The following is an excerpt from Ben Stuart’s Bible study, Life + Love.
The longest chapter in Genesis is about finding a wife. This is good news for us for two reasons.
- It shows us that God cares about our dating life and our desire to be married.
- The narrative in that chapter provides us with principles that will help us evaluate a potential mate.
Starting in Genesis 12, the author, Moses, began to focus on a single family, the family of Abraham. God had made a promise to Abraham that all the nations of the world would be blessed through his offspring, but as Abraham’s life neared its end, one outstanding challenge remained: finding a wife for his son, Isaac. Without a wife the family line couldn’t continue. The approach Abraham took looks a bit different from ours today, but the narrative contains principles that can be applied to our modern context.
A Serious Commitment
“Abraham said to his servant, the elder of his household who managed all he owned, ‘Place your hand under my thigh …'” – Genesis 24:2
When planning to find a wife for his son (arranged marriages were the practice in that day), Abraham called his most trusted servant and made him swear in the Lord’s name with one of the most serious of oaths in that day. Why this ceremony? Because Abraham knew that the person Isaac married would have more influence on him than any other person. Therefore, a wise person approaches the process of finding a spouse with an appropriate amount of seriousness.
In today’s world we don’t take the question of who we should date quite so seriously. Our casual approach to dating doesn’t always reflect the seriousness with which God takes marriage.
How could you apply Abraham’s covenant in deciding who you should date? Who do you feel close enough to ask for help in becoming more intentional and focused about deciding who to date?
One reason our dating relationships are so stressful is that we don’t have a goal in mind. How is dating reframed when marriage is the goal? Abraham was serious because marriage is serious. Dating exists for evaluation. Dating provides spaces and context to evaluate whether you should marry someone. This doesn’t mean you should go on every date expecting to marry the person sitting across from you. However, it does mean you should discontinue the relationship at the point it becomes clear that marriage isn’t an option. To do that, you need to be armed with the proper criterion for evaluation.
The Right Criterion
“… and I will have you swear by the Lord, God of heaven and God of earth, that you will not take a wife for my son from the daughters of the Canaanites among whom I live, 4 but will go to my land and my family to take a wife for my son Isaac.” – Genesis 24:3-4
Abraham was commanding his servant to find a wife for his son who was of the same faith. Abraham wasn’t advocating for racism in dating, though at first glance it may appear so. He told his servant not to get a Canaanite woman, because these people were polytheists, with the worship of their gods centering on violence. These beliefs and practices stood at odds with Abraham’s primary criterion for dating. In fact, the only criterion Abraham specified was that the woman must be a believer in the one true God. And he was sending his servant on a journey of over five hundred miles to find her!
Maybe the person God has for you isn’t part of your current relational circle, just as Isaac’s future wife wasn’t part of his.
“The servant said to him, ‘Suppose the woman is unwilling to follow me to this land? Should I have your son go back to the land you came from? 6 Abraham answered him, ‘Make sure that you don’t take my son back there. 7 The LORD, the God of heaven, who took me from my father’s house and from my native land, who spoke to me and swore to me, “I will give this land to your offspring”—he will send his angel before you, and you can take a wife for my son from there.'” – Genesis 24:5-7.
In one of the most significant moments in all of Scripture, God had called Abraham to move to a specific place with his family (see 12:1-3). As the story of Scripture unfolds, we discover why: God wanted Abraham’s distant descendant, Jesus, to be born, live, die, and rise from the dead on the one piece of land that unites three major continents. So Abraham’s family had moved by faith. For Isaac to leave and go back to the old country would be to walk away from God’s clear call. In our modern circumstances this would be the equivalent of a potential mate encouraging us to violate God’s expressed will for our lives found in the Scriptures. We just can’t do it.
“If the woman is unwilling to follow you, then you are free from this oath to me, but don’t let my son go back there.” – Genesis 24:8.
Notice the resolve in Abraham’s instruction. If the servant didn’t find the right woman, he was free to come home. If seeking marriage and living for God found themselves at odds, Abraham said, “Choose God!”
In deciding who we’ll date, compromise is only one decision away. And with every compromising step we take, our hearts become more and more calloused. Abraham wasn’t willing to give an inch. Neither should we.
More often than not, we feel that compromise happens after we begin dating someone, when we’re tempted to compromise our standards of sexual and emotional purity. But integrity starts well before that. In Ephesians 4 Paul cautioned the Ephesians about a number of different sins. Then he said, “Don’t give the devil an opportunity” (v. 27). Other Bible versions translate opportunity as “foothold” (NIV, NLT).
Opportunity in verse 27 means “a place to exert influence.” Opportunity happens often in dating relationships. That’s why we need to focus on the quality and character of the people we date.
Genesis 24:14 gives us an even clearer picture of who we should date. In fact, we see two primary character qualities.
Character and Chemistry
“The servant took ten of his master’s camels, and with all kinds of his master’s goods in hand, he went to Aram-naharaim, to Nahor’s town. 11 At evening, the time when women went out to draw water, he made the camels kneel beside a well outside the town. 12 ‘LORD, God of my master Abraham,’ he prayed, ‘make this happen for me today, and show kindness to my master Abraham. 13 I am standing here at the spring where the daughters of the men of the town are coming out to draw water. 14 Let the girl to whom I say, “Please lower your water jug so that I may drink,” and who responds, “Drink, and I’ll water your camels also”—let her be the one you have appointed for your servant Isaac. By this I will know that you have shown kindness to my master.’ 15 Before he had finished speaking, there was Rebekah—daughter of Bethuel son of Milcah, the wife of Abraham’s brother Nahor—coming with a jug on her shoulder. 16 Now the girl was very beautiful, a virgin—no man had been intimate with her. She went down to the spring, filled her jug, and came up. 17 Then the servant ran to meet her and said, ‘Please let me have a little water from your jug.’ 18 She replied, ‘Drink, my lord.’ She quickly lowered her jug to her hand and gave him a drink. 19 When she had finished giving him a drink, she said, ‘I’ll also draw water for your camels until they have had enough to drink.’ 20 She quickly emptied her jug into the trough and hurried to the well again to draw water. She drew water for all his camels 21 while the man silently watched her to see whether or not the LORD had made his journey a success.” – Genesis 24:10-21.
God won’t always reveal His choice like this. It would be nice if we could pray, “Lord, let the person I sit beside at the coffee shop today be my future spouse,” and they show up. However, it’s significant to see the types of activities this servant hoped to find the woman engaged in.
Abraham’s servant was hoping the woman would offer to give water to his camels, so he was looking for someone who was gracious and hospitable, even to a stranger. The implications are huge for relationships today. Our posture toward hospitality and generosity speaks volumes about our character and love for people. These were qualities Abraham was looking for in a wife for his son.
Usually when we talk about having chemistry with someone, we’re talking about physical compatibility. Although this is important, it’s not the only form of chemistry we should look for. Through observation Rebekah realized she had chemistry with Isaac. She observed his faith and theological compatibility (see vv. 26-27), his vocational compatibility (Abraham’s servant had brought camels with him, v. 10), and his social compatibility (Abraham’s servant stayed with her family, v. 31). These factors of chemistry and compatibility are vital in deciding who we’ll date.
Both character and chemistry should drive us in deciding who to date. When we focus on only one quality, we’ll ultimately be disappointed. But when we prioritize both characteristics, we’re likely to find people worth dating.
Life + Love Bible study from Ben Stuart will help you chart a course through four relational stages: singleness, dating, engagement, and marriage. Learn to embrace God’s design and live out His purpose for each stage of your life.
Ben Stuart is the pastor of Passion City Church in Washington, D.C. Previously, Ben served for eleven years as the Executive Director of Breakaway Ministries, a weekly Bible study attended by thousands of college students on the campus of Texas A&M. Ben earned a master’s degree in historical theology from Dallas Theological Seminary. Ben and his wife, Donna, live to inspire and equip people to walk with God for a lifetime. They live in the District with their three kids, Hannah, Sparrow, and Owen. Ben is the author of Single, Dating, Engaged, Married: Navigating Life and Love in the Modern Age and the Bible study This Changes Everything.