************ Sermon on Genesis 24:10-27 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on June 9, 2013
"Looking for God's Will"
"What is God's will for my life?" For instance, how do I know which college to attend and what degree I should get? How do I know if someone should be my spouse? How do I know which job offer to accept? How do I know if we should move and to where we should move? How do I know how many children we should have? How do I know if I should change my career? How do I know if I should start my own business or keep working for someone else? How do I know if we should sell our dairy? How do I know when I should retire? How do I know whom I should befriend?
We might agonize over the choices before us. The indecision may drive us crazy. So we cry out, "What is God's will for my life?"
Most of us desire to know God's will for our lives. But we are not always sure how to go about discerning what that will is. This is especially the case when the possible options don't seem to have a right or a wrong. So we also ask, "How do I know what is God's will for my life?"
Sixteen or seventeen years from now, Emma Jean may be asking some of these questions of her parents. Chris & Elizabeth, how are you going to answer? What are you going to answer?
In our passage we see that Abraham's servant was trying to discern God's will. It was his job to find a wife for Isaac. He had more than one woman to choose from. Which one does he choose? How does he know she is the right one?
I Detestable Ways to Discern God's Will
A In that time and place the pagan peoples of the land used a host of ways to answer the question, "What should I do? What is the will of the gods for my life?" So, I want to start by laying out unacceptable ways to discern God's will. Our beginning point needs to be the command of God in Deuteronomy:
(Deut 18:10-12) Let no one be found among you ... who practices divination or sorcery, interprets omens, engages in witchcraft, (11) or casts spells, or who is a medium or spiritist or who consults the dead. (12) Anyone who does these things is detestable to the LORD, and because of these detestable practices the LORD your God will drive out those nations before you.
Through Moses, God points out that these are the practices of the heathen nations. So, for instance, what does Nebuchadnezzar do when he has disturbing dreams? He summoned magicians, enchanters, sorcerers, and astrologers to tell him his dream and its meaning (Dan 2:2). Magicians: they try to influence people and events through black and white magic; often they make use of poisons, medicines, herbs, and secret potions. Enchanters: they try to influence people and events through charms, enchantments, and spells. Sorcerers: they attempt to gain knowledge of the future by interpreting dreams, consulting with the spirits of the dead, studying livers or entrails of livestock, and analyzing the movements of wild animals. Astrologers: they observe the courses of the sun, moon, stars, and planets to determine the direction of events. All of these are "detestable" to the Lord.
In the days of King Saul the Philistines gathered their forces to fight against Israel. When Saul saw the Philistine army, he was afraid; terror filled his heart. Saul wasn't sure what to do because the prophet Samuel was no longer alive to give direction. So Saul inquired of the Lord, but the Lord did not answer him. Do you remember what Saul did next? He went to the witch of Endor who called up the spirit of the prophet Samuel (1 Sam 28). This, too, is detestable in the eyes of the Lord.
B I want you to know that all of this is still detestable in the eyes of the Lord. We are not to get guidance for the future by checking our horoscopes. We are not to go to palm readers. We are not to use tea leaves. We are not to attend a seance. We are not to consult with spiritists and mediums. We are not to play with Ouija boards as did the youth of the 60s and 70s.
There are so-called Christian versions which I would judge to be equally detestable. Looking for direction? Not sure what to do? Try this: flip open your Bible; close your eyes and select a verse at random; this is your verse for the day, giving direction and meaning to your life. There are many things wrong with this approach. Let me point out how ridiculous it is if you pick a text like Genesis 22:21 which says, "Uz the firstborn, Buz his brother, Kemuel (the father of Aram)." Detestable.
There are also those Christians who are too quick to sees signs of God's providence in everything. They talk about how God opened or closed doors and helped them to make a decision. Be careful about this kind of thinking, congregation. Do you suppose Lot saw God's providence in getting first choice of the rich pasture lands around Sodom? Did Jonah see God's providence in finding a ship going in the opposite direction of Nineveh? If what you see as providence leads you away from God or makes you disobedient to God, then it is not God's will and God's leading that you are following. This, too, is detestable.
C Let's go back to Abraham's servant. He was looking for guidance. He basically prayed, "O Lord God, let the girl who waters my camels be the one you have chosen for Isaac" (Gen 24:14).
Didn't Gideon do something very similar? Gideon was looking for guidance as he faced the Midianites and Amalekites. Gideon said to God, "If there is dew only on the fleece and all the ground is dry, then I will know that you will save Israel by my hand, as you said." And that is what happened. The next day he made the opposite request, "This time make the fleece dry and the ground covered with dew." That night God did so (Judges 6:36-40).
In his commentary, Calvin is not impressed with those who see this as permission to do the same kind of thing. Calvin says we must look to Scripture for assurance and not lay conditions upon the Lord when we pray. In saying this, Calvin reminds of the biblical principle that we may not put the Lord our God to the test (Deut 6:16).
When we look at what was done by Gideon and by Abraham's servant we need to distinguish between what is descriptive and what is prescriptive. Descriptive passages merely describe for us what happened. Prescriptive passages also tell us what we should be doing. So, for instance, the giving of the law in Exodus 20 is prescriptive in that it also tells us how we should live. On the other hand, the story of Gideon's fleece and the prayer of Abraham's servant is descriptive in that it merely describes what has happened with no commentary on whether it is right or wrong. Just because Gideon prays about a fleece does not give us permission to do the same. And, just because Abraham's servant makes a very specific kind of request of the Lord does not mean we also should.
II Permissible Ways to Discern God's Will
A So, what is God's will for my life? And, how do I go about discerning that will?
Take a look at Abraham's servant. His favorite name for Abraham was "my master," which he used nineteen times in the narrative of Genesis 24. The servant knew Abraham's command. The servant knew his master's wishes: "[You] will go to my country and my own relatives and get a wife for my son Isaac" (Gen 24:4). This servant knew that to do what is right he had to follow the master's wishes. He lived and served only to please his master.
The servant got his orders from his master and did not change them. When he made his vow of obedience, he meant it and kept it.
Likewise, when we face difficult choices the first thing we need to do is to listen to and obey the Master's voice. This means we need to turn to the wisdom of God in Scripture. And, in one sense, it is quite clear what His will is for us: God's will is that we be sanctified; God's will is that we be holy and pure and like Christ (1 Thess 4:3). Any option that resists holiness is therefore off limits. Any alternative that violates the plain teaching of Scripture is to be declined. Any choice that keeps us away from God and Christ and their service is to be rejected. Any act or labor that violates His law is forbidden but any act or labor that encourages our walk with God and Christ is to be considered. Like Abraham's servant, we need to live and serve to please the Master.
What is God's will for my life? How do I know God's will? The first place we want to turn when faced with a hard choice is the wisdom of God in Scripture. The first thing we need to do is to listen to the Master's voice. Which means so much for us today. It means attendance at worship where we hear and sing and pray the Word. It means personal and family devotions. It means attendance at bible study. It means memorizing Scripture and contemplating Scripture. It means we know the Word and breathe the Word and think the Word so that we immediately know which options are permissible and which options are wrong.
Chris & Elizabeth and every parent and grandparent here, when the next generation asks questions about life and purpose and meaning and direction, point them to the Word. Point them, again and again, to the Word. And, set an example for them. Very few children and youth will go to the Word for direction if they don't see their own parents doing the same thing.
Does it seem like you have made bad choices? Does it seem like you are drifting without meaning and purpose? Does it seem like you are on the wrong track? Well, then, let me ask: How much time do you spend with the Word? Unless you are in the Word, you cannot expect to make good choices for your life.
B What is God's will for my life? How do I go about discerning that will? Like Abraham's servant, we should go to God in prayer. We should pray when we want to discern God's will for our life.
Prayer is essential for determining the will of God, but the Lord will never lead us to make a choice contrary to the clear teachings of Scripture. Unlike the servant – and Gideon – you are not to lay conditions upon the Lord as you pray. But you are to pray. It also goes without saying that you are not to pray if you are thinking about disobeying God's Word.
Our Bible reading indicates that God hears and answers prayer. In fact, God knows our needs even before we ask (Mt 6:8). So, notice what happens while the servant was praying. While he was praying, God was already sending the answer (Gen 24:15). God's answer was not only speedy but it also was satisfactory.
Abraham's servant took the time to pray and to ask God for help. He believed the promise of God and trusted the providence of God to direct him (Gen 24:27). Furthermore, the servant was not impulsive but waited on the Lord to see what He might do (Gen 24:21). He opened himself to see and hear God's answer.
If you are faced with a decision between valid, biblical options, ask the Father to give you guidance. Like Abraham's servant, we can expect God to guide us. It can be easy to forget, but the Lord Whom we approach in prayer holds all things in His hands, and there is nothing too difficult for Him.
Parents, Chris & Elizabeth, set an example for your children. Be people of prayer. Pray for God's leading upon your child, upon your children and grandchildren. Pray that they may listen to the Lord's answer. And, of course, let your children hear you pray for direction in your own life.
C What is God's will for my life? How do I go about discerning that will? Abraham's servant listened to the voice of the master. Abraham's servant prayed to the Lord God Almighty. And, Abraham's servant went to the well outside of the town, toward evening, the time the women go out to draw water.
Abraham's servant had other choices. He could have gone to the local bar. He could have gone to the neighborhood brothel. He could have gone to the slave market. But what did he do? He went to the well at the time the women go out to draw water (Gen 24:11). He went to the place where you would find virtuous women, hard-working women, diligent women. He went at the time when you would find the kind of woman who would make the best wife for Isaac. And, he went about it in a way that would show a woman of hospitality and excellent character.
Too many times we go to the wrong places looking for answers and direction. God wants us to use common sense and wisdom, our gifts and our abilities, as we approach life's decisions.
What is God's will for my life? How do I go about discerning that will?
Start off with the Word. Include a life of prayer. And, use common sense. Nothing magical or supernatural about this.
Now, notice how this all ends. It ends with worship: "Then the [servant] bowed down and worshiped the Lord" (Gen 24:26).
Success causes some to become puffed up with pride but Abraham's servant, as a follower of the Lord, responds with humility. He bows his head and worships. He is overwhelmed and overjoyed with how God has led and guided him.
He looked for God's leading. He prayed for God's guidance. And, once he sees how the Almighty has come through, he responds with deep gratitude to God.
We are all good at asking God to give us things. But are we equally good at thanking Him? When God directs and leads us and those after us, let us not neglect to thank and praise and worship Him.
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