Martha M. Shiverick
Sermon June 17, 2012

Genesis 24

This morning’s scripture passage is the 24th chapter of Genesis where we hear the story of Isaac and Rebekah.  It takes on the form of a short story with four distinct scenes, so I will break them down and comment on each one of them as we go through the chapter.  Together as we break up this little story, we might glean messages for us today.

The first scene could be titled ‘Abraham and the Servant”.   Listen to God’s word in the first 9 verses.

 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 and swore to him on this matter.

OK – The story has been set up.  The story is about finding a proper wife for Isaac, the son of Abraham.  Abraham was richly blessed by God.  Everything is right and good in Abraham’s life. He has been promised by God that this will continue with his descendants.  So, the thing is…. he needs to get a wife for his son in order for this to happen.  However, there does not seem to be any conflict in the story.   We are not worried that the young woman won’t be found…. There is a sense of God’s continued care and prosperity will unfold in abundance!

Another feeling you get in this beginning few verses of the story is that loyalty and fidelity abound as well.  Abraham has faith in God’s promise.  He had his son late in life and God has promised him that this son will produce the future of his people.  Abraham trusts that.  Abraham trusts in God and his faith does not waiver.  And Abraham trusts his servant to find this wife for Isaac.  Likewise the servant trusts.  The trusted servant trusts that his master’s God will help him find a wife for Isaac.   The relations through out the story are like this.

We don’t even know who this servant is.  His name is never mentioned although the task Abraham has entrusted to his care is very important.  Some commentaries I have read on this passage that this unnamed servant provides a model for the life of all of God’s servants in every age.  Just as this anonymous servant works to bring about God’s plan for this family, we too enter into the service of our Lord to bring about God’s plan.  It is suggested that this model of acting faithfully in quite common and ordinary situates, allowing for God’s blessings and plan to unfold in daily affairs is our work as well.  It is certainly something to think about!  Perhaps God calls us, just as the servant is called to be crucial vehicles for God’s work and blessing in the daily affairs of our world.  Not in the big huge “solve cancer or bring about world peace’ sort of things, but to bring God’s blessings into the very everyday activities and small things in life.

The second scene could be titled “the servant and Rebekah” and it runs through the 27th verse.

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 Aramnahraim, to the city of Nahor.  He made the camels kneel down outside the city by a well of water; it was toward evening, the time the women go to draw out 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 will 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 of of Nahor, Abraham’s brother, coming out with Bethuel son of Milcah, the wife 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 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 half a 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 Bethuelson 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 worshipped 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 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 and 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 them straw and fodder for the camels, and water to wash his feet and the feet of the men that 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.”  Then the servant goes into great length (15 verses!) repeating in detail why he is there and how Rebekah was an answer to his prayer to God.

OK – The thing that must be said here is that Rebekah is VERY kind. We know that she is a pretty young girl, that she is a distant relative to Abraham, but the thing that we know without a doubt is that her character, the stuff of which she is made is good!    Rebekah is nice!  In the Hebrew culture it is expected to be kind to strangers, to offer hospitality to the traveler, but Rebekah here goes beyond the expected to being just plain nice.  She offers the servant water and then waters the animals as well.  When the servant asks if he might stay at her house for the night, she immediately says that there is room and food for them at her household.  She doesn’t even ask her mother or older brother first.  One thing we take away from the story is that kindness and generousity are her virtues!

It reminded me of the story that has been in the news about the Ohio State high school track meet that happened last week. I read about it in the paper on Tuesday and was moved to tears by the story.  (And I must admit, that it is very infrequent that a news story in the Sports section of the Plain Dealer moves me to tears.)

For those of you who did not read it, there was this picture in the sports section of a young girl, Meghan Vogel, of West Liberty- Salem High School supporting another girl who has her arm around her neck as they move down the track.  Meghan helped Arlington runner Arden McMath to the finish line after McMath fell during the Division 3 state final in the 3,200 meter race.   The pain on Arden’s face from her fall was apparent as was the determination on Meghan’s face to help get this girl across the finish line.  The article in the paper said that by rule the girls should have been disqualified as it is a rule violation for anyone to assist a runner.   However, none of the officials on the track raised a flag that would have signaled a violation, and the starter did not make a ruling.  Megan came in 14th after Arden let her cross first and Arden was 15th and last.  But even though Megan came in 14th, she really won.  Her kindness made her the winner and no one will remember who won the race, (They didn’t even print the winner’s name in the article in the paper)  but everyone who saw and has heard the story will be affected by the genuine kindness that was displayed at that track meet.    The story affected me and I have cut out the picture to meditate on it a little as I think about how I can be kind to others as well.  I would hate for my competitive spirit or busy life to keep me from reaching out to another is a small but meaningful way as Rebekah did to the servant and Meghan Vogel did to her fellow runner. This type of kindness is a virtue for us all to emulate.  Displays of kindness like those of Rebekah’s and Megan’s are lessons for us all in our life as we try and live in a loving and caring Christina manner.

The third scene in the story could be titled “The servant and the Kinsmen of Rebekah” and it runs through verse 61.

When Abraham’s servant heard their words, he bowed himself to the ground befor the Lord.  And the servant brought out jewelry of silver and of gold, and garments, and gave them to Rebekah; and he also gave to her brother and to her mother costly 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 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 me 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.” The 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 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.

The meaning of the story becomes crystal clear here even though it has been the message throughout all these verses.  Even when we don’t see God or have him speak to us out of a burning bush or a voice from on high, that in all events, even the smallest ones are under God’s providential care.   Abraham KNOWS that God will provide a wife for his son.  The servant KNOWS that he has been led to Rebekah even though Yahweh has done nothing directly to show him. Rebekah knows that God will provide for her and her brother and mother acted in a manner that God was at work in their lives as well.  The confidence and security of all the characters in this story is amazing!  Whereas at first reading the story you wonder where God is in the story as it seems so secular and you might ask why it is included within the Bible at all, after closer scrutiny, you realize that God is all through it.  God is at the center of the story as the characters all feel God’s direction and guidance in EVERY aspect of their being.  Their confidence comes from the belief that God is at work in their lives.  The story is a lesson that all events are under God’s providential care and concern. All things….

We always think of God working in the BIG things in life.  We pray for God to be with our countries leaders as they make decisions and to bring about shalom in the world.  We pray for God to put an end to violence, hunger, sickness, and hatred.  But according to this story, Gods work does not stop at the big stuff.  We live in an ethos where our whole life is accepted and perceived to be a gift of God.  The meaning we glean from this is that there is not a single part of our life, our whole being, which lies beyond the purpose of God.

When you accept that God guides and leads us in such a way in the everyday parts of our lives, we will begin to see God in events we had not noticed or to which we had not assigned as God’s holy work.   When we accept that God is involved and cares about every aspect of our lives and that we can look for God’s presence in all things, we can live with the security that all these characters in this story did.  We can live with the knowledge of God’s concern and care of our daily lives and we too can live with the security that Abraham, that the servant, that Rebekah, Laban, and even Isaac did.

The forth scene is the happy ending.  We could call this scene “Isaac and Rebekah… Happy ever after”. Listen again for God’s word as we finish up the 24th chapter of Genesis.

Now Isaac had come from Belerlahairoi, 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, waking 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 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. 

And they lived happily ever after… The End.  Amen!