Common English Bible (CEB)
34 The man said, “I am Abraham’s servant.” 35 The Lord has richly blessed my master, has made him a great man, and has given him flocks, cattle, silver, gold, men servants, women servants, camels, and donkeys. 36 My master’s wife Sarah gave birth to a son for my master in her old age, and he’s given him everything he owns. 37 My master made me give him my word: ‘Don’t choose a wife for my son from the Canaanite women, in whose land I’m living. 38 No, instead, go to my father’s household and to my relatives and choose a wife for my son.’ 39 I said to my master, ‘What if the woman won’t come back with me?’ 40 He said to me, ‘The Lord, whom I’ve traveled with everywhere, will send his messenger with you and make your trip successful; and you will choose a wife for my son from my relatives and from my father’s household. 41 If you go to my relatives, you will be free from your obligation to me. Even if they provide no one for you, you will be free from your obligation to me.’
42 “Today I arrived at the spring, and I said, ‘Lord, God of my master Abraham, if you wish to make the trip I’m taking successful, 43 when I’m standing by the spring and the young woman who comes out to draw water and to whom I say, “Please give me a little drink of water from your jar,” 44 and she responds to me, “Drink, and I will draw water for your camels too,” may she be the woman the Lord has selected for my master’s son.’ 45 Before I finished saying this to myself, Rebekah came out with her water jar on her shoulder and went down to the spring to draw water. And I said to her, ‘Please give me something to drink.’ 46 She immediately lowered her water jar and said, ‘Drink, and I will give your camels something to drink too.’ So I drank and she also gave water to the camels. 47 Then I asked her, ‘Whose daughter are you?’ And she said, ‘The daughter of Bethuel, Nahor’s son whom Milcah bore him.’ I put a ring in her nose and bracelets on her arms. 48 I bowed and worshipped the Lord and blessed the Lord, the God of my master Abraham, who led me in the right direction to choose the granddaughter of my master’s brother for his son. 49 Now if you’re loyal and faithful to my master, tell me. If not, tell me so I will know where I stand either way.”
50 Laban and Bethuel both responded, “This is all the Lord’s doing. We have nothing to say about it. 51 Here is Rebekah, right in front of you. Take her and go. She will be the wife of your master’s son, just as the Lord said.” 52 When Abraham’s servant heard what they said, he bowed low before the Lord. 53 The servant brought out gold and silver jewelry and clothing and gave them to Rebekah. To her brother and to her mother he gave the finest gifts. 54 He and the men with him ate and drank and spent the night.
When they got up in the morning, the servant said, “See me off to my master.”
55 Her brother and mother said, “Let the young woman stay with us not more than ten days, and after that she may go.”
56 But he said to them, “Don’t delay me. The Lord has made my trip successful. See me off so that I can go to my master.”
57 They said, “Summon the young woman, and let’s ask her opinion.” 58 They called Rebekah and said to her, “Will you go with this man?”
She said, “I will go.”
59 So they sent off their sister Rebekah, her nurse, Abraham’s servant, and his men.60 And they blessed Rebekah, saying to her,
“May you, our sister, become
thousands of ten thousand;
may your children possess
their enemies’ cities.”
61 Rebekah and her young women got up, mounted the camels, and followed the man. So the servant took Rebekah and left.
62 Now Isaac had come from the region of[a] Beer-lahai-roi and had settled in the arid southern plain. 63 One evening, Isaac went out to inspect the pasture,[b] and while staring he saw camels approaching. 64 Rebekah stared at Isaac. She got down from the camel 65 and said to the servant, “Who is this man walking through the pasture to meet us?”
The servant said, “He’s my master.” So she took her headscarf and covered herself.66 The servant told Isaac everything that had happened. 67 Isaac brought Rebekah into his mother Sarah’s tent. He received Rebekah as his wife and loved her. So Isaac found comfort after his mother’s death.
As of Friday afternoon this past week, I returned from District Youth Camp up at Lakeview Conference Center. Anyone who has ever been a counselor at Lakeview can tell you that as fun and as powerful as it can be, Lakeview is a test in endurance, patience, and ability to control chaos.
Every minute, something is assaulting the senses—noise from a group of rowdy Mid-high students, the ridiculously high heat and humidity, profuse sweat, itching, and aching muscles from walking/biking/dodgeball. The list goes on and on, and all the while, something happens at camp, something that may not be visible until later in the week. Being a counselor gives you a unique perspective on what this is, and only until you leave do you truly see the fact that God was working the whole time. Friendships form. Worship is had. The Bible is explored. And suddenly, often without provocation, a breakthrough happens and you see the Holy Spirit open up in a campers life, and a ripple effect happens. Even as a spectator, you can’t help but be touched. As you step back, you begin to see all the things that had to fall into place in order for that beautiful moment to happen—all the planning, all the giving, all the sacrifice and all the struggle, either in your life or in that kid’s life—and you have to wonder if you really had any control in it at all, any choice. You have to wonder if it was all a big coincidence, or if it was something more.
When we talk about God, and our faith in God, inevitably the question is raised: Just exactly how much control does God have, and how much control do we have?The issue of God’s sovereignty, or God’s ability/right to rule, ordain and order all things in the universe, and human agency, our ability to choose freely and act independently, is probably one of the most debated issues in the realm of Christianity today. Many times, we in the Christian community have a tendency to jump immediately to the place where “it’s all God’s plan.” I know I do, quite frequently. I do it without thinking. In our minds, coincidence instantly makes the leap to the providence of God. But what is providence? And why does it matter to us as United Methodists, people who believe in free will so strongly that we will die before admitting that anything is predestined, but are also believe that God has a plan?
Perhaps the best way to grapple with this difficult faith question is by taking a look back at how providence works in scripture, specifically in this story in Genesis. I’ve been walking through the stories in Genesis the past few weeks, finding ways in which it instructs us in faith and teaches us how to have faith beyond whatever we might face in life. This story revolves around the marriage of Rebekah and Isaac, and the crazy things that needed to take place in order for the marriage to happen. Before we do this, though, we might need some context.
1) marriages were arranged and
2) people often married their cousins in order to keep property within the family as well as to avoid mixing with people from other tribes and ethnicities.
Marriages were more about how well the families knew each other and how well they could negotiate as opposed to how much the couple in question loved each other. To sum up: Biblical family values are a lot different from how we imagine them to be.
So Abraham, at the request of his now dead wife Sarah, sends out a slave to find a potential wife for his son Isaac. The slave then goes out to find this potential lady by going to the most romantic spot ever: a well. (Bear with me.) Wells, in ancient middle-eastern literature, were the go-to place for romance to happen. It was for them what park benches or supermarkets are for us today: a place to randomly bump into that special someone with whom you will fall in love with at first sight, and then marry. Once upon a time, a boy met a girl at a well. That’s just kind of how stories went back then, and because art imitates life and vice-versa, that’s where people went looking for suitors. However, there’s an added dimension to this story that involves the usage of the well, and this is where we really begin to see how God’s providence works.
The slave, probably clueless as to how to go about choosing someone for his master’s son, sat down at a well and began to pray, and not pray but to pray to the God of Abraham, the Lord. In doing so, he prays to God to send someone with two qualifications: 1) that she be a member of Abraham’s family, and 2) that she offer to give him and his 10 camels some water. That first one is a bit of a given, considering Abraham told him to, but the second is a bit more of a stretch. Why that? Why someone who’s willing to give him AND his camels some water? Why not just him? In fact, why not just “someone in Abraham’s family?”
The reason for this qualification boils down to one concept: generosity. Hospitality. In other words, kindness. He wants someone kind. He doesn’t want a stuck up princess of a girl to marry Isaac. He wants God to choose someone who is kind to people, who takes after the kindness of God. This slave is no fool either. I’m sure part of him wants someone kind because of the kind of person who Sarah was. Have no misgivings about Sarah; she wasn’t especially kind. Faithful perhaps, but not kind. Sarah, remember, repeatedly wanted her slave Hagar and her son Ishmael thrown out because of petty jealousy. Sarah also was one to laugh in the face of God. This slave had the opportunity to change the face of his family, and this was how he chose to do it. So he asked God for a kind woman to be Isaac’s wife.
Let it not be said that God does not answer prayer. God did exactly as asked. He sent a woman, not only a relative, but a kind relative of marrying age. That’s a ridiculously small probability. Rebekah just so happened to be at the well that day, and just so happened to be kind to the slave, and just so happened to be a relative. If you were to put that in the cosmic Google search, you would not have a lot of hits. She was exactly the right person at exactly the right place, and there’s no telling how many circumstances it took for that exact combination to happen.
This is not to say that there was no choice in the matter, of course. The slave could have chosen to disobey Abraham. The slave could have chosen to go to a different well, or have asked for a different set of qualifications. Rebekah could have chosen to send a servant to the well for her, or gone to a different well. But for some reason, of all the wells in the world at all the times in the world, two people met at one place that made space for God to work in just the right way for the promise God made to Abraham come to fruition.
What I’m trying to get at is this: we have choice. We have agency. We have all the choice in the world, honestly. But at the same time, God has plans, whatever we choose to do, God will always find a way to do what God wants for us. God won’t force us into anything, but God can—and often does—make things work in ways that advance God’s own purposes. We can always go against them, but again, that’s where prayer comes in. When we pray in the Lord’s prayer for God’s will to be done we pray for ourselves to be more in tune with that will. It’s in this way, this incremental inching towards being in tune with God’s will, that we achieve what John Wesley called “Christian perfection in love.”
God’s providence is more than just coincidence. It’s God working within the choices we make and using them to further God’s will, and thus, advancing the work of God’s reign. We need to have faith that goes beyond simply just admitting that God has a plan, though; it takes us being willing to act in ways that make us open to being used by God for God’s plan. The best way to do this is to pray. Pray for God to use you in whatever way God can. When you go to bed, pray for God to be in your life and to use you in your days. When you wake up, wake up open to the movement of Spirit in your life. God will provide, whatever we do. Pray so that your will is more in tune with God’s. Become an instrument of God’s peace, and thus bring God’s peace to the world. Amen.