Genesis 24: Synergy, Paddling In Tandem with God’s Current

Genesis 24:1-27

Abraham was now very old, and the Lord had blessed him in every way. 2 He said to the senior servant in his household, the one in charge of all that he had, “Put your hand under my thigh. 3 I want you to swear by the Lord, the God of heaven and the God of earth, that you will not get a wife for my son from the daughters of the Canaanites, among whom I am living, 4 but will go to my country and my own relatives and get a wife for my son Isaac.”

5 The servant asked him, “What if the woman is unwilling to come back with me to this land? Shall I then take your son back to the country you came from?”

6 “Make sure that you do not take my son back there,” Abraham said. 7 “The Lord, the God of heaven, who brought me out of my father’s household and my native land and who spoke to me and promised me on oath, saying, ‘To your offspring[a] I will give this land’—he will send his angel before you so that you can get a wife for my son from there. 8 If the woman is unwilling to come back with you, then you will be released from this oath of mine. Only do not take my son back there.” 9 So the servant put his hand under the thigh of his master Abraham and swore an oath to him concerning this matter.

10 Then the servant left, taking with him ten of his master’s camels loaded with all kinds of good things from his master. He set out for Aram Naharaim[b] and made his way to the town of Nahor. 11 He had the camels kneel down near the well outside the town; it was toward evening, the time the women go out to draw water.

12 Then he prayed, “Lord, God of my master Abraham, make me successful today, and show kindness to my master Abraham. 13 See, I am standing beside this spring, and the daughters of the townspeople are coming out to draw water. 14 May it be that when I say to a young woman, ‘Please let down your jar that I may have a drink,’ and she says, ‘Drink, and I’ll water your camels too’—let her be the one you have chosen for your servant Isaac. By this I will know that you have shown kindness to my master.”

15 Before he had finished praying, Rebekah came out with her jar on her shoulder. She was the daughter of Bethuel son of Milkah, who was the wife of Abraham’s brother Nahor. 16 The woman was very beautiful, a virgin; no man had ever slept with her. She went down to the spring, filled her jar and came up again.

17 The servant hurried to meet her and said, “Please give me a little water from your jar.”

18 “Drink, my lord,” she said, and quickly lowered the jar to her hands and gave him a drink.

19 After she had given him a drink, she said, “I’ll draw water for your camels too, until they have had enough to drink.” 20 So she quickly emptied her jar into the trough, ran back to the well to draw more water, and drew enough for all his camels. 21 Without saying a word, the man watched her closely to learn whether or not the Lord had made his journey successful.

22 When the camels had finished drinking, the man took out a gold nose ring weighing a beka[c] and two gold bracelets weighing ten shekels.[d] 23 Then he asked, “Whose daughter are you? Please tell me, is there room in your father’s house for us to spend the night?”

24 She answered him, “I am the daughter of Bethuel, the son that Milkah bore to Nahor.” 25 And she added, “We have plenty of straw and fodder, as well as room for you to spend the night.”

26 Then the man bowed down and worshiped the Lord, 27 saying, “Praise be to the Lord, the God of my master Abraham, who has not abandoned his kindness and faithfulness to my master. As for me, the Lord has led me on the journey to the house of my master’s relatives.”

28 The young woman ran and told her mother’s household about these things. 29 Now Rebekah had a brother named Laban, and he hurried out to the man at the spring. 30 As soon as he had seen the nose ring, and the bracelets on his sister’s arms, and had heard Rebekah tell what the man said to her, he went out to the man and found him standing by the camels near the spring. 31 “Come, you who are blessed by the Lord,” he said. “Why are you standing out here? I have prepared the house and a place for the camels.”

32 So the man went to the house, and the camels were unloaded. Straw and fodder were brought for the camels, and water for him and his men to wash their feet. 33 Then food was set before him, but he said, “I will not eat until I have told you what I have to say.”

“Then tell us,” Laban said.

34 So he said, “I am Abraham’s servant. 35 The Lord has blessed my master abundantly, and he has become wealthy. He has given him sheep and cattle, silver and gold, male and female servants, and camels and donkeys. 36 My master’s wife Sarah has borne him a son in her old age, and he has given him everything he owns. 37 And my master made me swear an oath, and said, ‘You must not get a wife for my son from the daughters of the Canaanites, in whose land I live, 38 but go to my father’s family and to my own clan, and get a wife for my son.’

39 “Then I asked my master, ‘What if the woman will not come back with me?’

40 “He replied, ‘The Lord, before whom I have walked faithfully, will send his angel with you and make your journey a success, so that you can get a wife for my son from my own clan and from my father’s family. 41 You will be released from my oath if, when you go to my clan, they refuse to give her to you—then you will be released from my oath.’

Manifest destiny

We’ve spoken before on the anxiety induced by uncertainty, of the dissonance we feel for having such a finite view of time. Even when God gives us assurance–just as he did with Abraham–we are faced with doubts, wrestle with hypotheticals. Assurances are dislodged by dry spells and crises. We’ve spoken about crossroads before and how unnerving it can be to make choices, fretting over our futures as we deliberate which path to take in the present.

There’s a tension in the believer to leave all things to God and to manifest their own destiny. On the one extreme, sitting and doing nothing and “waiting for God” forsakes any responsibility of our own to let our lives happen, to risk ourselves to an adventure of peril wherein our journey to God’s plan requires many twists and turns. The other extreme is when we take God out of our deliberation, beset ourselves on our own personal goals and dreams, creating a plan for ourselves to abate any anxiety we might have of making ends meet or feeling accomplished. 

Giving God the entire wheel while sitting and staring at our belly buttons rarely produces fruit. Alternatively, going our own way without God is sure to lead to ruin and regret. 

a journey without promise

This story from Genesis gives us a beautiful example of the middle ground of these extremes. There are three figures who are anxious over the same thing: Isaac finding a wife. Abraham, Isaac, and the servant are all unsure who will be the proper matriarch of this divinely appointed family. We can infer Abraham works closer to God than perhaps he had in the past, leaving room for God to work in uncertainty instead of carving his own way. He gives a task to his servant to find this mysterious bride.

The instructions are simple: go to my home town, and not to those of Canaan. This distinction of Abraham is not one of racial purity, but rather is Abraham’s intention of consecrating his family to God, to steer away from pagan cultures that might steer Isaac or his offspring to cultic practices of sacrificing to strange gods. Abraham’s spiritual pedigree can be inferred by the generations we read about at the start of his story, and although there are some bad apples in the mixture we do see he has had some outstanding individuals who “walked with God” in his coat of arms. In short, Abraham keeps the priority of world view and belief center to his family’s values.

For one, this is some sound advice. Couples need not really have similar personalities or interests in order to “make it” in marriage. But differences in personalities helps the couple grow. Timeliness versus an easy-going attitude can smooth out the rough edges of each extreme, bringing the couple to a better understanding of each other’s proclivities. Diversity in interests can help foster curiosity among the two, inclining the other to learn about each other’s strengths and passions so as to encourage them to do the same towards others. 

Not so with world views. On a basic level, if a couple were to debate whether or not the world was flat or round, the couple’s will be locked in a long debate as to how the world really is, and what truth really is. This easily can lead to dehumanizing attitudes towards the other, considering the other ignorant or arrogant. This is a superficial example that has to do with fact and speaks nothing on the topic of morality. Couples that have very far opposed views of politics and faith will find great challenges the more entrenched they are in their own world views. Certainly, one side might concede to the other to alleviate the dissonance, but what if one couple were to leave a true belief on behalf of appealing to their spouse’s view merely for keeping the peace? 

To summarize, Abraham is looking to create a united house for his son, to prioritize the truth that has provided him a son, that has spared him from much crisis and calamity. Abraham prioritizes God for his son, and isn’t it only fair that he should set this standard?

And yet, Abraham and his servant aren’t quite sure that this endeavor will bring any fruit. The servant asks for a hypothetical, dares to ask, “what if God doesn’t provide”? It’s a scary question to even ask perhaps, and yet we do see Abraham dare to ask God, “how will I know you’ll give me a son when…” The ideal is perhaps to trust given what is known, but maintaining the relationship with God even in a state of doubt is the next best place lest one walks away entirely from the possibility of an all-powerful, loving Creator and Savior.

The servant’s bold question is met with assurance, however. Abraham tells him that if the journey is fruitless–if seemingly God does not provide–that the oath the servant swore will dissolve, that he will be freed of the obligation, but that an angel will be with him in his journey regardless.

The only peace of mind this servant receives from Abraham is that he won’t be under any curse or disappointment from Abraham if he comes back empty-handed–so long as he tries–and that an invisible comforter will accompany him (we read this later as the servant tells the story). 

Still, what assurance does the servant have? Is he given weapons to protect himself on the journey? What provision does he have to protect the treasure he is told to carry along the way? Is there any sign he can rest upon and take comfort in? 

No, this servant is given nothing and must tread to Abraham’s homeland–a place we don’t even know if he’s been to before–and wait for the right woman to show up.

As the story goes, this journey ends up being a success, and Isaac is betrothed to Rebecca. 

working with god’s energy

For us, reading this story, we should take courage that God will provide in our anxiety, that there awaits something beyond the veil of uncertainty. 

I know too well the anxiety of choosing a career, of courting a stranger, of making a bold move that will affect the rest of my life. It’s a crippling and paralyzing thing to be at such crossroads, and this paralysis speaks to something good and holy in us: we concede that our own logic and discernment are lacking and mislead a great deal of the time.

When we admit our lack of discernment and wisdom in such decisions, God shows His power, because we have given Him space through our humility.

That being said, the servant still makes the journey without any real aim, and Abraham endeavors to send him out. So too for us, it requires some kind of movement on our end and trust that God will steer us as we walk forward. Perhaps some doors will be shut, some opportunities closed off. Perhaps that’s God reorienting us as we blindly walk forward.

The important word that summarizes all this is synergy, the combining of work between God and man. I don’t believe that God is a micromanager, but rather He is more of a dancer, working with us in our clumsy footwork, waiting for us to let Him lead…not that He merely sweeps us off our feet, but so that we can learn His steps and follow.

God is like a current in a dense forest or tall valley, wherein we will have no real idea where the water pools out to. Do we refrain from putting our canoe in because of this fear of where the water heads? Do we find ourselves in the river but think we can fight the current, paddle even harder West when the water is trying to carry us East? Do we merely recline in our boat and let our vessel crash us into fallen debris in the water or into the muddy shore, or do we paddle to keep ourselves squarely in the safety of the center of this flow?

I believe this is our God. God the dancer. God the river. A coworking God, not an over-functioning one.

It merely requires on our part that we act boldly as well as humble ourselves to ask for God’s mighty hand to patiently and gently steer our way.

Today, consider the following:

  • When have you embarked on something without any expectation?
  • How many decision do you make on your own? On big decisions, who do you typically confer with?
  • What encourages you in times of uncertainty? What are some practices you can employ to encourage you during such uncertain ventures?
  • What times do I not consult God in decisions or circumstances? What times do I do nothing about my decisions or circumstances but trust God? What might a median look like?

Genesis 15: Living In The Fog of Uncertainty

Genesis 15:6-16

6 Abram believed the Lord, and he credited it to him as righteousness.

7 He also said to him, “I am the Lord, who brought you out of Ur of the Chaldeans to give you this land to take possession of it.”

8 But Abram said, “Sovereign Lord, how can I know that I will gain possession of it?”

9 So the Lord said to him, “Bring me a heifer, a goat and a ram, each three years old, along with a dove and a young pigeon.”

10 Abram brought all these to him, cut them in two and arranged the halves opposite each other; the birds, however, he did not cut in half. 11 Then birds of prey came down on the carcasses, but Abram drove them away.

12 As the sun was setting, Abram fell into a deep sleep, and a thick and dreadful darkness came over him. 13 Then the Lord said to him, “Know for certain that for four hundred years your descendants will be strangers in a country not their own and that they will be enslaved and mistreated there. 14 But I will punish the nation they serve as slaves, and afterward they will come out with great possessions. 15 You, however, will go to your ancestors in peace and be buried at a good old age. 16 In the fourth generation your descendants will come back here, for the sin of the Amorites has not yet reached its full measure.”

The Paralysis of Uncertainty

Every crossroad is embedded with a cross. We all experience forks in the road, tough decisions required of us that seemingly determine the rest of our lives. What’s worse is that sometimes a crossroad or fork isn’t the best way to describe it, because where the road splits actually ends up being a sixteen exit ramps going in different cardinal directions. Having many choices may at face value seem like freedom, but ask someone who doesn’t regularly do the grocery shopping to pick out one brand of toothpaste at the store and they will quickly find out that unless they randomly choose the first that they see, the choice is not so simple.

Coupled with this is the uncertainty of what lays down the road of any particular path. Does one path lead into a pit or valley? How does each path fair should a storm blow over in our journey? We weigh our options too by worrying about how paths will serve us, help us to survive or cope with the difficulties of life.

Choices and the anxieties of life coupled together have rocked me at different times in my own life.

In my years of high school, my future was something I had a great curiosity about–who would I be in 10/20 years, what would I have accomplished, what would my family look like? Still, this curiosity came with a billowing black cloud of uncertainty, of difficulty discerning important things such as which school do I go to, who do I date, what career path do I choose? I almost felt as though someone directly telling me what to do would have been liberating, that not having to confront choice and with it risk a lifetime of regret would have absolved me of any poor decision. Even today I find myself at a crossroad of career paths which has been taxing.

Coupled with this was a gloomy view of how I saw and still see the trajectory of the world. I had a bleak view of human existence in high school, a suspicion that all things would come to an end rather quickly, that all-out war if not the literal apocalypse would befall us; liberating as this might have been to absolve me of making decisions, it made me consider if making any choices at all were futile and if I shouldn’t be more concerned about my survival. So too today, seeing how divided our world is I worry for my family’s well-being and weigh my options with a gloomy view of the future. Amid such bleakness, what is worth endeavoring, adding to my plate, and working towards if all things are falling apart into entropy?

This fog of choices and the unrest we feel just watching the news or going on social media extends out even further, however. We experience the fog in grief when we’ve lost someone so dear to us, forced to wonder who else we might lose and how we might go forward through that loss or anticipatory loss. We experience the fog too in illness, receiving a certain diagnosis that could affect our finances, our careers, our relationships, a wide variety of subjects.

These are crossroads and billows of fog that slow us down, that slows if not kills our momentum. Why move forward in anything when as we fumble through the fog we may trip or injure ourselves? Why choose any path when we cannot see where it leads, without any promise of the destination or the pitstops that we encounter upon it?

When A Fog Becomes An Abyss

This crippling anxiety is communicated in this chapter of Genesis. Abraham may seem like a successful figure by now, having taken the spoils of Egypt and survived a famine, having won his first battle and rescued his nephew Lot. Despite these accomplishments, Abraham has encountered great hardship, and perhaps surviving famine and war have not provided him with any comfort, but rather told him that the only thing that surely awaits for him is further trial. God has been good to him, and yet Abraham hasn’t a plan or let’s say worldly assurance that this great nation will in fact manifest, that Abraham will in fact have a lineage to be proud of.

Abraham perhaps would like a break from the trials, to know he can have some stability as he endeavors towards fatherhood. And even so, Abraham tells God in his prayer, “you have given me no offspring” implying that childlessness hasn’t been for a lack of trying, but rather that he and his wife have experienced infertility.

The response that Abraham, again, is an assurance is not worldly proof, but a spoken word of something that has not yet happened. Even worse, Abraham receives a destitute vision. 

We read that Abraham is overcome by a dread darkness and that God speaks to him the truth that his descendants will be slaves for centuries. This is all coupled with an expectation of his descendants breaking free of bondage, of coming to prosperity, and for Abraham to reach a good age and to die in peace.

Still, Abraham must be wrestling with doubt and overcome by the grim vision and the disheartening news that his descendants will see multiple generations of hardship and abuse.

And yet Abraham, as we shall see, continues his journey. He does not walk away from God’s promise jaded or burned out. Abraham does certainly falter in the next chapter, but we will see how his faithfulness is restored and how he continues to sacrifice to God and continues to do as God commands. 

Brave the World

Many of us find ourselves in Abraham’s shoes from this chapter. We find ourselves having done hard things, performed thankless deeds and wonders, and remain fruitless. We toil hard, we do right by God and by our neighbor, and our long-requested petitions are met with no answer, or perhaps the answer of “wait”. Even so, any assurance we might receive that a prayer will be answered later, that our labors will bear fruit later, we might receive a kind of similar dark vision as Abraham, grim knowledge that those ahead of us will inherit a mess along the way.

Ultimately, however, our attention cannot be focused solely on the here and now. “Easier said than done,” right?

When we hit our thumb with a hammer, we are not reminiscing of childhood or dreamily contemplating the possibilities of our future. We are a giant thumb, throbbing, in pain. We are acutely tuned into the present, and that is what the pain of grief, the burn of anxiety does to us. Even if we should worry about the future, that worry is really embedded in the here and now of our thoughts. It is our duty to reach past the future of uncertainty that all things will perish, and to take hold of the truth that something greater awaits for all of us should we do all that is asked of us, should we trust in God.

We may each die with a great deal of disappointment, perhaps even regret. We may feel we haven’t accomplished everything, have not seen the bliss of children, grandchildren, or great grandchildren, or crossed everything off our bucket list. So too Abraham dies without seeing the glory of Israel–as does Moses–and many of these important figures of the Old Testament will have gone their whole lives without seeing the Messiah, the Lord, the Son of God in the flesh. The Apostles will not have seen the glory of the Church surviving thousands of years later.

And yet here we are. Things may not be perfect or glamorous, but there is glory waiting for all of us, marvels that we cannot begin to comprehend both in the future of the earth and in our intended lives in paradise. 

It takes special work for us to incline our hearts and minds out of that which is perishable all around us, and to remind ourselves of the future selves we are destined to grow into, the future we are to lay out to those we call children and disciples, and the eternal life that awaits all of us.

Today, consider the following:

  • What are some tough decisions I find hard to make that will have a great impact on myself or others? Write these down, take them to prayer every day.
  • What are anxieties I have of the future? Where can I turn my attention to so that these anxieties don’t dictate my life, action, and choices?
  • Who are my “children” or “disciples”, either literal or metaphorical? What do I need to change in my life to lay a good foundation for them? 
  • How often have I thought on my own impending death? What do such thoughts provoke me to change in my life?