St. James’ Episcopal Church
July 9, 2017
Lately, I’ve learned a few things about the human brain.
- one is that it makes us future-oriented
- we decide what to do now based on what we think might happen in the future
- I’d better peel these potatoes now or my mother will kill me
- I’d better shut this window now or the rain will get in
- I’d better get some gas now or I’ll be stranded halfway to Homer
- yes, we’re future-oriented, and mostly we anticipate some sort of disaster
- This is the trait that makes us anxious!
I mention this because today’s story from Genesis 24 is future-oriented
- Abraham, Bethuel, Laban, and Rebekah – all are looking to the future
- they hope that the decisions they make now will pay off in days to come
- but Abraham is also making decisions based on the past
- so, let’s try to understand Genesis 24 in light of Genesis 12
In the book of Genesis, Abraham is first mentioned at the end of Genesis 11
- then in Genesis 12 God calls Abraham to leave his country and his family
- Abraham is to migrate from Haran, near the source of the Tigris River
- he is to go south, to the land that we now know as Israel
- and God promises Abraham three things
- Abraham will have many descendants
- those descendants will possess the new land
- and God will bless them = descendants; land; blessing
For the rest of his life, then, Abraham lives between God’s promises, in the past, and their fulfillment, in the future. And often it looks as if God will not come through.
- Abraham has no children. Will God fulfill the promise of descendants?
- The land cannot support the flocks of Abraham and his nephew Lot. – land?
- Abraham has a son; then God demands that son as a sacrifice. – descendants?
- in the end, God always keeps his promises, no matter what
This brings us to Genesis 24.
- Abraham’s son Isaac is ready to be married.
- Isaac must stay in the land that his descendants will someday possess
- but all the eligible women are back in Haran. – descendants?
Here’s where we have to put aside our modern conceptions about getting married.
- we might think it’s rather strange that Isaac has only one grandfather
- and that he is expected to marry another of that grandfather’s descendants
- and that the marriage is arranged by their fathers Abraham and Bethuel
- so let’s just wink at those ancient customs, and focus on what God is doing
What God is doing: God is keeping his promises, no matter what.
- and there are several matters that might hinder a suitable marriage for Isaac
- Is there an eligible, unmarried woman back in Haran?
- If so, will her father agree to send her to his long-lost relations?
- And what if she refuses to leave her home and family to go to a strange land and marry a man she has never met?
- another complication: Abraham can’t go to Haran and arrange things himself
- so he sends a trusted servant, with this assurance: <v. 7>
- in our reading, the servant explains his errand to Bethuel and Laban
And he focuses on what God is doing; that God is keeping his promises.
- first, God has fulfilled his promise of blessing <v. 35>
- second, God (so far) has fulfilled his promise of descendants <v. 36>
- now, Isaac needs a wife – and Abraham has assured the servant <v. 40>
- even though he knows the woman’s family might not cooperate
So what does the servant do?
- he journeys into the unknown, and he prays (vv. 42–45); <vv. 12–14>
- and when God answers his prayer, he gives thanks (v. 48); <v. 27>
Did you notice that phrase “steadfast love” (vv. 12, 14, 27)?
- the Hebrew word = ḥesed
- this is an “OT 101” word, because it’s so important
- it refers to God’s love that keeps promises, no matter what
- even if you can’t produce the required children or your nephew’s flocks are taking over your land or you have to sacrifice your son or it seems like you might never find the right wife for him
- you still journey into the unknown and you pray for God’s ḥesed
Can we see ourselves in this story?
- I don’t mean the arranged marriage part; I mean the ḥesed part
- I think we can, because in a few minutes, we will say these prayers:
- Give us this day our daily bread.
- Forgive us our sins.
- Defend us in all assaults of our enemies.
- Guide and govern us by your Holy Spirit.
- Grant us in this world knowledge of your truth, and in the age to come life everlasting.
Enough food; forgiveness; protection; guidance; truth; life everlasting – God has promised us all this through Jesus Christ.
- so let’s allow Abraham to assure us: <v. 7>
- and, like Abraham’s servant, let’s journey into the unknown and pray, “Lord, show ḥesed. Show steadfast love.” No matter what.
7 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.
12 "O LORD, God of my master Abraham, please grant me success today and show steadfast love to my master Abraham. 13 I am standing here by the spring of water, and the daughters of the townspeople are coming out to draw water. 14 Let the girl to whom I shall say, 'Please offer 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."
27 "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."