Thursday, August 25, 2011

Genesis Chapter 29 ~ An Unexpected Wife and Family

Genesis Chapter 29

So, Jacob set off and came back to the land of the people of the East. He saw a well in the field and 3 flocks of sheep around it, it's where they were watered from. He asked the shepherds there where they were from, and they said from Haran. He asked if they knew Laban, and they did. He asked, "Is it well with him?" and as they answered, "Yes," Laban's daughter Rachel came up (Gen. 29:6). He suggested to them to take the sheep out to the field and they basically said they couldn't, because many were drinking from the well. It appears that they didn't pick up on his wanting to be with Rachel alone. I like how Victor Hamilton describes this, "Get rid of the unwanted company - the shepherds!" (Hamilton, 253) Bruce Waltke writes similarly, "[The shepherds'] presence is the proverbial fly in the ointment. The man in quest of a bride from his relatives at Haran wants to converse alone with the girl who has already caught his attention." (Waltke, 400)

While speaking Rachel came with Laban's sheep, she was a shepherdess. Jacob rolled the stone from the well's mouth so her sheep could drink. Then he kissed her and wept aloud, and he told her who he was. She ran to tell Laban after this. When Laban heard about Jacob he ran to meet him, embraced him, kissed him, and brought him to his home. Jacob told Laban what had happened, and Laban said, "Surely you are my bone and my flesh!" so Jacob stayed with Laban a month (Gen. 29:14).

Laban told Jacob that because he is family Jacob shouldn't serve him for free and asked him what he would like to be paid. Jacob loved Rachel (the younger daughter who was beautiful in appearance) instead of Laban's older daughter Leah (who had weak eyes). Jacob said he'd serve Laban 7 years for Rachel. Laban agreed. Then we have this beautiful phrase, "So Jacob served seven years for Rachel, and they seemed to him but a few days because of the love he had for her." (Gen. 29:20)

After the 7 years Jacob told Laban to give him his wife so he could know her intimately. It appears that the conditions for the establishment of their marriage were completed (Gen. 29:21). So, Laban prepared a feast with all the people there, but in the evening he gave Leah, his older daughter, to Jacob and Jacob was intimate with her. Laban also gave his female servant Zilpah to Leah to be her servant. In the morning Jacob was surprised to see it was Leah he was with!

Jacob told Laban the wrong he had committed, because he served 7 years and 1 month for Rachel, not Leah. Laban described that it was their custom in Haran not to marry the younger before the older. He told Jacob to complete the week with this one (Leah). Laban was simply asking him to wait out the "marriage week" or "bridal week" (referred to in 29:22) before he could marry Rachel (see Kidner, 172; Waltke, 406, and Hamilton, 264). He gave Rachel in marriage to him and then he served Laban another seven years (29:27-28). Laban gave Bilhah to be Rachel’s servant, and Jacob loved Rachel more than he loved Leah.

When Yahweh saw that Jacob loved Rachel more he opened Leah’s womb, and Rachel was barren. Leah then had a son, Reuben, and said, “Because Yahweh has looked upon my affliction; for now my husband will love me.” (29:32) She then had another son, Simeon, and said, “Because Yahweh has heard that I am hated , He has given me this son also.” (29:33) She then had a third son, Levi, and said, “Now this time my husband will be attached to me, because I have borne him three sons.” (29:34) Then she bore a fourth son, Judah, and said, “This time I will praise Yahweh.” (29:35) Then she ceased bearing children.

Here is the basic meaning of each of their names:
  1. Reuben - "The LORD sees" or "see, a Son!"
  2. Simeon - "The LORD hears"
  3. Levi - "My husband will be attached to me"
  4. Judah - "I will praise the LORD" or "May God be praised"
This is an ironic chapter, because the deceiver, Jacob, is deceived himself. Laban deceptively sets him up with his older daughter, Leah. It may appear that Jacob passively becomes a polygamist here, but that is far from the truth. Yes, he's deceived into marrying Leah, but he still pursues polygamy in marrying Rachel one week after Leah. Leah is no concubine, she is fully Jacob's wife. Later, in Leviticus 18:18 clearly denounces this act both on Laban's part and Jacob's part as sinful: "And you shall not take a woman as a rival wife to her sister, uncovering her nakedness while her sister is still alive." Just because this behavior happens here does not mean that God is pleased with it.

We also see some of the further fruit of sin in the pain women experience in bearing children in this chapter. Leah is able to have children, while Rachel is not. God is in control of the womb here too. The text shows this clearly in expressing Leah's fertility, "[He] opened her womb." (29:31) It simply says of Rachel, "but Rachel was barren." We've already seen God's power over the womb in Genesis 20:18 when God closed the wombs of the house of Abimelech, and we'll see more of His sovereignty in childbirth later as well.

One of the amazing things about this chapter is that despite the fact that Leah was the "less loved" of Jacob she was chosen by Yahweh, the LORD of the universe, to be the one through whom He would continue to bless all nations in fulfillment of the promise of a Messiah in Genesis 3:15, and in fulfillment of the promise of making Abraham a blessing to all nations. In Leah's children we have the lineage through whom God would most clearly reveal His plan of redemption through the future nation of Israel's sacrificial system. Through the tribe of Levi God clearly foreshadows the need for atonement and redemption through the shedding of blood. It will be through the Levites that Yahweh would show how Christ, the husband, would be attached to the Church, the bride of Christ. Also, it's through the tribe of Judah that God would then bring about the sacrifice that would ultimately fulfill what the sacrificial system foreshadowed, namely the substitutionary death of Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ would be the perfect sacrifice making atonement for His people. This is the true fulfillment of the name Judah. Indeed, "I will praise the LORD!" And how appropriate that the LORD would bring the fulfillment of His promises for a Messiah to save His people from their sin through a woman who was least loved? God chose humble means to bring about the fulfillment of His promises.

This is encouraging to those of us who often feel useless; those of us who by all worldly perceptions appear to have no reason to hope. God is still at work in and through humble people. Despite appearances, God is at work, even in the humblest circumstances. Not unlike the Moabite woman named Ruth, God here chose a humble woman through whom He would bring a humble Savior-king. Jesus Christ is the most complete picture of humility, "Behold, your king is coming to you , humble, and mounted on a donkey , on a colt, the foal of a beast of burden," (Matt. 21:5) and, "but [Jesus] emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name." (Phil. 2:7-9) In spite of the sin of Laban in deceiving Jacob, the sin of Jacob taking a second wife, the hopelessness of Leah in her pursuit of her unloving husband, and Rachel's trial of infertility; we see that God is working to fulfill His promises in Genesis 29 to bring us a Savior in Jesus Christ.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Genesis Chapter 28 ~ Jacob Sets out for a Wife and Sees a Ladder

Genesis Chapter 28

Before Jacob left to stay in Paddan-aram with Laban, Bethuel the Aramean's son, his father Isaac told him to take a wife from the daughters of Laban, not the Canaanites. Then he blessed him saying, "God Almighty [El Shaddai] bless you and make you fruitful and multiply you, that you may become a company of peoples. May he give the blessing of Abraham to you and to your offspring with you, that you may take possession of the land of your sojournings that God gave to Abraham!” (Gen. 28:3-4) So he went to Laban's, his mother Rebekah's brother.

Esau saw Isaac bless Jacob and send him away to get a wife from Paddan-aram, and he saw that Jacob obeyed Isaac and Rebekah. So he went to Ishmael and took Mahalath, his daughter as a third wife. She was also Nebaioth's sister.

Jacob went from Beersheba to Haran, and he came to a place and stayed the night laying with a stone under his head. He dreamed and saw a ladder on the earth and the top reached to heaven that angels of God were ascending and descending on. The LORD stood above it and said the following:
"I am the Lord, the God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac. The land on which you lie I will give to you and to your offspring. Your offspring shall be like the dust of the earth, and you shall spread abroad to the west and to the east and to the north and to the south, and in you and your offspring shall all the families of the earth be blessed. Behold, I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land. For I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.” (Gen. 28:13-15)
Jacob woke up and said that the LORD was in that place and he was afraid and said, "How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven." (Gen. 28:17) So he rose early in the morning and set the stone up for a pillar and poured oil on it, and he called the place Bethel (meaning "House of God"). Prior to all this it was called Luz. Then Jacob made a vow:
"If God will be with me and will keep me in this way that I go, and will give me bread to eat and clothing to wear, so that I come again to my father's house in peace, then the Lord shall be my God, and this stone, which I have set up for a pillar, shall be God's house. And of all that you give me I will give a full tenth to you.” (Gen. 28:20-22)
Reflections on this chapter:
Esau takes a third wife. He was already committing polygamy with his two wives, Judith and Basemath. It's difficult to tell if he marries Mahalath, daughter of Ishmael, to spite Abraham or because he thinks the marriage will put him in a better position in his father's eyes. Either way, he just further digs a whole of sin. To my eyes it seems like he's doing this as a reaction to Isaac's urging of Jacob to take a wife from Rebekah's family line. Keeping in line with Esau's past actions and character it seems that he is doing this in rebellion to spite Isaac. Some commentator's think he does this to redeem himself with his folks, but it doesn't quite seem that way to my reading. It could go either way though.

Here we see another example of the "tithe". Tithe simply means 10%. This can be applied to money or goods. We saw the introduction of this 10% gift in Genesis 14 when the then Abram gave Melchizedek 10% of everything he had willingly. So here we see a little more of the concept of tithing fleshed out. First, the tithe was voluntary before it became a mandate later in Israel's history. Second, notice that Jacob sees this tithe in the proper perspective. God Almighty (El Shaddai) owns everything and he simply gives back to God 10% of everything He has given him. Third, it appears to be an act of worship as one who is chosen or elected into God's covenant.

As New Testament believers there are a few passages that speak to us about our giving for the sake of God's kingdom in worship. First consider 1 Corinthians 16:2, "On the first day of every week, each of you is to put something aside and store it up, as he may prosper, so that there will be no collecting when I come." Christians gather on the Lord's day weekly, the first day of the week when Jesus rose from the grave...Sunday. And as part of their gathering they give back to God an unspecified amount of what He has given them. Another passage to consider is 2 Corinthians 9:7, "Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver." So Christians are not to give out of compulsion but out of joy or good cheer. Christians don't necessarily tithe by giving 10% of what they own on the Lord's day, the first day of the week, Sunday; however, 10% is a good starting point in giving. If we are giving for the support of the ministry and the spread of the gospel to all nations we should consider how we can bump that up to an even larger percentage, don't you think?

In this chapter we see God confirming and further establishing of His covenant with Jacob. He had done this with Abraham and then Isaac. First, we see Isaac give the covenant blessing to Jacob saying may God almighty (El Shaddai) bless you, and now here we see God Himself establishing this covenant to fulfill the covenant He began with Abraham through him. This isn't the first we've seen this name of God, El Shaddai or God almighty. Back in Genesis 17:1 we saw it too when God calls Himself this name and based on the unchangeableness of this name, the full trustworthiness of this God, Abraham is called in covenant to Him. This name is also associated with the giving of the covenant sign of circumcision in Genesis 17. So now, this will be the trustworthy God of the covenant with Abraham and Isaac that will sustain and covenant with Jacob, and that's just what we see.

Lastly, we see the revelation of God in Jacob's dream with angels going into heaven and coming down again on a ladder. The LORD stood above this this ladder and affirmed and extended the covenant to Jacob. What should we make of this? Well, it is through Jacob that God will continue His covenant promise to bring the Messiah that was promised in the "covenant of salvation/redemption" to Adam and Eve (Gen. 3:15). He is keeping His promise. Since it is God Almighty (El Shaddai) making this covenant with Jacob there is included a wonderful accompanying promise that He will never leave him or forsake him. We saw this promise to Isaac in Genesis 26:3 as well. When Jacob is in isolation, all alone, and miserable he can know that God will be with him when no one else is. We also see that God promises to watch over Jacob and that He will bring Jacob back. This promise will no doubt be sustenance for Jacob in the future. We see this covenant promise of God to His people in the New Testament as well in the "Great Commission". Specifically, as we go into all the world to make disciples He will never leave nor forsake us! (Matt. 28:18-20)

Let's come back to the ladder though. This can also be translated as a "stairway". What is this? It brings to mind what Jesus said in John 1:51 where Jesus said to Nathanael, "And he said to him, 'Truly, truly, I say to you, you will see heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.'" God's promise to bring a Messiah through His covenant with Jacob is perfectly fulfilled in Jesus Christ. Despite our sin, and the utter hopelessness we have in life and death we can have hope. This world is fallen and countless trials accompany a life here. God's wrath is bearing down on us, stored up for us, and yet here in Jesus Christ we see that reconciliation with Yahweh is possible. As the rest of the book of John shows, Jesus Christ would become the perfect fulfillment of Jacob's ladder by being hung on a tree and bearing the eternal wrath of His Father for sinners like you and me. Jesus is the only mediator between God and man (1 Tim. 2:5), and similar to the angels ascending and descending on the staircase/ladder to heaven we can enjoy Yahweh's eternal pleasure and joy for eternity through Christ. He is our ladder! We can escape God's wrath through the blood of Christ. We must turn from our sin and believe in this Messiah!

In this covenant God is making with Jacob we see the promise of the Messiah carrying on. Jacob is in awe of God at this event and sets the stone that he was laying on up as a pillar and anoints it with oil saying this is the "house of God" or Bethel. By pouring oil on the stone he consecrates it and sets it apart for God, and he commits himself to God. This doesn't quite seem like bartering (vs. 20-22), but rather a statement of trust that he is taking God at His word. He's saying that if God holds to His covenant with him, he will too. As we see through the entire Bible, God upholds His covenant and is the one true and living God, God Almighty "El Shaddai". We can be reconciled El Shaddai and come into covenant with Him through Jesus Christ! Praise be to God.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Genesis Chapter 27 ~ Jacob Deceives, is Blessed, and Flees

Genesis Chapter 27

Isaac is now old, and there is a descriptor here that his eyes were dim, so he couldn't see so well. He asked Esau to get him some delicious meat so he could eat delicious food since he could die any day, and so that he could bless Esau before he died. Rebekah overheard this, and when Esau went to hunt for food she told Jacob about Isaac and Esau's conversation. She told Jacob to go and kill some of their livestock so that she could make some of the food Isaac loved. Then she told him to bring it to Isaac. Jacob was concerned that he would be found out because Esau is hairy (and smelly as we'll see) and he was "smooth". He was concerned that if he was found out that Isaac would curse him instead of blessing him. It's interesting to note that Jacob had no problem with the deception and lies. He was more concerned about getting away with it! Jacob did what his mother, Rebekah, asked. So she made the food Isaac loved, and she put Jacob in some of Esau's best garments that she had at her place. She also put the skins of the young goats they had killed for the meat on Jacob's hands and neck, and she gave Jacob the food.

So Jacob went to Isaac and pretended to be Esau, he even said, "I am Esau your firstborn. I have done as you told me; now sit up and eat of my game, that your soul may bless me." (Gen. 27:18) Isaac was suspicious and asked him a question, and then asked to feel him. So Jacob went forward and Isaac felt him then said, "The voice is Jacob's voice, but the hands are the hands of Esau," (Gen. 27:20) and he didn't recognize him, because his hands were hairy. Isaac asked Jacob if he was Esau at this point and Jacob lied saying, "I am." (Gen. 27:24) So he asked him to bring the food to him so that he could bless him. Jacob did this and Isaac ate and drank wine. Isaac then said, "Come near and kiss me, my son," (Gen. 27:26) and Jacob complied. As he came near Isaac smelled Esau's smell on Jacob's clothes. Remember if Esau was always in the fields and hunting he probably would have been a smelly, sweaty man. I could be wrong, but I doubt they had deodorant in those days. Smelling Esau's odor was the final impetus he needed to then bless him. This is what Isaac said to Jacob:
“See, the smell of my son is as the smell of a field that the Lord has blessed! May God give you of the dew of heaven and of the fatness of the earth and plenty of grain and wine. Let peoples serve you, and nations bow down to you. Be lord over your brothers, and may your mother's sons bow down to you. Cursed be everyone who curses you, and blessed be everyone who blesses you!” (Gen. 27:27-29)
After this, Jacob left and shortly after Esau came to Isaac. He prepared a meal too and brought it to him to eat and then bless him. Isaac said, "Who are you?" and he answered, "I am your son, your firstborn, Esau." (Gen. 27:32) Then Isaac trembled very violently asking who the earlier person was who came to him and whom he blessed. Esau heard this and cried out with a great bitter cry and begged for a blessing too, but Isaac said, "Your brother came deceitfully, and he has taken away your blessing." (Gen. 27:35) Esau responded telling of how Jacob's name is fitting because he cheated him two times: Jacob (1) took his birthright and (2) his blessing. Esau asked again if Isaac had a blessing for him, and Isaac said, "I have made him lord over you, and all his brothers I have given to him for servants, and with grain and wine I have sustained him. What then can I do for you, my son?" (Gen. 27:37) Esau begged for a blessing though, and lifted his voice and wept. So Isaac said:
“Behold, away from the fatness of the earth shall your dwelling be, and away from the dew of heaven on high. By your sword you shall live, and you shall serve your brother; but when you grow restless you shall break his yoke from your neck.” (Gen. 27:39-40)
Esau hated jacob because of the blessing he stole, and Esau said, "The days of mourning for my father are approaching; then I will kill my brother Jacob." (Gen. 27:41) These words were told to Rebekah, so she relayed the message to Jacob of what Esau said, and said to flee to her brother Laban in Haran and stay there until Esau's fury turned away, and he forgets what Jacob had done to him. Her reasoning was, "Why should I be bereft of you both in one day?" (Gen. 27:45) Then Rebekah said to Isaac that she loathed her life because of the Hittite women (daughters of Heth), and that if Jacob married a Hittite woman her life will not have been of any good.

The layers of deception and sin in this chapter are many. First, there's almost no doubt that Isaac was aware of what the LORD said about who would be the heir of their house and of the covenant with God. Remember Genesis 25:23 when the LORD spoke to Rebekah, “Two nations are in your womb, and two peoples from within you shall be divided; the one shall be stronger than the other, the older shall serve the younger"? Yet, Isaac still played favorites by loving Esau more than he loved Isaac. We even read at the end of Genesis 26 that Esau and his wives Judith and Basemath, both Hittites, made life miserable for Isaac and Rebekah. Then here in our chapter for today we see that Isaac still was showing partiality to Esau. He most likely knew that God's favor was going to pass to Jacob, and yet he tried to do what he preferred.

Second, notice that Isaac wasn't the only one showing favoritism to one of their twin boys. Rebekah loved Jacob more than she loved Esau. Her preference was in line with the son that God was choosing to continue His covenant with, but this doesn't justify the actions and seeming intentions in them. She almost certainly had mixed/sinful motives in all of these events, but they seem more defensible because they are in alignment with what the LORD spoke to her when she was still pregnant. As I mentioned in commenting on Genesis 25 this kind of favoritism is not justifiable in a family.

While Isaac appears to take it upon himself to go against God's revealed will, Rebekah takes it upon herself to fulfill what God has clearly revealed. Both actions appear to be coming from a position of unbelief. These sins are so much like what we so often do. We either outrightly disagree with God's will and we actively seek to fulfill the plan that we think would be better, just like Isaac was trying to do with Esau; or we discount that the LORD can accomplish His will through righteous means, yet we take it upon ourselves to fulfill God's plans through deceptive and sinful means.

Third, notice Jacob's involvement in all of this. He willfully goes along with what Rebekah asks him to do in order to receive Esau's blessing from Isaac. He outrightly lies multiple times as he stands before Isaac. The text makes it clear that Isaac was deceived to believe he was actually Esau; however, it almost seems like he knew what was going on. He was probably suspicious because he knew of what God said about the boys and their future. We know, at least, that he was suspicious of him when he mentioned it was Jacob's voice, but it was Esau's hands. When we heard God's pre-determined will for Jacob and Esau in Rebekah's womb that the younger would rule over the older, we (the readers) had no clue that it would be brought about through the muck and mire of these many layers of sinful intentions and actions. God's pre-ordination is unstoppable, and by His grace He even works through our sinful means to accomplish His will.

Fourth, Esau, while clearly the victim here, is not merely innocent. He despised his birthright, remember? He showed dishonor to God and the role it would be to be the heir of the covenant. He showed contempt for the restriction to not marry women from Canaan, and for God's design for marriage to one woman (he married Judith and Basemath). Yes, he probably knew of the concubines his grandfather Abraham had, but he took it a few steps further and seems to actually have contracted two marriages independently, and further to Canaanites. Further, he made life bitter for Isaac and Sarah as we saw in chapter 26.

One question lingers from all of this, why didn't Isaac just take back the blessing he inadvertently gave to Jacob and bestow it on Esau? Taking it back really isn't an option to Isaac, because his blessing seems to be function very much like an oath in the presence of the almighty God (Gen. 27:7). His blessing wasn't just between him and his son, but before the LORD. This blessing in many ways is a prophetic oracle and he understands that this is in alignment with God's will and is made in the presence of God; it must not be rescinded. Genesis 27:37 shows that he understands this to be unrevocable. A few other passages regarding oaths come to mind (I saw these in Victor Hamilton, 226 in footnote 25).

First, Numbers 30:3-5:
“If a woman vows a vow to the Lord and binds herself by a pledge, while within her father's house in her youth, and her father hears of her vow and of her pledge by which she has bound herself and says nothing to her, then all her vows shall stand, and every pledge by which she has bound herself shall stand. But if her father opposes her on the day that he hears of it, no vow of hers, no pledge by which she has bound herself shall stand. And the Lord will forgive her, because her father opposed her."
One is bound by his or her oath, and it seems that Isaac understands that the LORD, his heavenly Father, is in agreement with his prophecy. Therefore, it must stand.

Second, the story of Jephthah's vow in Judges 11:30-35 comes to mind. This is when he vows to kill whomever is the first to come to his door, and it is his daughter. I don't like that story at all, but it tells us of how binding an oath may be. Also, it appears that Jephthah believes that his LORD is in agreement with his oath (but this is never really specified, although He may be because in His providence He allows it to come to pass).

You can see that this is another reason why Jesus spoke so strongly about swearing oaths in Matthew 5:33-36:
“Again you have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not swear falsely, but shall perform to the Lord what you have sworn.’ But I say to you, Do not take an oath at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, or by the earth, for it is his footstool, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. And do not take an oath by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black. Let what you say be simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything more than this comes from evil."
Well, Isaac's oath/prophecy/oracle/blessing made in the presence of the LORD to Jacob is binding, and cannot be revoked. Unlike the meaninglessness of so much speech these days, and the promises we often make and never seek to fulfill, these words could not be retracted, and the weight of the promise of salvation and the fulfillment of God's promises lay in them. These words were a big deal, and Jacob knows it (Rebekah, Jacob, and Esau do too!). It's as if he gives up going against God by preferring Esau at this point (
after the truth of Jacob's deception comes to light), and sees that in God's providence the covenant blessings have passed on to Isaac in spite of his desires and best efforts to do otherwise.

So God's covenant promises now pass on to Jacob.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Genesis Chapter 26 ~ The Covenant Passes to Isaac

Genesis Chapter 26

In chapter 25 the attention moved pretty quickly from Abraham and then down to Esau and Jacob. In this chapter we come back in and focus in on the current generation of promise, Isaac and Rebekah.

There was a famine in Beer-lahai-roi where Isaac and Rebekah lived. It was similar to the famine in Abraham's time when they fled to sojourn in Egypt (Gen. 12). Isaac went to Gerar where Abimelech, the king of Philistines was. There the LORD appeared to him and said the following:
“Do not go down to Egypt; dwell in the land of which I shall tell you. Sojourn in this land, and I will be with you and will bless you, for to you and to your offspring I will give all these lands, and I will establish the oath that I swore to Abraham your father. I will multiply your offspring as the stars of heaven and will give to your offspring all these lands. And in your offspring all the nations of the earth shall be blessed, because Abraham obeyed my voice and kept my charge, my commandments, my statutes, and my laws.” (Gen. 26:2-5, my emphasis)
What did Isaac do? He obeyed and settled in Gerar. The men there asked him about Rebekah and he said she was his sister, because he feared they would kill him because of her. After he was there a long time Abimelech, king of the Philistines saw Isaac and Rebekah laughing, so he confronted Isaac asking why he lied. Isaac told him, and Abimelech conveyed that someone could have slept with her and brought guilt upon the people. This is very similar to the two episodes almost identical to this that Abraham had been involved in (Gen. 12 and even more like Gen. 20). Here again, God makes His covenant with Isaac, and then Isaac is faced with a trial and seems to be taking things into his own hands to preserve his life in order to fulfill the covenant on his own. He ends up sinning against God, himself, his family, and the people in the community that he did this in. So Abimelech warned the people not to touch Isaac or his wife or they will be put to death.

So they settled there, and Isaac farmed and harvested without losing any (remember this is amazing because they are in the midst of a famine!). The LORD blessed him and he became rich to the point that even Philistines served him. Abimelech finally asked him to go away from there because Isaac was so much mightier than him.

Isaac left then and camped in the Valley of Gerar and settled there. He redug the wells that his father dug but that had been filled back in. When Isaac's servants dug and found a spring of water, named Esek (meaning "contention"), a fight quarrel broke out between Isaac's herdsmen and the herdsmen of Gerar. So they dug another, named Sitnah (meaning "enmity"), but a fight broke out over that one too. So they dug a third well and no fight broke out, so they named it Rehoboth (meaning "broad places" or "room").

From the Valley of Gerar Isaac went up to Beersheba. The LORD appeared to him that night and said the following:
“I am the God of Abraham your father. Fear not, for I am with you and will bless you and multiply your offspring for my servant Abraham's sake.” (Gen. 26:24)
Here again, similar to his father Abraham, God re-affirms his covenant to Isaac. Because of this he built an altar there in Beersheba, and "called up on the name of the Lord," (Gen. 26:25) pitched his tent, and his servants dug a well there. By saying he, "called upon the name of the LORD," it basically means that he is worshipping the one true and living God. The altar was a place of worship, probably where sacrifices were made as well. He's clearly doing what his father taught him (Gen. 12:7, 8; 13:18; 22:9) in regard to the proper manner men may approach and engage in relationship to Yahweh. Calling upon the name of the LORD brings back to mind the worship people engaged in during Seth's time (Gen. 4:26), Abraham's worship of Yahweh (Gen. 12:8; 13:4), and even the New Testament church's worship of Jesus the Christ as being Yahweh (1 Cor. 2).

Abimelech then went to Isaac from Gerar with his adviser, Ahuzzath, and the commander of his army, Phicol. Isaac asked why they came, and they said it was because they have seen that the LORD is was with him. They wanted to make a covenant with Isaac, not unlike the covenant Abraham made with Abimelech in Genesis 21:17 (it's difficult to tell if this is the same Abimelech, it probably wasn't and it was the name of whomever reigned the same kingdom). So they made a covenant with Isaac that he would not harm them in the same way that they have not harmed him. Isaac made them a feast and they made the covenant, so they all departed in peace.

The same day Isaac's servants came to him to inform him that they found water and dug another well, and he called it Shibah (meaning "oath"), and to this day that Moses wrote this Beersheba was still there. In fact there is still a Beersheba in Gaza.

The chapter ends outlining Isaac's son, Esau's marriage at age 40 to Judith the daughter of Beeri, and the daughter of Elon the Hittite, Basemath, and how they made life bitter for Isaac and Rebekah.

Did you notice the four descriptions of God in this passage? (1) The LORD appeared, (2) the LORD blessed, (3) the LORD appeared, and (4) the LORD was with. This is no passive God. He is meticulously working to reveal Himself to His people. He will not sit back and not receive the credit and the glory that He is due as He works in this world. He will reveal Himself in some fashion, and here we see this as He constantly appears to His chosen one, Isaac. Further, He is working to bless his covenantal chosen one, Isaac. And last He was with his chosen one. If we are reconciled to God through Christ, we can have this kind of hope by being knit into God's chosen covenantal family. We can know that He has appeared to us through Christ, and now in His Word. We know that He will bless us as heirs of the promise of eternal life in His joy, but primarily through the reconciliation we have because Jesus died for our sins. We can know that He will never leave us nor forsake us. He is for us, not against us if we are in His covenant. Praise God!

The specific salvation-historical point of this in Isaac's life is that the covenant promise has been passed down to him and those who would come from his immediate family, namely Jacob. Then the chapter ends by showing us the one who is not of God's elect, Esau, and how his marriage to Judith and Basemath made Isaac and Rebekah's life very bitter. We see here that Esau seems to have married without family involvement, and into a fully polygamous situation, and further he married among the Canaanites, not from the Hebrews. He is marrying into the Hittites who are part of the forbidden Canaanites, those forbidden by God (at least in the patriarchal days). It's interesting that despite the bitterness that Esau caused, Isaac still wanted to give him the blessing, in the next chapter. But I'm getting ahead of myself. Here, again, we see that neither Isaac, nor Esau are the promised Messiah that was to come, but next we'll see that our focus is drawn the blessing given to Jacob in Genesis 27.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Genesis Chapter 25 ~ Abraham's Death & The Birth of Esau and Jacob

Genesis Chapter 25

In chapter 23 we saw Sarah's death, then in chapter 24 we saw Isaac's marriage and the family through whom God's covenant would carry on, so now here in chapter 25 we see the end of Abraham's life. This chapter is divided into two parts; verses 1-18 outline the end of Abraham and Ishmael's lives and their children. Then, verses 19-34 focus in on God's elect line, God's chosen covenantal family: Isaac and his sons Jacob and Esau.

First (verses 1-18), it says that Abraham took another wife, Keturah. Here is the lineage of the children Abraham had with Keturah:

Abraham gave all he had to Isaac and to the sons of his concubines he gave gifts and he sent them away from Isaac to the east country (Gen. 25:6). Abraham died at 175 years old, and the text describes it like this, "Abraham breathed his last and died in a good old age, an old man and full of years, and was gathered to his people." (Gen. 25:8) Isaac and Ishmael buried him where Sarah was buried, the cave of Machpelah, and after this Isaac settled at Beer-lahai-roi (where he met Rebekah, this is the well named "the well of the Living One who sees me").

Ishmael lived to be 137 years old and died and was gathered to his people (Gen. 25:17), and his people settled from Havilah to Shur, opposite of Egypt in the direction of Assyria. The text describes, "He settled over against all his kinsmen." (Gen. 25:18) Here is Ishmael's lineage, 12 princes.

Ishmael's lineage: (1) Nebaioth, (2) Kedar, (3) Adbeel, (4) Mibsam, (5) Mishma, (6) Dumah, (7) Massa, (8) Hadad, (9) Tema, (10) Jetur, (11) Naphish, and (12) Kedemah.

It is clear to see that what Scripture spoke of Ishmael is coming true. His lineage is being made into a great kingdom, but they are also always against Isaac's seed as they assumed Ishmael's posture of being, "over against all his kinsmen." The pronoun "He" in verse 18 is not referring to Ishmael himself, but to his offspring, the nations that came from him. Ishmael is the head of these nations, not unlike describing Adam as the head of the human race. Another way to translate this would be, "His descendants lived in hostility." This is a clear fulfillment of Genesis 16:12.

Second (verses 19-34), the narrator (Moses) then turns his focus to the chosen seed, those who would inherit God's promise, namely Isaac and his progeny.

Isaac was 40 years old when he married Rebekah (so the marriage in chapter 24 was about 3 years after Sarah, his mother's, death). Rebekah was barren and unable to have children, so Isaac prayed for her, and the LORD granted his prayer. She conceived twins, and they struggled together within her, and she said, "If it is thus, why is this happening to me?" and she basically asked the LORD what was happening to me. This was His response:
“Two nations are in your womb,
and two peoples from within you shall be divided;
the one shall be stronger than the other,
the older shall serve the younger.” (Gen. 25:23)
In the New Testament Paul writes of God's disposition to these two in Rebekah's womb, "Jacob I have loved, and Esau I have hated." (see Rom. 9:11-13). So it seems the younger is God's chosen one from conception. So, Rebekah approached labor and the first came out red and he was all hairy so they named him Esau (which probably alludes to the Hebrew word Seir meaning "hairy"). Then his brother came out holding Esau's heel so he was called Jacob. The name "Jacob" alludes to a Hebrew pun/synonym 'aqab meaning "he takes the heel" or "he cheats". The etymology of the name "Jacob" probably means "May El protect" or "El Protects/Rewards" though (see Waltke, 358). Isaac was 60 years old when they were born.

They grew, and Esau was a man of the field, a hunter, and Jacob was quiet and dwelled in tents. Isaac loved Esau and Rebekah loved Jacob. Note that their favoritism/partiality is not something we should be doing with our children! (i.e. Deut. 16:19; 1 Chron. 19:7; Prov. 28:21; Acts 10:34; Rom. 2:11; Gal. 2:6; Jas. 2:1, 9).

One day Jacob was cooking stew, and Esau came in from the field tired and asked to eat what Jacob had made. Jacob told him to sell him his birthright, and he did it and swore on it, so then Jacob gave him the food. So he despised and disposed of his birthright for a bowl of stew and bread! It seems Proverb 28:21 has an example to attach itself to!

The first thing to note is that this text describes Keturah as another wife to Abraham (Gen. 25:1), but then later she and Hagar seem to be assumed in the word "concubines" (Gen. 25:6), further in 1 Chronicles 1:32 it says, "The sons of Keturah, Abraham's concubine: she bore Zimran, Jokshan, Medan, Midian, Ishbak, and Shuah. The sons of Jokshan: Sheba and Dedan." (my emphasis) What's going on here? Well, it appears that she was not his wife in the full sense of what marriage is. This is probably a similar way of speaking as when Abraham laid with Hagar (Gen. 16:3). So, in a similar manner of his relationship to Hagar, Abraham, "Had Keturah as a wife." Another way to phrase this would be, he had a relationship with Keturah in such a way that men should only have with a woman who is his wife (see my comments on Gen. 16:3). This isn't really polygamy, in that he married these women, but it is a perverted practice of being in an intimate relationship with someone that isn't a covenanental wife. We do see God's people later in polygamous relationships, but I think the description of these women as Abraham's concubines restrains our ability to say that these women were counted as true "wives" to Abraham. Rather, he behaved with them as a man should only behave with a woman who would be his wife.

It should also be noticed that here all of Abraham's generations are important, because they are the beginning of nations that will surround Israel throughout the Old Testament. Also, we see God holding true to His promise to Ishmael from Genesis 17:20. But notice God is also faithful to His promise to Abraham about Isaac. Everything was given to the promised covenant son, Isaac. Everything was given to Abraham's heir. So when the Bible speaks of an inheritance that only is given to sons that means that the son gets everything. When believers (both men and women) are said to be adopted and treated as sons it is quite significant. Daughters were not heirs, but if their status is the same as sons this means they are heirs. Consider this truth as you read Galatians 4:1-7:

Galatians 4:1-7

"1 I mean that the heir, as long as he is a child, is no different from a slave,though he is the owner of everything, 2 but he is under guardians and managers until the date set by his father. 3 In the same way we also, when we were children, were enslaved to the elementary principles of the world. 4 But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, 5 to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. 6 And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, 'Abba! Father!' 7 So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God."

The chosen seed of the promised Messiah carries on. We see that Abraham wasn't the Messiah promised to Eve, and neither is Isaac, for they have children (the following chapters bear this out too). As we follow the genealogies in Genesis we see the beginning of nations, but we see the story zoom in and focus on following one line, and that focus now turns from Isaac to Esau and Jacob.

This brings us to the birthright fiasco. How should we understand this? Well, it is no small thing that Esau sold his birthright. It wasn't simply something from men, but the birthright of being part of the lineage of the promised one to crush the head of sin and death, Satan. While they probably didn't know all the implications of their status, Isaac's family was well aware of their covenant with God. Further, they would have known that it was through their family that all nations would be blessed. And still, Esau gives all of this up for some bread and stew. This is more than a mere warning to us that we are easily self-deceived. We cannot listen to our passions and desires in the "heat of the moment". Too often they lie to us. Too often we want immediate gratification of our desires, and lacking faith we seek to fulfill it in our own power. We can't let our circumstances cloud what we know to be true from Scripture, God's very Word. This story shows that, but it's more than a mere morality tale. Esau sold the promise of God's covenant, of His election, for a bowl of stew. This reminds me of what Paul wrote in Philippians 3:18-20 about how the enemies of the Messiah, Jesus Christ, serve the god of their stomach. It appears that Esau was one of the first to model this brand of foolishness. He despised or hated the covenant of God that extended to him as Isaac's heir, and it's as if he threw it in the trash for temporary gratification. Jacob effectively swindled the promises of the covenant to himself, and we'll see this clearly in the future deceiving of Isaac for the blessing that was meant for Esau (Gen. 27:26-29). These events would come to fulfill what God told Rebekah at their birth, that the older will serve the younger (Gen. 25:23).

So the covenant appears to be passing on to Jacob. Will Jacob the the Messiah promised in Genesis 3:15? Probably not if he's a low-down swindler and deceiver; however, the hope in the promise for a Messiah is carrying on in Jacob. Jesus Christ is that perfect fulfillment of Jacob's name, "May El protect!" Jacob, merely twists it into a pun "he cheats." Praise God, that the hope remains alive, even despite Jacob's depravity.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Marriage ~ Gleanings in Genesis 24

I love weddings, and I love this chapter because it's one long marriage ceremony.

First, it's quite public. Biblically marriage is a public institution in a lot of ways, not merely private. Both families are very involved in the process, not to mention household servants. We can see that God is ordering all the events in His providence in fulfillment of the covenant that He made to Abraham. Also, the public exchange of good's in a dowry and bride-price took place (Gen. 24:22, 53; 34:12; Exod. 22:16-17). One other way that it was public was that their communities would have been aware of what was going on, being able to observe Rebekah travel with Abraham's servant, and possibly seeing her with her veil. Not only was it visibly public, but it was felt to be public by both the community and the family in an economic sense. It would have been easy to observe that the caravan that set out originally came back home with less goods and with women they didn't have before. Not only that Bethuel, Rebekah's father, now had more means, but also this economic reality would have been felt in the community. Further, Rebekah's family all the sudden had costly jewelry, goods, and clothes that they may not have had before. All of this would have made this arrangement of a marriage covenant public knowledge to at least two communities. Further, both Isaac and Rebekah were willing to marry each other, but their families also gave them into the marriage. They were given into marriage, not merely taken (e.g. Matt. 24:38; Luke 17:27). We see that Rebekah was given in marriage by her family, and we also see that Isaac is given in marriage by his father's intentions for his servant to find him a bride.

Second, it is clearly covenantal in line with the first marriage we observed in Genesis 2:23-24. Rebekah is leaving her parents and cleaving to Isaac. It is not primarily a public legal agreement; rather, it is primarily relational. It is a relational, ontological covenant that also has all the public and legal hallmarks of marriage as the rest of the Bible outlines about a marriage. Two are being fused from their current families to become one in uniting in a marriage covenant.

Third, the covenantal aspect can be seen also by the covenant sign of marriage, knowing each other intimately. We see the marriage sealed with the conjugal act of consummation. Isaac "takes" Rebekah in sexual union. We see that sexual relations here does not have the power to effectually create their marriage, rather that sex is a physical sealing, binding, and consummating of the marriage agreed to in the events prior to this intimacy. Notice that this aspect of marriage is quite private; however, it is public in some ways. First, sex is an indicator that the marriage is healthy. A marriage that does not include intimacy may not be as strong as it could be. In fact, a lack of intimacy in a marriage may be a symptom of problems inter-personally that may be observed by others. Second, sexual intimacy in marriage normally produces children. This is also a public affect of the covenant sign of sexual intimacy.

Does Sex Equate to Marriage Here?
From what I've written so far you can probably anticipate that I'm going to argue that the answer is, "No!" One may try to make an argument from Genesis 24:62-67 that it does, but to come to that conclusion would be to ignore not only the context of the chapter, but also what Genesis teaches about what marriage is. Further, it would ignore what all of Scripture has to say. I remember hearing this argument before from friends when I was in college. Marriage includes sex, but marriage is always more than just sex. Let's look at the passage again:
Genesis 24:62-67
"62 Now Isaac had returned from Beer-lahai-roi and was dwelling in the Negeb. 63 And Isaac went out to meditate in the field toward evening. And he lifted up his eyes and saw, and behold, there were camels coming. 64 And Rebekah lifted up her eyes, and when she saw Isaac, she dismounted from the camel 65 and said to the servant, 'Who is that man, walking in the field to meet us?' The servant said, 'It is my master.' So she took her veil and covered herself. 66 And the servant told Isaac all the things that he had done. 67 Then Isaac brought her into the tent of Sarah his mother and took Rebekah, and she became his wife, and he loved her. So Isaac was comforted after his mother's death."
Can you feel the build up and anticipation for their meeting? This is a really romantic description. The journey that Abraham's servant took to find Rebekah would have taken approximately a month. The journey from Beersheba of Canaan (Gen. 24:10) to Nahor (Gen. 24:11) would have been approximately a month (Hamilton, 145; Speiser, 183). So it was about a month since Araham's servant was sent out with the bride price and having made an oath to Abraham. He had orders to bring a bride home to Isaac and everyone knew it.

The text then sets the scene. It was probably a beautiful evening, and Isaac had gone out into the field in the evening to meditate. Then as he lifted his eyes he saw the caravan coming along. Then the attention of the narrator (Moses) quickly turns to Rebekah, she lifted her eyes up as well and when she saw Isaac she quickly jumped off of the camel and asked who the man was that was coming. Abraham's servant said, "My master," regarding Isaac. She quickly veiled herself. Hebrew women were not normally veiled (Gen. 12:14; 38:14-15), so the veil symbolized that she was in fact the bride that he had been anticipating. It was a custom for Hebrew brides to veil themselves in a marriage ceremony (Waltke, 333). The servant's journey had been prospered because of God's grace.

It's as if the servant's retrieving Isaac's bride and then bringing her back over the course of a month was one long wedding procession. Then they meet, but she quickly veils herself as if to say, "You cannot see me yet, because at this time I am not fully yours; your eyes cannot behold my beauty at this time, but the time will be soon." This is romance! Then Abraham's servant tells everything he did to Isaac. It's as if Isaac observes from this that all the details of the covenant had been properly taken care of and that they were indeed husband and wife.

Then we are given a high level sparse commentary of Isaac and Rebekah's consummating the marriage covenant, "Then Isaac brought her into the tent of Sarah his mother and took Rebekah, and she became his wife, and he loved her. So Isaac was comforted after his mother's death." (Gen. 24:66-67) This passage shows how Rebekah assumes the role that the recently deceased Sarah had in salvation history as the new mother of the chosen seed of God. It is through Rebekah now that the covenant God made with Abraham will be propagated. This isn't just saying, "Isaac took her to the bedroom that Sarah used to have." This is part of what can be drawn out from this, but it is much more than this too. Then it says that Isaac took her and she became his wife. The consummating seal of the marriage covenant that was in the works between the two families over the course of the last month finally took place. They became united as one. He took her and she fully became his wife. To make a spiritual analogy, this is similar to the marriage of the church to Christ. The covenant has already been made, His blood has already been shed for His bride, the price has already been paid. So we are already His church, His bride. But one day at the "marriage supper of the Lamb" the full consummation of the marriage will take place.

This event in Genesis 24 and the circumstances surrounding it couldn't be further from the context of two consenting adults becoming inflamed in lustful passions for each other and justifying their sleeping together because there's a simple drawn out description of a marriage here in Genesis 24. I'm not defending all the pomp and ceremony surrounding many weddings these days. In the United States many weddings are more materialistic than covenantal. Many weddings don't consider the sobriety of a vow before God that they will be bound to this man or woman for the rest of their life. Too many weddings forget the typological and metaphorical function of marriage as representing the union of Christ with His church. That said, one cannot appeal to this text or any text in Scripture to legitimately argue that a marriage can be created by the act of sex. Sex never comes first, and it's never given the power to generate a marriage covenant (Consider these texts if you'd like to tease out this topic a little more: Exod. 20:14; Deut. 5:18; John 4:17-18; 1 Cor. 6:15-16; Matt. 1:18-25; 1 Cor. 7:2-5; Song of Songs 2:7; 3:5).

Marrying Within the Family
How should we think about Abraham's making his servant swear an oath to find a wife for Isaac from his family? John Sailhamer has spoken to this a little in his commentary:
"First, they were not to be mixed with the inhabitants of Canaan (v. 3). Though no explanation is given, Abraham's desire that Isaac not take a wife from the Canaanites appears to be a further expression of the notion of the two lines of blessing and curse seen in Genesis 9:25-27: 'Cursed be Canaan!' but 'Blessed be the LORD, the God of Shem.' As has been the case throughout the narratives thus far, the inhabitants of Canaan are considered to be under a divine curse for their iniquity (e.g., 15:16). The seed of Abrahan is to be kept separate from the seed of Canaan. Second, the point is made in this section that Abraham's descendants are not to return to the land of their fathers. The Promised Land is their home, and Abraham is careful to ensure that Isaac not be taken back to the place of his father." (
Abraham's limiting of Isaac's bride to be taken from his family is meant to serve a very specific purpose in redemptive history. You can't argue from this text that we must forbid inter-ethnic marriages. Further, this text is not a justification for incestuous relationships. Isaac and Rebekah were cousins, and in God's plan it was through this family that all nations would be blessed. God had a plan to begin all nations through them, and the trajectory of this was more of beginning a marriage within God's chosen people. This would be a charge for the nation of Israel (Deut. 7:3, 4; 1 Kings 11:4; Ezra 9), but also for God's new covenant people who are forbidden to marry unbelievers (1 Cor. 7:39). (Kidner, 157)

Friday, August 19, 2011

Genesis Chapter 24 ~ Isaac Marries Rebekah

Genesis Chapter 24

Abraham was old and the LORD blessed him in everything, and he had his oldest household servant who was in charge of everything he had put his hand under his “thigh” (Gen. 24:2) and swear an oath to take a wife for Isaac from his family, not the Canaanites. The reason I put thigh in parenthesis is because it is probably a euphemism for Abraham's private parts; the literal translation is, "those coming out of his body." (yereko). I'm not pointing this out because it's gross, but because it's important. This is an oath that his servant would take, not by merely putting his hand under Abraham's leg, but a much more personal area (see Gen. 46:26, Ex. 1:5, and Josh. 8:30 as examples where children are described to come from a man's "thigh" as well). This is also what Jacob would do later in Genesis 47:29. If you or I had to swear an oath by putting our hand there we would probably take it pretty seriously, and one thing is for sure; we wouldn't forget what we swore! There may be something more to this having to do with fertility and the burden of prolonging the lineage of his family (Abraham was old here, and later Jacob would be too), or even the covenant as this is the place where the covenant sign is marked through circumcision. I'll leave that speculation to you and the commentaries. On with the story...

His servant doubted that a woman would follow him back to Canaan, but Abraham said the LORD would send His angel before him, but if the woman won’t follow him back he would be free from his oath. So the servant put his hand under Abraham’s “thigh” and swore to him that he would do this (Gen. 24:9).

The servant set out with 10 camels and he took many gifts and they went to Mesopotamia (or Aram Naharaim) to the city of Abraham’s brother Nahor. It’s becoming more clear now why Nahor’s family line was laid out for us in Genesis 22. That lineage was laid out to show where Isaac's wife would come from. The servant made the camels kneel outside the city by a well in the evening (that’s when the women went to draw water). And there he prayed to God:

“O LORD, God of my master Abraham, please grant me success today and show steadfast love to my master Abraham. Behold, I am standing by the spring of water, and the daughters of the men of the city are coming out to draw water. Let the young woman to whom I shall say, ‘Please let down your jar that I may drink,’ and who shall say, ‘Drink, and I will water your camels’—let her be the one whom you have appointed for your servant Isaac. By this I shall know that you have shown steadfast love to my master.” (Gen. 24:12-14)

Nahor and Milcah’s granddaughter, by Bethuel, Rebekah, came out to get water while he was still praying. She was very attractive and a virgin. She filled her jar with water and came back up. The servant did just as he prayed saying, “Please give me a little water to drink from your jar.” (Gen. 24:17) She told him to drink and drew water for his camels too (Gen. 24:19), and he watched her to see if the LORD had prospered him by bringing Rebekah as a wife for Isaac. He then gave her gifts and asked her who her father was, and he asked if they could stay with her father for the night. She said she was Bethuel’s daughter who is the son of Nahor and Milcah and that they definitely had a place he could stay the night.

So the servant bowed his head and worshiped the LORD:

"The man bowed his head and worshiped the LORD and said, 'Blessed be the LORD, the God of my master Abraham, who has not forsaken his steadfast love and his faithfulness toward my master. As for me, the LORD has led me in the way to the house of my master's kinsmen.'" (Gen. 24:26-27)

Her brother Laban ran out to Abraham’s servant and invited him in saying, “Come in, O blessed of the LORD…” (Gen. 24:30) He went and they gave a full display of hospitality to him and his camels, but Abraham’s servant wouldn’t eat until he said what he had to say. So he told them about Abraham and how the LORD had blessed him with wealth, but also a son, Isaac, by Sarah. He then told them how he swore to Abraham that he would find Isaac a wife from his family. He told them how he had prayed to the LORD for a the woman to do certain things, and that Rebekah seemed to be the perfect fulfillment of what he swore to find, and a specific answer to his prayers. He also described his reaction:

“Then I bowed my head and worshiped the LORD and blessed the LORD, the God of my master Abraham, who had led me by the right way to take the daughter of my master's kinsman for his son. Now then, if you are going to show steadfast love and faithfulness to my master, tell me; and if not, tell me, that I may turn to the right hand or to the left.” (Gen. 24:48-49)

Abraham’s servant clearly did not boast in himself in finding Rebekah, but clearly boasted in God and how He provided all along the way. Her brother, Laban, and her father, Bethuel, gave her to Abraham’s servant to be Isaac’s wife saying to let it be as the LORD has spoken. (Gen. 24:50-51) This elicited worship to God again from the servant, and he brought out more jewelry and garments and gave them to Rebekah. He also gave costly ornaments to Laban and her mom (who is not named here). So they celebrated.

When morning came the servant asked to be sent back to Abraham with Rebekah, and Laban and her mom asked that she remain for 10 days and then she could go. He asked them not to delay him though, and they asked Rebekah how she felt about it, and she said she was willing to leave, so they sent her with her nurse, Abraham’s servant and his men, and they blessed Rebekah and said, “Our sister may you become thousands of ten thousands, and may your offspring possess the gate of those who hate him!” (Gen. 24:60) So they went away.

Isaac had returned from Beer-lahai-roi and was dwelling in the Negeb (Remember back to Gen. 16:14? This is the place where the well named Beer-lahai-roi, meaning "The well of the Living One who sees me" that Hagar went to, is located). Note that he is about 37 years old. He was born when Sarah was 90 (Gen. 17:17; 21:5) and Sarah just died at age 127 (Gen. 23:1).

Isaac went out to meditate in the field toward evening, and as he lifted up his eyes he saw camels coming. Rebekah saw him and asked who he was, and Abraham's servant said it was Isaac, so she covered herself with a veil. The servant told Isaac everything that took place, and Isaac brought her into the tent of his mother, Sarah, and took her, and she became his wife, and he loved her. He was comforted after his mother’s death in his marriage to Rebekah.

Notice first that this is the longest chapter in Genesis, and what does it focus on? Marriage! (Victor Hamilton, 138) This is an important marriage, because it is the second phase of God's fulfilling of His covenant with Abraham made back in Genesis 12. This is the second marriage that we see in the Bible (I'll write a little more about the nature of marriage later today).

The main thing I'd like to draw out is not necessarily the faithfulness of Abraham or his servant, not the hospitality of Rebekah's family, not Abraham's servants prophesying and powerful prayer, and not Rebekah's humility to go with a stranger to marry a man she never knew. Did you notice the activity of God in this passage? Yes, the people were faithful and largely displayed honorable character, but this is a picture of God at work. Abraham's servant realized it to the point that he gives all the recognition and glory to God alone for leading him to Rebekah. Yahweh did not abandon his creation after Genesis 1-2, and He never abandons His chosen people. Likewise, God did not make a covenant with Abraham to give him countless children and to bless the world through them only to let him and other men fulfill it by their own means. God will fulfill His covenant. He is trustworthy. He is faithful. He is a promise-keeper. He is sufficient to be relied upon. Even though Sarah died in the last chapter, and we have yet to see God's promised Messiah, here we see that the hope in the certain promise of a Messiah carries on as Isaac marries Rebekah. By God's power, strength, and grace the beat goes on.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Genesis Chapter 23 ~ The Death and Burial of Sarah

Genesis Chapter 23

Sarah lived to be 127 years old, and she died at Kiriath-arba or Hebron, which is in Canaan, and Abraham mourned and wept for her. When he rose he asked the Hittites to give him land to bury Sarah, "out of my sight." (Gen. 23:4) I think this just means that he wanted to bury her, not that he was disgusted with her for some reason or that there was a way of burying in one's sight. They told him he could bury her in their best burying places. Abraham asked them to entreat Ephron the son of Zohar to let him to bury her at the end of his field in the cave of Machpelah for the full price that it would cost.

Ephron was with the Hittites, so he answered Abraham and tried to give him the field and cave to bury Sarah for free. Abraham bowed down insisting that he pay the proper price for the field. Ephron told him that the land was worth 400 shekels of silver, and asked, "What is that between you and me? Bury your dead." (Gen. 23:15) Abraham insisted on paying and gave the price to Ephron with all the Hittites witnessing it, and he paid Ephron in the currency that they used.

The cave of Machpelah was east of Mamre, and the field and cave then belonged to Abraham. So he buried Sarah, his wife, in the cave of Machpelah east of Mamre (Hebron) in Canaan.

In this chapter we see how much Abraham honored his wife, and we also see the death of a very important woman in God's plan of redemption. This is the beginning of the close of one generation, making way for God's plan to continue to work through the next generation. Also, we see that Abraham is still a sojourner in this world. He has been sojourning for about 62 years. He started sojourning with Lot at age 75 (Gen. 12:4), and he is about 10 years older than Sarah, so he would have been about 137 years old (Abraham was about 10 years older than Sarah Gen. 17:17; 21:5). So from age 75 to 137 he sojourned, that's 62 years of being without a home and it's in this manner of life that here he loses his wife. This is a vivid example of how even when God makes covenant promises to His people they will live in this world in a manner that it is not their home. This only builds our hope for our eternal home which is accessed only through the gospel of Jesus Christ, a city whose designer and builder is God! Consider the outcome of Abraham and Sarah's faith in Hebrews 11:10-11, "For [Abraham] was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God. By faith Sarah herself received power to conceive, even when she was past the age, since she considered him [God] faithful who had promised." God provided in their sojourning, so even as we sojourn let us look forward to our true home with Christ forever!

Genesis Chapter 22 ~ Child Sacrifice - The Gospel

Genesis Chapter 22

The Sacrifice of Isaac... After the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah God tested Abraham. Here’s what God told him:
“Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I shall tell you.” (Gen. 22:2)
What would you do if you were Abraham? Would you obey God? Here’s what Abraham did, he rose early in the morning, saddled his donkey, took two young men with him, and took Isaac as well and went to Mount Moriah. Once there Abraham cut wood for the burnt offering of his son. On the third day (a typical period of time in Scripture to prepare for something important)[1] he saw the place and told the men he brought to stay with the donkey while he and Isaac, “go over there and worship and come again to you.” (Gen. 22:5) Isaac carried the wood, and Abraham carried the fire and the knife. You can only imagine the pain Abraham is feeling to have to carry the instruments he will have to kill his son with. Further, since it was three days after God spoke to Abraham we know that he had to have mulled over this again and again. The three days preparation removes any thought that this was just a quick action of obedience. No, Abraham had to think about this, travel someplace to do it. It wasn't as simple as quickly deciding to do something and getting it over with. Isaac then asked where the sacrifice for the burnt offering was, and Abraham said, “God will provide for himself the lamb for a burnt offering, my son.” (Gen. 22:8)

They arrived at the place, and Abraham built an offering. He laid the wood there, bound Isaac and put him on the wood on the altar. Then he took out the knife to slaughter Isaac. Can you feel the tension at this moment? Then, suddenly the angel of the Lord called to Abraham from heaven and told him not to go through with it, because now He knows that Abraham fears God, because he wouldn’t even withhold his son from Him. And as Abraham looked up he saw a ram caught in a thicket by it’s horns, so Abraham offered it as a burnt offering instead of Isaac. So Abraham called that place, “The LORD will provide.” Then Moses adds a comment, “as it is said to this day, ‘On the mount of the LORD it shall be provided.’” (Gen. 22:14) Then the angel of the Lord re-affirmed the covenant promises to Abraham:
“I will surely bless you, and I will surely multiply your offspring as the stars of heaven and as the sand that is on the seashore. And your offspring shall possess the gate of his enemies, and in your offspring shall all the nations of the earth be blessed, because you have obeyed my voice.” (Gen. 22:17-18)
After this they went back to where they lived in Beersheba.

Then at the end of this chapter we hear of the children of Abraham’s brother Nahor and his wife Milcah, and his concubine Reumah:
This chapter continues to show the family in which the LORD will work redemption and salvation. We'll soon see why Nahor's family is detailed here. We see also that God is continuing to establish His covenant with Abraham.

Further, in this chapter God is showing what truly following Him will look like, and what love looks like. We have to forsake all, not just homelands, not just possessions and offerings, but even our own children. This is what love for God looks like. I wonder if when you read this you think, "What is God asking of Abraham? This is deplorable!" Well, in our economy of thinking it is, and to a certain extent it should be. When a man seeks to take the life of another on an unjusifiable basis it is patently wrong, and this is especially the case if someone did this with their child. Further, it is just like us to forget that God has proven over 21 chapters already that He is just and right in all that He does. Even though we don't know His intentions beyond that He is testing Abraham, we should not assume that His intentions are evil and depraved. In God's economy, since He is the Creator and Ruler of all things, He can make requests of His creation that if the creation were to make on it's own it may be wrong. He can do however He pleases. Besides, God knows that He won't let Abraham go through with it. Also, in His wisdom He is teaching us something about true love, obedience, and sacrifice. We must forsake all to follow and worship Him! Even if God didn't stop Abraham He would still be just in His requests and decrees.

This event serves another purpose. It is a foreshadow of what it will cost in order to appease God's wrath and reconcile us to Him. It will take not the death of our children as a sacrifice, but the death of His Son, Jesus Christ, as a sacrifice on Calvary, which is in the, "land of Moriah." (Gen. 22:2) This is a foreshadow of the sacrificial system that will be instituted in Israel to point to the one who would become the true sacrificial lamb (John 1:29; 36; Heb. 9:11-28; Rev. 5:6; 7:17; 14:10; 15:3; 19:9; 21:23; 22:1; 22:3), the Messiah Jesus! This is a strong pointing at the sacrificial system partly because of where it occurs, on a mountain in the land of Moriah. It was probably Mount Moriah. This place is spoken of in one other place in Scripture, 2 Chronicles 3:1, "Then Solomon began to build the house of the Lord in Jerusalem on Mount Moriah, where the Lord had appeared to David his father, at the place that David had appointed, on the threshing floor of Ornan the Jebusite." This is where Israel's temple would be built where God would meet with the High Priest in the Holy of Holies. This is the city of the King of Israel. It is amazing that even here, during Abraham's time, God is foreshadowing all that would come after him in this event in this specific place. It is a foreshadow and picture of what God's love looks like to His chosen people. God loves us so much that He gave His one and only Son, so that whoever believes in Him might have eternal life. Read how the New Testament puts it:
John 3:16-18: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God."

1 John 3:16: "By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers."
When we read this we should be repulsed by what God asked Abraham to do to his only son, the one through whom the Messiah would come to save the human race from sin, Satan, and death. But then, we realize that God doesn't let Abraham go through with it. We can breath a sigh of relief, but that disgust we felt at first, that's how God knew He would feel when He poured out His wrath on Christ for our sake. Ultimately, what should repulse us and disgust us is our sin, that a sacrifice of God's Son was necessary to redeem us. Can you see what God is doing in this event in Abraham and Isaac's life? He's showing us a glimpse of the gospel. God is asking Abraham to sacrifice his only son in a just and righteous way, but we see in the gospel that God willingly sacrifices His own Son for our sin, so that we might be saved. Again, a right and just decree of which we are invited to be the beneficiaries of. Isn't it amazing that something so terrible can become something so beautiful? Praise God!
[1] cf. Gen. 31:22; 42:18; Ex. 3:18; 15:22; 19:11, 15, 16; Num. 10:33; 19:12, 19; 31:19; 33:8; Esth. 5:1; Hosea 6:2; Jonah 3:3; Matt. 12:40; 1 Cor. 15:4. See Bruce Waltke, 307.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Genesis Chapter 21 ~ Hagar & Ishmael Depart, God Fulfills His Promise in Isaac

Genesis Chapter 21

Then the LORD visited Sarah and she became pregnant with Abraham’s child at the exact time He promised them. They called him Isaac, and he was circumcised 8 days after birth. Abraham was 100 years old!

Isaac grew and Abraham had a great feast the day Isaac was weaned, but Sarah saw Ishmael laughing, so she had Abraham cast Ishmael and Hagar out because Ishmael wouldn’t be an heir with Isaac. Abraham was troubled because of his son Ishmael, but God spoke to him and told him to not be displeased and to do what Sarah said to do, because it is through Isaac that Abraham’s offspring will be named (Gen. 21:12). Then He reminded Abraham of His promise to bless Ishmael (Gen. 21:13). So in the morning Abraham gave Hagar and Ishmael some bread and water and sent them away into the wilderness of Beersheba.

After the food and water ran out Hagar feared the death of Ishmael and she cried out to God, and He heard the voice of the boy. So the angel of God comforted her with God’s promise to bless him (Gen. 21:18-19). They did as the angel said and Ishmael grew up in the wilderness of Paran, and Hagar took him a wife from Egypt.

Now, back to Abraham. Abimelech and Phicol (the commander of Abimelech’s army) from the land of the Philistines saw that Abraham was always blessed with success so they made a treaty with him that Abraham would deal honestly and kindly with them as they had with him. Abraham agreed. Abraham admonished Abimelech about a well that his servants took, and he hadn’t heard of it and seemed sorry, and they made a covenant with each other (Gen. 21:27). Abraham gave Abimelech 7 ewe lambs as a witness that Abraham dug the well. This place was called Beersheba. So Abimelech and Phicol went home, and Abraham planted a tamarisk tree in Beersheba and called on the name of the LORD, the Everlasting God, and Abraham sojourned many days in the land of the Philistines.

Here we see God's gracious gift of a son in Isaac, but we see more than that. Again, we see that God is steadfast to keep His promises and we also see that He is completely trustworthy. Who has a child when he's 100 and his wife is 89 or 90? (see Gen. 17:17 for Sarahs' approximate age) Those whom God says will! God is unstoppable in His promise to bless the nations through Abraham, and He is unstoppable to continue the line through which He will bring the Messiah, Jesus Christ. Not only is God being kind to give Abraham a son, but He is being kind ad infinitum in sustaining Eve's seed so that we might all be blessed to be able to be saved through Jesus' atoning work on the cross to justify sinners. I hope as we move through these stories you're seeing that this is relevant to you, because it's the family history of how Yahweh, the one true and living God, brought about a Savior so that we might be reconciled to God!

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Genesis Chapter 20 ~ An Attempt to Rely on Self Rather Than God

Genesis Chapter 20

In this chapter we come to an event that is really similar to Genesis chapter 12 when the then Abram and Sarai sojourned in Egypt in the face of famine. Only this time they were sojourning near Gerar where king Abimelech was in power. Also, this time they are commissioned in covenant with God with the sign of circumcision and new names (as we considered in Genesis Chapter 17), which speak to their new identities which are rooted in God’s existence, power, and commission to them. Tension is introduced too, because of the looming promise of a son to Abraham and Sarah.

So Abraham and Sarah journeyed to the Negeb and were living between Kadesh and Shur, and they were journeying in Gerar. Abraham told Abimelech that Sarah was his sister and Abimelech took her. God came to Abimelech in a dream though telling him he was a dead man because he took a man’s wife. He was deceived and plead innocence to God, and God told him that He knew he did it in innocence and that’s why God didn’t allow them to become intimate. God told Abilmelech to return Sarah to her husband, because he is His prophet, and if he prays for Abimelech he will live. If he didn’t return her he would die. So Abimelech returned her early in the morning, and asked Abraham why he did this. Abraham explained that he did it because there was no fear of God in that place and he thought they’d kill him because of Sarah. Then he explained that she is technically his sister as the daughter of his father but not his mother. Genesis 20:13 illustrates that this was he and Sarah’s plan for when they would come across these kinds of circumstances, this wasn't purely was premeditated.

It does seem that Abraham is trying to fulfill God’s covenant to make him into a great nation by himself. He knows that if he would die in Gerar the fulfillment of God’s promise of a son named Isaac through him and Sarah would be thwarted. Abraham seems to take self-preservation into his own hands in order to fulfill the promises God has made to him. He doesn’t seem to understand that God is trustworthy to fulfill His promises without him needing to take matters into his own hands.

So after Abimelech gave Sarah back to Abraham, livestock, servants, 1,000 pieces of silver (indicating her innocence), and he also gave him the opportunity to settle in his land wherever it would please Abraham. (Gen. 20:15) Abraham then prayed for Abimelech as God’s prophet, and God healed Abimelech’s house, and He opened the wombs of the women in Abimelech’s house, because he had closed them because of Sarah being taken into his house.

Here again we see that God is continuing to sustain Abraham and Sarah to fulfill His covenant to them, and to give them a son, Isaac. Further, we see the drama with all the tensions and resolutions that surround the prolonging of Eve's seed through Abraham and Sarah's family to ultimately bring a Savior to the the World in Jesus Christ. Even when we, like Abraham and Sarah, try to take things into our own hands in sin, we know that God will keep His covenant to save His people through the messiah. The beauty is that we know who that Messiah is, because we live in a time after He has been fully revealed in Jesus Christ.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Genesis Chapter 19 ~ Judgment for Sin on Sodom & Gomorrah

Genesis Chapter 19

In this chapter the angels came to Sodom in the evening, Lot was sitting in the gate and his response to their arrival was very similar to Abraham’s, he rose to meet them and bowed down before them (Gen. 19:1-2). He offered them the same hospitality that Abraham did as well, but they refused it and said they wanted to spend the night in the town square. He warned them about this, so they went to his house. This reminds me of a conversation we had once with an elderly member at our church. She was telling us how when it was hot outside in the summers, when she was a young girl, people in the community used to take their bedding out and sleep under the stars in Lincoln Park. No one in his or her right mind would make a practice of that in Washington, D.C. now. When the depravity of this fallen world invades our communities the town squares that should be safe to sleep in become a howling wilderness.

Before they went to bed all the young and old men in Sodom surrounded Lot’s house. They asked Lot to bring the two men/angels to them so they could, “know them.” (Gen. 19:5) This is a Hebrew idiom that means to have intimacy in relation toward, and it even means sexual relations. It’s pretty clear that these men wanted to commit homosexual acts with the men/angels that Lot was hosting. Lot went to them and asked them to stop acting wickedly and offered his two virgin daughters to them in order to spare the men/angels. Quite frankly this is a horridly sinful and confused response by Lot. It seems that first, he wanted to protect his guests, but second, he may have thought the acts would be less repugnant if they were in a heterosexual manner. The first response is honorable. The second response is just confused. While heterosexuality in marriage is the sexual relationship that God blesses, He in no way endorses rape. Heterosexual and homosexual rape are both evil biblically speaking, and there isn’t any room to argue degrees of toleration in rape. Both are a perversion. The men of Sodom were offended, because what they proposed to do with/to the men was wrong, so they attacked Lot, but the two men/angels saved him by bringing him back in the house and shutting the men of Sodom out. The men/angels struck the men of the city with blindness and they became exhausted as the groped for the door that night.

The angels told Lot to get all of his family out of the city because they were going to destroy it. It appears that this is going to be the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah that Moses alluded to in Genesis 13:10. Lot’s sons-in-law thought he was joking and ignored him, and as the sun arose the next day the angels told Lot to get out of the city with his wife and two daughters, but he lingered. By God’s grace they then forcefully brought them out of the city (Gen. 19:16). One of the angels told him to escape and not look back or else they will be swept away. Lot begged to be able to go to Zoar and the angels allowed him. This is absolutely incredible. Lot is being spared the judgment that God is unleashing on the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah, and yet Lot lingered. It’s even more amazing that the angels through whom God would bring destruction didn’t wait for Lot to keep lingering, but they physically, forcefully, and it seems quickly took him and his family outside the city. You could compare this to lingering while a fire is engulfing your house. Firefighters come and rescue you by having to knock you out and forcefully dragging you out! God is determined to save those who He desires to save. He's unstoppable!

Then God destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah by raining sulfur and fire from the, “LORD out of heaven.” (Gen. 19:24) The angels weren’t doing this, God was! Further, it wasn't coming from the heavens. It was coming from God alone! Everyone in those cities died, and while fleeing Lot’s wife looked back and became a pillar of salt. Abraham looked down the valley in the direction of Sodom and Gomorrah and saw, “the smoke of the land went up like the smoke of a furnace.” (Gen. 19:28) Can you imagine looking down toward a town or a city where you knew folks, had family and friends that lived there, and just saw smoke rolling into the heavens? It would be terrible. Then we see that it was because of Abraham’s pleading with God to relent from judgment on the righteous, that we considered yesterday, that He relented from destroying Lot (Gen. 19:29). God answers the prayers of His chosen people. We may not ever know it, but God is showing Himself again to be responsive to the prayers of His people. In answering Abraham’s prayer to relent from pouring out His wrath on the righteous He is showing Himself to be fully trustworthy. He hears and answers our prayers if we trust in His provision through Christ alone.

Lot and his two daughters then lived in a cave in the hills outside of Zoar, because Lot was afraid to live there (the implication may be that his fear was of God’s wrath that could come upon Zoar). His daughters desired to further Lot’s lineage so they got him drunk and laid with him and conceived children. They became pregnant by their father Lot without his knowledge of it because he was so inebriated. The son his older daughter had was named Moab (meaning “from father”) who was the father of the Moabites, and his younger daughter had a son named Ben-Ammi (meaning “son of my people”), who was the father of the Ammonites. We see here the sinful origins of two nations who will become constant enemies of God’s chosen people. God is kind to save Lot in answering Abraham’s prayers, but this doesn’t mean that Lot’s progeny is part of God’s chosen people.

In this chapter we see more of the affects of sin; namely, rebellion against God and the provoking Him to wrath. But we also see God’s grace. We see God’s grace in the answered prayers of Abraham, we see God’s grace in preserving Lot because of Abraham, and we see that God is holding to His covenant not to wipe out every person on the planet because of sin like in the flood. He only destroys two cities, not the entire creation. Don’t miss this in the passage. God would be perfectly justified to destroy every person and every community, because all have sinned and fallen short of God’s glory. Yet, God is being kind here to only destroy two communities in His wrath against sin. Further, in His kindness God is giving us yet another warning to turn from sin and flee to God in repentance while there is still time. Since we now live in an age after the revelation of Jesus Christ as the messiah, we should flee our sin and the wrath of God to Christ for safety.