Eliezer: Abraham’s Servant and Friend
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How does a servant become a friend? How does a stranger come to be treated like a member of the family? Eliezer was both servant and friend to Abraham, the Patriarch. Imagine how he might tell the story of his journey from servitude to friendship:
The days are getting longer now as spring chases away the damp cold of winter. It is still chilly at night and my old joints ache. I am content to sit before the warmth of my fire and think of days gone by—days of my strength and vigor.
Once in a while, I wake up in a cold sweat as I remember the screams and blood of a nightmare that happened so long ago. I was just a lad when Nimrod brought his war host to Erech and slaughtered my father and older brothers. I had never imagined such horror, horror that seemed to last forever. They tied me up like some wild animal and tossed me into a pen.
I will never know why Nimrod chose to give me to Abraham. Abraham was just departing from Ur and taking his wealth with him. He had sold most of his properties and I think that much of it went to Nimrod. Perhaps that is why he made the gesture of friendship and handed me over to that stranger who heard voices from heaven. I was frightened by his strangeness, but he was always kind to me. Yet the nightmares haunted me for years. Even now, I shiver. Maybe it is just the cold. One thing is certain: had I remained in Erech or Ur, I would have been dead by now. Instead, I’ve grown old—and perhaps even wise.
At first, I cared for Abraham’s flocks during our long journey together. I could almost forget home, or what was left of it. Yet I was nervous because Abraham would never give me a plain answer when I asked where we were going. How can you know where to find pasture for sheep when you haven’t a clue about the direction that you are taking? Abraham sensed my anxiety and used to make me laugh, perhaps he felt sorry for me, a poor orphan. He would joke and finally admit that only God knew where we were headed and when we would get there. We would continue until the LORD told us to stop.
I was good at supervising other shepherds. Abraham knew that he could trust me to do what was best. He called me Eliezer, which means, My God helps.” I think it was a compliment. I also think he was trying to get me to understand how God was working in my life, even through my tragedy. I was proud of my name and even more so as Abraham’s trust in me grew and I became known as “The Servant of Abraham.”
Finally, we arrived in Eretz C’naan—a promised land, but one that was rugged and often daunting. Yet together, Abraham and I—with the blessing of God—saw his riches increase. So many sheep. Such noise! Such a smell! My tasks went from menial to mighty responsibilities as I demonstrated faithfulness in the areas he entrusted to me. Eventually, I was the overseer of accounts and supervised the shepherds.
Then one night it happened—again. I heard the screams of fear and the shouts of pain, and it wasn’t a dream. Just east of us, Lot and his people were being beaten and kidnapped. I thought that fear would consume me, but we gathered our wits and sent a message to Abraham. He assembled all of us and some allies and we began the chase. It lasted until we were well into the north and in the region of Damascus. There we ambushed the kidnappers. I led a squad of spear wielders that was particularly effective in beating back our foes. We delivered the captives, sparing them from a life of slavery.
I hardly thought of myself as a slave anymore. I was now Abraham’s servant! He paid me well for my service and I even owned my own tent and a small flock of goats. He gave me a wife and we have many children. After the raid on the bandits, Abraham added the title “Damascene” (which means hero) to my name. I am glad that they do not know how afraid I really was during the skirmish. And yet, after that ordeal, the bad dreams ceased.
I speak as if that were yesterday. Yet, sixty years have gone by and I am old by any standard. I no longer watch the flocks or wander the hills looking for pasture. Abraham has made me chief steward of his house. I have full authority over his accounts and business affairs. I am sure that I know more about where his wealth is than he does.
Now when Abraham calls me to his council, he asks me to sit with him and calls me “friend.” If there is a title that gives me pride it is this one. And to think that Abraham is called, “God’s friend.” I wonder if Abraham feels that same pride in that as I feel being called his friend. Imagine, God actually related his plans to Abraham, walked together with him and, yes, called him friend. I could not dare to assume that kind of relationship with the God of heaven. But a friend of a friend of the God of heaven? That, I think I can handle.
How did I go from trustworthy servant to friend? Well, let me tell you. It came about because of a service I performed for Abraham’s beloved son, Isaac. From the moment of his birth, there was a change within the camp—the sound of youthful laughter. And believe me when I tell you the laughter was not all from the boy. Abraham had learned to laugh again.
As the boy grew, so did his father’s happiness. And when the boy was no longer a boy but a young man, Abraham called me to his tent and confided in me. “Listen, Eliezer,” he said. “I need you to do one more thing for me and then your service will be complete. I need you to return to Haran and find a wife for Isaac my son. For such a task, I cannot trust an agent or a slave, only one who has served me as long and as faithfully as you.” He stopped for a moment and looked at me with those piercing dark eyes. “I will not order you to take this obligation upon yourself, but if you do, you must promise me on a sacred oath that you will not choose a wife from among the Canaanites.”
This was unlike any other task he had given me. After all, Isaac was the child of promise. His bride would be a woman of destiny, their children part of the great nation God had promised to Abraham. Finding such a woman was a sacred trust indeed! As a sign of a covenantal oath, I placed my hand under his thigh, and swore the oath. I promised to return to his family and find a maiden who would be suitable, both as a daughter-in-law to him and a wife to Isaac.
I knew I could not fulfill this obligation on my own—and praise be to the Holy One, I did not have to.
Imagine! A 70-year-old setting out on such a long journey, with servants and camels and bags full of treasure and an anxious heart full of questions: What if thieves attack us? What if I tire and cannot complete the journey? What if I cannot find the right woman? Even worse, what if I find her and she will not come?
Abraham assured me that God would go with me and send his Angel before me. Should I not be able to persuade the young woman, I would be freed from my promise. But I knew that I could not give up so easily, for this was too important for my master. So I prayed. And for the first time in my life, I can say that the God of heaven heard my prayers and miraculously answered them.
Haran is between the two great rivers, the Euphrates and the Tigris. It was to be a journey of 17 days. Maybe I was daydreaming or maybe my memory is failing, but it seemed like the journey passed in less than a day. My servants said that the Angel folded the road so that our journey was foreshortened.
Whatever the case, we arrived sooner than I expected. We chose to stop at a well just outside of Haran rather than taking our camels into the center of the village. I was tired and sat on a stone bench that still radiated heat even though the sun was setting. Perhaps a maiden would come to this well, one who might be right for my master’s son. If her family allowed her to leave the village to get water, perhaps they might be willing to let her venture even further, I reasoned.
“You’re an old fool,” I told myself, then wondered, “Did anyone hear me say that?!” Yet, I could not get the notion of a woman greeting us at the well out of my mind. So I prayed and asked God for a sign, “Let her offer me a drink and then water my camels.” I opened my eyes and somehow was not terribly surprised to see a graceful young woman approach. She carried a large jug on her shoulder rather than on her head. Her eyes and mouth were crinkled in a smile, as if she had just heard a good story and had laughed. How pleasant, I thought.
When I asked her for a sip of water, she quickly poured me a drink. She waited politely until I was finished, then offered to water my camels. Even for a strong young woman that is a lot of water to pour, over 800 litres. Amazed, I watched her run back and forth between the well and the livestock. My prayer was answered before it was completely uttered! I knew she was the one. I gave thanks to God and explained my mission to Rebekah.
Surprisingly, she agreed to accompany me even before I had a chance to explain my purpose to her family. I gave her gifts of betrothal, placing bracelets on her arms and giving her a ring of pure gold for her nose. Her family welcomed me, but seemed overly interested in the gifts from my master. When her brother saw them, I could tell that he was coveting some for himself. He and his father were greedy men and idolaters as well. How could this woman be so righteous? I believe God prepared and called her, even as he had my master, Abraham. Perhaps that is why she responded so quickly to my request.
Bethuel, her father, attempted to poison me that night. As Abraham had promised, the Angel of God went before me. I believe he switched our plates so that Bethuel ate the food prepared for me. Whether he died or was simply ill, I do not know. He did not come to wish us farewell the next morning when I left to return home with my prize.
The journey home passed even more quickly than the journey to Haran, so light was my heart with the joy of success.
When Isaac came to greet us, Rebekah met him with all modesty. As for Isaac, it was obvious from the start that Rebekah would be the love of his life. She helped to soften the pain that he and our entire community felt over the death of Sarah, my master’s wife. Her face radiates the same kindness and trust in God.
Now as I sit by the fire, I tell my grandchildren how, when I returned to Abraham, he smiled and said, “Well done my friend.” He handed me a legal notice, sealed with his name and signet, proclaiming to everyone that Eliezer the Damascene was his friend and a free man. The stigma of slavery and the horror of death have been lifted as I walk with my friend who is the friend of God.
The account of Eliezer was drawn from the Hebrew Scriptures and other traditional texts. We have no way of knowing the actual thoughts or dialogue that occurred during Eliezer’s service to Abraham. But we can know that there is a way for any who desire to be “the friend of a friend” of God to do so—a way for people to be free from those things that enslave us today.
There are contemporary forms of slavery that parallel the ancient servitude. Today some of us feel constricted over jobs we’re locked into, credit card, college or homeowner debts—and others feel even more trapped by personal fears and insecurities. But even those of us who don’t experience any of the above constrictions are still not free.
There’s a liberty that only comes from walking with God, even as Abraham did. Trusting in the One who knows the beginning from the end, who cares for our well-being even more than we do and who has the power to offer us a glorious forever. The Bible says we are not free to have that kind of relationship with God because our sin has alienated us from him. There needs to be a solution in order for us to have a restored relationship.
In ancient times, God provided sin offerings so we could be reconciled to him. That hasn’t changed because God hasn’t changed. But he did provide a better offering, one that could cover all sin—past, present and future. The blood of bulls and goats symbolized what God intended all along: for the innocent to take the place of the guilty. They were sufficient until our true sacrifice, the sinless Messiah, came to offer himself once and for all.
In the above story, Eliezer risked his life for Abraham. But in real life, God demonstrated his friendship in that while we were still strangers and aliens to him and his righteousness, he sent the Messiah, his own son, to die for us.
Two thousand years after Abraham walked the earth, his descendant Yeshua (Jesus) the Messiah came and “made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death—even death on a cross!” (Philippians 2:7-8).
Yeshua (Jesus) did this willingly because as he said:
“Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13).
There is no greater friend than Yeshua. Through him, God invites us both to serve him and to become a part of his own family.