“STANDING IN THE NEED OF PRAYER”
AUGUST 31, 2008
I remember two things about the third grade. One, I remember third grade being the year when my best friend Billy Woo moved away – that was a traumatic parting for me – and, two, I remember Mrs. Jorgensen, my third grade teacher, reading Winnie the Pooh stories to us after lunch. At the time, I thought she read us those stories because she was so nice. Now I suspect she had an ulterior motive. I think she read us those stories to calm us down after forty-five minutes of lunch and recess.
And I loved those stories about Christopher Robin and Eeyore and Tigger and Piglet, and of course, Pooh. I guess I’ve always been drawn to a good story and that’s what I especially like about the Bible. The Bible is more than a repository of timeless truths and ethical principles, though it is that. But the Bible is also a story book. A story book about God, a story book about God’s people, and this morning we have before us one of the best stories in the Bible. In fact, Gerhad Von Rad, an authority on the Book of Genesis, calls our story for today, “The most charming and pleasant of all the patriarchal narratives.”
And the story is not only charming, it is also long. The twenty-fourth chapter which contains it is the longest chapter in the Book of Genesis, and what we read this morning is only a portion of it. This morning I want us to look at the rest of the story and then draw a lesson from it.
The story can easily be divided into four scenes. We already read scene one, but let me summarize it for us. Our friend and hero, Abraham, is getting his affairs in order. His wife, Sarah, has recently died, and Abraham is facing death himself, so he gives his chief servant a task – to find a wife for Isaac from Abraham’s people, from those in the “old country” and not from the local yokels in Canaan. Why Abraham waited until Isaac was forty years old to do this we do not know, but regardless of the reason, it was the father’s duty in that culture to make arrangements for the marriage of his children.
Of course, what adds to the charm of this story is the high probability that this chief servant was none other than Eliezer of Damascus, about whom we read a few weeks ago in the fifteenth chapter of Genesis. Remember him? Eliezer was the one who was first in line to inherit all of Abraham’s fortune if Abraham did not have a son of his own, but Abraham did have a son and Eliezer lost out on the inheritance, but not his position as Abraham’s loyal and trusted servant, and in just a bit we will see why Abraham liked Eliezer so much for what Eliezer does in finding a wife for Isaac will make him one of the most attractive minor characters in the Bible.
OK, we are ready for Scene Two. We move from Abraham’s home to a well in the “old country” among Abraham’s people. When Eliezer arrived in the “old country,” he arrived around dusk. Now this was an opportune time to arrive at the well. Dusk was the time of day when the women of the city came to draw water for their families and Eliezer was present at the right time. Sort of like being at a singles’ bar on a Friday night, and one of the first things he does, upon his arrival at the well is to pray for a wife for Isaac..
Eliezer, however, does not pray for a good looking woman. He doesn’t pray for a Jennifer Anniston or a Nicole Kidman. Rather he prays for a woman who will volunteer to water his camels, which were many. He had brought ten camels with him, loaded with goodies for the prospective bride and her family.
Here, let’s look at that prayer. Verse 12, and remember the first thing he does when he hits the town is to pray this prayer. Verse 12,
O Lord, God of my master Abraham, please grant me success today and show steadfast love to my master Abraham. I am standing here by the spring of water, and the daughters of the townspeople are coming out to draw water. Let the girl to whom I shall say, “Please offer your jar that I may drink,’ and who shall say, ‘Drink, and I will water your camels’ – let her be the one whom you have appointed for your servant Isaac. By this I shall know that you have shown steadfast love to my master.’
What a shrewd prayer! What a wise test Eliezer was proposing for what kind of woman would pass this test? It would be one who would be kind, outgoing, and quick to help. It would have been common in those days to offer the visitor a drink, but to water his camels? That was going the extra mile. No, a woman who would volunteer such a thing would be industrious, outgoing and courteous – qualities necessary to manage Isaac’s household.
So, Eliezer proposes this test as the way to find the right kind of woman for Isaac. And lo and behold, God answers the prayer. God sends a woman his way and not only does she water the camels, but she is a knock-out to boot – an Angelina Jolie or a Cameron Diaz – and Eliezer is beside himself with excitement for the quick answer to his prayer and the thrill that will be on Isaac’s face when he sees this woman.
Oh, I almost forgot, her name was Rebekah, and do not forget the name. We’ll see her again in the days ahead and she has so many things going for her that she almost overshadows Isaac. But we’ll talk more about that in the days to come. Suffice it to say, Eliezer found a real go-getter here, someone perfect for the rather retiring Isaac.
Well, we are now ready for Scene Three, verses twenty-eight through sixty. The scene shifts from the well to Rebekah’s home. After loading her with jewelry – and just like today, nose rings were in that year – and telling her the purpose of his visit, Eliezer asks to speak to Rebekah’s family. Rebekah obliges and what is important about this scene is that we are introduced to Rebekah’s brother Laban, who will figure so prominently in the weeks ahead, and the thing to keep in mind in scene three is what it reveals about Laban. You see, Laban was very much impressed by the jewelry Eliezer gave to Rebekah. Look at verse twenty-eight with me.
Then the girl ran and told her mother’s household about these things. Rebekah had a brother whose name was Laban; and Laban ran out to the man, to the spring. As soon as he had seen the nose-ring, and the bracelets on his sister’s arms, and when he heard the words of his sister Rebekah, ‘Thus the man spoke to me,’ he went to the man; (We can almost see the dollar signs in Laban’s eyes.) And there he was, standing by the camels at the spring. He said, ‘Come in, O blessed of the Lord. Why do you stand outside when I have prepared the house and a place for the camels?’
Now, file this information away for later because Laban’s greed will figure prominently in the life of Isaac and Rebekahs’ son, Jacob, and let me warn you about his guy. I think of the NASA team who was sent to Tuba City, Arizona to train for a mission to the moon. The Navajo Reservation has some similarities to the moon surface, and so they sent the astronauts there and outfitted them in lunar space suits. A Navajo sheep herder and his son watched as the strange creatures walked about, and after awhile they were approached by NASA personnel. Since the older man did not understand English, his son asked them what they were doing and they told him how they were getting ready to go to the moon. The father became very excited and asked if he could send a message to the moon. The NASA personnel thought this was great idea and located a tape recorder and the father recorded his message in Navajo.
After the recording, the men from NASA asked, “What did he say?” but the son refused to translate. Later they asked other people what the Navajo sheep herder had said, other Navajo’s just listened to the tape and chuckled. Finally, after offering cash, someone translated the message. Do you know what he had said? He said, “Watch out for these guys, they come to take your land!”
Well, watch out for Laban for he will be out to get as much as he possibly can.
Well, to summarize the scene quickly, Rebekah’s family gives her the go ahead and then comes Scene Four, the final scene, verses sixty-two through sixty-seven. We are back at the ranch with Abraham. In this scene Isaac and Rebekah meet for the first time. Let’s read about it first-hand, it’s not that long. Remember we are back at the ranch with Isaac and Abraham.
Now Isaac had come from Beer-lahai-roi, and was settled in the Negeb. Isaac went out in the evening to walk in the field; and looking up, he saw camels coming.
Now, imagine Isaac’s thoughts and feelings at this point. Had Eliezer been successful? If so, what did she look like? Maybe that’s why he was walking in the field, like many of us look out the window when we are expecting someone, maybe he went out to walk the field thinking that might help speed up the process. Anyway, note the drama. It’s like one of those enchanted moments between lovers that we see so beautifully portrayed in deodorant and breath commercials.
Isaac looks up, he sees the camels, his heart goes a flutter, and we read on,
And Rebekah looked up, and when she saw Isaac she slipped quickly from the camel, and said to the servant, “Who is the man over there, walking in the field to meet us?” The servant said, “It is my master.” She took her veil and covered herself. And the servant told Isaac all the things that he had done. Then Isaac brought her into his mother Sarah’s tent. He took Rebekah, and she became his wife; and he loved her. So Isaac was comforted after his mother’s death.
Isn’t that great? He loved her! Indeed, he did, so much so that in a world of polygamy this would be the only woman Isaac would marry. Eliezer had done an outstanding job.
Well, that’s the story and what I want us to think about is what Eliezer models for us. I said earlier that Eliezer was one of the most attractive minor characters in the Bible and I say that because of his prayer life. This guy prays again and again in this chapter. He not only prays when he hits town, but he also prays a couple of more times in thanksgiving to God, and then he shares about the power of prayer to anyone who wants to listen. This guy was utterly and totally committed to prayer.
Now contrast Eliezer’s practice of prayer to the average layperson and the average pastor in the Presbyterian church and see if you are above the average or below the average. The average Presbyterian layperson spends four minutes a day in prayer. How did you do? Above or below the average? The average clergy person prays seven minutes a day. Now, I do not know whether you consider four minutes a day or seven minutes a day a little or a lot, but listen to what the former editor of Christianity Today, Harold Myra, had to say about the importance of prayer. He said, “If I genuinely believe that prayer moves the hand of God, which I do, then why don’t I pray more?”
That’s a great question: “If I genuinely believe that prayer moves the hand of God then why don’t I pray more?” and let’s move that question from an intellectual exercise to a practical exercise. Don’t raise your hand because I do not want to embarrass anyone, but if I were to ask you, “How many of you believe that prayer moves the hand of God?” would you have raised your hand? Now, if you didn’t raise your hand, if you do not believe that prayer moves the hand of God, I want you to attempt a little experiment. Commit to praying three times a day, right when you wake up in the morning before you pop out of bed, and then at noon, and then at the end of the day just before and after dinner. Pray three times a day, for a month, and see if you notice God’s hand moving at all. And make a prayer list, things that you would like to see happen, but remember you need to ask for things that would put a smile on God’s face. Don’t pray about getting a Mercedes or winning the lottery, or getting a date with Brad Pitt or Cindy Crawford, but put your genuine hopes and concerns on the list and keep the list and see what happens over the month. See if God’s hand moves.
Let me close with this. Some kindergarten children went to the fire station for a tour and for some instruction in fire safety. During the tour, the fireman was explaining what to do in case of a fire. He said, “First, go to the door and feel the door to see if it’s hot.” Then he said, “If it is hot, fall to your knees. Does anyone know why you ought to fall to your knees?”
One of the little tykes said, “Sure, to start praying to God to get us out of this mess!”
Any messes in your life? Well, take three doses of prayer each day and call me in the morning. Notice how prayer moves the hand of God.