Are You Gonna Go My Way? (Genesis 28)

I was not interested in my gen-ed, Intro To Sociology class. So, when I had to report on a classic essay titled Body Ritual Among the Nacirema,[1]https://www.sfu.ca/~palys/Miner-1956-BodyRitualAmongTheNacirema.pdf I paid very little attention to what I was reading. The essay was about a strange tribe’s disturbing customs concerning things like medicine men, holy waters, and oral health. I was annoyed by the essay and, as I recall, I made it a point to scoff at the absurdity and unbelievability of the article.

Imagine my surprise when my professor returned my graded report – quite low if memory serves – with a curt note at the top: “Nacirema is ‘American’ spelled backwards.”

Body Ritual Among the Nacirema was written to give a different perspective on our own (American) behaviors and rituals. In my haste and indifference I had missed the point completely.

In our text tonight we see some people missing the point. The family of faith continues to crumble, after the birthright meltdown of chapter 27. We watch these characters grope around to find solutions, but none of them stops to seek the Lord. None of them pause to consider God’s ways. The results are predictably disappointing. In the midst of human failure we again see Divine faithfulness. The Lord will never cut and run – not with the patriarchs, not with us. No, He stays just as present, just as tender, just as gracious, showing us the way forward. The question is whether we’ll listen and follow or whether we’re hoping He will just sign off on the plans we make ourselves.

Genesis 27:46 – 46 So Rebekah said to Isaac, “I’m sick of my life because of these Hethite girls. If Jacob marries someone from around here, like these Hethite girls, what good is my life?”

Esau’s wives were trouble, but that’s not really the problem. Just above, you see that Rebekah is trying to find a way to get Jacob out of town until his brother’s murderous rage cools off. She uses the family tension in order to manipulate Isaac into sending Jacob somewhere far away.

Christians are not to manipulate, even if we think the goal is good. Not in ministry, not in family, not not in friendship, not in business. God has commanded us to be defined by truthfulness and to think of others as more important than ourselves.[2]Philippians 2:3 The selfish deceptiveness of manipulation is not consistent with new life in Christ.

There is an irony here: Rebekah uses the wife-strife as a pretext to get Jacob away. Where does he end up? In a situation where there are not two but four wives who become rivals, making family life very hard for a very long time. Meanwhile, Rebekah is worried about losing her son, but her plan to save him will cost her dearly: She wouldn’t live long enough to see Jacob ever again.

Genesis 28:1-2 – So Isaac summoned Jacob, blessed him, and commanded him, “Do not marry a Canaanite girl. 2 Go at once to Paddan-aram, to the house of Bethuel, your mother’s father. Marry one of the daughters of Laban, your mother’s brother.

We sense a coldness in Isaac’s demeanor. He “summons” Jacob. When he sends him away, he sends him alone. No servants or attendants to help him on his journey.

Why hadn’t Isaac provided a wife for Jacob yet? Back when Abraham was nearing the end of his life he had an urgent concern that his son find the wife the Lord intended for him. But Isaac demonstrates a physical and spiritual apathy toward this issue. He doesn’t say, “Find the wife the Lord has consecrated for you.” He says “Go marry one of Laban’s daughters.” Were they monotheists? Were they women of Godly character? That didn’t seem to matter to Isaac. They were boiler-plate acceptable – just not Hethites. Not Canaanites. Good enough.

Isaac of all people knew that God has a providential concern for who we marry. That had been very clearly revealed by the way Isaac ended up with Rebekah. But Issac has slipped into a manly mindset, rather than a Godly one. Good enough, rather than God abundant.

Genesis 28:3-5- 3 May God Almighty bless you and make you fruitful and multiply you so that you become an assembly of peoples. 4 May God give you and your offspring the blessing of Abraham so that you may possess the land where you live as a foreigner, the land God gave to Abraham.” 5 So Isaac sent Jacob to Paddan-aram, to Laban son of Bethuel the Aramean, the brother of Rebekah, the mother of Jacob and Esau.

It’s significant that the promise of blessing is repeated, this time in full view, no one wearing any costume.[3]John Calvin Genesis No one could suggest that the covenant didn’t really, truly belong to Jacob.

We notice that Isaac did not seek the Lord in this scene. No offering or worship. Instead, he falls back on what had already been said. We should remind ourselves of what God has already spoken, but, even in his spiritual lethargy, a problem is revealed. “God wants you in this land. So go ahead and leave this land.” These are bad solutions. Often, Christians make decisions and say God is leading them, but when you stop and evaluate what they’re doing, it isn’t consistent with what God has said. Rather than leading, it’s that we want something or we’re trying to solve some problem and we assume that as long as we think it’s a good idea then God must think it’s a good idea. God had told Abraham, “Stay in the land.” Abraham had told his servant, “Don’t let Isaac leave the land.” God had told Isaac, “Stay in the land, don’t go to Egypt.” So, now what does Isaac say? “Leave the land.” Not only did Isaac send Jacob with no retinue, he sent him with no warning about what sort of trouble he might encounter in Laban’s house. We may have some sort of Esau problem right in front of us, causing us stress, but remember: There are dangers other than Esau out there.

Genesis 28:6-9 – 6 Esau noticed that Isaac blessed Jacob and sent him to Paddan-aram to get a wife there. When he blessed him, Isaac commanded Jacob, “Do not marry a Canaanite girl.” 7 And Jacob listened to his father and mother and went to Paddan-aram. 8 Esau realized that his father Isaac disapproved of the Canaanite women, 9 so Esau went to Ishmael and married, in addition to his other wives, Mahalath daughter of Ishmael, Abraham’s son. She was the sister of Nebaioth.

Oh, Esau. He wants approval. He wants to enjoy the benefits of God’s blessing in his life. And yet, he consistently refuses to do what God actually requires. He doesn’t humble himself or repent. He just thinks, “Oh, you want us to marry a cousin? That earns a blessing? Ok, I’ll marry a cousin.”

Derek Kidner points out that Esau’s attempt to gain favor through marriage to an uncle’s daughter is exactly like every religious effort.[4]Derek Kidner Genesis “I will go and do something that I think will earn me a blessing. I will perform an action to purchase my place. I won’t actually listen to what God says and I won’t put away my sin and my selfishness, but I jumped through this hoop, so now God owes me.”

But religion, like Esau’s marriage here, is counterfeit currency. It is worthless. Jacob goes to Laban, so Esau goes to Ishmael – the AntiUncle. Ishmael had already been driven out, disqualified in God’s eyes. But Esau thought it was the act of marrying within the “family” that mattered. It wasn’t.

Genesis 28:10-11 – 10 Jacob left Beer-sheba and went toward Haran. 11 He reached a certain place and spent the night there because the sun had set. He took one of the stones from the place, put it there at his head, and lay down in that place.

Jacob would travel 500 miles alone.[5]CSB Study Bible Notes He’s pretty oblivious as he goes. He knows the danger behind him but doesn’t know what sort of trouble waits ahead. Bruce Waltke notes that he’s between a “death camp and a labor camp.”[6]Bruce Waltke Genesis: A Commentary He doesn’t know that the Lord is going with him – he’ll make that very clear in a moment. And he doesn’t even seem to realize that he’s camping in a place that was very significant to his grandfather, Abraham.[7]Genesis 12:8, 13:3-4 He stops near Bethel, not because of its history but because he was out of daylight. And there he sets up a makeshift camp.

We’re fond of saying that Jacob used this stone as a pillow, but that might not be it. After all, he was a “civilized” man who stayed in the comfort of the tents.[8]NET Study Bible Notes Are we to think he set out on a 500 mile trip and didn’t pack a pillow? In fact, it’s possible that Jacob wasn’t using this stone as a pillow, but as some sort of pagan rabbit’s foot to keep him safe.[9]ibid

Genesis 28:12 – 12 And he dreamed: A stairway was set on the ground with its top reaching the sky, and God’s angels were going up and down on it.

Translators struggle with the word translated as “stairway” (or your version may say “ladder”). It’s a unique Hebrew word, only used here.[10]See Alter, Waltke Some call it a ramp, others believe it’s meant to be a ziggurat. What it looked like isn’t the point. The point is the function. It was sent from Heaven to earth as a way that God might accomplish a great deal of work through the efforts of angels and, we’ll see, through God Himself.

In the Gospel of John, Jesus would specifically say that He is the stairway.[11]John 1:51 So, put together, this vision reveals important truths to us about how humans can relate to God. We cannot build a ladder or a ziggurat of our own (like the Babylonians tried to do in Genesis 11). No, God has established a way and He has sent it down from heaven. That Way is Christ Himself – the Way, the Truth, and the Life and no one comes to the Father but by Him. By Christ heaven is opened. There is no other avenue, no back alley, no secret port through which a person can access eternal life.

God is exclusive, but He is always willing to add you to the guest list. At Babel we watched as men tried to bypass God. At Bethel, we watch as God works to join men.

Genesis 28:13-15 – 13 The Lord was standing there beside him, saying, “I am the Lord, the God of your father Abraham and the God of Isaac. I will give you and your offspring the land on which you are lying. 14 Your offspring will be like the dust of the earth, and you will spread out toward the west, the east, the north, and the south. All the peoples on earth will be blessed through you and your offspring. 15 Look, I am with you and will watch over you wherever you go. I will bring you back to this land, for I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.”

God’s grace is incredible. As far as the record of Genesis goes, Jacob had never pledged himself to God, never built Him an altar or brought Him a sacrifice. But God loved Jacob and kept reaching out to him. God included him and revealed Himself to Jacob.

In His speech, the Lord shows how different He is than the pagan gods men loved to worship. It was believed they were limited by geography.[12]Waltke Think of Poseidon, the god of the sea. In 1 Kings 20 there’s a funny moment where the enemies of Israel say, “Their God is a God of the hills, so let’s fight them in the valley and we’ll win.” When the battle was over, 100,000 Aramean foot soldiers had been cut down in a single day.[13]1 Kings 20:23-29

Our God is with us wherever we go. That doesn’t mean every place is equally good for us. Jonah can testify to that fact. But there is nowhere we can go where the Lord cannot reach us with His presence.

Genesis 28:16-17 – 16 When Jacob awoke from his sleep, he said, “Surely the Lord is in this place, and I did not know it.” 17 He was afraid and said, “What an awesome place this is! This is none other than the house of God. This is the gate of heaven.”

Some commentators feel this is a great prayer of praise. I have a hard time getting there. God’s revelation was about Himself – His presence and withness – Jacob just keeps talking about the place. Bethel wasn’t the house of God. It wasn’t the gate of heaven. The point was that God was with Jacob, not that God was in Bethel. J. Vernon McGee reminds us that Jacob is not a man on pilgrimage here, he’s on the run: On the run from his brother and, frankly, on the run from God.

When we think about what God was trying to communicate to Jacob, we have to conclude that Jacob missed the point. Perhaps that’s why he was afraid, rather than comforted.

Genesis 28:18-19 – 18 Early in the morning Jacob took the stone that was near his head and set it up as a marker. He poured oil on top of it 19 and named the place Bethel, though previously the city was named Luz.

Now here we start to see embers of belief. Had the stone been a good luck charm the night before, now he’s setting it up as a reminder that the God of his fathers was real and alive and present. By pouring oil, he was consecrating that place.[14]Kidner But notice: Jacob says: “God revealed Himself to me. This is God’s house. This is the very gate of heaven.” But then he packs his bags and hits the road. But not before he makes a little speech.

Genesis 28:20-22 – 20 Then Jacob made a vow: “If God will be with me and watch over me during this journey I’m making, if he provides me with food to eat and clothing to wear, 21 and if I return safely to my father’s family, then the Lord will be my God. 22 This stone that I have set up as a marker will be God’s house, and I will give to you a tenth of all that you give me.”

God, in His grace, had said, “I will, I will, I will,” to Jacob. Jacob responds back, “If You, if You, if You.” If You keep me safe and bring me back AND give me food and clothing, then You can be my God. And I’ll offer something back to You, as long as You first give more to me. Wow.

God spoke in a profound way to this man and it seems like his response was, “We’ll see. Now I’ll be on my way.” Compare his reaction to those of Abraham when God spoke. Abraham wasn’t perfect, but he had faith and he believed God and he submitted himself to God’s revelation. When God spoke to him in Genesis 17, Abraham fell facedown in worship. When God made promises Abraham didn’t understand, he sometimes would ask a question like, “How can I know?” But then would move in obedience. When God spoke, Abraham listened and oriented his life around those words.

But Jacob? He’s not following the Lord yet. He’s going his own way. And it’s going to be a bumpy ride.

When we miss the point of what God has said to us it leads, invariably, to mistakes, disappointment, even disaster. God speaks with purpose and He also has specific purposes for your life. A major theme of Genesis so far has been that when we go our own way, making decisions that we think are good but do not include God, the results are terrible. Going God’s way is the way that leads to life. Adam and Eve went another way, the result was ruin. Noah went God’s way, the result was life. Whether it’s Cain or Abel, Shem or Ham, Abraham or Lot.

God is not just along for the ride we want to go on. He is Master and Maker and King and Friend and Helper and the source of all wisdom. Wouldn’t you rather be Abraham in Genesis 22 than Jacob in Genesis 28? What’s the difference? Not God. Not His grace. The difference is between the people. One who trusts God enough to follow, the other who thinks he’s got a handle on how to navigate life. Let’s walk with God instead of wrestle with him.

Footnotes

Footnotes
1 https://www.sfu.ca/~palys/Miner-1956-BodyRitualAmongTheNacirema.pdf
2 Philippians 2:3
3 John Calvin Genesis
4 Derek Kidner Genesis
5 CSB Study Bible Notes
6 Bruce Waltke Genesis: A Commentary
7 Genesis 12:8, 13:3-4
8 NET Study Bible Notes
9 ibid
10 See Alter, Waltke
11 John 1:51
12 Waltke
13 1 Kings 20:23-29
14 Kidner

Who Are You? I Really Want To Know (Genesis 27:1-45)

Rebecca D’Antonio of Orlando found true love online. ‘Matthew’ told her he was a widower, raising a 5 year old son. Rebecca said, “We just had a lot in common. We liked to try new foods. It was like there was definitely a connection.” During their year-long relationship, Matthew would never agree to video calls or meetings in person. But, when he asked, Rebecca agreed to start sending him money. In the end, she sent him over $100,000, leading her to financial ruin, empty bank accounts, eviction, and a near-suicidal state. When she told Matthew she was considering taking her own life his response was, “Well you have to do what you have to do.”[1]https://www.wesh.com/article/florida-catfishing-scheme/39994633 Rebecca was one of 1,700 people who reported being catfished in Florida in 2021. The average loss was $40,000. By the way, data shows Californians are the most likely to fall victim to catfishing scams.[2]https://www.newsweek.com/californians-are-most-likely-people-us-fall-catfishing-scams-1626719

In our text tonight Rebekah isn’t the victim, she’s one of the perpetrators of a catfish scheme that cons Isaac into giving Jacob the birthright blessing instead of Esau.

Genesis 27:1-4 – When Isaac was old and his eyes were so weak that he could not see, he called his older son Esau and said to him, “My son.” And he answered, “Here I am.” 2 He said, “Look, I am old and do not know the day of my death. 3 So now take your hunting gear, your quiver and bow, and go out in the field to hunt some game for me. 4 Then make me a delicious meal that I love and bring it to me to eat, so that I can bless you before I die.”

There are aspects of this story that I hadn’t considered before. Like, how old are Isaac and Esau? I think of them as being strapping, young men, about to set out on their own. But, when we do the math from the end of Jacob’s life, we figure out that he and his brother are probably in their 70’s![3]https://hermeneutics.stackexchange.com/questions/66185/how-old-was-jacob-when-he-first-saw-rachel Jacob was 91 when he had Joseph. Joseph was a baby or a little boy when Jacob leaves Laban. He was with Laban 20 years. So, Jacob is at least 70 years old here, and Isaac is probably around 130.

It looks like Isaac was bedridden at the time. He was getting on in years and he was blind. Your version may say his eyes were “dim,” or “too bleary to see.”[4]Robert Alter The Hebrew Bible: A Translation With Commentary He had no clarity to his vision. No light for sight. That provides a great devotional thought. What did Paul say? Right now we see “dimly.” Another version says, “Now we see a blurred image in a mirror.”[5]1 Corinthians 13:12 (see ESV, GWT) We look forward to eternity where we will see the Lord and all truth clearly, face to face. But, in the here and now, we need to have the eyes of our heart enlightened by the Holy Spirit and the Word. We can’t navigate well without it.

Isaac can’t see, but he’s going to try to do his own navigating anyway. He decided that he was not going to follow God’s directions. God had said, very plainly, “Esau will serve Jacob.” But, Isaac does his best to evade that plan. He’s tries to sneak this blessing ceremony under the wire and in private. But there’s a flaw in Isaac’s plan: It’s his selfishness. “Me first,” he says to Esau. “Go get me a delicious meal so that I can bless you.” That provides an opening for someone else to maneuver. Isaac laying on his bed is a far cry away from the devoted young man who laid himself down voluntarily on the altar of Moriah. But he’s stopped caring about the word and will of God. When we follow our own vision – when our human hearts are steering the ship of our lives – we invariably sail into the shoals of selfishness.[6]A shoal is a sandbank or sand bar in the bed of a body of water, especially one that is exposed above the surface of the water at low tide. And, when selfishness is in charge, we don’t like the plans of God. We may even resent them and try to find an end run around them. It would be much better for us to admit that we do not have adequate vision and instead trust the Lord to guide us.

Genesis 27:5-10 – 5 Now Rebekah was listening to what Isaac said to his son Esau. So while Esau went to the field to hunt some game to bring in, 6 Rebekah said to her son Jacob, “Listen! I heard your father talking with your brother Esau. He said, 7 ‘Bring me game and make a delicious meal for me to eat so that I can bless you in the Lord’s presence before I die.’ 8 Now, my son, listen to me and do what I tell you. 9 Go to the flock and bring me two choice young goats, and I will make them into a delicious meal for your father—the kind he loves. 10 Then take it to your father to eat so that he may bless you before he dies.”

Moses shows the bitter rivalry in this family. Esau is called Isaac’s son, Jacob is called Rebekah’s son.[7]Bruce Waltke Genesis: A Commentary She had a plan not only to get her favorite across the finish line, in accordance with what God had prophesied. But, even though her goal aligned with God’s, her methods absolutely did not. God is not pleased when we use sinful practices to accomplish good goals. But she thinks she has all the answers. In this chapter, she keeps saying to Jacob, “Listen to me!”

A few passages back we were told that Isaac had such a taste for wild game.[8]Genesis 25:28 But his tastes were not as discerning as he thought. He could be tricked with simple goat meat. Rebekah knew what spices to put on the plate to convince Isaac he was eating something exotic – something special.

We are not as sophisticated as we think. Our earthly palates can be easily tricked. This is why we welcome the Lord to transform even the desires of our hearts – so that our lives can be sated with peace and truth and Godliness rather than be a mark for the cons of sin which don’t satisfy.[9]Isaiah 55:1-5

Genesis 27:11-13 – 11 Jacob answered Rebekah his mother, “Look, my brother Esau is a hairy man, but I am a man with smooth skin. 12 Suppose my father touches me. Then I will be revealed to him as a deceiver and bring a curse rather than a blessing on myself.” 13 His mother said to him, “Your curse be on me, my son. Just obey me and go get them for me.”

Jacob isn’t worried about doing what’s wrong, he’s worried about getting caught.[10]See Alter, Bible Knowledge Commentary He acknowledges that there is a Divine element to what they were stealing. This wasn’t just about maybe wrecking a relationship between father and son or brother and brother (those were already ruined). This was about God’s providential work through the life of a specific lineage, leading ultimately to the Savior. Jacob has some grasp of God’s Personal involvement in this saga, yet he is willing to be a part of the heist anyway, risking wrath from his earthly and heavenly Fathers.

Genesis 27:14-17 – 14 So he went and got the goats and brought them to his mother, and his mother made the delicious food his father loved. 15 Then Rebekah took the best clothes of her older son Esau, which were in the house, and had her younger son Jacob wear them. 16 She put the skins of the young goats on his hands and the smooth part of his neck. 17 Then she handed the delicious food and the bread she had made to her son Jacob.

Rebekah raided Esau’s closet. This is, perhaps, the first recorded case of identity theft.

Here’s something else I had never considered before: The skins of these goats had not been dried or cured. Maybe they hadn’t even been fleshed – time was of the essence. No, I think the skins Jacob put on were still warm and oozing with the gore of slaughter.

We’ve seen Bible characters clothed with skins before in this Book. In the Garden, the Lord God tenderly covered the sin of Adam and Eve. Here, the skins become not a covering but a costume. Rather than a propitiation, they are a prop to help Jacob in his theft.

In Isaiah and Zechariah we learn that, from heaven’s perspective, you and I are clothed in filthy rags. Even the best person is wearing garments of death, like Jacob. All your self-righteousness, all your accomplishments, all your promises and intentions are these goat skins – slimy with the gore of sin. We need a Savior who will take away our filthy rags and give us a clean robe of righteousness, and that’s just what Christ has done.[11]Isaiah 61:10

Genesis 27:18-20 – 18 When he came to his father, he said, “My father.” And he answered, “Here I am. Who are you, my son?” 19 Jacob replied to his father, “I am Esau, your firstborn. I have done as you told me. Please sit up and eat some of my game so that you may bless me.” 20 But Isaac said to his son, “How did you ever find it so quickly, my son?” He replied, “Because the Lord your God made it happen for me.”

After perjury and fraud we can add ‘blasphemy’ to Jacob’s charges.[12]See Waltke, CSB Study Bible Notes He says it was an act of God. Is nothing sacred? Jacob stole his brother’s identity, conspired against his dad and lied to him. Now he even invokes God in his ploy. Let’s pause to see again how gracious God is to this family and to all of us. They’re insulting God, provoking Him. But God’s faithfulness and love toward them continues. You and I are no better. We were dead in trespasses but He has given us life. We were hostile toward Him, at war with Him, but He offers peace. We cannot overestimate God’s grace.

Genesis 27:21-27 – 21 Then Isaac said to Jacob, “Please come closer so I can touch you, my son. Are you really my son Esau or not?” 22 So Jacob came closer to his father Isaac. When he touched him, he said, “The voice is the voice of Jacob, but the hands are the hands of Esau.” 23 He did not recognize him, because his hands were hairy like those of his brother Esau; so he blessed him. 24 Again he asked, “Are you really my son Esau?” And he replied, “I am.” 25 Then he said, “Bring it closer to me, and let me eat some of my son’s game so that I can bless you.” Jacob brought it closer to him, and he ate; he brought him wine, and he drank. 26 Then his father Isaac said to him, “Please come closer and kiss me, my son.” 27 So he came closer and kissed him. When Isaac smelled his clothes, he blessed him and said: Ah, the smell of my son is like the smell of a field that the Lord has blessed.

Two questions: Just how hairy was Esau and how bad did this guy smell?

Isaac’s radar was blipping like crazy. He suspected a trick, but fell for it anyway. He could’ve easily escaped this con if he would’ve simply called a servant in to verify who was standing before him. But Isaac was trying to accomplish his own will, despite knowing what God had decreed. And so he relies only on himself – his smell, his touch, his cross-examination – and so he is deceived.

Genesis 27:28-29 – 28 May God give to you—from the dew of the sky and from the richness of the land—an abundance of grain and new wine. 29 May peoples serve you and nations bow in worship to you. Be master over your relatives; may your mother’s sons bow in worship to you. Those who curse you will be cursed, and those who bless you will be blessed.

This is amazing, because, on the one hand, Isaac is absolutely defying God. He thinks he’s talking to Esau and he says, ‘Be master over your relatives.’ That is the antithesis of what God commanded. At the same time, we have an incredible demonstration of God’s grace and providence. When God decrees something, it cannot be undone. He uses the astounding power of His providence to accomplish His will. At the same time, look at God’s grace. Though Isaac was trying his hardest to do the opposite of what God wanted, God still used this man to be a blessing.[13]John Calvin Genesis And, in the future, God would continue to identify Himself as “the God of Abraham” and “the God of Isaac.” In this moment, Isaac deserved no such affiliation or friendship with God. But God’s grace is abundant. Now we do not want to receive that grace in vain. We don’t want to fall short of it. We want to walk in grace, participate in providence, and trust that the Lord’s way is the only way that leads to hope and glory and fulfillment of all good things.

Genesis 27:30-32 – 30 As soon as Isaac had finished blessing Jacob and Jacob had left the presence of his father Isaac, his brother Esau arrived from his hunting. 31 He had also made some delicious food and brought it to his father. He said to his father, “Let my father get up and eat some of his son’s game, so that you may bless me.” 32 But his father Isaac said to him, “Who are you?” He answered, “I am Esau your firstborn son.”

Esau identifies himself as the firstborn, but he is not the firstborn – not legally. He had willingly sold that right to his brother. He signed on the dotted line, preferring soup to sanctification.

Edward VIII abdicated the throne of Britain in 1936. He made his choice. But he could no longer go around saying, “I’m King Edward.” No you’re not! He had walked away from that position.

Esau had no right to the blessing – not spiritually, not prophetically, not legally. But he and his father were trying to bypass all of that behind closed tent-flaps. But what they meant for self, God worked for Sovereignty.

Esau says, “Here’s my delicious food!” He assumed that would be enough to buy a good fortune, along with having been his dad’s favorite. Esau had cut God out of the equation of his life. Instead, he relied on his ability to please his dad with his skills and talents. But, in the end, life is more than skill or charm or ability. Beauty fades. Popularity wanes. Skills dull. Abilities slack. We want to live lives defined by the presence and strength of God who give our lives eternal significance.

Genesis 27:33-36 – 33 Isaac began to tremble uncontrollably. “Who was it then,” he said, “who hunted game and brought it to me? I ate it all before you came in, and I blessed him. Indeed, he will be blessed!” 34 When Esau heard his father’s words, he cried out with a loud and bitter cry and said to his father, “Bless me too, my father!” 35 But he replied, “Your brother came deceitfully and took your blessing.” 36 So he said, “Isn’t he rightly named Jacob?, For he has cheated me twice now. He took my birthright, and look, now he has taken my blessing.” Then he asked, “Haven’t you saved a blessing for me?”

Hebrew scholars tell us that Esau is screaming excessively.[14]See Alter, NET Study Bible Notes He had assumed that he’d just be handed the blessing, despite his refusal to go God’s way, despite his selling it to Jacob years ago. Isaac is also disturbed – he’s shaking in his sandals as he recognizes that he has been found out by God and God has overruled his sinful plan to give to Esau what God appointed for Jacob.

Genesis 27:37-40 – 37 But Isaac answered Esau, “Look, I have made him a master over you, have given him all of his relatives as his servants, and have sustained him with grain and new wine. What then can I do for you, my son?” 38 Esau said to his father, “Do you have only one blessing, my father? Bless me too, my father!” And Esau wept loudly. 39 His father Isaac answered him, Look, your dwelling place will be away from the richness of the land, away from the dew of the sky above. 40 You will live by your sword, and you will serve your brother. But when you rebel, you will break his yoke from your neck.

Esau isn’t looking for any great spiritual future or place in God’s plan. He wants a material blessing. And now that he realizes it’s gone, everything crumbles. What a sad, spoiled, shameful man.

Isaac has been rebuked by God. To his credit, he immediately falls in line with what the Lord has done. He says, “What can I do?” He doesn’t try to go against God any more than he already has. He now takes up the prophetic Word of God and agrees with it and submits to it.

Genesis 27:41-45 – 41 Esau held a grudge against Jacob because of the blessing his father had given him. And Esau determined in his heart, “The days of mourning for my father are approaching; then I will kill my brother Jacob.” 42 When the words of her older son Esau were reported to Rebekah, she summoned her younger son Jacob and said to him, “Listen, your brother Esau is consoling himself by planning to kill you. 43 So now, my son, listen to me. Flee at once to my brother Laban in Haran, 44 and stay with him for a few days until your brother’s anger subsides—45 until your brother’s rage turns away from you and he forgets what you have done to him. Then I will send for you and bring you back from there. Why should I lose you both in one day?”

“Stay with him a few days.” Their little swindle would cost a lot more than that. Jacob would be gone for 20 years. It’s doubtful he ever saw his mom again.

What should the family of faith have done in this strange situation? We get a great redo at the end of Jacob’s life, where he, too, has been told by God to bless Joseph’s younger boy over the older. And it’s no big thing. He crosses his hands and does it. When Joseph protests, Jacob says, “I know what I’m doing. This is God’s will.” And it’s done! Simple faith, simple trust, simple obedience.

There is an important question asked twice in this passage: “Who are you?” Isaac asks it of each of his sons. Who are you? That’s a good question for all of us.

If Isaac answered that question honestly, he would’ve said, “I’m the one who doesn’t like God’s plan and am going to try to avoid it. I can do it all myself.”

Rebekah would’ve said, “I’m the one who believes, but isn’t willing to wait for God or trust Him to accomplish His will. I have all the answers and the end justifies whatever means I may use.”

Jacob would’ve had to say, “I’m the one who is scamming my dad, cheating my brother, blaspheming against God so that I can get ahead in life. I’ll do what I gotta do to get what I want.”

Esau should’ve said, “I’m the one who doesn’t care about anything except my own comfort, my own wealth, my own here and now. I don’t think about God or spiritual things.”

Who are you? One thing this story reveals is just how much we need God’s directions, God’s decisions, God’s designations in our lives. We don’t know what we need to know to make it on our own. Look at how everyone thought Isaac was about to keel over. They all assumed he was at death’s door, including Isaac. But he went on to live another fifty years! We need God to direct us and to speak to us and to show us which way to go. He will, if we’re willing to listen and surrender. All of these people wanted to go their own way toward their own destinations. Not of one them were seeking the Lord in their decision making. And look at the wreckage. Look at the cost.

Be a believer who can answer the “who are you” question this way: I am a child of God, in the service of God, following the word of God, walking the way of God, with full confidence in God.

Footnotes

Footnotes
1 https://www.wesh.com/article/florida-catfishing-scheme/39994633
2 https://www.newsweek.com/californians-are-most-likely-people-us-fall-catfishing-scams-1626719
3 https://hermeneutics.stackexchange.com/questions/66185/how-old-was-jacob-when-he-first-saw-rachel
4 Robert Alter The Hebrew Bible: A Translation With Commentary
5 1 Corinthians 13:12 (see ESV, GWT
6 A shoal is a sandbank or sand bar in the bed of a body of water, especially one that is exposed above the surface of the water at low tide.
7 Bruce Waltke Genesis: A Commentary
8 Genesis 25:28
9 Isaiah 55:1-5
10 See Alter, Bible Knowledge Commentary
11 Isaiah 61:10
12 See Waltke, CSB Study Bible Notes
13 John Calvin Genesis
14 See Alter, NET Study Bible Notes

Like Father, Like Son (Genesis 26:1-35)

Did you see the footage of Mike Tyson pummeling a fellow passenger on a recent flight? It was decided that no criminal charges will be filed.[1]https://www.sportingnews.com/us/boxing/news/mike-tyson-punch-passenger-airplane/rinx9kursz3jvxmxjtd2oahj Watch the whole video and you see that the man kept tormenting Iron Mike. He even threw a water bottle at him.[2]https://en.as.com/other_sports/mike-tyson-hits-airplane-passenger-provoking-him-v/ In the aftermath many said the guy got was coming to him. After all, he wouldn’t stop provoking the champ.

In our text tonight, Isaac is provoked a lot. His antagonists don’t throw any water bottles at him, but they do ruin his water wells. Isaac is provoked by famine, fear, foes, and even his own family. As we see him react to these situations we can see where he was successful and where he came up short.

This passage is interesting because it is the only chapter where Isaac is the main character. But, everything in it is a repetition of something his father, Abraham, dealt with in his life.

When we watch a movie sequel, we expect them to do some new things. Reviewers get angry when it’s just the same old plot done a second time. Think Home Alone 2 or the Pirates sequels.

But, when we’re talking about our regular lives it’s good to remember that there’s nothing new under the sun. No difficulty you and I face is a new experience that God has never had to deal with. No challenge is uncharted, no provocation is unprecedented. They may be new to us, but they’re not new to the Lord. He’s given us the record of Scripture so that we can receive His navigation for the challenges that we will face. Paul referenced these Old Testament stories and said, “These things happened as examples, and they were written for our instruction.”[3]1 Corinthians 10:11 So, we see the same thing happening to Isaac that happened before, but that’s good because similar things are going to also happen to us! Let’s examine Isaac, who faced a variety of provocations in chapter 26.

Genesis 26:1 – There was another famine in the land in addition to the one that had occurred in Abraham’s time. And Isaac went to Abimelech, king of the Philistines, at Gerar.

We’re not given enough details to be sure when this took place. Some think it was before Isaac had his boys, some think it was after. It was at least 40 years after Abraham had his interactions with Abimelech in Gerar. So, this is likely the next Abimelech, the son of the one we met before.

Isaac finds himself in the midst of a famine. When we are provoked by something out of our control – like a famine – what should we do? Isaac packed up and set off toward the coast. It’s what his father had done before. But there’s a spiritual component, too:

Genesis 26:2-6 – 2 The Lord appeared to him and said, “Do not go down to Egypt. Live in the land that I tell you about; 3 stay in this land as an alien, and I will be with you and bless you. For I will give all these lands to you and your offspring, and I will confirm the oath that I swore to your father Abraham. 4 I will make your offspring as numerous as the stars of the sky, I will give your offspring all these lands, and all the nations of the earth will be blessed by your offspring, 5 because Abraham listened to me and kept my mandate, my commands, my statutes, and my instructions.” 6 So Isaac settled in Gerar.

Perhaps Isaac was on his way to Egypt and so had to be told not to go down there. After all, that is what his dad had done. In multiple ways we’ll see Isaac following in his father’s footsteps, but he seems to have a selective memory. He doesn’t seem to remember that some of these ideas his dad had ended up causing big problems.

But here we see Isaac provoked by a famine, a high level crisis. What was he to do? In that situation, the Lord provided leading. He had to go somewhere otherwise his flocks might die. So where should he go? He shouldn’t go to natural place (Egypt), but to the place of the Lord’s choosing.

One scholar points out that the word for “live in the land” is the Hebrew word that conveys the idea of “tent there temporarily.”[4]Bruce Waltke Genesis:A Commentary It reminds us that anywhere we find ourselves in this life is just a temporary lodging place till we make it home. Don’t become so wrapped up in anything here that you forget where your real citizenship is.

When Isaac was provoked by famine, he received the Lord’s leading and obeyed. And in this sweet interchange we see the faithfulness, the graciousness of God, as we always do. Abraham may have been gone, but the covenant was still on. The Lord was still present. He was still going to do everything He said. And, best of all, He said, “I will be with you!” This is always what God has wanted. He wanted to be with Adam and Eve in Eden. He is Emmanuel, God with us. We’re told that in the New Jerusalem we’ll see His face – that He’ll be so close to us, He’ll be our light. We’ll have no need for the sun or the moon or the flashlight on our phones.

Revelation 21:3 – Look, God’s dwelling is with humanity, and he will live with them. They will be his peoples,, and God himself will be with them and will be their God.

Notice: if Isaac wanted to enjoy that with-ness, he would have to listen and trust and obey. Had he gone down to Egypt, the Lord wouldn’t have abandoned him, but Isaac wouldn’t have been able to enjoy the blessing that God wanted to give. The Lord said, “Here’s where you’re going to find Me.”

Genesis 26:7 – 7 When the men of the place asked about his wife, he said, “She is my sister,” for he was afraid to say “my wife,” thinking, “The men of the place will kill me on account of Rebekah, for she is a beautiful woman.”

After the famine, Isaac was provoked by fear. Once again, he follows in the example of his dad. I guess he forgot how those stories ended. A word to those of us who are parents in the room: Your example matters. You’re teaching your kids how to deal with life by the way you deal with life. Show them how to trust God and go His way.

When provoked by fear, Isaac chose to lie. Here’s the thing: Lying does not help you. More importantly, God hates it. In Proverbs, the Holy Spirit says lying is detestable to the Lord.[5]Proverbs 6:16-19, 12:22

When provoked by fear, Isaac should’ve decided to be true. He had just received strong promises from God. That thing he was so worried about needn’t have bothered him at all if he remembered what God had already revealed and accomplished on his behalf.

Jesus has told us, outright, that we do not need to be afraid, even of those who can kill our bodies. He’s given us His peace as a gift. And so, in this kind of situation, we must walk in the truth. The Apostle John was so glad to hear that the Christians he was writing to were walking in the truth. In fact, he said that he had no greater joy than to hear that.[6]3 John 3-4

Genesis 26:8-11 – 8 When Isaac had been there for some time, Abimelech king of the Philistines looked down from the window and was surprised to see Isaac caressing his wife Rebekah. 9 Abimelech sent for Isaac and said, “So she is really your wife! How could you say, ‘She is my sister’?” Isaac answered him, “Because I thought I might die on account of her.” 10 Then Abimelech said, “What have you done to us? One of the people could easily have slept with your wife, and you would have brought guilt on us.” 11 So Abimelech warned all the people, “Whoever harms this man or his wife will certainly be put to death.”

Isaac would’ve had to get the king’s permission to live in Gerar. In those sort of negotiations it wasn’t unheard of for the man in Isaac’s position to have to give up a woman into a harem.[7]CSB Study Bible Notes Still, we have to conclude that Isaac surrendered to fear. He would’ve known about the two times this same thing had happened with his dad and how the lie never worked and how God had miraculously protected the family. But, we see that even though he was being obedient to stay where God had him, he wasn’t really trusting God in faith.

As a result, Isaac crashed on the rocks of hypocrisy. One of the biggest complaints the world has about Christians is that we’re hypocrites. And sometimes we are! That doesn’t mean we have to be perfect – that’s impossible – but we should note how damaging hypocrisy is to our witness.

One way to avoid hypocrisy is to avoid lies. Don’t lie to others and don’t lie to yourself! Remember: God has led us to a specific place to tent and His desire is that we spread righteousness there. Abimelech says, “you’re bringing guilt to all of us!” And that throws into relief what the servant of God is supposed to be doing in the community – that’s bearing fruit, spreading righteousness. In 1 Thessalonians 5 Paul says, “always pursue what is good for one another and for all.” Isaac fell way short of that when he was provoked by fear.

Genesis 26:12-16 – 12 Isaac sowed seed in that land, and in that year he reaped a hundred times what was sown. The Lord blessed him, 13 and the man became rich and kept getting richer until he was very wealthy. 14 He had flocks of sheep, herds of cattle, and many slaves, and the Philistines were envious of him. 15 Philistines stopped up all the wells that his father’s servants had dug in the days of his father Abraham, filling them with dirt. 16 And Abimelech said to Isaac, “Leave us, for you are much too powerful for us.”

Before we look at the provocation here, pause to enjoy God’s grace. His representative had really blown it, but God isn’t vindictive. He stays yoked with Isaac and still works in his life.

Having come through the provocation of famine and fear, now Isaac will enter a period of life where he is provoked by his foes. In this first wave, the people he had been living among for quite some time have grown jealous of his success, and so they not only push him away, they actually come against him – vandalizing and ruining his water wells.

Wealth brings problems. We all would like to have a little more than we have, but the more we have, the more trouble we’re bound to face. And the problems could become very acute very quickly. The more flocks Isaac had, the more water he would need, right at the time where his access to water was being shut off.

As a side note, we saw how lying doesn’t help you. Here God’s Word shows us that envy doesn’t help you, either. By stopping up these wells and driving Isaac away, these Philistines were hurting their own economy! Don’t let jealousy into your heart. It’s only going to hurt you in the end.

Derek Kidner points out that, in this provocation, Isaac is trapped between a hostile city and a waterless countryside. What would he do? What can we do when friends turn to foes?

Genesis 26:17-22 – 17 So Isaac left there, camped in the Gerar Valley, and lived there. 18 Isaac reopened the wells that had been dug in the days of his father Abraham and that the Philistines had stopped up after Abraham died. He gave them the same names his father had given them. 19 Then Isaac’s servants dug in the valley and found a well of spring water there. 20 But the herdsmen of Gerar quarreled with Isaac’s herdsmen and said, “The water is ours!” So he named the well Esek because they argued with him. 21 Then they dug another well and quarreled over that one also, so he named it Sitnah. 22 He moved from there and dug another, and they did not quarrel over it. He named it Rehoboth and said, “For now the Lord has made space for us, and we will be fruitful in the land.”

Today, Christians are still being driven from their homes in places like Laos[8]https://www.rfa.org/english/news/laos/driven-02232022133231.html and even Israel.[9]https://www.insider.com/israel-systematic-attempt-to-drive-christians-out-of-jerusalem-2021-12 We are not facing that sort of outright persecution. Maybe we will some day. If we do, it won’t be easy, but we can be sure the Lord will be with us. Look at Isaac: He sets up camp in a dried river bed. He’s got hostile enemies actively destroying his access to water. But the Lord’s touch on his life cannot be thwarted. The Lord was with him on the coast, He’s still be with him in the valley.

Isaac did not retaliate, he moved on. Then moved on again. He shows a remarkable level of patience. He had trained fighters. Out in the wild, I’m sure you could make a few herdsman disappear without too much trouble. But Isaac just kept digging. The people around him were unreasonable and unfriendly. He comported himself like a gentleman, giving up some of his rights in order to keep peace.

Generally, we can be at peace with a hostile world. Not always. At some point persecution becomes so serious that God’s people have to take flight. But, in our regular lives, facing foes who are stealing clients from us or cutting in line or making accusations, we’re called to live at peace as far as it is possible for us. We do so by responding to provocation with calm and patience and even generosity toward those who come against us. Bless and do not curse.

Genesis 26:23-25 – 23 From there he went up to Beer-sheba, 24 and the Lord appeared to him that night and said, “I am the God of your father Abraham. Do not be afraid, for I am with you. I will bless you and multiply your offspring because of my servant Abraham.” 25 So he built an altar there, called on the name of the Lord, and pitched his tent there. Isaac’s servants also dug a well there.

As the Lord had spoken His promises multiple times to Abraham, so now He speaks multiple times to Isaac. Sometimes we look back at the book of Acts or historic times of revival and wish God would do things like that again. That’s ok, but through Isaac’s example we see that God’s heart is to speak to us here and now, just as He’s spoken before. He’s not withdrawn. He’s just as excited about you as He was about the Church in Acts. He’s with us and loves us.

The Lord said: “Don’t be afraid.” I imagine Isaac felt pretty vulnerable there in the wilderness, surrounded by people who hated him. But no matter how weak our physical position is, we are safe in the Lord’s hands. We may have our wells destroyed, but nothing can separate us from His love.

In the midst of this provocation, Isaac not only showed patience and meekness, but we see he responded with worship. He built an altar. He called on the name of the Lord. He focused his attention on his faith rather than his foes.

Genesis 26:26-33 – 26 Now Abimelech came to him from Gerar with Ahuzzath his adviser and Phicol the commander of his army. 27 Isaac said to them, “Why have you come to me? You hated me and sent me away from you.” 28 They replied, “We have clearly seen how the Lord has been with you. We think there should be an oath between two parties—between us and you. Let us make a covenant with you: 29 You will not harm us, just as we have not harmed you but have done only what was good to you, sending you away in peace. You are now blessed by the Lord.” 30 So he prepared a banquet for them, and they ate and drank. 31 They got up early in the morning and swore an oath to each other., Isaac sent them on their way, and they left him in peace. 32 On that same day Isaac’s servants came to tell him about the well they had dug, saying to him, “We have found water!” 33 He called it Sheba. Therefore the name of the city is still Beer-sheba, today.

Abimelech claims they had only done good to Isaac, but he knows that isn’t true. He has to admit there is no reason Isaac should be thriving, given all the trouble the Philistines have caused. And yet, it’s clear that God is with him. God wants to make His with-ness clear in your life. In a sense, God wants to magnetize your life, drawing the hard, metally hearts of unbelievers toward you so that they can hear about Who God is and what He’s capable of and how He saves.

Isaac was gracious enough to be trusted by Abimelech, even after being caught in a lie. Isaac was willing to receive his foes. He was willing to endure an offense. He was generous to overlook some issues for the greater good. He doesn’t bring up the wells to Abimelech. That’s one way he was different from his dad. Isaac doesn’t want to harm his enemies, he wants to be at peace with them and even bless them. So he gives them a feast and a place to stay. The fact that Abimelech stayed the night is a testimony to Isaac’s graciousness. The king wasn’t afraid he’d get his throat cut while he slept.

And we note Isaac’s diligence in the face of provocation. He just kept digging wells. There in verses 32 they put another hole in the ground and the Lord meets him there with provision.

So, Isaac is sort of 1.5 for 3 when it comes to dealing with provocation. He’s seen it from famine, from fear, from his foes. But there’s one more: His family.

Genesis 26:34-35 – 34 When Esau was forty years old, he took as his wives Judith daughter of Beeri the Hethite, and Basemath daughter of Elon the Hethite. 35 They made life bitter for Isaac and Rebekah.

It’s hard to believe that Isaac would’ve been negligent about his sons’ wives, especially when you consider the saga about how his dad dealt with getting him a wife. It says Esau “took” his wives, signaling, perhaps, that he refused to be under his dad’s authority on this issue.

The terms used for “making life bitter” can mean these ladies “defied and provoked” Isaac and Rebekah.[10]Robert Alter The Hebrew Bible: A Translation With Commentary In the end, we cannot force our family to do what is right or what is Godly. But, when provoked by family we should remain faithful. As we saw last time, toward the end of his life it seems the Isaac slacked off in spiritual things. He becomes more like Esau and less like Abraham. And it leads to greater family division. We want to follow through in God’s grace and power, doing our part to live out the faith for the good of our families.

Are you being provoked by famines or by fears or by foes or by family? God has equipment for you. Don’t go all Iron Mike on those around you. Instead, be led, be true, be patient, be gracious, be faithful.

Footnotes

Footnotes
1 https://www.sportingnews.com/us/boxing/news/mike-tyson-punch-passenger-airplane/rinx9kursz3jvxmxjtd2oahj
2 https://en.as.com/other_sports/mike-tyson-hits-airplane-passenger-provoking-him-v/
3 1 Corinthians 10:11
4 Bruce Waltke Genesis:A Commentary
5 Proverbs 6:16-19, 12:22
6 3 John 3-4
7 CSB Study Bible Notes
8 https://www.rfa.org/english/news/laos/driven-02232022133231.html
9 https://www.insider.com/israel-systematic-attempt-to-drive-christians-out-of-jerusalem-2021-12
10 Robert Alter The Hebrew Bible: A Translation With Commentary

Turning Red (Genesis 25:19-34)

A legend is told of a man who traveled through southeast China many centuries ago. He kept all his food in a clay jar. When it was time for a meal he would put the jar over a fire and warm what was inside. The jar held a variety of ingredients, but – being near the coast – one night it had shark fins, scallops, abalone and ham, along with a grab bag of other items.


After setting up camp just outside a Buddhist monastery, the man began to warm his meal. The smells wafted up to where the Monks were meditating. Though bound by their religion to live as vegetarians, the delicious smell proved to be too great a temptation for one hungry fellow. He ran from the monastery, jumped over the wall, and asked for a bowl of what has since become a celebrated but controversial delicacy known as Buddha Jumps Over The Wall.[1]https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Buddha_Jumps_Over_the_Wall Back in 2005 you could get a bowl from a restaurant in London, but it would set you back about $200.[2]https://www.campbellsoup.co.uk/blog/world-expensive-soups/

In our text tonight we’ll take a look at the most famous soup in the Bible. There are others: Gideon offers soup to the Lord in Judges 6. In 2 Kings 4 a bunch of prophets get food poisoning from one. But Jacob’s red stew is the signature soup of the Old Testament. It’s why Esau picks up the name ‘Edom,’ which would become the name for an entire nation! Over this soup the course of history changes. Talk about a power lunch!

This soup scandal is the culmination of a family that has drifted into selfishness. Both sons and parents show themselves to be driven by self-centeredness in this text. They’ve drifted away from a spiritual mindset. The result is strife, rivalry, and taking advantage of one another. Meanwhile, God remains faithful. God remains gracious and accessible, showing us His way is the better way: Better for us, better for our families, better for our nation, better for everyone around us and after us.

Genesis 25:19-20 – 19 These are the family records of Isaac son of Abraham. Abraham fathered Isaac. 20 Isaac was forty years old when he took as his wife Rebekah daughter of Bethuel the Aramean from Paddan-aram and sister of Laban the Aramean.

In the passages that follow we’ll get a little more of Isaac’s story, but really the book is pivoting to focus on Jacob now. The truth is, we don’t have a full picture of Isaac. We know the circumstances of his birth. We admire his submission to Abraham in chapter 22. But beyond a few, small pieces, we don’t have a great assessment. Reading between the lines, it seems like his spiritual beginning was better than his end. It’s hard to finish well. Not impossible – not only something a few really special Christians can do. We all can do it, but often we lose pace with the Lord, we drift from our first love, we take up legalism or license or laziness and become slack in our pursuit. It seems that happened to Isaac. We want to be the kind of Christians who guard against that and run hard to the end.

Genesis 25:21 – 21 Isaac prayed to the Lord on behalf of his wife because she was childless. The Lord was receptive to his prayer, and his wife Rebekah conceived.

Isaac was the only patriarch who was monogamous.[3]Bruce Waltke Genesis: A Commentary To his credit, when Rebekah was unable to conceive, Isaac did not make the Hagar mistake. He didn’t say, “Well, God promised me that I would have kids, so I’ll go find someone else.” No, it was clear that the Lord intended Isaac and Rebekah to be together. One commentator calls them “a marriage made in heaven.”[4]ibid. So, rather than try to solve his problem with human planning, Isaac went to the Lord in prayer.

It took 20 years for Rebekah to have kids. This scene raises some questions about God’s work and our prayers. Did Isaac pray for 20 years or did he wait for 20 years and then finally get to praying? If he prayed for 20 years, and God was ‘receptive’ to his prayer, does that mean that God is sometimes withholding of His good work in our lives? Doesn’t Psalm 84 say:

Psalm 84:11 – the Lord God…does not withhold the good from those who live with integrity.

If we’re not getting what we pray for, does that mean we must be failing in some way to do what God wants? After all, God said He planned on Isaac having kids. That was a good thing. So why the hold up? What about those situations you’ve been praying for month after month, year after year?

The Bible is clear that God hears our prayers. 1 Peter 3:12 says His eyes are on us and His ears are open to our prayers. The theological reasons why we do not always get a “yes” to our prayers are, first, that God works according to a specific timeline which takes into account an innumerable combination of particulars that we cannot possibly know. The second theological reason why it often seems like God is ‘withholding’ a good thing from us, even when we pray again and again about it, is because what seems obviously good to us may actually not be good at all!

Consider King Hezekiah of Judah. He got sick. Very sick. Isaiah came to him and said, “You’re going to die.” Hezekiah prayed like he never prayed before that he would be healed. And the Lord gave him 15 more years. During that time, Hezekiah made some terrible, terrible mistakes, which led to the destruction of the nation of Judah. He could’ve spent those years in Paradise. Instead, that which he thought was obviously good was actually the opposite.

We can trust God to do what is right and good, because He cares for us more than we care for ourselves. We can trust His timing, even if we have to pray about something for 20 years.

But, maybe Isaac waited and then, two decades into this thing, he finally prayed about it. Does that mean God acts on whims? That He was just waiting around until someone prayed about Rebekah’s situation? Well, we can’t know for sure what was going on in the Lord’s mind, but, we are reminded of what James said: In some cases, we have not because we ask not. Prayer really matters. Think of those times in the Bible where someone came to Jesus and He said, “What do you want Me to do for you?” Now, I don’t mean to suggest that God has set Himself up as a Genie or a cosmic butler or Someone who exists to do what we want. James goes on to say, “[Sometimes] you ask and don’t receive because your motives are wrong.” At the same time, the Bible shows that prayer matters. One of the shortest verses in the Bible is 1 Thessalonians 5:17. It simply says, “Pray constantly.” Paul goes on to say that is God’s will for you. Because prayer is a significant part of how the Lord matures us and teaches us to walk in faith. It is something we can do which brings our thoughts and our desires and our choices into their proper place, which is in trusting submission to God.

Isaac’s prayer shows us the tender grace of God. The Lord promised to give children to this family, but He waited until Isaac partnered in prayer. God didn’t need to wait. He didn’t need Isaac’s help or approval or interest. But He wanted to include His servant. So, Isaac gets to enjoy spiritual dividends by prayerfully involving himself in the Lord’s work.

Then something unexpected happens:

Genesis 25:22 – 22 But the children inside her struggled with each other, and she said, “Why is this happening to me?” So she went to inquire of the Lord.

They got what they prayed for, but they didn’t expect it to be hard. Rebekah didn’t expect to suffer. Her prayer is a desperate one. She says, “Why me!?!”[5]Robert Alter The Hebrew Bible: A Translation With Commentary She had wanted a pregnancy, but she wanted it a different way. That’s natural. God doesn’t want us to desire suffering. But this verse shows a weakness of our humanity. Even when we get what we want, we often don’t like the way we have it. “God, give me this job.” Then He does, then it’s, “Well, give me a different boss.”

To Rebekah’s credit, in her frustration, she seeks out the Lord. She is looking for God’s perspective on her suffering. And He is faithful to give it. Now, as Believers in the age of grace who have the completed revelation of Scripture, we should have a transformed mentality when it comes to suffering and difficulty. Rather than thinking, “why me,” we want to train ourselves to think, “What God wants, I want.” That way our focus isn’t on suffering, but on following God’s leading in our lives.

Genesis 25:23 – 23 And the Lord said to her: Two nations are in your womb; two peoples will come from you and be separated. One people will be stronger than the other, and the older will serve the younger.

When we seek God, we will find Him. The Lord was ready to reveal answers to Rebekah. He loves to explain Himself and to show us how His work is bigger than the circumstance we’re in. This wasn’t just a pregnancy, something much greater was going on.

Now, this message would’ve been a hard one for a family to deal with. God is demanding that human conventions be tossed out. He’s changing what would’ve been the normal, go-with-the-flow dynamic of parents and sons and brothers. But He’s the One in charge. And they should’ve made it a point to rally together around this prophecy. Instead, it seems like everyone started drifting from the Lord into selfishness, and though the passage starts with parents in prayer, by the time we turn the page, there’s a lot of self-centeredness and dysfunction.

Genesis 25:24 – 24 When her time came to give birth, there were indeed twins in her womb.

As usual, this Bible prophecy was fulfilled literally and actually and physically.

Genesis 25:25-26 – 25 The first one came out red-looking, covered with hair like a fur coat, and they named him Esau. 26 After this, his brother came out grasping Esau’s heel with his hand. So he was named Jacob., Isaac was sixty years old when they were born.

They had a sense of humor in naming the boys. Hairy and Heel![6]Waltke Esau looks like a little animal when he comes out. His name speaks of his carnal nature.[7]Bible Knowledge Commentary He had no interest in spiritual things.

Jacob’s name, on the other hand, has different shades of meaning. It can mean “heel grabber,” or, “the one who trips up.” It can also mean, “May God be your rearguard.”[8]See Bible Knowledge Commentary, Kidner And certainly, we’ll see that God had this man’s back, even though Jacob didn’t deserve it.

Genesis 25:27 – 27 When the boys grew up, Esau became an expert hunter, an outdoorsman, but Jacob was a quiet man who stayed at home.

Based on this description, it seems like these guys ended up being trust-fund kids. Who is tending the flocks? Who is planting the crops? Instead of carrying on that calling, we have Esau hunting game day in and day out, while Jacob dabbles as a chef and stay in the tents. Personality-wise, the boys are presented as opposites. One loved the fields, one loved the finer things. Esau would grow to be a bit wild, Jacob a bit wiley.

Genesis 25:28 – 28 Isaac loved Esau because he had a taste for wild game, but Rebekah loved Jacob.

This is a sad verse. There really aren’t a lot of examples of good parents in the Old Testament. A statement like this should remind us that when Christ comes into our hearts, He transforms who we are and intends to reshape everything about us, including our relationships. He enables us to love the way He loves – unconditionally. There’s no place for this kind of favoritism in a Christian home.

We’re told Isaac loved Esau “because he had a taste for wild game.” The Hebrew says, “For the game in his mouth.”[9]Alter And so we have to conclude that Isaac has become somewhat carnal and materialistic. Even in his favoritism – he doesn’t prefer Esau because of who he is, but because of what he does. If Rebekah’s line was, “Why is this happening to me?” Isaac’s is, “What have you done for me lately?” So we’re seeing these flashes of selfishness in each character.

Bruce Waltke points out that Adam failed in eating, Noah failed in drinking, Isaac failed in tasting. Those moments where God’s people chose to give in to sensual temptation, they really fouled up what should’ve been glorious, spiritual experiences. John, in his first epistle, warns us about the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life and, in the end, says, “Little children, guard yourselves from idols.” When we let those sinful seeds into our minds, they will grow and reroute our thinking and will pervert our relationships and cripple us in our walk with the Lord.

Genesis 25:29-30 – 29 Once when Jacob was cooking a stew, Esau came in from the field exhausted. 30 He said to Jacob, “Let me eat some of that red stuff, because I’m exhausted.” That is why he was also named Edom.

Now let’s think for a minute: Esau comes from the field, but where does he come to? He comes into a home with astounding wealth, tons of servants, no lack of provision. He was worn out, but he could’ve walked into the next room where there was a sack of grain or some raisin cakes. Instead, he saw some soup right in front of him, and that became his focus. Esau was about immediate gratification.

Esau and his descendants and the region where they lived with forever be known as Edom. “Red stuff.” It reminds me of when George Costanza orders a T-bone steak, hoping his coworkers will give him the nickname “T-bone.”

Genesis 25:31 – 31 Jacob replied, “First sell me your birthright.”

Jacob was ready to exploit his brother’s weakness for his own gain. Whenever there’s a natural disaster the news inevitably runs a story about price gougers. Esau just wants what’s in front of him, Jacob has a longer view in mind. He wants that position that he had been fighting for since he was in his mother’s womb. He wanted the birthright, granting him a double portion of the inheritance and the place of honor and leadership in the family. His price tag here is selfish and uncompassionate. After all, his brother is hungry, and he has a full pot of stew.

Had this family submitted to God and trusted in His commands, all this rivalry and posturing and resentment could’ve been avoided. According to God, the birthright already belonged to Jacob. But, clearly, the parents were not moving in that direction. And, though Jacob wanted something that God had said he would ultimately have, he was trying to snatch it up in a fleshly, immoral way.

If we use selfish, worldly methods to try to do God’s work, it’s not God’s work.

Genesis 25:32 – 32 “Look,” said Esau, “I’m about to die, so what good is a birthright to me?”

This is stupid. He’s not about to die. He is simply too selfish to even walk into the next room. Hebrews 12 tells us that it was’t about hunger – but that Esau was a godless, immoral man who cared nothing about the birthright, particularly when it came to the covenant of God that passed through that birthright. Hebrews says, outright, “make sure you don’t live like Esau!” He cared about the single meal in the here and now. What about 10 years from now? What about his family or the generations after him? None of that crossed his mind. Instead, he was all about his belly.

Genesis 25:33-34 – 33 Jacob said, “Swear to me first.” So he swore to Jacob and sold his birthright to him. 34 Then Jacob gave bread and lentil stew to Esau; he ate, drank, got up, and went away. So Esau despised his birthright.

Lunch that day was like a meal at Panera. You get a soup, a sandwich and a drink but spend a lot more than you should have.

Interestingly, we note that Esau didn’t consider his promise to be worth very much. Later on when it’s time to receive the blessing, he still expects to get the firstborn share. He’s a selfish man, driven by physical appetites. God doesn’t matter. His family doesn’t matter. His words don’t matter. He just wanted immediate, physical satisfaction. But living that kind of life never leaves you satisfied.

Now, Jacob did a trashy thing and we’ll spend a bunch of weeks seeing him make mistakes and how the Lord brings him back from spiritual ruin. But, as Derek Kidner comments: “The chapter does not [close with] ‘So Jacob supplanted his brother,’ but ‘So Esau despised his birthright.’” This was a significant historical moment. It was a major turning point for this family and for the drama of redemption. Jacob’s price gouging is not so wicked as Esau’s contempt of covenant.

But when we look at these verses, we have to conclude that selfishness has infected this family. Rebekah says, “Why me?” Isaac says, “What have you got for me?” Jacob says, “Why wait for what God has promised?” Esau says, “What good is a birthright?” Everyone is thinking about self and it leads them down these sad roads where parents are preferring one kid over another, where brothers are taking advantage of each other, where individuals aren’t thinking at all about how their choices might impact their families and futures. So, the great “family of faith,” at this point in time, is defined by individualism.

Had this family paused and remembered the Lord, remembered His will and His ways and His revelation, remembered to worship, they would’ve known the satisfaction they each wanted. Their suffering would’ve been put in perspective. Their waiting would’ve had purpose. Their relationships would’ve been healthy and fruitful. And, in the end, they would not be a family torn apart but one thriving in the grace of God.

What happened? Well, they drifted into selfishness. They didn’t think it was necessary to pay attention to what God had said and then orient their lives around it. They started to prize temporal gratification over spiritual growth. The Bible tells us – plainly – don’t go that way. Don’t jump over the borders of God’s leading to get your hands on some soup. It’s not worth the cost.

Footnotes

Footnotes
1 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Buddha_Jumps_Over_the_Wall
2 https://www.campbellsoup.co.uk/blog/world-expensive-soups/
3 Bruce Waltke Genesis: A Commentary
4 ibid.
5 Robert Alter The Hebrew Bible: A Translation With Commentary
6 Waltke
7 Bible Knowledge Commentary
8 See Bible Knowledge Commentary, Kidner
9 Alter

No One’s Ever Really Gone (Genesis 25:1-18)

In The Last Jedi, the Skywalkers and company deal with passing the torch from the older generation, who are dying off, to the younger, amidst significant family drama. In the movie, Luke Skywalker famously says, “No one’s ever really gone.” That may have been a screenwriter’s attempt at being profound, or it may simply be that Disney wants to be able to bring back any marketable character when necessary.

Our text tonight catalogs the death of two characters and the passing of the torch to the next generation. Of course, we Christians already know that death is not the end. That is a truth that secular science is once again starting to admit. Recently the Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences published a piece examining rarely-studied phenomena at the time of physical death.[1]https://nyaspubs.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/nyas.14740

Though clinical death is marked as the moment the heart stops beating, brain signals continue for a time after cardiac arrest.[2]https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/when-are-we-really-dead-new-study-sheds-light?c=444988160808#Accidental-discovery “Researchers found the presence of gamma activity and electrical spikes when people are technically dying. This is typically a sign of a heightened state of consciousness.”[3]https://www.braintomorrow.com/2022/04/08/near-death-brain-activity/ The lead author of the piece writes, “The advent of [CPR] showed us that death is not an absolute state.”

The Bible reveals that death is not an absolute state. It is a passageway from this life to the next – the ultimate life, where we are gathered together among one of two groups. Tonight, Abraham and Ishmael are both “gathered” into the afterlife, while the family lives on and God’s work continues.

Genesis 25:1 – Abraham had taken another wife, whose name was Keturah,

Who is Keturah and where did she come from? When did she and Abraham get together? We’re not told any of these details. Scholars fight it out over whether she came on the scene before Sarah died or after, and over whether Abraham should’ve been in a relationship with her or not. But the text does not comment on it. Apparently it’s not important for us to know, or perhaps it’s simply better for us to meditate on the situation and have the Lord speak to us through it.

Should Paul have allowed John Mark to go with him on another missionary journey or should Barnabas not have invited him? The Holy Spirit doesn’t take a side in the text, so we assume that there are things we can learn from either perspective. In a similar way, the Bible doesn’t endorse or condemn Abraham’s relationship with Keturah. It simply gives us something to think about.

Genesis 25:2-4 – 2 and she bore him Zimran, Jokshan, Medan, Midian, Ishbak, and Shuah. 3 Jokshan fathered Sheba and Dedan. Dedan’s sons were the Asshurim, Letushim, and Leummim. 4 And Midian’s sons were Ephah, Epher, Hanoch, Abida, and Eldaah. All these were sons of Keturah.

A few of the names are recognizable – Midian, as well as Sheba and Dedan who show up especially in the book of Ezekiel. Asshurim here is not the Assyrians we meet later in the Old Testament.

There are 16 descendants listed. And in them we see a literal fulfillment of some of the promises God had made to Abraham. He had told Abraham that He would multiply him greatly and that many nations would come from Abraham.[4]Genesis 17:2, 5 That has been proven true. In fact, in this passage we see at leasts 6 specific promises that were truly and literally fulfilled for Abraham. There are the promise of multiplication and many nations, but also that Abraham would live to old age,[5]Genesis 15:15 that even though he would produce many nations, his truest offspring would be traced through Isaac,[6]Genesis 21:12 that Isaac would be his heir,[7]Genesis 15:4 that Ishmael would produce 12 tribal leaders,[8]Genesis 17:20 and that Ishmael would settle near his relatives.[9]Genesis 16:2 All these promises were specifically made and particularly fulfilled.

God really keeps His promises! Not halfway. He doesn’t move the goal posts. He never fakes us out. He keeps all He has promised for this world, for Israel, for you, and for me.

Keturah’s descendants settled in places we identify today as Arabia and Syria.[10]See Waltke, Kidner And some of them would have dealings with the children of Israel, generally acting in hostility toward them.

Genesis 25:5-6 – 5 Abraham gave everything he owned to Isaac. 6 But Abraham gave gifts to the sons of his concubines, and while he was still alive he sent them eastward, away from his son Isaac, to the land of the East.

In verse 1 Keturah is called a wife, but her legal status was that of a concubine, which means her offspring would not have any right to inheritance.[11]Genesis 25:6, 1 Chronicles 1:32 We feel weird about that, but our modern view on family is different than it was in previous generations, really up to even the recent past.

For example: I was surprised to learn that until 1969 in Germany, children born out of wedlock weren’t even legally considered to be related to their father. As far as the law was concerned, they had a right to sustenance, but not to inheritance.[12]Josué J. Justel The Rights Of A Concubine’s Descendants In The Ancient Near East

Now, admittedly, in the Old Testament we are heartbroken when we see parents playing favorites with their kids. Isaac loved Esau, but Rebekah loved Jacob. It’s not a good thing in light of how God has taught us to love now that Christ has come and given us a new perspective on what it means to be a loving human being – what it means to be a spouse and a parent and a new creation in Christ.

At the same time, we recognize that the Old Testament is the story of God’s faithfulness to deliver the Messiah. There’s a lot more to learn, but that is the great theme of the Bible: God reconciling man to Himself by sending His Son. He did so through a specific nation which came from a specific family which bottlenecked down to one guy from time to time. Abraham was one guy. Isaac was one guy. And our enemy the Devil has wanted to derail the work of God from the beginning. Throughout the centuries, there has been a concerted effort to destroy that one, specific family through whom the Lord would bring the Messiah. And so, it was important that Isaac be protected and preserved. These other sons might threaten Isaac or be incentivized to attack him.

Now, on a devotional level, this sending away of Keturah’s sons gives us at least four things to think about. First, we are reminded that God the Father does not owe us anything. These sons had no claim on anything that belonged to Abraham. And that would not have been a surprise to them.

You and I deserve nothing from God but to be sent away from His presence. In fact, that leads us to our second devotional thought: In the end, there are those who seem like they are children of God, but the Lord will ultimately say to them, “I never knew you, depart from Me, you lawbreakers.”[13]Matthew 7:21-24 Many will play the part, but in reality are not members of the new covenant given by Jesus. Just as these sons of Keturah were not covenant sons and so were sent away, so too, those who do not do the will of the Father in heaven will be sent away from the Kingdom, denied heaven’s inheritance.

But, that leads us to the third devotional thought: Consider what God has done for sinners. We were like the these sons. We have no right to heaven. We should be sent far from the presence of the Father because only the true Son of Promise deserves the glory. But, God, in His grace, has adopted us. He redeemed us and adopted us by His good pleasure![14]Galatians 4:5, Ephesians 1:5 You see, in the ancient world, when a father adopted a son he had with a slave or a concubine, then they were legitimized and made heirs of the household. Then they were made citizens of the city and given access to those things they had no right to claim for themselves.[15]Justel No longer were they slaves, no longer were they outcasts, they were now family members who enjoyed inheritance. This is what God has done through us, not in spite of His only begotten Son, but with full participation with the Son.

And the fourth devotional thought here: God gives us everything but still has more to give. I love how it’s phrased: Abraham gave everything he owned to Isaac and he still gave gifts to these other sons. God’s supplies of grace and peace and wisdom and help cannot be exhausted. He gives to the full and then keeps giving. He gives us everything that is required for life and godliness and we can continually supplement our faith day by day with the more that He gives.

Genesis 25:7 – 7 This is the length of Abraham’s life: 175 years.

I was thinking about these long lifespans in the Old Testament. Young earth creationists give the earth an age of about 6,000 years.[16]https://answersingenesis.org/age-of-the-earth/how-old-is-the-earth/ Abraham lived for 3% of that time. Adam lived for 15% of the entire history of earth!

We tend to think God is taking too much time to accomplish His promises. But the days of our lives really are a vapor in comparison to the unending span of eternity. Paul tenderly reminds us that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is going to be revealed to us.[17]Romans 8:18 God is not slow or slack, He’s right on time.

When Abraham died, Isaac was 75 and his twin boys (Jacob and Esau) were 15.

Genesis 25:8 – 8 He took his last breath and died at a good old age, old and contented, and he was gathered to his people.

Sometimes we talk about a person going out “in a blaze of glory.” Abraham went out in a blaze of contentment. Your version may simply say “full” with ‘of years’ in italics, meaning that was added by translators. What made his life full and contented? It was the Lord! Because Abraham walked with God and kept his heart near to the Lord, God was able to bring great things to Abraham’s life and through his life. In chapter 24, Moses wrote that the Lord had blessed him in every way. Even unbelievers looked at his life and said, “God is obviously with you, helping you in everything you do.”[18]Genesis 21:22 That’s what gave a vulnerable nomad peace in an unpredictable world. He made mistakes, he made miscalculations, but he walked with God, and God led him to fullness and contentment.

Commentators point out an important theological idea in this verse. Abraham was not buried with his ancestors – only Sarah was in that tomb – so “gathered to his people” means there is a life after this one. Abraham took one last breath in 2,000 B.C., Canaan and woke in eternity. Awaiting him were Adam and Noah and Abel, the very first inhabitant in that abode we call Hades. It must have been an interesting moment, because that place where Abraham went was named after him! Sometimes when people die we name auditoriums or hospital wings or stretches of freeway in their honor. Abraham got down to Paradise and someone would’ve told him, “Welcome to Abraham’s bosom! Let us show you around!”

It speaks to us of how much care God takes to prepare a place for us. You and I may not have a chamber named after us in eternity, but on the other hand, we might! God does not love and reward us generically. He has a deep, personal, individualized affection for us. In Revelation 21 we’re told that the names of the Apostles are written on the foundations of the city walls in the New Jerusalem. We need to not think less of God’s love for us and His future plans for us.

Genesis 25:9-10 – 9 His sons Isaac and Ishmael buried him in the cave of Machpelah near Mamre, in the field of Ephron son of Zohar the Hethite. 10 This was the field that Abraham bought from the Hethites. Abraham was buried there with his wife Sarah.

I wish we knew more about this dynamic. At age 89, Ishmael, the exile, returns to join with Isaac in burying their dad. The other sons do not seem to be there. By this point, Ishmael was an established clan leader. Perhaps he arrived with an entourage, whereas Isaac had only a wife and two teenage boys who don’t get along very well.

Genesis 25:11 – 11 After Abraham’s death, God blessed his son Isaac, who lived near Beer-lahai-roi.

After Abraham’s death, I’m guessing Isaac felt a little exposed. From one perspective he was weakest among the brothers. The ‘second son’ who usurped the firstborn. He was no archer, he had never battled against Chedorlaomer. He had no face-to-face meals with the Angel of the Lord. But we don’t have to worry about building ourselves. Instead we walk with the Lord and He strengthens us and blesses us in whatever ways He knows we need.

Genesis 25:12 – 12 These are the family records of Abraham’s son Ishmael, whom Hagar the Egyptian, Sarah’s slave, bore to Abraham.

We’re reminded of several things here. First, that Ishmael was not who God had appointed for His purposes. Ishmael represents for us the work of the flesh – man’s scheme to do God’s work for Him.

Second, we’re reminded that even though he was the son of the slave, God had not failed to reach out to him. God involved Himself in Ishmael’s life. He saved his life there in the desert. He did not reserve grace only for Isaac, but showered it on Ishmael as well.

There is common grace God pours out on all people. Jesus said, “God causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.” God is a God of unfailing grace and goodness, even to the undeserving. That doesn’t mean everyone receives His saving grace – that is received through faith in Jesus. But God shows kindness to unbelievers as well.

Genesis 25:13-16 – 13 These are the names of Ishmael’s sons; their names according to the family records are Nebaioth, Ishmael’s firstborn, then Kedar, Adbeel, Mibsam, 14 Mishma, Dumah, Massa, 15 Hadad, Tema, Jetur, Naphish, and Kedemah. 16 These are Ishmael’s sons, and these are their names by their settlements and encampments: twelve leaders, of their clans.

The prophecy that Ishmael would father 12 tribal leaders was literally fulfilled. God is in charge of the flow of human history, the rise and fall of clans and kingdoms. That does not negate free will, but God knows and, in many cases, has reported to us future history. His will cannot fail.

Genesis 25:17-18 – 17 This is the length of Ishmael’s life: 137 years. He took his last breath and died, and was gathered to his people. 18 And they settled from Havilah to Shur, which is opposite Egypt as you go toward Asshur. He stayed near all his relatives.

Will we see Ishmael in eternity? I’m not sure. It causes us to think about where we will be gathered when we pass from this life to the next. There are only two peoples we can be gathered to: The saved and the lost. It gives our lives great purpose to consider where we’re headed and how we want to be received when we get there. Do we want to be saved “as through fire?” No. We want that fullness of contentment and reward that God wants for us. We want to finish well, the way Abraham finished well.

We seem to live in a time when many Christians are not finishing well, at least not many prominent Christians. It’s not necessarily an easy thing to do, but it should be a natural development as we walk with the Lord. Or, really I should say, it should be the expected supernatural culmination of our lives as we follow the Lord and submit to His guidance and commands.

When we go the way of Abraham, we can take great comfort in the facts that life greater than we’ve ever known is waiting for us on the other side and that we can trust God to care for those loved ones we leave behind. He always got more to give to us, He keeps His promises, He will lead us home at gather us into glory at just the right time.

Footnotes

Footnotes
1 https://nyaspubs.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/nyas.14740
2 https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/when-are-we-really-dead-new-study-sheds-light?c=444988160808#Accidental-discovery
3 https://www.braintomorrow.com/2022/04/08/near-death-brain-activity/
4 Genesis 17:2, 5
5 Genesis 15:15
6 Genesis 21:12
7 Genesis 15:4
8 Genesis 17:20
9 Genesis 16:2
10 See Waltke, Kidner
11 Genesis 25:6, 1 Chronicles 1:32
12 Josué J. Justel The Rights Of A Concubine’s Descendants In The Ancient Near East
13 Matthew 7:21-24
14 Galatians 4:5, Ephesians 1:5
15 Justel
16 https://answersingenesis.org/age-of-the-earth/how-old-is-the-earth/
17 Romans 8:18
18 Genesis 21:22

The Runaway Bride (Genesis 24:1-28)

Every year, around 10,000 mail-order bride marriages occur in the United States.[1]https://healthresearchfunding.org/17-incredible-mail-order-brides-statistics/ Maybe, like me, you didn’t know that in 2005 the US instituted the International Marriage Broker Regulation Act. One news article trying to put a positive spin on this practice wrote, “The idea that men are buying women and the women have no say and no free will is not true. The mail order brides are very much in control – or at least, they should know what they’re doing.”[2]https://www.wytv.com/news/daybreak/mail-order-brides-are-a-real-thing/ Not very reassuring.

Genesis 24 gives us the longest, single episode in this book.[3]Bruce Waltke Genesis: A Commentary It tells the saga of Abraham’s servant leaving Canaan to find a wife for Isaac. As we go with him, we’re swept away in a story about God’s fabulous providence, human faith, and the hard tensions we face when seeking the will of God.

Genesis 24:1 – Abraham was now old, getting on in years,, and the Lord had blessed him in everything.

What does it mean to be blessed? At 140, Abraham was wealthy – he had a great house with servants and riches and flocks and all that – but the best blessings of his life were spiritual. He was the friend of God. Being blessed didn’t mean that Abraham continually got more of everything. After all, he still only had one son and he didn’t own any of the land other than a single field and tomb. God’s blessing for us isn’t necessarily more stuff. Psalm 1 describes a blessed life as one that is continually growing in understanding of the Lord and His ways – one full of heavenly success.

Genesis 24:2-4 – 2 Abraham said to his servant, the elder of his household who managed all he owned, “Place your hand under my thigh, 3 and I will have you swear by the Lord, God of heaven and God of earth, that you will not take a wife for my son from the daughters of the Canaanites among whom I live, 4 but will go to my land and my family to take a wife for my son Isaac.”

In this text, the focus is on this nameless servant, sent out by the father to do his duty on behalf of the son. He is a wonderful type for us of our own service to the Lord. He’s a fantastic example of how to serve faithfully, expectantly, prayerfully, and effectively, while also having to navigate real-life tensions we face in the exercise of Christian faith.

It’s essential to Abraham that Isaac not marry a Canaanite woman. Once again Genesis gives a subtle teaching on Biblical marriage: Don’t marry outside the family. Of course, we’re applying these examples on the spiritual level. In First Corinthians Paul says, “[a woman] is free to be married to anyone she wants – only in the Lord,”[4]1 Corinthians 7:39 meaning only a born again Christian. You single people looking for a spouse, stay within the spiritual family of Christians, don’t settle for a Canaanite. It won’t go well for you.

We notice two things about this commission Abraham gives his servant. First, the master invests a great deal of authority in him. He lets the servant act as his agent, going in his name, on a very significant quest. We’ve, too, have been given great authority to go in the name of the Lord and do His will. You may feel unqualified, you may have a lot of questions, like this servant did, but the Master is confident that you are adequate to do what He has asked you to do. And He provides guidance and principles to direct you in your efforts.

Second, this commission would be a long haul. The servant would be traveling over 450 miles,[5]Bible Knowledge Commentary down new roads with lots of uncertainty along the way. The Christian life can be described the same. It’s a long road, but the Master knows the way, He knows where we’re headed and so we have to follow His guidance in order to get where we need to go.

Genesis 24:5 – 5 The servant said to him, “Suppose the woman is unwilling to follow me to this land? Should I have your son go back to the land you came from?”

One of the things I enjoy about this servant is that he’s a regular guy with honest questions. He’s not cynical, but he’s also not unrealistic about what might happen. He’s thoughtfully working through the situation. But he’s also full of faith. He believes in the quest. He believes God will go before him. He believes God answers prayer and directs and will provide. Even here we see his faith. He calls this mystery bride “the woman.” He believes there is a specific woman whom God has prepared for Isaac and one that he (the servant) will be able to identify.

But he also acknowledges that human beings are free to choose. “What if she is unwilling?” She might say no to his offer, just as those we go out to fetch into God’s Kingdom might say no to us.

Genesis 24:6 – 6 Abraham answered him, “Make sure that you don’t take my son back there.

Another translation puts it this way: “Watch yourself!”[6]Robert Alter The Hebrew Bible: A Translation With Commentary Abraham is very serious about Isaac not leaving the promised land.

We need to think about what God prioritizes in our lives. Those priorities will often not be in the same order that we naturally place things. For example: Does God prioritize your school district over which church He wants you to be a part of? Which is more important to Him: Your neighborhood or your workplace? I can’t answer that for you, because those answers will vary from person to person and I’m not the Holy Spirit. But, we see that, in this case, it would be better for Isaac to not have a wife than to leave the promised land to get one. God has priorities for you. And you are responsible to discover what they are.

Genesis 24:7-8 – 7 The Lord, the God of heaven, who took me from my father’s house and from my native land, who spoke to me and swore to me, ‘I will give this land to your offspring’—he will send his angel before you, and you can take a wife for my son from there. 8 If the woman is unwilling to follow you, then you are free from this oath to me, but don’t let my son go back there.”

It’s clear Abraham believes in God’s providence, but does not believe in what is called “meticulous determinism.” God is not forcing humans to do the things they do. We are free moral agents and God is so sovereign and so powerful that He is able to both do His will and allow for us to choose. To those determinists who say our view of free will limits the sovereignty of God, we would answer, that they limit the power of God, not to mention the goodness, justice, and mercy of God.

There is wonderful comfort in verse 7. When God calls us into service, He goes before us. That’s why it’s so important that we concern ourselves with where He’s leading us individually. Abraham had lots of servants. Only a few were meant to be about this particular business.

Christians today have endless opportunities and ideas of how we might serve God. That’s great. But what’s good is for us to go where He’s sent us, where He’s leading us. We see this very clearly in Acts. Paul and friends try very hard to get into Asia, which is a great idea, except it’s not what God wanted these guys to be doing. Instead, He’s wanted them in Greece, where the Lord had gone before them to accomplish a specific and timely work. Paul was Godly enough to do what the Lord wanted instead of what he wanted and the result is that the Gospel was brought to Europe.

In verse 7 we have a gentle reminder of God’s gracious work in our lives. He brought us out of the household of sin and into the Kingdom of Promise. He’s the God who speaks to us and swears to us by His love. And now He sends us back into the world to invite others out, that they might be brought into the household of faith, too.

Genesis 24:9 – 9 So the servant placed his hand under his master Abraham’s thigh and swore an oath to him concerning this matter.

There was a lot of tension here. The servant has a great responsibility. The trip would be challenging. They had big expectations, but, in the end, they recognize that the woman might refuse to join the family. Along the way there would be many unknowns. So, the servant would need to stay focused and alert and keep his master’s directions in mind.

Maybe the servant found himself thinking, “This is never going to work. This is impossible.” It probably felt that way at certain points. We feel that way sometimes as we try to follow the Lord and obey our duties in the Christian life. In those moments remember that God goes before us and remember that God rewards those who seek Him, He will make your paths straight, and everything is possible for the one who believes.[7]Hebrews 11:6, Proverbs 3:5-6, Mark 9:23

Genesis 24:10 – 10 The servant took ten of his master’s camels, and with all kinds of his master’s goods in hand, he went to Aram-naharaim, to Nahor’s town.

Your translation may say he took, “all his master’s goods,” but what is meant was all sorts. It could be read this way, “Every good thing of his master was in his hand.”[8]NET Study Bible NotesNET Study Bible Notes God has not only sent us out in His name and with great authority, He sends us out with unyielding heavenly supplies. You and I have all kinds of our Master’s goods, not to be hoarded, but used and delivered to others.

Genesis 24:11 – 11 At evening, the time when women went out to draw water, he made the camels kneel beside a well outside the town.

The servant was practical. The goal was to find a wife, so he went where women would be found. Practicality doesn’t make us less faith-filled. Being Spirit-led doesn’t mean we’re not thoughtful and that we’re just weirdly mystical all the time. But, neither should we try to manufacture ministry and then claim God did it. What does the servant do? The entourage finally makes it to where they want to go and then he says, “Now we wait.” I think it may have been a comical scene trying to hold back 10 thirsty camels from drinking when they’re at a well. But he wants to be in step with God’s providence, not getting out ahead, and so they wait.

Genesis 24:12-14 – 12 “Lord, God of my master Abraham,” he prayed, “make this happen for me today, and show kindness to my master Abraham. 13 I am standing here at the spring where the daughters of the men of the town are coming out to draw water. 14 Let the girl to whom I say, ‘Please lower your water jug so that I may drink,’ and who responds, ‘Drink, and I’ll water your camels also’—let her be the one you have appointed for your servant Isaac. By this I will know that you have shown kindness to my master.”

Should we pray this way? We see this passage as a type of how we’re to serve the Lord. We see these great principles working themselves out through this faithful man. We admire his reliance on God. And, I’ve suggested that God wants to specifically direct us in our real life choices – things like spouses and where to live and ministries to be a part of. So, should we mimic this style of prayer, asking for tangible proof of what God wants us to choose?

Jesus said, “an evil generation demands a sign.” He said it right after saying “blessed are those who hear the word of God and keep it.”[9]Luke 11:28-29 Now, Jesus was speaking specifically to those who didn’t want to believe He was the Messiah – which He obviously was – but He demonstrates a difference between those who have the Word of God to refer to and those who don’t. Abraham’s servant didn’t have the Bible or the indwelling Holy Spirit, Who is given to us as a Counsellor and a Teacher, and convicts us of right and wrong and Who reveals the things of God to us.[10]1 Corinthians 2:9-10

We have these powerful sources of direction which inform our decision-making. But, when choosing between two ‘goods’ – “should I go preach the Gospel in Asia or Macedonia?” – then we’re to go to the Word of God, seek the Spirit of God, and go to prayer, not asking God to jump through hoops but asking Him to give us peace.[11]Philippians 4:6-7 As we choose to love God and honor Him and listen to what He has said, He is then able to conform us and give us the mind of Christ, and we become fuller and fuller with the knowledge of His will, which then gives us all we need to make heavenly decisions that align with God’s desires.

The focus of the servant’s prayer was not, “Lord, let me off the hook and make it easy for me.” It was, “God, I want to do what I’ve been called to do. I’m unable to do it in my own power, so I trust You to be with me and do this great thing to bless my master, his son, and his future bride. Help me that I might be a profitable servant.”

Notice what he prays: Not, “God, bring me the most beautiful woman.” He prays, “Lord, bring me a lady who is full of kindness and compassion – a lady who is willing to serve and bless those around her.” This bride would need to be ready for a strange life, based on faith and service and others.

Genesis 24:15-16 – 15 Before he had finished speaking, there was Rebekah—daughter of Bethuel son of Milcah, the wife of Abraham’s brother Nahor—coming with a jug on her shoulder. 16 Now the girl was very beautiful, a virgin—no man had been intimate with her. She went down to the spring, filled her jug, and came up.

In this case, God’s providence worked out with millisecond precision. Before he finished praying, there she was. That’s incredible! At other points, God’s providence can be put on hold for decades or centuries. His providential work for the nation of Israel is currently on hold, for example. But it will also be accomplished down to the specific day during the time of Jacob’s trouble.

So why pray at all when God’s providence can work this well? Well, the Lord uses human agents to accomplish much of His will. Without prayer, Rebekah would’ve seemed like every other woman at the well. As we seek the Lord, He’s able to reveal His movements and these opportunities that He is working out. God has, in His infinite wisdom, decided to include us in the things that He does. We see that interplay here. This incredible, miraculous providence is happening in conjunction with a willing servant who took the long trip and made himself available.

Genesis 24:17 – 17 Then the servant ran to meet her and said, “Please let me have a little water from your jug.”

Now, this would’ve been an interesting scene. Because he’s well-stocked for a long trip. He would’ve had water and skins to drink from. They would’ve had all their gear to tend the camels. And Rebekah would’ve seen it. Yet, here he is asking for a drink.

Genesis 24:18 – 18 She replied, “Drink, my lord.” She quickly lowered her jug to her hand and gave him a drink.

Now, he was waiting for her to offer about the camels. But at first, no such offer comes. One commentator points out there is a moment full of pressure.[12]See Alter I wonder, how long did he drink?

Genesis 24:19-20 – 19 When she had finished giving him a drink, she said, “I’ll also draw water for your camels until they have had enough to drink.” 20 She quickly emptied her jug into the trough and hurried to the well again to draw water. She drew water for all his camels

Scholars estimate this likely would’ve been hundreds of gallons of water. Rebekah is bringing back and forth 2,500 pounds from the well to the trough.[13]CSB Study Bible Notes And, remember, she does it all while other servants are just standing around! What a heart she has! Both she and Abraham’s servant give us such great examples of how to honor God in our service with hearts full of faith and humility.

Genesis 24:21 – 21 while the man silently watched her to see whether or not the Lord had made his journey a success.

Wasn’t that obvious? After all, she did the thing he asked for, right? But he still wanted to make sure that it was all in line with what his master had said. She still had to be one of Abraham’s family. The sign had to fit the command. This guy is just a great example of how to balance faith and fidelity to the Word and seeking the Lord and moving forward with thoughtfulness and expectation.

Verse 21 also reminds us that it is the Lord who makes our work a success, not us.

Genesis 24:22-23 – 22 As the camels finished drinking, the man took a gold ring weighing half a shekel, and for her wrists two bracelets weighing ten shekels of gold. 23 “Whose daughter are you?” he asked. “Please tell me, is there room in your father’s house for us to spend the night?”

This is quite a tip for her service – it’d be worth at leasts $7,500 today. Recently, a group of businessmen went to a restaurant planning to each give their waitress a $100 tip. They ended up giving their server $2,200 in gratuity. Great story. Except, then the restaurant fired her for not giving the tip to be pooled among all the wait staff.[14]https://www.nbcnews.com/think/opinion/arkansas-waitress-fired-after-4-400-tip-shows-why-tipping-ncna1286076

Abraham’s servant was very generous, even if Rebekah wasn’t the lady he was hoping for.

Genesis 24:24-25 – 24 She answered him, “I am the daughter of Bethuel son of Milcah, whom she bore to Nahor.” 25 She also said to him, “We have plenty of straw and feed and a place to spend the night.”

What a remarkable lady Rebekah is. She immediately extends hospitality and provision to them. She doesn’t wait for someone else to offer it, she’s ready to welcome these guys. Between her and the other servant we see absolutely no stinginess or covetousness, just warmth and generosity.

Genesis 24:26-27 – 26 Then the man knelt low, worshiped the Lord, 27 and said, “Blessed be the Lord, the God of my master Abraham, who has not withheld his kindness and faithfulness from my master. As for me, the Lord has led me on the journey to the house of my master’s relatives.”

Our God does not withhold kindness from those who walk with Him. Looking back, Abraham’s servant recognized the incredible providence of God. The tensions of how would he find her and would she say yes and how could it happen were all real, but all dealt with by God’s ability. And so, through this story we see that God can be absolutely trusted to lead you right where you need to go in life. He knows what we need, He knows what is best, He know all the things we can’t possibly know, and His great desire is to include us in His work. As we seek Him and His Kingdom, all these things will be provided for us. God delights to give us His Kingdom. Our part is to be ready for service – to focus our attention on the Word which directs us, to fill our hearts with faith, knowing the Lord has gone before us and wants us to experience His providence, and expect Him to be engaging in our lives in all sorts of ways.

What a mind-blowing series of events this all was. And then…

Genesis 24:28 – 28 The girl ran and told her mother’s household about these things.

Wait! Where are you going? She ran away! This is hilarious. She becomes the original runaway bride. What must the servant be thinking? He’s left at well while Cinderella disappears into the night. For now, we end on the cliffhanger.

You can never tell what might happen next in life, but we know the Lord is with us. So, we can have joy, even when things are out of our control. Our part is to be ready, to serve, to seek the Lord, and to surrender our paths to Him.

Footnotes

Footnotes
1 https://healthresearchfunding.org/17-incredible-mail-order-brides-statistics/
2 https://www.wytv.com/news/daybreak/mail-order-brides-are-a-real-thing/
3 Bruce Waltke Genesis: A Commentary
4 1 Corinthians 7:39
5 Bible Knowledge Commentary
6 Robert Alter The Hebrew Bible: A Translation With Commentary
7 Hebrews 11:6, Proverbs 3:5-6, Mark 9:23
8 NET Study Bible NotesNET Study Bible Notes
9 Luke 11:28-29
10 1 Corinthians 2:9-10
11 Philippians 4:6-7
12 See Alter
13 CSB Study Bible Notes
14 https://www.nbcnews.com/think/opinion/arkansas-waitress-fired-after-4-400-tip-shows-why-tipping-ncna1286076

Promises Made, Pilgrimage Kept (Genesis 22:20-23:20)

We don’t believe politicians’ promises, but we vote for them anyway. It may surprise you to learn that research over the last 50 years has found that, on average, U.S. presidents have kept 67% of their promises. Presidential promise keeping has gone as high as 80% and never below 50% since 1912.[1]https://fivethirtyeight.com/features/trust-us-politicians-keep-most-of-their-promises/ Still, we’re not satisfied. We usually give our presidents just 100 days to get things done. For some reason, 100 days is always a key marker for an administration, at which point there is a flurry of news reporting on whether they made good on all those campaign speeches. Did they do what they promised they would do after we so generously gave them an entire 14 weeks to do it?

God made astounding promises to Abraham. We find ourselves not 100 days into this man’s story, but more than 100 years! We expect to see some progress made on those more-decendants-than-the-stars-in-the-sky, and owning-all-the-land-of-Canaan promises made so long ago. Instead, we see a different picture. We see Sarah dead, having only delivered one baby. We see Abraham shelling out just to have a place to bury her. Taking stock of all of this, we’re reminded Hebrews:

Hebrews 11:39 – 39 All these [believers like Abraham] were approved through their faith, but they did not receive what was promised.

Wait a minute! I thought God kept His promises? Is this all just an empty hope? When we face the hardest parts of life, what does it mean to hold on to our beliefs? Let’s see what Abraham has to teach us about the Christian faith when it seems like God has forgotten His promises.

Genesis 22:20-23 – 20 Now after these things Abraham was told, “Milcah also has borne sons to your brother Nahor: 21 Uz his firstborn, his brother Buz, Kemuel the father of Aram, 22 Chesed, Hazo, Pildash, Jidlaph, and Bethuel.” 23 And Bethuel fathered Rebekah. Milcah bore these eight to Nahor, Abraham’s brother. 24 His concubine, whose name was Reumah, also bore Tebah, Gaham, Tahash, and Maacah.

We learn that Abraham kept in touch with his Mesopotamian family. God had called him out and they left, but they still had some contact. We’re told about his nephews and niece because this is where Isaac is going to get his wife. You probably noticed one name in the group – Rebekah.

Let’s consider the real-life emotion they might have felt. The extended family had become quite large: Twelve sons and probably many daughters, though Moses only mentions one. Abraham would need to write an update of his own. What would he have to say? The great man of faith, the great friend of God, the “father of nations,” had one kid. Well, two, but we don’t talk about Bruno…

There’s a scene in Nora Ephron’s beloved movie Julie & Julia, where Julia Child receives word that her newlywed sister is pregnant. Julia had longed for a baby but was unable. And so, Julia breaks down in heart-broken tears and says, “I’m so happy.” She was, but it was a hard piece of news to receive. There was an ache inside. Abraham and Sarah were real people who felt things.

There’s something else here for us. Sharp-eyed Bible commentators have noticed that we see 12 sons born to this other family – 8 from the wife, 4 from the concubine. The same thing will happen with Jacob. 12 tribes from 12 sons. 8 born from the wives, 4 from the concubines. Ishmael, we’re told, would also produce 12 sons and 12 tribes.[2]Genesis 25:12-16

There is always a counterfeit alternative to the work of God. It will culminate in the final Antichrist. But along the way, there is so often this sort of mirror option where it looks like the real thing, but is a God-rejecting, man-centered alternative. John tells us to watch out for these counterfeits, these antichrists, many of which are in the world today and even work to infiltrate the church.[3]1 John 2:18-23, 4:1-3

One more thing: We find another subtle reminder about God’s plan for marriage. God doesn’t call everyone to be married, most but not all. For those who are being led to marriage, Genesis again presents the idea that God has a specific person prepared and in mind for you. Eve was made for Adam. Rebekah was the one the Lord had in mind for Isaac. If you’re single, choose to let the Lord lead you to the person He has had in mind for you from before the foundation of the earth.

Hearing that, perhaps you might think, “Well, I’m already married and I didn’t really seek the Lord, so what does that mean for me? Maybe I should get divorced and find the ‘right’ person.” No, that isn’t what the Lord says to do.

1 Corinthians 7:10-11 – To the married I give this command—not I, but the Lord—a wife is not to leave her husband. 11…and a husband is not to divorce his wife.

If you’re being called into marriage, there is some Rebekah for you fellows, some Isaac for you ladies. The Lord knows and will lead you to them. Trust Him and follow him.

Genesis 23:1-2 – Now Sarah lived 127 years; these were all the years of her life. 2 Sarah died in Kiriath-arba (that is, Hebron) in the land of Canaan, and Abraham went in to mourn for Sarah and to weep for her.

When Sarah died, Isaac was 37. Abraham was 137 and would live another 38 years. As Sarah passes on into eternity, we readers are left outside the tent while Abraham goes in to mourn her.

It gives us a moment to think about their life together – the many things they had been through. As we read through these chapters, the focus is mostly on Abraham, but Sarah was beside him. She was also faithful. She made her mistakes, but she loved the Lord and walked with Him and grew in her faith, just like God intends for each of us.

When I mentioned Isaac and Rebekah, maybe you thought, “Well, that doesn’t apply to me.” Maybe you got married before you were a believer or just didn’t consult the Lord with that decision. That happens. It happened to Abram and Sarai! They weren’t believers. They had some real marriage problems along the way. But look what God did: He turned them into Abraham and Sarah. People full of love for each other, full of fruitfulness, and grace and a long companionship. They show us what kind of beauty God can bring from ashes. They show us how God can overcome our weaknesses and mistakes and redeem our relationships.

The New Testament tells us that Abraham had some understanding of the resurrection. And he had some understanding of the future city, whose builder and maker is God. So, Abraham believed that he and his family were going to live forever in heaven. And yet, we see him mourn when his wife departed. Grief is a normal, Godly part of life, but we are not to grieve like they who have no hope. The passing of a loved one should not derail our lives because we know death is not the end. We will see our saved loved ones again and all will be made right forever. We comfort ourselves and each other with that certain hope, but, in the meantime, death remains a painful reality.

Why do Christians have to die? If death is defeated at the cross, shouldn’t we be exempt? One practical answer is because we still live in a fallen world, in decaying bodies, impacted by sin. Glorification is coming, but it is not yet. God leaves us here to endure mortality so that we can join with Him in saving other people. But, just as God transforms our lives when we are born again, He also transforms our deaths. Death no longer has any sting. It becomes a passage, rather than a pit. In some small sense, death for the Christian is like retiring, rather than being fired. It is the process by which we are delivered into eternity. Paul goes as far as saying death is now profitable to us.[4]Philippians 1:21

Sarah was no longer with Abraham, but he knew she wasn’t gone. She was alive and he would go to her one day. Meanwhile, there was a problem. He had nowhere to place her body.

Genesis 23:3-4 – 3 When Abraham got up from beside his dead wife, he spoke to the Hethites: 4 “I am an alien residing among you. Give me burial property among you so that I can bury my dead.”,

On the human level, this would’ve been a very hard day for Abraham. He has to deal with the remains of his precious wife. His God has promised that the whole land really belongs to him, and yet, he doesn’t possess even enough to dig a grave or put a bone box.

I probably would’ve thrown up my hands and said, “Lord, what gives?” But Abraham didn’t. In fact, we see the resilient strength of his faith in his request to the Hethites. Commentators point out that Abraham didn’t make any plan to bring his wife’s remains back to his homeland – Ur of the Chaldees. No, Canaan was his home and would be his resting place. Hebrew scholars also point out that when he says, “burial property,” the word is “the possession.”[5]Bruce Waltke Genesis: A Commentary He still believed it belonged to him, just as God had said, it was just being occupied by these Hethites at the moment.

Abraham’s faith was focused on the future. The future city. The future life. The future fulfillment. That future focus gave him peace. He could navigate this painful situation with patience and meekness, even though he was having to pay for something that already belonged to him!

Genesis 24:5-6 – 5 The Hethites replied to Abraham, 6 “Listen to us, my lord. You are a prince of God among us. Bury your dead in our finest burial place. None of us will withhold from you his burial place for burying your dead.”

This whole scene is very formal. There’s no way for us to know whether these Hethites were good guys or not. Some think they were taking advantage of Abraham, some think they we truly being generous. Either way, what they’re saying here is, “We don’t really want to sell you any of our land (that’s what Abraham is asking for, by the way, not just a donation), but your family bones can crash in our tombs, if you want.” If these guys are more on the sleazy side, it’s possible they’re thinking, “This guy is wealthy and powerful, but he’s moving around all the time. Sometimes he’s down in Philistine country, sometimes he’s here, sometimes he’s there. Maybe we let him put a bone box or two in one of our tombs and then after awhile we can get rid of it.” Maybe they really did like him and were being deferential. Either way, they didn’t really want to part with their land.

What is clear is that the presence of God was evident in Abraham’s life. When they looked at him, they said, “God is with that family.” That’s still what God wants to do in our lives, by the way.

Genesis 24:7-9 – 7 Then Abraham rose and bowed down to the Hethites, the people of the land. 8 He said to them, “If you are willing for me to bury my dead, listen to me and ask Ephron son of Zohar on my behalf 9 to give me the cave of Machpelah that belongs to him; it is at the end of his field. Let him give it to me in your presence, for the full price, as burial property.”

We don’t barter in our culture. Jerry Seinfeld was once asked why there’s no haggling in our country. He said, “I guess we like to think we’ve progressed beyond a knife fight for a citrus drink.”[6]https://www.seinfeldscripts.com/TheChickenRoaster.htm But in Abraham’s time, haggling was the name of the game. He knew the spot, he had scouted this cave. Linguists let us know it was a primo double-cave,[7]Francis A. Betten A Real Estate Deal of Four Thousand Years Ago which, as far as caves go, is cool. Now he just had to do this dance with the owner. But we notice this: Even when it comes to a burial place, Abraham wants to remain separate. He lives this strange life of being in the world but not of the world. He’s a blessing to those around him but he keeps himself devoted to God. In this transaction, Abraham is gracious. He’s patient. He’s not demanding. Even though he’s fabulously wealthy and has a lot of influence, he behaves meekly and courteously.

W.H. Griffith Thomas writes, “Religion is not intended to decrease but to increase natural politeness, gentlemanliness, and courtesy. Indeed, courtesy is one of the truest marks of a genuine believer.”[8]W. H. Griffith Thomas Genesis: A Devotional Commentary

Genesis 24:10-11 – 10 Ephron was sitting among the Hethites. So in the hearing of all the Hethites who came to the gate of his city, Ephron the Hethite answered Abraham: 11 “No, my lord. Listen to me. I give you the field, and I give you the cave that is in it. I give it to you in the sight of my people. Bury your dead.”

They’re talking a lot about giving, but this is a business transaction. The term used is also translated, “I’ll grant you the land,” or, “I’ll sell you the land.” And Ephron knows he’s got a decent payday coming because Abraham is in a tight spot – he needs a burial cave – and he’s already said he’ll pay “full price.” And, notice what Ephron has done: He includes the field with the cave. Abraham hadn’t really wanted the field, but Ephron wants to parcel them together.

Genesis 24:12-16 – 12 Abraham bowed down to the people of the land 13 and said to Ephron in the hearing of the people of the land, “Listen to me, if you please. Let me pay the price of the field. Accept it from me, and let me bury my dead there.” 14 Ephron answered Abraham and said to him, 15 “My lord, listen to me. Land worth four hundred shekels of silver—what is that between you and me? Bury your dead.” 16 Abraham agreed with Ephron, and Abraham weighed out to Ephron the silver that he had agreed to in the hearing of the Hethites: four hundred standard shekels of silver.

How much money was this? Some think it was an insane asking price. The truth is, we just don’t know. Estimates of how much this is range from a few hundred dollars to over a hundred thousand dollars. In the time of Moses, this would be equivalent to eight healthy, adult, male slaves.[9]Leviticus 27:3

Rather than debate the bill, we should examine the behavior of Abraham. In the midst of his heart-ache, he’s strengthened by God to be patient, to endure the frustrations of living in this unfair world. He’s humble and not handicapped by an obsession with money. He lives on a different level.

Genesis 23:17-20 – 17 So Ephron’s field at Machpelah near Mamre—the field with its cave and all the trees anywhere within the boundaries of the field—became 18 Abraham’s possession in the sight of all the Hethites who came to the gate of his city. 19 After this, Abraham buried his wife Sarah in the cave of the field at Machpelah near Mamre (that is, Hebron) in the land of Canaan. 20 The field with its cave passed from the Hethites to Abraham as burial property.

Once again we see the presence of trees in Abraham’s story. We’ve seen him living by oaks and planting a tamarisk. It is a symbol reminding us of the long-term, abundant work God intended to do in the lives of His people in that specific land. It’s a picture of how God establishes and makes us strong and gives us strength to withstand winds and storms. It demonstrates how, by His grace, we grow and expand are are able to branch out into new areas of fruitfulness – how God develops us to be useful and beautiful and firm, giving help and shade to those nearby. How God faithfully discharges His responsibility to give us light and water that we might become all He wants us to be. That even in death our lives are a declaration of life and our eternal hope. That we are leaving this life but one day we’ll be back to receive everything that was promised in full. And that His promise is worth the trouble, worth the price, worth the patient endurance of our mortal lives.

The suffering of this present time is not worth comparing with the glory that is going to be revealed to us. Like the creation all around, we eagerly wait with anticipation for God’s sons and daughters to be revealed in immortal perfection, redeemed into glorious freedom, receiving all God has promised, with not one good thing missing from the inheritance He’s decided to share with us.[10]Romans 8:18-20

After all God had promised Abraham, it looked like he only had one kid and one field, good only for burying corpses. How could Abraham square this with his actual experience? It’s not that he didn’t care. Remember, when God had earlier made those promises, Abraham had said, “Ok, how can I know that I will possess it?” God’s assurance to him at the time was, “I’m God and I promise.” And from there Abraham’s faith grew, not because he got deeds to the land, but because he knew more of God as he walked with Him. The closer he got with the Lord, the more Abraham was able to understand the extent of what God was promising. And he came to the realization that he didn’t want to be the Hethites now, he wanted to be God’s child in eternity. And so he was content to wait – to live as a pilgrim in a tent – because he knew God’s ultimate fulfillment was on the other side of death. Not only on the other side. After all, the Jews did receive the land, it’s still theirs, God will have a physical Kingdom with a throne in Jerusalem for 1,000 years. And, already, God has made good on the promise to give Abraham countless descendants. What was a mom, a dad and one kid is today 6.9 million Jews living in the land, with another 6 million in the USA,[11]https://worldpopulationreview.com/country-rankings/jewish-population-by-country and a countless number sustained for the last 4,000 years. But Abraham knew the best was yet to come.

In Hebrews we’re told Abraham did not receive what was promised in his mortal life. But here’s what what we find when we read both verse 39 and 40:

Hebrews 11:39-40 – 39 All these were approved through their faith, but they did not receive what was promised, 40 since God had provided something better for us, so that they would not be made perfect without us.

Abraham knew the promise was perfect and that it wasn’t just for a dusty field or two in 2,000 B.C. It was something greater, something eternal, something this life cannot match. When the days were hard, when he dealt with death and seeing unbelievers around him seemingly prosper, Abraham didn’t despair. We see him more devoted than ever to the truth God had told him: That the promise is coming, that what we really want is not found in this world, but the next, and that we can secure our lives on that hope which will not disappoint us, because God has proved His power, He has proved His love for us, death has been beaten, we will be delivered into glory. We’ve received these promises, and they will be kept in full. Not 50%, not 67%. 100%. All the way, beyond what we can ask or imagine, our God will not fail.

Footnotes

Footnotes
1 https://fivethirtyeight.com/features/trust-us-politicians-keep-most-of-their-promises/
2 Genesis 25:12-16
3 1 John 2:18-23, 4:1-3
4 Philippians 1:21
5 Bruce Waltke Genesis: A Commentary
6 https://www.seinfeldscripts.com/TheChickenRoaster.htm
7 Francis A. Betten A Real Estate Deal of Four Thousand Years Ago
8 W. H. Griffith Thomas Genesis: A Devotional Commentary
9 Leviticus 27:3
10 Romans 8:18-20
11 https://worldpopulationreview.com/country-rankings/jewish-population-by-country

Kill Your Darling (Genesis 22:1-19)

Winston Churchill was one of the greatest leaders in the modern era. But he had many troubles on his way to becoming Prime Minister. His life was a roller coaster of adventure. He was a warrior, a political leader, a prisoner-of-war who escaped captivity, an author, and a lover of pets. He created the modern states of Jordan and Iraq.[1]https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2017/apr/22/winston-churchill-imperial-war-museum-middle-east-legacy But we know him best as the man who kept his country and the western world from the devouring jaws of Hitler’s Third Reich. Those days were barely 5% of his 90 year life, but they were crucial, agonizing, history-making days, to which he is forever linked.

After more than 100 years, we’ve come to the main event of Abraham’s life. Nothing would have greater gravity than Genesis 22. Most of us are familiar with the story, but that shouldn’t lessen the weight of what God asked and the wonder of Abraham’s obedience. This text is a telling diagram of what it means to obey and how Christian faith is carried out. But, while we’re learning about those things, we have to come to the conclusion that God is acting strangely in this story. Why in the world would He ask Abraham to do something as repulsive as sacrifice his own son? Why does it seem like God had secretly added a condition to His unconditional covenant? If James tells us God doesn’t tempt anyone,[2]James 1:13 why does this chapter seem to show the opposite? Something more is going on than God simply checking whether His servant was going to obey.

An article titled 10 Great Examples Of Foreshadowing In Movies points out that in Martin Scorsese’s hit The Departed, “the director expertly tells the audience who is going to get killed right before it happens by placing crosses around them.”[3]https://screenrant.com/best-examples-foreshadowing-movies In our text, God isn’t acting badly, He’s foreshadowing. This is the dress rehearsal for a much more important sacrifice that would be made. God wanted us to see it coming, to know where it will happen, why it will happen, and to Whom it will happen. For thousands of years, He not only worked out the plan of redemption, He gave us clues to discover so we could understand what was taking place when He gave His own Son to die in our place.

So, this is not just a story about obedience, it’s a story about Jesus. Hopefully tonight we can take up both of those threads and benefit from what they teach us.

Genesis 22:1 – After these things God tested Abraham and said to him, “Abraham!” “Here I am,” he answered.

Abraham’s obedience starts with a simple reply: “Here I am.” That’s the foundation of faith. Samuel would say it when God called to him. So did Moses and Isaiah. They didn’t know what the next word would be from the mouth of God, but what came next didn’t really matter. “Here I am! I’m ready to hear. I’m ready to be sent. I’m ready to follow.” This call and response reminds us that God does not ask us to do what He is unwilling to do. God identifies Himself in Isaiah 52 this way, “My people will know My name…that I am He who says, ‘Here I am.’”[4]Isaiah 52:6

We’re told God “tested” Abraham. If we’re honest, that makes us squirm a little. But there’s an important distinction for us to keep in mind. There’s a big difference between tempting and testing. The Devil tempts you, hoping to trap you and ruin you. God’s testing never has your failure in mind. The purpose of His testing is to bring good out, not evil.[5]W.H. Griffith Thomas Genesis: A Devotional Commentary

Did you hear that one of the local businesses had their liquor license revoked last week after a sting operation? The authorities came, trying to catch people breaking the law. Big difference between that test and the guy who invented modern body armor, who filmed himself being shot to prove the quality of his product. God’s testing is not a trap, it’s a refining process, a proving.

The Bible Knowledge Commentary points out a key to this: A test of [true] faith must defy logic. The test had to be something Abraham would not want to do. And here’s what it was.

Genesis 22:2 – 2 “Take your son,” he said, “your only son Isaac, whom you love, go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains I will tell you about.”

The burnt offering was the way human beings could renew their broken relationship with God,[6]https://www.gotquestions.org/burnt-offering.html but never had God accepted a human sacrifice. Now, He was demanding it. And not just any human. God could not be more specific. He singles out Isaac with four very clear descriptors.

This is a foreshadowing of Jesus Christ. The only-begotten Son of the Father, the Son of promise, born supernaturally, would have to be offered as a sacrifice in order for the relationship between God and man to be repaired. Just as only Isaac fit the description, only Jesus of Nazareth fits the list which describes the Messiah. There were hundreds of specific descriptors that God gave so that we might know the Messiah when He came. Jesus fulfilled them all, perfectly. And, not only was He the only One Who did all these things, God gave all that list to show us that there was only One sacrifice He was willing to accept. Just as God was not willing to receive Ishmael in Genesis 22, or some household servant, or a pile of riches, so too, only Jesus can pay the bill, no one else.

What must Abraham have thought? You can’t mentally prepare for something like this. You can’t get worse news than this. We’re given a glimpse into his thoughts in Hebrews 11, a section of Scripture that teaches us about living by faith. There we’re told that Abraham knew God was serious, but at the same time, he believed God would accomplish His promise through Isaac. And so, we’re told, he came to the conclusion that God would have to raise Isaac from the dead.

That doesn’t make the job much easier, though. I remember once when our son, Ezekiel was a little guy he got a really bad wood sliver in the bottom of his foot. It was flush under the skin and he was in pain. So, we thought, “We’ve got to get this thing out.” Which meant we’d have to try to fish it out. We knew it was going to get worse before it got better. Knowing the end didn’t make the during any easier. And we weren’t worried at all that we might kill our son!

Genesis 22:3 – 3 So Abraham got up early in the morning, saddled his donkey, and took with him two of his young men and his son Isaac. He split wood for a burnt offering and set out to go to the place God had told him about.

In this diagram of obedience we see not only a readiness to obey, but, once the call comes in, that Abraham wasted no time. He rose early for what would be the worst days of his life. He takes the saddle, the donkey, and the ax. He taps two servants on the shoulder. He picks a suitable tree and felled it, breaking it down into logs for the job.

How much wood would you need to burn up a young man? Abraham would’ve had to calculate it. You barbecuers think about how much charcoal you need for a few burgers versus a few tri-tips. I can’t come close to imagining what it would be like to build my child’s coffin. That is still a world away from what Abraham is being asked to do.

Part of faithful obedience shown here is knowing when it isn’t time to question God, but to just begin. One author put it this way: Abraham, the bargainer, is silent.[7]Bruce Waltke Genesis: A Commentary The leading had been clear.

How does this show Jesus? We’re reminded of His entry to Jericho on a donkey – how two of His servants were with Him in the courtyard of the high priest the night before the cross.[8]John 18:15

Genesis 22:4 – 4 On the third day Abraham looked up and saw the place in the distance.

Obedience is about moving forward to where God has shown you. God has explained that the walk of faith will sometimes lead us to still waters, green pastures, and sometimes through the valley of the shadow of death. God does not promise us constant ease, but that He will constantly be present, showing us the way to go that leads to life and victory and reward.

We’re reminded of Jesus here. We’re told how He set His gaze on Jerusalem. He was determined to go to the place the Father was leading Him so that mankind could be redeemed. And here’s the best part: It was the same place Abraham was heading. That “place in the distance,” the “place God had told him about,” is the most important place in all the world! Mount Moriah, where Abraham would build this altar, is the place God would later choose to have His temple built. This is the Temple Mount, in Jerusalem. And, though it’s somewhat disputed, many scholars believe Christ was crucified about 750 yards from the very spot Abraham offered his son.[9]https://discoverthebook.org/moriah-and-golgotha-2/

Genesis 22:5-6 – 5 Then Abraham said to his young men, “Stay here with the donkey. The boy and I will go over there to worship; then we’ll come back to you.” 6 Abraham took the wood for the burnt offering and laid it on his son Isaac. In his hand he took the fire and the knife, and the two of them walked on together.

Abraham’s didn’t obey because he was afraid God would smite him. His obedience was rooted in hope. “We’ll come back, one way or another.” That hopefulness, that trust, effected his perspective. How did he think about what was going to happen? He said, “We’re going to go worship.” He didn’t say, “We’re gonna go do a terrible thing God is making me do.” No, Abraham trusted his Lord. He believed that God is good, that God is just, and God would be merciful.

How old was Isaac? We’re not told, exactly. He certainly wasn’t the little child that is sometimes depicted. Generally, scholars put him somewhere between late teens and 30 years old. He’s strong enough to carry enough wood to burn a whole human. Which means that he would’ve been strong enough to at least escape his old man. But, Isaac was submissive to his father, just as Jesus would be. He willingly carried the wood, just as Jesus would carry His own cross. Isaac wasn’t fooled or led into something without agreeing to it. In fact, he had started to piece it together.

Genesis 22:7-8 – 7 Then Isaac spoke to his father Abraham and said, “My father.” And he replied, “Here I am, my son.” Isaac said, “The fire and the wood are here, but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?” 8 Abraham answered, “God himself will provide, the lamb for the burnt offering, my son.” Then the two of them walked on together.

Jesus and the Father had a tender, private conversation in the Garden of Gethsemane, where Jesus asked about the plan. In both cases there was no rebellion, no complaint. But an earnest question.

Abraham could not reconcile the facts he found himself in. God planned the future around Isaac, but was also demanding that Isaac die that day.[10]Bible Knowledge Commentary When he could not reconcile, he trusted the Lord. “The Lord will see to it. The Lord will provide.”

This gives us strength to obey. God will ask us to do things that are impossible or things we can’t understand. When that happens, we fall back into trust, rather than rebellion. We remember that God is good and He is trustworthy and He will provide what is necessary for our triumph. Without God’s provision, Isaac was going to die. Without God’s provision of a Savior, no human being has any hope for eternal life. All we can do is die, unless there’s a substitute made for us.

Genesis 22:9-10 – 9 When they arrived at the place that God had told him about, Abraham built the altar there and arranged the wood. He bound his son Isaac and placed him on the altar on top of the wood. 10 Then Abraham reached out and took the knife to slaughter his son. 


Linguists explain that the knife being used wasn’t a dagger, it was a cleaver.[11]Robert Alter The Hebrew Bible Abraham wasn’t just killing his son, he’d be butchering him. Isaac’s name means “laughter,” so we should note that he puts the laughter in slaughter.

Of course, that’s exactly what happened at Calvary. Jesus wasn’t laughing, but for the joy set before Him, He endured that horrible day. The King of kings was led like a lamb to the slaughter. It pleased the Lord to make Him an offering for us, leading to eternal rejoicing.

One commentary points out something interesting in this scene: There is no talk of feelings.[12]CSB Study Bible Notes This is one of the most tense, dreadful passages in the Old Testament. And yet, as we see each angle playing out, what do we see? We see meticulous, methodical obedience. Sometimes obeying God isn’t going to feel good. But we’re to obey despite our feelings, like Abraham did.

Genesis 22:11-12 – 11 But the angel of the Lord called to him from heaven and said, “Abraham, Abraham!” He replied, “Here I am.” 12 Then he said, “Do not lay a hand on the boy or do anything to him. For now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your only son from me.”

Why did God wait till the last second to intervene? Cutting it close, don’t you think? Remember, this was a dress rehearsal for the real show that would go all the way. But, also, it demonstrates to us the reality that sometimes the refining process is going to be more intense than other times. Think of how we use heat to melt different materials. We only need 33° to melt ice and make water. We need 622° to melt lead, about 1950° to melt gold. And then there’s tungsten: 6192° to melt it.[13]https://www.metalsupermarkets.com/melting-points-of-metals/

The Bible talks about us having hearts to stone. Sometimes God needs to melt a certain stoniness in my heart. Is it lead or is it tungsten?

Translators share a lovely insight that we don’t want to miss. In verses 1 through 10, God is referred to by the more generic term Elohim. But from verse 11 on, it’s always YHWH. The God of personal covenant. The God of provision. The God of mercy. And then we get our minds blown realizing that the Angel of the Lord here is Jesus, who would die on this very same mountain. God would not withhold His Son, Jesus would not withhold Himself, for our sake. He died so you could live.

Before we go on, notice this: Sometimes obedience means not doing something. “Lord, I’m all ready to do this thing for You. I built it all up and went to a bunch of trouble.” But sometimes the Lord says, “Stop what you’re doing.” We need to be ready to not do as much as we’re ready to do.

Genesis 22:13 – 13 Abraham looked up and saw a ram caught in the thicket by its horns. So Abraham went and took the ram and offered it as a burnt offering in place of his son.

After all the strain of what happened, a sacrifice still had to be made! There was still a barrier of sin between God and man. Good intentions weren’t enough. Something still had to die. And Abraham understood that. Without the shedding of blood there is no remission of sins. That’s why Jesus had to die, to make a way for us to come to God. And only the substitute the God provided could do it.

In case we were missing the fact that God is foreshadowing, in the end Abraham did not receive the lamb he expected, but a ram. Different terms used. The Lamb was yet to come. But even in the ram we see a hint of God’s plan. The word for ram in Hebrew can also be used for a mighty ruler,[14]https://www.blueletterbible.org/lexicon/h352/kjv/wlc/0-1/ like Jesus, the King. The substitute God gave us was the strongest, the best, the Mighty One.

Genesis 22:14 – 14 And Abraham named that place The Lord Will Provide, so today it is said, “It will be provided on the Lord’s mountain.”

Translators admit that where it says, “It will be provided on the Lord’s mountain,” the words might mean, “God sees or will be seen on the mountain.”[15]See Alter, NET Study Bible Notes What a fantastic prophecy! God would see Christ’s death on Calvary and accept it as full payment. At the same time, we can see the God Himself on the cross and realize He is a God of love, a God of mercy, Who did what is necessary to save us. It was all Him.

Notice Abraham’s perspective. He wasn’t resentful of what God asked him to do. This test of obedience didn’t make him angry. He looked at his life and said, “God is good. He is a provider.” That’s the same God we’re able to count on in our own lives.

Genesis 22:15-18 – 15 Then the angel of the Lord called to Abraham a second time from heaven 16 and said, “By myself I have sworn,” this is the Lord’s declaration: “Because you have done this thing and have not withheld your only son, 17 I will indeed bless you and make your offspring as numerous as the stars of the sky and the sand on the seashore. Your offspring will possess the city gates of their enemies. 18 And all the nations of the earth will be blessed by your offspring because you have obeyed my command.”

What’s up with this? Was God not being as unconditional as He said before? No, the Lord was reaffirming. He’s also pointing out that, even though His promises are sure, that doesn’t mean we don’t have to obey. The opposite is true. We can’t just say, “Well, God is gracious and He can’t be wrong, so it doesn’t matter if I obey Him or not.” We must obey. Jesus said, “If you want to enter into life, keep the commandments.”[16]Matthew 19:17 You can’t have Biblical faith without obedience. You can’t love God if you don’t obey. If we don’t obey God, He cannot come and make His home with us.[17]John 14:23

So, God’s promises were unconditional, but if Abraham wanted to receive them, he’d have to participate with obedient faith.

Genesis 22:19 – 19 Abraham went back to his young men, and they got up and went together to Beer-sheba. And Abraham settled in Beer-sheba.

Where’s Isaac? He was undoubtedly with his dad, but, again, the Holy Spirit is foreshadowing for us. The next time we see Isaac, he will be receiving a bride. Jesus ascended from a mountain, and the next time we’ll see Him is when He receives His Bride, the Church.

These two servants have an interesting part to play. They can teach us about obedience, too. What were they even doing? Seems like they were kind of just tagging along on this thing the father and son were doing. They probably didn’t understand a lot of what was going on, but they were ready to serve, ready to go the distance. They trusted Abraham just like Abraham trusted God. We should trust our Master the same way.

I’d encourage you to study more through this section to see the many other ways it foreshadows our Lord and His sacrificial death on the cross in that very same place. And consider what it cost the Father and the Son to willingly choose to make that substitute on your behalf.

Meanwhile, today we are servants. God has called us and commanded us. It’s not that we read this and think, “One day God may ask me to do something.” He already has. The specific of His commands will depend on what roles God has given you. But we’ve already been called. We’ve already been commanded. We’ve already been given instructions and points of navigation. Are we going to obey? Obedience is often very difficult, sometimes unpleasant. But we must do it. Abraham did it quickly, meticulously, meekly, fully. Can I say I’m obeying God the way Abraham did here? That’s not always an easy question to answer. What is much easier to know is that our God is full of grace, He is full of love toward us, full of power for us, and ready to walk with us as we move toward Him, putting this unique faith into motion, receiving indeed all He’s promised.

Footnotes

Footnotes
1 https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2017/apr/22/winston-churchill-imperial-war-museum-middle-east-legacy
2 James 1:13
3 https://screenrant.com/best-examples-foreshadowing-movies
4 Isaiah 52:6
5 W.H. Griffith Thomas Genesis: A Devotional Commentary
6 https://www.gotquestions.org/burnt-offering.html
7 Bruce Waltke Genesis: A Commentary
8 John 18:15
9 https://discoverthebook.org/moriah-and-golgotha-2/
10 Bible Knowledge Commentary
11 Robert Alter The Hebrew Bible
12 CSB Study Bible Notes
13 https://www.metalsupermarkets.com/melting-points-of-metals/
14 https://www.blueletterbible.org/lexicon/h352/kjv/wlc/0-1/
15 See Alter, NET Study Bible Notes
16 Matthew 19:17
17 John 14:23

Fair Water Friends (Genesis 21:22-34)

Jeff Bezos turned heads last November when he spent $78 million on a 14 acre estate in Maui.[1]https://nypost.com/2021/11/04/as-jeff-bezos-buys-up-maui-hawaiian-locals-hope-for-best/ Locals are nervous about his presence. One said, “It’s hard to know what Bezos’ intentions are this early on,” whether he will be a benefit or a burden on the surrounding community.

14 acres is pretty measly compared to Mark Zuckerberg’s footprint on Kauai. He recently bought another 600 acres there, bringing his total acreage on the Island to 1,300.[2]https://www.businessinsider.com/mark-zuckerberg-bought-more-land-kauai-hawaii-2021-5

But billionaire Larry Ellison (co-founder of Oracle) has them both beat for bragging rights. Since 2012 he has owned 98% of Lanai, the Hawaiian island west of Maui – 87,000 acres.[3]https://www.businessinsider.com/oracle-larry-ellison-lanai-hawaii-plans-sustainability-tourism-2020-12 His goal is to transform it into a “utopia.” His wealth and Hawaiian project has led to Ellison “advis[ing] many [US] presidents…over the past 39 years on the strategic direction of our country.”[4]https://www.forbes.com/sites/angelauyeung/2020/04/01/exclusive-larry-ellison-reveals-his-big-data-battle-plan-to-fight-coronavirus-in-partnership-with-trump-white-house/?sh=412200d331d3

It sounds a little like our text tonight. Abimelech, the Philistine king, shows up at Abraham’s front door for a meeting. He wants to work out an arrangement with this pilgrim. But it’s not just the flocks and herds and household operation that Abimelech has noticed. Something much more significant caught his eye – the presence of God in the life of this strange old man.

If you are a Christian, you have been scattered where and when you are by God on purpose. He places us so that we can shine like lights in the dark. Have you been to that “Field of Light” place in Paso Robles? Christians are God’s light show, bringing truth and beauty to a world in the dark. As we live, we’re to do so peaceably and quietly, not being dependent on others Paul says.[5]1 Thessalonians 4:11 But, while living quiet lives, God plans to use you to show the unbelievers around you how glorious He is.

The problem is that it’s very easy for us to be distracted or deflected off that mission. These stories in the Bible are given to us as trail markers to guide us in our life of faith. As we walk with the Lord, not only is He able to bless us with every spiritual blessing in Christ Jesus, but our lives light up, shining brighter and brighter, drawing the attention of nonbelievers around us.

Abraham’s meeting with Abimelech and their conflict resolution gives us a great example to apply to our own day-to-day living as people whose desire is to glorify God and draw others to Him.

Genesis 21:22 – 22 At that time Abimelech, accompanied by Phicol the commander of his army, said to Abraham, “God is with you in everything you do.

A lot was going on in Abraham’s life. Hagar and Ishmael had just been expelled from the house. He had a new baby at home. There were constant and continual needs of the many flocks and herds.

God wants to use you, whether you’re terribly busy or terribly unoccupied. How He wants to use you is His business, ours is to be willing to serve in whatever capacity He desires. This opportunity wasn’t Abraham’s idea. It just dropped in his lap, but he was ready to be God’s man in the room.

Abimelech represents the unbelievers you cross paths with in daily life. He’s fascinating to watch because he’s so many different things at once. He’s a little slippery in the way he acts, but he’s also courteous and respectful. He wants to hold the upper hand in his dealings with Abraham, but he also wants to be at peace with him. He’s interested in this relationship Abraham has with God, but he also wants to intimidate Abraham as they talk. This is not just a friendly pop-in. You don’t bring the commander of your army if you’re just “in the neighborhood” and hoping for a cup of tea.

What Abimelech says is significant: “God is with you in everything you do.” Abimelech had been watching. He kept tabs on what was going on in Abraham’s life and the conclusion he came to was, “Something is different. There is a spiritual vitality that can only be explained by the supernatural presence of God.” Now, Abraham wasn’t a miracle worker. Abraham’s life wasn’t free from problems. And it wasn’t as if Abraham was the only wealthy herdsman in the area. But this man’s life was like a light in the dark because a real and holy God was present with Him.

In our dispensation, the power of God is not known through flocks or herds or conquering land, but through the good works God has called us to join Him in. His power and presence are known through the way we love others. They’re known through the way we avoid sin. They’re known through our unity with fellow Christians and through our suffering with Christ and through His working in our weakness.[6]Matthew 5:16, 1 John 3:18, 1 Peter 4:4, 2 Corinthians 13:11, Philippians 3:10, 2 Corinthians 12:8 Faithful Christian living produces an effective Christian witness.

Though delivered by the lips of a pagan, what a beautiful reminder it is that God is with us in everything we do. He is never too tired, never held back late at the office, never checked out, never disinterested. He not only cares about every aspect of your life, but He wants to support and infuse every aspect of His life with His grace and peace and power and joy.

Genesis 21:23 – 23 Swear to me by God here and now, that you will not break an agreement with me or with my children and descendants. As I have been loyal to you, so you will be loyal to me and to the country where you are a resident alien.”

Abimelech turns up the pressure. He demands that Abraham sign on the dotted line “here and now,” and he adds the subtle detail that, “You’re a resident alien, after all, living here because I let you.” It was a reminder to Abraham that, as far as Abimelech was concerned, Abraham had no claim to rights or property in that region.

But what was actually true? The truth was all of this land belonged to Abraham because God said so. You and I may be trod upon by the world, but this is the greater truth: Because we are in Christ, we will one day rule and reign with the true King of all the world.

Notice that Abimelech did not ask Abraham to come to his temple or appeal to his gods. He knew they didn’t answer calls. It’s important that we show the world that our God really speaks, really hears, and really moves. It’s not that we make things up, but our God really is different from any other because He is real and all the rest come from the imagination of man. Isaiah 45 talks again and again about how the Lord is God and there is no other – that He proves Himself. That He is a Savior. That He establishes. That He strengthens and directs and calls us by name.

Sadly, in some territories of Christianity, it’s fashionable to suggest God’s truth can’t really be known, or that the best He can do is leave us broken. If that is Who God is, why would unbelievers come to Him?

Abimelech asks Abraham to show him “hesed.” It means to deal gently and kindly. One commentator defines it this way: “A voluntary commitment by a stronger party to meet the needs of a weaker party.”[7]Bruce Waltke Genesis: A Commentary This is what God has done to us and now sends us to go and do likewise.

Genesis 21:24 – 24 And Abraham said, “I swear it.”

When King Jesus came to Abraham’s tent, we saw Abraham get all worked up. He was hustling around, making sure everything was just right. It’s interesting to see how peaceful he is in this scene, when a powerful heathen king shows up with his general and starts talking about how he’s worried they might have conflict in the future and that, after all, Abraham has no real right to be there anyway. But Abraham isn’t shaking in his sandals. He’s not wringing his hands. He’s at peace because he knows that his stability and security come from the Lord, not some Philistine.

He also shows us that it’s ok for us to have dealings with nonbelievers. He enters into a binding agreement with them. Now, he doesn’t compromise in order to do so, but there wasn’t anything wrong with this covenant they were making. It was a good thing to have a peace accord. As Christians, we’re commanded to be peacemakers. James says that we are to cultivate peace.[8]James 3:18

Genesis 21:25 – 25 But Abraham complained to Abimelech because of the well that Abimelech’s servants had seized.

Ah, now that they were covenanted together, there was a problem. You see, some of Abimelech’s servants had come and violently seized a well that Abraham dug some time before. Now, this is interesting. Because, up till this point, Abraham had been willing to graciously accept that offense and not make an issue of it. He didn’t bring a case to Abimelech’s palace. He didn’t organize a counter-strike against these thieves. He was gracious and willing to be wronged.

But now they’re in this hesed relationship of loyalty and kindness. And so, this issue needed to be dealt with. Because the whole agreement is about how these people were going to treat each other, so Abraham has to say, “By the way, you are already in violation of this contract.”

Now, Abraham did not try to solve this problem in a vengeful way. He didn’t demand the servants be drawn and quartered. Where it says he “complained” there (or your version may say “rebuked”) can mean to “determine what is right.”[9]Waltke Derek Kidner shares that the verb suggests that Abraham had to bring this issue up several times.[10]Derek Kidner Genesis It seems Abimelech really wasn’t wanting to deal with this at first. But this needed to be dealt with. Not because Abraham was unwilling to be wronged, but because it was now a barrier in his relationship with Abimelech.

So, sometimes God asks us to be wronged and not retaliate or even bring it up. But, sometimes we’re going to have to graciously engage in conflict resolution. When we’re standing up for something, it should be for justice and for peace, not just an easier experience for ourselves.

Genesis 21:26 – 26 And Abimelech said, “I do not know who has done this thing; you did not tell me, nor had I heard of it until today.”

Effectively, Abimelech blames Abraham. Did he know about this well issue? Maybe, maybe not. But, true to human form, he didn’t want to take responsibility.

When we’re preaching the Gospel, people have to be told that they’re in the wrong. They’re guilty of sin before God. But that guilt shouldn’t make us hate them. The whole point is that we want them to be brought into fellowship with our Savior and with us. But, for that to happen, they will have to take responsibility and own up to their sin and be willing to come to the table to make peace.

Genesis 21:27 – 27 So Abraham took sheep and oxen and gave them to Abimelech, and the two of them made a covenant.

They cut a covenant, much like God had with Abraham in chapter 15. Even though Abimelech was the one that came wanting a deal, Abraham was willing to finance the peace. So, throughout, we see him carrying himself with grace and patience and a willingness to do what needs doing so people could live together harmoniously.

Genesis 21:28-30 – 28 Abraham separated seven ewe lambs from the flock. 29 And Abimelech said to Abraham, “Why have you separated these seven ewe lambs?” 30 He replied, “You are to accept the seven ewe lambs from me so that this act will serve as my witness that I dug this well.”

Abraham added a clause of his own to the contract and he had to explain his methods to Abimelech. God has ways of doing business. He has means and methods that He wants us to use in our work and our relationships. They won’t always make sense to unbelievers.

This covenant, like others, had to be sealed in blood. We’re reminded that we were once pagan Philistine thieves, who carried on in ignorance and iniquity. But a Lamb was slain so that we could have peace with God, if we’re willing to agree to His terms of covenant.

Abraham’s addition to this agreement highlights the fact that he dug the well in question. The Bible isn’t against the idea of personal property. There are some who suggest that since Jesus told the rich young ruler that he should sell all his belongings, therefore Jesus doesn’t want you to own anything. That’s not consistent interpretation. Jesus might want you to sell all you have. But, until He directs you to do that, the Bible isn’t anti-personal property. God loves to give us things that we can then use to serve Him and glorify Him and bless others. Someone owned a fully furnished upper room that Jesus got to have His last supper in. Someone owned the donkey our Lord would borrow to ride into Jerusalem. Lydia, the seller of purple, was able to use her home for the furtherance of the Gospel. Abraham’s wells were used to slake the thirst of many weary creatures.

Even then, the New Testament does not teach that your belongings are only given to you to be used for others. Paul owned a cloak that he wanted for himself. Peter told Ananias and Sapphira their land and their money was their possession to be used at their disposal. If you want a distilled teaching on the Biblical perspective on Christian private property, read 1 Timothy 6:17-19.

Genesis 21:31 – 31 Therefore that place was called Beer-sheba, because it was there that the two of them swore an oath.

The name means “well of the oath” or “well of seven.”[11]See Kidner, Waltke, Calvin Beersheba would later become part of Simeon’s tribal inheritance and would be the southernmost part of Israel’s land. They’d use it as a saying, “From Dan in the north to Beersheba in the south.”

Genesis 21:32 – 32 After they had made a covenant at Beer-sheba, Abimelech and Phicol, the commander of his army, left and returned to the land of the Philistines.

Abimelech was interested in Abraham and his God. He wanted to have a connection and, hopefully, get a proximity blessing. But, sadly, that’s where his interest stopped. Abimelech didn’t inquire as to how he might get to know this God. He didn’t ask to become part of Abraham’s house. To do so would’ve required him to renounce his throne and bow down himself.

Of course, that is what is necessary if we are to come into the house of the Lord, our God. We must renounce all claims to the throne. We’re just pretenders, anyway! We must bow our hearts before Him and acknowledge that He is King of all, including our own lives.

Genesis 21:33 – 33 Abraham planted a tamarisk tree in Beer-sheba, and there he called on the name of the Lord, the Everlasting God.

Planting a tree signals several things. First, it suggests Abraham assumed he’d be there quite a while. It also assumes that he’d have the water necessary to keep a tree alive. There’s something else here, though. Abimelech wanted Abraham to get the message that he was an outsider, that he was not one of them, that he was there because they felt like letting him be there. Fair enough. But, despite his outsider status, we see Abraham cultivating and developing. He’s planting trees and digging wells. He’s raising flocks and ranging herds. And even though we know that Abraham did not consider this his home, he made it his business to benefit and enrich the world around him. What were the Philistines doing in this text? Thieving, strong-arming, intimidating. But God’s family was producing. God’s family was fruitful. And as they went about their pilgrim business, they worshiped God and called on His name. They reminded themselves of His everlasting faithfulness, His never-ending power. And the presence of God in their lives shone like light in the dark.

Genesis 21:34 – 34 And Abraham lived as an alien in the land of the Philistines for many days.

What does it mean to live as an alien? It’s an important question because we’re told, outright, that we are strangers and pilgrims to this world. To live as an alien means we seek for the coming city, the New Jerusalem, because we have no enduring city here. It means to abstain from sinful desires, which will cause unbelievers to glorify God. It means to do the will of God, even if that means being wronged for His sake.[12]Hebrews 13:14, 1 Peter 2:11, 1 John 2:15-17 That sort of life not only makes the world sit up and notice, but makes us a blessing to our communities.

Larry Ellison wants to create a utopia on his little island. His plan is to change the world’s food supply, health systems, and global transportation. How’s he doing a decade into the effort? Well, he’s built a lot on his acreage, and he’s employing a lot of people. But as for the wider world, all we’ve got is a $3,000/night spa you can visit, where staff will “track guests’ sleep quality, nutrition and blood flow.”

God wants to revolutionize this world and He’s got a great plan to do it: You! You’re the ambassador He has put in place so you can meet some Abimelech. As one commentator noted, Christians should live in such a way that, if we were removed from our community, it would be a tragedy. We are pilgrims, not stirring up conflict, but bringing peace, truth, hope, and a testimony of God’s powerful presence in the lives of His people, to the praise of the glory of His grace.

Footnotes

Footnotes
1 https://nypost.com/2021/11/04/as-jeff-bezos-buys-up-maui-hawaiian-locals-hope-for-best/
2 https://www.businessinsider.com/mark-zuckerberg-bought-more-land-kauai-hawaii-2021-5
3 https://www.businessinsider.com/oracle-larry-ellison-lanai-hawaii-plans-sustainability-tourism-2020-12
4 https://www.forbes.com/sites/angelauyeung/2020/04/01/exclusive-larry-ellison-reveals-his-big-data-battle-plan-to-fight-coronavirus-in-partnership-with-trump-white-house/?sh=412200d331d3
5 1 Thessalonians 4:11
6 Matthew 5:16, 1 John 3:18, 1 Peter 4:4, 2 Corinthians 13:11, Philippians 3:10, 2 Corinthians 12:8
7 Bruce Waltke Genesis: A Commentary
8 James 3:18
9 Waltke
10 Derek Kidner Genesis
11 See Kidner, Waltke, Calvin
12 Hebrews 13:14, 1 Peter 2:11, 1 John 2:15-17

The Boys (Genesis 21:1-21)

The odds of a person becoming a hall-of-famer in a given sport are astronomically low. The NCAA calculates that only 0.08% of high school players go on to have a professional career. Of the few to actually play at the NFL or MLB level, just 1% will be inducted to the hall of fame.

No one would’ve bet on Kurt Warner becoming a hall-of-famer. The LA Times wrote: “He had been cut by the Green Bay Packers, stocked shelves in an Iowa grocery store, starred in the Arena Football League, and played in NFL Europe. When St. Louis Rams quarterback Trent Green suffered a knee injury late in the 1999 preseason, the then 28-year-old Warner was tabbed to start.”

Kurt went on to deliver the Rams first super bowl win. Nine years later, Kurt led the Cardinals to the Super Bowl. Terry Bradshaw interviewed Kurt and said, ”You’re not going to like this, but you’re the third oldest quarterback to ever play in the Super Bowl. How does that make you feel?” Kurt replied: “Everybody’s going to be tired of hearing this, but I never get tired of saying it. There’s one reason that I’m standing up on this stage today: That’s because of my Lord up above. I’ve got to say thanks to Jesus; you knew I was going to do it, but I’ve got to do it.”

Kurt Warner was making plays, but he knows where his help comes from. He’s quoted as saying, “I believe that the Lord has a plan for each of us that’s better than anything we can imagine, even if that plan isn’t obvious to us at every stage. He prepared me for this over a long period of time – in lower-profile locker rooms and the grocery store and in Europe, through all the personal tragedies and in spite of the people who doubted me along the way.”

It reminds me of Abraham, the unlikely hall-of-faither. He was a husband, a father, a pilgrim, a rancher, a warrior, a business man, and a friend of God. Now, decades after the promise first came, after such a long walk through a strange land, Abraham receives the son God wanted him to have.

The theme of this passage is how God is faithful to do His work. It’s not our doing. Our part is to participate in His supernatural work, even when it seems impossible. We’re not to rush Him, we’re not to try to overrule Him, we’re not to try to keep editorial control over what He wants to do. When we do those things, division and damage is the result. When God works, glory is the result. But, there’s an elephant in the room. Looming over the wonderful blessing of this new baby is the irreconcilable consequences of Abraham’s previous decision to try to do God’s work for Him.

Genesis 21:1 – The Lord came to Sarah as he had said, and the Lord did for Sarah what he had promised.

God is faithful. Put your name there: The Lord came to YOU as He had said, and the Lord did for YOU what He had promised. He is coming and He will not fail in any of His promises. We don’t have to coax Him to pay us attention or get involved.

One translation puts it this way: “The Lord singled out Sarah.” You and I have been singled out for particular good works that the Lord wants to partner in with us. The way we discover them is by hearing from God and paying close attention to His leading and instruction.

Genesis 21:2 – 2 Sarah became pregnant and bore a son to Abraham in his old age, at the appointed time God had told him.

This is a great example of how God does supernatural work through our every-day lives. It was impossible for Abraham and Sarah to have a child. And, yet, the Lord accomplished it. But, the work was done through the “ordinary” circumstances of life and family.

Why did He wait so long, since (after all) we’re talking about the drama of redemption? Why wait and give Abraham so many chances to derail the whole thing through fear or doubt or missteps? Well, first of all, God is not bound to time the way we are. But also, the Bible shows us that He loves the reveal Himself. He loves to prove who He is and how good He is and how He is able when no one else is able – that He is God and there is no other.

Genesis 21:3-4 – 3 Abraham named his son who was born to him—the one Sarah bore to him—Isaac. 4 When his son Isaac was eight days old, Abraham circumcised him, as God had commanded him.

Abraham was not perfect. In fact, the very last passage told the story of how he almost fouled everything up. But from here on, he’s turned a page. We see in Him a willingness and an obedience and a faith that outshines what we’ve seen before. He is quick to obey what God had asked him to do in both naming and circumcising his new baby boy. And, of course, we see that God’s promise of a son was truly and literally fulfilled. This is how God fulfills prophecy: Actually. Not mystically or just spiritually, but just as He did here, with a real, live, bouncing baby boy.

Genesis 21:5 – 5 Abraham was a hundred years old when his son Isaac was born to him.

Sarah was 90, by the way. Henry Morris points out that what God did for them was not just a one-time burst of help. We see this depicted in movies, sometimes. The heroes muster enough power to open the gateway for one brief instant, but then they’re weakened for a time. No, Abraham and Sarah (it seems) we’re dramatically rejuvenated. Abraham didn’t just father 1 son, he went on to father 6 more. Sarah wasn’t just able to carry and deliver a baby, but then to nurse him as well.

After 100 years, Abraham was embarking on the most important work of his life. The herding, the trading, the delta-force rescue ops, the building of a household were significant, but this was the most important thing. This was the primary calling God had given them. What’s your calling?

Genesis 21:6 – 6 Sarah said, “God has made me laugh, and everyone who hears will laugh with me.”,

God is such a Redeemer! Sarah’s earlier laugh had been one of scorn and disbelief. We remember that awkward lunch that the Lord had had with them when she laughed at His promise. But God brings beauty from ashes. Our failures are not too much for Him. He loves us so much that He looks down on the squalor of our hearts and says, “I can work with that.” And that personal work is meant to be put on public display. “Everyone who hears.” This was a story that needed to be told. Yes, it was immensely personal and private in some ways, but God wants to take His personal work in your life and use it as a testimony of His grace and power.

Now, linguistically, it’s possible that Sarah is saying, “Everyone who hears will laugh at me.” We imagine that most people would rejoice with her and just be so excited for them, but is that always your experience? Sometimes, people scoff at how God is working in our lives or how He is leading us. But, even if people were laughing at her, Sarah didn’t care. She was full of the joy of the Lord.

Genesis 21:7 – 7 She also said, “Who would have told Abraham that Sarah would nurse children? Yet I have borne a son for him in his old age.”

There’s an outward focus in her song of praise. She’s thinking about the Lord and her husband and her children and grandchildren. God was removing self-centeredness from her heart. That is always part of what the Lord wants to do in us. The more I am alive to self, the less I am alive to the Spirit.

Genesis 21:8 – 8 The child grew and was weaned, and Abraham held a great feast on the day Isaac was weaned.

This would’ve been an interesting party, because it had a bunch of Philistines as guests! Abraham is still living among them. It drives home the idea that God’s desire is to use your life to preach to the unbelievers around you. We’re meant to be salt and light in a rotten and dark world. God says, “Yes, go to the Philistines and be different. Be set apart. Show them how great My power is and how great My love is and how faithful I am.”

Genesis 21:9-10 – 9 But Sarah saw the son mocking—the one Hagar the Egyptian had borne to Abraham. 10 So she said to Abraham, “Drive out this slave with her son, for the son of this slave will not be a coheir with my son Isaac!”

If we read Hebrew, we’d see that Moses keeps using forms of this word for laughing. Sarah is laughing, those who hear will laugh, Isaac name means laughter, and here this word for mocking is connected with that word, too. Scholars say Ishmael was “Isaac-ing” Isaac.

Maybe you’ve heard it said that the Hebrew indicates that Ishmael molested Isaac. That seems to go farther than the language and context suggest. But, if Ishmael was just joking around, why does Sarah react so harshly?

Linguists tell us that mocking here can mean ‘insulting’ or ‘making sport of.’ So we have this little toddler (2 or 3 years old) and his older brother who’s 16 or 17, cruelly making sport of him. Maybe even getting in his face and saying, “You think you’re gonna be in charge? We’ll see about that!”

Paul helps us understand a little more about what was going on here. In Galatians he uses Ishmael and Isaac as an analogy for us about our life with Christ, and he says that Ishamel persecuted Isaac. A term that means to drive away or to aggressively chase, like a hunter pursuing a catch.

So, now Sarah’s reaction seems more reasonable. If Ishmael was trying to drive out Isaac, then he must be driven out. This is not a case of “boys will be boys.” No, it’s more like when Adam was driven out of Eden and when Cain was driven from society – a consequence of willful sin.

Genesis 21:11- 11 This was very distressing to Abraham because of his son.

Abraham loved Ishmael. There was a lot of bad blood between Hagar and Sarah, but this was his boy. He had even floated Ishmael as heir to God a few chapters ago. “If only Ishmael were acceptable to You!” And we’ll see that God also cared about Hagar and Ishmael as people.

But now, things had come to a head as they did earlier with Lot. Abraham had people in tow who were not compatible with what God was going to do. And it broke Abraham’s heart.

Genesis 21:12-13 – 12 But God said to Abraham, “Do not be distressed about the boy and about your slave. Whatever Sarah says to you, listen to her, because your offspring will be traced through Isaac, 13 and I will also make a nation of the slave’s son because he is your offspring.”

God was going to gracious to all the parties involved, but first there needed to be this painful work of excising the son of the flesh. This family could not continue the way things were.

Genesis 21:14 – 14 Early in the morning Abraham got up, took bread and a waterskin, put them on Hagar’s shoulders, and sent her and the boy away. She left and wandered in the Wilderness of Beer-sheba.

That’s it? No donkey or wagon or proper supplies? Some bread and a single skin of water? This seems terribly uncompassionate. There are a variety of suggestions why they were sent out with so little. One commentator thinks Abraham gave them so little on purpose so that they would be forced to stay nearby and he could, perhaps, continue to look after them. Archaeologists have also found a legal code from roughly that time called the Lipit-Ishtar Law Code which forbade a slave and her offspring from receiving any part of the inheritance, so maybe it was a legal thing. Or maybe it was a providential way that God was leading, since He did want to do a work in Hagar and Ishamel’s lives, too.

Whatever it was, we can see that – many long decades after – Ishamel still had affection for his father. Nearly 75 years after this day, Ishmael will return and meet up with Isaac to bury Abraham. I think that says something about Ishmael’s love for his dad and how he felt about him.

For his part, Abraham was quick to obey. We see such a heart of obedience here, even when it hurts to do it. He rose early. He did just as he was commanded and in so doing, he trusts the Lord.

Genesis 21:15-16 – 15 When the water in the skin was gone, she left the boy under one of the bushes 16 and went and sat at a distance, about a bowshot away, for she said, “I can’t bear to watch the boy die!” While she sat at a distance, she wept loudly.

This is a terrible scene. Perhaps Hagar had thought, “Well, I went out on my own when I was pregnant and found a spring of water, we’ll be ok.” But not this time. They are about to die from thirsts and exposure. But then God shows Himself.

Geneis 21:17 – 17 God heard the boy crying, and the angel of God called to Hagar from heaven and said to her, “What’s wrong, Hagar? Don’t be afraid, for God has heard the boy crying from the place where he is.

What’s wrong? That’s sort of a rude question, isn’t it? Not when we consider the whole of Hagar’s story. She had already met with God, face to face! And He had told her that she would have many offspring and that Ishmael had a future ahead. And yet, in her time of need, Hagar didn’t call out to “The God Who sees,” “the God who hears.” She gave up.

Now, if God was with them all along and had these plans for them, why allow any of this suffering? Why bring them to death’s door in the desert? Their suffering was not caused by God, God saved them from it. The world is the way it is because of human sin. Hagar and Ishmael were out in that wilderness because of sin. God was not responsible for their suffering. The opposite is true! He’s took it on Himself to rescue them!

Genesis 21:18-19 – 18 Get up, help the boy up, and grasp his hand, for I will make him a great nation.” 19 Then God opened her eyes, and she saw a well. So she went and filled the waterskin and gave the boy a drink.

Living by faith is a hands-on kind of life. God has individual plans for our lives and our families, and they always include us getting up and grasping the hands of the weak and afflicted people around us. We’re to deliver Living Water to those who are about to die of spiritual thirst.

What was this well doing in the wilderness? Who dug it? We don’t know. Someone did. Maybe you feel like your spiritual efforts are like digging a well in the wilderness – something that seems totally pointless and makes no difference. But God doesn’t waste anything He leads us to do.

Genesis 21:20-21 – 20 God was with the boy, and he grew; he settled in the wilderness and became an archer. 21 He settled in the Wilderness of Paran, and his mother got a wife for him from the land of Egypt.

We think of Ishmael as a villain, but it’s interesting to read here that God was with him. Will we see Ishmael in heaven? I don’t know. But we have to marvel at the gracious, loving faithfulness our God shows to the most undeserving people.

Ishmael didn’t become a shepherd, he became a hunter and he made his home in the wilderness, rather than the fruitful land of promise.

This brings us to how Paul wants us to think about this story. He talks about how Ishamel is like a Christian trying to live by the Law – we would call it legalism. Isaac represents living in the Spirit. Paul lays this out in Galatians 4 and he says we need to drive out the son of the flesh – drive out legalism from our relationship with Christ.

In Genesis 13 we saw that Abraham and Lot could not co-exist together. It’s a picture of how the life of faith cannot co-exist with lust and materialism. Now, we swing to the other side and find that we cannot coexist with legalism. A legalistic mentality will do on a spiritual level what Ishmael does. It’s not a shepherd, it’s a hunter, and it’s hunting the work of the Spirit! It persecutes and it seeks to supplant the true work of God’s grace. It’s always looking to snipe some prey and keep you settled in the wilderness, rather than in the bountiful blessings of grace. We’ve got to drive it out.

“Brothers and sisters, we are not children of a slave but of the free woman. For freedom, Christ set us free. Stand firm, then, and don’t submit again to a yoke of slavery.” Instead, let’s continue in faith and be people who grow the way Abraham did, enjoying the awesome, transforming work of God along the way.