Have you ever wished that God would speak to you in an audible voice and tell you what to do? Did you ever ask Him for a sign to indicate what He wants you to do? If so, how do you know the sign was from Him and not dumb luck?
When Abraham’s servant went to find a wife for Isaac, he asked Yahweh for a sign to indicate who Isaac’s wife should be. How did he know the sign was truly from Yahweh? Let’s examine the specifics of his sign, then we will discuss how we can know whether or not we are receiving a sign from God.
Abraham sent a servant to find a wife for Isaac. Abraham had one requirement for Isaac’s wife; she had to be a relative, not a Canaanite.
Gen. 24:2 Abraham said to his servant, the oldest of his household, who had charge of all that he owned, “Please place your hand under my thigh,
Gen. 24:3 and I will make you swear by the LORD, the God of heaven and the God of earth, that you shall not take a wife for my son from the daughters of the Canaanites, among whom I live,
Gen. 24:4 but you will go to my country and to my relatives, and take a wife for my son Isaac.”
When the servant went to find Isaac’s wife, he asked Yahweh to provide a sign to indicate which girl was the right one. What was the sign?
Gen. 24:10 ¶ Then the servant took ten camels from the camels of his master, and set out with a variety of good things of his master’s in his hand; and he arose and went to Mesopotamia, to the city of Nahor.
Gen. 24:11 He made the camels kneel down outside the city by the well of water at evening time, the time when women go out to draw water.
Gen. 24:12 He said, “O LORD, the God of my master Abraham, please grant me success today, and show lovingkindness to my master Abraham.
Gen. 24:13 “Behold, I am standing by the spring, and the daughters of the men of the city are coming out to draw water;
Gen. 24:14 now may it be that the girl to whom I say, ‘Please let down your jar so that I may drink,’ and who answers, ‘Drink, and I will water your camels also’ — may she be the one whom You have appointed for Your servant Isaac; and by this I will know that You have shown lovingkindness to my master.”
The sign was that the girl that offered to water his ten camels was the right girl. One camel can easily drink 20 gallons, so watering his camels involved drawing at least 200 gallons of water. Furthermore, the following verses indicate how much work was involved in drawing the water. It’s tempting to picture this scene as a flat surface with the trough right beside the well; however, the text indicates that there were steps down to the well and that there was distance between the well and the trough.
Gen. 24:15 ¶ Before he had finished speaking, behold, Rebekah who was born to Bethuel the son of Milcah, the wife of Abraham’s brother Nahor, came out with her jar on her shoulder.
Gen. 24:16 The girl was very beautiful, a virgin, and no man had had relations with her; and she went down to the spring and filled her jar and came up.
Gen. 24:17 Then the servant ran to meet her, and said, “Please let me drink a little water from your jar.”
Gen. 24:18 She said, “Drink, my lord”; and she quickly lowered her jar to her hand, and gave him a drink.
Gen. 24:19 Now when she had finished giving him a drink, she said, “I will draw also for your camels until they have finished drinking.”
Gen. 24:20 So she quickly emptied her jar into the trough, and ran back to the well to draw, and she drew for all his camels.
Gen. 24:21 Meanwhile, the man was gazing at her in silence, to know whether the LORD had made his journey successful or not.
At this point the servant believed that God had provided the sign he asked for. This girl had offered to go up and down steps and do a lot of work in order to draw hundreds of gallons of water for his camels.
Next, he got one more bit of confirmation. The servant knew that Abraham’s brother Nahor had a son named Bethuel (see the illustration to the right). When Rebekah told him who her father was, the servant knew that Rebekah met Abraham’s requirement.
Gen. 24:22 ¶ When the camels had finished drinking, the man took a gold ring weighing a half-shekel and two bracelets for her wrists weighing ten shekels in gold,
Gen. 24:23 and said, “Whose daughter are you? Please tell me, is there room for us to lodge in your father’s house?”
Gen. 24:24 She said to him, “I am the daughter of Bethuel, the son of Milcah, whom she bore to Nahor.”
Gen. 24:25 Again she said to him, “We have plenty of both straw and feed, and room to lodge in.”
Gen. 24:26 Then the man bowed low and worshiped the LORD.
Gen. 24:27 He said, “Blessed be the LORD, the God of my master Abraham, who has not forsaken His lovingkindness and His truth toward my master; as for me, the LORD has guided me in the way to the house of my master’s brothers.”
Abraham’s servant had asked God for a sign to indicate which girl should become Isaac’s wife. The amount of work involved in his sign made it unlikely that any random girl that came by would accidentally fulfill the sign. Furthermore, he had the confirmation that Rebekah was a relative.
Now let’s consider how we can know that a sign is from God. In my opinion, if we ask God for a sign, the sign should meet two criteria.
1. Make sure the sign has a miraculous element so we know for sure that God actually spoke.
2. Allow God the option of not giving an answer.
For example, suppose you go to God and say, “I am going to flip a coin. Heads means you are saying yes and tails means you are saying no.” The first problem is that any person that flips a coin will get heads or tails. There is no reason with this test to believe that God actually interceded in the coin flip and gave you an answer. The other problem is that you are telling God that He is going to give you an answer right now. What if He doesn’t want to give you an answer right now?
Now consider this scenario. Suppose you go to God and say, “I am going to flip a coin. Ten heads in a row means you are saying yes and ten tails in a row means you are saying no.” If you get ten heads or ten tails in a row, it is realistic to believe that God intervened in the coin toss, and gave you an answer. Meanwhile, the fact that you might get neither means you have given God the option of not answering.
In practice, people don’t typically use coin flips to get an answer from God, but the principles apply regardless what sign you use. Suppose you are debating if God wants you to apply for a certain job and you tell God that if someone suggests to you within the next week that you should apply for the job, then you will know that God wants you to apply. Just because a person suggests that you apply for the job does not mean that God caused that person to talk to you. Furthermore, by putting a one week limit on the sign, you are forcing God into a timetable that He may or may not agree with. Just because no one suggests that you apply for the job within a week does not mean that God doesn’t want you to apply for that job.
As humans, we tend to want concrete answers and we don’t like it when God doesn’t answer us right away. If we ask God for a sign, we need to be careful that we don’t allow our desire for a conclusive answer trick us into thinking we got an answer from God when we really didn’t.
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