Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
I. THE EXPANDED BLESSING. The first line of the web of sacred history stretches itself out to Mesopotamia. The aged patriarch, blessed of Jehovah in all things, is fading from our sight. We must look on a new generation and see the blessing expanded.
II. THE DIVINE GUIDANCE. The angel shall be sent before Isaac, and he will overrule the events and wills which seem to stand in the way. The marriage of Isaac was a matter of most solemn moment. The earthly bonds are blessed only when they are held up by the Divine covenant.
III. MAN'S FAITH REWARDED BY SPECIAL DIRECTION. The servant prayed for good speed, because it was in the spirit of dependence upon Jehovah that the whole errand was undertaken. We have no ground for expecting supernatural indications of the future, but when we commit our way unto the Lord we may ask him to show it. If it be well for us to see it beforehand, which it sometimes is not, he will send us "kindness both in the occurrences and persons we meet.
IV. EARTHLY RELATIONSHIPS ARE UNDER HEAVEN'S SUPERINTENDENCE. The fair Mesopotamian is a suitable companion for the heir of the patriarch. She is full of graciousness and activity, free from pride, gentle, unsuspicious, generous, patient, self-sacrificing, benevolent. Such characteristics are what the children of God desire to transmit to their descendants. In the sight of so much that was lovely both in person and character, the servant held his peace with wondering thoughtfulness, waiting for and already anticipating the blessing of the Lord.
V. THE TRUE PIETY WATCHES FOR GOD AND WORSHIPS. On receiving the simple answer to his inquiry, and perceiving how the hand of the Lord had been guiding him, he bowed his head, and worshipped (Vers. 26, 27). Those who wait for the mercy and the truth" will not be left destitute of it. Oh to be able at every step and stage of life to say, "Blessed be the Lord! to hear the salutation rendered us, Come in, thou blessed of the Lord!
VI. GOD IN HISTORY. The kingdom of God had its points of connection from this moment with the throned of human affection, sanctified by the grace of God, uniting them together. The house of Abraham, the house of Bethel, are widely separated from one another in the measurement of space, but closely bound together henceforth by the spiritual ties of a common faith and obedience in the name of Jehovah. The same Divine purpose which directed the servant's way moved the heart of the damsel. She said, I will go." She went out of the midst of pure family affections; she was welcomed by one who saw her coming when he was "meditating in the field at eventide," doubtless in the spirit of prayerful expectation; and who took her to his mother Sarah's tent, where she might be sure one who so tenderly mourned the loss of a mother would know how to cherish a wife sent of God to comfort him. "He loved her." Religion is the only true guardian of domestic happiness, the only deep soil in which the affections flourish. - R.
And Abraham said unto him, Beware thou that thou bring not my son thither again. Abraham's care to prevent the leaven of idolatry entering his family (cf. Exodus 34:16; 1 Corinthians 15:33; James 1:27). Worldly wisdom would have led him to seek a wife for his son among the families of Canaan, so as to give him a firmer footing in the land; but he solemnly charged his steward, in sending him on a marriage embassy, not to do this (cf. 1 Kings 11:3; 2 Corinthians 6:14). A wife was to be sought from his brother's family. Out of the earnestness of this godly desire came the trial of his faith. An obvious difficulty; what if the damsel should not be willing to follow a stranger? There had been little intercourse between the families. The news is Genesis 22:20 was plainly the first for many years. Must Isaac go in person to take a wife from her father's house? Much might be urged in favor of this. If the presence of Isaac were of importance, might he not return for a little, though Canaan was his appointed home? Was it not hindering the very thing Abraham desired, to refuse to do so? Was it not unreasonable to look for a blessing and yet to neglect obvious means for obtaining it? Not for a moment would Abraham listen to the suggestion. At God's call he had left Mesopotamia forever. To send his son back would he contrary to the principle of his whole life. It would be to put expediency above faith, to distrust God's promise, to think his will changeable (cf. 1 Kings 13:19). Contrast the faithlessness of the Israelites in their wilderness journeys. Abraham would not allow even a temporary return. They "in their hearts turned back again into Egypt" (cf. Luke 9:62).
I. IN A GODLY LIFE THERE IS OFTEN A TEMPTATION TO TURN BACK FOR A LITTLE. With a laudable aim, some step which seems likely to lead to it is not quite what in itself we know to be right. To gain the means of doing good, some little departure from truth may seem almost necessary. In the eagerness of some plan of usefulness the time for prayer can hardly be found, or the ordinary daily duties of life seem to interrupt the greater and higher work; or, to gain an influence over the gay and worldly, it may seem the course of wisdom to go, a little way at least, with them. And is not a Christian, under the law of liberty, freed from strict observance of the letter? Does not that savor of the spirit of bondage? Nay, "to obey is better than sacrifice." Always danger when men seek to be wiser than God (Proverbs 14:12). We cannot foresee the difficulties of returning.
II. TRUE FAITH POINTS TO IMPLICIT OBEDIENCE. Can we not trust God to order all - not only the ends towards which he would have us strive, but the means to be used? We are to live by every word of God, not by some special saying only. Promise and precept, instruction and direction, are alike his words, by which every step should be guided. It is want of faith which leads to departure from obedience; want of full trust in God which leads to ways of fancied wisdom. We have to do -with efforts, not with results; these are in God's hand. Where obedience is not in question we rightly use our judgment; reason was given us to be our guide, but not to take the guidance out of God's hands. - M.
Genesis 15:2. He had been selected by Abraham to be his heir, but of course when Isaac was born he could not hold that position. He became honored and trusted as "the eldest servant of (Abraham's) house, who ruled over all that be had" (Genesis 24:2). To him was committed the delicate business recorded in this chapter; and the way in which it was executed was just that which would be expected from one who had so won the confidence of Abraham as to be selected as heir. We cannot but admire the thoughtfulness of Abraham for his son. He sought to prevent Isaac from being brought under the polluting influence of the Canaanitish people in the midst of whom he dwelt. He also desired to prevent Isaac from going back to the country from which he had himself been Divinely led. Hence he sends his steward to select from among his kindred one who shall be a suitable life-companion for his son. He takes an oath of his steward that he will in no wise permit a wife to be taken from among the Canaanites, or lead Isaac to Mesopotamia again. The mission of Eliezer was indeed difficult and delicate. We must not think of it according to the customs of our land. In Oriental nations to this day it is the practice to employ a third person to negotiate a marriage between those who seem by report to be suitable for such relationship. Eliezer undertook the affair with every desire to gratify his master, and to serve well even the one who had supplanted him in heirship. We cannot too highly praise "the man" for his unselfishness, or too warmly admire the devoutness which characterized his whole conduct.
I. HE SEEKS BY PRAYER SUCCESS FROM GOD. The prayer recorded here was probably not the first offered with respect to the subject. His mission was not only delicate, but rather indefinite. He is sent to the relations of his master to choose from among them a wife for Isaac. He knows that much of the satisfaction of Abraham and welfare of Isaac will depend on his right performance of the duty. He feels the responsibility resting upon him, and makes every needful preparation for discharging it. He starts on the camels prepared, and carries with him presents suitable. After a long journey he arrives at a city in Mesopotamia where dwelt Nahor, his master's brother. It is eventide when he reaches the well outside the city. The graceful daughters of the city, with pitchers poised on their shoulders, are just coming forth to draw water for their households. The camels turn their long necks and weary eyes in the direction of the approaching maidens. They know that on their arrival the dry troughs, which only tantalized thirst, will be filled. The shade from the palms avails not now to break the fierce rays of the sun setting so rapidly in the west. Long shadows are over the landscape. Eliezer stands with the golden light about him. He feels that this may be the moment of great import. Clasping firmly his hands, and lifting fervently his face heavenward, he breathes the beautiful prayer, "O Lord God of my master Abraham, I pray thee, send me good speed this day, and show kindness unto my master Abraham." It was -
1. Brief prayer, because there was not time to say much more, but it was most appropriate. He asked for what he felt he needed. He did not use prayer as a mere mystical method of pleasing God, but as the expression of a felt need. This is true prayer. God does not want fine words, long sentences, and wearying repetitions. None are heard for their much speaking. That is a heathenish notion. God is not glorified by the length of time we remain on our knees, or the number of things we can crowd into a certain time. The longest prayers are often the most unmeaning. This is true of prayers in the home and in the Church. Brief, earnest, sincere prayer is that which wings its way to heaven. When Peter was sinking in the waters his cry was brief and pointed enough: "Lord, save; I perish."
2. Eliezer did not hesitate to ask God's guidance in respect to a subject which many would have accounted as quite within the scope of their own judgment to decide. Many also would have thought it beneath the notice of God. Many would have made their way direct into the city to Nahor's house to choose for themselves. And many would have left the matter to be decided by chance; but Eliezer seeks guidance from God. Only those who are ignorant of the value of trifles, of their relative power, or who are ignorant of the fact that there are no trifles but which may become all-important circumstances, would think of such an affair as that Eliezer had in hand, as beneath God's notice. If not beneath God's notice, it may be the subject of prayer. Many who contemplate forming relationships might with the greatest advantage imitate the example of Eliezer in this case, and seek direction from God. Were this the practice there would be fewer unhappy marriages. Eliezer, in carrying out his master's wish, seeks success from God.
II. NOTICE HOW GOD OVERTAKES OUR PRAYERS. At the most opportune time the steward prays. He committed his way unto the Lord at the juncture when he felt he needed the guidance. God honors the man's trust. "It came to pass that before he had done speaking Rebekah came out." She was the very one whom God had appointed. She knew not that she was moving to fulfill the intention of God. In her acts and in her words she was doing that which was in harmony with the sign the man had asked. Courteously, on being asked for a draught from her vessel, she had offered even to draw for the camels also. In the first one addressed Eliezer had the answer to his prayer. Cf. Isaiah 60:54: "Before ye call I will answer," &c.; and Daniel 9:23: "At the beginning of thy supplication the commandment came forth." We lose much of the comfort of prayer because, after having put up a petition, we either forget to look for the answer, or because we have but a semi- belief in the power of prayer. If prayer be a reality to us, it is no less so in God's sight. Some put up prayers in the spirit which seems to say, "Now I will see whether God will answer that." God is not to be subject to mere testings. Christ showed that, when on earth he refused to gratify the curiosity or submit to the testings the Pharisees prepared for him. Where God is perfectly trusted the answer will, in some way or other, overtake, or even anticipate, the prayer.
III. SEE HOW THE RAPIDITY OF THE ANSWER STAGGERS BELIEF. "He, wondering at her, held his peace," waiting to know whether the "Lord had made his journey prosperous or not." God had not only answered speedily, but in the manner desired. Sometimes he sends the answer, but in away so different from that we expected, that we discern not the fact that we have an answer. But what heavenly telegraphy is here! No sooner the petition sent than the answer is given. The very correspondence between the sign desired and its rapid fulfillment only sets Eliezer speculating as to whether it may not have been simply a very remarkable coincidence rather than a Divine response. Meanwhile he acts as though he believed. He offers to Rebekah the gifts which indicated already his business. He offers such as shall become the character of his master, who was princely in his possessions as well as position. He offers and waifs. The man "held his peace." He knows that if God has answered in part be will also answer fully. God's dealings should always induce awe and patient waiting. He will often surprise us with the blessings of goodness. In our lives we have probably known like surprisingly-rapid answers to prayer. We have even disbelieved in the answer. What if God had withdrawn the help or blessing given because received in such unbelief! There are times when we, like Eliezer, and like the Israelites on the shores of the Red Sea, have to be still and know that the Lord is God. Then God's action staggers belief.
IV. SEE HOW GRACIOUSLY GOD CONFIRMS HIS SERVANT'S WONDERING HOPE. Eliezer inquires of the maiden whether there is room in her father's house for him to lodge. After the manner of the Orientals, she readily replies, "We have both straw and provender enough, and room to lodge in." He follows Rebekah. Laban acts as host in place of his father Bethuel. He welcomes Eliezer heartily. "Come in, thou blessed of the Lord," &c. Eliezer enters and attends to the Wants of his men and camels, but will not attend to his own until he has unburdened his mind. He tells of his errand, of the meeting with Rebekah at the well, of his praying, of the speedy answer, and of the sign fulfilled. Laban and Bethuel are surprised, and see in it God's hand. They say, "The thing proceedeth from the Lord; we cannot speak unto thee good or ill." Then the man "bowed his head and worshipped." Rebekah consented to accompany him and become the wife of Isaac, his master's son. Everything fell out better than the steward could have expected; he could only see in it God's hand, God's mercy in guiding him and in confirming his hope.
1. God is as willing to answer us as to answer Eliezer of Damascus.
2. Prayer can overcome difficulties that seem insurmountable. When the cup of sorrow is not removed the strength is given to bear it, and so prayer is answered. If the way we expected does not open up in answer to our supplication, another and better is sure to be made plain. Prayer also "makes the darkened cloud withdraw."
3. When in the other world we look at our past life, we shall all see that God had answered all prayers that it would have been for our good to have answered, and that in others the withholdment has been kindliest response. There we shall "bow our heads and worship." him who made our earthly journey prosperous, and who had brought us to the "city which hath foundations." Whatever, then, our anxiety, trial, perplexity, let us lay all before God. If we are earnestly trying for the salvation of members of our own family, or for the advancement of God's kingdom, let us by prayer and supplication make our requests known to God, and he will send us an answer of peace, even as he did to Eliezer. - H.
I. COVETOUSNESS MAKES A MAN CALCULATING WHEN APPEARING TO BE GENEROUS. Laban had not been so pressingly urgent in his invitation if he had not cherished a hope of further advantages. He was a churlish man. He said, "Come in, thou blessed of the Lord," &c., because he saw that which was to him the greatest sign of blessing - wealth. Laban helped the more readily to ungird Eliezer's camels because he hoped thereby to loosen the girdle-purse of his visitor. He had the eye of greed. He could not see anything valuable belonging to another without wishing to possess it.
II. COVETOUSNESS MAKES A MAN, GENERALLY, SHORT-SIGHTED WITH RESPECT TO HIS OWN BEST INTERESTS. Laban gave Eliezer a bad impression of himself. The latter would soon see through such a man as Laban. He showed this when he gave presents not only to the sister and mother, but to the brother (ver. 53). He knew that it would not he advisable to overlook Laban. Eliezer knew he could be bought. Laban, when treating with Jacob, was just as short-sighted. He gave Leah and Rachel to Jacob as wives only after years of service for which he stipulated. He changed Jacob's wages ten times. Through his greed he at last lost Jacob. He confessed how great a helper Jacob had been. "The Lord hath blessed me for thy sake" (Genesis 30:27). Jacob would not tarry with him, and even the daughters were glad enough to get away from such a father. Covetousness is opposed to our temporal and eternal interests. We lose by it the respect of others here and of God hereafter.
III. COVETOUSNESS IS EVER INDIFFERENT TO THE RIGHTFUL CLAIMS OF OTHERS. It will ignore those claims altogether, if possible.
1. We find Laban thus ignored the influence of his father throughout the whole transaction. Perhaps Bethuel was infirm or aged, but he is, consistently with the character of Laban, thrust into the back- ground. Laban also takes all presents, and there is no mention of any being given to his father.
2. We find also he was in great measure indifferent to the happiness of his sister. He was subtle in tongue, and spoke of the Lord arranging things, but he believed in the arrangement because his family was the gainer. A good chance is offered by the Damascene stranger, and Rebekah soon saw that it was a foregone conclusion that she should go with him. Covetousness will make parents careless as to the physical, mental, and moral well-being of their children, and employers care- less of the state of their servants. It is covetousness also that leads many to spread temptations, too strong to be resisted, before others, and one nation to get rich out of that which is sapping the life-blood of another.
IV. COVETOUSNESS NEVER SATISFIES, AND OFT MAKES MEN MOST MISERABLE. "He that is greedy of gain troubleth his house." "Envy is rottenness to the bones." Misers perish in the midst of plenty. Riches possessed, the desire for more is generally intensified. The desire is no more checked than a lamp is extinguished by added oil.
V. COVETOUSNESS IS SURE, SOONER OR LATER, TO BE REBUKED. The greed in Laban's eye which glistened at the sight of the golden ornaments on his sister's form deepened with the passage of years. At last, in his pursuit of Jacob, he was rebuked by God in a vision, and afterwards by the man he had wronged. Learn, therefore, that medium prosperity is better than great riches gained by greed. Despise not the comforts of life, but live for something higher. What is gained in the world is speedily gone. If we gain much and ruin our souls, we shall not only be rejected by God, but shall bitterly condemn ourselves. - H.
I. THE POSITION OCCUPIED. "Without." Probably they have no realized pardon, no enjoyment in religion, no future prospects of joy. Life is a dread mystery to them. They are saying, "Who will show us any good?" They may be just awakened spiritually, like the Philippian jailor. They may be under the condemnings of law and conscience, and in dread of the consequences of sin. Those within the true Church know in whom they have believed, and rejoice in forgiveness and the prospect of heaven. They are no longer outside the gates of mercy. We may be in a visible Church without being of Christ's fold. It is penitence, faith, and character that determine our position, and not birth, rank, or ceremonial observances.
II. THE REASONS WHEREFORE MANY RETAIN A POSITION OUTSIDE THE CHURCH.
1. Accustomed to the state, and unwilling to change. They are like the prisoner who, after many years' imprisonment in the Bastile, was liberated, and went forth only to find all his friends gone and himself a mere burden to society. He went back and entreated to be allowed to retain his cell until he should pass out of the world.
2. Many, because they are ignorant of the fullness of Divine mercy.
3. Others, because they think there is so much to be done ere they can be fitted to be received within, and are looking to their own efforts to prepare themselves.
4. Many, because they fear their opportunity of admittance is past.
5. Others, because undecided as to whether they shall give up the pleasures of the world for the privileges of Christian fellowship.
6. Others, because they lack faith in their faith and its power to justify.
7. Many stand outside because they think themselves as secure outside as within. They forget that Christ demands open confession, and that to be united openly, to his Church is one way of confessing his name before men. Let there be a personal and searching inquiry, "Wherefore standest thou without?" The invited guest passed within, and found his highest expectations more than realized, because God "had prospered his journey." - H.
I. A GODLY HABIT INDICATED. "Went out to meditate" - to pray. There is a great difference between reverie and meditation. The one is aimless dreaming, the other, thought tending to an object. Prayer is the thought expressed. Meditation is the "nurse of prayer." Meditation stirs up the spiritual fire within. It brings us nearer to the Divine. It should be cultivated as a habit rather than be left to spasmodic impulses.
II. A PLACE WELL ADAPTED TO PRAYER SELECTED. The field or open country, where we can get away from men, is the place for fellowship with God. A free prospect lets God's power be more plainly seen. It is an advantage to get out to sea, and, leaning over the bulwark of a vessel, to realize the width of the world, the vastness of the universe and greatness of God. We should seek some place where we can specially realize the presence and power of God. "Enter into thy closet" is a command which many find it difficult to obey. At school, in business houses, there is little or no provision for solitary meditation; but with a book in hand the believer may in spirit get alone with God.
III. THE TIME CHOSEN FOR PRAYER WAS MOST FITTING. Isaac went into the field at eventide. When the fret and toil of the day were over; when the sun was setting, glorified by crimson clouds, or shaded by the purplish haze; when the blossoms were closing, and flocks were being folded; when the moon was just showing, and the stars beginning to shine out; when a hush was over nature and entering into the soul - then Isaac sought to pray; then he sought to realize the certainty of the Divine promises and the faithfulness of the Divine performance. The time accorded well with his own feelings. He still mourned for his mother (ver. 67). Sorrow makes solitude congenial. Moreover, he was anticipating a change of state. He knew his father had sent Eliezer to seek for him a wife from among his own kindred, and he may have been praying that God would send him a suitable partner for life. While he was praying the answer was approaching. By prayer Isaac was prepared also to bear with the selfishness and wrong-doing of others. In Genesis 26. we see how he avoided quarrelling with the Philistines. Gentleness made him great, and that gentleness was intensified by prayer. - H.