Which Way? Finding God's Way in the Maze of Life: Finding the Right One: Streetwise Insights From a Patriarch

Sermon by Derek Thomas on August 15, 2004

Genesis 24:1-67

The Lord’s Day Evening

August 15, 2004

Genesis 24:1-67

“Finding the Right One: Streetwise Insights From a
Patriarch”

The Reverend Dr. Derek W. H. Thomas

Now, if you have your Bibles at hand, turn with me to the
Book of Genesis, and to chapter twenty-four. This is the chapter that records
for us how Abraham sends a servant back home to his own people to secure a wife,
namely Rebekah, for his son, Isaac.

There had to be one sermon on
finding a wife in a series on guidance, and this is it! But before some of you
switch off because your circumstances tell you that’s wholly irrelevant to you
at this stage in your life, what I actually want to do is not so much see that
aspect of it, but to try and draw what I think are principles of guidance that
are found in the narrative of Abraham, Rebekah, Isaac, and this servant who
makes this wonderful and extraordinary journey.

One of the
great promises of Scripture is that God will guide us.

(Isaiah 58:11 ) — “And the
Lord will guide you continually and satisfy your desire in scorched places, and
make your bones strong. And you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring
of water whose waters do not fail.”

So what we see in this narrative which we’re about
to read together are on the one hand some very specific things that are wholly
contextualized. They need to be seen in the context of Abraham and the
patriarchs, and they definitely are not things that you and I are to do
ourselves in seeking guidance. Try putting your hand on somebody else’s thigh,
and you’ll get the jist of what I’m trying to say…and if you don’t know what
I’m talking about, it will get clear very early on in the reading tonight. But
on top of that, or in addition to that, there are very general principles of
guidance which I think we can apply to whatever situation you and I find
ourselves in: looking for a job, looking for a house, or whatever.

Let me say that there are several ways in
which Scripture itself provides for us principles of guidance. In the first
place, Scripture provides commandments and prohibitions. God makes very clear
those things which He approves of, and those things which He certainly
disapproves of. Then…we might call them principles… there are general
principles of life and behavior and responses to various contingencies that we
find ourselves in. We find that especially in the Wisdom literature, and we’ve
been hearing many such principles over the last few Lord’s Days as we’ve been
reading through the Book of Proverbs, particularly those middle chapters. This
morning, for example, we read the proverb “There is a way that seems right unto
a man, but in the end it leads to death.” That certainly is a general
principle about guidance.

But then thirdly, and more
pertinently to what we’re going to do this evening, Scripture provides for us
illustrations of guidance, illustrations imbedded in the biographies of
Scripture. And the New Testament tells us these biographies–like the life of
Abraham and like the life of Isaac, and other such biographies in
Scripture–these are also written down for us for our instruction, that we might
learn from their good and bad behavior the things that God approves of and
disapproves of. So, with that introduction we turn to Genesis, chapter
twenty-four. And before we read it together, let’s come before God in prayer.
Let’s pray together.

Our Father in heaven, once
again we bow in Your presence. We need You every hour, and especially now as we
turn to Your word. It contains things which are hard to be understood, and we
need the help and the illumination of Your Spirit, that we might not just hear
it and understand it, but that we might also do it. So bless us, we pray for
Jesus’ sake. Amen.

Genesis, chapter
twenty-four: This is God’s holy and inerrant word. Take heed as you hear it.

Now Abraham was old, advanced in age; and the LORD had blessed Abraham in every
way.
Abraham said to his servant, the oldest of his household, who had charge of all
that he owned, “Please place your hand under my thigh, and I will make you swear
by the LORD, the God of heaven and the God of earth, that you shall not take a
wife for my son from the daughters of the Canaanites, among whom I live, but you
will go to my country and to my relatives, and take a wife for my son Isaac.”
The servant said to him, “Suppose the woman is not willing to follow me to this
land; should I take your son back to the land from where you came?” Then
Abraham said to him, “Beware 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 who swore to me, saying, ‘To your descendants I
will give this land,’ He will send His angel before you, and you will 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 my oath; only do not take my son back there.” So
the servant placed his hand under the thigh of Abraham his master, and swore to
him concerning this matter. Then the servant took ten camels from the
camels of his master, and set out with a variety of good things of his master’s
in his hand; and he arose and went to Mesopotamia, to the city of Nahor. He
made the camels kneel down outside the city by the well of water at evening
time, the time when women go out to draw water. He said, “O LORD, the God of
my master Abraham, please grant me success today, and show lovingkindness to my
master Abraham. “Behold, I am standing by the spring, and the daughters of the
men of the city are coming out to draw water; now may it be that the girl
to whom I say, ‘Please let down your jar so that I may drink,’ and who answers,
‘Drink, and I will water your camels also’–may she be the one whom You have
appointed for Your servant Isaac; and by this I will know that You have shown
lovingkindness to my master.” Before he had finished speaking, behold, Rebekah
who was born to Bethuel the son of Milcah, the wife of Abraham’s brother Nahor,
came out with her jar on her shoulder. The girl was very beautiful, a
virgin, and no man had had relations with her; and she went down to the spring
and filled her jar and came up. Then the servant ran to meet her, and said,
“Please let me drink a little water from your jar.” She said, “Drink, my lord”;
and she quickly lowered her jar to her hand, and gave him a drink. Now when
she had finished giving him a drink, he said, “I will draw also for your camels
until they have finished drinking.” So she quickly emptied her jar into the
trough, and ran back to the well to draw, and she drew for all his camels.
Meanwhile, the man was gazing at her in silence, to know whether the LORD had
made his journey successful or not. When the camels had finished drinking, the
man took a gold ring weighing a half-shekel and two bracelets for her wrists
weighing ten shekels in gold, and said, “Whose daughter are you? Please tell
me, is there room for us to lodge in your father’s house?” She said to him, “I
am the daughter of Bethuel, the son of Milcah, whom she bore to Nahor.” Again
she said to him, “We have plenty of both straw and feed, and room to lodge in.”
Then the man bowed low and worshiped the LORD. He said, “Blessed be the LORD,
the God of my master Abraham, who has not forsaken His lovingkindness and His
truth toward my master; as for me, the LORD has guided me in the way to the
house of my master’s brothers.” Then the girl ran and told her mother’s
household about these things.

Amen. May God bless to us the reading of His holy and
inerrant word.

This is a beautiful, beautiful chapter. How could you not
love that story? I wish we had time…it took us fifteen minutes to read
that…I would love to have read the whole thing, even the repetition of the
events that led Abraham’s servant to find this woman. And I want us to
see there are actually two things: something on a big scale and something on a
smaller scale. There’s a microcosmic question and a macrocosmic question, if
you like.

On the big scale, there is the question ‘how is the
promise that God gave to Eve, Adam and Eve, in the Garden of Eden, in Genesis
3:15, that the seed of the woman would crush the head of Satan…how is that
promise going to be fulfilled?’ and this is part of the answer to that story.
It’s going to take the rest of the Old Testament and the New Testament to answer
that story in all of its fullness, but this event is part of the unfolding of
the narrative of redemptive history, answering the big question: what is God
doing in this world?

But it’s also answering a much smaller question, the
question that’s burdening Abraham’s heart. How is Abraham going to find a wife
for his forty-year-old son, Isaac? Especially since Abraham is, as the text
informs us in the opening verse, an old man, advanced in years. He hasn’t got
much time to see how it is that God is going to providentially bring this
about.

So there’s a big question and there’s a little question,
and I love that. Because the one question answers the question about the whole
Bible, but another question seems to relate to an ordinary family situation, of
a parent concerned about a child; a man of faith looking for guidance, stuck in
a corner, in a difficult position, not able to see how it is that God is going
to unfold His story, looking to God and to provide guidance.

And what the narrative does is bring to the
surface six principles, or six trajectories of how to discern the guidance of
God. And let’s look at those very quickly this evening.

I. Abraham reasoned.

The first thing that Abraham did was, he
reasoned. He reasoned. Isaac needed a wife.

Now, this is where we need to be careful in applying
historical material to today’s situations
. Not every father can reason
that way about his son, but in this particular case it was very clear
. God
had given a promise to Abraham that his seed was going to be as numerous as the
stars of the night sky, of the sand upon the seashore. Isaac isn’t even
married. There’s no prospect of children or stars or sand.

So, on the very surface, Abraham doesn’t need
further revelation, he doesn’t need a miracle. He doesn’t need neon signs in
the sky. He doesn’t need a bird to come down and start speaking to him in a
language that he can understand. He reasons: from the word, from the promise.
Abraham didn’t have a Bible like we have, but he had God’s word. He didn’t have
as much of God’s word as we have, but he had God’s word. He had God’s word of
promise, and from that promise, a promise specifically given in several places
in Genesis, that through him and through his descendents the blessing of God
would come, the fulfillment of God’s redemptive purposes would be brought
about. And it didn’t take an Einstein to reason, to draw the conclusion that
Isaac needed a wife. Much of the guidance that we seek begins not with
revelation out there, but it begins with our minds, our reason. We reason. We
find ourselves in certain circumstances, like Abraham found himself in certain
circumstances, and he drew the reasonable conclusion: that Isaac needed a wife.
He reasoned.

II. Secondly, he devised a plan.

Yes, the whole point of this story is the
over-ruling of God; yes, the whole point of this story is the providence of God;
yes, the whole point of this story is the provision that God makes, the
sovereignty of God. But it actually doesn’t begin there. It begins with
Abraham, and it begins with Abraham devising a plan. Again, it was a reasonable
plan. Neither Abraham nor his son Isaac were allowed to go back to the land
from which they came. God had called them out of that land. He had called them
into this land. Now, they didn’t inherit so much as a square inch, except for
the burial plot of Abraham’s dear wife, Sarah, who has died in the previous
chapter. (And isn’t that a touching little ending to the chapter? That Isaac is
now comforted after the death of his mother, because he’s married this beautiful
girl whom he loves, called Rebekah.)

So, Abraham devises this plan. The only way that
Isaac is going to get a wife…he can’t marry any of the Canaanites; that, God
had specifically prohibited…Isaac had to marry in the faith. He had to marry
someone who worshipped Jehovah, Yahweh, the Lord, the God of Abraham. And
therefore, the reasonable plan was, since Abraham was an old man, and he
probably couldn’t make the journey himself, to send his trusted servant. We
don’t know his name. It might well have been Eliezer of Damascus, who crops up
elsewhere in Genesis as a trusted servant of Abraham, and he sends him on this
long journey of several hundred miles back to the land of Mesopotamia and Nahor,
where his family are, to look for a wife for Isaac.

It was a plan. It was a reasonable plan. It was a
plan that could possibly fail, and both the servant and Abraham recognized that.
You remember one of the things that the servant says to Abraham, “Suppose she
says no? Do I then bring Isaac back here?” And Abraham says, “Absolutely not.
If she says no, you are released from this oath into which now you have
entered.” It was a plan. A plan about which Abraham had no absolute
certainty. He had no absolute guarantee. It may have been in God’s providence
to have provided a wife for Isaac in a miraculous way, but it seems to me
instructive that Abraham doesn’t depend on the miraculous. He reasons a
reasonable plan: go back to the land of my fathers and seek a wife for my son,
Isaac. So, he reasons, he devises a plan.

III. The third place, he
determined there would be no shortcuts.

He determined that there would be no shortcuts.
Now, Abraham had a besetting sin. And Abraham’s besetting sin was the tendency
to take things into his own hands when God prevaricated (as Abraham saw it) as
to the fulfillment of His promises. And you all know, of course, what I’m
referring to. I’m referring to the incident of Hagar, when God had made a
promise especially with Sarah. But there were no children, so Abraham has
relations with Hagar, and she conceives and bears a son. But it’s not the son of
promise. And Abraham and the rest of the world rue the day that Abraham made
that colossal blunder. And Abraham has learnt a lesson, and it’s the lesson
that we see emblazoned in Genesis 22, when he tries, you remember, to sacrifice
his son, Isaac. And God provides a lamb. And what is the lesson, at least one of
the lessons, of that narrative? The Lord will provide. Genesis 22:14. The
Lord will provide. And if Abraham has learned anything at all, he’s learnt
that. God will provide. And there must be no yielding to any temptation of
taking shortcuts, of taking things into my own hands and seeking to outrun and
outdo the providence of God.

Now, there were considerable problems here. Abraham
is, first of all, living in a foreign country. He’s surrounded by godless
Canaanites, whom Isaac cannot marry: the very ones who will be dispossessed by
his descendents. And he cannot leave the land and go back to his own country
and people. And Abraham is old, and he’s advanced in years and he doesn’t have
much time to do this. And all of those things might have tempted Abraham to
take a shortcut, to somehow conjecture, “Yes, Isaac needs a wife, so let me try
and outrun the providence of God.”

And the temptation, it seems to me, was brought to the
surface by the very question that the servant put to Abraham: “What if she
doesn’t come? What if she says no? What if this sensible girl says, ‘No way am
I making a journey of several hundred miles to go to live with someone who has
no real estate. He may have lovely trinkets, but he has absolutely no house in
which to dwell.’ What if she says no?” And I think God may well have been
testing Abraham at that point, just to see the resolve–the resolve of this
patriarch not to take things into his own hands and outrun the providence of
God.

God will provide. The Lord will provide. You
remember how Naomi found that so difficult to learn. The little beads in her
brain were working overtime! She could see that Ruth and Boaz were just made
for each other! So what does she do? She sends her daughter-in-law, Ruth, at
midnight, wearing “Midnight Allure” by Christian Dior, down to Boaz’s tent. Of
all the daft and silly things to do! As though Naomi just couldn’t wait to see
the providence of God unfold, and she just has to meddle in the providence of
God.

And so Abraham makes this wonderful, wonderful
resolve. And it’s a wonderful resolve, that he’s going to take no shortcuts.
This is going to be the Lord’s doing. And it’s going to be self-evidently the
Lord’s doing.

IV. The test of character.

Now, the fourth principle here is not so much
Abraham, but Abraham’s servant. But no doubt at the behest of Abraham, and
reading the mind of Abraham as this faithful servant no doubt did, that when he
gets to the well outside the city of Nahor in Mesopotamia, he comes to this
well. There’s no surprise about that. If he was going to meet some prospective
young woman, that’s the place where they would gather at evening. Not in the
daylight, but when the sun was going down, the womenfolk would come out to draw
pitchers of water. And what does he do? He sets up a test of character. A test
of character, not a “Miss Bachelorette” thing. Not a pageant, lined up with
numbers: lucky girl to get my master’s son and live a life of luxury and
business-class seats to Canaan! (Actually, they were camels….)

So what does he do? He sets up what might look to
us as a strange thing. She would come to draw water. He would ask her, “Can I
have some water?” and she would give him water, but in addition to that, she
would say, “Let me water your camels also.”’

Now girls, young girls, that’s the principle: not
just watering him, but his camels, too. What’s it doing? It’s setting up a
principle of character. This girl, this young woman, would be a woman of great
generosity, and great hospitality, and kind to strangers and foreigners.

Now, you can tell a lot about a person who’s generous to
foreigners, like me. You can tell a lot about a person who’s generous to
foreigners. It’s a test of character. It’s the mark of integrity of this young
woman, that this servant is looking for. He’s not looking for chemistry. You
know, he’s not besotted by what she looks like– although isn’t it a wonderful
thing that she is actually a beautiful girl? As though that’s a plus, you
know: oh, by the way, she’s also beautiful! But that wasn’t part of the
criterion. The criterion was purely a moral one.

And young men, let me underline this again.
Seek a life companion who has character, godly, godly character. Because that’s
the most important thing of all
. He’s looking for someone who, in the
language of the New Testament, has a meek and gentle spirit. That’s what he’s
looking for in terms of a wife for his master’s son.

V. The primacy of prayer.

The fifth thing is the primacy of prayer. Do
you note he engages in prayer? Actually at two points in the narrative… as
though Moses, when he’s writing this story puts bookends around the narrative
from verses twelve to fourteen, and again at the end of that little story from
verses twenty-six to twenty-seven…you find the servant in prayer. He
reasons, he plans, he sets up what looks like a reasonable condition of moral
integrity, but he bathes it all in prayer.

You know, there’s only so much that we can do. There’s
only so much that we can do, and there comes a point where all you can do now
is, as it were, present it before the Lord. And that’s what this servant–this
godly, faithful servant–is doing. He’s presenting it before the Lord. He’s
offering it up, his desire unto God for things that are agreeable unto the will
of God, in the name of the covenant Lord, and with confession of his
unworthiness.

And do you note, in verse twelve and again in verse
twenty-seven, there’s a key word. It might be “kindness” in your translation, it
might be “steadfast love.” If you’re reading in Hebrew, it’s hesed. It’s
one of those buzzwords in the Old Testament language, and such an important
thing. What is this servant asking the Lord for? Mercy. He’s asking for
lovingkindness. He’s saying to the Lord, ‘Don’t deal with me or with my master
as we deserve, but deal with us in mercy and deal with us in kindness. And deal
with us in patterns and trajectories that display Your covenant love and mercy.’

There’s a sense in which this prayer….oh, and I
wish I had time to look at it, but I don’t! …but there’s a sense in which
this prayer is the perfect prayer. Will you go home tonight, before you go to
bed, read that prayer of this servant. Make it your prayer. Draw out, tease
out from the prayer the principles that help you in your praying about the
specific issues of guidance that are troubling you. We have a God who answers
prayer, and don’t you see that so beautifully in this narrative?

You know, he hasn’t finished praying and he opens
his eyes–you know, maybe half one eye and half an eye, and this girl is standing
right before him. Isn’t that the most beautiful, beautiful illustration of God
answering prayer? Before he’s finished speaking, God has answered. God has
sent His angel, as Abraham had said to this servant that His angel would go
before him, and God has sent His angel and brought Rebekah. The answer to his
prayers is standing right there, and she’s very beautiful.

VI. Corroboration as a principle.

And then the sixth and final thing I wanted
to see was the importance of corroboration as a principle. It looks as
if God has answered his prayer. It looks as if God has guided; it looks as if
providence has revealed its hand, as it were. But the servant still goes
back…actually, it’s very interesting, because Rebekah leaves him standing
there with the camels by the well, and it’s the tricky brother (who’s going to
be more tricky as the story unfolds), it’s Laban who comes out and says, “Well,
come in! Why are you standing here? We’ve prepared straw and so on for your
camels, and food for you.” And when he sees that gold, I think, on Rebekah’s
neck and wrists, I think his mind is going a million directions.

But do you notice that this servant corroborates the
providence of God? He asks. He asks Laban, he asks Bethuel, Rebekah’s father;
he asks the mother. He asks, “Do you see this as the corroboration of the
providence of God?” And although there’s a sense in which all of that is very
specific to the story, there’s a sense, too, in which that is a general
principle about the guidance of God: that God doesn’t just give us personal
guidance, but He gives that guidance in the corporate fellowship of His people
.
And He gives that guidance in the collective wisdom that He gives to His
people. And it’s always the right thing. It’s always the right thing to ask
someone you love, and someone you trust, ‘do you see this as the guidance of
God, and the providence of God?’ “I will instruct you and teach you in the way
you should go. I will counsel you with My eye upon you,” Scripture says. And
that’s precisely what happens here.

That, my friends, is the promise of Scripture. It’s
a promise for you, dear Christian. Let’s seek to implement these principles and
trajectories of guidance in our own lives. Let’s come now before God in prayer.
Let’s pray.

Our Father in heaven, as we have hastily gone
through this extraordinary and beautiful story, we thank You for the promise
that surely You are a God who guides His people, and some of us need specific
guidance tonight. Things that trouble us, and we find ourselves in a corner,
tempted perhaps to take a course that looks right to us, but the end is a way of
tragedy and

death. And we pray, give us wisdom, and give us
boldness, and give us faith to do that which is wise and in accord with what you
have written. And we pray You, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, show Your mercy and
covenant faithfulness to us at all times. For Jesus’ sake. Amen.

Please stand and receive the Lord’s benediction.

Grace, mercy and peace from God our Father and the Lord
Jesus Christ be with you all. Amen.

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