from sermon series
“Standing on the Shoulders of Giants”
by Pastor Dave Strem
Used by permission
How do you feel when someone does something for you that is above and beyond what you expect? How do you feel? Do you feel loved, treasured? Do you feel that he or she cared enough to do something beyond what you would expect? This paper will focus on a woman, a girl who went beyond expectations to reach out to someone she did not know. We are going to look at the life of Rebekah. We are going to stand on her shoulders and get a viewpoint of life above and beyond our normal viewpoint. Rebekah wants you to be an above-and-beyond person. To be that kind of person that lets others feel treasured, that communicates love and value to others.
God promised Abraham that He would make him a great nation. Twenty-five years after Abraham left Haran and journeyed to the land that God promised to him and his ancestors, the child God promised to him, Isaac, was born. God promised Abraham that his descendants would be many. But forty years after Isaac’s birth, Isaac was the only descendant of promise. Sarah has been dead for thirteen years and Isaac is not even married. He has no wife. How can you have a great nation without descendants? When Abraham was a very old man he recognized that Isaac needed a wife. “Abraham was now a very old man, and the Lord has blessed him in every way. One day Abraham said to the man in charge of his household, who was his oldest servant, ‘Swear by the Lord, the God of heaven and earth, that you will not let my son marry one of these local Canaanite women. Go instead to my homeland, to my relatives, and find a wife there for my son Isaac’” (Genesis 24:1-4). Abraham knew that the one we marry will have a great influence on our life. The Bible is filled with examples of the negative effects of marrying the wrong mate. Solomon, the future king of Israel, who asked for wisdom to judge and rule his people, was brought low by his attachment to idolatrous and sensual wives. Israel was split because of his disobedience. The one you choose to marry can have a profound influence on your spiritual life. Abraham knew this. He sent his servant, Eleazer, to Haran, 500 miles away, to find a wife for Isaac.
Eleazer loaded ten camels with the supplies necessary to make the 500-mile trip. If someone traveled twenty-five miles a day, it would take close to three weeks to travel across the desert to Haran. It is miserable territory. Eleazer was not a young man. He was Abraham’s oldest servant. But Abraham chose him for this task because he was the most trustworthy servant he had. The odds were stacked against him, however. Think about it. How many women do you know who would leave their family and homeland and travel 500 miles through the desert to marry a man she never meet? Eleazer realizes the difficulty of his task and prays for God’s help and direction. When he arrives in Haran he prays the following prayer: “O Lord, God of my master Abraham give me success today and show kindness to my master Abraham. I’m standing beside the spring and the daughters of the townspeople are coming out to draw water. May it be that when I say to a girl please let down your jar that I may have a drink, that she may say, ‘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 you have shown kindness to my master” (Genesis 24:14). Eastern hospitality dictated that when anyone asked for a drink you would comply. That was just common courtesy. But your camels, that is a different matter. You were responsible for your own livestock. If you were rich enough to have a caravan of ten camels, you would also have enough resources to hire a servant to water those camels. It is a big job to water ten camels. Each camel will drink 20-30 gallons. It is not a matter of simply turning on a spigot and holding a hose in a tub, it involved taking a two-gallon jar, pitcher, or bucket and dropping it down 50 feet into a well and pulling it back up, hand over hand, and carrying it over to a trough separated from the well, so the animals don’t contaminate it, and dump it. This had to be done ten-to-fifteen times for each animal. That is 200+ times that someone would have to lift, haul, and dump two gallons of water. Does that sound like something any teenage girl you know would want to do? It is unnatural and that is what makes it special. Eleazer was looking for someone special.
Genesis 24:15-22 records what happened when Eleazer arrived at the well. “As he was still praying, a young woman named Rebekah arrived with a water jug on her shoulder. Her father was Bethuel, who was the son of Abraham’s brother Nahor and his wife Milcah. Now Rebekah was very beautiful, and she was a virgin; no man had ever slept with her. She went down to the spring, filled her jug, and came up again. Running over to her, the servant asked, ‘Please give me a drink.’ ‘Certainly sir,’ she said, and she quickly lowered the jug for him to drink. When he had finished, she said, ‘I’ll draw water for your camels, too, until they have had enough!’ So she quickly emptied the jug into the watering trough and ran down to the well again. She kept carrying water to the camels until they had finished drinking. The servant watched her in silence, wondering whether or not she was the one the Lord intended him to meet.” This job probably took her 2-3 hours to complete. Can you imagine that rope cutting blisters into her hands? She had gone to the well unprepared for such arduous labor. She was not a large, powerful person but her stamina and determination were extraordinary. God strengthened her that day, because she was His choice to be Isaac’s wife. Because Rebekah was willing to go above and beyond what was expected of her, God strengthened her to complete this task.
Rebekah had no idea that the simple statement, “I will draw water for your camels, too,” would change her life forever. She did not know it would lead to a husband, to a fortune, to a legacy, to a place in history, to a place in eternity. She did what she did because she believed it was the righteous thing to do. Maybe she even did it out of obedience to God’s command to love and care for others in need of help. God had arranged circumstances perfectly and Rebekah showed herself worthy.
Rebekah and her family agreed that it was God’s will for her to become Isaac’s wife. Rebekah went by faith. She wanted to be involved in what God was doing. She heard the story that Eleazer told about Abraham and the promises of God, and she wanted to be a part of it. Her family wanted her to be a part of it: “Our sister, may you become the mother of many millions! May your descendants overcome all their enemies” (Genesis 24:60). Rebekah followed through on her commitment and married Isaac.
After twenty years of marriage, while Rebekah was still childless, Isaac pleaded with God to give them a child. God answered his prayer by giving them twins. While the twins were still in Rebekah’s womb, they struggled with each other in an extraordinary way. Rebekah went to God and asked him, “Why?” God told her, “The sons in your womb will become two rival nations. One nation will be stronger than the other; the descendants of your older son will serve the descendants of your younger son” (Genesis 25:23). In other words, the younger son was God’s heir through whom the promise to Abraham was going to be fulfilled. The younger son’s name was Jacob. His brother’s name was Esau.
While both sons were to be loved by their parents, Jacob was the one that was to be favored as heir of God’s special promises to Abraham. And that is what Rebekah did. She spent a lot of time with Jacob. But Isaac preferred Esau. Esau was a manly-man, a good hunter who provided Isaac with the benefit of wild game to eat. Esau was someone he could be proud of. Esau, however, was not a spiritual man. His concerns were earthly and sensual (of the senses), he was a profane man. He did not value his future Abrahamic inheritance. But because of Rebekah’s influence, Jacob did.
We can only assume that Rebekah told Isaac about what God said to her concerning Jacob, that he was the one that God chose to be heir to the promises given to Abraham. Scripture does not record it for us, but can you imagine that this conversation did not occur in their many years of marriage. I think it did. I think Isaac knew. Isaac was being disobedient to God by favoring Esau. Rebekah was faithful to what God wanted.
Usually family blessings are passed on to surviving children just before the death of the family patriarch. But forty years before his actual death, Isaac decided to give his blessing to Esau. It seemed to come up in Isaac’s mind suddenly. Rebekah was surprised by what was about to take place. How could she stop Isaac from making such a terrible mistake? From going against God’s wishes? Remember Abraham? Remember when he and Sarah tried to fulfill God’s plan in their own strength and wisdom? Remember the disastrous results? Remember that Ishmael, the future enemy of Israel, was born? Ishmael was the progenitor of the Arab nations who are Israel’s sworn enemies. Rebekah was in a similar situation. She was faced with an obstacle that she perceived to be against God’s plan and promises. Unfortunately, she repeated the mistake of Abraham and Sarah. She took it into her own hands and tried to fulfill God’s will in her own strength and wisdom. And the results were also disastrous.
Genesis 27:5-14 tells us what happened: “But Rebekah overheard the conversation. So when Esau left to hunt for the wild game, she said to her son Jacob, ‘I overheard your father asking Esau to prepare him a delicious meal of wild game. He wants to bless Esau in the Lord’s presence before he dies. Now, my son, do exactly as I tell you. Go out to the flocks and bring me two fine young goats. I’ll prepare your father’s favorite dish from them. Take the food to your father; then he can eat it and bless you instead of Esau before he dies.’ ‘But Mother!’ Jacob replied. ‘He won’t be fooled that easily. Think how hairy Esau is and how smooth my skin is! What if my father touches me? He’ll see that I’m trying to trick him, and then he’ll curse me instead of blessing me.’ ‘Let the curse fall on me, dear son,’ said Rebekah. ‘Just do what I tell you. Go out and get the goats.’ So Jacob followed his mother’s instruction….” Rebekah’s plan worked. Isaac was deceived and Jacob received the blessing meant for the heir to Abraham’s promises. Everything that God predicted and wanted came to pass. Then why the problem? The problem lies in Rebekah’s method. God is a righteous and holy Being. He does not approve of lying and deception as a means to fulfilling His will. The end does not justify the means!
Scripture records the consequences of Rebekah’s and Jacob’s deception. Jacob had to flee from Esau and move to Haran. An enmity was created between the two sons that lasted decades. After Genesis 27:46, Rebekah never saw her son Jacob again. After this passage, her name is never mentioned again until Genesis 49:31 when she is mentioned in relation to her burial place. Even the death of her nurse is acknowledged in Genesis 35:8, but her actual passing is never mentioned. It is like she dropped off the scriptural scene, never to be heard from again. I do not think this is a coincidence. God is letting us know how much He disapproved of what she did. Her deception besmirched biblical history and Jacob’s character. Jacob was well known as a man capable of lying to get what he wanted. It is a grave mistake to try to fulfill God’s will in worldly, sensual, deceptive ways. Both Abraham and Rebekah remained believers in God, but the consequences of their unfaithful deeds hurt God’s best plan for the situation.
How did Rebekah move from such a sweet and committed disposition to be such a schemer? I think the text shows that Rebekah was not a full-time, committed schemer. She was a desperate woman who did not stop to ask God what He wanted her to do! She acted out of unbelief and consequently received the curse of God (27:13) on her deed. It is a shame. Instead of always being remembered as the one who went above and beyond at the well in Haran, she is remembered more for her deception of Isaac. Paul asked the Galatians, “Have you lost your senses? After starting your Christian lives in the Spirit, why are you now trying to become perfect by your own human effort” (Galatians 3:3)? Rebekah’s act is an example of this principle. Her life and her reputation suffered because of her deceptive scheming. Parts of Rebekah’s life are commendable and are worthy of being good examples for us. But this one incident was enough to damage her reputation.
For her above-and-beyond attitude, she should be commended, and followed. How can we implement the above-and-beyond principles? Let me give you three insights that will encourage an above-and-beyond attitude. First, to become above-and-beyond people we have to work on our hearts. The clearest picture I can give you is that of a measuring rod. A measuring rod measures things. The measuring rod I have in mind measures relationships. It strives for an “I do this, you do that” mentality. It is like Aristotle’s friendship based on utility. Aristotle observed his world and taught that there were three kinds of friendship. Friendships based on pleasure, utility, and nobility (or virtue). Pleasure friendships were good as long as each party continued to give pleasure to the other. If one party grew tired of the other, the friendship would end. Utility friendships were perhaps the most distant. They characterized merchant relationships. Bargaining unto mutual satisfaction is the key activity. Fairness is the key idea. These relationships use a measuring rod to gauge personal satisfaction. To be an above-and-beyond person you have to break the measuring rod. A measuring rod is a way to keep score. We need to realize that following ‘fairness’ in every minutia of life quenches the Holy Spirit in our lives. It is to walk by flesh and not the spirit. This does not mean that we can be insensitive and grasping toward others without any concern for ‘fairness’. We need to value others. But on our part we are not to enter into utility relationships with everyone we meet, especially our friends and spouses, in order to preserve our share in the relationship.
The third type of friendship is the kind that is primarily based on nobility or virtue. Exchange between these friends is based on what the heart wants to do for the other, not on what the mind deems proportionately correct. It is this type of heart that God can lead on a day-to-day basis.
The second step to becoming an above-and-beyond person is to go the extra mile with a smile. Jesus taught His disciples to turn the other cheek and go the second mile. In order to go the second mile, we need to go the first mile. We need to be involved in the lives of people, one way or another. Our method of involvement may vary but involvement is necessary for the Christian Life. And in the course of this involvement opportunities arise that require something extra. This something extra is going the second mile. Going the first mile means helping someone who needs help during the daily activities of life. Going the second mile means going above and beyond to help another. It does not mean thrusting yourself on someone so that you can go the second mile, be a second-miler, but that if the person needs extraordinary help you provide it! Rebekah went the second mile for Eleazer. Let us review who Eleazer was. He was Abraham’s oldest and most trustworthy servant. He needed help to water his camels. To repeat, it was the custom in that time that if someone asked for a drink from the well the hearer was to draw water for him or her. It was expected, as good manners are expected. But watering the camels was the responsibility of the owner of the camels. Rebekah took a look at Eleazer and his camels and saw a need. She volunteered to water his camels. She was able and he was not. She went the second mile for Eleazer. Would she have done the same thing for a young, healthy, strong man? I do not think so. Going the second mile does not involve taking the responsibility away from someone who is capable of doing it himself. Going the first mile with this person is the right thing to do. Help him, yes, but stop when it is his responsibility to continue. There must be a balance between helping and allowing someone to carry out their own responsibilities. In order to be balanced, one must be capable of going the second mile. In order to be balanced, one must be capable of not going the second mile. The inability to say, “No!”, is not a virtue. Eleazer was looking for someone who was capable of going the second mile. He found that person in Rebekah. She went the second mile for him with a smile on her face. He watched her and liked what he saw. She was the one he wanted to bring home to his master, Abraham.
Finally, to be an above and beyond person, you’ve got to let God’s grace flow. Being an above-and-beyond person is not natural. We need God’s grace. God’s grace is not something that we earn. It is not that He recognizes our goodness and then gives us extra grace to do more, but that we recognize our need and ask Him to help us. It has to be Him in us to strengthen and encourage our hearts, helping us to do these things. We have to allow Him to have more room, more reign in our lives. We need to let the grace of God flow.
I recognize this is a tough message. I recognize many of you have very difficult people in your lives, difficult situations, difficult problems you are facing. But none of them are a stretch for the Jesus that lives within you. None of them are a surprise to God. You cannot out-give God. He wants to bless and enrich your life. Oswald Chambers in My Utmost For His Highest, in the July 7th entry, wrote: “If we are going to live as disciples of Jesus, we have to remember that all noble things are difficult. The Christian life is gloriously difficult, but the difficulty of it does not make us faint and cave in, it rouses us up to overcome. Do we so appreciate the marvelous salvation of Jesus Christ that we are our most for His Highest?…. Thank God He does give us difficult things to do! His salvation is a glad thing, but it is also heroic, holy thing. It tests us for all we are worth. Jesus is bringing many “sons” unto glory, and God will not shield us from the requirements of a son. God’s grace turns out men and women with a strong family likeness to Jesus Christ, not milksops. It takes a tremendous amount of discipline to live the noble life of a disciple of Jesus in actual things. It is always necessary to make an effort to be noble.” Chambers says that the Christian life is difficult, gloriously difficult. It is hard. But there is a richness to it, a depth that reaches down to things that really matter.
Rebekah was not perfect. But we should allow her to teach us how to go the second mile, to go above and beyond for those who need our help. We should also learn from her sins. To use unholy means to fulfill God’s plan angers God. It pollutes His perfect plan, which always brings negative consequences to both the sinner and His plan. Let us let Him work His perfect work through our lives with no negatives consequences created by us!