Genesis 24:1-67: God’s Providential Blessing
April 16, 2023 Speaker: Josh Tancordo Series: Genesis: In the Beginning
Topic: Default Passage: Genesis 24:1–67
Genesis 24:1-67: God’s Providential Blessing
We’ve been working our way passage by passage through the book of Genesis, and today the next passage we come to is Genesis 24:1-67, so I’ll be reading a selection of verses from that passage. It says,
1 Now Abraham was old, well advanced in years. And the Lord had blessed Abraham in all things. 2 And Abraham said to his servant, the oldest of his household, who had charge of all that he had, “Put your hand under my thigh, 3 that I may make you swear by the Lord, the God of heaven and God of the earth, that you will not take a wife for my son from the daughters of the Canaanites, among whom I dwell, 4 but will go to my country and to my kindred, and take a wife for my son Isaac.”…9 So the servant put his hand under the thigh of Abraham his master and swore to him concerning this matter. 10 Then the servant took ten of his master’s camels and departed, taking all sorts of choice gifts from his master; and he arose and went to Mesopotamia to the city of Nahor. 11 And he made the camels kneel down outside the city by the well of water at the time of evening, the time when women go out to draw water. 12 And he said, “O Lord, God of my master Abraham, please grant me success today and show steadfast love to my master Abraham. 13 Behold, I am standing by the spring of water, and the daughters of the men of the city are coming out to draw water. 14 Let the young woman to whom I shall say, ‘Please let down your jar that I may drink,’ and who shall 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.” 15 Before he had finished speaking, behold, Rebekah, who was born to Bethuel the son of Milcah, the wife of Nahor, Abraham’s brother, came out with her water jar on her shoulder. 16 The young woman was very attractive in appearance, a maiden whom no man had known. She went down to the spring and filled her jar and came up. 17 Then the servant ran to meet her and said, “Please give me a little water to drink from your jar.” 18 She said, “Drink, my lord.” And she quickly let down her jar upon her hand and gave him a drink. 19 When she had finished giving him a drink, she said, “I will draw water for your camels also, until they have finished drinking.” 20 So she quickly emptied her jar into the trough and ran again to the well to draw water, and she drew for all his camels. 21 The man gazed at her in silence to learn whether the Lord had prospered his journey or not. 22 When the camels had finished drinking, the man took a gold ring weighing a half shekel, and two bracelets for her arms weighing ten gold shekels, 23 and said, “Please tell me whose daughter you are. Is there room in your father’s house for us to spend the night?” 24 She said to him, “I am the daughter of Bethuel the son of Milcah, whom she bore to Nahor.” 25 She added, “We have plenty of both straw and fodder, and room to spend the night.” 26 The man bowed his head and worshiped the Lord 27 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 in the way to the house of my master’s kinsmen.”
May God bless the reading of his Word.
Let’s pray: Father, we come to you with all kinds of needs this morning. But we believe that, by your Spirit and through your Word, you can minister to every need we have. So please do that and, above all, draw us into a deeper relationship with you. It’s in Jesus’ name we pray, amen.
During the very first week of my freshman year at college, I had a rather memorable social interaction. I had just arrived on campus several days prior to this and was eager to make the most of my college experience. And, for me, that included getting a girlfriend. So, I attended an outdoor movie night they had for incoming freshmen and ended up hanging out in a group that consisted of three of us guys and three girls. And I forget exactly how the conversation unfolded, but, somehow, we eventually began talking about the general subject of marriage and finding spouses and just discussing our futures in a very lighthearted way.
And I’m really not sure why I said this—looking back, it probably wasn’t the best thing to say—but I was just trying to have fun and joke around. So I said to the group that my goal was to find a girl whose birthday was on Valentine’s Day and then also marry her on that day so that I’d only have one day of the year to remember as a special occasion with her and could keep track of it better. It’s one of those comments that sounds good in your mind until you actually say it. Also, little did I know, but one of the three girls in that group actually did have a birthday on Valentine’s Day. Like, what are the chances, right? I guess three out of 365. And this girl didn’t really appreciate my comment and was actually rather offended by it because, as she later said, it exhibited laziness—which…I guess it kind of did. So, needless to say, my efforts at getting a girlfriend in college definitely did not get off to a good start. God did not bless that particular endeavor.
Yet, here in Genesis 24, we read about an endeavor that God does bless. God blesses the endeavor of Abraham’s servant to find a wife for Isaac. That’s the main idea of this passage. God blesses the endeavor of Abraham’s servant to find a wife for Isaac.
And, as we look at the way Abraham’s servant conducts himself in this passage, there are some timeless principles that we can glean that are related not just to the endeavor of finding a spouse but to all kinds of endeavors. I’m sure we’d all like to experience God’s blessing in various endeavors—whether it’s getting a job, earning a promotion, purchasing a home, raising a family, saving for retirement, and whatever other kinds of things people often seek to do. Our desire is for God to bless these endeavors. And we find some valuable principles for that in this passage—three of which I’d especially like to mention. Three principles for experiencing God’s blessing in our endeavors. And we’ll see what those are as we work our way through this passage.
The story begins with Abraham giving his servant an important assignment in verses 2-4. It says, 2 And Abraham said to his servant, the oldest of his household, who had charge of all that he had, “Put your hand under my thigh, 3 that I may make you swear by the Lord, the God of heaven and God of the earth, that you will not take a wife for my son from the daughters of the Canaanites, among whom I dwell, 4 but will go to my country and to my kindred, and take a wife for my son Isaac.”
Now, there are different theories about why Abraham has the servant put his hand under his thigh—it kind of sounds a little awkward, if you ask me—but one thing is clear about this act. It symbolizes that this is a very solemn oath. And Abraham makes the servant swear that he won’t get a wife for Isaac from among the Canaanites. One reason for that is because back in Genesis 9:25, Noah had pronounced a curse on the descendants of Canaan. And, also, the Canaanites were notoriously wicked. So, Abraham’s probably thinking that a Canaanite wife will draw his son Isaac away from the Lord.
We’re then told in verses 5-8, 5 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?” 6 Abraham said to him, “See to it that you do not take my son back there. 7 The Lord, the God of heaven, who took me from my father’s house and from the land of my kindred, 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. 8 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 Abraham’s adamant that, whatever the servant does, he must not, under any circumstances, take Isaac back to the land Abraham came from in Mesopotamia. God had called Abraham out of that land and into the land of Canaan. And he had promised Abraham, “To your offspring I will give this land”—speaking of Canaan. So, that’s where Abraham’s supposed to be. And Abraham’s committed to obeying God’s instructions about that.
So, that’s the first principle for experiencing God’s blessing in our endeavors: walk in obedience to God’s instructions. Don’t expect God to bless your disobedience. Don’t expect him to bless what you’re trying to do if you’re living in a way that’s contrary to what he’s revealed about his will in the pages of Scripture. So, if you’re living in an immoral relationship, don’t expect God to bless that relationship. If you’re not glorifying God with the wealth he’s given you, don’t expect him to bless you financially. If you’re habitually lying to your employer or acting deceptively at work in any way, don’t expect God to bless your career. If we want to experience God’s blessing, we need to be walking in obedience to his instructions.
Then, moving forward in the passage, the story continues in verses 10-14. It says, 10 Then the servant took ten of his master’s camels and departed, taking all sorts of choice gifts from his master; and he arose and went to Mesopotamia to the city of Nahor. 11 And he made the camels kneel down outside the city by the well of water at the time of evening, the time when women go out to draw water. 12 And he said, “O Lord, God of my master Abraham, please grant me success today and show steadfast love to my master Abraham. 13 Behold, I am standing by the spring of water, and the daughters of the men of the city are coming out to draw water. 14 Let the young woman to whom I shall say, ‘Please let down your jar that I may drink,’ and who shall say, ‘Drink, and I will water your camels’—let her be the one whom you have appointed for your servant Isaac….”
So, before the servant talks to anyone in the city, he first prays both for success and for guidance. And that’s the second principle for us to observe. If we want God to bless an endeavor, we have to immerse the endeavor in prayer. And we should do that at the very beginning—as our first instinct rather than as our last resort. Notice how the servant doesn’t begin by looking for a wife for Isaac and then pray only when his initial efforts at finding a suitable woman prove unsuccessful. No, he prays before he even starts looking.
And that’s what prayer should be for us as well—not like the spare tire we keep in our vehicle that we only pull out if there’s an emergency but rather the first and most foundational element of anything we set out to do. Because, think about what we’re believing when we don’t pray. Even if we’d never say these things out loud, we’re nevertheless believing that we’re strong enough to see things through, clever enough to figure things out, and capable enough to make things happen without God’s power and apart from God’s wisdom. So, when you think about it, prayerlessness is actually remarkably arrogant.
The fact is that we need God. As the psalmist says in Psalm 33:16-17, 16 The king is not saved by his great army; a warrior is not delivered by his great strength. 17 The war horse is a false hope for salvation, and by its great might it cannot rescue. So, the last thing we should want to do is to trust in our own strength or rely on our own resources. Instead, in any endeavor, we should be relying on God every step of the way. And the litmus test of our reliance upon God is how much emphasis we place on prayer.
By the way, this is why you’ll find in your bulletin these prayer guides for Oil Change Event that our church is having this coming Saturday. Why would we think that God would bless this endeavor apart from prayer? The same goes for our church as a whole. Why do we have a Prayer Gathering each Wednesday here at the church building? It’s because prayer’s not an afterthought for us. Rather, it’s an essential component of our ministry efforts.
And, as we can see in the subsequent verses of Genesis 24, God answers the prayer of Abraham’s servant. Look at verses 15-20: 15 Before he [the servant] had finished speaking, behold, Rebekah, who was born to Bethuel the son of Milcah, the wife of Nahor, Abraham’s brother, came out with her water jar on her shoulder. 16 The young woman was very attractive in appearance, a maiden whom no man had known. She went down to the spring and filled her jar and came up. 17 Then the servant ran to meet her and said, “Please give me a little water to drink from your jar.” 18 She said, “Drink, my lord.” And she quickly let down her jar upon her hand and gave him a drink. 19 When she had finished giving him a drink, she said, “I will draw water for your camels also, until they have finished drinking.” 20 So she quickly emptied her jar into the trough and ran again to the well to draw water, and she drew for all his camels.
So, the servant prayed that God would provide a woman who would not only offer to get him a drink but would even offer to water his ten camels as well. And, just so you know, watering these camels was no easy task. Based on several factors, including the number of times the bucket would have to be let down into the well to water each camel and how long it took camels to drink, scholars estimate that watering these ten camels would have taken between one and a half and two hours. So, this wasn’t a quick five-minute job but rather would have taken a considerable amount of time. Yet, Rebekah volunteers to do it. And that’s a very clear answer to that part of the servant’s prayer.
However, in order for the prayer to be completely answered, it couldn’t just be any woman who volunteered to do this. It would have to be a woman from Abraham’s extended family—because, if you remember back to the beginning of the chapter, that’s what Abraham had instructed his servant to do. By the way, the idea of marrying someone in your extended family was a lot more acceptable back in ancient times than it is today, perhaps because genetic mutations weren’t as much of an issue. So, this woman would have to be a member of Abraham’s extended family. That’s why verse 21 says that, even while Rebekah was in the process of watering the camels, the servant was still wondering “whether the Lord had prospered his journey or not.”
We then learn in the subsequent verses that, incredibly, Rebekah was indeed a relative of Abraham—specifically, the granddaughter of Abraham’s brother—whatever that’s called. So, that’s pretty remarkable, right? What are the chances, first of all, that the woman Abraham’s servant encountered at the well would offer to draw water for his camels? And, on top of that, what are the chances that that same woman would be related to Abraham? No wonder the servant exclaims in verse 27, “Blessed be the Lord, the God of my master Abraham, who has not forsaken his steadfast love and his faithfulness toward my master.” Brothers and sisters, we serve an awesome God—and a God who answers prayer.
Yet, as we consider the conduct of Abraham’s servant throughout this chapter, it’s very apparent that he didn’t have some sort of “let go and let God” mentality. He didn’t approach the endeavor as if it were all on God to make it happen apart from any human agency but rather understood that he himself had a role to play as well and therefore that he needed to employ practical wisdom.
Backing up a bit in the passage to verse 10, the servant’s first wise decision was to take along plenty of gifts on his journey. You know, if you’re going to travel to a distant land and try to convince a woman you’ve never met to come back with you in order to marry a man she’s never met, I’m just sayin, you’d better have some really good gifts. And Abraham’s servant understands that. So, he loads up ten camels with all kinds of precious pieces of jewelry and other treasures.
He also demonstrates wisdom in what he looks for in the woman he’s seeking. When the servant asks God to provide a woman who will not only give him a drink but will even offer to water his camels as well, that prayer has a dual function. Not only is it designed to make it clear which woman he should pay particular attention to, it’s also intended to result in him finding a woman who has a kind spirit and who’s generous and hard-working. So, the third principle for experiencing God’s blessing in our endeavors is to employ practical wisdom. Employ practical wisdom.
Abraham’s servant then continues to employ practical wisdom throughout the rest of this passage, especially in his interactions with Rebekah’s family. He skillfully navigates those interactions in order to convince her family to send Rebekah off with him back to Abraham so that she can be Isaac’s bride. And when Rebekah’s brother, Laban—who, as we’ll see later in Genesis, is a very devious and conniving individual—tries to convince Abraham’s servant to delay his departure with Rebekah, the servant wisely resists Laban’s suggestion in a very diplomatic way and succeeds in being sent off by Rebekah’s family in a timely manner. He then successfully delivers Rebekah to Isaac so that the two of them can get married and live happily ever after. So, throughout this entire chapter, Abraham’s servant demonstrates exemplary wisdom, discretion, social intelligence, and a focus on the task at hand.
Likewise, if we want God’s blessing in our endeavors, it’s necessary for us to approach those endeavors with various aspects of wisdom as well. Just as we discussed earlier how we shouldn’t expect God to bless disobedience, we also shouldn’t expect him to bless foolishness, sloppiness, or laziness either. So, if you’re trying to do well in school, it might be a good idea to study for that test. If you’re thinking about starting a business, it might be a good idea to do some market research first. If you want to get a promotion at work, then you should probably work really hard and make every effort to be good at what you do. And, for guys specifically, if you’re trying to find a wife, it might not be a bad idea to give some attention to your personal appearance and hygiene. I mean, at the very least, take a shower and put on some deodorant…like, every day. By the way, I’ve also heard that works pretty well for married men who like to enjoy certain aspects of their marriage on a regular basis.
So, those are three principles for seeing God’s blessing in our endeavors that I think are pretty clear here in Genesis 24: walk in obedience to God’s instructions, immerse the endeavor in prayer, and employ practical wisdom.
However, as we think about Genesis 24 as a whole, it would be a mistake to say that Abraham or his servant played the ultimate role or even the primary role in bringing about the success of this endeavor. Abraham’s servant definitely played a significant role in obtaining a wife for Isaac, but ultimately his role was an instrumental one. You may remember that we said the main idea of this passage is that God blesses the endeavor of Abraham’s servant to find a wife for Isaac. The subject of that sentence is God. He’s the one who’s ultimately responsible for the success of this endeavor.
You know, it’s interesting to observe that, even though this chapter is the longest chapter in the entire book of Genesis, we don’t read about God saying anything. God never speaks. Yet, he’s mentioned no less than twenty times in this chapter. So, the way we see God showing up here is in the way he sovereignly governs and supernaturally orchestrates all of the events that take place. This entire chapter, from beginning to end, has God’s fingerprints all over it.
We actually don’t even have to look any further than the very first verse to find an example of this. Verse 1 tells us that “the Lord had blessed Abraham in all things.” Every good thing about Abraham’s life was the direct result God’s blessing. None of it had come about merely by chance or luck or even merely by Abraham’s hard work or wisdom. It had all come to Abraham through God’s sovereign hand of blessing. And we can see this throughout the rest of the chapter as well. In verse 7, Abraham tells his servant that “The Lord…will send his angel before you, and you shall take a wife for my son….” The success of the endeavor was the result of the angel of the Lord going before Abraham’s servant and preparing the way.
Notice also what we’re told right after Abraham’s servant arrives at the well and prays for God’s blessing. Verse 15 says that “Before he had finished speaking, behold, Rebekah, who was born to Bethuel the son of Milcah, the wife of Nahor, Abraham’s brother, came out with her water jar on her shoulder.” So, before Abraham’s servant had even finished speaking the words of his prayer, God had already acted to answer that prayer and bring Rebekah to the well. That means, of course, that Rebekah had left her house for the well before the servant had even begun to pray. That’s incredible!
And we can trace this theme throughout the rest of the chapter as well—from Rebekah watering the camels, to her being a member of Abraham’s extended family, to the way her immediate family sends her off with their blessing. The entire story is written in a way that deliberately draws attention to God’s sovereign hand. One commentator writes that “There will be no miracle in this story, as we usually think of miracles. No rearrangement of molecules—no sun standing still—no healing—no river stopped up. Rather, God will bring about the acquiring of Isaac’s bride through the ‘normal’ events of life—the delays, the customs, the stresses, the chance meetings.”
And that’s the way our lives work as well. Nothing that we encounter is random or the product of chance or luck or fate. It’s all a part of the outworking of God’s perfect plan and a manifestation of God’s comprehensive sovereignty. I mean, that’s just basic biblical teaching. This world is ruled not by chance or fate but by a personal God. He’s the one who sits on the throne of this universe and who, as the Apostle Paul says in Ephesians 1:11, “works all things according to the counsel of his will.” Notice that there’s no exception to that. God “works all things according to the counsel of his will.” This means, of course, that God’s at work in and through the largest events of our lives as well as in the smallest details. It’s not like God simply shows up every once in a while and intervenes in a certain situation. He’s at work in everything and through everything all the time.
Theologians call this the doctrine of providence. John Piper defines God’s providence as his “purposeful sovereignty.” For God to be sovereign, by the way, simply means he’s in control of everything and that nothing happens apart from his decree. Yet, notice that it’s not just that God’s sovereign. The doctrine of God’s sovereignty is definitely a biblical doctrine, but the Bible actually goes beyond that. According to Scripture, God’s not only sovereign but also purposeful in his sovereignty. That’s providence.
On the macro level, this means that history isn’t just some chaotic sequence of random events but rather the unfolding of God’s sovereign plan. In other words, history is going somewhere. It’s not like we’re in some raft adrift at sea and at the mercy of the currents. We’re on a ship that’s being propelled very deliberately to a specific destination for a specific purpose.
And I’ll tell you that, for me personally, that’s such a comfort—especially when it comes to the current state of our country right now. You know, to be candid with you, there are times when I look at the news headlines and see what’s happening in our country and the moral freefall that we’re in and the way our civilization seems be crumbling, in some aspects, before our very eyes, and it’s just depressing. And then I read about the various ways in which certain prominent leaders in our country seem to be doing everything they can to undermine the values that made this country what it is. At times, one might even be tempted to think that they’re deliberately trying to ruin this country and tear it down and dismantle it piece by piece. And if you spend enough time thinking about that, it can make you not only depressed but even kind of angry.
Yet, what a comfort it is to remember that, even now, God’s accomplishing his purposes in this country. Has the thought ever occurred to you that, maybe, God’s allowing certain prominent leaders and political ideologies to accelerate this county’s decline so that this country can be humbled and be brought to its knees and thereby come to recognize our need for God? So, maybe God isn’t working in spite of certain political leaders and other elites of society but rather through those very people—because he knows that this is what our country needs if we’re ever going to turn to him. Maybe he knows that this is what’s necessary in order for a widespread spiritual awakening to take place. I don’t know. I won’t pretend to know the details of God’s plan. But I do know that he’s got a plan and that everything we see around us is an essential and purposeful component of the unfolding of that plan.
And, of course, what’s true of our country as a whole is also true of our lives individually. What a comfort it is to know that everything that happens in our lives happens for a reason. Just as Abraham’s servant encountering Rebekah at the well was anything but a chance encounter, we can be sure that every situation in which we find ourselves has been sovereignly ordained by a good God for a good purpose. Even though we might not be able to understand everything, we nevertheless know that it’s all a part of God providentially working in our lives according to his perfect plan. God had a plan for Isaac in Genesis 24, and he has a plan for you as well. And every detail of every event along the way is part of the unfolding of that plan.
And when we have that confidence, it enables us to do what Paul instructs us to do in 1 Thessalonians 5:18 and “give thanks in all circumstances.” Keep in mind that those words weren’t penned by someone who was young and idealistic and who hadn’t yet experienced the difficulties and sorrows of life. Instead, they were written by a man who, in all likelihood, suffered more than any of us in this room will ever suffer. Yet, he still maintained that we should “give thanks in all circumstances.” How could he say that? Well, it’s because he knew that a sovereign God sits on the throne of this universe and is providentially working at every moment and in every molecule to accomplish his glorious purposes.
Yet, you might still be wondering, how can we be sure that God really has our best interests at heart? Even if he is providentially working to accomplish his purposes, how can we be sure that those purposes are good and that they really are designed to promote our welfare? The answer is found in Romans 8:32. Speaking of God the Father, the Apostle Paul asks, “He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?” This is what’s known as an argument from the greater to the lesser. The logic is that, if God’s already done the greater thing, why wouldn’t he also do the lesser thing? If he’s already given his own Son, Jesus, to save us by dying on the cross, why wouldn’t he also give us every other blessing as well?
So, how can we be sure that God’s for us and not against us? How can we be sure that his providential plans are for our good rather than for our harm? It’s through the gospel! When we were condemned in our sin and utterly helpless to save ourselves and thoroughly deserving of God’s punishment, God sent his own Son to die on the cross in our place before subsequently rising again. As Paul says, “He…did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all.” That supreme act of personal sacrifice is all the evidence we should ever need that God loves us and is committed to working for our good. He’ll do whatever he needs to do to promote our welfare—even to the point of sending his own Son to the cross so that those who trust in him can have eternal life.
More in Genesis: In the Beginning
May 28, 2023Genesis 28:1-22: Astonishing Grace
May 14, 2023Genesis 27:1-46: God’s Triumphant Purpose
May 7, 2023Genesis 26:1-35: The Promise of God’s Presence