Coincidence? I think not!


Hayyei Sarah
For the week of November 15, 2014 / 22 Heshvan 5775
Torah: Bereshit/Genesis 23:1 - 25:18
Haftarah: 1 Melachim/1 Kings 1:1-31

Divine Appointments

Before he had finished speaking, behold, Rebekah, who was born to Bethuel the son of Milcah, the wife of Nahor, Abraham's brother, came out with her water jar on her shoulder. (Bereshit/Genesis 24:15)

Divine appointments

Some time ago my wife and I were out on one of our weekly dates. Before leaving the house, I was pondering taking a drive around a particularly nice part of town that my wife hadn't yet seen as we were still relative newcomers to the city. I myself had recently been there to visit a diplomat that I knew (that happens when you live in a country's capital), and thought that my wife would enjoy the area, with its lush shrubbery and grand homes. We started the evening by going for a walk at one of her favorite spots. By the time we were done, I was having second thoughts about my plan. It was getting late; I was tired; we already had enjoyed a nice evening; I wondered whether my wife would actually enjoy visiting that neighborhood. Should we, shouldn't we, I deliberated. "Oh why not!" I thought. And off we went.

As we drove up and down what was still to me an unfamiliar part of town, it was indeed impressive. I was wanting to show my wife the diplomat's house, but I could not recall the exact name of the street or house number. We continued to drive. As we did, one block looked a bit familiar, and down the street I saw a man inspecting a large shrub. It was a strange site. Why would a gardener be working Saturday night? As we approached, it was my friend! After we greeted each other, he invited us in, resulting in a lovely visit. More than that; he really needed to talk - and there we were. And to think we almost didn't go!

Some may call this sort of thing a coincidence, which Merriam-Webster defines as "a situation in which events happen at the same time in a way that is not planned or expected." That's a pretty accurate description of what happened. We didn't head out that evening with any intention of meeting my friend. Nor did he step outside briefly in an attempt to flag me down. We just ended up being in the same place at the same time. Of course our being in his part of town, not to mention driving by his house, increased the likelihood of bumping into one another. But we almost didn't go. I couldn't remember exactly where he lived, and he mentioned that he had never gone out to look at his bushes like that before. The timing of it all is pretty amazing, and the resultant blessing of the evening to all involved makes it more so.

That none of us planned or expected any of this is undisputed. But might have there been Someone else involved? I can't prove it, of course; but I think God had his hand in this. Ever since I first came to know Yeshua over 38 years ago, these kinds of "coincidences" have been a somewhat regular occurrence - not every day, but enough that I have come to expect them.

While from our perspective, these are coincidences, if God is involved in the way I think he is, I prefer to call them "divine appointments." I reserve this terminology for the more meaningful encounters such as the one I have described. I wouldn't necessarily ascribe the same sort of heavenly intentions upon surprise brief meetings of acquaintances in unexpected locations that we all experience from time to time. It's only when I have a sense that circumstances have blended in an extraordinary way to bring about a most unusual, but meaningful outcome.

This is exactly what happened to Rebekah in this week's parsha (Torah portion). She was going about her regular daily routine, fetching water. She had no idea what was in store on that particular day. She didn't know that a stranger had just arrived at the local well; nor was she aware of the prayer he was finishing up as she was arriving at the scene. She didn't know that her kind actions in response to the stranger's request would set her life on an unexpected course that would not only dramatically affect her, but the entire world through her becoming a Matriarch of the people of Israel.

One of the things that astounds me about divine appointments is the place of human participation within what appears to be divinely orchestrated circumstances. Could Rebekah have said, "No"? She was certainly given the choice whether to go with Abraham's servant and marry Isaac or not. Could my wife and I have decided not to go to the part of town where my friend lived? There is no way to determine the hypothetical past, of course. But in the moment of decision, if it is truly God who is orchestrating these unusual events, does it matter what we do? The answer is clearly yes. It doesn't take a philosopher to figure out that if we didn't go where we went we wouldn't have gone there. Same with Rebekah. But we did and she did. The rest is history; of course it is, because that's what happened.

But how does each person's decisions and actions bring about the unusual, dramatic and meaningful circumstances we're talking about? They don't. We are oblivious to what is transpiring until it happens. Enter God. Somehow God takes the actions of humans and orchestrates amazingly beautiful results. I have no idea how he does it. And, frankly, I don't care. I am just so glad that I get to be part of it.

Unless otherwise noted, scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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