Is God sovereign? Are people responsible? So goes the age-old theological debate. Personally, I believe the answer is “Yes!” God is sovereign. People are responsible.
Genesis 24, the longest chapter in Genesis, deals with Abraham finding a bride for Isaac. The chapter weaves together the twin themes of God’s providence and human responsibility. On the one hand, God is the sole cause of all the events of the story. He was deliberately behind the scenes, directing the people and the events. His providential dealings prevent many potential mishaps from occurring. On the other hand, the servant carried out his assignment. He trusted God, looking in prayer for God’s leading. He was motivated by his loyalty to the covenant. He praised God before the assignment was completed.
Abraham is now 140 and Isaac is 40 years old (Genesis 25:20). Sarah has been dead for three years (23:1). Since God’s promise requires children and descendents, Abraham sets out to find a suitable wife for Isaac. Knowing that the Canaanites were under a curse (9:25-27), Abraham sends his trusted servant back to the old country to find a bride from among Abraham’s relatives (24:1-9). He is confident that God will lead his servant to the right girl.
It is popular today for parents to allow their children to make up their own mind about spiritual things. We are told to give them free rein in making their own choices. In contrast, verses 1-9 remind me that we have the responsibility of ensuring that God’s plan continues to the next generation. Like Abraham, we do what we can to make success possible, but we also rely on God for the outcome.
In 24:10-27, the servant carries out his master’s plan. After completing the journey, the servant prays for success (24:12-14). Rather than merely saying, “God bless my efforts,” he lays out a very specific request. He asks God to bring a girl who would not only offer him a drink of water (common courtesy given to a traveler), but who would also offer to fetch water for his animals.
On the surface, that sounds like a reasonable request. However, when you examine the details, you realize how extraordinary it is. The servant had 10 camels. A thirsty camel can drink 25 gallons of water. The bucket at the well holds about 2-3 gallons. That would require 80-100 trips to the well. Considering it takes a camel about 10 minutes to drink its fill, we’re talking 1 ½ – 2 hours of hot, sweaty work.
Before his prayer is complete, a girl approaches the servant and offers him a drink of water (24:15). She also offers to water his camels. “Has God answered my prayer?” he asks himself (24:21). He discovers that the girl is Rebekah, a niece of Abraham. He praises God for leading him each step of the way (24:27). He praises God for leading through the ordinary and the extraordinary.
In 24:28-60, the servant meets Rebekah’s family and tells them the story of Abraham and Isaac. He is hopeful they will recognize God’s providence (24:49). Rebekah’s father and brother conclude that God is indeed in this situation and they give their approval to the match (24:50-51). When the servant proposes leaving immediately for the homeward journey, they say, “What’s the rush?” (24:54-55). Knowing that delayed obedience is disobedience, the servant pushes for an immediate answer and departure. Rebekah agrees (24:57-58) and off they go.
This section points out that our primary motivation should be to follow God’s leading. It also reminds me that we must not delay obeying God’s instructions.
In 24:61-67, the servant has the joy of introducing Isaac to his new bride. He joyfully retells the story of how God led and prospered his efforts.
Like the servant, we can be confident the Lord will complete the work he has begun. And like the servant, we should tell others what God has done for us.
This is the synopsis of a sermon preached at First Central Baptist Church on August 25, 2013. It is part of a series on the life of Abraham. Please click on the link to download a copy of the sermon notes.