And he [Abraham’s servant] said, “O Lord, God of my master Abraham, please grant me success today and show steadfast love to my master Abraham. I am standing here by the spring of water, and the daughters of townspeople are coming out to draw water. Let the girl to who I shall say, ‘Please offer your jar that I may drink,’ and who shall say, ‘Drink, and I will water your camels’ – let her be the one whom you have appointed for your servant Isaac. By this I shall know that you have shown steadfast love to my master” (Genesis 24:12-14).
This very specific and remarkable prayer is at the center of one of the great romantic stories of the Bible. This afternoon, I heard an excellent sermon on the larger passage in which this prayer is offered. The sermon focused on the girl whom the man who spoke the prayer wanted to identify. Her name was Rebekah, daughter of Bethuel and niece of Abraham. I, however will focus on the prayer and the man who prayed.
Abraham’s wife Sarah had died and his son Isaac had not yet married. God had made promises to Abraham concerning Isaac’s offspring (Genesis 17:19), so Abraham set about to set the conditions for such beings to exist. He wanted his son to marry someone from his family, but did not want to send him back to the extended family home. He sent his oldest and most trusted servant, quite possibly Eliezer of Damascus (Genesis 15:2), to locate and bring back the woman who would be his son’s wife and mother of the sons who insure continuation of the family and keeping of God’s promise.
The servant had little information, other than the name perhaps of Abraham’s brother and the name of the town where they had lived several decades earlier. He arrived at the town at evening when young women were coming out to draw water. The servant, perhaps confused about what to do next, prays. Note how he addresses the prayer. He prays to “Yahweh (the Hebrew name for God represented by “Lord” here), God of my master Abraham.” Did the servant worship God himself, did he pray on behalf of his master to the master’s deity, or had he been impressed by his master’s faith? His call for fire names two goals: (1) Grant me success today, and (2) Show steadfast love to Abraham. The servant’s devotion is apparent; Abraham had given him permission to fail by saying it was alright to come back without the woman if she was not willing. In that age when electronic communication did not exist, how would Abraham have known whether the servant even tried to accomplish his mission. The servant, however, was a man of honor. He prayed for success of the mission Abraham had given him.
The servant prayed a most specific prayer. He described where he was, what he would say and what a woman would say that would identify her to him as the right wife for his master’s son. The critical criteria was showing concern for the servant’s animals. If a young woman responded in this way, he would know that Yahweh had demonstrated steadfast love for Abraham.
While he still prayed, a young woman approached the well. The servant ran to her and asked her for a drink of water. She responded as he had prayed she would, offering to give water to his animals as well. He asked her name. It was Abraham’s niece Rebekah! After learning who he was, she invited him to her father’s house. He bowed and worshiped Yahweh and said, “Blessed be the Lord, the God of my master Abraham, who has not forsaken his steadfast love and his faithfulness toward my master. As for me, the Lord has led me on the way to the house of my master’s kin” (Genesis 24:26-27). He would tell her father what he had prayed, the father would break with tradition by asking what she wanted to do, and she would return with Abraham’s servant to marry Isaac.
Abraham’s servant models perseverance and faith. He had traveled hundreds of miles before he prayed this prayer. Whether he acted on his own faith or that he observed in Abraham, he challenged God to show his love for Abraham by identifying the wife for Isaac. Imagine someone praying to God because they had watched how you lived and worshiped. When God delivered an answer, the servant acknowledged the power of God and knelt to honor him. Prayer based on perseverance and faith – that is the story of Abraham’s servant. Will it be yours?