The books of Genesis through Deuteronomy serve to give Israel, God’s people in the Old Testament, a look at who they are, where they have come from, how they have arrived where they are, God’s great partiality toward them, and what God expects of them.
They receive these books as they are about to enter the land (called Canaan) God promised to their ancestors hundreds of years earlier. The people they are going to encounter there live lives morally repulsive to God, and in punishment for their behavior, God is going to take their land and give it to Israel.
Moral infection is a real threat to Israel. God will tell Israel she must kill the Canaanites or drive them from the land. She must not live among them, and especially she must not inter-marry with them. Thus far in the Genesis story, the people of Canaan are seen to move toward increasing wickedness. That’s why both Abraham and Isaac insist that their sons not marry Canaanite women. As you read the story of Jacob’s wives and their conflicts, you may well wonder how much worse Canaanite women could possibly have been! In both Abraham and Isaac’s eyes, they were a lot worse.
Likely Abraham, viewing the available women for his son — and partial to his own choice — believed the geographical origin of Sarah was the best place to get a wife. Isaac, considering the origin of his own mother and his wife, likely believed geography had something to do with it. The women from the “old country” were better. But what none of them seemed to understand was that it was not geographical origin, but spirituality that counted.
Selecting a mate is decision with life-long consequences and implications. Looks, education, and background are not nearly as important as spirituality. First and foremost must be a “fear of the Lord.” This is the beginning place. Historically, such a quality could not be found in Canaan. Israel was to keep that in mind as she entered the land. Looking for a spouse requires making this quality first priority. After marriage, being this kind of person (both husbands and wives) must be job #1.