“I came today to the spring, and said, ‘O Lord, the God of my master Abraham, if now you will only make successful the way I am going! I am standing here by the spring of water; let the young woman who comes out to draw, to whom I shall say, “Please give me a little water from your jar to drink,” and who will say to me, “Drink, and I will draw for your camels also”—let her be the woman whom the Lord has appointed for my master’s son.’
“Before I had finished speaking in my heart, there was Rebekah coming out with her water jar on her shoulder; and she went down to the spring, and drew. I said to her, ‘Please let me drink.’ She quickly let down her jar from her shoulder, and said, ‘Drink, and I will also water your camels.’ So I drank, and she also watered the camels. Then I asked her, ‘Whose daughter are you?’ She said, ‘The daughter of Bethuel, Nahor’s son, whom Milcah bore to him.’ So I put the ring on her nose, and the bracelets on her arms. Then I bowed my head and worshiped the Lord, and blessed the Lord, the God of my master Abraham, who had led me by the right way to obtain the daughter of my master’s kinsman for his son. Now then, if you will deal loyally and truly with my master, tell me; and if not, tell me, so that I may turn either to the right hand or to the left.”
And they called Rebekah, and said to her, “Will you go with this man?” She said, “I will.” So they sent away their sister Rebekah and her nurse along with Abraham’s servant and his men. And they blessed Rebekah and said to her,
“May you, our sister, become
thousands of myriads;
may your offspring gain possession
of the gates of their foes.”
Then Rebekah and her maids rose up, mounted the camels, and followed the man; thus the servant took Rebekah, and went his way.
Now Isaac had come from Beer-lahai-roi, and was settled in the Negeb. Isaac went out in the evening to walk in the field; and looking up, he saw camels coming. And Rebekah looked up, and when she saw Isaac, she slipped quickly from the camel, and said to the servant, “Who is the man over there, walking in the field to meet us?” The servant said, “It is my master.” So she took her veil and covered herself. And the servant told Isaac all the things that he had done. Then Isaac brought her into his mother Sarah’s tent. He took Rebekah, and she became his wife; and he loved her. So Isaac was comforted after his mother’s death. Genesis 24:34–38, 42–49, 58–67 (NRSV)
Grace and peace to you from God, our Father, and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
I have to admit to you that, since I’ve moved to Kentucky, I’ve been a little intrigued by the bourbon culture here in this state. I don’t know if it’s only because of great marketing or what, but from the start, it has fascinated me.
So, a few months ago, when a member (who shall remain nameless) invited me to go and see the Evan-Williams Experience in downtown Louisville, I jumped at the chance. If you haven’t been there, it’s kind of a cross between a Disney-type history experience and a technical lecture of both the history of Louisville and the history and process of bourbon-making here in Kentucky. I learned a lot and, to top it off, at the end, we participated in a bourbon tasting which, in itself, was quite educational.
One important fact that I found really interesting had to do with the limestone deposits in this area. Over 50% of the rock in Kentucky is limestone. It has a high pH, which promotes fermentation. Important for bourbon-making. It also filters out impurities, most importantly, iron, which gives liquor a bad taste. So, the presence of so much limestone in this area was perfect for the early distillers who developed bourbon. It also explains why the industry is centered here.
In the same way that limestone is commonly found here in Kentucky, it is also found in abundance in Canaan, the setting for our story today--our next chapter in the epic stories of Abraham and his family. And, just as it is here in Kentucky, where there was limestone in Canaan, there was also pure, good-tasting water. Wells were often cut out of solid limestone, sometimes with steps to descend down into them. Around the well, itself would be a brim or low wall, so nothing could fall into it, including people. And, often, near the well, were troughs, made of wood or stone, that were used to water animals.
Wells were central to life in Canaan. In a land that was arid and desert-like, they were critical to life and one’s existence. They served as a place of rest and refreshment in a dry land. Wells that were just outside a city or a village often served as a meeting place for local women, who were the ones who usually collected water for their families. It was often a stopping place for travelers who would share news. In Scripture, a number of important meetings take place at a well.
Wells also played a significant role as images of God’s provision. A well and its water were symbols of God’s promise and God’s care. Writers in the Bible often compared the water of spring-fed wells to God’s gift of salvation for God’s people.
It is around such a well that the action of today’s story is centered.
But, before, we move to that action, there’s a little catch-up for us to do.
In the period since our story from last week--the story of the near-sacrifice of Isaac--much time has passed. In the preceding chapter, we learn that Sarah is dead at age 127. Abraham was distraught. Verse 2 reads that Abraham “cried out in grief and wept” at her death. As time passed and as he began to move out of his grief, our story says that he “became older.” Perhaps it was that he was aging. Perhaps it was the loss of Sarah. Whatever it was, Abraham began to think about the next generation. In particular, he began to think of finding a wife for his son, Isaac.
He called for his oldest servant. We know that this was his most trusted servant because our story tells us that he was in charge of everything Abraham owned, which by this time was substantial, a result of God’s blessing.
Abraham called this servant and asked him to swear an oath--to promise that a wife for Isaac would not be chosen from among the Canaanite women, but that the servant would go back to the land God had called Abraham from. The land of his father and his father’s household. Abraham wanted Isaac’s wife to come from his family, from his own clan.
When the servant expressed some hesitation, especially whether any woman would leave her family to come to Canaan, Abraham assured him that God would be faithful. That God would send a messenger ahead tp ensure that Abraham’s servant would find a wife there. Abraham also told him that if the woman refused to return, the servant would be off the hook. That he would be free of this promise.
And, so, Abraham’s servant agreed. He swore the oath by “the Lord, the God of heaven and earth.” By the God of the covenant and the creator.
The servant gathered together ten camels--only part of the herd--along with the best provisions and set out for the land of Abraham’s kin. When he got there, he went to the well outside the city where Abraham’s brother lived.
Now, it wasn’t an accident that he ended up at a well. It had been a long, hot journey. He was thirsty. His camels, too. It was no accident he was there. It was also no accident that he arrived in the evening. Because it was in the evening that women from the city would come out to draw water.
So, he had the camels kneel down. Kneel down and wait for women. And, then, he prayed. He prayed that God would be faithful once again with his master, Abraham. That God would once again show steadfast love and faithfulness to Abraham. And that God would guide him, Abraham’s servant, and make it happen in front of him. And in his prayer, he lays out his shrewd character test for Isaac’s potential wife. He will test her sense of hospitality--that key trait that would determine her fitness to marry into the family led by Abraham, so known for his hospitality.
It’s a tough test, too. Because it will take much more than simple hospitality to volunteer to water ten thirsty camels, as each camel alone can drink and store up to 20-30 gallons of water.
Even before he finished speaking his prayer to God, a young woman--our text says the was very beautiful, of marrying age, and still a virgin--appeared at the well with a jar on her shoulder. This young woman--Rebekah--then went down into the well, filled the jar, and came back up. When she returned, Abraham’s servant politely asked for a little sip, which she graciously gave. And then, even before he can ask, Rebekah empties the rest of her jar it into the watering trough. And she runs back down to the well and brings up another to continue watering the camels--a task that likely required 30 trips up and down the stairs of the well.
All the time she was doing this, the servant stood watching, waiting, and wondering if God had answered his prayers, if this kind and hospitable and beautiful young woman would be Abraham’s kin.
The answer? Yes! She was Rebekah--granddaughter of Nahor, Abraham’s brother. A member of Abraham’s clan.
Our story continues with the return of the servant to the house of Rebekah’s mother, where the scene at the well is retold, the big question is asked, a marriage is negotiated, and, eventually, Rebekah leaves with the servant to return to Canaan. The last verses of our story tell us that, when she saw Isaac, Rebekah, literally, fell off the camel. Isaac had a similar response. He brought her to Sarah’s tent, placing her into the position as family matriarch. They were married. And our story tells us that “he loved her” and “was comforted after his mother’s death.
Faithfulness. This is the message of the story of the servant and Rebekah at the well. It is there, at the well, in the quenching of thirsts that God provides Rebekah. A new matriarch. A new wife for Isaac. A new generation in Abraham’s line. Life. Salvation.
It is the same message for us, too. Just as the well and its water were symbols of God’s promise and God’s care in Abraham’s time, so, too the water of baptism--the living water of baptism--is a symbol for us of God’s faithfulness, of God’s provision, of God’s promise. God’s covenant promise of life. Quenching our thirst through the living water that is our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and joining us in baptism to his death and resurrection.
Life. Salvation. Thirst that is quenched. All through the faithful love of our God, the God of Abraham and the God of Isaac.
May we praise God forever and ever! Amen.
Preached July 9, 2017 at Grace & Glory Lutheran Church, Goshen, KY.
5th Sunday after Pentecost
Readings: Genesis 24:34–38, 42–49, 58–67; Psalm 45:10-17; Romans 7:15-25a; Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30