Are you starting to see the lessons coming out of this story? Are you starting to see how this might apply to your life? Abraham was an old man advanced in years, yet his faith in God is at its peak. So many men and women, when their bodies begin to grow weak their faith grows weak as well. We have far too many examples of this in the household of God. Abraham has a task before him to serve God by finding the right woman for Isaac so that the promise would continue. Instead of looking at the long journey back to Mesopotamia and throwing up his hands because he couldn’t make the journey, he sets his servant to the task. He encourages and instructs the servant and then sends him forth. Abraham passes on the faith he has to his servant and commands the servant to walk by faith. You don’t see Abraham take a back seat and say, “well, my time is past. Now it’s time for the younger generation to take over. I’ll just let them take over and I’ll go sit over here and watch from the sidelines. Go ahead, Isaac. Go find a wife.” You don’t see that mentality anywhere in Scripture from God’s people. Those advanced in years continue to advance the gospel, continue to lead, continue to encourage. They are the generals in the war that command those who are in the fray. We must also grapple with the providence of God. Ruth Bryan wrote this, “Deliverance seldom comes in the way we look for it; for “Who has directed the Spirit of the Lord, or who gave Him His counsel? Who did He consult with? Who gave Him understanding and taught Him the paths of justice? Who taught Him knowledge and showed Him the way of understanding?” Isaiah 40:13-14 Ah, has not the Lord frustrated our purposes over and over again! I cannot tell you with what majesty this passage has often come to my mind — “Who gave Him His counsel?” Not puny, sinful worms! He will counsel for them — but not with them. “My counsel shall stand, and I will do all My pleasure!” Yet “fear not, worm Jacob, I will help you” — help you to stand still and see My salvation; or help you to walk on in the dark in a rough and unknown path — just as My wisdom sees fit. Spiritual eyesight is not given to look at the outward path — but to look at our Guide; not to look before us at the way we are going to travel — but to look only at Him who will guide us safely through all, who will Himself be our way. Oh, to be kept abiding in Him, and constantly looking unto Him! It is most safe and blessed — but very contrary to flesh and blood! “I will lead the blind by a way they did not know; I will guide them on paths they have not known. I will turn darkness to light in front of them, and rough places into level ground. This is what I will do for them, and I will not forsake them.” Isaiah 42:16. Brothers and sisters, God is on the throne. He is in control. If he can guide a humble servant to a woman he chose 450 miles away, he can also lead to your home with him in heaven. This is the God of the Bible. His name is Providence. Are you in need? Do you have a trial that is burdening you? Are you losing your grip? Trust in his providence and trust in his steadfast love. Here these words from Charles Spurgeon, “The best remedy for affliction, is sweet submission to God’s providence. What can’t be cured, must be endured!”
a. The servant’s journey. We are told that the servant takes with him ten camels and all sorts of choice gifts. Today that would be like the servant rolling up to Nahor with a fleet of luxury vehicles with a trunk full of cash and jewelry. Several weeks and 450 miles later and the servant gets to Nahor. The servant strategically goes to the well of the city at the time of day when reputable women would go out to draw water. This servant is no fool. He is trusting the God of Abraham but is using his mind as well. b. Then the servant prays. First, he calls on Yahweh, the God of his master Abraham. Good start, right? God remember your friend Abraham and remember your steadfast love for him and help me be successful for his sake. The servant knows the covenant love of God toward Abraham. He invokes that love for success in his mission from Abraham. Then the servant asks for a sign. It’s not a sign like, may she be wearing a red robe, but a sign that speaks of the woman herself. He asks God to make the right woman agree to give him and the ten camels water. Now giving the servant a drink would be no big deal because the woman’s jar may have held like 2 or 3 gallons. But the 10 camels. They could drink like 25 gallons especially after a long journey they’ve been on. Now we’re talking 250 gallons of water. This woman would have to be humble, hospitable, and very hardworking to agree to such a thing. She would have to be a woman of great character if she would not just agree to do this but suggest it without being asked. c. The servant meets Rebekah. But even as the servant is praying here comes Rebekah. The servant runs to her and asks for a drink. She offers him a drink and lo and behold she offers to water his camels too. The servant stands there and watches her to see if he had already found the one he was seeking. When he is sufficiently convinced and the camels were done drinking he gives Rebekah some gifts. These were not just small tokens but a significant gift that would equal around $35,000 in America today. In verses 23 through 25 we find the servant asking who she was and if they, he and the other servants with him, could spend the night at her father’s house. Of course, we already know who this is because Moses told us back in Genesis chapter 22. She was the daughter of Bethuel who was the son of Nahor and Milcah. Now the servant had asked God for confirmation that the right woman would respond correctly to his question. Little did he know that God was going to send a relative of Abraham’s. This was like double confirmation. Then Rebekah offers the servants and the animals a place to stay and eat. d. The servant responds to the meeting. In verses 26 through 27 we have the response of the servant. What does he do? What is his first response? He bows his head and worships. First, he praises God for his steadfast love and faithfulness toward Abraham. He does not take credit for the success of this mission but immediately points to God. “It’s all you, God. You did this. You love Abraham and you are faithful to your covenant promises. You did this.” Then he looks at what he did and said that it was God that led him. Just like Abraham said. God used his actions to lead him right to the house of Abraham’s relatives. What a blessing for this servant to have lived in the house of the friend of God. Clearly, this man personally knew Yahweh God of Abraham.
Steadfast Love: Faith in Providence a. Abraham was old. The story starts with a reminder that Abraham was old and advanced in years. He was in his hundreds and, for us, we would say that this is obvious. But remember that Shem, Noah’s son, dies 25 years before Abraham. When was he old and well advanced in years? When he was 500? 550? After the flood people aged a lot quicker. The only patriarch that had a shorter life than Abraham was his brother Nahor who died at 148. So the toll of sin upon humanity has quickly robbed us of hundreds of years. Even though Abraham is advanced in age and God had blessed him in all things he hasn’t outgrown his need to trust God. The command of God for Abraham to walk blameless before him has not diminished. There was no retirement from his service to the Lord. God continues to demand that Abraham place his trust in him and act accordingly. And Abraham does. b. Isaac needs a wife. Now, Isaac is in his thirties and is ready to take a wife. So Abraham calls his servant to him and gives him the task of going out and retrieving a woman for Isaac. Abraham puts this servant under a solemn oath not to get a Canaanite woman. But what is this strange ritual of placing his hand under the thigh ritual of Abraham asking the servant to place his hand under his thigh, or as some suggest, under something more private? Why is he doing this? It reinforces the gravity of the task and the oath that the servant is being put under. Abraham is not just giving suggestions to the servant but is placing the continuation of the covenant of circumcision on his shoulders. This isn’t the last time that we will see this ritual because as Jacob is dying he makes Joseph take an oath in the same manner concerning his burial. The question comes to mind: Why is Abraham so concerned about who Isaac marries? Why shouldn’t he marry a Canaanite? Let me remind you of Genesis chapter nine and the cursing of Canaan. Remember that Abraham is in the line of Shem. Canaan was cursed by God to be a servant of his brothers and specifically Shem. Abraham will not see the promised child marry a cursed woman. Plus, in Genesis 15 God tells Abraham that the descendants of Canaan will be removed from the land and that will occur when the sin of the Amorites, a clan of Canaan, is complete. These are good reasons for Abraham to keep Isaac from these women. He must marry from the line of Shem. c. The servant’s question. Now in verse 5, we see the servant’s response. Not willing to be too hasty in swearing this oath he asks Abraham what happens if he can’t bring the woman back should he take Isaac back to Mesopotamia? Abraham says “don’t take my son back there.” The promise is for the land of Canaan, not Mesopotamia so he needs to stay there. But Abraham then displays his faith in the work and providence of God. He basically tells the servant not to worry because God will send his angel before him and will have it all worked out. But if it doesn’t work out then just don’t take Isaac back, but don’t worry, it will work out. As JC Ryle said, “There is no such thing as chance, luck, or accident in the Christian journey through this world. All is arranged and appointed by God. And all things are working together for the believer’s good!”
Steadfast Love: Introduction This week we begin a new study. Yes, we are still in Genesis but the main character that the Bible points us to is changing. Abraham is still alive and still has a role to play in the remaining years of his life. Abraham remains a background character for the rest of Scripture. He never completely leaves the story of the Bible. But the focus of God’s word does shift from Abraham to follow his descendants. Abraham is an old man now and his life is drawing to an end. The question remains: What will happen to the promise of God concerning the multitudes of descendants after Abraham is dead and gone? Will the covenant that God made with Abraham stand? We’ve seen threats made against the covenant. How will God see this through? Will God see this through? Many months ago we saw the beginning of the promise that developed into the covenant that God made with Abraham. In Genesis 3:15 we heard it. “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head.” That’s the promise and the forerunner of the covenant of Abraham. We’ve seen the promise work its way through history. We saw how God ordered history and protected his promise. This is what we call divine providence. I’ve mentioned it before and will continue to do so as we go through Genesis. Divine providence is a key theme throughout this book. What is this great doctrine of Divine Providence? People used to know and believe it. The signers of the Declaration of Independence said they were relying upon the protection of divine Providence as they defied the tyrant king. What is this great doctrine of providence? Charles Spurgeon said, “Blessed is that man who is done with chance, who never speaks of luck—but believes that from the least, even to the greatest, all things are ordained by the Lord. We dare not leave out the least event! The creeping of an aphid upon a rosebud is as surely arranged by the decree of Providence—as the march of a pestilence through a nation! Believe this, for if the least thing is omitted from the supreme government, so may the next be, and the next—until nothing is left in the divine hands. There is no place for chance, since God fills all things.” Matthew Henry said, “God who feeds the sparrows—will not starve His saints! God controls all the concerns of His people, even of those that are most minute, and least regarded. This is an encouragement to live in a continual dependence upon God’s providential care!” The story we have before us is one of providence, the fulfilling of a promise, and steadfast love. We are going to look at the story over two weeks. This week we find Abraham commissioning his servant and declares his faith in Providence in verses 1-9 and then we’ll see the journey of this servant as he obeys his master and trust in the Lord and his steadfast love and faithfulness toward Abraham in verses 10-27.
What do we learn from all this? God is a good God and is gracious toward his people. We never hear of Sarah’s laughing at the promise. Instead, the Holy Spirit passes by her unbelief and notices her submission to her husband. Instead of pointing out her scheming, the Spirit says she died in faith. God passes by the failings of his people and praises the good that he has worked in and through them. So be encouraged. If God has forgiven your sin then he will never bring them up again. But this is all contingent on the phrase, “they died in faith.” If you die in unbelief then every sin that you have committed in defiance and ignorance will have to be accounted for. Evil acts done in darkness will be brought into the light of day and judged. Beg God for mercy that you will never have to stand and give an account for your sin. And so we are called to follow the example of Sarah. A life that was not perfect but a life that was lived by faith. Is that how you live your life. Are you looking at your life with your eyes or by faith? Are you stuck where you are because you see the circumstances and laugh? How could God use someone like me? My answer is: How could he not use you? If by faith an infertile old woman can have a baby then why can’t God use you in his kingdom? Of course, he can use you and he will if you are walking before him. This week you will go about your life. And people are watching. If you love Jesus then you will do what he commands. He told you to make disciples of the nations. How are you going to be a blessing to the nations? How are you going to help the people learn about Christ? There are those around you that have little to no contact with Christians. How are you going to meet them? There are those that you know that have never heard the gospel. How will you share the good news with them? There are believers that you know that need to grow their roots down in the soil of faith. They need to grow in their faith and knowledge of the love of God. How are you going to help your fellow believers grow in their faith? There are some Christians that you know that need to be equipped to teach others. How are you going to help equip and encourage them? Think on these things. These are what it takes to leave behind a faithful legacy.
Abraham’s Possession 17-20. What we have here is basically the contract that was written. It is worded very much like the contracts of that time and place. The field and the cave legally belonged to Abraham and his descendants. This would be the burial place for the patriarchs. Sarah, Abraham, Rebekah, Leah, and Jacob would all be buried here. Why is this important? This land, this burial cave, stood as a testimony to faith. Hebrews 11 says that they all died in faith. Faith in the promises of God. They understood that the Promised Land was more than just a plot of land in the Middle East. They were seeking a homeland but it was not of this earth. As Hebrews 11:16 says, they desired, “a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city.”
Weighing Out the Silver 12-16. As you can tell from what happens next, Ephron is working the deal here. Abraham is seeking to buy the cave but Ephron offers it and the field for free. Why didn’t Abraham just take it? Because the law of the land said that once Ephron died his descendants could demand the land back. Abraham is seeking to establish ownership of the cave and Ephron knows that. Ephron has basically said, “You want the cave? You have to buy the field too.” So Abraham says okay name your price. Ephron says, four hundred shekels of silver. It’s hard to figure out exactly how much this is and Moses in the text says that it was a shekel according to the weights current among the merchants. It seems that it was a lot of money. Maybe Ephron thought that Abraham wouldn’t pay but he does. He doesn’t haggle or try to get the price lowered he just pays the price. Abraham does not want any future legal claims from Ephron’s descendants on this property. He weighs out the silver and finally, Abraham owns a piece of the Promised Land.
Give You the Cave 7-11. Now we are getting into what it was like to make a deal in the land of the Hittites. Abraham is not willing to settle for just borrowing a grave, he stands and addresses the men. Instead of just leaving his request as a generic appeal for land he asks for a specific place with a specific owner. This is a good tactic on Abraham’s part because it forces the owner, Ephron, to make a decision. The group could have easily dismissed him but now, Ephron is on the spot. Abraham asks for the cave of Machpelah and says that he will pay full price for the cave. Ephron comes back with, “No, my lord, hear me: I give you the field, and I give you the cave.” Is this a generous gift on the part of Ephron? Take the cave and the field or is there something else going on here?
After his time of mourning, Abraham gets up and goes to the city gate to seek to buy a burial plot for Sarah. He calls himself a sojourner and a foreigner. Abraham had been in the land for over 60 years but yet he is still a stranger. Why? He doesn’t own any land. He is still a nomad and has no rights in that area because he is not a landowner. Again, Abraham is greeting the promises from afar. The people honor Abraham by calling him lord and saying that he is a prince among them. Then they offer him the use of one of their tombs. His choice. Notice, though, they are not offering to sell any land just use of one of their tombs. So they honor Abraham but they would like to keep him as a sojourner not a landowner with rights.
a. As we start looking at this passage we are greeted with a very abrupt description of the death of Sarah. There is no fanfare, no explanation of how she died. We are just told that Sarah is gone. As I said, Sarah greeted the full promises of God from afar. Sure she saw the promises being fulfilled but she did not witness the fullness of the promises. Sarah dies in the Promised Land but her family still does not own any land there. The land that her descendants will possess is still unowned. Moses mentions that she dies at Kiriath-arba which was the old Hittite name for what would be called Hebron. This means that somewhere since the last story Abraham moved his home back to where he used to live, near the oaks of Mamre. It was there that he built an altar to the Lord and now Sarah has breathed her last at the same place. Hebron would be a place that would have a long history for Sarah’s descendants. Hebron would be one of the cities that Joshua devotes to destruction. Some of the Anakim or the family of giants, according to Joshua 11, lived in Hebron. After the conquest, the city was given to Caleb, the one spy, along with Joshua, who trusted that God would fulfill his promise to Abraham. In the nation of Israel, Hebron was a city of refuge for those that had committed manslaughter. Samson would take the gates of the city of Gaza and carry them to Hebron where he displayed them on a hill. And it was at Hebron, that God told David to go to reign over Judah before he reigned over the united nation of Israel. Were are told that Sarah was 127 years old when she died. We are never told the impact of Sarah’s death on Abraham. They were probably married for over 100 years and had been on this adventure in the land of Canaan for over 60 years. Sarah got to see her promised child grow and become a man. Isaac was either 36 or 37 years old when she died. And Sarah is given the honor of being the only woman whose death and age at death are recorded in Scripture. Sarah was a special, chosen woman. Now, this isn’t the last time that Sarah is mentioned. We looked before at Galatians and saw her mentioned there. But there are two places in Scripture where Sarah is given as an example to follow. There is no other woman in the Bible who God calls his people to emulate. In Isaiah 51 it says, ““Listen to me, you who pursue righteousness, you who seek the Lord: look to the rock from which you were hewn, and to the quarry from which you were dug. Look to Abraham your father and to Sarah who bore you for he was but one when I called him, that I might bless him and multiply him.” God says to those that are seeking him and his righteousness, look to Abraham and Sarah as an example of what that means. In 1 Peter 3, Peter points Christian wives to Sarah. She is the example of what it means to be a gorgeous woman, not outwardly but inwardly. “For this is how the holy women who hoped in God used to adorn themselves, by submitting to their own husbands.” Sarah submitted herself to Abraham even though Abraham did some fairly stupid things. She had her moments but overall she had a gentle and quiet spirit, which God finds very precious. How was she able to be submissive? Because Sarah did what was good and did not fear anything frightening. She was an example to women and to all people who seek the Lord by faith. Some of you might have heard of a woman named Ruth Bryan who died in 1860. Her correspondence and diary have been published and give you insight into the inner thoughts and struggles of a Christian seeking to follow God. Let me read to what a biographer wrote of her which made me think of Sarah. “It will be perceived she was one of the Lord’s favored children, often privileged to walk in His sunshine, and to dwell under His shadow. But be it remembered that the beauty of her character was all of GRACE. Without its wonder-working power, she would have been but a cumberer of the ground, a stone in nature’s quarry; but the Lord, in His Divine sovereignty and matchless love, took her from thence, to cleanse, and clothe, and consecrate her for Himself: and, under the hand of the Great Refiner, she was prepared and adorned to take her place among the living stones in His heavenly temple.”