October 12, 2014 Genesis Sermon # 2 Divine Hope for Dysfunctional Families
Maple Glen Bible Fellowship Church Pastor Louis Prontnicki
Genesis 24 “Remarkable Rebekah: God’s Preparation and Transformation” (Part One)
Do you sometimes wonder: “Can God really use me? Is my life of any eternal significance?” This morning I would like you to look with me at how the Lord took a young woman named Rebekah and prepared her and transformed her, in order to work through her, for His glory! In the midst of all the dysfunctionality we see among the characters in Genesis, it’s nice to see that not all is chaos and soap-opera drama. Here in Genesis 24, we are given a glimpse into the character of Rebekah, and how God prepared her and transformed her to be the woman He wanted her to be, so that God’s plans would be accomplished through her. (More next time). Think of Rebekah- and all the characters in Genesis – as pieces of colored glass in a stained glass window. When each piece of glass is laying on the workbench, it doesn’t seem very impressive. But when it is placed in the window, in the right position, and the sun shines behind it, then you see how each piece is unique and how the whole picture has meaning. So it is with Rebekah and the other characters in Genesis: some, such as Esau and Laban, are darker pieces; others, such as Rebekah and Joseph, are lighter pieces; but the Lord uses each one of them to make a picture of how He redeems His people and brings glory to Himself!
One more introductory note: As I looked at other pastor’s sermons on Rebekah in Gen. 24, most preachers present this as a lesson in how to find God’s guidance or to find a spouse. And certainly there are elements of that here. But much more than that, Gen. 24 is a passage that calls us to bow down and worship the Lord our God, as we marvel at His matchless sovereignty over every detail of life, and at His delight in giving us good things… as we surrender to Him and trust Him in all things. Proverbs 3:5-6 “Trust in the LORD with all your heart… in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight.”
So let’s think about Rebekah. What do we know about her from the Scriptures?
1. Rebekah is beautiful: outside and inside (16a)
“The girl was very beautiful, a virgin; no man had ever lain with her.” Like her mother-in-law Sarah and like her niece and future daughter-in-law Rachel, Rebekah was a beauty! The text tells us that Rebekah possessed both an outward physical beauty, as well as an inward moral beauty, for she was still a virgin. Let me first say a little about this moral purity of Rebekah. Rebekah is a real looker; she’s stunningly beautiful, and yet she is a virgin. We might we assume that there had been at least a few men who, hypnotized by her beauty, had tried to get her to bed with them, right? But she was saving herself and her body for the one man who would commit to her in marriage…. What a novel idea today! We need to create a counter culture of “Rebekahs” – and men as well – who will save themselves, sexually, until marriage.
Now let me say something about her physical beauty. Almost every society puts a high premium on a woman’s outward beauty, and this emphasis can cause other assets and abilities to be minimized. Therefore we need to develop a Biblical understanding of physical beauty, which includes both an appreciation of it, as the gift of God, as well as a cautious restraint towards beauty, for it is not an end in itself, nor is it the most important attribute to look for. Should we have a healthy appreciation of a woman’s physical beauty? Yes! It is one of God’s gifts. (Remember: it is a gift, not anything you earned or deserved.) A woman’s beauty can point us to the beauty of our Creator (Psalm 27:4 “to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord”); and it can also bring joy and delight to others. The word “Beautiful” is used 14 times in the Song of Songs, as the lovers talk to each other, such as in S of S 1:15 “How beautiful you are, my darling!”
Furthermore, the gift of beauty can be used by God to create opportunities for service to the Lord: think of Esther, and how she was used of God to help save the Jews, because the king was attracted to her beauty in the first place. But at the same time, we should exercise a cautious restraint toward physical beauty. Proverbs 31:30 reminds us that “Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting; but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.” A woman’s physical beauty can, at times, become a liability provoking jealousy or rivalry, as in Gen. 26, when Rebekah’s husband Isaac thinks someone will kill him to be able to take his beautiful wife! We also see that in the case of the two sisters, when Rachel is beautiful, but her older sister, Leah, is homely! And Prov. 11:22 tells us that a beautiful woman who lacks discretion is like a gold ring in a pig’s snout! Think about that the next time you see a beautiful woman being “used” to advertise beer, cars, or anything else. The physical beauty of women caused problems for David (with Bathsheba) and for David’s sons Absalom (with Tamar) and Solomon (with many foreign wives). The parable of Ezekiel 16 warns against God’s people trusting in their own beauty, when that beauty was a gift from Him in the first place.
So we must temper our appreciation of the gift of a woman’s beauty with a cautious restraint towards it. Let me finish up these thoughts on beauty with three passages: the first is addressed to wives; the second is addressed to the husbands; and the third to the church:
To godly wives: 1 Peter 3:3-5: “Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as braided hair and the wearing of gold jewelry and fine clothes. Instead, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight. For this is the way the holy women of the past who put their hope in God used to make themselves beautiful…”
To godly husbands: Eph. 5:25-27 “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless.”
To Christ’s bride, the church: Rev. 21:2 “I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband.”
2. Rebekah is a hard-working servant (16b-20) “She went down to the spring, filled her jar and came up again. The servant hurried to meet her and said, “Please give me a little water from your jar.” “Drink, my lord,” she said, and quickly lowered the jar to her hands and gave him a drink. After she had given him a drink, she said, “I’ll draw water for your camels too, until they have finished drinking.” 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.”
Keep in mind that Eliezer had ten camels with him, and each was capable of drinking 20-25 gallons of water after a long trip! If the average water jar might have contained 5 gallons of water (that’s 40 pounds of water), and the ten camels needed a total of 200-250 gallons, then Rebekah might have made 40-50 trips to the well to provide enough water for the camels, and we are told she did it quickly, even running again and again to complete the task! Rebekah is not only beautiful and morally pure; she is a hard-working woman who has a servant’s heart, full of kindness and generosity.
Two implications of that: One is that Rebekah is a much needed model for girls and women to emulate today. Rebekah did not rely on her outward beauty to get her by in life; rather, she developed godly character by serving others, reaching out in kindness, and giving generously.
The other point is Rebekah gives us a foreshadowing of another Servant who would not only lavishly pour out water, but Who would pour out His very life for our souls. See Luke 12:37, where the Master serves his servants, and Phil 2:5-11.
3. Rebekah is God’s perfect match for Isaac (3-4, 23-24)
Eliezer’s mission from Abraham was to find a wife for his son Isaac from among Abraham’s relatives living back in what is today the Turkish-Syrian border area, some 400 miles away. 24:3-4 “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, but will go to my country and my own relatives and get a wife for my son Isaac.” So after Eliezer observes that this woman is beautiful, kind, hard-working, and so forth, he asks the $64,000 question: Is she from among Abraham’s relatives? 24:23-24 Then he asked, “Whose daughter are you?…She answered him, “I am the daughter of Bethuel, the son that Milcah bore to Nahor.”
Bingo! It’s the perfect match. She’s the right one for Isaac back home. E-harmony and match.com have nothing on the Lord in finding the right husband or wife for the person who looks to the Lord. God has arranged this marriage from 400 miles away, without the aid of social media. The principle here is that our great and wise God will arrange every detail of our lives, including who our spouse will be…. So let us trust Him! (Prov. 3:5-6 “Trust in the Lord…” and Phil. 4:19 “My God will meet your needs according to His glorious riches in Christ Jesus” Let me also add that for some people, God’s perfect will is singleness, or perhaps being a widow or widower. God told Jeremiah not to take a wife; Paul very well may have been a widower, and of course Jesus remained unmarried on earth. See 1 Cor. 7 Furthermore, let’s remember that marriage, of itself, is not the cure-all for life’s problems. We must not turn either marriage or singleness into idols. Only the Lord can completely satisfy us, and only He can ultimately give us exactly who and what we need.
Rebekah is exactly who Isaac needs to complete him (64-67) 64 “Rebekah also looked up and saw Isaac. She got down from her camel and asked the servant, “Who is that man in the field coming to meet us?” “He is my master,” the servant answered. So she took her veil and covered herself. [This is where we get the custom of the bride being veiled as she walks up the aisle.] Then the servant told Isaac all he had done. 67 Isaac brought her into the tent of his mother Sarah, and he married Rebekah. So she became his wife, and he loved her; and Isaac was comforted after his mother’s death.”
Isn’t God good and wise? Here’s Isaac out in the fields one evening, and this camel caravan arrives. He sees Rebekah, but she’s veiled, so he can’t tell what she looks like. But the servant tells him everything that had transpired, and how the Lord had sovereignly arranged all the details, and how this woman was beautiful, hard-working, and willing to come! And then we read in v. 67 that Isaac marries Rebekah and that Isaac loved Rebekah, and that Isaac was finally comforted after his mother’s death. Notice that marriage is the foundation for love; romantic feelings are not the basis for marriage. Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote: “It is not your love that sustains the marriage, but from now on, the marriage that sustains your love.” God knew exactly the specific woman that Isaac needed to complete him. But it was not that Isaac needed to search the world to find just the right one; no, the one God brought to him was the one he married, and she was the right one! “The one you marry will be the right one!”
4. Rebekah submits herself to the Lord’s will (58)
Why do I think that Rebekah submitted to the Lord’s will? Because Rebekah was willing to leave her family and her country, and travel 400 miles to marry a man she had never met. And the big question is “Why?” Did she want to escape her family problems and run away? Was she tired of living under the self-centered conniving of her brother Laban? Perhaps. But it is significant that in Gen. 24, the story of how the Lord sovereignly led Eliezer to Rebekah is repeated in detail, twice, and in that story, the central figure is the sovereign Lord. I think that Rebekah is deeply impressed by how the Lord is in complete control of all the details, and she decides that she needs to bow down before God’s will and submit to the sovereign Lord.
Consider what goes on:
– She learns that the Lord answered Eliezer’s prayer (12-14, 42-44)
– She realizes that her actions at the spring were the exact thing Eliezer has prayed for
– She sees Eliezer worshiping the Lord for His covenant love and His faithfulness (26-27)
– She hears, as Eliezer recounts the story, that the Lord is the central actor in the drama: “The Lord has blessed my master” (v. 35) “The Lord will send his angel with you and make your journey a success” (40) The Lord is the One who grants success and who chooses brides for husbands (42-44) The Lord is the One who is to be worshiped, praised, and bowed down to, for how He marvelously leads his people (48, 52) The Lord so clearly reveals Himself to Rebekah’s family that they too exclaim, “This is from the Lord!” (50)
Therefore, it is little surprise that when Rebekah is asked if she wants to leave her family, her country, and all that is familiar to her, and get on a camel and take a 400 mile journey to meet and marry a man who she has never seen before and start a new life with him…. She says, “I will go.” (v. 58). For in telling Eliezer “I will go”, she is also telling the Lord, “I will surrender.” She is trusting the Lord for her whole life, believing that he has a better and holier plan for her, than anything she could have come up with.
Application: “I will go.” Is this something you have said to the Lord? Is He calling you to leave behind your self-righteousness, or your stubborn will, or your control over your life? Are you clinging to the idol of security, comfort, or control? The Lord is revealing to you His sovereignty, His mercy, and His goodness, so that you, like Rebekah, will surrender to Him, completely.
5. Rebekah is blessed in the Lord’s covenant of grace (59-60) “So they sent their sister Rebekah on her way, along with her nurse and Abraham’s servant and his men. And they blessed Rebekah and said to her, “Our sister, may you increase to thousands upon thousands; may your offspring possess the gates of their enemies.”
What is significant here is that this is the same blessing that the Lord gave to Abraham after he was ready to offer up his son Isaac on the altar of sacrifice, in Gen. 22:17: “I will surely bless you and make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as the sand on the seashore. Your descendants will take possession of the cities of their enemies…” Years before, the Lord had blessed Abraham, as he obeyed God’s command to leave his father and go to a land He would show him, and after He was willing to submit to God’s will, even to offer up his beloved son, Isaac. Now Rebekah’s family is pronouncing a similar blessing on her, as she too leaves her family and travels to a new land, and as she is willing to submit to God’s will, even marrying a man she has never met, 400 miles away. Here is faith on Rebekah’s part, but I also believe it was God’s grace helping her, in response to all He has been showing her about Himself: that He, the Lord God, was faithful in all things; that He was sovereign over every detail, and that He was the One she could trust and obey.
So, when you wonder, “Can God really use me? Is my life of any eternal significance?” just think about what the Lord did to Rebekah, and remember that you are His, and He loves you. He gave His Son for you; you are precious and beautiful in His sight, in Christ.