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Aug 30 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

August 25, 2013 – Genesis Chapter 24

A Fractured Life

Now Abraham was old, advanced in age; and the LORD had blessed Abraham in every way. Abraham said to his servant, the oldest of his household, who had charge of all that he owned, “Please place your hand under my thigh, and I will make you swear by the LORD, the God of heaven and the God of earth, that you shall hot take a wife for my son from the daughters of the Canaanites, among whom I live, but you will go to my country and to my relatives, and take a wife for my son Isaac.” Genesis 24:1-4

INTRO: This chapter marks a transition in Genesis

We move from the story of Abraham to the story of Isaac
– so this episode that begins with Abraham in his tent will end with Isaac in an open field

The story goes at a rapid pace that creates a sense of urgency
– Abraham’s servant is anxious to quickly complete his mission
– Rebekah will run back and forth from the well to “quickly” provide water for the servant and his camels
• she will also run home to announce the stranger’s arrival
– Laban: will run out to the well to greet the servant
– the servant: will refuse to eat until he’s revealed his quest
– Laban and his family: will be compelled to give their immediate consent
– the servant: will refuse to delay his departure to return home
There is no travelogue
– although the distance between Canaan and Mesopotamia was great and required a lot of travel time
• as a result, leaving on a journey and arriving at the destination occur instantly
– all the way through, we feel we’re being rushed
• and yet this is the longest chapter in the story of Abraham and rich in details

Storytelling is an art-form, with its own tools and techniques
– one of the literary tools of the Hebrew Scriptures is the “type-scene”

[For readers of this blog, see the “Type-Scene” notes that were handed out when I gave this talk]

This is a recurring “Boy meets girl” type-scene
– what is different in this instance from other similar type-scenes: Isaac doesn’t take the journey himself
• Isaac turns out to be a far more passive character than either his father or his sons, Esau an Jacob
• his wife, however, is very industrious as we have already seen, “a continuous whirl of purposeful activity,” according to Robert Alter
○ and she will continue to be so

Vv. 1-9: Act One – Abraham’s tent

Abraham makes his servant swear an oath regarding the wife he is to find for Isaac
– the servant raises a concern — there could be a potential snag, “What if she is not willing?”
– for Abraham, that would be a deal-breaker

There are definite echoes of chapter 22–the last time we saw the father and son together, when Abraham was told to sacrifice Isaac
– there: your son/only son/whom you love – here: his servant/oldest of his household/who had charge of all
– again, “take” is a key word in the story
• in chapter 22 it was dark and negative, here it is bright and hopeful

Vv. 10-27: Act Two – the well

The Servant arrived at well in the evening, “when women . . .”
– he then paused to pray, vv. 12-14
• “Before he had finished speaking” Rebekah showed up
– “Behold” – a visual cue, to see Rebekah for ourselves “with her jar on shoulder” and “very beautiful”

Abraham’s wife, Sarah had been introduced as “barren, she had no child”
– Rebekah is introduced as a “virgin, no man” had been with her
• the servant ran to her and asked for a drink
• as she quickly serves him we wait in suspense
○ only after he finishes drinking does she break the suspense and offer to water his camels
– now, the only confirmation the servant needs is Rebekah’s consent to go with him and marry Isaac

He gave her gifts and then asked about her family
– would they be able to accommodate him and his caravan for the night
– when he found that she belonged to Abraham’s people, he bowed and worshiped

Vv. 28-61: Act Three – Laban’s home

Laban runs to well, and we are given another visual cue, “Behold”
– he saw the servant standing their with the ten camels
– the storyteller doesn’t stress the point, but gives us a subtle insight into Laban
• when he saw the ring and bracelets, he was eager to meet the stranger and invite him in, “Come in, blessed of the LORD”

Before eating, the servant insisted on telling his story
– so the whole chapter up to this point is repeated
– only the servant doesn’t stick to the exact details
• Abraham talked about God taking him from his family
○ the servant only quoted him as saying, “The LORD, before whom I have walked”
• Abraham, “If the woman is not willing to follow you . . .”
○ the servant quoted him, “if they do not give her to you . . .”
• the servant also skips the part where Abraham demanded that he not take Isaac to his family
– in other words, the servant is very discreet in how he presents the proposal, showing deference to Laban and his clan
• Abraham certainly chose the right servant for this job

Another piece of information, in verse 45 the servant reveals that he had prayed “in my heart” (i.e., not aloud)
– he is assuring them, that there was no way Rebekah could have known about his prayer

Laban and his family cannot see how they could refuse the servant, “The matter comes from the LORD”
– then the servant unloaded treasures – on Rebekah and on her family
– Laban and his mother ask for some time with Rebekah before sending her on her way
• this was reasonable, but the servant was in a hurry
• this brings us to a critical moment when the whole enterprise rests in her hands
○ “I will go”
○ the family gave her their blessing in verse 60, which remarkably echoes Abraham’s blessing in 22:17

Vv. 62-67: Scene Four – a field

We try to imagine what Isaac was doing in the field that evening
– simply taking a walk, thinking, reflecting, listening
– “lifted his eyes and looked and behold”
• the same three-fold expression used when Abraham saw ram that replaced Isaac as a sacrifice, 22:13
• we are now looking through Isaac’s eyes and we see the caravan coming
– then our view of the story instantly shift to what Rebekah saw when she “lifted up her eyes . . . and saw Isaac”
• this is as about as romantic as any scene in scripture

She dismounted and prepared to meet him
– when she asked the servant, “Who is that man walking … to meet us?”
• he answered, “He is my master” – this is as fascinating as anything else in this story
• from the time the servant met Rebekah, he spoke non-stop about his master
○ at least eighteen times, when he said, “my master,” he was referring to Abraham
○ only this one time does he mean Isaac when he says, “my master”
• in this way Isaac is introduced to Rebekah as her husband and new hero

The storyteller finishes this episode with the observation that “Isaac loved her” and “was comforted after his mother’s death”

CONC: What is the point of this story?

We could come up with several answers:
– for example, God was preserving the purity of His chosen people
– but I think it goes back to the beginning, in the garden
• the chapter is fundamentally a statement about marriage
• or, on a deeper level, what it is that marriage does

The perfect world God created had been wounded and broken
– whereas everything was all intimacy in the garden (God and humans, man and woman, humans and creation)
• that intimacy had been fractured and in its place there was alienation
• the man and woman hiding from God and their bodies from each other, then  even the ground turned against them
– but marriage was still the pure reunion of two lives, causing them to become one
• it is a movement toward healing and wholeness
• and as we see in our story, it also brings families together –clans, tribes, and even nations

Now it does not have to be marriage that unites or reunites
– but marriage is a useful “illustration” or metaphor (when it is all that God intended)
• a similar union and wholeness can be discovered with friends, a spiritual director or counselor, a mentor, and so on

What causes the breakdown of our relationships is our own inner fragmentation
– so one challenge of the spiritual journey is the integration of our own fragmented selves
• this is one of the meanings of integrity — it is the “integer,” the “one” that is wholeness
• it is living true to ourselves

Two important words surface in this chapter — in Hebrew they are hesed and emeth, mercy and truth
– in reality, they are difficult to translate, because they mean so much more
hesed is loving kindness, devotion to someone, “beneficence”
emeth is not “truth” as an abstraction, but as a personal quality, such as faithfulness, reliability
○ a person of truth can be trusted, because she will always act in a way consistent with her nature
– the servant first sought hesed and emeth from God (verse 27), the ultimate source of all goodness and faithfulness
– then he sought it from others (verse 49)

Our Christian spirituality is a journey to wholeness
– the servant makes a good model for the believer
• he goes wherever the father sends him, he speaks on behalf of the son
• he is instrumental in reuniting Abraham with his family and Isaac with Rebekah
○ he is a bridge-builder, working toward a larger wholeness

Too many Christians are barrier-builders — they preserve the fracture or even worsen it
– we find ourselves called to a different task and opportunity

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God
Jesus (Matthew 5:9)

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