Great Moments in Bible History
A Nearly Impossible Mission
Most people enjoy a story about someone accomplishing a nearly impossible task. In 1953 when the news came out that Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay had become the first people to climb to the top of Mount Everest, the world was excited. In 1969 when Neil Armstrong became the first person to walk on the moon, everyone was glued to their TV sets watching the historic moment. In both cases things had been accomplished by humans that seemed nearly impossible. The Bible contains a number of stories about people accomplishing the seemingly impossible, but there is a big difference between those stories and the stories of heroes today. The difference is that these modern stories are accounts of humans acting by human ability, while the people in the Bible were acting in obedience to God by faith in God.
We find just such a story in Genesis 24. Strangely enough, we don’t even know the name of the man who accomplished that nearly impossible mission. Nevertheless, it is a great story. In our last issue we learned that Abraham’s wife Sarah had died. Nearly the whole of Genesis 23 was occupied with Abraham purchasing a burial place for his wife. After that there was only one important task that Abraham had left to do. He needed to get a wife for his son Isaac. God had told Abraham that His wonderful promises to make of Abraham a great nation and to bless all nations through him would be fulfilled through his son Isaac. Obviously, a wife for Isaac was essential.
Normally we would not think it would be all that difficult to find Isaac a wife. After all, people are finding wives all the time. But Abraham knew how spiritually destructive it would be for Isaac to marry one of the women of Canaan. His nephew Lot’s story demonstrated just how damaging it was to live in close proximity to those people. The New Testament warns us of the dangers of Christians today marrying or getting involved in close relationships with unbelievers (see 1 Corinthians 7:39 and 2 Corinthians 6:14). So marrying any of the eligible women where Abraham and Isaac lived was out of the question.
The only women Abraham was willing to have Isaac marry were the daughters of his relatives back in Haran, 450 miles away. Abraham gave his chief servant the mission of traveling to Haran, finding a wife from Abraham’s relatives, and bringing her back for Isaac to marry. The servant realized what an impossible mission that was. What family is going to allow their daughter to leave home, travel 450 miles to a place she has never been before, to marry a man she has never even seen, and to never return to see her family again? He asked Abraham, “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?” (Genesis 24:5)
Abraham was horrified at the thought of his son going back to the place that God had told him to leave. His son was in the place God wanted him to be. “See to it that you do not take my son back there.” But then Abraham added the one piece of the story that turns it from an impossible mission to one that would certainly be accomplished. “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” (verse 7). (By the way, this speech is the last recorded speech of Abraham in the Bible. From now on we will be studying about Isaac and his descendants.)
Of course, that promise would only reassure someone who had Abraham’s faith in God, but—as we will see—his servant really did have that faith.
That assurance that Abraham had from God is what turns this story from one about an amazing human endeavor to one about God doing an amazing thing for the people who trusted in Him.
An Answered Prayer
Abraham’s servant was not one to waste time once he was given a mission to accomplish. He took ten of Abraham’s camels, loaded them up with expensive gifts, took several other servants to help him on the journey, and headed for Haran—450 miles to the north. The trip must have taken weeks, but the very next verse tells about his arrival at the well just outside the city. “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” (Genesis 24:11).
The first thing the man did at that well was to pray. “O Lord, God of my master Abraham, please grant me success today and show steadfast love to my master Abraham.” In that prayer he asked God to show him the wife God had already picked out for Isaac. He knew that the young women of the city would soon be coming out to the well to fetch water for their families, so he asked God to show him a sign—a very specific one. “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” (verse 14). That was no average sign. How many young women would volunteer to water ten thirsty camels owned by a stranger without even being asked? But this was not a random sign that the servant invented. He knew that his master was very hospitable to strangers (we learned about that in chapter 18). If this young lady were to be a suitable wife for Abraham’s son, she too needed to be hospitable to strangers.
Before the servant even finished praying that prayer a young woman came to the well with her water jar. The servant had no idea who she was, but the narrator tells us that she was Rebekah, Abraham’s great niece, so we are pretty sure already that she is going to be the one.
The servant had picked a sign that required him to do something, so as soon as the girl filled her water jar he ran to meet her and said, “Please give me a little water to drink from your jar” (verse 17). She immediately handed her jar to the man to drink from. When he finished, she then said, “I will draw water for your camels also, until they have finished drinking.” And that is just what she did. At this point we, the readers, are saying, “Ding! Ding! Ding! Ding! That’s the sign from God. She’s the one!” The servant knew that too, but he needed one more piece of information to make sure. He asked her whose daughter she was. She gave her lineage back to her grandfather Nahor, whom the servant knew was Abraham’s brother. At that point the man knew God hadn’t failed him. He “bowed his head and worshipped the Lord.”
Will You Go With This Man?
The story was not over as soon as Abraham’s servant received the sign he had requested from God. There was still the question of whether the girl’s family would be willing for her to travel 450 miles to marry a man none of them had ever met. But the servant knew God would guide in that matter as well.
The man explained to Rebekah who he was. I’m not sure whether he told her why he was there, but he proceeded to put some expensive gold jewelry on her and she did not object or ask why. Her brother Laban invited the man and his company (including the ten camels) to stay at their house. Once the servant and his men had washed up, Laban put food on the table for them. But the servant responded, “I will not eat until I have said what I have to say” (Genesis 24:33). You have to admire that servant. He was on a mission and he was not going to relax until he had accomplished it. I suspect one of the reasons this story is in the Bible is so that we will consider our own behavior as servants of God in the light of that man’s faithful example.
The man then recounted the whole story to Rebekah’s family, including the sign he had asked of God and the wonderful way that Rebekah’s kindness showed God’s answer. At the close of the story the family replied, “The thing has come from the Lord,” and they gave permission for Rebekah to marry Isaac. At soon as he heard that, the servant again bowed and worshipped the Lord (verse 52).
The next morning the servant announced that he was ready to head back home with Rebekah. That shocked the family, since I’m sure they knew they would probably never see Rebekah again. They wanted Rebekah to stay a while longer. Finally, they agreed to ask Rebekah what she wanted to do. “Will you go with this man?” they asked (verse 58). She replied, “I will go.” And thus she proved to be a worthy daughter-in-law for Abraham, the man who had obeyed when God told him to leave his country and his family to go to the land that God had promised to give him.