The Camel Test

Here’s a funny thought.

In today’s world, women are often made to feel they must “measure up” to a certain standard of beauty to be valued. Take the idea of beauty pageants. Contestants are all tall and slender, with perfect hair. They are paraded in front of a panel of judges and rated on their beauty, poise, and talents. It’s pretty degrading and insulting to the rest of the female population when you think about it; the “winners” are being judged and valued on outward appearance by and large. They try to redeem these contests by each candidate having some sort of platform for the betterment of society and the world, but at its core, a beauty contest is just that – a contest about beauty. This same “outward” judgment happens in the man’s world too, just more often on the playing field, the boxing ring, or in physical fitness contests.

What if we took a lesson from the pages of the Bible and found our worth in something much deeper – a servant’s heart. What if we honored the individual who exhibited the character traits of hard work, sacrifice, and humility?

What if we all had to pass “the camel test?”

Genesis 24 tells the story of how Rebekah came to be Isaac’s wife. Isaac’s mother, Sarah, died. Three years passed, and he is now 40 years old and his father, Abraham, knows it’s time for him to be married. There’s one problem, however. They are living in Canaan, surrounded only by pagan people. Abraham knows how important this decision will be; after all, the woman who marries Isaac will carry on the promised blessings that God gave him to build a nation that will bless the world. She will be the mother of God’s chosen people.

Abraham wisely recruits his household manager to travel back to their homeland, to their people to seek out an appropriate choice for Isaac’s wife. The servant is a godly man, knowing his mission will only be successful if God leads and blesses it, so he prays a very specific prayer. He wants God to clearly show him Isaac’s future bride. Surely inspired by God, he presents the “camel test.” When he arrives in the city, he will ask the young women he meets for a drink from the well. If it is the one God has chosen, she will not only be happy to serve him but also volunteer to water his camels.

It’s not coincidental that scripture mentions how many camels the servant decided to take on this journey. God is making a point. The average camel would drink 25-50 gallons of water. Ten camels equal 250 to 500 gallons, drawn from a well into a pitcher that perhaps would hold 2 ½ gallons. That’s at least 100 trips from the well to the camels’ drinking trough, and as many as 200! The “camel test” was not for the faint of heart! Because this was a “test,” we can conclude that it was not a given expectation that a woman would volunteer to water a stranger’s caravan of camels. It would be an act of extraordinary kindness that singled her out from her peers.

We know how the story ends. The first woman to appear at the well when the servant arrives back in Abraham’s home region (the city of Nahor) is a beautiful young virgin named Rebekah. Not only does she immediately offer him a drink from her pitcher, but she also volunteers to water the camels, until they have finished drinking (24:19). She knew exactly what she was getting into. Her words revealed she had a kind and humble heart – just the kind of woman Abraham would want for his daughter-in-law.

The servant watches as she completes the task. From my twenty-first century perspective, I’m wondering why he didn’t jump up and help her, but that’s a topic for another blog. When she finishes, he thanks her with a gold ring and two gold bracelets and asks about her family. When he discovers she’s the great-niece of his master, Abraham, he knows that God has clearly answered his prayer.

The rest of the chapter gives us the details of Rebekah’s agreement to leave her family immediately to marry Isaac, a man she has never met. Her family recognizes that this is the hand of God and sends her away with their blessing.

What’s our takeaway?

Rebekah’s heart attitude toward hard and humbling work positioned her to inherit a blessing. God brought her into a very special place; she would be the grandmother of the twelve tribes of Israel, the beginning of a new nation. Rebekah wasn’t perfect. We’ll see later that she was just as human as all of us, with our tendencies to manipulate and orchestrate events rather than waiting on God’s plan, but for this moment, her decision to serve willingly and go above and beyond what might be expected and reasonable revealed a tender heart of kindness.

How many blessings do we miss out on because we’re too busy to stop and serve others? (Preaching to myself, here!) How willing are we to go the extra mile, to do the difficult and time-consuming simply to serve others with no expectation of reward or benefit to ourselves other than a tired and sweaty body? Rebekah’s decision changed the course of her life. A different choice and she might have lived out her days in a pagan culture, missing the chance to be part of the story God was unfolding.

I’m not sure if I would have passed “the camel test.” Looking back, I’m sure I’ve missed some opportunities because I was too busy focusing on “me.” Today’s read is a good reminder to set aside our own agendas and exercise kindness, servanthood, and humility when God presents an opportunity. He just might have something amazing in store for us.

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