Prayer and Providence

The twenty-fourth chapter of Genesis is the beautiful story of Abraham sending his servant to his homeland to find a bride for his son Isaac. It is full of fascinating cultural allusions, unique to the ancient near east, such features as a solemn vow, a caravan of camels, a town well, gifts of gold and a beautiful maiden.

The story is rich in spiritual symbolism. For a long time preachers have noticed the similarity of the events described here with the ministry of the Holy Spirit, whom God the Father sends forth to find a bride (the church) for his Son.

There are also practical lessons for Christian young people about the sanctity of marriage. It is a holy institution, important to God. There is much here to inform our understanding about preparation for marriage. But I am not writing today about marriage, or the church, or ancient history. I want to focus on the theme of Divine Providence and the believer’s dependence on the guidance of God.

I encourage you to pause now and read Genesis 24 in its entirety. Read it slowly and prayerfully because “everything that was written in the past (the Old Testament) was written to teach us, so that through the endurance taught in the scriptures and the encouragement they provide we might have hope” (Romans 15;4).

Abraham had prospered in his new land but he did not want his son to take a bride from the among the Canaanites. They did not worship the living “God of heaven and earth” (v.3). So he appointed his trusted servant to go to the Aramean town of Nahor where Abraham’s relatives lived. When the servant arrived, with his caravan of ten camels, he stopped at the town well.

He boldly prayed for a sign from God. There were several young women from the town coming to draw water from the well. How was he to know which of them might be the one God had singled out for Isaac? If you read the passage you know the answer. He prayed that when he asked a maiden for a drink of water, she would volunteer to water his camels also! That would be the sign that she was the one God had chosen.

Throughout the journey, the servant had been praying (v.12). He had surely embraced the faith of Abraham who had promised that God’s angel would guide him on his journey (v.7). May we pray for success and guidance from God? Proverbs 16:3 says, “Commit to the Lord whatever you do, and he will establish your plans.” Proverbs 19:21 says, “Many are the plans in a person’s heart, but it is the Lord’s purpose that prevails.”

Before he finished praying (v.45), Rebekah appeared. Her actions and responses matched exactly his requests for a sign. He told her his story and the purpose of his journey. He gave her gifts of gold and asked for hospitality at her father’s home, the very family home he was seeking. This is Providence, not coincidence. There he received elaborate eastern hospitality.

The servant would not join the feast until he had explained everything to Rebekah’s family. He quoted Abraham’s promise to him: “The Lord, before whom I have walked . . . will make your journey a success” (v.40). He told how God had led him “on the right road” (v.48), to the right family, at exactly the right time. Rebekah’s father and brother could not deny that “this is from the Lord” and “the Lord has directed” (vv. 50-51). Abraham’s servant bowed prostrate before the Lord in worship, grateful for answered prayer.

After receiving more gifts from the servant, the family asked Rebekah if she was willing to go and marry Isaac. “I will go,” she said (v. 58). She evidently recognized the leading of God in this matter, as her family had done. Here is one more attractive characteristic of the young woman. In addition to her courtesy and energetic work for the stranger, she gave evidence of faith in God. If God was in this, she was prepared to agree with his will. It has been said that this response to God’s leading puts her directly in the line of Abraham, the father of the faithful.

This story speaks to me about trusting God for daily guidance. I need to “commit to the Lord whatever I do” and trust him for the right outcomes. It speaks to me about prayer. I may pray silently (v. 45) and privately, or in the presence of others (v.52). But for sure, my days should be punctuated by prayer, just as each step of the servant’s journey was saturated in prayer (1 Thessalonians 5:17). Prayer brings our plans in line with God’s Providence.

Pastor Randy Faulkner