During these first days of the new year, and as we have concluded the past year, there are certain thoughts which often come to mind. We look back at what has happened in the year past and we think about how God has led us. We also look towards the new year and as we wonder what the year will bring, we may consider how God will lead us in 2005.
There are other times when we think about God’s leading. We desire to know God’s will when we are making decisions in life. How will he lead us into this new venture? We want to know. When difficulties come upon us, we also consider the matter of God’s leading. We would like to have a clear vision of the future and a clear understanding of what will be the best decisions. We know that God can provide that and so we seek His will and His direction.
And yet, at the same time, we struggle with this. Perhaps sometimes, we are quite content to go it on our own, without God’s direction in our life. Sometimes we are not sure of God’s direction. We don’t always know how to discern where God is leading.
Does God desire to rule in our lives? Does he lead us? There are many stories in the Bible which show God’s leading. One that is quite interesting takes place in Genesis 24. We have been away from Genesis for about a month, but will return to it now. The story of finding a bride for Isaac in Genesis 24 teaches us some principles about God’s leading, how we can discover it and how we should follow it. Let us see what we can learn to help us seek God’s leading in the coming year?
The story about finding a wife for Isaac is an interesting story.
When we began our study of Abraham, we learned about the blessing of God on his life. Now for the first time, it actually says that Abraham has been blessed. But we also notice that he is old and that raises the question of how these promises, these blessings to Abraham will be carried to the next generation. Isaac was without a wife and unless he had a wife and subsequently children, the blessings made to Abraham would not be passed on.
So Abraham asked his servant to go and find a wife for Isaac. When we read verse 2, we may think that it is an unusual way for a vow to be made, but it is quite appropriate. If you put your hand where Abraham asked his servant to put his hand, you had better be serious about what your promising. One writer notes that “An oath by the seat of procreation is particularly apt in this instance when it concerns the finding of a wife for Isaac.”
The servant had some doubts, but with Abraham’s assurances and the promise of the presence of God’s angel, the servant agreed to the conditions and to the full request of Abraham. He headed out, loaded with gifts, to look for a bride for Isaac in the land of Abraham’s family.
When he arrived, he came to a well. There he prayed and asked God to show him the right girl by requesting that the one chosen by God would not only give him a drink of water, but would also offer to water his camels. God answered this prayer and Rebekah was the one who came. The story is interesting at this point. At first, she gave him a drink of water, but there is a delay and we wonder, will she water the camels as well? Well, she did and the servant began to realize that she could be the one. He was not yet certain, but watched carefully. He rewarded her kindness with a bracelet and a nose ring. Now just in case you are looking for justification to get a nose ring, you won’t find it here, but it is interesting to note that nose rings are not a new thing, they are as old as Abraham’s time.
When the servant found out that the girl was a relative of Abraham, he rejoiced and praised God. It seems that now he was sure that she was the one and asked to discover if it was possible for him to stay the night with her family.
Rebekah’s brother Laban came out and formalized the invitation and the servant was invited to spend the night and also to enjoy a meal with the family. However, before he indulged in the meal, he presented his request to the family that Rebekah should be the wife of Isaac. The way the servant told the story, the family had no choice but to recognize that this thing was from God and they agreed to let Rebekah go.
The next morning, when the servant wanted to leave, they wanted to keep her for a while, but for some reason, the servant knew that this was not a good idea. Perhaps he saw it as a delaying tactic which could turn into a denying tactic. He insisted that they leave that very day. Clearly Rebekah’s mother and brother were not happy about this, but they agreed to put the question to Rebekah and we find that she was most willing to leave. The family blessed her greatly and allowed her to go, along with her servant girl. The blessing on Rebekah shows that these people shared the same hope as Abraham, which, of course, was why he wanted a wife from there for Isaac.
When they arrived back in the promised land, Isaac met his new bride and they were married and he was happy with his wife. An arranged marriage may seem unusual to us, but as one writer says, “In arranged marriages, love follows the union rather than prompts it.” I found out that “Today in South India, vs. 50 “This thing comes from the Lord,” is used on wedding invitations where the parents have arranged the marriage.”
One of the primary purposes of this passage is to tells us how the promises made to Abraham are passed on to Isaac. This is an important theological point. It is an interesting story for this reason and for other reasons. The story tells us about marriage customs, we could use it to think about how to find a bride and it describes an arranged marriage. However, we will look at this passage as it teaches us about the leading of God.
Bob Mumford, in Take Another Look at Guidance, writes:
“A certain harbour in Italy can be reached only by sailing up a narrow channel between dangerous rocks and shoals. Over the years, many ships have been wrecked, and navigation is hazardous. To guide the ships safely into port, three lights have been mounted on three huge poles in the harbor. When the three lights are perfectly lined up and seen as one, the ship can safely proceed up the narrow channel. If the pilot sees two or three lights, he knows he's off course and in danger.”
God has also provided a number of things which we can watch in order to discern His guidance. When they line up, we have a clear sense of God’s leading. We see them in this story. What are they and how do they work in our life?
Is it frivolous to ask God to guide us in regards to something that we want but don’t really need? Have you ever been reluctant to ask for God’s leading when making a decision about summer vacation or buying a luxury item?
This story doesn’t answer that question, but the question is raised because Abraham was seeking God’s guidance in the area of a need related to the promises of God. He needed God’s direction to know how to proceed with being the steward of God’s blessing. Isaac did not have a wife and the promise of many offspring and of blessing for all nations needed to be carried to the next generation because Abraham was getting old. So on the basis of that need, Abraham, through his servant, sought God’s leading.
When we have a need, we are encouraged by this story to seek God’s leading. In fact, when we have a need and we realize that God has to be involved in answering it, it is both a privilege and a joy to approach Him to ask for help. It is a good thing when our desperation prompts us to ask God for guidance.
But what if the need isn’t all that serious? What if we are asking for something that is more of a want than a need? There are two Scriptures that come to mind to help us know how to proceed.
We are told in I Corinthians 10:31, “So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.” If our intention in life is to live like that, then there is probably nothing that we should not ask for God’s guidance about. We may find that sometimes God’s guidance will prevent us from foolishly doing something that we really don’t need to do. Another verse that encourages us to seek God’s guidance in our whole life is Proverbs 3:5,6, “Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight.”
We learn from the example in this story to bring all of our needs and concerns before God and seek His leading.
As Abraham gave instructions to his servant, we discover a second principle. His first request was that the servant should not take a wife for Isaac from among the Canaanites. This was an idea that became stronger and stronger among the people of God. In Exodus 34:16 we read, “And when you choose some of their daughters as wives for your sons and those daughters prostitute themselves to their gods, they will lead your sons to do the same.” The people of Canaan were not God fearing people and they worshipped idols. In fact, as we read more about the people of this land, we learn that they were so wicked that God would destroy them at the hand of the Israelites. This did not happen for many years, but the roots of wickedness were already there. Abraham knew that being the faithful people of God would never work if they inter-married with the Canaanites.
When the servant asked what he should do if he could not find a wife from the people of his country, he suggested to Abraham that he would take Isaac back to that land. He was being sensitive to the Biblical concern for righteousness which Abraham had given in the first concern. But Abraham now gave a second Biblical perspective. He told him that because he had been called out of that land into the promised land, under no circumstances should he take him back to that land.
In these two instructions, we see one of the most important directions we can get regarding discerning God’s will and that is that it must fit with the Word of God. God has already revealed much of his will in His Word. God is consistent and will not go against his revealed will. The first place we need to go when we want to seek God’s guidance is to see what He already has said about something. If we want to know, “Should I marry this girl or guy?” We can look at II Corinthians 6:14 and discover that if they are not a Christian, we have our answer, we should not. If we want to know if we should declare our cash income on out tax form, we can look at Scripture and find that Romans 13:6,7 teaches us to pay all the taxes that we owe. If we are wondering if we should be a witness for the Lord, we learn from I Peter 3:15 that we always need to be ready to give an answer for the hope that is in us.
As we also see from this passage, discovering what God’s will is in His word, isn’t always simple and black and white. The servant perceived on the one hand that he should not find a wife from among the Canaanites, but the tension he had to keep in mind was that he should also not take Isaac back to the land of his ancestors. Careful and thorough study of God’s Word is essential as a reliable background for seeking God’s will. II Timothy 3:16,17 says, “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.”
Equally important is the will to do what we discover, in other words, obedience. Paul E. Little tells this story, “Several years ago I knew a girl who had signed a contract to teach. In August she received another offer from a school closer to where she wanted to live. So she broke the original contract. Had she acted on the biblical principle in Psalm 15:4, where God says that He is pleased with a person who swears to his own hurt and does not change, she would not have done that. The department chairman ... said her justification was "I have a peace about it," and he commented rather sardonically, "Isn't that lovely? She's got the peace and I've got the pieces."
I believe that girl missed the will of God. She violated a principle which, if she had been alert and had applied it to her situation, would have given her clear guidance in this specific detail of her life. - Paul E. Little
As the servant came to the land he was looking for, we discover a third principle. In Genesis 24:12 we read, “ Then he prayed…” If we want to know the will of God, we must pray.
The basis of all our prayer and asking God is not to presume on His greatness, but to rely on his mercy. The servant prayed, “show kindness…” He recognized that the only basis on which we can come to God in prayer is because of the grace of God. Let us never forget that, but let us be bold in coming to Him in prayer. Isaiah 55:6 encourages us, “Seek the LORD while he may be found; call on him while he is near.”
Pegi Tehan writes, “One day I decided to take my three children to an ice skating party in a nearby town, but after several wrong turns and stops to ask directions, I pulled over to the side of the road and suggested we all ask God to help us find the rink. When we finally arrived, we were nearly an hour late. The following week, as we got into the car to go skating again, my five-year-old son exclaimed, "Mom, let's pray now and save time!"
A further principle surrounds the specific request about which he prayed. He prayed that when he asked a girl for a drink, the one who would also offer to water his camels would be the one whom God had chosen. How should we understand this?
It is tempting for us sometimes to ask God for a sign. We sometimes talk about “putting out a fleece.” The idea of putting out a fleece comes from the story of Gideon. When God told him what to do, he wasn’t sure and so he put out a piece of wool and asked that it be dry while the ground around be covered with dew. The next night, he repeated this request in reverse. That story has come to be an example for some people to discover the will of God. Is it a good example? Is the request of the servant a similar kind of method?
Although there may be times to request a sign, it is probably not the best way to seek God’s will. In Gideon’s case, he already knew what God wanted and was simply unsure of himself and perhaps a little reluctant to commit to doing it. A sign can be used to avoid the process of discernment - seeking Scripture, asking advice from others and so on. It can also be used as an excuse to avoid doing what you know is right.
As a matter of fact, I do not think that what the servant was asking for was a sign in that sense of the word. Rather, I think that what he was doing was testing to find the girl who would be worthy of the position in God’s kingdom that Isaac’s wife would have. It would be more than simple kindness to offer to water 10 camels. The request for a drink of water was simple courtesy, but the offer to water 10 camels went way beyond common courtesy and even beyond the call of duty. It demonstrated the character of a woman who would do such a thing. It would reveal that she was a gracious and generous person with considerable energy.
If we understand the prayer request in this way, it raises another principle of seeking God’s will and that is wisdom. We may sometimes fear wisdom as being a human thing, but when we discover from Scripture that, as Proverbs 1:7 says, “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” And when Scripture itself invites us in James 1:5 to ask for wisdom, we should recognize the important place wisdom plays in the kingdom of God. It is a significant part of seeking God’s will to discover the wisdom in any given situation. We can do so by asking God, seeking the advice of others and thinking a matter through. Wisdom forms another part of seeking God’s will.
After these interchanges, we discover that even after prayer, obedience to God’s word and seeking wisdom, the servant was still not sure. We read in verse 21, “Without saying a word, the man watched her closely to learn whether or not the LORD had made his journey successful.” How did the servant finally discover that God was leading? How did he know that he had discovered God’s choice for Isaac’s wife? It is interesting to see God at work leading in this situation. As we observe His leading, we are encouraged to look for God at work and to observe carefully what He is doing.
We see God at work in a number of ways in this story. When the servant discovered that she was beautiful and available, he became interested in her as the right one. As the servant discovered what kind of a woman Rebekah was - that she was hospitable and energetic he opened his eyes to discover that God might be leading. When he asked about her family background and discovered that she was of the right family to make her an appropriate mate for Isaac, he became convinced that she was the one and praised God that he had found her. But even at this point, God’s leading was not concluded.
When he was invited to come and spend the night, he tried to convince her family of his purposes. His arguments were used to demonstrate that God was in this and they recognized this as well and said to him in 24:50, “This is from the Lord.”
The next morning, the whole thing threatened to unravel when they wanted her to stay for a while, but when Rebekah agreed to go with him, we know that God had led. Sometimes we pray and ask God to lead us, but we fail to watch God work. We are slow to see the signs of God’s activity. We need to train ourselves and open our spiritual eyes to see God working. As we seek God’s will, let us also make sure that we recognize how God has been at work.
Recognizing God at work requires one final step and that is giving thanks for what He has done.
As soon as the servant knew that God had answered his prayer, we read in verses 26,27 that he gave thanks and praise to God. Then in verse 52, when he received the permission of her family, we read once again that he “bowed down to the ground before the Lord.”
Let us never fail to give thanks and praise to God when we recognize that He has been at work.
In verse 7, Abraham assured the servant that “God’s angel will accompany you.” We have the same assurance from God that when we seek Him, He will answer. He will guide our lives. As we face this new year, let us look to God in all we do, let us be bold to seek Him and diligent to observe how He acts.
In the early days of the USA, a weary traveler came to the banks of the Mississippi River for the first time. There was no bridge. It was early winter, and the surface of the mighty stream was covered with ice. Could he dare cross over? Would the uncertain ice be able to bear his weight?
Night was falling, and it was urgent that he reach the other side. Finally, after much hesitation and with many fears, he began to creep cautiously across the surface of the ice on his hands and knees. He thought that he might distribute his weight as much as possible and keep the ice from breaking beneath him.
About halfway over he heard the sound of singing behind him. Out of the dusk there came a man, driving a horse-drawn load of coal across the ice and singing merrily as he went his way.
Here he was--on his hands and knees, trembling lest the ice be not strong enough to bear him up! And there, as if whisked away by the winter's wind, went the man, his horses, his sleigh, and his load of coal, upheld by the same ice on which he was creeping!
Like this weary traveler, some of us have learned only to creep upon the promises of God. Cautiously, timidly, tremblingly we venture forth upon His promises, as though the lightness of our step might make His promises more secure. As though we could contribute even in the slightest to the strength of His assurances!
He has promised to be with us. Let us believe that promise! He has promised to uphold us. Let us believe Him when He says so. He has promised to grant us victory over all our spiritual enemies. Let us trust His truthfulness. Above all, He has promised to grant us full and free forgiveness of all our sins because of Jesus Christ, our Savior. And He has promised to come and take us to His heavenly home. Let us take Him at His word.
We are not to creep upon these promises as though they were too fragile to uphold us. We are to stand upon them--confident that God is as good as His word and that He will do what He has pledged.
The Bread Line, Newsletter of the Colby Presbyterian Church, Colby, Kansas
--James S. Hewett, Illustrations Unlimited (Wheaton: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc, 1988) pp. 246-247.