Recap | Finishing Well

This past weekend, Bill White taught on Genesis 24:1-27.

As the narrative begins, we are informed that Abraham is an old man, blessed by the Lord in all things. At this point in his life, he holds an influential position, possessing wealth, prestige, and power. He has large numbers of servants and he commands his own army; he is virtually a king. This passage recounts the last great endeavor of his life – finding a wife for his son Isaac – and provides an excellent model for what it means to “finish well.” Abraham has endured much: suffering, sacrifice, sin, loss, and painful transformation of character. But he has been able to move through those things and finish the task to which God has called him.

In order to fulfill God’s promise to create a great nation from Abraham’s descendants, his son Isaac must find a wife. Abraham gives this important task to his second-in-command and the head of his household, a man who is unnamed in this passage but is probably his servant Eleazar. Abraham charges him with traveling to the far-off land of Aram-naharaim, a journey spanning hundreds of miles, and returning with a young woman suitable for marrying his son. In the event that he can find no woman to return with him, Eleazar is released from the mission.

There are two important things to note about Eleazar’s task. First, he is not to find a wife for Isaac from among the Canaanites. This is not a prohibition against interracial marriage, but it is a prohibition against marriage with those who are not God’s people. The Canaanites were a wicked people, condemned by God for judgment and destruction. Marrying a Canaanite would only cause idolatry, pain, and suffering. The second idea is that Abraham will not allow Isaac to leave Canaan for a woman. If she will not return with Eleazar, he will find another wife. Abraham is clear that God has promised the land of Canaan to him, and he plans to stay and receive that promise.

When Eleazar arrives at his destination, he knows that he has an important task and little time. He prays to God, acknowledging his dependence on Him, and asks God to act on his behalf and reveal the woman he is supposed to find. He asks God to exhibit “unfailing love” to Abraham. This unfailing love – not a promise to make one happy or successful in the world’s eyes, but to faithfully secure all that God has promised and purposed for his people – is a theme that dominates much of the Old Testament. Eleazar does not arrogantly put demands on God, nor does he try to solve the problem by his own skill and intelligence. He instead asks God for help, trusts in His unfailing love, and acts in a wise and prudent manner.  In doing so, he finds the young woman named Rebekah and invites her to return to Canaan with him. She obliges, returns to the family of Abraham, and marries Isaac.

Though the story centers mostly on Eleazar’s performance of his task, it does illuminate four important principles that allowed Abraham to finish well:

1) Abraham is focused on the mission, not on his own comfort. Looking back to verse 1, we see that Abraham was blessed by God in every regard. He was like a king, possessing everything that he could have desired. However, he did not allow these gifts or their enjoyment to distract him from completing the mission God had given him. As we saw last week, Abraham learned the lesson of Mount Moriah. He learned that even the most valuable blessing is not too precious to be required by God. Abraham could have taken comfort in his possessions and power, but he instead forged ahead with his mission, understanding that Isaac must have a wife for God’s promise to be fulfilled.

2) Abraham is focused on God’s promises. He remembers God’s covenants with him- to create a great nation from him and to give him the land of Canaan. He focuses on these promises and places himself in a position to receive them. He actively seeks a wife for his son, but is conscious of the limitations of his search. He will not allow Isaac to leave Canaan to live with a wife, but recognizes that his family must stay in the land of promise if they are to receive it. Abraham remembers God’s promises to him and allows them to motivate him in his fulfillment of the mission.

3) Abraham is confident that God will act on his behalf. He has faith in God’s unfailing love and confidence that He will bring to fulfillment whatever he has purposed for his people. Abraham sends Eleazar to find a wife for Isaac, but recognizes that God may have another plan to find her. Therefore he releases Eleazar from his task if the woman is unwilling to return home with him. He is willing to take a chance and be obedient, but he trusts God enough to recognize that He may work on His own terms.

4) Abraham is clear on the difference between the things he is responsible for and the things he is merely concerned about. He is responsible for ensuring that Isaac does not marry a Canaanite, and for ensuring that Isaac remains in Canaan. He must do these to be obedient to God. He is concerned that the woman may not return with his servant, but he has no ultimate responsibility over her. He can only be obedient and present her with the opportunity, and then have faith that God will provide what he needs.

For us, whether the idea of finishing is far off, rapidly approaching, or already present, we must seek to emulate Abraham in these four ideas. We must “practice what we want to be.” Even if our goal, becoming the faithful disciple we would like to be, seems far off and distant, we must daily strive to become that person. However, this goal is not possible through our own efforts, but only through trusting in the transformative power of Christ. If we are to be like Abraham and finish well, we must lean on the mercy and grace of the One whom we ultimately seek to imitate.

– Alexander Batson