The Beautiful Weaving of God’s Providence (Gen. 24)
Last time I shared with you that life is not a straight-line trip on the Metra, but more of a rollercoaster, many hills to climb, many dips and many twists and turns. To expect anything less than a rollercoaster ride is to set yourself up for disaster. The only assurance we have is not that it will be a smooth ride, but that God holds us with every turn and fall and promises to get us home. That is, if you truly know Him. If you don’t know Him, then you might have a smooth ride now, but crash later when you have to stand before Him in judgment. So which would you rather have, a bumpy ride with a safe landing or a smooth ride with a crash landing?
So as much as we pray for safety and good health and financial prosperity, the truth is none of that is promised to us in this life. But then what do we have to bank on? What do we rest on then? Three words: The Providence of God. What is it? This phrase is not found in Scripture per say, but it defines how God relates to His creation.
The Providence of God is the way God cares for, cooperates with and directs all things to accomplish God’s purposes.
Pastor Tony Evans says, “Providence is the hand of God in the glove of history…it is God sitting behind the steering wheel of time. Providence refers to God’s governance of all events so as to direct them toward an end. It is God taking what you and I would call luck, chance, mistakes, happenstance and stitching them into achieving His program.” History is just His Story. There is a hand behind every headline. God works in the world with either miracle or providence. A miracle can happen where God enters and changes the natural order of things. But providence is how He typically works. And for control freaks like us, it annoys us not to give Him that control, but the more we do, the more freedom and joy we will have. But as Pastor Kent Hughes says, “The God of Scripture is not simply a God of miracles who occasionally injects his power into life. He is far greater because he arranges all of life to suit and affect his providence. This makes all of life a miracle.” What we see as tangled threads, God is weaving into beautiful tapestries.
Look at the life of Abraham. Sometimes with these Bible characters, we have a preconceived notion that God was speaking audibly with them every day. Not true. Sometimes years would pass before they audibly heard anything or saw anything. Actually, most of the time in the Old Testament, we have people learning to trust in God’s providence in the day-to-day lives. For example, do you know that the word “God” is not mentioned at all in the Book of Esther? But there is no way you can read that book and not see God’s invisible hand behind it all.
Today we will see God’s providence at work. No audible voices. No angels. No burning bushes. Yet God works in every detail in the normal way of life. The roller coaster ride of Abraham’s life is about to end. He has gotten glimpses of the land promise. He has received the promise of a son, through whom he would become a great nation and bless the world. One problem. Abraham’s son, Isaac, is 40 years old and not married. They are living in the land of Canaan, filled with unbelievers. This is another twist and turn in the ride. Sarah, Abraham’s wife is dead. How will God continue to provide? How is God going to carry out His incredible promises? As Israel is reading this, they are about to enter the Promised Land. What message is God giving with this story to Israel here? And what message is being conveyed to us? The message is: Trust the Providence of God! What does this mean?
I. Solidify our convictions first with God’s Word (vv.1-9)
The story begins in Gen. 24:1 with a mention here about Abraham’s age and God’s blessing. He is super old, probably close to 140 (Gen. 25:20), which means Isaac was 40. He actually ends up dying at 175 years (Gen. 25:7). And long life is a blessing, but better than a long life is a full life (John 10:10). I would rather have a short abundant life than a long, empty life, but Abraham has had a full and long life. It wasn’t that he walked all this way, but God carried him through. And God said, “I’m going to bless you,” and He did. It wasn’t always how Abraham planned it, but God was faithful!
We have an unknown servant (maybe it is Eliezer, Gen. 15:2) here commissioned by Abraham in Gen. 24:2. We know he can be trusted since he was in “charge of all that he had.” Notice how they made an agreement: “Put your hand under my thigh.” In that culture, if you wanted to make an agreement, you would look at the guy in the eye and put you’re your hand under their thigh. It was a way to let them know that you were serious. If someone put his/her hand under my thigh, I know that person would have my full attention. I’m glad we just shake hands in our culture or put our hand on the Bible to make an oath!
Look at the first thing out of his mouth in Gen. 24:3: the all-powerful God, who controls all dimensions. He is ruler of my life. He comes first in all my decisions. And then we see Abraham has convictions (Gen. 24:4): do not take a wife from the daughters of the Canaanites. Hamilton notes, “Earlier Abraham had no problems with the possibility of his wife living with an Egyptian or a Philistine, nor did he himself have any second thoughts about relations with an Egyptian maid.” Abraham has matured.
When Abraham looks around, all he sees are godless Canaanites. Why not marry one? It would have been a lot easier and convenient. First of all, it didn’t make sense from God’s practical view. If Isaac is to inherit the land, he must not marry among those destined to disinherit the land. Secondly, it was for spiritual reasons. Later on, God gave the reason to the Israelites: ungodly spouses will turn believing spouses from the Lord (Duet. 7:1-4). In Gen. 18, God wanted Abraham and “his household after him” to “keep the way of the Lord” (v.19). The family was the possessors of the covenant and called to walk in God’s ways and pass that on. To have an unbelieving mother would have jeopardized that. And besides, over all, it was not aligned to what God spoke to Abraham, that the land belongs to his offspring (Gen. 24:7).
Yet Abraham could have still wavered in trusting God. What helped him to make this decision? His convictions. A lot of us want to obey God, but only on our terms. If God isn’t going to answer me this way and at this time, fine! I’ll figure it out. If we want to experience God’s providence, it would help if we have some convictions based on God’s Word. Here Abraham has seen that deciding by himself what is good for him, living by sight, has ended up destroying him. Now he wants to live by what God says, not what is easy or feasible or convenient.
Compromise kills our convictions.
He will not swerve from what God has said. By the way, once again, let me encourage the singles not to marry an unbeliever. Don’t even settle for “I believe in God” either as a standard. The Bible says that even the demons believe in God (James 2:19). Marry a believer (1 Cor. 7:39; 2 Cor. 6:14). Tim Keller says, “If Jesus is central to you, then that means your [unbelieving] partner doesn’t truly understand you…the essence of intimacy in marriage is that finally you have someone who will come to understand you and accept you as you are…[your spouse] should be someone who “gets” you. But if the person is not a believer, he or she can’t understand your very essence and heart.”
Living by your convictions is hard. Notice the servant bringing up a possible obstacle in Gen. 24:5. What if this woman refuses to come? Should I take Isaac back? Abraham leaves it to God’s providence and God’s faithfulness, but he will not budge from his convictions. God has kept His Word thus far. Did He bring me this far to throw me aside? No. Notice he says, “He will send his angel before you” (Gen. 24:7). Commentator Bruce Waltke notices that, “The Abraham who engineered solutions with Hagar and the pharaohs has greatly matured. He has learned to trust God’s supernatural provision of the promise (cf. Gen. 16).”
Notice that Abraham has these convictions not because it is popular or because it was easy, but because he was reminded of who God is and what God has done. God has been too good to Abraham to throw it all out now because of inconvenience and impossibility. Knowing what God has said and had done in the past helped Abraham trust God for his future. And he doesn’t presume that God HAS to do it this way. Notice Gen. 24:8. If the woman does not want to come, then God has to do it another way. He will not swerve from God’s promise based on His Word. The question is not “Will God lead me in this situation?” The question is, “Am I willing to be led by Him even if it doesn’t make sense to me and if the odds are against me?”
What are your convictions about prioritizing God in your life? If you are single, what are you convictions and non-negotiables about marriage? If you are married or going to be married, what are your convictions about marriage? If you are working, what are your convictions about money? Have some convictions now and let God lead you by His providence when you will go through situations where you have to make a decision. Otherwise, you will be swayed by your emotions. Trusting in God’s providence means
II. Surrender our control with prayer and wisdom (vv.10-27)
Abraham is fully aware that though God can provide for him, that God will have to do it on His terms. Where did he learn this? Through his life! When God said, “Go!” and Abraham said, “Where?” God had said, “I will show you” (Gen. 12:1). When God said, “You’re going to have a son!” And Abraham said, “How?” God didn’t explain it, but said, “I will give you.” And when God said, “Take your boy and sacrifice him,” Why? God didn’t tell him until he raised the knife. And so now Abraham needs a wife for his son to keep the promise alive. How? The servant might get beaten and robbed along the way. The servant might die and never return. No girls may be found. A lot of unknowns here. This is nothing new from God. He called Abraham, now He must provide. The call of the Christian life is the same way. It is a call to the unknown. Will we still go? Abraham’s servant goes into the unknown. Nothing is certain except that God is faithful.
Notice ten camels are brought along in Gen. 24:10. This is because “betrothal was marked by presenting large gifts to the bride’s family.” This also shows Abraham’s wealth, since having camels was rare at that time. This would have taken a month or so and close to 500 miles. But the story forwards to a well. We will see a well in several places in Genesis. It is typically where you find a woman and a bride.
Moses repeats the word “time” in Gen. 24:11. Timing is important in God’s providence. Women typically drew water for the family in the evening. This is interesting because when Jesus meets the woman at the well, she comes at high noon, because she is an outcast (John 4). What should the servant do next? He prays in Gen. 24:12-14. Is prayer our first resort or last resort in making decisions?
He prays for a sign regarding God’s will in Gen. 24:12-14. Here is where people go, “Ok! That’s how he did so God is saying that’s how I should do it! Give me a sign Lord. The first girl who walks through that door and offers to pay for my lunch is the one!” Again, narratives or stories are simply descriptive and not prescriptive. They show us what happens not how it should happen. Abraham’s servant here prays on the basis of God’s steadfast love. This is the Hebrew word hesed. This is the faithful, undying, relentless love of our God to us. You can always pray that. Father, because your Son died for me and died the death I should have died, now your love for me is undying. I know you are committed to me, because He was forsaken. I know you love me. I know you have seen me at the bottom and loved me to the skies. Because of that, I trust you!
Now how does God want us to make decisions? With prayer and wisdom.
Wisdom is the ability to make the most God-honoring decision in any circumstance.
Proverbs tells us that the fear of the Lord, or making God the most important thing, is the beginning of wisdom. Here is where people get confused. Is there a specific will that God has for us? Is there a specific person? Job? House to buy? And if so, how can we tell? What if we miss it?
Well, let me just say that when you look at the instances of “the will of God” in the New Testament, especially in regards to our lives, every time God’s Word talks more about the motives of our heart and character instead of the who, what, when or where questions we are asking. That tells us that God is far more interested in the person we are becoming…who we should be instead of where we should be. I think God’s Word gives us parameters on how to make the decision we are facing and then expects us to make those decisions with wisdom and leave the results to God.
This has been very freeing for me. People ask me, “When did you know Jenny was the one?” I say, “The day we got married.” Is Living Hope where I should be serving? When did I know that? Answer: when I chose it after I was hired. Does God care that I am at Living Hope instead of some other place? Yes, but God is far more interested in what kind of a pastor I am becoming than where I am pastoring. I surrender control of what that looks like to the Lord and His providence. In looking back, I definitely see His providence in bringing me here. But in the end, I know He can get glory anywhere I serve. In addition, He is far more interested in what kind of spouse I am becoming than who I am married to. Yes, marry a believer. Marry someone you like. But be a godly spouse. Do you want to buy a house? Pick one you like and ask God for grace to manage your household well, steward your money and use your resources to advance His kingdom. Use wisdom!
Sometimes we use the whole “I’m praying about it,” as an excuse for our cowardice. We are afraid of making decisions and do not believe God will take care of us if we make it and so we are hesitant in the name of wisdom. Surely we don’t want to be impulsive in the name of faith either, but God would challenge us on where our heart truly is.
Notice here that the servant according to Abraham’s convictions, puts himself in a position for God to work. Abraham wanted a believer. And from his best knowledge, the best chance is probably near Nahor. Why? Because initially when God called Abraham from Ur, he may have shared about God to his family before he left. We are not sure. Then the servant gets to the well, why? Because that’s where the ladies are. Then he prays looking to examine the girl’s character. All wise choices. Still there is not a guarantee that this will work. That part is left to the providence of God.
Notice Gen. 24:15. Before he finished the prayer, God is already working. When we work, we work. When we pray, God works. I don’t know how it all works, I just know God has chosen to work providentially through our prayers. I wonder how many more fingerprints of God we have missed because we have not seen them nor are we looking for them in prayer? Notice here that God still hasn’t spoken, but we see here that He can be trusted to provide not just when He speaks, but when He is simply spoken to.
Rebekah shows up in Gen. 24:15 and she amazingly does in Gen. 24:16-20 what the servant had prayed about! I am impressed with this girl. She takes care of how many camels? Ten camels, how many gallons to fill up a camel? Think about this for a second. First of all, “the ancient well was a large, deep hole in the earth with steps leading down to the spring water—so that each drawing of water required substantial effort. And more, a camel typically would drink about twenty-five gallons of water, and an ancient water jar held about three gallons of water. This means that Rebekah made between eighty to one hundred descents into the well.” This must have taken two to three hours. Impressive woman. In four short verses (Gen. 24:16, 18–20) she is the subject of eleven verbs of action and one of speech. Does her enthusiastic hospitality remind you of someone we heard about? Abraham! (Gen. 18:1-8).
How many of you ladies would go to a well for a complete stranger, get calloused hands pulling up a rope, maybe fill up a jar, take the jar, run over to the trough, dump it out, 250 gallons to feed ten camels? Most women won’t even get their husband a cup of coffee (not mine of course). She’s a sweetheart, hardworking and apparently has strong arms. She’s in good shape. Pastor Mark Driscoll adds, “She’s even nice to camels. You know she’s gonna be a good wife. Any woman who’s nice to a camel will be nice to a man. This is a wonderful woman, hardworking, buff arms, feeds a camel.”
I love Gen. 24:21. The servant just stands there with his jaw open staring at her. He is testing her character, but allowing God’s providence at the same time. Perhaps he’s also amazed a woman can be that strong. The servant then shows that he is interested in her for more than just water in Gen. 24:22-25. Rebekah is also hospitable and look at how the servant responds in Gen. 24:26-27. He worships and prays, thanking God for His providence.
How is your prayer life? Have you become cold? Are you demanding God to do something abnormal to show you things in your life while you remain cold and indifferent to the small and day-to-day ways He works behind the scenes? Pastor Stephen Altrogge says,
“Spiritual coldness isn’t the result of a single life-changing event. It’s the cumulative result of a thousand small, seemingly insignificant choices, like neglecting prayer, shunning fellowship, and ignoring the word of God. True spiritual fire isn’t the result of one, over the top, mountaintop, spiritual high experience. It’s the beautiful accumulation of consistent time invested in the spiritual disciplines. Our spiritual lives are the result of many small actions piled on top of each other.”
No matter where our life is at this point, let us draw near to the Lord and be faithful in serving Him and trust Him to guide us by His providence in His time. Lastly,
III. Submit the results to God with faith (vv.28-67)
Still in this narrative, a lot can go wrong. Rebekah’s parents can say no. Rebekah may not want to go. In Gen. 24:29 we meet Laban, her brother. He will be important later. But right away, we get the impression that he’s a crook. Notice what he sees in Gen. 24:30: her jewelry. Anytime in Genesis there is mention about people “seeing,” it is a clue to their heart. Our head always turns and looks at what our heart wants. Here we have a sense that this guy is greedy. Do we have another Lot here?
The servant meets the whole family in Gen. 24:30-33 and is overwhelmed by God’s provision and leading. He then retells the whole story in Gen. 24:34-48. This might seem like unnecessary repetition for us, but to Israel they would have loved hearing this again and to be amazed at how amazing their God was to provide! The servant says God is the source of Abraham’s wealth (Gen. 24:35). The Israelites often retold their history to each other and especially the future generations. I wonder if we wouldn’t doubt and complain so much if we spent more time remembering and thanking the God who brought us this far? Let’s pray for better memories and to be more diligent in better capturing God’s providences in our lives!
Notice in Gen. 24:49. The servant does all he can do. But he knows that God is God and must leave the results to Him. Notice the answer in Gen. 24:50-51. This thing has come from the LORD. We don’t know if these people truly know Yahweh, but they acknowledge something is going on that they cannot explain. Again, the servant worships and prays in Gen. 24:52. God allowed this to happen and he never fails to thank and credit God for each advance.
Giving of the jewelry in Gen. 24:53 is again is a down-payment that Abraham was serious about this marriage. It was called the “bride price.” The family of the bride, in return, would give a dowry. Happily ever after? Nope. The family wants her to say for 10 more days (Gen. 24:54-55). Another obstacle in the plan. This is not an unusual request. Usually people would wait and celebrate for a few days before the wedding took place. What to do? We don’t know why the servant could not wait. Perhaps he feared they might change their minds. We don’t know. But he insists on leaving (Gen. 24:56). They leave it up to Rebekah in Gen. 24:57. Again, the servant has to leave the results to God. Rebekah can say no to the whole thing. Rebekah can wait.
She continues to be even more impressive. She has faith and resembles her future father-in-law Abraham, who when God asked to leave his homeland by faith, he had done so. She decides to leave and leaves with a similar blessing Isaac receives in Gen. 24:58-60 (cf. Gen. 22:17). The results, with its obstacles, left with God. God led the servant all the way!
Now happily ever after? Nope. Last tension here is this: What if Isaac does not accept Rebekah? Let the romantic music start. They travel back (Gen. 24:61-62). We see more providence. Just as Isaac is taking a stroll (better understanding of the word “meditate”) just at the right time, here comes Rebekah. They both “look up” at the same time (Gen. 24:63-64). And the answer to the question is a resounding yes, as Rebekah covers herself (you did that if you planned to get married) and gets married (Gen. 24:65-66). Sarah’s tent is no longer empty. God has provided Israel a new mother (Gen. 24:67).
Wow. Look at God’s providence here in this whole story. Israel has no need to wonder how God will provide for them in the Promised Land. If God was so intimately involved in the details then, He will surely be so now!
God through His providence provides for His own. What is this story pointing to? This story is pointing to the day when the true Son of promise will come as a groom for His bride. He doesn’t send anyone to get His bride. He comes Himself. God provided Isaac with a beautiful and servant-hearted bride, but this bride, the bride of God, is a wayward bride. The Bible repeatedly calls God’s people, adulterers and prostitutes. God is in the longest bad marriage in history because He is married to us. We are the spouse from hell. But to provide for us salvation, He goes to greater lengths than Abraham’s servant for an unworthy bride to boot. He doesn’t buy this bride with gold or silver, but He sheds His blood for us, who are selfish, materialistic, cold-hearted and uncompassionate prostitutes. In Christ, we experience true hesed love.
There on the cross, He didn’t look down and say, “I am giving myself to you because you are the perfect, beautiful, attractive, wonderful spouse to me.” He saw us though we deny Him, abandon Him, refuse to go to Him and betray Him. Yet He stayed to win us over and to provide for us a greater bridegroom for a greater marriage union, where one day without spot or wrinkle, we will be presented to Him to love and be loved forever. So, we don’t need to wonder if God will providentially guide us in this life. We may never be able to totally trace His hand, but we can always trust His heart. Why?
He has already shown it not just with His fingerprints in history and our lives, but the nail prints in His hand, that He will never let us go.
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