“And Abraham said to his servant, the oldest in his household who ruled over all which were before him, ‘Please put your hand under my thigh and I will make you swear before Yahweh, the God of heaven and the God of earth that you will not take a wife for my son from the daughters of the Canaanites with whom I dwell. You must go to my relatives that are in my land and take a wife for my son, Isaac.”
It seems that people tend to dwell on the practice of setting one’s hand on the thigh (or loins) of another to swear an oath, a practice, it seems that was rather distinct to Abraham and Jacob (Genesis 47:29). Traditionally, Jewish commentators have held that the significance of the placement is related to the covenantal sign of circumcision given by God to all who would serve him. Christian commentators have also cited the significance of the loins as the place from which descendants come, again, tying the act to God’s promise.
Yet, the statement that is far more important is that which follows: Abraham does not want Isaac to take a wife from amongst the Canaanites. Here, Abraham surely must be remembering the terrible effect on the life of Lot and his family as a result of Lot’s action in taking a Sodomite wife. How typical it is that when a believer marries an unbeliever, the unbeliever drags the believer down, not the other way around. The Apostle Paul also builds on this idea, applying it to Christians:
“You must not be unequally yoked with those who do not believe; for what participation does righteousness have with lawlessness? Or what fellowship has light with darkness?”
(2 Corinthians 6:14)
Paul is using the Old Testament prohibition of plowing with an ox and a donkey together (Deuteronomy 22:10) to illustrate the effect of mismated people within marriage, implying to some degree that believers and unbelievers are different species (children of light and children of the devil!). In addition, when God formed Eve from the rib of Adam, he formed her to be his helpmate. The task given to Adam was obedience (you shall not eat…) and worship in his work (you shall work and keep this garden). Thus the wife’s primary task is to assist her husband in his worship of God in all he does. How can she do so if she is a pagan and not committed to the One True God of Heaven and Earth? How can a believing wife help a pagan husband to worship God when his heart is already committed to serving the works of his hands? How important it is that we be equally yoked together.
Thus, as Abraham has come to the point where he is too old for the task of traveling and finding a wife for his son, he entrusts this task to his eldest and most trusted servant — the steward over his household. Go back to my homeland and find a wife for Isaac. There is an interesting implication being made here, though God has made the Covenant with Abraham, it seems that those from whom he descended are not so idolatrous that they do not know of the God of creation. I would not venture to call them believers as there still are idols as part of their cultural worship, but they are not as “lost” as are the Canaanites that surround where Abraham has chosen to dwell. We must be careful not to push this inference too far, but there is significance in the idea that the children of Abraham’s brother are oriented in such a way that they will follow Yahweh’s call and serve him in covenantal fellowship.
Beloved, the account of Abraham’s life is coming to a close (though he will take another wife) and this is the one last covenantal task that he has left to perform. How alien it is to us in the west who are used to choosing our own spouses to see this action taking place. For most of the world through most of history, men and women’s weddings were arranged by their parents or by their guardians. In that context, you did not marry because you fell in love, but you fell in love because you were married. How, in today’s world of convenience marriages and divorces, we can learn a great deal from those who have gone before us and chosen the act of love because marriage was a life and death covenantal arrangement.