by James Paterson, Scotland
Probably we all have memories of last words heard in a variety of circumstances, whether they be the final statements of those moving out of our lives due to relocation, or those spoken by someone who has abandoned friendships and fellowship; words which are often a reflection of the condition of the spiritual heart of the speaker. Perhaps the most memorable of all words are those that were spoken in the closing minutes of the life of a loved one. These are words spoken with no ulterior motive, to instruct, warn and encourage the hearers. Whatever the circumstances, many of these words are indelibly imprinted on our mind. Strange as it may seem, while we may through the passage of time forget other characteristics of those who have spoken these words, what they said lives on, and the relevance and significance remain. This should be seen as a warning to us all, for none of us knows when the words that we speak will be the final words that we ever utter; or when the words that we hear, might be from a voice that we will never hear again.
In this publication we will look at the last words of some of the Lord’s servants, and of the Lord Jesus Himself. For some it will be their final words spoken and for others their final words recorded; however, all are significant, the most significant being the last words of our blessed Lord Jesus Christ, spoken while here on earth before His ascension on high.
However, in addition to those covered in the following chapters of this book, in Scripture there are many occasions when last words are recorded. The fact that they are recorded in Holy Scripture means that they are significant for our guidance, and a brief mention of a few, for the list is extensive, may be the seed for further study. “For whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the scriptures might have hope” Rom.15.4.
As he stood against the pillars of the temple of Dagon, the god of the Philistines, Samson had already spoken to God and had instructed those who led him as to where he should be positioned. “And Samson said, ‘Let me die with the Philistines.’ And he bowed himself with all his might; and the house fell upon the lords, and upon all the people that were therein. So the dead which he slew at his death were more than they which he slew in his life” Judg.16.30. He dedicates his final act to the destruction of the enemies of the Lord’s people.
As Stephen kneels under the stoning of the Jews, his words are very similar to those of the Lord Jesus on the cross. “And they stoned Stephen, calling upon God, and saying, ‘Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.’ And he kneeled down, and cried with a loud voice, ‘Lord, lay not this sin to their charge.’ And when he had said this, he fell asleep” Acts 7.59,60. As his body is pummelled to death, his last words display his gracious spirit.
In prison in Rome, anticipating his death, the good fight having been fought, the course having been finished and the race having been run, Paul writes, “At my first answer no man stood with me, but all men forsook me: I pray God that it may not be laid to their charge. Notwithstanding the Lord stood with me, and strengthened me; that by me the preaching might be fully known, and that all the Gentiles might hear: and I was delivered out of the mouth of the lion. And the Lord shall deliver me from every evil work, and will preserve me unto His heavenly kingdom: to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen” 2Tim.4.16-18. Within these words, an encouragement is left to believers who would come after him and be called to face trials and persecution.
If we take it, as is commonly accepted, that John’s Gospel is the final writing to complete the canon of Scripture, then it is worth noting the final words of the Lord Jesus on earth as recorded by John in his Gospel. “Jesus saith unto him, ‘If I will that he tarry till I come, what is that to thee? Follow thou Me’” Jn.21.22. Here we have great encouragement that we may be alive when He comes, but also are in a position to continue to follow Him until then. May we by the grace of God be able to do so.
The last recorded words of Thomas are in contrast to the other statements that he makes, which are always in the negative. The final record of his words are exalting: “My Lord and my God” Jn.20.28.
Dathan, Abiram and Korah
These three men stand in open rebellion to the instruction of the Lord through Moses. Not only do they disobey, but they throw in the face of Moses the promise of the Lord at the Exodus. “And Moses sent to call Dathan and Abiram, the sons of Eliab: which said, ‘We will not come up: Is it a small thing that thou hast brought us up out of a land that floweth with milk and honey, to kill us in the wilderness, except thou make thyself altogether a prince over us? Moreover thou hast not brought us into a land that floweth with milk and honey, or given us inheritance of fields and vineyards: wilt thou put out the eyes of these men? we will not come up’” Num.16.12-14. We know that the ground opened to engulf them, their families and their possessions. Can we expect to treat the Lord and His people in such an off-hand way and remain unaffected?
Abimelech, whom God counted as wicked, lay mortally wounded under the tower at Thebez, having been injured by a stone dropped from the wall. His concern was not that he would die, but that people would hear how he died! We read that “he called hastily unto the young man his armourbearer”, and said to him, “Draw thy sword, and slay me, that men say not of me, ‘A woman slew him.’” So “his young man thrust him through, and he died” Judg.9.54. Sadly, he was more concerned about what men said about him than what God thought of him.
Concerning King Saul, as he lay wounded on Mount Gilboa, the battle lost, his reign over, his sons dead, and his fellowship with God long since broken, we read: “Then said Saul to his armourbearer, ‘Draw thy sword, and thrust me through therewith; lest these uncircumcised come and abuse me.’ But his armourbearer would not; for he was sore afraid. So Saul took a sword, and fell upon it” 1Chr.10.4. Thus his testimony is written, “So Saul died for his transgression which he committed against the Lord, even against the word of the Lord, which he kept not, and also for asking counsel of one that had a familiar spirit, to inquire of it; And inquired not of the Lord: therefore He slew him, and turned the kingdom unto David the son of Jesse’’ 1Chr.10.13,14. How sad to die out of fellowship with the Lord!
Hophni and Phinehas
Israel had fought against the Philistines and lost the battle. The ark of the Lord had been taken, Hophni and Phinehas, the sons of Eli, had been slain, and on hearing the news that Eli had died, the unnamed wife of the slain Phinehas, being in childbirth, had an understanding of the situation: “And she named the child Ichabod [‘no glory’] … And she said, ‘The glory is departed from Israel: for the ark of God is taken’” 1Sam.4.21,22. Interestingly, even in the birth of her son and the loss of her husband and father-in-law, her final words were about the glory of God displayed in the ark.
Goliath of Gath, the champion of the army of the Philistines, stands to his full height and bellows to David in the valley of Elah, “‘Am I a dog that thou comest to me with staves?’ And the Philistine cursed David by his gods. And the Philistine said to David, ‘Come to me, and I will give thy flesh unto the fowls of the air, and to the beasts of the field’” 1Sam.17.43,44. Oh, the empty boast of a proud heart!
The sad record of last words continues in the New Testament. Perhaps few are sadder than those of Sapphira: “And Peter answered unto her, ‘Tell me whether ye sold the land for so much?’ And she said, ‘Yea, for so much.’ Then Peter said unto her, ‘How is it that ye have agreed together to tempt the Spirit of the Lord? behold, the feet of them which have buried thy husband are at the door, and shall carry thee out’” Acts 5.8,9. We come to the early days of the Church, but God has to move in judgment. The last words of Sapphira are so significant in our day also. Firstly, they were a lie; secondly, they were about a monetary value, in figures! Ananias and Sapphira were only concerned about how much they could have, and were prepared to deceive others about it. We need to understand that the most important things in life are not material things.
Among the saddest of last words must be those of Judas Iscariot: one who has spent so much time with the Lord Jesus, but seems to realise Who He is far, far too late. As he rushes to his doom he cries, “‘I have sinned in that I have betrayed the innocent blood.’ And they said, ‘What is that to us? See thou to that’” Matt.27.4.
Finally in this short study, we have a picture of the world leaders in this present day and of a day yet to come. Herod, the king at the time of the early Church, makes a great oration which proved to be his last words. Interestingly, the Spirit of God records the occasion but not the words. “And upon a set day Herod, arrayed in royal apparel, sat upon his throne, and made an oration unto them. And the people gave a shout, saying, ‘It is the voice of a god, and not of a man.’ And immediately the angel of the Lord smote him, because he gave not God the glory: and he was eaten of worms, and gave up the ghost. But the word of God grew and multiplied” Acts 12.21-24. God is in control, even among the persecutors of His name and His people.
As already mentioned, while this publication is titled “The Glory of Last Words”, it should be noted that when we read of the last words of Abraham, we are really speaking of his last recorded words. No doubt there were many more words spoken by Abraham during the period from those recorded in Gen.24.1-8, when he gave instruction to his servant with regard to a bride for Isaac, which we are about to consider. At that time he was one hundred and forty years old, seeing that he was one hundred years old when Isaac was born, Gen.21.5, and Isaac was forty years old when he married Rebekah, Gen.25.20. Abraham was one hundred and seventy-five years old when he died, Gen.25.7, and during the period of the thirty-five years since Isaac married, he had welcomed Rebekah into the family, had taken a wife, Keturah, and had a further six sons; Zimran, Jokshan, Medan, Midian, Ishbak and Shuah, Gen.25.1,2. There was also the birth of Esau and Jacob some twenty years after Isaac and Rebekah married, Gen.25.26. So, there must have been many instructions and directives given and conversations engaged in during this period of thirty-five years. However, none of his words during this time is recorded. So we concentrate on the importance of what the Spirit of God has placed on record of Abraham’s conversation with his servant, in Genesis chapter 24, which constitutes his last recorded words.
It would be worthy of note that Abraham moves into the background and the subsequent generations come to prominence. He is not removed from his patriarchal position as head of the family, but the record of his final years is hidden from general view. It will follow that the tribes God will form into the nation of Israel will come from his grandson Jacob (Israel), although the memory of Abraham is never lost even to the present day. Each one of us should be willing to serve for our day and to pass on responsibility to those who must succeed us. God will always have His servants, but the service is prescribed and governed by His time and His purpose. Our service for God must end, but the service of God continues, so generation after generation must be actively concerned with the guidance and encouragement of subsequent generations. We must disabuse ourselves of the commonly held idea that the succeeding generation is poorer than our generation. To hold such an opinion is to limit the power and grace of God. Rather we should teach and encourage, by word and, more importantly, by example, those younger than ourselves. The apostle Paul instructs Timothy on this very subject: “And the things that thou hast heard of me among many witnesses, the same commit thou to faithful men, who shall be able to teach others also” 2Tim.2.2. Here we have four generations being taught the same thing. Many of us would be so much the poorer were it not for the teaching of faithful men interested in our future development. For such we give God thanks and pray that we may be like them.
This is evidenced in the instruction of Abraham. God had called him out and promised him seed the like of which would never be experienced by any other: “that in blessing I will bless thee, and in multiplying I will multiply thy seed as the stars of the heaven, and as the sand which is upon the sea shore; and thy seed shall possess the gate of his enemies” Gen.22.17; the realisation of God’s promise must be through Isaac, the son of promise: “And God said unto Abraham, ‘Let it not be grievous in thy sight because of the lad, and because of thy bondwoman; in all that Sarah hath said unto thee, hearken unto her voice; for in Isaac shall thy seed be called’” Gen.21.12. God’s instruction is given with a view to future blessing. Abraham would never see the fulfilment of those prophecies in his lifetime, but he believed, Heb.11.8-10.
There are three things to be observed in the last words of Abraham, which will be developed further:
Firstly, the care and interest that he took in the marriage and therefore the welfare of his son. Isaac was now forty and the custom of the time for marriage was around thirty years of age. Bearing in mind Abraham’s own advanced age, it was his intention to see Isaac settled before he died. He still exercised faith that the promise of God would be realised in Isaac.
Secondly, his conviction that Isaac would not marry a daughter of Canaan, as the nation was degenerating into great wickedness and ultimately was destined to judgment. While they were in the land of Canaan, they were there by the leading of God, but the purpose of God was that the indigenous inhabitants would be destroyed.
Thirdly, his concern was that Isaac would not leave the land of Canaan, not even to find a wife. This was the land that God had promised to Abraham and his seed, and as such was where God’s blessing would eventually be on His people.
“Abraham was old, and well stricken in age” Gen.24.1. Old age to the Jews was divided into three stages. From sixty to seventy was called ‘the commencement of old age’, from seventy to eighty was called ‘hoary-headed age’, and after eighty a man was said to be ‘well stricken in years’1. As we have said, when this incident took place Abraham was about one hundred and forty years old.
- 1. Phillips, John. “Exploring Genesis”. Kregel Publications, Grand Rapids, 2001.
Abraham knew that the daughters of the land of Canaan were of the character of the nation: wanton, worldly and wicked. He knew that the nation of Canaan was destined for judgment because of their involvement in the basest forms of pagan idolatry and so he would not allow his son to marry into them. His request to the servant was that a bride should be sought from among Abraham’s own people. He knew that there were offspring from his brother Nahor, as he had been told while at Beersheba, Gen.22.20. In fact, Rebekah is named in the list of children recorded, Gen.22.23. Therefore, Abraham takes the initiative, no doubt under the guidance of God, to send his servant to seek out a bride for his son. However, this bride must come from his own people, but on no account was Isaac to be taken back to Mesopotamia.
The Bible gives definite instruction about the marriage of believers. There has to be no marriage to unbelievers. Such an unequal yoke is forbidden by God, whether socially, religiously, in business or in marriage. Undoubtedly, Abraham understood the critical role of a mother. If Isaac had an unbelieving wife there would be less likelihood of having godly children.
Scripture is clear on the subject of mixed marriage, so in this light, and in light of the prevailing attitude of the age, we highlight the Word of God: “When the Lord thy God shall bring thee into the land whither thou goest to possess it, and hath cast out many nations before thee, the Hittites, and the Girgashites, and the Amorites, and the Canaanites, and the Perizzites, and the Hivites, and the Jebusites, seven nations greater and mightier than thou; and when the Lord thy God shall deliver them before thee; thou shalt smite them, and utterly destroy them; thou shalt make no covenant with them, nor shew mercy unto them: neither shalt thou make marriages with them; thy daughter thou shalt not give unto his son, nor his daughter shalt thou take unto thy son. For they will turn away thy son from following Me, that they may serve other gods: so will the anger of the Lord be kindled against you, and destroy thee suddenly” Deut.7.1-4. God not only gives the prohibition, He gives the reason for making it and the result of disobedience. This is confirmed in the New Testament, and while in these verses marriage is not mentioned, the principle of maintaining moral separation is evident: “Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? and what communion hath light with darkness? And what concord hath Christ with Belial? or what part hath he that believeth with an infidel? And what agreement hath the temple of God with idols? for ye are the temple of the living God; as God hath said, ‘I will dwell in them, and walk in them; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people.’ ‘Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you’” 2Cor.6.14-17.
On no account was Isaac to go back with the servant. This is stressed in two verses, emphasising its importance: Abraham said to the servant, “Beware thou that thou bring not my son thither again. The Lord God of heaven, which took me from my father’s house, and from the land of my kindred, and which spake unto me, and that sware unto me, saying, ‘Unto thy seed will I give this land’; He shall send His angel before thee, and thou shalt take a wife unto my son from thence. And if the woman will not be willing to follow thee, then thou shalt be clear from this my oath: only bring not my son thither again” Gen.24.6-8. Abraham had been called out of that place by “the God of glory” Acts 7.2, and given the promise of a new land. Isaac has to be the means of the fulfilment of God’s promise, therefore his position, as well as his location, was to remain in Canaan, the land which God will give to Israel. The lesson for today is that when God calls us, in salvation, He calls us out of something (the old life) into something (the new life). He does not want us looking back to the old life. He wants His people to move forward and press on, to new life in Christ. This truth is contained in the doctrine of conversion: a change of lifestyle accompanying salvation. The question must be asked in this day of weak profession: Can a person be saved without being converted? If we accept the truth of the new creation, “Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new” 2Cor.5.17, we have a right to question the profession of one who continues to practise the habitual sins of pre-profession days. While we would rightly raise the question when gross sins continue to be practised, we sometimes overlook sins that we judge to be of a lesser severity. However, is a covetous person converted if he continues in his covetous ways after profession? Or a liar who continues to lie; or a hate-filled person who continues to hate; or an unpleasant person who still displays natural characteristics? If “all things are become new” 2Cor.5.17, then surely by the grace of God, they have become new.
The stipulated requirements of Abraham with regard to a bride for Isaac are minimal, and yet fundamental. She must be from Abraham’s own people, and as such he is taking for granted her moral purity. Her purity is confirmed by the Spirit in the record of her appearing to the caravanserai: “And the damsel was very fair to look upon, a virgin, neither had any man known her” Gen.24.16.
However, Abraham is more interested in these things than for example, her beauty, her education, her wealth or any superficial characteristics. His interest is that she is from his own people. Parents need to understand that their wishes for their child’s marriage partner should not be to suit their own ideas or, worse still, the acclaim of their friends. They should pray rather that the partner is taken from their own people: “in the Lord” 1Cor.11.11. There is a word too for those seeking a lifelong partner. Can I suggest that if you want to find a godly spouse you should look where godly Christians are to be found. Furthermore, you need to be the kind of person for whom a godly spouse would be looking.
It is not being overly emphatic to draw the practical lesson once again for the benefit of parents who feel a need to be involved in the matrimonial choices of their children. The greatest care we can have for our children is for the welfare of their souls, and while their salvation will be between them and God, our guidance in bringing them into contact with the truth of the gospel, whether in the home, preached by others or in our practical living, is essential. We understand that some will not believe, but for all, whether they believe or not, the involvement of a parent continues. For the unbeliever we pray for their salvation, and for those who believe, we, like Abraham, endeavour to prevent them going back. As Peter writes, “For if after they have escaped the pollutions of the world through the knowledge of the Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, they are again entangled therein, and overcome, the latter end is worse with them than the beginning” 2Pet.2.20. Our desire for them is rather that they are like those in the record of the faithful: “And truly, if they had been mindful of that country from whence they came out, they might have had opportunity to have returned. But now they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly: wherefore God is not ashamed to be called their God: for He hath prepared for them a city” Heb.11.15,16.
The servant is unnamed. He was Abraham’s “eldest servant of his house that ruled over all that he had” Gen.24.2. It is presumed that the servant was Eliezer of Damascus, Gen.15.2, but the text does not say so. We will therefore refer to him as “the servant” as per the record of the chapter. Often in Scripture the silences of God are as significant as what He says. While we will look at the overall typology of the chapter later, it is worth mentioning here that the servant is seen as a type of the Holy Spirit, Whose delight is to draw attention to the Son rather than Himself. This would certainly fit here. In this chapter the servant always acts in obedience to Abraham and with the interests of Isaac in mind. After hearing the strength of Abraham’s conviction, regarding where and from whom the bride should be taken, and the determination that Isaac should remain in Canaan, “the servant put his hand under the thigh of Abraham his master, and sware to him concerning that matter” Gen.24.9. The solemnity of the charge the servant receives is indicated by the oath he has to pronounce, accompanied by a rather unusual act: the laying of his hand under Abraham’s thigh. According to The Pulpit Commentary2 the place indicates euphemistically the male organ, the oath being an adjuration by the sign of the covenant of circumcision. The only other place in Scripture where we find this gesture accompanying an oath is where Jacob requests Joseph to do the same, Gen.47.29. It emphasised the solemnity and weight of the oath undertaken and the pledge is to be regarded as one of no ordinary force. Both Abraham and his servant regarded the transaction in which they were now engaged as essentially connected with the covenant of which Isaac’s seed was to be the heir, and so by appeal to the covenant they hallow it. The oath undertaken was that, as instructed by Abraham, the servant was to obtain a bride for Isaac from Abraham’s family still living in Mesopotamia, and never ever take Isaac out of the land.
- 2. “The Pulpit Commentary. Genesis”. Funk and Wignalls, London and New York, 1906.
The question on the mind of the servant is not, ‘Will he find a bride for Isaac?’, but ‘Will the woman be willing to leave her home and country?’ In the event of the woman answering in the negative to the question, “Wilt thou go with this man?” Gen.24.58, the servant would be released from the oath. There are no further words exchanged after the oath is undertaken, and Abraham’s voice becomes silent as far as the record of Scripture is concerned. While we know that it is Abraham’s words that we are looking at, it is interesting that the next recorded spoken words in this incident are by the servant to God. We all as servants must remember that the greatest gift a man has only makes him a servant! As servants we must be in communication with our God. While we are servants of the church and of the saints, fundamentally we are servants of God, and as such we do not move without His guidance but we leave everything to His control. This servant in committing the situation to God is acting on the words of Abraham, as we shall see. However, initially, as we look at the implementing of Abraham’s words, we see his activity: “And the servant took ten camels of the camels of his master, and departed; for all the goods of his master were in his hand: and he arose, and went to Mesopotamia, unto the city of Nahor” Gen.24.10. It is not too simple to mention the fact that Abraham had sent him to Mesopotamia, “my country, and to my kindred” Gen.24.4, and it was to that location exactly that he went. There must be a lesson in the light of this obedience, and we could consider another servant, who, when instructed by God to go to a certain location, went in the opposite direction. “Now the word of the Lord came unto Jonah the son of Amittai, saying, ‘Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and cry against it; for their wickedness is come up before Me.’ But Jonah rose up to flee unto Tarshish from the presence of the Lord, and went down to Joppa; and he found a ship going to Tarshish: so he paid the fare thereof, and went down into it, to go with them unto Tarshish from the presence of the Lord” Jonah 1.1-3. It is salutary to read that Jonah “paid the fare”; there is always a price to be paid for disobeying God’s direction. The weight of this point is that we should be where God wants us to be. In our day, He instructs us to be gathered as part of a local assembly; He will place us in a particular location with a particular work to do. That work will involve the administration of the gift that we have been given. He will not move us until He decides our work there is over. It will not be our decision when or to where we move, or the decision of our relatives or friends, nor should we move from where the Lord has put us because the saints are ‘nice’ to us in another assembly. Remember Lot, who looked at the attractiveness of the plains of Jordan and pitched his tent towards Sodom, to the complete destruction of his family and his own character, Gen.13.10,12. Be careful of “pay[ing] the fare thereof”! Likewise for those who are called by the Lord to leave their secular employment and go into the service of God involving more time than many who remain in secular work. (I hesitate to use the common expression ‘full time service’, as a lifetime working in local assembly life, and preaching and teaching the Word of God, is nothing less than ‘full time service’.) They too must be clear in being where the Lord wants them to be, regardless of personal preferences. This servant did just what he was instructed, no more, but no less.
It is interesting that many of the words spoken by the servant mirror those spoken to him by his master, and so Abraham’s last words are reiterated. He does not deviate from the message given. His first recorded words since his oath, as we have mentioned, are in prayer. He commits the whole situation to God. He has come to where he should be in obedience to the words of his master, but the situation now is too big for him and he brings it to his God, seeking Divine counsel and co-operation. Interestingly, he asks for an immediate answer to his request: “And he said, ‘O Lord God of my master Abraham, I pray Thee, send me good speed this day, and shew kindness unto my master Abraham’” Gen.24.12. One of the great things about prayer is that by faith we have confidence in asking. This servant while remembering the words of faith from his master on the same subject has the confidence to ask for a resolution to the situation, “this day”. He is not only asking for an answer that day, but a satisfactory outcome: that the whole situation is brought to completion that very day. These are words of faith. He cannot expedite the matter to fulfilment, but is in contact with One Who can. He also requests that the outcome be, not for his benefit, but as a kindness unto his master Abraham, the originator of the request.
His prayer is answered even before he has finished asking. “And it came to pass, before he had done speaking, that, behold, Rebekah came out, who was born to Bethuel, son of Milcah, the wife of Nahor, Abraham’s brother, with her pitcher upon her shoulder” Gen.24.15. How many of the Lord’s people have been here, that even as we were praying, the answer has been effected! Yes, there have been occasions when we have waited a lifetime for the answer, but the lesson is that God answers prayer in His own time. Here the very woman who will marry Isaac stands before the servant, in a clear demonstration of God’s gracious and faithful ways in answering prayer. It is also a demonstration of His power that He will order the events of a city, a family and a woman, to work out His purpose. This lovely verse evidences the faith of the servant and of Abraham, but also the purpose of God.
The next request of the servant is not now to God but to Rebekah: “And the servant ran to meet her, and said, ‘Let me, I pray thee, drink a little water of thy pitcher’” Gen.24.17. The servant uses the exact words to Rebekah that he had used in prayer to God. The answer to prayer is confirmed when not only Rebekah gives him to drink, but offers to draw water for the camels. This is a remarkable task for one woman to undertake. To appreciate how much work this was for one person, we need to understand that an ancient well was a large, deep hole in the earth with steps leading down to the spring water, so that each drawing of water required substantial effort. Walton3 states that a camel can consume twenty-five gallons in ten minutes; there were ten camels in this group, which gives a minimum of two hundred and fifty gallons of water transported in a water pot of about three gallons (Walton refers to U.S. gallons, thus the weight of water in a pitcher would be around 11.34kg/25lbs, plus the weight of the vessel), meaning between eighty and one hundred descents to the well. This was a considerable task for Rebekah but she did not shirk from it as it would have been her way of life; she knew nothing of the man she was serving, but was willing to entertain strangers, as in the exhortation of the writer to the Hebrews, “Be not forgetful to entertain strangers: for thereby some have entertained angels unawares” Heb.13.2. This is a lovely display of the character of Rebekah. In that part of the world fetching water for the life of the family was the work of women, but as we see from the amount of effort mentioned above, it was considerable work. We should never be disdainful of the work of godly women. Much of it is work which only they can do, but the effort, time and sacrifice are considerable, and have been an encouragement to saint and sinner and refreshment to the Lord. The example of Mary of Bethany shines forth. “Then took Mary a pound of ointment of spikenard, very costly, and anointed the feet of Jesus, and wiped His feet with her hair: and the house was filled with the odour of the ointment” Jn.12.3. Not only was the Saviour refreshed but all in the house benefited from her exercise.
- 3. Walton, John H. “Genesis. The N.I.V. Application Commentary”. Zondervan. Grand Rapids, 2001.
While Abraham’s voice is silent, the servant gives a verbatim account to Rebekah’s family of what his master had said to him, so the words of Abraham live on. He has no shame in telling exactly of his conversation with God regarding the actions of Rebekah, and in fact holds nothing back with regard to his master and his master’s son. “And the Lord hath blessed my master greatly; and he is become great: and He hath given him flocks, and herds, and silver, and gold, and menservants, and maidservants, and camels, and asses. And Sarah my master’s wife bare a son to my master when she was old: and unto him hath he given all that he hath” Gen.24.35,36. At no time does the servant promote himself but rather presents the desire of the heart of Abraham, the position of Isaac and the hand of God in everything. There must be a lesson here for those who handle the Word of God, particularly in the presentation of the gospel. There is no room to project self, because we are only servants. Our message is all about Christ, and we have the full canon of Scripture to use. The Lord Jesus gave the instruction, “Search the scriptures … they are they which testify of Me” Jn.5.39. At that time He was speaking only of the Old Testament; how much more of Him we can present in our day, having the use of the completed Scriptures! Therefore, there is no place for anecdotal gospel messages entertaining the audience with little stories. When Paul preached he could say, “We preach Christ crucified” 1Cor.1.23. Philip the evangelist “preached Christ” to the Samaritans, Acts 8.5, and “preached … Jesus” to the Ethiopian, Acts 8.35. As a final word we ask Peter what he would preach and he would say, “Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved” Acts 4.12. The message is all about Him, and the example of the thrill of the servant speaking of the father and the son is almost tangible in the reading of the account.
It would be remiss to close without looking at the one who was the fulfilment of the commission given, the oath sworn, and the concern of the heart of Abraham. We have already mentioned the fulfilment of the servant’s prayer: “behold, Rebekah came out” Gen.24.15. Her actions and attitude are interesting, and while in some ways her demeanour may be foreign to the attitudes of our day, her deportment is an example of chaste, godly womanhood. The only stipulation that Abraham had made was as to the country of her origin, but much more is emphasised as we see her enter the scene and we read the record of Scripture, which highlights her beauty, her purity, her humility, her industry, her courtesy, her modesty, her decorum, her civility, her kindness, her obedience to her family and her faith in going “with this man” Gen.24.58. Rebekah is in many ways similar to the virtuous woman as recorded in Prov.31.10-31.
There would be many difficulties and disappointments to face, for she is one of several women in Scripture not able to have children except by God’s intervention, and the two boys that she did have, after twenty years of marriage, were at enmity from birth. However, she moves out in faith to meet a man she has never seen, but has heard so much about.
And so the couple is brought together. Isaac being out in the field where he had gone to meditate in the cool of the day, lifted up his eyes and saw the camels coming. Around the same time, as at eventide in the Middle East dusk is very short, Rebekah also lifted up her eyes and saw Isaac. Again her modest deportment is evidenced: “therefore she took a vail, and covered herself” Gen.24.65. Yes, she would marry him, but she still covered herself modestly in his presence before then. Their joy and their marriage, in the Lord, were complete.
For the assistance of younger believers, we should mention the use of ‘types’ in the Old Testament. We should be careful that we have the reason for calling something a type, so if we cannot turn to a New Testament passage for our authority, or if there is no analogy which indicates the antitype, it would be safer and more correct to call it an illustration. It is very important to understand what is meant by a type. 1Cor.10.11 records the various experiences of Israel, “Now all these things happened unto them for ensamples: [‘types’ J.N.D.] and they are written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the world are come”. Paul teaches that the record of these events is given to us for a particular reason, namely to teach us lessons. Habershon credits Augustine of Hippo as having written, ‘The New is in the Old contained; the Old is by the New explained.’
Basically, there are three groups of types found in Scripture. These are:
- Objects, an example being the furniture and fabrics of the Tabernacle, ordered by God, built by Israel and speaking clearly of the Person and work of Christ.
- Ordinances, like the sacrifices and offerings of the Old Testament, and the Feasts of Jehovah, again pointing to Christ.
- People. This is seen in many characters, but in this chapter we clearly see Abraham as a type of God the Father, the servant as the Holy Spirit, Isaac as the Son of God, and Rebekah as a type of the Church, the bride of Christ.
Here, in what is the longest chapter in the Book of Genesis, we have a lovely study of the way in which the Father’s beloved Son obtained His bride, the Church. While we must ever take care in spiritualising Old Testament Scripture, we cannot but see the similarities in the choosing of Rebekah for Isaac and the choosing of a bride for Christ.
The Holy Spirit is clear in reminding us that marriage is intended to reflect the higher relationship of Christ and His Church. “Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the church: and He is the Saviour of the body. Therefore as the church is subject unto Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in every thing. Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave Himself for it; that He might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word, that He might present it to Himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish. So ought men to love their wives as their own bodies. He that loveth his wife loveth himself. For no man ever yet hated his own flesh; but nourisheth and cherisheth it, even as the Lord the church: For we are members of His body, of His flesh, and of His bones. ‘For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall be joined unto his wife, and they two shall be one flesh.’ This is a great mystery: but I speak concerning Christ and the church” Eph.5.22-32.
Where would Abraham find a bride for Isaac? As we have seen he did not want an unequal yoke, and so sent his servant to Mesopotamia, the home of his people, to seek out a bride for his son. So it was that in eternity, the eternal God took counsel with Himself in regard to His Son. He would have a bride for His Son, one that was fit for Him, one capable of sharing the lofty position that was His. He would commission the Holy Spirit to go into the world to find that bride, but first there had to be the work of Calvary. “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ: according as He hath chosen us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love” Eph.1.3,4. We will not develop the truth of election here, save to quote the words of another, that “election is a truth to be enjoyed not explored, because it cannot be explained.”
The servant of Abraham’s house is seen as a type of the Holy Spirit, Whose delight it is to draw attention to the Son rather than Himself. In Genesis chapter 24, as we have noted, the servant always acted in accordance with Abraham’s will and with the interest of Isaac at heart. This type certainly fits here. In the purposes of God the execution of His will in the world is entrusted to the Spirit. It was the Spirit Who came down at Pentecost to begin His work of seeking out a blood-bought bride for Christ: the Church. Looking into the account of Genesis chapter 24 we see the background of another greater story, the coming into the world of the Spirit of God. His great work is to make much of the Son and His great task is to seek out those who will become part of the bride of Christ. He will never force, never violate, and never overwhelm the soul. He orders ordinary things in the lives of individuals until at last the gospel is presented and the point of salvation is reached. We have seen such in the servant’s way with Rebekah; it is the Spirit’s way with a soul.
Rebekah is one whose heart is warmed by what she has heard. There was something about the description of Isaac that kindled a response within her. It is interesting to note the contrast between Rebekah and Laban. Laban may well have been taken up with the gifts that he was given, Gen.24.53, and he tried to delay the servant in his work, Gen.24.55,56. Rebekah on the other hand was absorbed in the description and story of the son. She had never seen him but had come to know him by the spoken description of the servant. We have already mentioned the subject matter of our preaching; note it again!
We see also that the servant allowed the decision to be made by Rebekah. He had presented the son in such a way as to interest her; it was now her responsibility to reply to the question, “Wilt thou go with this man?” Gen.24.58. Her answer in the positive sees her starting on a journey that will result in her meeting the one whom she had heard so much about. While she is typical of one chosen by God, and nurtured by the Holy Spirit, she herself, like all sinners, must answer to the claims of the gospel in her own responsibility, and move in believing faith. Here in this account, the sovereignty of God is linked with the responsibility of man in symbiotic relationship.
While all this is taking place and the return journey is being made, Isaac is waiting. The calling of the bride was the work of another and he had to wait in his father’s house until the day of meeting dawned. Eventually, at eventide, they met and in due course “Isaac brought her into his mother Sarah’s tent, and took Rebekah, and she became his wife; and he loved her: and Isaac was comforted after his mother’s death” Gen.24.67. Presently the Lord Jesus Christ sits at the right hand of God. His work is done and there He sits in communion with the Father. One of these days He shall rise and shall go forth to meet His bride. What a day, glorious day that will be!
- Who is this who comes to meet me
- On the desert way,
- As the morning star foretelling
- God’s unclouded day?
- He it is who came to win me
- On the cross of shame;
- In His glory well I know Him
- Evermore the same.
- O the blessed joy of meeting,
- All the desert past!
- O the wondrous words of greeting
- He shall speak at last!
- He and I together ent’ring
- Those bright courts above;
- He and I together sharing
- All the Father’s love.
- (Paul Gerhardt)