The Mystery of Salvation as Seen in Genesis 24
The debate between the doctrines of free will and predestination still rage as they have for years. Some believe God’s sovereignty overrules human free will in all regards; some only in the matter of salvation (i.e., man is inherently evil and unable to initiate the salvation process with God). Yet others believe God has truly given us free will – including the ability to reject Him. That argument is that if we do not come to God by our own free will, we are ‘robots’ and true love is not illustrated in the relationship. Many of us we struggle with this because somehow both predestination and free will appear to be at work simultaneously.
In the story of Rebkah’s betrothal, we see symbolic elements foreshadowing future events. This betrothal scene is unique when compared to others in scripture, as the bridegroom is not physically present (as was the case with Jacob, Moses, etc.). Here, Isaac is the bridegroom, who, as a type of substitute sacrifice, is a picture of the Christ. His bride-to-be, Rebekah, represents the church; in the New Testament scriptures the church is referred to as the bride of Christ (Eph. 5:22-33)
Isaac’s absence is fitting; the church becomes engaged, so to speak, with Christ while we are still here on earth; He is to be our new master though we will not see His face until the marriage is consummated. The question at hand is, was Rebekah given a choice to marry Isaac?
Abraham’s servant had concerns that she might not:
“Suppose the woman is not willing to follow me to this land; should I take your son back to the land from where you came?” (Gen. 24:5)
This phrase was echoed again when re-telling the narrative to Laban in v. 39. So Abraham made a provision just in case she would not:
“…if the woman is not willing to follow you, then you will be free from this my oath;” (Gen. 24:8)
If everything was completely pre-ordained, did the oath the servant took mean anything? That is to say, if it was all going to come to pass exactly as God planned, what was the point of an oath? If there is no free will, no chance the potential bride may refuse the offer, then the oath is in vain; it’s importance greatly diminished.
But, what are the chances that the very first people the servant meets end up being the people he was seeking, after traveling hundreds of miles toward the city of Nahor? The servant specifically acknowledges this in v. 48:
“And I bowed low and worshiped the LORD, and blessed the LORD, the God of my master Abraham, who had guided me in the right way to take the daughter of my master’s kinsman for his son”
And so it is obvious that some elements of the story appear to be divinely arranged; and divine favor was given on the assistance for signs to the servant. One thing that is fascinating is that the blessing given to Rebekah by her family (her offspring possessing the gates of their enemies) perfectly echoes the promises given to Abraham. In this sense we see that the marriage appears pre-arranaged by God.
So all of this leads up in anticipation of what Rebekah’s answer will be directly from her mouth when the question is asked. Unfortunately this never actually happens. Instead, the family willingly gives her away without even asking her:
““Here is Rebekah before you, take her and go” (v. 51)
The answer eludes us as to whether or not Rebekah actually had any choice in the matter!
After this, the servant blesses the Lord and the exchange is made, gifts are given and the marriage is now on. In those days, once a marriage was arranged, it was customary for the woman to spend approximately one final year with her family before going off to marry her new husband. Though the translation is not completely obvious, the family suggests that Rebekah stay for “ten days”, however given the context and what we know of the time, we ascertain this actually means ten months – hence, slightly less than the standard yearlong wait. The servant will have none of it; it appears it is either now or never, as he replies:
“Do not delay me, since the LORD has prospered my way. Send me away that I may go to my master.” (v. 56)
Laban then decides to consult Rebekah to make or break the deal. Will she go so suddenly, leaving her family and home behind to marry a man she’s only heard about and never met? Now we see the element of free will appear to come into play, as they ask Rebekah her choice. In the original Hebrew, her answer is more telling than the standard translations. Her response isn’t just “I will go”, but rather defiantly, such as “I will go whether you like it or not, you can’t stop me!”
So is this free will manifesting itself? Or is the spirit inside of Rebekah pulling her along to her pre-ordained fate – to marry Isaac, to become one of the progenitors of the Israelites and ultimately a prophetic picture of the church?
Perhaps it is not so much mystery as it is paradox. The reason that the arguments are just as heated today as ever between free will and predestination is because depending on how you read the narrative, you can effectively make the case for either one. Yet both are present, simultaneously and without conflict.