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I, Isaac, Take You, Rebekah (Part 1 of 2)

Original Air Date 05/28/1991

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Bible teacher Ravi Zacharias uses the story of Isaac and Rebekah from Genesis 24 to illustrate biblical principles in the process of selecting a mate, and challenges young adults to be people of prayer seeking the input of others in the selection process. (Part 1 of 2)

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Episode Transcript


John Fuller: Today's "Focus on the Family" guest is Ravi Zacharias and he shares how, as a young idealistic theology student, he questioned his professor's statement, that love is hard work.


Dr. Ravi Zacharias: I said, I don't like your categorization of love as hard work. He says, "Zacharias, are you married?" I said, "No." He said, "Then shut up and sit down; you don't know what you're talking about." (Laughter) He was right. (Laughter)

End of Excerpt

John: Well, love and marriage are hard work and you're gonna find out more how relationships stretch us and how God uses that, why they're worth the effort, on today's "Focus on the Family." Your host is Focus president, Jim Daly and I'm John Fuller.

Jim Daly: John, a great marriage takes some work. Sometimes it takes a lot of work, but the good news is, when you involved the Lord in the process, ideally, you know, from the beginning, He can give you a relationship that has the depth, the love and security that you've always yearned for. I mean, everybody just said, "Yes!"

Today's guest, Ravi Zacharias has been married for about 45 years now, so he's bringing that experience and wisdom from the Bible to singles in particular. But this is a great message for married couples, as well. This is one of the most popular programs Focus has ever aired and we thought it would be appropriate to present it now as we celebrate our 40th anniversary here at the ministry.

John: And Ravi Zacharias is speaking in this presentation to a group of college students. Let's begin with his message on today's "Focus on the Family."


Ravi Zacharias: Turn with me, please, to the book of Genesis 24. And my message is entitled, "I, Isaac, Take You, Rebekah." I'll read for you verses 10 to 27, from Genesis 24:

Then the servant took 10 of his master's camels and left, taking with him all kinds of goods from his master. He set out for Aram Naharaim and made his way to the town of Nahor. He had the camels kneel down near the well outside the town. It was toward evening, the time the women go out to draw water. Then he prayed, "Oh, Lord, God of my master, Abraham, give me success today and show kindness to my master, Abraham. See, I am standing beside this spring, and the daughters of the townspeople are coming out to draw water. May it be that when I say to a girl, `Please let down your jar that I may have a drink,' and she says, `Drink, and I'll water your camels, too,' let her be the one You have chosen for Your servant, Isaac. By this I will know that You have shown kindness to my master."

"Before he had finished praying, Rebekah came up with her jar on her shoulder. She was the daughter of Bethuel, son of Milcah, who was the wife of Abraham's brother, Nahor. The girl was very beautiful, a virgin; no man had ever lain with her. She went down to the spring, filled her jar and came up again. The servant hurried to meet her and said, 'Please give me a little water from your jar.' 'Drink, My Lord,' she said and quickly lowered the jar to her hands and gave him a drink. After she had given him a drink (here it goes now), she said, 'I'll draw water for your camels, too, until they have finished drinking.' So, she quickly emptied her jar into the trough, ran back to the well to draw more water and drew enough for all his camels. Without saying a word, the man watched her closely to learn whether or not the Lord had made his journey successful.

"When the camels had finished drinking, the man took out a gold nose ring weighing a beka and two gold bracelets weighing 10 shekels. Then he asked, 'Whose daughter are you? Please tell me, is there room in your father's house for us to spend the night?' She answered him, 'I am the daughter of Bethuel, the son that Milcah bore to Nahor.' And she added, 'We have plenty of straw and fodder, as well as room for you to spend the night.'

Then the man bowed down and worshiped the Lord saying, "Praise be to the Lord, the God of my master, Abraham, who has not abandoned His kindness and faithfulness to my master. As for me, the Lord has led me on to the journey to the house of my fathers and my master's relatives."

Everything I say tonight, hopefully will be worth believing and listening, except for the first two parts I want to leave with you, which are not very well worth believing. They may not even be worth listening to. But seeing there are many young people here, I'd like to share a little bit, a couple of poems that I put together. Please don't bother memorizing them; they will do you no good. This is the way the first goes. As I said, neither of them are true:

Love is like an onion,
You taste it with delight,
But when it's gone, you wonder,
Whatever made you bite?

Love is swell; it's so enticing,
It's orange gel; it's strawberry icing.
It's chocolate mousse; it's roasted goose,
It's ham on rye; it's banana pie.

Love is all good things, without a question,
In other words, it's indigestion. (Laughter)

There's another one that goes this way:

Slippery ice, very thin,
Pretty girl, tumbles in,
Saw a boy, on the bank,
Gave a shriek, then she sank.

Boy on hand, heard her shout,
Jumped right in, pulled her out,
Now she's his, very nice,
But she had to break the ice. (Laughter)

For those of you who don't understand it, I'll see you at the end of the meeting here, right? (Laughter)

That particular word "love" is probably one of the most used and most abused epithets that mankind has ever conceived in his mind. It has brought peace to many a heart and the same word, misunderstood and abused, has broken many a life. And here in this first book of the Old Testament--the book of Genesis, which is our roots, it begins with the words, "In the beginning, God." And ends with the words, "So, Joseph died and was buried." I find that fascinating. It starts off with God and ends up with man in a coffin. But if you take those first few words, "In the beginning, God," I think it is Dr. Billy Graham who once said, "I have no problem believing that the whale swallowed Jonah. I would have even believed it if Jonah had swallowed the whale."

And the mystic, A.W. Tozer said, "Give me Genesis 1:1 and the rest of the Bible poses no problem for me." Once you take the assumption of God, many other deductions for life follow.

And here we've got a key narrative of the whole process of how Abraham worried about his entire generation to come, claiming the promise of God, called upon his trusted servant and said, "I want you to help me out on this. Would you pursue these instructions and find the woman whom my son, Isaac, should marry, this chosen seed?"

Now, you and I will have difficulty, living in the Western part of the world, to understand some of these concepts, but may I try to delineate for you that, in principle, these hold true whether East or West? Certain infrastructures and patterns may change, but the principles necessarily abide.

Here's what happens. He sends Eleazar and moves him in the direction, so that he can go and find a bride for Isaac. And what I see emerging is something fascinating. No. 1, Isaac was not the only one involved in this selection process and I think that's pivotal.

Abraham had prayed. Eleazar was sent. God was concerned. A man laid a fleece before God in that particular setting and he and then God were in communion. A trusted servant and a devoted father played a vital part in the selection of the bride. Now you and I find that very difficult here.

You see, when you begin dating and get involved in a romance here, we run into many dangerous settings where we get our hearts involved so quickly that our minds are not functioning anymore and then we end up seeing our parents as interrupters of a relationship, rather than as wise ones assisting us to seek the right one.

Chances are, if you marry somebody in violation with your parents' will, I suggest you are playing a dangerous game with God. That's as carefully as I probably could state like, just like at any time, when you violate an authority that has been placed by God, you need to be twice as sure you are doing the right thing. I just say this very plainly to you, young people: Be immensely careful when you make the pledge of your life to somebody if your parents are not in sympathy with it, particularly so if your parents are men and women who love God.

I want to give you an example of my older brother. He used to be a systems engineer with IBM, so mentally, he's all right. Now he's okay. He's really not got any major problem as far as his IQ is concerned. In the 1960's he came to my father one day. This is my older brother, two years older than me and always Mr. Conservative. And he came to my father one day and said, "You know Dad, I've always maintained it when we were in India and when I was here, that I'm only gonna marry the girl you choose for me and I guess I am ready now." He was in his mid-20s. Would you please begin the search for a girl for me to marry? I really didn't believe he'd do that. We were living in Toronto, but here was his personal order now.

And my father and mother said, "Fine; would you sit down and tell us the kind of girl you're looking for?" And he gave his bio-data sketch and what he was looking for. And normally the parents would go and travel around and look for somebody, but in this instance, he said, "Look, you really don't even need to do that. Why don't you just write to your sister in Bombay and let her do the hunting around? And we'll correspond back and forth and settle this minor issue."

And (Laughter) so, my father wrote to his sister and she finally found the girl and wrote back. There were many letters coming with photographs and vita-sheets and so forth. And so, he'd sit there at night, looking at all these pictures and say, "What do you think, Rav. Isn't she nice? Isn't she nice? You know, and look at all this description." And he'd read out and finally, he zeroed in on this one person and he'd read all about her every evening. Finally started corresponding with her. And then he'd sit down and talk to me about this. He said, "Look at the description, you know. She's even the church organist," which as we all know is so important for a successful marriage. And (Laughter) we read all these things.

Finally, believe it or not, the engagement and the marriage was set with these two never having met! He flew out from Toronto with my father to go to Bombay. The wedding invitations, over a thousand of them were sent out before they'd even seen each other. I began to get really concerned. And so, finally, before he left, I said, "I want to ask you just one question. I don't want to challenge anything you're doing.

What are you gonna do when you arrive in Bombay and you come down that jetway, that stairway there and you see a girl standing there with her garland in her hand and you say to yourself, `Good grief, you know! I hope that's not her! I hope that's somebody else!'" "Or she looks at you and says, 'I hope that's not him! I hope that's his brother,' whatever, what are you going to do?"

Are you going to sort of get on the telephone or write letters to everybody and say, "Folks, we met; the wedding's off?" (Laughter) The guests were invited before they'd seen each other. And he just kept staring at me and then he said this, which is what I want to leave with you.

He said, "Are you through?" I said, "Yep." He said, "Write it down and don't ever forget it." He said, "Love is as much a question of the will as it is of the emotion. And if you will to love somebody, you can." And the more I think of that statement, the more I think it has not been understood by you and me.

You see, I was married in 1972. But one year before I was married, I was sitting in a theological class dealing with Christian education. I don't know what it had to do with the subject, but the professor said, "I want you students to know that love is hard work." And I leaned over to my classmate and said, "I don't like that categorization of love as hard work." I said, "I wouldn't want to be married to anybody who goes around telling everybody how hard it is to love me." He said "Yeah, I agree with you. Why don't you ask him?"

And like a fool, I did. (Laughter) I stood up and I said, "Excuse me, sir." I said, "I don't like your categorization of love as hard work." He said, "Zacharias, are you married?" I said, "No." He said, "Then shut up and sit down; you don't know what you're talking about." (Laughter) He was right! (Laughter) It is hard work.

You see, folks, the easiest part of our marriage was the wedding ceremony. I remember going in there early and Margie in right fashion from that day till now, has always been late. And she arrived there. I was standing at the front and when I turned back to see her coming, it was one of the most ecstatic feelings the human heart could ever endure. There is no word in the English dictionary to describe it, except probably the word "Wow!" (Laughter)

And she came up to the front and your heart was in a flutter the whole time, so much so [that] when the minister tells you to salute the bride, out of sheer nervousness, you're on the verge of doing this. (Laughter) Went over for the dinner, the reception. It was grand. At the end of the reception, you know, we went over to Niagara Falls, heading off to Cape Cod. Stayed for the night at Michael's Inn. I was thrilled to get up a 2 a.m. and get her a glass of water. (Laughter)

But five years go by (Laughter) and you know, somebody has said, a rough sacrifice in America is when the electric blanket doesn't work. (Laughter) And you're lying there tucked in bed and about 2 or 3, you hear the rustle of the sheets again. She's getting up and the temptation is to cease to hear at that moment for at least one reason. She looked different.

You see, on that May 6th, 1972, she looked grand, absolutely grand. But five years later, she had some funny things in her hair at night (Laughter) which generally prompted one question, "What stations are you able to get under that influence, you see?" (Laughter) Somehow the first word that leaps to your mind is not the word "Wow!" (Laughter)

But you still love because love is stronger than merely the flutter of a heart. If there's one example I have seen in my father-in-law, it is that constant gentlemanly nature that has reinforced this in my mind--the gentleness, the kindness, the affection and the love. And all I'm saying to you young people is this; don't be deceived by merely the flutter of a heart.

Program Note:

John: We're right in the middle of some timeless wisdom today from Ravi Zacharias on "Focus on the Family." And he's sharing some principles for a great marriage and using the biblical account of Isaac and Rebekah's courtship to express those ideas. And stay tuned, because he'll be sharing what a woman really wants from her man when she's feeling blue. That's coming up in just a moment.

For now though, get a CD or audio download of this program when you get in touch or ask for a copy of Ravi's book, I, Isaac Take Thee, Rebekah. Just call us here at 1-800, the letter A and the word FAMILY: 800-232-6459. Or stop by Well, let's continue now with Ravi Zacharias on "Focus on the Family."

End of Program Note

Ravi: For love is an enormous commitment--a commitment that'll test you at some of your most vulnerable areas of spirituality, a commitment that'll force you to make choices between some very, very difficult issues that you will be faced with and a commitment that'll force you to deal with your lust, with your greed and with your pride and every area of temptation that the Bible really talks about. It demands of you that quality of commitment which Jesus uses as an analogy in His relationship to us.

Of all the analogies in this world, He takes the relationship of a bridegroom and of all the categorizations of the church, He takes the loveliest of them all and calls us His bride, as He is the bridegroom. And, "If greater love has no man than this than to lay down his life for his friend," it probably is more difficult to live a life of death than to just die in one moment. And that commitment is a constant dying to self and giving. It is hard work.f

And that's why--please hear me--when you come to that pivotal moment of decision, my suggestion to you is seek the advice of somebody you love and respect and don't try to do it on your own just because you have the romantic feelings. Get the wisdom of your minister, the wisdom of your parents, the wisdom of friends and realize that romance has to be transcended by a strong will and a degree of commitment to you.

Secondly, not only was the will involved in the process of selection, Rebekah emerges to me as a lovely woman in her kindness. I don't know if you and I have ever given thought to how much a camel drinks. You know, I'm not sure I would have wanted to give one camel her load of drink for the day. This girl said, "I'll give all 10 of them; you just relax, sir. I'll not only give you the water; I will take care of your camels, too."

The sense of chivalry and the sense of kindness that emerges. When one travels and one visits different cultures, you get into different settings; you get into different homes and one of the things that always leaps out in any relationship, if you notice a couple that is unkind in their relationship to each other.

And I want to go so far as to say there is never a reason to be unkind. There may be reasons to disagree. There may be reasons to struggle; after all, two wills are merging into one. There are constant compromises and surrenders, but there is never a reason to be unkind.

I like what Chuck Swindoll says in one of his descriptions; it's a magnificent word. He talks about "cherishing" your partner. There are times in your relationship of husband and wife--and I really don't say this to be ridiculous or funny--but a woman's mind, being what it is, there are times she will actually look at you and say to you, "I'm feeling down. I'm feeling very, very unhappy and I really can't even tell you what the reason is. All I know is that I want to be loved.

There are times when no amount of talk is what she's looking for, possibly just the putting of the arm around and that of comfort. And I've had people come into the counseling room and say this to me, that he somehow thinks I'm looking for a long speech or a long explanation or some kind of a propositional solution to the situation. She says, "I don't know what's wrong. I don't know why it is wrong. I only want to know that he loves me and that he cares for me."

It's that kind of kindness, I think, that is able to walk the second mile. I think Jesus pinpointed this in a different relationship very powerfully. When Jesus was alive, the Roman yoke was heavy upon the Jewish shoulder. And the Jews resented the Romans for their power, their dominance and their bullying of the Jewish people. They wanted a Messiah who would throw off the Roman yoke and do away with it and do it with tremendously punitive measures upon the Roman monarchy there. But Jesus didn't have that idea.

And at one point, one of the men came up to Jesus and said something like this, "Could you please tell me? There is a law in our land once that if a Roman soldier comes to me and asks me to carry his heavy arms and ammunition for him, that I, as a Jew, by law, am to walk with him one mile and carry this weight for him. Jesus, You are so strong in Your wisdom. Can You tell me the next time he comes and asks me, just by virtue of being a Jew, having his right over me, to carry his arms and ammunition, what should I do to him?" They were really looking for a kind of a punch-in-the-nose answer.

Jesus looked and said, "The next time he comes and asks you to walk with him one mile, at the end of the one mile, pause and look into his eyes and say to him, `Sir, would you mind if I carry it the second also?'" And the counter-perspective of Jesus Christ constantly kept crippling His questioners, because He moved love to its deepest recesses--the very recesses of the heart.

You see, let me give you a little humor here again. I don't know who wrote it in the United States, but there is an unwritten law in the country that says, it is always the responsibility of the man of the house to carry the garbage out. (Laughter) Isn't that true, men? I don't know where this idea was born, but wherever you go, it's always the man who's carrying the garbage out.

And when I lived in Chicago, going to Trinity, the garbage dump was about 50 yards away from where we lived. And Chicago can get pretty windy and icy. And it didn't matter what the hour was, every time I went out, my wife would always come to wish me goodbye at the door, which was fine. She'd always come with a bag of garbage. And generally the egg shells would be carefully placed right on the top.

So, what do you think, you know. On a Sunday morning, I'm going out, maybe driving 200 miles to preach. What do you do? You know, grab the garbage bag and say, "Here, give it to me!" And go over to the garbage dump and jam it into the drums while the cats and dogs are pouncing all over the place. Get into the car and slam the door and start the engine and squeal the tires and pull out of there. Pull into the church parking lot, get the "praise the Lord" syndrome hurriedly on you. (Laughter) Stand behind the pulpit and say, "Isn't it wonderful to be serving the Lord so willingly?" (Laughter)

Oh, no, no, no, no. You take the garbage bag very gently, so you don't hurt either her or the garbage. You take it, as you slide across that miserable ice, probably whistling, "Everything is beautiful in its own way." (Laughter) Put it into the drum very casually; end of mile one.

And then you go back and knock on the door and make sure she doesn't get a coronary now and say, "Honey, I still have 10 minutes to go. Would you mind if I helped you with the dishes before I left?" (Laughter) Love suffers long and is kind and the Bible says to provoke one another to good works.

Young people, this is the moment in your life--please hear me--when he who is wooing you will be at his kindest. And if you do not see that kindness in that person, watch out, for that partnership will be nourished and nurtured on the basis of a love that is not arrogant, but a love that is kind.


John: Dr. Ravi Zacharias on today's "Focus on the Family" and you'll hear the rest of his message next time as he shares principles for singles based on the story of Isaac and Rebekah's courtship as found in the Bible.

Jim: John, I'm so grateful to Ravi for allowing us to air this program over the years, not just this time. We are celebrating 40 years of ministry here at Focus and this was one way that we wanted to do that. This is the kind of advice that we don't hear enough of in our culture today. I mean, it's just, for whatever reason, we're not getting those nuggets of wisdom as often I think, as we used to.

Many singles are absolutely bombarded by worldly messages that can only lead to heartache and breakup and all the things that Ravi was discussing. Many young people have bought into the lie that physical appearance is more important than moral character. I'm sure that applies to older adults, as well.

They may also resist input from their parents or authority figures and that's kinda that separation process, that it needs to be within a healthy context. They may think themselves that they're in love and they can just run away together and everything's gonna work out fine. But now you've lost that safety net of a caring family who can speak wisdom into your heart.

Most tragically, people are taught to experiment with all kinds of sexual expression and Dr. Zacharias will get to that subject and more next time.

And because these are such important issues that directly impact how a marriage will fare of the years, Focus on the Family has a whole department dedicated to serving single adults because we want to help you walk closely with the Lord first and foremost and then help you think through the worldview issues that will perhaps even help you have a better definition of family and marriage.

John: Yeah, the Boundless team is busy at work every day, producing a podcast and a webzine that tackles common concerns of singles. And you can find out more about Boundless when you get in touch. Also ask for the book by Dr. Zacharias called I, Isaac, Take Thee, Rebekah, which includes the principles contained in this two-part message.

Jim: Let me encourage you to get a copy of this great resource by Dr. Ravi Zacharias for your teen or your young adult. I'm gonna make sure my kids read it. It will make a great gift and it's one more way to further the outreach here at Focus on the Family. Your donations make it possible for us to touch so many lives who desperately need tools and resources to pour into them. And I hope when you think of purchasing the resource, you'll do it through Focus on the Family, because the proceeds all go back into ministry. That's what we're trying to do so you can help save a marriage and help maybe even save the life of a child by purchasing a resource through the Focus on the Family online bookstore. And again, it's our way of celebrating 40 years of ministry here at Focus. Join us in the celebration.

John: And let me just say that if you can make a generous donation today, a gift of any amount, we'll send Dr. Zacharias' book to you so you can pass that along to someone. You can donate and get resources at or when you call 1-800, the letter A and the word FAMILY; 800-232-6459.

And we also have a CD or a download of this great message by Dr. Zacharias. Ask about that when you get in touch. On behalf of Jim Daly and the entire team, thanks for listening. I'm John Fuller, inviting you back next time. We'll have more wisdom from Dr. Zacharias and once again, help you and your family thrive.

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Ravi Zacharias

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Ravi Zacharias is a well-known Christian apologist and a popular public speaker who has addressed audiences around the world for more than four decades. He is a best-selling, award-winning author of numerous books including Can Man Live Without God?, The Grand Weaver and Light in the Shadow of Jihad. Zacharias is also the founder and president of Ravi Zacharias International Ministries and host of the radio programs Let My People Think and Just Thinking. He and his wife, Margaret, have three adult children and reside in Atlanta, Ga.