Prayer is hard to understand. It only works because a merciful God wills it to work. How can God be sovereign and yet open to our suggestions? But God invites (commands?) his people to pray. He is hurt by our distance and preoccupation with other things. He wants us to ask things of him. Few things build God’s people up more than seeing their prayers of faith answered with specificity.
Genesis 24 is a huge chapter. At first pass one wonders why 67 verses are devoted to a story about a servant getting a wife for a patriarch’s son. This story is rather unique in Genesis. There is no specific word from God, no prophecy, and no real miracle (though there is a stunning answer to prayer) here. But getting a wife for Isaac was more important than one would originally think. If Isaac had no wife, then the promise of God to save the world through Abraham’s seed would be compromised.
Get a Wife
Genesis 24:7-9, 40
Sarah had died, and Abraham made arrangements for her burial (Genesis 23). Their son Isaac needed a wife, so Abraham’s oldest servant named Eleazar (15:2; 24:2) would serve as the matchmaker. Abraham strongly insisted that Eleazar not take a wife for Isaac from among the Canaanites (24:1-8). Abraham commissioned Eleazar to get a wife for Isaac from his native land.
Abraham’s testimony is that God’s providence was at work in this situation. The same God who knew his pedigree, brought him from his place, and made him a promise would send his angel to ensure that the mission would be accomplished (mentioned again in verse 40). To take a little pressure off of Eleazar, Abraham gave him an out in case the potential bride refused to come. The deal was sealed with the custom of placing his hand under the thigh (loin or side) of Abraham—a vulnerable place to be sure—and an oath to bind the matter.
Make Me Successful
Eleazar took gifts and provisions and set out on his journey. While the gifts were not a dowry for Rebekah, they ensured a favorable response from Laban’s household. In reverse Eleazar retraced Abraham’s steps from years earlier. He made his way to northwest Mesopotamia (Aram Naharaim) to the town of Nahor. He arrived at eventide, or sunset, when the water would be drawn from the wells by the women.
We could assume that Eleazar had learned well from Abraham his prayer lessons (see Luke 11:1-4). The prayer is respectful, specific, and earnest. After the direct address, Eleazar prayed for success (literally “cause me to meet my appointment”). Eleazar leaned into the kindness (chesed)—mentioned twice in our text—of God. Then with a degree of specificity that has few parallels in the Bible, Eleazar prayed that the match would be made at the well, that the very young woman of choice would be the “woman at the well,” and that she would volunteer to give Eleazar a drink and freely offer to draw water for the 10 camels too (not a small thing).
Give Me a Drink
Before Eleazar could get to the “amen” of his prayer, Rebekah showed up with a jar. We learn four things about her: 1) Her family heritage (daughter of Bethuel—thus a member of Abraham’s family); 2) Her beauty (good, excellent, attractive); 3) Her marital status (of marital age but still not “having known a man”); 4) Her industriousness (she quickly went to work by filling her jar with water from the spring).
Eleazar watched as his prayer was answered before his eyes. He hurried to meet her and requested a drink of water. (It is hard not to notice some parallels with John 4:4-42). Rebekah complied with the request. Then, as if she had overheard the specific wording of his prayer, drew water for his 10 camels too. No wonder the next verse (outside of our printed text) notes, “The man gazed at her in silence to learn whether the Lord had prospered his journey or not.”
God had indeed answered Eleazar’s prayer of faith. The potential for failure was high. Eleazar could have failed, the answered prayer could have been missed (though it is difficult to see how), Rebekah’s brother Laban could have refused to let her go, or Rebekah could have been unwilling. But the prayer of a righteous person has great power (James 5:16). The journey met with success, a marital match had been realized (Genesis 24:62-67), and God’s plan to save the world through Abraham’s seed remained on task.
Dr. Mark Scott teaches Preaching and New Testament at Ozark Christian College in Joplin, Missouri.
Lesson study ©2018, Christian Standard Media. Lesson based on The Lookout’s Scope and Sequence ©2018. Scripture quotations are from the New International Version, ©2011, unless otherwise indicated.