Characterized by Hospitality

The book of Genesis tells us that God singled out Abraham, calling him to leave his country, his family and his father’s house, to send him into a new, unknown land.  God promised to make of Abraham a great nation. But there was one big problem. Abraham had no children. His wife Sarah was barren. It would take a miracle for Abraham to father a child.  Abraham trusted God fully at times, but at other times he acted out of doubt. Because of his lack of trust and faithless decisions, he created some big headaches for himself in his family life. Nevertheless, God proved true to his promise.  He did the impossible. Beyond all human expectations, he gave to Abraham and Sarah in their old age a son named Isaac.  

In the story of the Bible, the birth of children means that God’s mission has been given a future.  Isaac will carry the promise of God and the hope of salvation into the world after Abraham has passed from the earth.  He has become the heir to the promise God made to Abraham.  

After Sarah died, the big problem emerged again.  Now Abraham was very old. He grew more and more aware of his own approaching death.  His son Isaac had no wife. Without a wife, Isaac could have not legitimate heir to whom to pass on the promise.   The family was living in a foreign country among idol worshippers. Where was Abraham to find a wife for Isaac? He decided to send his servant Eliezer back to his birthplace to look for a wife for his son Isaac.  

The servant traveled across the desert with a group of men, camels and gifts for a prospective bride.  When the caravan arrived at an oasis near Abraham’s ancestral home, the servant prayed

“O God, God of my master Abraham, make things go smoothly this day; treat my master Abraham well! As I stand here by the spring while the young women of the town come out to get water, let the girl to whom I say, ‘Lower your jug and give me a drink,’ and who answers, ‘Drink, and let me also water your camels’—let her be the woman you have picked out for your servant Isaac. Then I’ll know that you’re working graciously behind the scenes for my master.” Genesis 24:12-14

 It so happened that the words were barely out of his mouth when Rebekah, the daughter of Bethuel whose mother was Milcah the wife of Nahor, Abraham’s brother, came out with a water jug on her shoulder. The girl was stunningly beautiful, a pure virgin. She went down to the spring, filled her jug, and came back up. The servant ran to meet her and said, “Please, can I have a sip of water from your jug?”

She said, “Certainly, drink!” And she held the jug so that he could drink. When he had satisfied his thirst she said, “I’ll get water for your camels, too, until they’ve drunk their fill.” She promptly emptied her jug into the trough and ran back to the well to fill it, and she kept at it until she had watered all the camels.

God answered the prayer of Abraham’s servant.  The girl not only gave water for the men and their camels, but she also invited the entire caravan to spend the night at her father’s house.  When Abraham’s servant arrived with the caravan at the home of Rebekah’s family and told what had happened, her brother Laban, went out and said to the men “Come in, O blessed of the Lord. Why do you stand outside? For I have prepared the house and a place for the camels.” 

They were warmly welcomed and invited to sit down to eat.  But Abraham’s servant would not eat until he had related his business.  He told his story of how Abraham had sent him to seek a wife for Isaac and how he had prayed at the well and Rebekah had shown hospitality.  Her father and her brother agreed that the marriage of Rebekah to Isaac had been ordained by God’s hand.  

But Rebekah’s mother and her brother later delayed.  They were reluctant to send her off with a group of men they had only just met.  “Let her stay with us another ten days,” they said.  

The servant said “Oh, don’t make me wait! God has worked everything out so well—send me off to my master.”

They said, “We’ll call the girl; we’ll ask her.” 

They called Rebekah and asked her, “Do you want to go with this man?”

She said, “I’m ready to go.”

So they sent them off, their sister Rebekah with her nurse, and Abraham’s servant with his men.

Genesis 24:56-60

Rebekah possessed two essential characteristics for serving in God’s mission.  First, she was generous in hospitality. Secondly, she had faith to go where God was sending her.  

Why do we spend time focusing our attention on this story?  It seems important to me because at this time, the mission of God’s people was being carried out only by just one family.  There was no mission organization out recruiting missionaries. Everything depended on one family. One old man named Abraham had heard the call of God.  He had obeyed. The entire undertaking seemed quite incredible. As this man’s life neared its end, he was concerned that his son would carry the mission forward.  He was too old to travel back to his home to find a wife for his son, so he entrusted the task to his servant, Eliezer of Damascus. His servant had become a faithful member of his household, a believer in the God of Abraham.  In seeking a wife for his master’s son, the servant prayed that God would reveal his choice of a wife for Isaac through a girl who was hospitable, welcoming, friendly and helpful. Rebekah emerged as the answer to Eliezer’s prayer.  

The choice of a wife for Isaac was a crucial step in the progression of God’s mission.  Without a wife, Isaac, like his father before him, could not have children. Isn’t it remarkable that the one quality of character Abraham’s servant prayed to God for in seeking a wife for his master’s son was that she would distinguish herself as one who shows hospitality to strangers?  

What happens in our families is also decisive for God’s mission.  God chooses to work through us and through our families.  

Hospitality, a key mode of missional engagement, is one of the essential practices that characterizes missional families.  We see this in the example of the first family called out by God into mission, the family of Abraham. We will see it all through the scriptures and in the next posting we will see in among the followers of Jesus in the world today.  

Donald Marsden

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