Abraham lived his whole life for a unique mission—founding a nation that would be ruled by God. It was actually God’s mission— re-establishing his reign over the nations through the Abrahamic nation. The missio dei (mission of God) is all about rescuing his world from the tyranny of evil, bringing it back under his governance, the kingdom of God.
In our study of Genesis, we’re almost at the end of Abraham’s life. His final task is to ensure that the next generation continues the mission of founding God’s nation. In his culture, it was his responsibility to find a wife for his son. His succession plans depend on this marriage. It’s mission critical, so Abraham assigns his most senior staff member. Although the servant features in this story, we aren’t told his name: his significance is “Abraham’s servant.” Why? Because Abraham is YHWH’s servant. Abraham’s servant understands this chain of command: three times he refers to YHWH as “the God of my master Abraham” (24:12, 27, 42). The servant is a man on a mission, and the mission is missio dei.
Abraham has two concerns. Isaac must not marry a local Canaanite woman (24:1-4). One day, the Canaanites will be evicted and the land given to Abraham’s descendants. That means Abraham’s descendants and the descendants of the Canaanites can’t be muddled together. The promises God gave to Abraham were for his descendants. Throughout the Old Testament, therefore, ethnicity was important to Israel.
Abraham’s other concern is that Isaac should not leave the Promised Land (24:5-9). The promises God gave to Abraham were for this locale. Abraham insists that Isaac is not to return to the place he left behind decades earlier, in case he is tempted to settle back among their relatives. Throughout the Old Testament, the Promised Land was Israel’s life. Abraham’s people, in the land: for YHWH is to establish his representative kingdom among the nations, the particularities of Israel’s ethnicity and land were crucial.
Abraham’s servant sets out on his mission. He’s out of communication range with his master, so he makes it his business to communicate with this master’s master:
Genesis 24:12 (ESV)
And he said, “O Lord, God of my master Abraham, please grant me success today and show steadfast love to my master Abraham.
“Steadfast love” is the Hebrew word ḥě·sěḏ. It has been used of other relationships (19:19; 20:13; 21:23), but this is the first time it is used of God. Twice the servant requests a kindness (ḥě·sěḏ) from his master’s master (24:12, 14). When God grants his request, the servant expresses his gratitude:
Genesis 24:27 (ESV)
Blessed be the Lord, the God of my master Abraham, who has not forsaken his steadfast love and his faithfulness toward my master.
The servant connects God’s ḥě·sěḏ (kindness) with his ʾěměṯ (faithfulness, reliability). The people of the heavenly sovereign receive his kindness (ḥě·sěḏ) because of his faithful commitment (ʾěměṯ) to them. This pairing of ḥě·sěḏ and ʾěměṯ recurs throughout the story of God’s reign (e.g. Psalms 25:10, 26:3; 40:10-11; 57:3, 10; 61:7; 69:13; 85:10; 86:15; 89:13; 108:4; 115:1; 117:2; 138:2).
If ḥě·sěḏ and ʾěměṯ characterize our heavenly ruler, kindness and faithfulness should characterize his people as well. When the servant finally presents his request to Rebekah’s parents, he asks for the same response from them:
Genesis 24:49 (ESV)
Now then, if you are going to show steadfast love (ḥě·sěḏ) and faithfulness (ʾěměṯ) to my master, tell me; and if not, tell me, that I may turn to the right hand or to the left.
This servant understood the kingdom of God. As YHWH had sent Abraham, so Abraham had sent him. He kept in touch with his master’s master and pursued his mission. He called for people to respond to the heavenly sovereign with steadfast love and faithfulness—the very things our ruler has given us.
For Christian readers, the faithfulness of Abraham’s God has come into focus in the person of Jesus. Jesus fulfilled God’s steadfast love for Abraham’s descendants, and he expanded the missio dei beyond the ethnicity of Israel and the borders of the land. He is our master. Just as his Father sent Jesus to Israel, our master sends his servants to the world (John 20:21).
The missio dei has advanced enormously since the time of Abraham, but God’s mission is still the same: the rescue of his world from the tyranny of evil, back under his reign. Our mission is not so different from that of Abraham’s servant. Perhaps we could even describe it as seeking a bride for the son of Abraham.
What others are saying
John Chrysostom, “Homilies on 2 Corinthians, Homily 23.1” in A Select Library of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, Vol 1.12, edited by Philip Schaff, translated by J. Ashworth et al, (New York: Christian Literature Company, 1889), 383–384:
What happened in Abraham’s case was a type of this. (Gen. 24:4, &c.) For he sent his faithful servant to seek a Gentile maiden in marriage; and in this case God sent His own servants to seek the Church in marriage for His son, and prophets from of old saying, “Hearken, O daughter, and consider, and forget thine own people and thy father’s house, and the King shall desire thy beauty.” (Ps. 45:10, 11).
K. A. Mathews, Genesis 11:27–50:26, New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 2005), 333, 341-342:
Two lexical links between the two prayers are “kindness” (ḥesed) and “master” (ʾădōnāy; vv. 14, 27), but in the second prayer there are two additional nuances. The servant adds “faithfulness” to his tribute, for the Lord has proven trustworthy; and he mentions “relatives” of “my master,” for God showed him the way to the right household (v. 27). …
After this protracted telling, the servant addresses his appeal to Laban and presumably Bethuel (see v. 50). By “kindness” (ḥesed) and “faithfulness” (ʾemet), he echoes his earlier praise of the Lord at meeting Rebekah (v. 27). The servant is calling on them to act in good faith as has the Lord toward the servant.
Read Genesis 24:1-12.