HOPE CHAPEL - Sunday, March 7, 2021
Teaching Series - “Our Family Tree–Through the Bible in 2021"
Weekly Topic - “Isaac & Rebekah…and the Faithful Servant Who Brought Them Together”
Text – Genesis 24
Whenever you read a good book, or watch certain movies, do you ever find yourself being so immersed that you feel like you become part of the story or that you really ‘get’ a particular character? Today’s story from Genesis 24 is a good one and you may be able to relate to any one of its many characters—maybe the aging Abraham who is trying to put things in order for his son before he dies; maybe the still grieving Isaac, who has lost his mother when he was 37 years old and feels like there’s been a hole in his heart ever since; maybe the beautiful and young Rebekah, who after being given away to be married to her cousin, sight unseen, doesn’t hesitate to embark on a journey that will take her to places unknown and quite probably never to return; or maybe you can see yourself in Laban, who had learned not to look a gift horse in the mouth and was quick to find a way to benefit from his sister’s quickly arranged marriage…but there’s one more character, that I would like to suggest we all need to learn from—Abraham’s faithful servant, Eliezer of Damascus.
The servant in Genesis 24, around whom this story revolves, remains unnamed; however, we do know that he was Abraham’s “oldest servant, the man in charge of his household” (Genesis 24:2). This was the man Abraham was going to entrust with a most sacred charge; a task which Abraham knew he might not even live to see fulfilled. He couldn’t give the task he was proposing to just anyone. Earlier in Abraham’s story, he struggles to appreciate God’s great generosity to him because he has no son. He complains, “O Sovereign Lord, what good are all your blessings when I don’t even have a son? Since you’ve given me no children, Eliezer of Damascus, a servant in my household, will inherit all my wealth” (Genesis 15:2). With no heir, the servant in charge of his household would inherit Abraham’s great wealth at his death. Most scholars agree, it is to this servant, Eliezer of Damascus—the servant whom Abraham had come to rely on and trust implicitly—that he gives his most important task to in the 24th chapter.
ABRAHAM’S FAITHFUL SERVANT – Genesis 24:1-11
“Abraham was now a very old man, and the Lord had blessed him in every way. 2 One day Abraham said to his oldest servant, the man in charge of his household, ‘Take an oath by putting your hand under my thigh. 3 Swear by the Lord, the God of heaven and earth, that you will not allow my son to marry one of these local Canaanite women. 4 Go instead to my homeland, to my relatives, and find a wife there for my son Isaac.’
5 The servant asked, ‘But what if I can’t find a young woman who is willing to travel so far from home? Should I then take Isaac there to live among your relatives in the land you came from?’
6 ‘No!’ Abraham responded. ‘Be careful never to take my son there. 7 For the Lord, the God of heaven, who took me from my father’s house and my native land, solemnly promised to give this land to my descendants. He will send his angel ahead of you, and he will see to it that you find a wife there for my son. 8 If she is unwilling to come back with you, then you are free from this oath of mine. But under no circumstances are you to take my son there.’
9 So the servant took an oath by putting his hand under the thigh of his master, Abraham. He swore to follow Abraham’s instructions. 10 Then he loaded ten of Abraham’s camels with all kinds of expensive gifts from his master, and he traveled to distant Aram-naharaim. There he went to the town where Abraham’s brother Nahor had settled. 11 He made the camels kneel beside a well just outside the town. It was evening, and the women were coming out to draw water.”
Abraham was putting the continuing fulfillment of God’s promise—to make him into a great nation through his son Isaac—into the hands of this servant. Their brief discussion demonstrates that Abraham recognized that he might not survive to see the task fulfilled. He makes his final wishes clear and has Eliezer vow not to permit Isaac to marry a Canaanite woman, nor to take Isaac out of the land in search for a wife amongst Abraham’s own family. If no young woman is found, who is willing to travel to Isaac away from her family, then Eliezer would be released.
There was a definite possibility that no young woman would be found, who would agree to make such a trip, as it was certain to be one way only. The distance between Hebron, where Abraham currently resided, and Haran, the land he had left, appears to be about 500 miles; some scholars have suggested that though it was 500 miles from point to point, the distance might have been closer to 900 miles if the most common travel routes were used. This was no quick trip. At the minimum, it is likely that it took two weeks, each way.
Eliezer does not hesitate. After asking a couple of clarifying questions, he agrees to the vow he is being asked to make, promising to follow Abraham’s instructions. [I have included a link in the further study section for anyone wishing to more closely examine the phrase “under his thigh” and its significance.] He loads up ten camels with provisions for the road and gifts for the sought-after bride and her family; he takes some other servants along to manage the camel train and for some added protection against potential bandits; then heads off on what is sure to be a grueling and potentially dangerous trip. He has been given a task and takes the necessary steps to faithfully serve his master, Abraham.
When applying adjectives to your relationship with your master, God, does ‘faithfulness’ make the list? Trustworthy? There is a reason Abraham chose this man to find the woman who would become his son’s wife…he was entirely reliable; he would not deviate from Abraham’s wishes; he would give it his best effort. Followers of Jesus are also called his ‘servants’ and one of the attributes He most values amongst his followers is faithfulness. In Matthew 24, Jesus encouraged his listeners to be faithful servants, always at his work, prepared for his return. Those who are found to be faithful will receive a reward; all others, punishment.
But back to Eliezer…
SHARED ABRAHAM’S FAITH – Genesis 24:12-14
“12 ‘O Lord, God of my master, Abraham,’ he prayed. ‘Please give me success today, and show unfailing love to my master, Abraham. 13 See, I am standing here beside this spring, and the young women of the town are coming out to draw water. 14 This is my request. I will ask one of them, “Please give me a drink from your jug.” If she says, “Yes, have a drink, and I will water your camels, too!”—let her be the one you have selected as Isaac’s wife. This is how I will know that you have shown unfailing love to my master.’”
Eliezer had the same faith in God as his master, Abraham. He did not believe just because it was expected of all the members of the household, but he had witnessed God’s hand for himself in the lives of the family he served. But how on earth could he be expected to find the perfect woman for Isaac? He was under tremendous pressure to get it right.
Now, I am certain that he has been praying the whole time over the course of this trip. I am also certain that the enormity of what he’s been asked to do has fully settled in. But we are told he now asks a very specific request. He arrives at the town’s well and prays for a sign from God. He did not hesitate to rely on God…I wonder if we would dare be so confidently specific?
Now I am not advocating that every request we make of God follow this example; we can develop a bad habit of looking for and finding ‘signs’ that simply don’t exist and ignoring the ones that do. Allowing circumstances to dictate our actions can be tricky and should not be used exclusively as a ‘sign from God.’ But in this particular request of Eliezer’s, God obliges.
QUICK TO GIVE CREDIT – Genesis 24:15-27
“Before he had finished praying, he saw a young woman named Rebekah coming out with her water jug on her shoulder. She was the daughter of Bethuel, who was the son of Abraham’s brother Nahor and his wife, Milcah. 16 Rebekah was very beautiful and old enough to be married, but she was still a virgin. She went down to the spring, filled her jug, and came up again. 17 Running over to her, the servant said, ‘Please give me a little drink of water from your jug.’
18 ‘Yes, my lord,’ she answered, ‘have a drink.’ And she quickly lowered her jug from her shoulder and gave him a drink. 19 When she had given him a drink, she said, ‘I’ll draw water for your camels, too, until they have had enough to drink.’ 20 So she quickly emptied her jug into the watering trough and ran back to the well to draw water for all his camels.
21 The servant watched her in silence, wondering whether or not the Lord had given him success in his mission. 22 Then at last, when the camels had finished drinking, he took out a gold ring for her nose and two large gold bracelets for her wrists.
23 ‘Whose daughter are you?’ he asked. ‘And please tell me, would your father have any room to put us up for the night?’
24 ‘I am the daughter of Bethuel,’ she replied. ‘My grandparents are Nahor and Milcah. 25 Yes, we have plenty of straw and feed for the camels, and we have room for guests.’
26 The man bowed low and worshiped the Lord. 27 ‘Praise the Lord, the God of my master, Abraham,’ he said. ‘The Lord has shown unfailing love and faithfulness to my master, for he has led me straight to my master’s relatives.’”
“Before he had even finished praying,” God brought Rebekah to Eliezer’s attention. She didn’t approach him, but there was something about her that caused Abraham’s servant to run over to her. He asked her for a drink, which she quickly made available, then made her offer to water his ten camels. Fun fact: A thirsty camel can drink up to 30 gallons or over 100 litres of water in 15 minutes. There were ten camels. So, depending on how thirsty the animals were, Rebekah may have hauled the equivalent of 300 gallons or 1000 litres of water…or in other words 1000 kg or if you prefer the Imperial system, 2200 lbs!
I suspect Eliezer must have initially been somewhat skeptical then absolutely astounded by God’s quick response, “Could it really be that easy?” Apparently, it was! After watching her fully complete the job, he gives her some jewelry in payment then asks whose family she belongs to. Can’t you almost hear his jaw hit the ground when she tells him that she is the grand-daughter of Abraham’s brother?
This is no mere coincidence and Eliezer’s immediate response is one of worship. All doubt has been erased. When God answers our prayers, are we quick to recognize his handiwork? Who gets credit? I have noticed that we often only credit God with the big stuff—the stuff of miracles—when no other explanation is possible. Otherwise, we can be tempted to give credit to others, any number of professionals or even ourselves. Instead of saying ‘thank you,’ we can be guilty of missing his help entirely…‘Oh don’t worry about it God. It’s taken care of.’ We may even chalk it up to coincidence? Not Eliezer!
Rebekah rushes home to tell her parents the story and her brother Laban, having seen the golden jewelry, is quick to go and extend the family’s hospitality.
UNDISTRACTED FROM HIS PURPOSE – Genesis 24:32-33, 49-56
“So the man went home with Laban, and Laban unloaded the camels, gave him straw for their bedding, fed them, and provided water for the man and the camel drivers to wash their feet. 33 Then food was served. But Abraham’s servant said, ‘I don’t want to eat until I have told you why I have come’…Then he proceeds to tell them the whole story.
49 So tell me—will you or won’t you show unfailing love and faithfulness to my master? Please tell me yes or no, and then I’ll know what to do next.’
50 Then Laban and Bethuel replied, ‘The Lord has obviously brought you here, so there is nothing we can say. 51 Here is Rebekah; take her and go. Yes, let her be the wife of your master’s son, as the Lord has directed.’
52 When Abraham’s servant heard their answer, he bowed down to the ground and worshiped the Lord. 53 Then he brought out silver and gold jewelry and clothing and presented them to Rebekah. He also gave expensive presents to her brother and mother. 54 Then they ate their meal, and the servant and the men with him stayed there overnight.
But early the next morning, Abraham’s servant said, ‘Send me back to my master.’
55 ‘But we want Rebekah to stay with us at least ten days,’ her brother and mother said. ‘Then she can go.’
56 But he said, ‘Don’t delay me. The Lord has made my mission successful; now send me back so I can return to my master.’”
Eliezer is undeterred from his mission—first he refuses to eat before being able to explain his purpose. Then the very next day, after the successful negotiations of the previous day, he is ready to begin the return trip right away. Here’s an opportunity for Eliezer to enjoy a day or two off in Haran before heading back to the open road …hadn’t he earned it? But what does he say? “No thank you!”
There was nothing in this whole venture for Eliezer, except the gratitude of his master’s house. He had been given a job, but at this point it is only half completed. He will not rest until he has fulfilled his vow to Abraham. Laban attempts to distract him from his purpose, possibly in an attempt to enrich his family further with the treasures that Eliezer had brought. But Eliezer wants none of it. The first half of his journey has been successful, but his job isn’t done until he has safely delivered the new bride to Isaac.
Are we as eager as Eliezer to finish the jobs our master, Jesus, gives us to do? It can be exciting to begin and we can be spurred on when we see God’s hand at work; but there are other times, when our service is far from exciting. We may grow bored, restless, tired and eventually enticed away from his purposes if we aren’t careful. Don’t slow down just because you think you see the finish line…that’s when the extra push is needed to help you finish. We need to be faithful to the end.
There is one more thing we can learn from Eliezer’s story. I think Eliezer had discovered one of the most crucial secrets to being a faithful servant…contentment.
CONTENT WITH A LIFE OF SERVICE – Genesis 24:57-67
“’Well,’ they said, ‘we’ll call Rebekah and ask her what she thinks.’ 58 So they called Rebekah. Are you willing to go with this man?’ they asked her.
And she replied, ‘Yes, I will go.’
59 So they said good-bye to Rebekah and sent her away with Abraham’s servant and his men. The woman who had been Rebekah’s childhood nurse went along with her. 60 They gave her this blessing as she parted:
‘Our sister, may you become
the mother of many millions!
May your descendants be strong
and conquer the cities of their enemies.’
61 Then Rebekah and her servant girls mounted the camels and followed the man. So Abraham’s servant took Rebekah and went on his way.
62 Meanwhile, Isaac, whose home was in the Negev, had returned from Beer-lahai-roi. 63 One evening as he was walking and meditating in the fields, he looked up and saw the camels coming. 64 When Rebekah looked up and saw Isaac, she quickly dismounted from her camel. 65 ‘Who is that man walking through the fields to meet us?’ she asked the servant.
And he replied, ‘It is my master.’ So Rebekah covered her face with her veil. 66 Then the servant told Isaac everything he had done.
67 And Isaac brought Rebekah into his mother Sarah’s tent, and she became his wife. He loved her deeply, and she was a special comfort to him after the death of his mother.”
It struck me as interesting that it wasn’t until the deal was sealed by her brother and father that Rebekah’s opinion is even sought. Personally, I wonder if Laban was counting on his sister to delay the departure in his attempt to keep their guest hostage for ten more days; but his sister has a surprise for all of them. She doesn’t hesitate…she may have had her own reasons for eagerly wanting to leave. That settled, everything and everyone is loaded up on the camels and the Bible mentions nothing more of their trip until they reach their destination.
When they are almost there, Rebekah sees Isaac approaching the travelers and asks Eliezer who he is. Abraham’s servant tells her it is her husband and she immediately veils her face. When Isaac reaches the group, the Bible simply states that Eliezer “told Isaac everything he had done.” Eliezer delivers Rebekah to Isaac, and now that his task has been completed dissolves into historical obscurity.
What? No party? No special speech of thanks? No gold watch or at the very least a plaque commemorating his faithful service? None that we are aware of. Eliezer had long ago come to terms with being a servant. He knew that when his master’s family prospered, he did by extension. There was no need for a pat on the back or acclaim. He had had a job to do. He did it. Now onto the next.
Oh, if only we could all have the same humble attitude! Unfortunately, too many of Christ’s followers are addicted to applause. We want recognition. Isn’t that why we do any job? It shouldn’t be, but it is a common struggle. Our service to God should come from our own gratitude for what he’s done for us, from our deep sense of obligation. Our aim should be to grow God’s Kingdom and his name…not our own personal empire. If our obedience to God requires a pay cheque, plaques, applause, or jet planes…we are standing on dangerous ground. Jesus’ words on this subject can sound harsh to our ears that are so accustomed to doing nothing for nothing, “Suppose one of you has a servant plowing or looking after the sheep. Will he say to the servant when he comes in from the field, ‘Come along now and sit down to eat’? 8 Won’t he rather say, ‘Prepare my supper, get yourself ready and wait on me while I eat and drink; after that you may eat and drink’? 9 Will he thank the servant because he did what he was told to do? 10 So you also, when you have done everything you were told to do, should say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done our duty’” (Luke 17:7-10). However, when we consider all that our master has done for us already, it is a small price to pay!
So, what can we learn about our own service to God—our Master—from Eliezer’s service to Abraham?
· Jesus values faithfulness in his servants…and faithfulness cannot be faked.
· Eliezer learned his faith in God from Abraham. We can learn to love, submit to and obey God because of the example set for us by our master. Jesus has given us his Holy Spirit to help us become like him.
· When God answers our prayers…and he will…we need to be quick to worship him and give him full credit.
· Don’t get distracted in your service. Satan loves to draw us away…an incomplete job can often do more damage than a job not begun. Stay single-minded in your obedience.
· Learn to be content in the background. We shouldn’t long for the limelight. God will reward us according to the talents he’s given us—there should never be a need for human applause, just the smile of our father.
For further study:
https://www.gotquestions.org/hand-under-thigh.html “Why did oaths involve putting a hand under someone’s thigh (Genesis 24:9)?”
Sunday, March 14, 2021- “Our Family Tree - Through the Bible in 2021"- “One Messed Up Family” (Genesis 25-28) - ONLINE Only
First licensed for pastoral ministry in 1994, Pastor Jane Peck has served in camp and church ministries in three denominations, five provinces and in a variety of roles. Her most recent position is that of Pastor at Hope Chapel which she began in 2020. She is excited to see what God can and will do in the days to come!