Pastor Sherry’s message for July 5, 2020
Scriptures: Gen 24:34-38, 42-49, 58-67; Ps 45:10-17; Ro 7:15-25a; Matt 11:16-19, 25-30
A nine year old boy was asked by his mother what he had learned that day in Sunday School. “Well mom,” he said, “our teacher told us how God sent Moses behind enemy lines on a rescue mission to lead the Israelites out of Egypt. When he got to the Red Sea, he had his army build a pontoon bridge and all the people walked across safely. Then he radioed headquarters for reinforcements. They sent bombers to blow up the bridge after the Israelites were saved. Pharaoh’s chariot guys all drowned.
Mom asked, “Now, Joey, is that really what your teacher taught you?”
“Well no, Mom,” the boy declared in exasperation, “but if I told it the way the teacher did, you’d never believe it!”
Today, we have another Old Testament story that defies logic, unless you believe in a God of miracles. Remember Isaac, the miraculous “child of promise,” born to parents aged 100 and 90? Last week, we examined how God demanded that Abraham sacrifice this child to Him, but also rescued Isaac at the last minute by providing a ram to take his place.
Isaac is one of the 4 patriarchs of our faith, but Scripture only gives us a very few glimpses of him. Nevertheless, we can infer that he was a good son, because he was obedient to his father Abraham—even given the threat of death. And today’s passage reveals him as a man of faith, praying to God as his bride arrives on a camel.
Let’s examine the story in more depth, as I believe it reveals some principles we can live by today. Abraham is concerned that Isaac have a wife…(v.1) now Abraham was now old and well advanced in years….He calls his trusty servant (Eliezar?) and tells him to journey to NW Mesopotamia (Syria) to find a good woman from among his extended clan (the people he left behind to follow God). He does not want Isaac to marry a pagan Canaanite woman. Nor does he want Isaac to journey outside the Land. The servant prays to Abraham’s God and suggests a fairly complex sign by which he might recognize God’s choice of a bride for Isaac: (1) She will offer him water to drink; (2) She will even draw water for his 10 camels; And (3) She will offer traditional ancient middle eastern hospitality including water for the feet; food/refreshments; and overnight accommodations for him and his animals.
When he arrives at the appropriate village, the servant encounters a beautiful young woman who does exactly that. She gives him water. She draws water for his animals. She invites him home to meet her family and to partake of their hospitality. This woman is Rebekah, Abraham’s great-niece, the virgin granddaughter of his brother.
Now of all the towns the servant could have visited, what are the chances that he would run into Abraham’s kin? What are the chances that they would still even be alive? God has clearly superintended this journey. The servant recognizes this and offers praise and thanksgiving to God: (v.26)–Then the man bowed down and worshiped the Lord, saying, ”Praise be to the Lord, the God of my master Abraham, who has not abandoned his kindness and faithfulness to my master. As for me, the Lord has led me on the journey to the house of my masters’ relatives.”
This woman, Rebekah, is clearly God’s choice for Isaac. The servant tells her the story of how he decided to approach her—he’d asked God for a sign. She doesn’t seem to have difficulty believing him. And he gives her a ring and two gold bracelets, as proof of Abraham’s wealth. Her brother, Laban, shows up, hears the story, and also invites the servant home. Once again, the servant shares his instructions with everyone. Probably Rebekah is somewhere, outside the tent, listening in as the story is retold. Everyone seems to agree she is God’s choice of a bride for Isaac. Additionally, the servant has also filled them in on Isaac’s miraculous birth and his divine rescue. The family appears to be impressed with the costly gifts he has bestowed on the maiden, signifying that Abraham is indeed as wealthy she the servant has claimed. The bride-price is agreed upon, but by the next morning the family appears to back off a bit.
In an intimation of things to come—Uncle Laban will later renege on his agreement with Jacob, Rebekah’s as yet unborn son–the family urges the servant to wait another 10 days before departing. Maybe they want to drive the bride-price up a bit. No doubt concerned for Abraham’s age and health, the servant urges an immediate departure, with no delay. Interestingly, the family suggests that Rebekah be consulted. From what she’s heard and experienced, the young woman is ready to go! Maybe she fears her wily brother will somehow interfere with her opportunity. Whatever the case, she is prepared to go off with a servant she barely knows, to a country she’s never seen, to meet a husband she’s only heard of. What a brave young woman and what an adventure!
What principles might this story hold for us today? 1st, we note the faithfulness of the servant. He’s given his word to Abraham to do his best; but otherwise he has no stake in the outcome. Nevertheless, he works hard to fulfill his word. He prays for the Lord’s favor. He diligently repeats his instructions from Abe. He obviously does not want to mess up!
This servant also moves at the leading of God, rather than his own fleshly desires or his fears. He is willing to carry out the task his master, Abraham has given him and he appeals to Abraham’s God for help. This is the antidote to our sinful fleshly desires, as given expression by Paul in Romans 7:15-25a. The antidote to our self-will is obedience—obedience to Christ, cooperating with the transforming power of His Holy Spirit.
The example of this unnamed servant is about 4,000 years old. 2,000 years later, Jesus will say, Let your yes mean yes and your no mean no.
We are to keep our word. Like Eliezer, we are to say what we mean and mean what we say. This is the kind of behavior that helps others to trust us.
Second, I am struck with the willingness of Rebekah. She doesn’t know Abraham from Adam’s house cat. She is looking at marrying a dude she’s only just heard of and never seen. She will be making her home far away from her family, probably never seeing them again. What convinces her to take the risk of leaving everything she has ever known? Perhaps it was hearing the servant relate the miraculous nature of Isaac’s birth. No doubt she also heard the story of his almost-sacrificial death, and been impressed with the fact that—while he could have overwhelmed his father’s strength, and taken himself off the altar–he instead chose to be obedient to and respectful of his father. Maybe she rightfully understood that Isaac was special to God and wished to link her future to such an esteemed man.
And, if she were a woman of faith, she might have been able to see and understand how God had indeed chosen her to be Isaac’s mate. After all, the servant had asked for a complex set of signs; and, without any prior knowledge of them, she had fulfilled each one.
I don’t know if you have ever experienced God providing you a sign, but I have. My best buddy in seminary came from the Chicago area. She was trying to verify if God was truly calling her to seminary. She was walking the shores of Lake Michigan and asked God to affirm her call by proving a green rock among all the gray ones. She was amazed and delighted to minutes later encounter a green rock—the only green rock–on the shore. Not only that, the green rock was shaped like a triangle. She understood this mean she was to attend Trinity out of the other 10 seminaries in our denomination. Similarly, I asked God for direction as to which seminary He wanted me to attend. I was living in Tallahassee, Florida, then. Rarely does anyone in Tallahassee ever hear of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, where Trinity is located. For weeks, my daughter and I were inundated with what we called our “Pittsburgh signs”: PA license plates, bumper stickers for the Steelers or the Penguins; movies we rented that had been filmed in Pittsburgh or which featured the city; and magazine articles in doctor’s or dentist’s offices on some aspect of life in Pittsburgh. We laughingly told God we got it and He could stop the signs anytime. We were not too surprised when they dried up immediately!
Several years after arriving at seminary, my best buddy and I attended a healing conference. We shared a motel room while there and I awoke one night to hear her crying. She was in crisis, doubting her call, and worried she would graduate with a Masters of Divinity, but be unable to locate a Bishop willing to ordain her. By this time I knew her well, was convinced she was called to ordained ministry, and—coming under conviction–told her she was not to look to the left or the right, or to listen to the opinions of people, but to keep her eyes on the Cross of Christ She was to trust that the Lord had indeed called her. The next morning, while serving us communion, the lead pastor of the healing ocnference spoke directly to her and said, “You are not to look to the left or to the right, or to listen to the opinions of people, but to keep your eyes on the Cross of Christ. You have been called into ministry and Jesus will see you through.” She felt affirmed by this marvelous sign and so did I. These experiences taught me that we can ask God for signs and He will and does respond.
Our Genesis lesson today has a happy ending. It’s actually a love story! Rebekah gets on her camel and rides to Israel and to Isaac. The evening she arrives, Isaac is out praying. He sees her and is intrigued. She sees him, leaps off her camel (she’s impressively energetic, isn’t she?), and wraps herself in her veil, thus indicating she is a single woman. The servant then relates the entire saga to Isaac. Isaac obviously sees Rebekah as God’s answer to his prayers (& his father’s plans). Verse 67 tells us, Isaac brought her into the tent of his mother Sarah [now dead], and he married Rebekah. So she became his wife, and he loved her; and Isaac was comforted after his mother’s death.
In a number of ways, this story is stranger than fiction, but I believe the lessons are pretty clear: (1) We want to be faithful to God; (2) We can ask Him for a sign; (3) We want to say yes to whatever He arranges for us; and (4) We can trust that there is a reward for our obedience. Our God is good. He desires our love and devotion to Him. He takes good care of those who love and obey Him. Thanks be to God who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ! Alleluia! Alleluia!
©2020 Rev. Dr. Sherry Adams