************ Sermon on Genesis 24:28-51 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on June 16, 2013
"Trust in God to Guide You"
At a recent news conference President Obama's press secretary said "I believe the phrase from the Bible is, 'The Lord helps those who help themselves.' And I think the point the President is making is that we should – we have it within our capacity to do the things to help the American people."
Beside the convoluted syntax and grammar there is one other big problem here: the phrase is not in the Bible. Yet, many people think it is. And, many people think it should be. The old Abraham certainly loved this proverb: "The Lord helps those who help themselves." In many ways it was his favorite text in his early walk with God.
Let me remind you of the many times he thought he needed to help God fulfill His promises. God called Abraham to leave country and people and family and go to the Promised Land. But when they came to Haran, they settled there (Gen 11:31). And, on his own he left Canaan for Egypt when there was a famine (Gen 12:10). Though God had promised protection, Abraham two times asked Sarah to say she was his sister rather than his wife so that he would not be killed because of her great beauty (Gen 12, 20). God promised Abraham many descendants; yet, Abraham tried to make Eliezer his heir (Gen 15:2); and, Abraham fathered a child with Hagar (Gen 16). Do you hear the proverb that governed Abraham's life?: "God helps those who help themselves."
In Genesis 22 we finally see Abraham abandoning his own efforts and depending upon the Lord. Remember what happened? Abraham was commanded to take his son, his only son, Isaac, the son he loves, and sacrifice him as a burnt offering. Abraham obeyed God even though Isaac was the child of the promise. Abraham obeyed God even though a living Isaac was needed to fulfill all of God's promises. Abraham didn't take matters into his own hand because he finally trusted God to provide (Gen 22:8,14).
"God helps those who help themselves." "The Lord will provide." These two sayings bracket Abraham's life. His life's journey was a process of abandoning the first proverb in favor of the second proverb. His life's journey was a process of resisting the former and submitting to the latter.
Like Abraham, we too need to learn not to take matters into our own hand and to trust God to provide.
I The Sovereignty of God
A So far, in our study of Genesis 24, we have looked at two human actors: Rebekah and Abraham's servant, Eliezer. Rebekah, if you remember from a couple of weeks ago, shows us the importance of seeking a believing spouse. And Eliezer, if you remember from last week, shows us how to discern and follow God's will. Today, I want to look at the main actor in Genesis 24 – namely, God.
What stands out about God in our Bible reading? What stands out is His sovereignty.
Do you remember what Abraham made Eliezer do when he gave instructions about finding a believing wife for Isaac? Abraham made Eliezer "swear by the Lord, the God of heaven and the God of earth" (Gen 24:3). You never swear by the lesser or the weaker. You always swear by the greater and more powerful. This oath was sworn in the name of Yahweh – the Creator, the Source, the I Am. There is none greater than Him. There is none more powerful than Him. He is sovereign.
B Immediately after the oath, Eliezer asks the obvious question: What if the woman he finds is not willing to move to Canaan (Gen 24:5)? Does Isaac move outside of the Promised Land in order to get married?
Eliezer was wondering about the ultimate goal. Is Isaac's marriage the ultimate goal or is continued life in Canaan the ultimate goal? Is the ultimate goal a wife or is it Canaan?
Abraham's answer is "Yes!" Yes? A wife or Canaan? Yes! What kind of answer is that to an either/or question?
Abraham is amazed that his servant even thinks of this as an either/or question. Because Abraham thinks of this as a both/and question. It is not one or the other. It is both and at the same time.
Abraham, you see, still holds on to the lesson he learned at Mount Moriah – that the Lord will provide. God has promised Abraham descendants as numerous as the stars of heaven. God has promised Abraham the land. Abraham has lived a long life in which he has heard God's promises again and again (Gen 12:1-3; Gen 15; Gen 17:1-21). He has seen many of those promises confirmed (Gen 21:1-3; Gen 23:20). So, he has every confidence that greater things are still to come from the sovereign Lord, the God of heaven.
C Did you catch the mention of an angel? Two times Genesis 24 makes mention of him. "The Lord ... 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" (Gen 24:40; cf Gen 24:7). Through the angel God's design for Isaac and Rebekah becomes a reality. It is the angel who keeps Eliezer safe as he travels hundreds of miles. It is the angel who supervises events and places and times so everything works out the way it should. So, why was Rebekah in the right place at the right time? Why was she so hospitable, even as Eliezer has prayed (Gen 24:19-20)? Was it coincidence? There is no such thing as coincidence in the presence of the Almighty. His decrees establish all things, even seemingly chance events (Prov 16:33). And, His angels hasten to fulfill those decrees.
This is not the first time we have seen angels in Genesis. Remember the first time we see an angel? At the Garden of Eden already. God placed cherubim and a flaming sword flashing back and forth to guard the way to the tree of life (Gen 3:24). Once man fell into sin the only way to live forever was through Christ and the cross and not by eating from the tree. It was the job of the cherubim to ensure that Jesus is the only way to the Father.
When Hagar ran away it was an angel of the Lord who told her to go back to her mistress and to submit to her (Gen 16:9). Remember Hagar's confession about God after hearing from the angel? She confessed that He is the God Who hears and the God Who sees; that is, He is the God Who knows all things (Gen 16:11,13; cf Gen 21:17-21).
It was two angels who rescued Lot and his family from Sodom (Gen 19).
It was an angel who stopped Abraham when he was about to sacrifice Isaac. It was an angel who provided a ram to be sacrificed in Isaac's place (Gen 22).
The children of Israel are not surprised to hear talk of angels as they listen to the story of Genesis, as they listen to Abraham and Eliezer. Do you remember what happened when they left Egypt and the Egyptian army pursued them? The angel of the Lord, who had been traveling in front of Israel's army, withdrew and went behind them. He stood between the children of Israel and the army of Pharaoh (Ex 14:19). Later on, God made this promise:
(Ex 23:20-23) See, I am sending an angel ahead of you to guard you along the way and to bring you to the place I have prepared. (21) Pay attention to him and listen to what he says. Do not rebel against him; he will not forgive your rebellion, since my Name is in him. (22) If you listen carefully to what he says and do all that I say, I will be an enemy to your enemies and will oppose those who oppose you. (23) My angel will go ahead of you and bring you into the land of the Amorites, Hittites, Perizzites, Canaanites, Hivites and Jebusites, and I will wipe them out.
No, the children of Israel are not surprised or shocked by talk of angels. God uses angels all the time to direct events and people and places and times. They are agents of His sovereignty. And, that is how we are to look at the angel of Genesis 24: an agent of God's sovereignty, doing His bidding, carrying out His decrees.
D When Eliezer arrived at the town of Nahor he prayed, "O Lord, God of my master Abraham, give me success today, and show kindness to my master Abraham" (Gen 24:12). I touched on the prayer last week. Eliezer, remember, laid down a couple of conditions. The important thing, I said, was not the content of the prayer but the prayer itself.
Why does Eliezer pray to the Lord? Well, let me ask, why do we pray to the Lord? When we pray to the Lord, we acknowledge that He hears and is able to answer. When we pray to the Lord we acknowledge God's might and God's power and God's providence. When we pray to the Lord, we acknowledge He is sovereign. So, in prayer, Eliezer makes an acknowledgment about God and His ways.
Eliezer sees that same power and might and providence of God when he looks at the wealth of his master Abraham. "The Lord has blessed my master abundantly, and he has become wealthy. He has given him sheep and cattle, silver and gold, menservants and maidservants, and camels and donkeys" (Gen 24:35). Abraham's wealth did not come from Bera king of Sodom; nor did it come from Egypt's Pharaoh; nor did it come from Abimelech king of Gerar. Abraham's wealth came, first of all, from the Lord. Each one of these kings tried to reward Abraham. But Eliezer correctly recognizes the hand of the sovereign God in all of this.
The Lord's directing hand is also acknowledged by a most surprising person. I am talking about Laban, the brother of Rebekah and future father-in-law of Jacob. We know Laban to be greedy and grasping; we know he is not to be trusted; we know his motivations are not pure; we know he uses trickery and deceit to get his way. He hears Eliezer's story and in the providence of God declared a great truth:
(Gen 24:50-51) This is from the Lord; we can do nothing to you one way or the other. (51) Here is Rebekah; take her and go, and let her become the wife of your master's son, as the Lord has directed.
Why do I mention all these things? These are all proofs of the Lord's control. They all display God's sovereignty over people and events and places.
II The Comfort of God's Sovereignty
A Why do you think Moses, under the prompting of the Spirit, included Genesis 24 in his narrative? To comfort and encourage the children of Israel. They were on their way from Egypt to the Promised Land. The journey through the wilderness was difficult. The enemies were numerous and mighty. Too many times they worried and complained about food and water. So, the temptation to quit and give up and give in was frequent.
Moses' message to the people: trust in God; trust in the Almighty Father; trust in His sovereignty and providence; trust that He will provide even as He provided for Abraham and Isaac and Eliezer and Rebekah; trust that He will guide you.
B I want you to consider, for a moment, the name of Abraham's servant. His name is "Eliezer." This Hebrew name means, "God my help." The name says it all, doesn't it?! "God my help!" Don't the events of Genesis 24 portray the truth of that name? Doesn't God show Himself and prove Himself to be the help of His people?
We believe the same thing, don't we? We start every worship service with the declaration, "Our help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth" (Ps 121:1).
We, too, have an "Eliezer." Do you know what is the name for the Spirit in John 14-16? Our pew Bible call Him the "Counselor." A literal translation of the Greek language means "one who comes along side to help." In John 14:16 the Spirit is identified as "another Counselor." Which means and implies there is a Counselor or Helper beside the Spirit. This other Counselor or Helper, of course, is Jesus. "Eliezer." "God my help."
I suspect that more than one person here thinks it would be wonderful if an angel was involved in their life. Someone who will be with you and make your journey through life a success. Wouldn't that be amazing? If you are a believer, there actually is such an angel at work in your life. Let me explain.
In more than one place in the Old Testament there is a mysterious angel identified only as the "Angel of the Lord." We see this angel with Hagar and at Mount Moriah. Commentators recognize this mysterious figure as a pre-incarnate appearance of the Lord Jesus Christ. The promise of this Angel is to be with us always, to never leave us nor forsake us (cf Mt 28:20).
So, with Eliezer we know and make the confession that God is our help. With Eliezer we know and make the confession that God, in Christ, never leaves us nor forsakes us. With Eliezer we know and make the confession that God, in the Spirit, stands along side of us to help.
C I visited with Mike and Randy Richmond in the hospital this past week. Mike has already had 3 hospital stays this year. I spoke to them about the sovereignty of God. Quoting from Q & A 28 of the Catechism I told them that the teaching of God's sovereignty means "we can be patient when things go against us, thankful when things go well, and for the future we can have good confidence in our faithful God and Father that nothing will separate us from His love."
So often we are like Elijah – thrown into despair over life's circumstances (1 Kings 19:1-18). When doubt and temptation strike, we do well to consider the Lord's sovereignty. And, when we do, we can be patient, thankful, and confident.
We see five human actors in Genesis 24. First, we see a loving and godly father who desires a godly wife for his son. Second, we see a faithful servant who is dedicated to the will and goals of his master. Third, we see a godly woman who submits to the revealed will of God in her life. Fourth, we see a worldly brother who recognizes the hand and work of God. Fifth, we see a godly son who receives, with joy, the blessing of God. Do you know what we see in these five figures? We see five people who recognize the sovereignty of God.
How do we respond to such a God? Let me quote from the song we are going to sing:
If you but trust in God to guide you
and place your confidence in him,
you'll find him always there beside you
to give you hope and strength within;
for those who trust God's changeless love
build on the rock that will not move.
(PH # 446)
You can e-mail our pastor at: Pastor, Trinity United Reformed Church
Back to Index of Sermons Page