God’s Finger Prints

Scripture: Genesis 24:10-27

Title: God’s Fingerprints

Structure:

  • Introduction
  • Asking Prayer
  • Listening Prayer
  • Conclusion – Giving Thanks

Introduction:

Fingerprints are detailed, unique to the individual, difficult to alter and durable over a lifetime. For these reasons fingerprints are one means of identifying people

Today we continue our series on the life & faith of Abraham

–         In this episode Abraham’s servant finds a wife for Isaac

–         We see God’s fingerprints throughout this story

–         From Genesis chapter 24, verses 10-27, in the NIV we read…

Then the servant left, taking with him ten of his master’s camels loaded with all kinds of good things from his master. He set out for Aram Naharaim and made his way to the town of Nahor. He had the camels kneel down near the well outside the town; it was toward evening, the time the women go out to draw water. Then he prayed, “Lord, God of my master Abraham, make me successful today, and show kindness to my master Abraham. See, I am standing beside this spring, and the daughters of the townspeople are coming out to draw water.

May it be that when I say to a young woman, ‘Please let down your jar that I may have a drink,’ and she says, ‘Drink, and I’ll water your camels too’—let her be the one you have chosen for your servant Isaac. By this I will know that you have shown kindness to my master.”

Before he had finished praying, Rebekah came out with her jar on her shoulder. She was the daughter of Bethuel son of Milkah, who was the wife of Abraham’s brother Nahor. The woman was very beautiful, a virgin; no man had ever slept with her. 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 had enough to drink.”

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. Without saying a word, the man watched her closely to learn whether or not the Lord had made his journey successful. When the camels had finished drinking, the man took out a gold nose ring weighing a beka and two gold bracelets weighing ten shekels. Then he asked, “Whose daughter are you? Please tell me, is there room in your father’s house for us to spend the night?”

She answered him, “I am the daughter of Bethuel, the son that Milkah bore to Nahor.” And she added, “We have plenty of straw and fodder, as well as room for you to spend the night.”

Then the man bowed down and worshiped the Lord, saying, “Praise be to the Lord, the God of my master Abraham, who has not abandoned his kindness and faithfulness to my master. As for me, the Lord has led me on the journey to the house of my master’s relatives.”

May the Spirit of Jesus illuminate this Scripture for us

 

When we talk about the finger prints of God we mean that God is involved in the details to make good things happen or to prevent bad things happening

–         We know something has God’s finger prints on it when three main variables line up: timing, placement & power

–         If you find yourself in just the right place at just the right time with just the right power or ability or knowledge to help someone, then that probably has God’s finger prints on it – God is likely involved somehow

For example, imagine you are walking down the street one day and you notice a ball rolling down a driveway with a child running after it

–         The ball hits your legs, so you pick it up and give it to the child

–         Just at that moment a truck rushes by and you realise that had you not been there at that exact moment the child would have run out onto the road after the ball and been hit by the truck

–         Right time, right place, with the right kind of power to help

God’s finger prints go by many names…

–         Theologians call it providence

–         Poets call it serendipity

–         Philosophers call it synchronicity

–         Gamblers call it luck

–         Scientists call it evolution

–         Pagans call it fate

–         And cynics call it coincidence

Whatever we call it though, prayer is the lens through which we see God’s fingerprints – as we pray we notice God’s timing, placement & power at work in our lives

–         In today’s reading from Genesis 24 Abraham’s servant prays and, as he does, he sees God’s finger prints in finding a wife for Isaac

–         The servant’s prayer includes asking God for help, listening for God’s response and giving thanks for God’s answer

 

Asking Prayer:

Abraham’s servant sets out to find a wife for Isaac with 10 camels

–         Camels are sort of the ancient equivalent of a late model Land Rover

–         They provide reliable transport over variable terrain and are the sort of vehicle only the rich can afford

Although the journey from Hebron to Aram Naharaim is hundreds of miles and would have taken weeks, the author of Genesis skips over that part and focuses on what happens when the servant arrives in the town of Nahor

–         As it happens Abraham’s servant arrives towards the end of the day when the women normally came to draw water from the well

–         The timing and placement has God’s fingerprints all over it

–         However the servant needs power to discern which of the women is to be Isaac’s wife

 So he prays, asking God for help…

–         “O Lord, God of my master Abraham, give me success today, and show kindness to my master Abraham. See, I am standing beside this spring, and the daughters of the townspeople are coming out to draw water…

The servant’s prayer is interesting – it shows us that Abraham didn’t keep his faith a secret – he must have shared his faith with others in his household because Abraham’s servant knows about the Lord and he understands that faith has to do with depending on God

The servant says “Give me success”, which in the Hebrew literally means, “make happen before me” [1] (I’d like to see your finger prints here God)

–         The servant is asking the Lord to make it clear which one of these women is to be Isaac’s wife – he is asking for power to discern

–         But the success isn’t for himself – the success is for his master Abraham

–         The servant asks the Lord to show kindness to Abraham

The word translated as kindness there is hesed in the original Hebrew

–         You may recall me talking about hesed on other occasions

–         It’s one of those Hebrew words that needs more than one English word to capture it’s meaning

–         Sometimes it is translated as kindness, other times as mercy or steadfast love or loyalty. Hesed is often used in connection with God’s covenant

Hesed isn’t a trifling thing – hesed is an act of real importance, it’s a big deal, life & death stuff

–         With hesed the inferior partner depends on the kindness of the superior to meet a desperate need. [2]

–         So in this case the inferior partner is the servant and he is depending on God’s kindness/hesed to meet the desperate need he has of finding a wife for Isaac and being released from his oath to Abraham

In asking God to show hesed or kindness to Abraham the servant isn’t telling God what to do, nor is he asking God to do something out of character

–         God loves hesed – hesed is at the core of who God is

–         The servant is simply saying, be true to yourself God – keep your promise to Abraham by helping me to find a wife for Isaac

 

The servant also believes that God is present there with him – he says, ‘See, I’m standing here beside this spring…’

–         Unlike most other people of his time, who believed there were many gods who were limited to specific territories or domains, Abraham’s servant believes that the Lord Almighty is with him everywhere – because Abraham’s God is Lord of all the earth

This is amazing – the servant has caught something of the spirit of Abraham’s faith & theology, and we hear it reflected in the opening lines of his prayer

The servant continues praying…

  • May it be that when I say to a young woman, ‘Please let down your jar that I may have a drink,’ and she says, ‘Drink, and I’ll water your camels too’—let her be the one you have chosen for your servant Isaac. By this I will know that you have shown kindness to my master.”

Abraham’s servant is asking for a sign and he’s telling God what the sign ought to be – something quite extraordinary

–         Giving a drink to a stranger would be expected of a woman in that culture but volunteering to go the extra mile, by watering 10 camels as well, would not be expected – it was quite a stiff test for Isaac’s would be wife

Now at this point I want to make a distinction between looking for God’s finger prints and asking for a sign – they are not the same thing

–         It is good for us to look for God’s finger prints

–         Part of listening to God includes looking for evidence of his presence in our lives – those little details which suggest that God is involved here

–         When we look for God’s finger prints we leave the initiative with God and we give him considerable freedom to act as he wants

–         But asking for a sign is like creating a little artificial box and expecting God to only do things inside that box

–         As a consequence we are less able to accept what God might want to do outside the box

Asking God for a sign is not generally a good thing in the Bible – in fact it usually reveals a lack of faith

–         When Gideon asked for a sign by laying a fleece – he did that because he didn’t really believe God [3]

–         Likewise when the Pharisees asked Jesus for a sign, Jesus was like, ‘Really? You’ve just seen me heal all these people and reveal all this wisdom and you still don’t believe me. The only sign you will get is the sign of Jonah.’ [4] (That’s my very loose paraphrase)

The tricky thing is that faith doesn’t just require us to trust God, it also requires us to trust ourselves (that we have heard God correctly)

–         Asking for signs suggests we have little or no faith in our own judgement

–         By asking for a sign I’m abdicating responsibility for my actions

–         I’m saying, ‘I don’t really trust myself to discern God’s will in this situation, so if things go wrong, it’s your fault Lord’

–         In a sense, asking God for a sign is like using God to cover your backside and that’s not cool

Part of having a mature faith is owning the decisions we make

–         Now some people have too much confidence in themselves – they have illusions of grandeur and need to question their own judgement more

–         Others of us don’t trust ourselves enough and need to take more risks

–         Managing our self-confidence is like riding a bike – it requires balance

–         We need time and truth to grow in self-awareness and humility

–         If we do our best to discern God’s will and still get it wrong then we don’t blame God, but nor do we lose heart and give up on ourselves

–         We ask for forgiveness and trust that our relationship with God is strong enough to handle it

It seems to me that Abraham’s servant trusted God – he just didn’t trust himself, and that’s why he asked for a sign

–         Even though it is not best practice, God in his grace accommodated the servant’s request – after all the servant was trying to discern God’s will for Abraham’s benefit

 

Listening Prayer:

Prayer is the lens through which we see God’s fingerprints – as we pray we notice God’s timing, placement & power at work in our lives

–         Sometimes we think that prayer is simply us talking to God

–         We might have a quiet time in the morning during which we say some words to God then get on with the rest of our day, completely forgetting our earlier conversation with the Lord

–         But prayer has a much broader application than simply talking to God

When the apostle Paul said, ‘pray without ceasing’,[5] he didn’t mean talk to God all the time – he meant, ‘live your whole life in conversation with God’

–         Sometimes that will mean us speaking to God but most of the time it will mean listening to God by looking for his finger prints, both in the bigger picture and in the details of our daily lives

 

Let me tell you a story…

–         Once there was man, called Caleb, who came to Christian faith at the age of 34

–         Caleb was a big bloke – tall & thick set, ideally suited for the position of lock in a rugby scrum

–         Despite his menacing physical presence Caleb was actually quite a gentle soul

Caleb caught the train to and from work and usually redeemed the time by reading the Bible on his phone

–         One evening he was kept late at the office to meet a deadline

–         By the time he made it to the station, the platform was virtually empty, except for a girl in her 20’s all alone

–         He stood a little way off from her, because he didn’t want to make her feel uncomfortable, and busied himself by reading the Bible

–         It was that part in Exodus where some women were being harassed at a well and Moses protected them [6]

–         Caleb was just thinking about the qualities of a good shepherd when he noticed 3 young guys standing around the girl – they had been drinking

–         She didn’t seem to like it much and tried to move away but they kept following her

Caleb had a strong sense that he should walk over – so he did

–         He didn’t say anything – just stood there between the 3 guys and the girl

–         The guys shuffled off to the side but the girl stayed near him – she seemed grateful for his presence

–         The train arrived and the five of them; Caleb, the girl and the three young guys, all got on board

–         Caleb didn’t talk to the girl or sit too close to her either – he didn’t want to appear creepy – but his presence kept the drunk guys in check

Caleb was meant to get off at Tawa but when he noticed that the girl was staying and would be alone in the carriage with the three drunk guys he decided to stay too

–         The train went all the way to Waikanae before the girl got off and by that time the 3 guys had fallen asleep

–         When the girl saw that Caleb wasn’t leaving the carriage she realised he had stayed for her benefit and smiled at him as if to say ‘thank you’

As Caleb sat in the train on the way back to Tawa he thought about what had happened and realised that this situation had God’s finger prints all over it

–         It was unusual for him to be kept late at work

–         Not only that but what were the chances of him reading the story about Moses at just the moment the girl was being harassed

–         It was like God had arranged for him to be in the right place at the right time with the right kind of power to provide peace & prevent harm

 

Prayer is the lens through which we see God’s fingerprints – as we pray we notice God’s timing, placement & power at work in our lives

The bigger part of prayer and perhaps the more difficult part, is actually listening to God

–         Before Abraham’s servant had even finished praying Rebekah comes over with her jar on her shoulder

–         Apparently God had anticipated what Abraham’s servant would ask for and was already at work answering his prayer

–         So the servant asks for a drink and waits to see what will happen

He thinks he has set a pretty stiff test for God & Rebekah

–         You see, the water jar Rebekah was carrying most likely had a capacity of about 3 gallons or 13½ litres

–         Giving the servant water was no big deal

–         He might drink only 1 litre, if he was thirsty, but watering a camel was a far bigger task

Camels can drink up to 25 gallons at a time if they’re empty [7]

–         25 gallons equates to over 113 litres – that’s quite a bit of water

–         If Rebekah was using a 3 gallon water jar then it would take at least 8 trips from the well to the watering trough to satisfy just one camel

–         And Abraham’s servant had 10 camels – so that’s potentially more than 80 drawings from the well – over 1130 litres of water

–         As you can imagine this would take some time and effort

The fact that Rebekah volunteers to go the extra mile to help a stranger like this speaks volumes about her character

–         It shows she is strong and not afraid of work

–         It also shows that she has an outward focus and is hospitable

–         You will remember that hospitality (as opposed to consumerism) is one of the key characteristics of Abraham’s household

–         Furthermore it shows that Rebekah knows what is important for life – in this case water

–         One of the problems with affluence & wealth is that it tends to make people forget what matters

–         Rebekah is in touch with reality – she has her priorities right

In verse 21 we read, Without saying a word, the man watched her closely to learn whether or not the Lord had made his journey successful.

–         The servant’s patient waiting & watching is an act of listening to God and is just as much a part of his prayer as the talking he did at the beginning

 

Conclusion – Giving Thanks:

Once the camels have had enough to drink Abraham’s servant asks whose daughter she is and learns that Rebekah is in fact Abraham’s great niece – that is, the grand-daughter of Abraham’s brother Nahor

–         That clinches it for the servant

–         After giving Rebekah generous gifts of gold the servant bows down and worships the Lord, saying,

–         “Praise be to the Lord, the God of my master Abraham, who has not abandoned his kindness [his hesed] to my master. As for me the Lord has led me on the journey to the house of my master’s relatives.”

–         In other words, this has God’s finger prints of all over it

The servant’s prayer started with petition and ended in praise but was filled with listening. (Listening was the greater part)

–         Prayer is the lens through which we see God’s fingerprints – as we pray we notice God’s timing, placement & power at work in our lives

 

Let us pray…

–         Holy Spirit, help us to see God’s finger prints in our lives

–         Give us ears to listen and eyes to see you at work in the world around us

–         Encourage us by your presence and make us ready to do your will as we live for the praise of your glory. Through Jesus we pray. Amen.

 

Questions for discussion or reflection:

1.)    What stands out for you in reading this Scripture and/or in listening to the sermon?

2.)    What do we mean by the phrase, ‘the finger prints of God’?

–         In what ways do we see God’s finger prints in finding a wife for Rebekah?

–         How might we see the finger prints of God in our own lives?

–         Do you have a ‘finger prints of God’ story?

3.)    What does the servant’s prayer (in verses 12-13) reveal about Abraham?

–         What does the servant’s prayer (in verses 12-13) reveal about God?

4.)    How is ‘looking for God’s finger prints’ different from ‘asking for a sign’?

–         Why is asking God for a sign less than ideal?

5.)    How does your faith in God compare with your faith in yourself?

6.)    What do you think the apostle Paul meant when he said, ‘pray without ceasing’?

7.)    What does it say about Rebekah that she volunteered to water the servant’s 10 camels?

8.)    Take some time this week to listen to what God is saying to you?

https://soundcloud.com/tawabaptist/22-july-2018-gods-finger-prints

[1] Bruce Waltke, Genesis, page 328.

[2] Ibid

[3] Judges 6

[4] Matthew 12:38-39

[5] 1 Thessalonians 5:17

[6] Exodus 2:16-20

[7] Bruce Waltke, Genesis, page 328.

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