near East, and so is the pattern 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 for our particular redemption. And we, like Rebekah, were called to leave everything behind in order to persevere through the pilgrimage of this life to our own wedding, one day to be celebrated in a promised country.
In order to appreciate just how Rebekah’s betrothal to Isaac foretells the circumstances of our own espousal to the Lord, let’s imagine for a moment a conversation Rebekah might have had with Abraham’s servant, perhaps around a camp fire, as they made that long journey back to the land of promise and to the family of Abraham and Isaac. Surely Rebekah would have asked so kind and good a servant about the man whom she had consented to marry. We can imagine that Abraham’s servant would have answered her something like this: “Rebekah, the young man who is to be your husband had a most remarkable birth. An angel of God announced that he was to be born, for this birth was nothing less than a miracle, his mother being both barren and beyond the years of child-bearing. But his birth was just as had been foretold by prophecy, and it was the occasion of great good-will, so much so that he was named Isaac, or “laughter,” for all the joy he would bring.
“Great prophecies attended his birth, for God is to use his family to bring blessing to all the nations of the earth (Gen. 12:3). And although he was rejected by his brother, he is nonetheless the delight of his father, Abraham, who is well pleased with his son.
“But even for a son so favored, there came a dread day when his father was told to offer up this beloved son upon an altar of sacrifice. And so his father took him on a hard journey to the mountains of Moriah. They reached the appointed place on the third day after they set out. Abraham then made known to Isaac that even though he was the hope of the world, the one through whom blessing would come to all the nations, he was nonetheless the sacrifice God required that day. In obedience to the will of God and his father, Isaac humbly submitted to God’s will and permitted himself to be bound for the sacrifice. But at the last minute God spared Isaac from the knife Abraham was lifting up over his son. So on the third day of that terrible trial Isaac was delivered from death.
“And so to complete all his delight, his father Abraham, knowing that it is not good for a man to be alone, sent me to seek out the one God had chosen as a bride worthy of so great a son. And you, precious daughter, are that chosen one! You will be great Abraham’s daughter, and heir with Isaac of all that obtains to his oath and covenant (Gal. 3:29). Isaac’s joy will be your own portion forever, for God has already prepared his heart to delight in you! (Gal. 4:28). Your Seed by this man will redeem the earth, and triumph over the gates of all his enemies! (Matt. 16:18; see Gen. 24:60). This is the young man to whom you have given your heart already, the son beloved of his father, the son whom having not yet seen, nonetheless already you love!” (1 Peter 1:8).