[To learn more about the annual Evangelical Sunday School Lesson Commentary, visit www.pathwaybookstore.com.]
At its heart, the story of Abraham is the story of God's sovereignty over the lives of those with whom He enters a covenant. From the beginning of their journey together, Abraham learned there was no use trying to discern the future. This new God offered few clues into how His promises would come to pass. So because Abraham was freed to take his focus off of his circumstances, he could fully focus on Yahweh. He could place his hope and faith in God Almighty. And this is exactly what he did. At times, his steadfast faith appeared to be making no real difference in the everyday situations of life. He still had to deal with famine, war, childlessness, violence, destruction, temptation, infidelity, and marital problems. An outsider might have wondered how on earth Abraham's God was doing him any good, or perhaps assumed that God had turned against the wandering nomad. But Abraham knew better. As he continued to place his faith in Yahweh, his life maintained a firm course.
We accept God's sovereignty over the routine decisions of our lives when we put into action a major principle from the life of Abraham. His life shows us that for God, the journey is just as important as the destination. God was clear on the definition of the destination of Abraham's life from the very beginning. When He initially called Abraham, He laid it out: Abraham was to become the father of a great nation. This destination was fleshed out in greater detail as he continued to walk with God, adding the details of the blood covenant, including animal sacrifice and circumcision. But even with these additions, the destination was clear. What seemed perpetually unclear, however, was the landscape of the journey. It was full of twists, turns, and unexpected occurrences. Yet it was the faith necessary for the journey that made the destination realizable in the first place. As Abraham built his faith through the ordinary decisions of life, day after day, year after year, his character was shaped so that he could reach the destination. When we recognize God's sovereignty and seek to mold our decisions to Him, we also will see His will come to pass in our lives.
I. FAITH FOR THE NEXT GENERATION (Genesis 24:1-9)
One of the most ominous scriptures in the entire Bible occurs in Judges 2:10: "After that whole generation had been gathered to their fathers, another generation grew up, who knew neither the Lord nor what he had done for Israel" (NIV). This sad commentary on the period of Israel's history that followed Joshua and the conquest of the Promised Land is a warning for all generations of believers. If the faith is not intentionally and carefully passed along, it will die, and generations will experience suffering, confusion, and heartbreak as a result. In Genesis 24, Abraham is determined to not allow this in his lineage. He has been through too much with Yahweh to let it come to nothing.
A. Abraham Prepares to Pass on the Faith (vv. 1-4)
1. And Abraham was old, and well stricken in age: and the Lord had blessed Abraham in all things.
2. And Abraham said unto his eldest servant of his house, that ruled over all that he had, Put, I pray thee, thy hand under my thigh:
3. And I will make thee swear by the Lord, the God of heaven, and the God of the earth, that thou shalt not take a wife unto my son of the daughters of the Canaanites, among whom I dwell:
4. But thou shalt go unto my country, and to my kindred, and take a wife unto my son Isaac.
The chapter begins this time not with Yahweh giving new instruction to Abraham, but with Abraham acting on his own. We have gotten used to a word of the Lord prompting Abraham to act. But now Abraham has the experience with God and maturity to move in the right direction without a specific mandate.
Verse 1 contains a potent summary of the life of the man who, at this point, needs no more of an introduction. His specific age is not given, for he isn't identified by his age but by his relationship with the Lord. Every aspect of Abraham's life has been touched by God. What an incredible testimony to take to his grave! But for Abraham, this testimony was inadequate unless his descendants experienced the same blessing. Therefore, he gets proactive about ensuring that this will really happen.
Verse 2 introduces a solemn oath. Abraham instructs his chief servant to place his hand under his thigh, near his genitals. As mentioned in the discussion about the covenant sign of circumcision, the male sex organ was culturally significant in that day as the symbol of offspring and fruitfulness. A man's honor and the value of his life were based on the nature of his offspring. Therefore, when the most sacred of oaths were taken, one party would place his hand on or near the genitals of the other. This symbolized the gravity of the situation. For if the oath were broken, a curse would follow the lineage of the one breaking it.
Passages like this give hints as to why Abraham was considered to have lived out the tenets of the Law even before it was given (Genesis 26:5), for so much of the nomad's life reflects the later commandments in the Torah. In this case, Abraham establishes firm purity norms for his offspring by attempting to keep them separate from Canaanite culture. Abraham's oath with his chief servant became normative for the later Jewish communities in at least three ways. First, it set a precedent of holiness, defined as being consecrated and separated to the Lord. The call from Yahweh to "be holy, because I am holy," occurs throughout the Pentateuch, especially in Leviticus, and called the community to emerge from the surrounding Canaanite peoples as one consecrated to God alone.
Second, Abraham's oath set a precedent for Jewish marriage laws. Although he was living in Canaan, as commanded by God, he did not want to join his clan to any of its peoples through marriage. This would not only result in an automatic alliance, but would run the risk of introducing Canaanite religion into Abraham's offspring, thus leading them into paganism. He would have none of that, so he sent his servant back to his own country in Haran (Genesis 12:4-5). In the ancient world, interfamily marriages were typical. These marriages often took place between cousins, or between non-blood relatives who were considered part of the family clan by virtue of their connection to one of its households. As Israel grew into a nation, of course, interfamily marriages would be unnecessary, but the injunction against intermarriage with the Canaanites remained loud and clear. Both Moses and Joshua ardently commanded the people to not allow either their daughters or sons to intermarry with them (Deuteronomy 7:3; Joshua 23:12-13). They knew it was a primary path to personal and national idolatry.
Third, Abraham 's example remained a template for Israel even in their second settlement of the Promised Land. Recall that when Babylon sacked Jerusalem in 587 B.C., the Jews were exiled to Babylon. That is, they were forced to leave their land and plant roots in that pagan nation. However, when Persia defeated Babylon, King Darius allowed the Jews to return to their own land and resettle Jerusalem, led by such prominent leaders as Nehemiah and Ezra. Ezra in particular turned to the ancient Abrahamic example about intermarriage and consecration to help Israel to a new start, commanding them, "Separate yourselves from the peoples around you and from your foreign wives" (Ezra 10:11, NIV).
So the chief servant's solemn oath with Abraham was not only for their time; instead, it lay the moral foundation for the nation of Israel throughout history. Because Abraham was careful to prepare for future generations, he was rewarded with faithfulness by his chief servant and by Yahweh.
B. Abraham Prepares to Pass on the Covenant (vv. 5-9)
(Genesis 24:5-9 is not included in the printed text.)
The servant, perhaps taken aback by the intense charge given to him by Abraham, fired off a poignant question. Haran was a long way (hundreds of miles), and Abraham had not been back there in decades. Why should he assume that a family there would give up a daughter to risk her life on the long journey back, then make a home so far away from the life she had always known? Abraham was blunt. His son should not set foot in Haran at any point, under any circumstances. In order to explain his refusal to compromise, Abraham rehearsed the faithfulness of God in his life. The recounting centered on the covenant God made with him when he brought him out of Haran in the first place. Just as Yahweh made an oath with Abraham, so Abraham extended an oath to the chief servant. He should not be worried about such details, for the Lord would send a messenger to help him. If he could not convince a woman to return with him, the oath was null and void, except for the promise to never allow Isaac to take one step out of the Promised Land. The oath was sworn, and it was binding. The covenant would be passed on.
II. A SPECIFIC PRAYER OF FAITH (Genesis 24:10-28)
Prayer has been a major part of Abraham's spiritual maturity and life journey, but in the story of Rebekah we are allowed to glimpse the effects of his prayer life on the members of his larger household. Abraham's offspring would later turn to such prayers to learn the ins and outs of communicating with God. Although much attention has been given in recent years to the prayer of Jabez (1 Chronicles 4:10), Genesis 24 records an equally powerful prayer by a nameless servant of Abraham (probably Eliezer—see Genesis 15:2).
A. A Servant's Prayer (vv. 10-14)
10. And the servant took ten camels of the camels of his master, and departed; for all the goods of his master were in his hand: and he arose, and went to Mesopotamia, unto the city of Nahor.
11. And he made his camels to kneel down without the city by a well of water at the time of the evening, even the time that women go out to draw water.
12. And he said, O Lord God of my master Abraham, I pray thee, send me good speed this day, and shew kindness unto my master Abraham.
13. Behold, I stand here by the well of water; and the daughters of the men of the city come out to draw water:
14. And let it come to pass, that the damsel to whom I shall say, Let down thy pitcher, I pray thee, that I may drink; and she shall say, Drink, and I will give thy camels drink also: let the same be she that thou hast appointed for thy servant Isaac; and thereby shall I know that thou hast shewed kindness unto my master.
The servant understood that the entire covenant between Yahweh and Abraham now rested on his shoulders. If Isaac was forced to take a wife from the clans of Canaan, then the promise of Abraham's offspring growing into a consecrated nation was threatened. His master had entrusted him with his dying wish, and with their oath ringing in his ears he set out across the wilderness.
He providentially arrived at dusk, when women would come and draw water to be used for the evening meal. Foreigners were not always welcome in small villages, and this foreigner had traveled a great distance. Also, he was only claiming to be a representative of his master. What if the people of the clan did not believe him? What if they thought he was a spy or an impostor?
Overwhelmed by his task and its nonexistent margin of error, the servant began to beseech Yahweh for guidance. Notice that he addressed the Lord as the "God of my master Abraham" (v. 12), and he unselfishly prayed based on the merits of Abraham. He told God that he had placed himself in the perfect position to view the daughters of the townspeople, but he had no idea which one he should approach. So he prayed, "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'" (v. 14, NIV).
The servant wanted things clear-cut, in unambiguous black and white. The girl that freely offered to water his camels, without any prodding, was to be the one. The servant even stated the specific phrase that he would like Yahweh to make sure that she uttered. Although a bit problematic as a model of prayer for consistent followers of Christ today, the specificity of the prayer is a wonderful example for us. We may rarely receive specific signs that quickly and easily unveil God's will for us, but we can pray specifically for help in times of need, just like Abraham's servant. We can know that God hears the smallest details we bring to His throne.
B. A Speedy Answer (vv. 15-28)
15. And it came to pass, before he had done speaking, that, behold, Rebekah came out, who was born to Bethuel, son of Milcah, the wife of Nahor, Abraham's brother, with her pitcher upon her shoulder.
19. And when she had done giving him drink, she said, I will draw water for thy camels also, until they have done drinking.
26. And the man bowed down his head, and worshipped the Lord.
27. And he said, Blessed be the Lord God of my master Abraham, who hath not left destitute my master of his mercy and his truth: I being in the way, the Lord led me to the house of my master's brethren.
No sooner had the chief servant finished uttering this simple prayer than he glimpsed a young woman carrying a jar. The writer gives us information about the woman that the chief servant did not know. In fact, he wouldn't have even known her name. She was attractive, but what exactly drew the servant to her? Was it a gleam in her eye, a bounce in her step, or just something indefinable about her that got the servant's attention? We do not know. However, even he himself must have been surprised by how quickly things were shaping up. She emerged before his prayer was even completed. The promise of Scripture is certainly not that we will always see God's answer to our prayer immediately, but that He does hear our prayers the moment they are spoken. Sometimes, His answer appears over time. Sometimes, the answer is a simple "no." But occasionally, we find the answer to our prayers immediately.
The scene played out exactly as the chief servant had imagined it in his prayer. Hurrying to meet her before she returned to the house, he asked for a drink and then waited for her fateful reply. Finally, after he drank, she hospitably offered water for his camels. In fact, she watered every one of them. This involved considerable work, for wells at this time were often dug like mines, or found naturally in caves, so that in order to get water one would have to walk a considerable distance downhill, then back uphill carrying a heavy, full water jar. As Rebekah worked ardently at offering the man such authentic hospitality, the chief servant watched her in silence. At some point, he knew for certain that Yahweh had chosen her to return with him to Isaac. In response to this revelation, he withdrew costly gold jewelry from his supplies, presented the pieces to her, then asked about her identity. She immediately offered shelter both for him and his animals. In response to this uncommon find, the chief servant bowed down and worshiped Yahweh, pronouncing a blessing toward the God of Abraham. Rebekah, however, ran to her home to tell her parents about this mysterious and generous visitor.
III. FAITH TO ACCEPT GOD'S WILL (Genesis 24:50-61)
After accepting the wonderful hospitality of Rebekah's family, but before he would eat, Abraham's chief servant lay out his proposition. He impressed them with Abraham's résumé by including the details about his exorbitant wealth and his miraculously born son (vv. 34-36). He then recounted his prayer to Yahweh, and the entire scene at the well (vv. 37-48). He spared no detail in letting them know that he was genuine, and he asked for their reply to bring to his master (v. 49).
A. Celebration of God's Providence (vv. 50-54)
50. Then Laban and Bethuel answered and said, The thing proceedeth from the Lord: we cannot speak unto thee bad or good.
51. Behold, Rebekah is before thee, take her, and go, and let her be thy master's son's wife, as the Lord hath spoken.
52. And it came to pass, that, when Abraham's servant heard their words, he worshipped the Lord, bowing himself to the earth.
53. And the servant brought forth jewels of silver, and jewels of gold, and raiment, and gave them to Rebekah: he gave also to her brother and to her mother precious things.
54. And they did eat and drink, he and the men that were with him, and tarried all night; and they rose up in the morning, and he said, Send me away unto my master.
Rebekah's brother, Laban, was drawn to the mysterious visitor at the spring when he saw the costly gifts he gave to his sister. After hearing the chief servant's story, however, his heart was softened from selfish opportunism to the recognition that God was truly at work here, and His work was greater than any of them.
Rebekah's father and brother did not directly answer the chief servant. They were simply so overwhelmed by the opportunity to have their family explicitly used for Yahweh's purposes that they readily submitted to what God was doing. The entire process had been undeniably directed by God, and who were they to object to His will? Therefore, they humbly assented.
The chief servant had been astonished by the entire experience. Perhaps he was pessimistic at first, but God had far exceeded his expectations. He threw himself on the ground to give thanks to Yahweh, knowing that his sacred mission was almost accomplished. But before the next segment began, the servant knew it was time to celebrate. He brought out expensive jewelry and clothes for Rebekah, her mother, and her brother. The chief servant, his traveling companions and Rebekah's family ate and drank together.
This celebration was indicative of two important aspects of ancient marriage rites. First, in order to enter into a marriage contract, a dowry was a must. This is due to the fact that marriage was not primarily considered the joining of a man to a woman, but of a family to a family, a clan to a clan. Hence, the chief servant feared that no family there would join to Abraham's because it was so far removed, and so he spared no degree of detail in explaining his story to the family. To join oneself to a family far away was virtually unheard of. Second, the eating and the drinking also carried weighty significance, since feasting symbolized open, familial fellowship. The fact that Rebekah's family would eat and drink with Abraham's servants implied that the households were ready to be united in alliance. But there is still one more link in the chain necessary to complete the union.
B. The Covenant Remains Pure (vv. 55-61)
(Genesis 24:55-57 is not included in the printed text.)
58. And they called Rebekah, and said unto her, Wilt thou go with this man? And she said, I will go.
59. And they sent away Rebekah their sister, and her nurse, and Abraham's servant, and his men.
60. And they blessed Rebekah, and said unto her, Thou art our sister, be thou the mother of thousands of millions, and let thy seed possess the gate of those which hate them.
61. And Rebekah arose, and her damsels, and they rode upon the camels, and followed the man: and the servant took Rebekah, and went his way.
The celebration was the easy part, considering all the costly gifts, food and drink. But now it was decision time and the painful break had to be made. Rebekah's family knew what was at stake. If they allowed her to leave with the servant, they would probably never see her again. They would never know if she even lived to see her new groom. They would never know what kind of man Isaac was. It was much too risky, so they begged the chief servant to stay 10 more days. But he was on a mission, and he would not waste time. God's plan now hinges on the answer of the girl herself. "So they called Rebekah and asked her, ‘Will you go with this man?' ‘I will go,' she said" (v. 58, NIV).
Her response translates "I will go" from a single Hebrew word, halak. With one word, she took the greatest risk imaginable, pledging herself in marriage to a man she had never met, from a family she had never seen, who left her land long before she was born. Girls were often married when they reached sexual maturity, so Rebekah was likely a young teenager. In response to her remarkable act of faith, her household blessed her with a blessing of fruitfulness, foreshadowing the fact that God's covenant with Abraham would find fulfillment through her progeny. She still stands today as a wonderful model of what it means to faithfully and radically accept God's will.
The life of faith is primarily a life of discerning and accepting God's will. Abraham had walked with God for many years learning this truth, but his servant experienced it in a single situation. The fact that Abraham faithfully passed on specific instructions to the chief servant regarding Isaac's marriage reflected Abraham's concern to pass on his faith to the next generation. Without their combined efforts to secure Isaac a bride who was faithful to Yahweh, their faith would not last long. But due to their obedience to God, Abraham's descendants grew into the great nation of Israel, just as Yahweh had promised.
GOLDEN TEXT CHALLENGE
"COMMIT THY WAY UNTO THE LORD; TRUST ALSO IN HIM; AND HE SHALL BRING IT TO PASS" (Psalm 37:5).
To commit our ways unto the Lord is to commit to Him everything of which we are masters—our futures, our desires, our achievements; and likewise, those things that we cannot master—our failures, our mistakes, and the circumstances in which we find ourselves. Commitment means the dethronement of our selfish wills as we completely turn our lives over to Him who is able to accomplish all things.
Trusting implicitly in His greatness, we find that the burdens of life cease to be ours and become His. We are changed from prisoners shackled by life's problems to soldiers who see their Captain doing battle for them. Trusting God is simply taking Him at His Word and believing He will do that which He has promised. It is faith in action. The effectiveness of trust depends on the object of trust. But He who created us and sustains our existence will certainly bring to pass within us the promises of His Word.
To learn more about the annual Evangelical Sunday School Lesson Commentary, visit www.pathwaybookstore.com.