Sermon: A Successful Journey

LORD, you proclaim those to be happy who meditate on your law day and night. They are like trees planted by streams of water which yield their fruit in its season and their leaves do not wither. May we be firmly planted in your word, drawing deeply from the life-giving water you provide there. May we cling to Christ, the living water, in faith, knowing that in him you have provided for us all that we need. In Jesus’ name, Amen. 

On Easter morning, bombs went off as churches were attacked in Sri Lanka, leaving hundreds dead. It was painful. We mourned with our brothers and sisters in Christ, but we could not confess surprise. The church has faced attack again and again in her history, sometimes with a bomb, sometimes with a gavel, and sometimes with a pen. She has always faced pressure from the outside. Changing laws, changing morals, changing beliefs which all signal a more open and increasing hostility toward the gospel. She has always faced external threats and we have wondered, ‘will the church continue to exist?’

The church also faces attack from within and we can easily grow concerned about the existence of the church. Will our children still be members of the church? Our grandchildren? Will the church continue to exist?

We are not alone in our wonderings and worries. We are not alone in the history of God’s people grieving loss and wondering if God will indeed provide the next generation of his people, the next generation of those who belong to the covenant community. Israel often feared for its continued existence, feared that it was but a generation away from destruction.

For the next few months, we will be exploring the story of Jacob, but this morning we will begin just a bit earlier, when the people of God wondered if God’s promises had seemed to run into a dead-end. It’s Genesis 24. You are free to turn there with me. Genesis is the first book in the Bible – Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. Genesis, chapter 24.

Before we hear God’s word, let me catch you up in the story. God had promised Abram the land of Canaan, many offspring, and that all of the nations would be blessed through him. After decades of waiting, Abram (now Abraham) and Sarah saw the first steps in the fulfillment of this promise in their old age with the birth of the miracle child, Isaac. But now Sarah is dead, Abraham is still older, and Isaac has no wife, no children. Unless Abraham can find a wife for Isaac, unless there is a mother in Israel, there will be no more offspring, no great nation, no blessing of all the peoples of the earth, no Messiah, no Jesus.

Will God provide the next generation? This is Abraham’s question as much as ours. So let us listen to God’s Word and hear what the LORD has done. Listen closely and listen well, for these are the very words of God.

Now Abraham was old, well advanced in years; and the Lord had blessed Abraham in all things. Abraham said to his servant, the oldest of his house, who had charge of all that he had, “Put your hand under my thigh and I will make you swear by the Lord, the God of heaven and earth, that you will not get a wife for my son from the daughters of the Canaanites, among whom I live, but will go to my country and to my kindred and get a wife for my son Isaac.” The servant said to him, “Perhaps the woman may not be willing to follow me to this land; must I then take your son back to the land from which you came?” Abraham said to him, “See to it that you do not take my son back there. The Lord, the God of heaven, who took me from my father’s house and from the land of my birth, and who spoke to me and swore to me, ‘To your offspring I will give this land,’ he will send his angel before you, and you shall take a wife for my son from there. But if the woman is not willing to follow you, then you will be free from this oath of mine; only you must not take my son back there.” So the servant put his hand under the thigh of Abraham his master and swore to him concerning this matter.

Then the servant took ten of his master’s camels and departed, taking all kinds of choice gifts from his master; and he set out and went to Aram-naharaim, to the city of Nahor. He made the camels kneel down outside the city by the well of water; it was toward evening, the time when women go out to draw water. And he said, “O Lord, God of my master Abraham, please grant me success today and show steadfast love to my master Abraham. I am standing here by the spring of water, and the daughters of the townspeople are coming out to draw water. Let the girl to whom I shall say, ‘Please offer your jar that I may drink,’ and who shall say, ‘Drink, and I will water your camels’—let her be the one whom you have appointed for your servant Isaac. By this I shall know that you have shown steadfast love to my master.”

Before he had finished speaking, there was Rebekah, who was born to Bethuel son of Milcah, the wife of Nahor, Abraham’s brother, coming out with her water jar on her shoulder. The girl was very fair to look upon, a virgin, whom no man had known. She went down to the spring, filled her jar, and came up. Then the servant ran to meet her and said, “Please let me sip a little water from your jar.” “Drink, my lord,” she said, and quickly lowered her jar upon her hand and gave him a drink. When she had finished giving him a drink, she said, “I will draw for your camels also, until they have finished drinking.” So she quickly emptied her jar into the trough and ran again to the well to draw, and she drew for all his camels. The man gazed at her in silence to learn whether or not the Lord had made his journey successful.

When the camels had finished drinking, the man took a gold nose-ring weighing a half shekel, and two bracelets for her arms weighing ten gold shekels, and said, “Tell me whose daughter you are. Is there room in your father’s house for us to spend the night?” She said to him, “I am the daughter of Bethuel son of Milcah, whom she bore to Nahor.” She added, “We have plenty of straw and fodder and a place to spend the night.” The man bowed his head and worshiped the Lord and said, “Blessed be the Lord, the God of my master Abraham, who has not forsaken his steadfast love and his faithfulness toward my master. As for me, the Lord has led me on the way to the house of my master’s kin.”

Then the girl ran and told her mother’s household about these things. Rebekah had a brother whose name was Laban; and Laban ran out to the man, to the spring. As soon as he had seen the nose-ring, and the bracelets on his sister’s arms, and when he heard the words of his sister Rebekah, “Thus the man spoke to me,” he went to the man; and there he was, standing by the camels at the spring. He said, “Come in, O blessed of the Lord. Why do you stand outside when I have prepared the house and a place for the camels?” So the man came into the house; and Laban unloaded the camels, and gave him straw and fodder for the camels, and water to wash his feet and the feet of the men who were with him. Then food was set before him to eat; but he said, “I will not eat until I have told my errand.” He said, “Speak on.”

So he said, “I am Abraham’s servant. The Lord has greatly blessed my master, and he has become wealthy; he has given him flocks and herds, silver and gold, male and female slaves, camels and donkeys. And Sarah my master’s wife bore a son to my master when she was old; and he has given him all that he has. My master made me swear, saying, ‘You shall not take a wife for my son from the daughters of the Canaanites, in whose land I live; but you shall go to my father’s house, to my kindred, and get a wife for my son.’ I said to my master, ‘Perhaps the woman will not follow me.’ But he said to me, ‘The Lord, before whom I walk, will send his angel with you and make your way successful. You shall get a wife for my son from my kindred, from my father’s house. Then you will be free from my oath, when you come to my kindred; even if they will not give her to you, you will be free from my oath.’

“I came today to the spring, and said, ‘O Lord, the God of my master Abraham, if now you will only make successful the way I am going! I am standing here by the spring of water; let the young woman who comes out to draw, to whom I shall say, “Please give me a little water from your jar to drink,” and who will say to me, “Drink, and I will draw for your camels also”—let her be the woman whom the Lordhas appointed for my master’s son.’

“Before I had finished speaking in my heart, there was Rebekah coming out with her water jar on her shoulder; and she went down to the spring, and drew. I said to her, ‘Please let me drink.’ She quickly let down her jar from her shoulder, and said, ‘Drink, and I will also water your camels.’ So I drank, and she also watered the camels. Then I asked her, ‘Whose daughter are you?’ She said, ‘The daughter of Bethuel, Nahor’s son, whom Milcah bore to him.’ So I put the ring on her nose, and the bracelets on her arms. Then I bowed my head and worshiped the Lord, and blessed the Lord, the God of my master Abraham, who had led me by the right way to obtain the daughter of my master’s kinsman for his son. Now then, if you will deal loyally and truly with my master, tell me; and if not, tell me, so that I may turn either to the right hand or to the left.”

Then Laban and Bethuel answered, “The thing comes from the Lord; we cannot speak to you anything bad or good. Look, Rebekah is before you, take her and go, and let her be the wife of your master’s son, as the Lord has spoken.”

When Abraham’s servant heard their words, he bowed himself to the ground before the Lord. And the servant brought out jewelry of silver and of gold, and garments, and gave them to Rebekah; he also gave to her brother and to her mother costly ornaments. Then he and the men who were with him ate and drank, and they spent the night there. When they rose in the morning, he said, “Send me back to my master.” Her brother and her mother said, “Let the girl remain with us a while, at least ten days; after that she may go.” But he said to them, “Do not delay me, since the Lord has made my journey successful; let me go that I may go to my master.” They said, “We will call the girl, and ask her.” And they called Rebekah, and said to her, “Will you go with this man?” She said, “I will.” So they sent away their sister Rebekah and her nurse along with Abraham’s servant and his men. And they blessed Rebekah and said to her,

“May you, our sister, become
thousands of myriads;
may your offspring gain possession
of the gates of their foes.”

Then Rebekah and her maids rose up, mounted the camels, and followed the man; thus the servant took Rebekah, and went his way.

Now Isaac had come from Beer-lahai-roi, and was settled in the Negeb. Isaac went out in the evening to walk in the field; and looking up, he saw camels coming. And Rebekah looked up, and when she saw Isaac, she slipped quickly from the camel, and said to the servant, “Who is the man over there, walking in the field to meet us?” The servant said, “It is my master.” So she took her veil and covered herself. And the servant told Isaac all the things that he had done. Then Isaac brought her into his mother Sarah’s tent. He took Rebekah, and she became his wife; and he loved her. So Isaac was comforted after his mother’s death.

This is the Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.

Will there be the next generation? Yes.

Why? Because, as the servant recognized, “the Lord, the God of Abraham, has not forsaken his steadfast love and his faithfulness toward his people.” Israel exists, the church exists, and continues to exist because of the steadfast love and faithfulness of the LORD. God provides. Just as Israel, upon hearing this story, was called to entrust itself and its future to the LORD, so too we, who are spiritual children of Abraham, are to entrust ourselves and our future to the LORD.

In our brief time together, I want us to see what the problem is in Genesis 24, and then see the thread that ties this story together.

First, what is the problem? Abraham is old, Sarah is gone, and Isaac has no wife. There is no mother in Israel. The covenant promise of children and a great nation seems to have hit a dead-end. So Abraham sends out his servant to find a wife for his son.

However, Abraham makes clear the servant cannot find Isaac a wife from among the Canaanites in the land surrounding them. God has called them out from among the nations. God has separated them from the people. To marry into the Canaanites would be merge the people of God with those God has called them out of. There is also likely concerns of religious temptation here, that if Isaac marries a Canaanite woman he would be tempted to worship their gods, just as Israel often did in its history as its tried to merge with the Canaanites.

So Abraham cannot do that and he very directly commands his servant not to get a wife from among the Canaanites. So where else can Abraham go? He sends the servant back to his family, back to his father’s house. This will be the best place to look for a wife for Isaac. However, Isaac must never be allowed to go back to the land itself. Even if it means that the potential bride will not come with the servant, Isaac must not go back to the land where Abraham was born. God called Abraham out of that land, as Abraham puts it, the LORD ‘took him from his father’s house, from the land of his birth.’ God called Abraham out and to send Isaac back to live there would be to deny that calling of Abraham. Abraham is a new man after his calling by God. There is no going back.

So Abraham cannot find a woman who is from this land, nor can Isaac return to the land of Abraham’s family. So Abraham’s trusted servant is sent out to to make the three hundred mile journey to Haran, the land of Abraham’s family and find a girl who will come back to marry Isaac. This is a challenging task to set the servant, but Abraham assures the servant that “The LORD…will send his angel before you, and you shall take a wife for my son from there.” The task may look near impossible, but God will go ahead of him.

This three hundred mile (and months long) journey is covered in one verse, but the following evening and morning takes 50 verses to describe. Every step we wonder whether the LORD will make his journey successful.

How will the servant know who is the right woman? He asks for a sign so he would know the LORD’s will. He asks for a woman would not only give water to a stranger, but offer to water his ten camels. One commentator I found did the math on what Rebekah was offering to do: “A camel that has gone a few days without water can drink as much as twenty-five gallons. Ancient jars used for drawing water usually held no more than three gallons. In other words, this offer involves perhaps from eighty to a hundred drawings from the well.” To offer this would be a clear sign, but also a demonstration of her character. Yet, God provides. Before he even finishes speaking, we are told, there is Rebekah. He asks for water, she gives and offers to water his camels.

There is a second obstacle: Will this girl be from the right family? He asks her family and learns that she is from the household of Nahor, Abraham’s brother. He is invited into the house, where he recalls the difficult task he was set, the sign he asked for, and how God had provided.

Yet, there is another obstacle. Will this girl’s family let her marry a man she has not met on the word of a stranger? Then Laban and Bethuel answered, “The thing comes from the LORD, we cannot speak to you anything bad or good. Look, Rebekah is before you, take her and go, and let her be the wife of your master’s son, as the LORD has spoken.” Yes, God provides.

There is but another obstacle: Will she be willing to go back to the land of Canaan with Abraham’s servant? And they called Rebekah, and said to her, “Will you go with this man?” She said, “I will.” Yes, God provides.

There is one last obstacle: Is she truly a fitting wife for Isaac? He took Rebekah and she became his wife and he loved her. Yes, God provides.

Throughout the story of Isaac and Rebekah, God’s steadfast love is evident. The servant prayed beside the well that God would show his steadfast love to Abraham by providing the right woman for Isaac to ensure the existence and future of his people. Every obstacle, no matter how daunting was overcome.

As Israel later read this story, they would have seen that their existence hung in the balance. If Isaac had married a Canaanite, there would have been no Israel. If he had gone back to the land of Haran, there would have been no Israel. If God had not guided the servant to Rebekah, if Rebekah had refused to go, there would have been no Israel. Yet God worked to provide Rebekah, a woman not just from the right family, but of the right character.

Just as Israel would have heard this story and been called to trust its life and its future to the steadfast love of God, so Jesus encourages the church to trust itself into God’s providential care. We may be concerned today about growing materialism within the church and the secularism that batters it from without. We may wonder about our children and grandchildren. But Jesus calls us to trust anew that God will provide for his church, just as he provided Rebekah.

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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