Archive for the ‘Genesis’ Category

Wrasslin’ with Jesus

Posted: June 21, 2018 in Genesis, Uncategorized

Genesis 32-33, “Wrasslin’ with Jesus”

In the South, it’s not “wrestling;” it’s “wrasslin’.” I didn’t watch much wrasslin’ growing up as a kid, but I watched a few episodes of WWE (WWF at the time). Guys like Hulk Hogan and André the Giant and Randy Savage were the rage – massively huge men who seemingly had the capability of throwing people across the room. Was it fake? Sure, but not to a kid…to a kid, it was superhuman strength! The only time it would really cause trouble was when we’d try out the moves on each other. Somehow, a clothesline or an elbow drop looked like it hurt a lot less on TV! 

Real-life wrestling is different. To grapple with another human being is a tough (but ancient) Olympic sport, which requires strength, skill, and (perhaps most of all) endurance. If you don’t have the stamina to last in the ring, you’ll end up on the losing end of the match.

Genesis 32 has its own version of a wrestling match, as Jacob goes toe-to-toe with an unnamed Man, who is none other than the pre-incarnate Jesus Christ. For all that Jacob lacked, one thing he had in abundance (by this point) was endurance. Once he got a clue whom it was he was wrestling, he understood that he could not afford to let go. He had to hold on to God for all he was worth, because all he had & all his hope was in God alone. It had taken Jacob a while to get to this point, but he had finally arrived, and he wasn’t about to leave!

Because much of what is narrated in these chapters had their beginnings earlier in the book, we need to review a bit of the context. The last time Jacob had seen his twin brother Esau was twenty years earlier, when Jacob had deceived their father Isaac and received the blessing that Isaac intended to give to Esau. Technically, the blessing rightfully belonged to Jacob, both by prophecy of the Lord & by right of sale, acquired from Esau for a bowl of stew. Even so, Jacob was still at fault for trickery and Esau wanted blood. His father and mother thus sent Jacob to his uncle Laban in Syria to find a wife (and to let tempers cool). Along the way, God promised to return Jacob to the land, and Jacob promised to worship God when it happened.

Time passed. Jacob had arrived in Padan Aram and learned some hard lessons in humility at the hand of his deceptive uncle Laban. Even so, God blessed Jacob, and at the end of twenty years, now with four wives, eleven sons, at least one daughter, and massive numbers of livestock – it was time for Jacob to return home. Laban didn’t make things easy, but eventually he and Jacob came to an agreement, and Jacob was free.

By this point, Jacob was starting to walk by faith, having a righteous fear of the God of his fathers. But what would Jacob’s own relationship with God look like? And how would that affect his other relationships and challenges? That is all settled in Chapters 32-33. This is when Jacob finally surrenders himself in faith, refusing to let go of God. Getting right with Jesus got Jacob ready for everything else.

Jacob may have wrassled with Jesus, but it brought him to surrendered faith. What will it do for you?

Genesis 32

  • Preparing for Esau (32:1-21)

1 So Jacob went on his way, and the angels of God met him. 2 When Jacob saw them, he said, “This is God’s camp.” And he called the name of that place Mahanaim.

  1. The Hebrew text actually includes 31:55 as the first verse in Chapter 32, so when it says “Jacob went on his way,” it should be thought as the equal response to Laban’s leaving. They both left the place where they had formed a covenant, each going their separate ways.
  2. Jacob didn’t remain alone for long; “the angels of God met him.” Not much about it is described, but Jacob actually had an angelic encounter – something that might have gotten a larger write-up anywhere else. If nothing else, it was a sign that Jacob was on the right path, doing the right things. After all, if he’s camping out in the same place as the angels of God, there’s no place better that he could be!
  3. The most important thing about the angels wasn’t the angels; it was Who the angels represented: the Lord God. God was there – this was His Being in the presence of God is the privilege of every believer in Jesus Christ. How so? We are the temple of the Holy Spirit. God the Holy Spirit indwells each and every born-again believer. We don’t have to search for a specific physical location in which we can worship God – we can worship God anywhere, in spirit and in truth, for God is always with us.

3 Then Jacob sent messengers before him to Esau his brother in the land of Seir, the country of Edom. 4 And he commanded them, saying, “Speak thus to my lord Esau, ‘Thus your servant Jacob says: “I have dwelt with Laban and stayed there until now. 5 I have oxen, donkeys, flocks, and male and female servants; and I have sent to tell my lord, that I may find favor in your sight.” ’ ”

  1. There’s an interesting parallel between verse 1 & verse 3 that doesn’t come across in English. The Hebrew word for “angel” and “messenger” is the same (as it is for Greek). It is the context that determines the translation. But the word for both is “malach,” (מַלְאָךְ). (“Malachi” = My Messenger) Just like God sent messengers to Jacob, Jacob sent messengers to Esau. In a sense, Jacob is following God’s lead. Of course, in God’s case, He already knew everything about Jacob. God’s messengers (angels) were sent for Jacob’s benefit. In Jacob’s case, he needed his messengers to not only communicate to Esau, but learn what was on Esau’s mind – again, primarily for Jacob’s benefit.
  2. In the midst of it all, notice the humble attitude: “my lord…your servant.” This was a vastly different tone than what he had when Jacob originally left. Twenty years ago, Isaac had promised Jacob that he would be master over his brother (27:29), and that Esau would have to break off the yoke of Jacob (27:40). Even if Jacob hadn’t flaunted this in front of his brother, it was still the proverbial ‘elephant in the room.’ This is why Jacob went to such extremes regarding the titles – he was trying to put this as far away from him as possible. This wasn’t simply cultural humility; it was planned wisdom.
    1. Humility goes far in defusing bad situations. Proverbs 15:1, “A soft answer turns away wrath, But a harsh word stirs up anger.” Proverbs 15:18, “A wrathful man stirs up strife, But he who is slow to anger allays contention.” The way we answer someone can sometimes be just as important as the content of our answer. Even the truth of the Scripture can be quoted in such a way that it becomes a bludgeon & not a balm. By all means, speak truth! But speak it in love & humility.

6 Then the messengers returned to Jacob, saying, “We came to your brother Esau, and he also is coming to meet you, and four hundred men are with him.”

  1. 400 men! This had all the appearance of war, and it probably was. Dangerous sight!

7 So Jacob was greatly afraid and distressed; and he divided the people that were with him, and the flocks and herds and camels, into two companies. 8 And he said, “If Esau comes to the one company and attacks it, then the other company which is left will escape.”

  1. Jacob’s fear was natural! If you were facing the possibility of staring down an army with nothing more than your family & farmhands, you’d be fearful, too!
  2. Jacob did two things. The first was to plan – initially described here, as splitting up his people. This was only the first step. The bulk of his plan was to send an appeasement gift/tribute to his brother – something already mentioned by the messengers, but fully planned later in the chapter.
  3. The second was to pray. 

9 Then Jacob said, “O God of my father Abraham and God of my father Isaac, the LORD who said to me, ‘Return to your country and to your family, and I will deal well with you’: 10 I am not worthy of the least of all the mercies and of all the truth which You have shown Your servant; for I crossed over this Jordan with my staff, and now I have become two companies. 11 Deliver me, I pray, from the hand of my brother, from the hand of Esau; for I fear him, lest he come and attack me and the mother with the children. 12 For You said, ‘I will surely treat you well, and make your descendants as the sand of the sea, which cannot be numbered for multitude.’ ”

  1. This was a prayer of faith! It is some of the strongest faith thus far seen from Jacob. Jacob may have his own plans in the works, but ultimately his hope is not in those plans, but in the Lord. He appeals to God in faith, doing so on several levels.
  2. First, Jacob knew God as the God of his fathers. Just as he had done with Laban, he remembered God as the true God – the God his fathers worshiped and feared. This was not a generic god of a generic people; this was the God of all the Universe who promised an everlasting covenant with Jacob’s family. And that wasn’t all…Jacob also knew God as the God who spoke to him. Jacob’s faith wasn’t only mirrored off the faith of his fathers, but also his own personal encounter with the Lord.
    1. This is key! Which god do we worship? To whom do we pray? Many people pray, but few pray with knowledge of the true God – and to have that knowledge, it needs to be first-hand. No one is saved by second-hand faith. If the only way we know Jesus is through the stories of our parents, grandparents, or friends, then we don’t know Jesus at all. We have to know Him for ourselves.
  3. Second, Jacob remembered God’s promises. He quotes/summarizes two of God’s specific promises to him (31:3, 28:14). Jacob did not appeal to God based on Jacob’s own merit, for he had none. His prayer was predicated on God’s own promises. Because God said these things, God would ensure they came to pass. God promised to bring Jacob back to the land, to bless him, and to make him a great nation, so God would see it done.
    1. We do the same thing when we quote Scripture in our prayers. Caveat: we don’t rip the word of God out from its context & try to make truths apply to us that don’t fit. (Example: Jeremiah 29:11. That’s a national promise for national Israel; not a promise for individual application.) But what better to inform our prayers than the Bible? How can we best know what is on God’s heart for us, other than reading His inspired word? Our Bibles and our prayer journals go hand-in-hand!
  4. Third, Jacob had a humble view of himself, and an understanding of God’s greatness and merciful blessing. “I am not worthy” wasn’t a facetious statement giving the appearance of humility…it was truth! Jacob wasn’t worthy of the blessings of the Lord, and he knew it. He had come to grips with his history of deceptions and scheming – those things became painfully clear when he was walking through the desert twenty years ago holding his staff & nothing other than the promises of God. Jacob had come from one of the wealthiest families in the middle east, and at that point he had nothing but his clothes and a walking stick – soon to be dependent upon his uncle to give him a job tending sheep. That was where his own “worth” and efforts led him. Quite literally everything he had was due to the gift of God.
    1. Likewise, God has been merciful with us. We aren’t worthy of God’s blessings…not by a long shot! If our futures depended upon our worth, we would have nothing to expect except fire and brimstone. Our “worth” is worthless! Having that honest view of ourselves keeps us in the place of holy humility. We see us for who we are, and Jesus for who He is, and that’s the right perspective in prayer.
  5. Fourth, Jacob was honest! He didn’t pretend he wasn’t afraid; he freely admitted it. “…For I fear him.” Truth! Jacob didn’t pretend a holy courage that he didn’t have. By this point in his life, he understood that there was no point in pretenses with God. God knew his heart, and God would know if Jacob was lying. Jacob feared…and Jacob still trusted the Lord. His fear didn’t send him running away from God; it sent him running to God.
    1. Faith isn’t having a lack of fear; it is trusting God despite our fear. Fear shuts so many people down from prayer, but when we fear, it is what we most need to do! Prayer takes our eyes off our circumstances and puts them back onto the Lord (whom we need to fear reverently).
  6. Jacob’s prayer is a great model for us. Pray to the God who has revealed Himself to us – pray according to God’s promises – pray according to God’s character – pray honestly.
  7. Now that Jacob has prayed, he sets about with his planning. Faithful prayer is essential, but it isn’t a substitute for faithful action. Action is subservient to prayer, but it also needs to be subsequent to prayer.

13 So he lodged there that same night, and took what came to his hand as a present for Esau his brother: 14 two hundred female goats and twenty male goats, two hundred ewes and twenty rams, 15 thirty milk camels with their colts, forty cows and ten bulls, twenty female donkeys and ten foals.

  1. This is a massive gift! 550 various animals of livestock were sent to Esau. It emphasizes the abundant wealth held by Jacob. Surely, this was a significant percentage of Jacob’s herds, but it hardly left him penniless. God had blessed him abundantly! 

16 Then he delivered them to the hand of his servants, every drove by itself, and said to his servants, “Pass over before me, and put some distance between successive droves.” 17 And he commanded the first one, saying, “When Esau my brother meets you and asks you, saying, ‘To whom do you belong, and where are you going? Whose are these in front of you?’ 18 then you shall say, ‘They are your servant Jacob’s. It is a present sent to my lord Esau; and behold, he also is behind us.’ ” 19 So he commanded the second, the third, and all who followed the droves, saying, “In this manner you shall speak to Esau when you find him; 20 and also say, ‘Behold, your servant Jacob is behind us.’ ” For he said, “I will appease him with the present that goes before me, and afterward I will see his face; perhaps he will accept me.”

  1. Consecutive waves of gifts – meant to soften Esau’s heart. One would follow the other, which would follow the other, giving Esau time to think and consider the humility of his brother.
  2. Some criticize this planning, claiming that although Jacob prayed, Jacob didn’t have faith that God would actually act. Not so. Jacob prayed, and his prayer was sincere – as seen in his later wrestling match. Jacob is simply being proactive, which is good! The last time Jacob saw his brother, Jacob had stolen a blessing from his brother. Upon his return, Jacob is giving a blessing to his brother. Was Jacob’s intent to save his skin? But it was still the right thing to do. Jacob has finally started to take responsibility for his actions, and he did what he believed necessary to make amends.
  3. Keep in mind, reconciliation with his brother was a must. Not only did it need to happen if Jacob was ever going to live safely in the land, but it was just the right thing. How could he move forward in his relationship with God and with the covenant blessing, if there was the unsettled stigma of how he had left his brother? Jesus addressed the same principle in the Sermon on the Mount: Matthew 5:23–24, “(23) Therefore if you bring your gift to the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, (24) leave your gift there before the altar, and go your way. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.” Is our invitation to worship God bound as to whether or not we are forgiven by someone we’ve offended? After all, we cannot force anyone to do anything. But we are bound if we never seek forgiveness, or some form of reconciliation. How can we offer God our worship, trusting in His forgiveness, if we’ve got outstanding debts of sin towards others? (Let your conscience be clear!)

21 So the present went on over before him, but he himself lodged that night in the camp. 22 And he arose that night and took his two wives, his two female servants, and his eleven sons, and crossed over the ford of Jabbok. 23 He took them, sent them over the brook, and sent over what he had.

  1. At this point, there was nothing left to do but the waiting. He sent the gift, and prepared himself for the outcome. Time would tell as to what would happen.
  2. Actually, there was one There was one more meeting to be had – only Jacob didn’t know it was coming. 
  • Wrestling for a blessing (32:24-32)

24 Then Jacob was left alone; and a Man wrestled with him until the breaking of day. 25 Now when He saw that He did not prevail against him, He touched the socket of his hip; and the socket of Jacob’s hip was out of joint as He wrestled with him.

  1. Who was the Man? Jesus, at least in His pre-incarnate form. Earlier, Jacob met with multiple angels of God, but here it was no angel; it was God Himself!
  2. Question: Was it real – or was it a vision? In the end, it doesn’t matter – the actions and the result were the same either way. Just like Paul had a vision of heaven, not knowing if he really travelled there or just dreamt it, Jacob had his own encounter with Jesus. Together, they wrestled all night. Though infinitely outmatched, Jacob was persistent – to the point that Genesis says of Jesus “He did not prevail against him.” By normal physical means, Jesus did not outlast or overcome Jacob in wrestling. Jacob simply would not give up. It wasn’t until the Son of God used His supernatural power that the match came to an end.
  3. Who prevailed over who? Jacob hadn’t let go, but it only took a single touch to knock his hip out of joint. God let Jacob “win.” Jesus was in control the whole time. In fact, God showed mercy in allowing Jacob to wrestle with Him at all! … It’s not unlike dads engaging in horseplay with their young children. Could a grown man put down a 5 year old? No question, no problem. But sometimes dads let their kids win…especially when the kid wants it so bad that they don’t give up. That was Jesus with Jacob. Almighty God the Son could have stopped the wrestling before it started – He could have put Jacob down with a mere glance & not a touch at all. Jesus let Jacob wrestle Him, because Jesus wanted to see Jacob endure. In the past, Jacob had always taken the easy way out…not this time. No doubt, it thrilled the Lord that “He did not prevail against” Jacob!

26 And He said, “Let Me go, for the day breaks.” But he said, “I will not let You go unless You bless me!”

  1. Why didn’t Jacob let go? Because Jacob’s one hope was in the Lord. Finally, he had the right perspective of God. In the past, Jacob believed some of the promises of God, but thought Jacob’s own plans for achieving those promises were better. In the past, Jacob relied far too much on himself. Now, he saw the worthlessness of his own self-reliance. What he needed was the blessing of God, and he had absolutely no hope without it. Jacob was going to cling to Jesus, and he was determined to always cling to Jesus.
  2. Don’t let go of Jesus! The problem with many people is that they let go of God too soon. They might ask for an initial salvation, but believe they can get through the rest of life on their own. They want a promise of eternal heaven, but not much to do with God along the way until they get there. Or they think God needs their help, and that they know better. IOW, they think God needs to cling to them, rather than them cling to God. Not so! He is our hope – He is our only What do we have to offer God, apart from faith? Nothing! There is nothing we can give Him that He cannot get on our own. The single exception is our willing worship…and for that, we need to cling to Christ. That requires total surrender; not a half-hearted pseudo-faith.

27 So He said to him, “What is your name?” He said, “Jacob.” 28 And He said, “Your name shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel; for you have struggled with God and with men, and have prevailed.”

  1. Jacob is renamed. He was “heel-catcher / supplanter” – now he is “strength of God / God persists/perseveres.” His entire identity was changed. The old name reminded him of his past – his new name signified his future. His encounter with Jesus changed everything!

29 Then Jacob asked, saying, “Tell me Your name, I pray.” And He said, “Why is it that you ask about My name?” And He blessed him there.

  1. Question: Didn’t Jacob already know? That much was made clear in his request for a blessing. So why did Jacob ask? That’s exactly the question Jesus asked him. Basically, ‘If you already know who I am (which you do), why do you ask Me my name?’ Of course, God knew the answer to what was in Jacob’s heart – even if the Scripture doesn’t tell us directly. Jacob had already shown much faith to this point, but Jacob wasn’t perfect. God wasn’t about to enter into some tit-for-tat with him – this was not a relationship-of-equals, yet that was seemingly how Jacob wanted to treat it. God had full rights to know Jacob & name him, but that didn’t go the other way around. God gave mercy to Jacob in revealing Himself to Jacob – but Jacob needed to come to God on God’s terms; not his own.
    1. People often do the same! We cannot come to God apart from His invitation on His terms.
    2. And when we do, we can never forget that we are not Yes, we are joint-heirs with Christ Jesus, graciously blessed to share in His inheritance and future. But at the end of the day, God is God & we’re not. We are not in a relationship-of-equals – we are privileged to be sons and daughters of the Most High God.

30 So Jacob called the name of the place Peniel: “For I have seen God face to face, and my life is preserved.” 31 Just as he crossed over Penuel the sun rose on him, and he limped on his hip.

  1. Peniel/Penuel are alternate spellings of the same thing: face of God.
  2. At this point, Jacob recognized the mercy shown to him. He was one of a few people in history who spoke to God face to face (Abraham & Moses being another couple of examples). Normally, that would mean death – in this case, it meant life.
  3. BTW: John 1:18 says that no one has seen God at any time – how can that be true, in the light of Jacob’s declaration & Moses’ experience, etc.? Simple: God the Father is spirit, and has no physical form. When people see God, usually they see some representation of God’s glory (burning bush, thick cloud, etc.). Jesus is the image of the invisible God (Col 1:15), and when we have seen Him, we have seen the Father (Jn 14:9). Jacob had not looked upon the face of God the Father (1st Person of the Trinity), but he did look on the pre-incarnate face of God the Son (2nd Person of the Trinity). Thus he had seen God face-to-face, even while preserving the truth that none can look at God and live.

32 Therefore to this day the children of Israel do not eat the muscle that shrank, which is on the hip socket, because He touched the socket of Jacob’s hip in the muscle that shrank.

  1. A bit of epilogue & extra info from the author (and/or Moses, the compiler). Tells of a then-current (and sometimes still-current) custom among the Hebrews to refrain from eating the muscle that shrank. It became a memorial of Jacob’s moment of faith.
  2. Jacob had his own personal memorial in his permanent limp! Every time he moved, he would be reminded of the night he wrestled with God.

Genesis 33 – Encountering Esau (33:1-20)

1 Now Jacob lifted his eyes and looked, and there, Esau was coming, and with him were four hundred men. So he divided the children among Leah, Rachel, and the two maidservants. 2 And he put the maidservants and their children in front, Leah and her children behind, and Rachel and Joseph last.

  1. Jacob may have settled his faith with the Lord, but that didn’t remove the challenges ahead of him. Esau was still on the way. Now, however, Jacob was prepared to face him! Once Jacob’s relationship with God was right, that set the tone for everything else.
  2. Sadly, the favoritism shown among his wives and children remained. Jacob arranged his family in order of importance/rank, with “Rachel and Joseph last,” being with him.
    1. Keep this in mind for later, when Joseph’s brothers have issues with his favored status. Joseph was so favored by his father, that the other sons were basically expendable to the army of Esau.

3 Then he crossed over before them and bowed himself to the ground seven times, until he came near to his brother. 4 But Esau ran to meet him, and embraced him, and fell on his neck and kissed him, and they wept.

  1. There was incredible humility in Jacob’s approach. Not only had he sent ahead the many waves of gifts, but he continually bowed on the way to meet his brother. Jacob went above & beyond to demonstrate he posed no threat.
  2. Esau’s response? Reconciliation! Despite arriving with an army’s worth of 400 men, Esau had not come to execute his brother, but to embrace him. This was the best scenario possible – something which Jacob would never have even dared to dream. It would have been enough for Esau to leave him alone or even turn away; this was nothing less than a miracle of God!
    1. Do you trust God for miracles in your relationships? One of God’s specialties is bringing dead things to life, and that includes friendships & marriages as much as it does eternal souls. Nothing is too hard for the Lord. What relationship are you afraid to entrust to Him?

5 And he lifted his eyes and saw the women and children, and said, “Who are these with you?” So he said, “The children whom God has graciously given your servant.” 6 Then the maidservants came near, they and their children, and bowed down. 7 And Leah also came near with her children, and they bowed down. Afterward Joseph and Rachel came near, and they bowed down.

  1. Remember that twenty years had passed. Esau had never known his nephews & niece. The twin brothers had much catching up to do!
  2. All of them demonstrated the same submission as had Jacob. This was the cultural practice, but it was also necessary due to the situation. Jacob wasn’t yet sure if Esau might change his mind & bring down the sword. He needed to keep things as friendly as possible.

8 Then Esau said, “What do you mean by all this company which I met?” And he said, “These are to find favor in the sight of my lord.” 9 But Esau said, “I have enough, my brother; keep what you have for yourself.” 10 And Jacob said, “No, please, if I have now found favor in your sight, then receive my present from my hand, inasmuch as I have seen your face as though I had seen the face of God, and you were pleased with me. 11 Please, take my blessing that is brought to you, because God has dealt graciously with me, and because I have enough.” So he urged him, and he took it.

  1. Negotiating the gift. Both men were extremely wealthy, and neither truly needed the livestock to further enrich themselves. The fact that they could argue over this (in a friendly way) does to show the fulfillment of the prophetic blessing given them by their father. Both of them were enriched from “the fatness of the earth,” (Gen 27:28,39). Neither of them lacked for bread or provision. To be sure, only one brother had the covenant, but both were blessed by the Lord.
  2. In the end, Jacob insisted on the gift. All he wanted was peace, and he wanted his brother to know that was his heart’s desire. (Blessed are the peacemakers – Mt 5:9)
  3. The expression Jacob used to express his gladness at Esau’s response was interesting. “Inasmuch as I have seen your face as though I had seen the face of God.” Jacob knew a little something about seeing the face of God! Though Esau didn’t understand, Jacob knew that this was part of the very blessing that God had promised him the previous night. This was confirmation of God’s hand on his life, and his newfound (newly renewed) faith in God.

12 Then Esau said, “Let us take our journey; let us go, and I will go before you.” 13 But Jacob said to him, “My lord knows that the children are weak, and the flocks and herds which are nursing are with me. And if the men should drive them hard one day, all the flock will die. 14 Please let my lord go on ahead before his servant. I will lead on slowly at a pace which the livestock that go before me, and the children, are able to endure, until I come to my lord in Seir.” 15 And Esau said, “Now let me leave with you some of the people who are with me.” But he said, “What need is there? Let me find favor in the sight of my lord.” 16 So Esau returned that day on his way to Seir. 17 And Jacob journeyed to Succoth, built himself a house, and made booths for his livestock. Therefore the name of the place is called Succoth.

  1. Reason not to travel together – but also an excuse for Jacob to remain separate and independent. Although he promised to follow his brother to Seir, he lied.
  2. Question: Should Jacob have gone to Seir? God had called him to Canaan; not Edom. Jacob’s commitment to remain in the Promised Land was part of his obedience to God. His insistence to lie about it, however, was not.
  3. Jacob had taken a giant step of faith, but he wasn’t perfect. (Neither are we!)

18 Then Jacob came safely to the city of Shechem, which is in the land of Canaan, when he came from Padan Aram; and he pitched his tent before the city. 19 And he bought the parcel of land, where he had pitched his tent, from the children of Hamor, Shechem’s father, for one hundred pieces of money. 20 Then he erected an altar there and called it El Elohe Israel.

  1. This the setting and background for Chapter 34.
  2. Jacob is back home in Canaan, per God’s promise.
  3. Jacob formally declares his faith in God, per his own promise. Back in Genesis 28:21, when Jacob received God’s promise that God would return him to the land and bless him, Jacob had then made a conditional promise that he would worship God as God. That condition had been fulfilled, and Jacob made his faith known. “El Ehohe Israel” (אֵ֖ל אֱלֹהֵ֥י יִשְׂרָאֵֽל) = “God, (the/is the) God of Israel.”

Conclusion:

By definition, there has come a point in the life of every Christian when we made the decision to follow Christ in faith – that Jesus would be our God. What was yours? For Jacob, it was the night he wrestled with Jesus, refusing to let go, knowing that his only hope for blessing (his only chance for survival!) would be if God acted on his behalf. For you, you may have had your own experience wrestling with the Lord. 

The thing about wrestling with the Lord is that it is something God graciously allows us to do, but it is something we cannot win. Or, we win – but we only win when we surrender. “Winning” is persistent surrender to the Lord Jesus. We recognize His lordship & grace, and we do not let go. In Him is our only hope.

Perhaps tonight is your wrestling match. Will you surrender and hold on?

Perhaps as a Christian, there’s a challenge in your life that still requires surrender to the Lord. Maybe there’s a sin to which you’ve clung – maybe there is resentment towards someone else, or fear of certain consequences. Whatever it is, you need to come to the point that you realize: (1) you aren’t in control; God is, and (2) you can’t fix it; God can. The way we tackle these problems isn’t by trying to handle it ourselves; it is to handle them with Jesus. Get your relationship with Jesus right first, and the rest will follow.

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Schemer vs. Schemer

Posted: June 14, 2018 in Genesis, Uncategorized

Genesis 30:25 – 31:55, “Schemer vs. Schemer”

After purchasing the birthright of Esau and deceiving his father Isaac to receive the covenant blessing, Jacob fled for his life to his uncle Laban in Padan Aram (Syria). As he left, he formally received his father’s blessing as well as a vision from the Lord, being promised by God Himself that God would never leave him & would bring Jacob back to the land of Canaan. Upon arriving in Syria, Jacob experienced love at first sight with Laban’s younger daughter Rachel, whom Laban gave as a wife – but only after tricking Jacob into marrying the older daughter Leah. The two sisters were unequally loved, and tried to win Jacob’s affection through a bizarre battle of childbirth. Eventually, Jacob has a huge family with four wives, and though dysfunctional, it was the foundation of the nation of Israel. The Messianic promise was alive and well, despite the manipulations of men.

The narrator of Genesis picks up at this point, with Jacob and his family now ready to depart for home. The years in Syria were filled with hard lessons for this heel-catching schemer Jacob, and the lessons weren’t yet done. He would go a few more rounds with his father-in-law, but in the end Jacob would learn the best lesson of all: to trust God as his provider. God had brought him to this point, and God would take him home. God’s word was always true, and God’s ways are always good! How we respond to God’s ways is up to us.

Genesis 30:25–43 – Scheming for the Sheep

  • Jacob’s offer & Laban’s deceit (25-36)

25 And it came to pass, when Rachel had borne Joseph, that Jacob said to Laban, “Send me away, that I may go to my own place and to my country. 26 Give me my wives and my children for whom I have served you, and let me go; for you know my service which I have done for you.”

  1. 14 years had passed. It was time to go home. Jacob’s leaving was connected to Joseph’s birth. Once Rachel bore children of her own, it was apparently a sign to Jacob.
  2. My own place…my country” – it wasn’t Syria! Jacob had lived in Padan Aram for many years, but it wasn’t his home.
    1. Neither is this world our We are here, temporarily – ultimately in preparation for our heavenly home with Jesus. The moment we lose that perspective is the moment we get into trouble.

27 And Laban said to him, “Please stay, if I have found favor in your eyes, for I have learned by experience that the LORD has blessed me for your sake.” 28 Then he said, “Name me your wages, and I will give it.”

  1. Laban knew he had a good thing! His son-in-law was a better ranch-hand than any other, and Laban’s own wealthy had grown by leaps & bounds while Jacob was with him. Jacob had done his work well, and he had the promise of God’s blessing upon him, so Laban had reaped some of the benefits. This wasn’t something he wanted to give up easily!
  2. So why ask Jacob to stay, only to turn around and ask him his price? Perhaps because Laban (1) believed that Jacob was determined, and (2) he thought he could weasel his way out of it. Laban had always been a conniver, and it’s likely that the wheels in his head were turning to see what benefit he could gain from this.
  3. BTW – NKJV translates that Laban knew the Lord’s blessing “by experience,” but NASB, ESV & others translate this as “by divination.” The NKJV isn’t necessarily wrong, in that it was experience; it was just pagan Question: Why does Laban use the Divine Name in reference to the practice? IOW, how could Laban know through pagan divination anything about YHWH the true God? The Bible doesn’t say. Laban was not a worshipper of YHWH (as will become apparent in Ch 31), but even pagans sometimes understand some true aspects about the true God. [i.e. Balaam, Num 22-24] Just because someone can speak some truth about God doesn’t mean that everything he/she speaks about God is truth. We’ve got to be willing to look at their fruit & take all questions of doctrine back to the Scripture.

29 So Jacob said to him, “You know how I have served you and how your livestock has been with me. 30 For what you had before I came was little, and it has increased to a great amount; the LORD has blessed you since my coming. And now, when shall I also provide for my own house?” 31 So he said, “What shall I give you?” And Jacob said, “You shall not give me anything. If you will do this thing for me, I will again feed and keep your flocks: 32 Let me pass through all your flock today, removing from there all the speckled and spotted sheep, and all the brown ones among the lambs, and the spotted and speckled among the goats; and these shall be my wages. 33 So my righteousness will answer for me in time to come, when the subject of my wages comes before you: every one that is not speckled and spotted among the goats, and brown among the lambs, will be considered stolen, if it is with me.”

  1. Jacob’s offer was good: God had already abundantly blessed Laban. According to Jacob’s plan, Jacob would continue to work for Laban, and God would continue to bless Laban. It would be from out of this increase that Laban would acquire his future wealth. Jacob would take the ‘imperfect’ livestock for himself. It was a generous offer, in which both men would be blessed – a win-win.
    1. The best agreements aren’t compromises; they are mutually beneficial. Compromises are inherently lose-lose; it takes creative solutions to find win-win. That being said, the very best agreements are the ones in which God is glorified. Occasionally, that might require us taking a loss. But a loss for Jesus isn’t a loss at all; it is a sacrifice of praise.
  2. Not only was there benefit; there was also accountability. Jacob didn’t propose this & simply say “Trust me.” He suggested a method by which Laban could ensure that Jacob followed his end of the agreement.
    1. Accountability ensures integrity, and Christians should always act with integrity. We ought to be able to live our lives as openly as possible – especially with those to whom we are responsible. We ought to be the most trustworthy employees on the payroll or the most honest of contractors. Anything less brings shame on the name of Christ – and that includes the work of pastors as well as anyone else.
  3. From a business perspective, all of this sounded great to Laban. From a theological perspective, this required tremendous faith in the Lord…which apparently was growing in Jacob. After all, Jacob had no assurance that the livestock would breed speckled or spotted – he had no idea how long it might take to gather enough animals in order to have freedom to leave. The only hope Jacob had in any of this was the provision of God…and that hope was well-placed!
    1. Keep in mind, this is not the health/wealth gospel. This isn’t name-it-and-claim-it prosperity. This is simple trust in God. This was the equivalent of Jacob trusting God for his daily bread, just as Jesus commanded us to pray today. God can be trusted with our physical provision. We don’t expect Him to make us rich for our selfish egos; we simply trust Him to give us our food and clothing in line with His care for us as His children.

34 And Laban said, “Oh, that it were according to your word!” 35 So he removed that day the male goats that were speckled and spotted, all the female goats that were speckled and spotted, every one that had some white in it, and all the brown ones among the lambs, and gave them into the hand of his sons. 36 Then he put three days’ journey between himself and Jacob, and Jacob fed the rest of Laban’s flocks.

  1. Laban recognized a good deal when he saw it, and quickly agreed! Jacob’s wealth wouldn’t cost Laban a dime. Laban’s flocks would (ideally) continue to increase, and Jacob would receive a small percentage of that increase.
  2. Even so, that wasn’t enough. Not content to let things lie, Laban twisted things to his own favor, his sons being in full conspiracy with him. He took away any existing livestock that might potentially contribute to the gene pool of the future generations. Like redheaded parents tend to have redheaded children, so would spotted sheep bear spotted sheep. Laban’s plan was to stealthily remove the existing sheep and send them to his sons far away. That left Jacob with nothing from which to start.
  3. The act of splitting out the livestock may not have been specified in the terms, but it was a violation of the spirit. It was deceit, plain and simple. It was one more shot against his son-in-law.
  4. Question: What would you do when faced with similar deceit? Would you demand retribution – back out of the deal – take him to court? Or would you trust the Lord? What did Jacob do? Verse 37…
  • Jacob’s selective breeding (37-43)

37 Now Jacob took for himself rods of green poplar and of the almond and chestnut trees, peeled white strips in them, and exposed the white which was in the rods. 38 And the rods which he had peeled, he set before the flocks in the gutters, in the watering troughs where the flocks came to drink, so that they should conceive when they came to drink.

  1. If Jacob was upset, his temper was not recorded in the Scripture (at least, not yet). Jacob did not let Laban’s deceit change the deal; Jacob simply adapted as necessary, trusting the Lord to provide for him & taking proactive steps in that direction. It’s not that Jacob did nothing; but (as will be made clear later on) what Jacob did was done in light of God’s provision and sovereignty.
    1. Sometimes courts and other authorities are needed, but in all things we need to remember that God is our defense. Even when we call upon the courts, our trust isn’t in the court; it ought to be in God.
  2. Interesting play on words in verse 37. The word for “white” in Hebrew is “laban,” (לָבָן). When Jacob “exposed the white which was in the rods,” it was as if he was exposing Laban himself. Jacob used Laban’s own tactics against him, although ultimately Jacob’s trust was in the Lord God.

39 So the flocks conceived before the rods, and the flocks brought forth streaked, speckled, and spotted. 40 Then Jacob separated the lambs, and made the flocks face toward the streaked and all the brown in the flock of Laban; but he put his own flocks by themselves and did not put them with Laban’s flock. 41 And it came to pass, whenever the stronger livestock conceived, that Jacob placed the rods before the eyes of the livestock in the gutters, that they might conceive among the rods. 42 But when the flocks were feeble, he did not put them in; so the feebler were Laban’s and the stronger Jacob’s.

  1. The whole practice has nothing to do with true animal husbandry & everything to do with superstition. The book of Genesis is not commending this as a scientific practice, nor commands animal breeders to do the same for similar results; it simply records what it was that Jacob did according to the cultural understanding he had at the time. 
  2. The amazing thing is, even in all of the superstition, God still chose to bless him! Jacob didn’t need to have a precise scientific understanding of genetic engineering; he simply did what he thought needed to be done and trusted God for the results. God met Jacob where he was. Grace!
  3. Note that Jacob still had an eye for himself in this. He specifically bred the stronger animals for himself, and left the weaker animals for Laban. Was this spite or justice? It’s difficult to say without more information…perhaps it’s better to assume the best.

43 Thus the man became exceedingly prosperous, and had large flocks, female and male servants, and camels and donkeys.

  1. The end result: Jacob became rich! The Hebrew idiom is interesting, in that the text basically says that “broke through (increased) exceedingly exceedingly,” with great emphasis. This was more than simply a good breeding season; this was a massive supernatural windfall!

Genesis 31 – The Chase and Covenant

  • Leaving Laban (1-21)

1 Now Jacob heard the words of Laban’s sons, saying, “Jacob has taken away all that was our father’s, and from what was our father’s he has acquired all this wealth.” 2 And Jacob saw the countenance of Laban, and indeed it was not favorable toward him as before.

  1. Hypocritical complaint! The sons had been a part of the deceit in the first place. They simply complained that they hadn’t had the benefit they expected.
  2. Also a big change from Laban. Back in 30:27, he was practically begging Jacob to stay because Jacob was a blessing. Laban thought differently now.

3 Then the LORD said to Jacob, “Return to the land of your fathers and to your family, and I will be with you.”

  1. If Jacob doubted the writing on the wall, he received confirmation from the Lord. God gave him very specific instructions to leave.
  2. This was part of God’s covenant promise to Jacob. Genesis 28:13–15, “(13) And behold, the LORD stood above it and said: “I am the LORD God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac; the land on which you lie I will give to you and your descendants. (14) Also your descendants shall be as the dust of the earth; you shall spread abroad to the west and the east, to the north and the south; and in you and in your seed all the families of the earth shall be blessed. (15) Behold, I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land; for I will not leave you until I have done what I have spoken to you.”” Notice the specific promise to be with Jacob & return him to the land. What God promised to do in Ch 28 is about to be fulfilled in Ch 31. God was good to His word!
    1. He always is! Jesus said He would be with us always, even to the end of the age – God never leaves us nor forsakes us – the Holy Spirit permanently indwells us as His temple, being the seal of our salvation. The Triune God promised to be with us, and He is – ever good to His word!
    2. Do you believe it? Sometimes Christians get the idea that God has forgotten them or (worse) abandoned them. Perish the thought! If you are a born-again Christian, God cannot forget you, and will never abandon you. You are His child, born of the Holy Spirit, given the Spirit of adoption. You are a co-heir with Christ Jesus, destined to receive of His inheritance. Trust the promise of God’s presence!

4 So Jacob sent and called Rachel and Leah to the field, to his flock, 5 and said to them, “I see your father’s countenance, that it is not favorable toward me as before; but the God of my father has been with me. 6 And you know that with all my might I have served your father. 7 Yet your father has deceived me and changed my wages ten times, but God did not allow him to hurt me. 8 If he said thus: ‘The speckled shall be your wages,’ then all the flocks bore speckled. And if he said thus: ‘The streaked shall be your wages,’ then all the flocks bore streaked. 9 So God has taken away the livestock of your father and given them to me. 10 “And it happened, at the time when the flocks conceived, that I lifted my eyes and saw in a dream, and behold, the rams which leaped upon the flocks were streaked, speckled, and gray-spotted. 11 Then the Angel of God spoke to me in a dream, saying, ‘Jacob.’ And I said, ‘Here I am.’ 12 And He said, ‘Lift your eyes now and see, all the rams which leap on the flocks are streaked, speckled, and gray-spotted; for I have seen all that Laban is doing to you. 13 I am the God of Bethel, where you anointed the pillar and where you made a vow to Me. Now arise, get out of this land, and return to the land of your family.’ ”

  1. Jacob made the case to his wives. There was a potential of a divided loyalty, and Jacob needed to ensure they agreed with him. Over the previous 20 years, he experienced much division simply between the two sisters…he wasn’t sure how they would react in regards to their father!
  2. Jacob recounts the facts clearly, showing how their father had consistently wronged him (and them), but how God consistently protected him. Over & over, Jacob gives credit to God for provision and protection – and it was right to do so. God had been faithful, so Jacob gave God the glory. (Are we so quick to recognize the hand of God in our lives?)
  3. It was also God who directed him. In addition to the word spoken by YHWH to Jacob, Jacob also received a dream. Among the provision of livestock (wealth) God had given him was an angel of God. Although not specifically named as the Angel of YHWH, this angel spoke the words of God in the 1st God had seen him, and God was specifically telling him to leave.
  4. Question: Why did God refer to Himself as “the God of Bethel,” instead of by His covenant name YHWH? Answer: This was how Jacob knew Him. Remember that Jacob worshipped God half-heartedly, having promised a future vow to worship God if God brought him back to the land of his fathers. Genesis 28:18–22, “(18) Then Jacob rose early in the morning, and took the stone that he had put at his head, set it up as a pillar, and poured oil on top of it. (19) And he called the name of that place Bethel; but the name of that city had been Luz previously. (20) Then Jacob made a vow, saying, “If God will be with me, and keep me in this way that I am going, and give me bread to eat and clothing to put on, (21) so that I come back to my father’s house in peace, then the LORD shall be my God. (22) And this stone which I have set as a pillar shall be God’s house, and of all that You give me I will surely give a tenth to You.””  Jacob had made a conditional promise, but it was a promise nonetheless. God not only reminded Jacob of Jacob’s promise, but God also spoke to Jacob in a way that Jacob would understand. This is grace.
    1. This is gospel! How is it that God approaches us? In a way we can understand: in the person of Jesus Christ. We cannot fathom the all-holy, all-knowing, ever-present God – there is no way we can approach Him on our own. But He can approach us. And He did!

14 Then Rachel and Leah answered and said to him, “Is there still any portion or inheritance for us in our father’s house? 15 Are we not considered strangers by him? For he has sold us, and also completely consumed our money. 16 For all these riches which God has taken from our father are really ours and our children’s; now then, whatever God has said to you, do it.”

  1. Wives agree. There’s a mixture of selfish and spiritual reasons.
  2. So Jacob had perceived it was time to go, God had twice told him to go, and Jacob’s wives confirmed that they were willing to go…Jacob went. Verse 17…

17 Then Jacob rose and set his sons and his wives on camels. 18 And he carried away all his livestock and all his possessions which he had gained, his acquired livestock which he had gained in Padan Aram, to go to his father Isaac in the land of Canaan. 19 Now Laban had gone to shear his sheep, and Rachel had stolen the household idols that were her father’s.

  1. Jacob took it all! He had arrived in Padam Aram with a single staff; he left with four wives, eleven sons, at least one daughter, and a ton of animals and other possessions.
  2. Unbeknownst to Jacob, he also took a few other items that were unplanned. “Rachel had stolen the household idols that were her father’s.” These are the “teraphim,” (תְּרָפִים), small idols of some sort thought to bring protection to the family. Some believe these were passed from head-of-house to head-of-house in terms of the inheritance, but there is no doubt they signified superstitious protection. This is why Laban is later so upset. To Laban, this meant he & his remaining wealth was vulnerable. Jacob had already received much of what was his, and perhaps this meant Jacob would come back for the rest. As for Rachel, the idols seem to have represented that which she believed her father had stolen from her – that which supposedly rightfully belonged to her.
  3. Whatever the meaning of the idols, they were still idols. They had no business being among purported worshippers of YHWH. (We are called to be separate from the world!)

20 And Jacob stole away, unknown to Laban the Syrian, in that he did not tell him that he intended to flee. 21 So he fled with all that he had. He arose and crossed the river, and headed toward the mountains of Gilead.

  1. Jacob left, and he was right to leave…but he didn’t leave rightly. He “stole away,” which could literally be translated, “And he stole, Jacob, the heart of Laban the Aramean (Syrian)…” This was a harmful act – something not done out of love, but out of fear. It was the right action, taken in the wrong way.
  2. What could he have done? He could have been open & honest, and trusted God to be his defense.
  • Laban’s pursuit (22-42)

22 And Laban was told on the third day that Jacob had fled. 23 Then he took his brethren with him and pursued him for seven days’ journey, and he overtook him in the mountains of Gilead.

  1. Jacob had a three day head-start, and it’s possible that Laban was far off – perhaps the three days’ journey that had lay between Jacob & Laban’s sons. That’s why it took an additional week for his quickly-formed posse to catch up to the slow-travelling band of Hebrews.
  2. Jacob had nearly made it home, being that he was “in the mountains of Gilead” when Laban finally overtook him.

24 But God had come to Laban the Syrian in a dream by night, and said to him, “Be careful that you speak to Jacob neither good nor bad.” 25 So Laban overtook Jacob. Now Jacob had pitched his tent in the mountains, and Laban with his brethren pitched in the mountains of Gilead.

  1. God warned Laban to speak cautiously, though it’s questionable how well Laban obeyed the warning. Laban certainly felt free to criticize Jacob even while quoting God’s warning. Perhaps the warning wasn’t so much against Laban’s speech, but against a potential curse. Remember that Jacob was the recipient of the Abrahamic covenant with God. If Laban had cursed Jacob, Laban would himself be cursed. Laban was a scoundrel, but God was mercifully protecting him from future harm.
  2. How many times did God give us mercy before we came to faith in Jesus? 

26 And Laban said to Jacob: “What have you done, that you have stolen away unknown to me, and carried away my daughters like captives taken with the sword? 27 Why did you flee away secretly, and steal away from me, and not tell me; for I might have sent you away with joy and songs, with timbrel and harp? 28 And you did not allow me to kiss my sons and my daughters. Now you have done foolishly in so doing. 29 It is in my power to do you harm, but the God of your father spoke to me last night, saying, ‘Be careful that you speak to Jacob neither good nor bad.’ 30 And now you have surely gone because you greatly long for your father’s house, but why did you steal my gods?”

  1. Laban basically accused Jacob of acting like a criminal. In a sense, Jacob had been a thief, as he stole the heart of Laban (vs 20), but he hadn’t been a kidnapping terrorist as made out by his father-in-law. True to form, Laban exaggerated the sins of others, while denying his own – even claiming that Jacob’s departure could have been joyful with songs and blessing (highly doubtful!). Bottom line: Laban was a hypocrite, through & through.
  2. Even so, Laban heeded the warning of God, but he wasn’t happy about it. He flat out tells Jacob that he had the right to go to war with him & destroy him, but the only thing stopping Laban from doing it was God’s intervention.
  3. Almost as an afterthought, he accuses Jacob of stealing his gods (the teraphim idols). The question is logical: “If you’re a worshipper of YHWH, then what are you doing stealing my idols?”
    1. Ever get a similar question? “If you’re a Christian, what are you doing with ____?” Obviously Jacob wasn’t at fault in this case, but we often are. Be careful of your witness! 
  4. Note: Laban was still an idolater; he wasn’t a worshipper of YHWH God. Even after recognizing YHWH’s blessing through Jacob (30:27), and after receiving a specific spoken word from YHWH in a dream (31:24), Laban still worshipped idols.
    1. People can receive all kinds of mercy from God and still end up rejecting Him. That’s not God’s fault; it’s theirs. Jesus has reached out to them & made provision for them, just like Jesus had made provision for every human being on planet earth. When someone dies without Jesus, it’s not Jesus’ fault – it’s their own.

31 Then Jacob answered and said to Laban, “Because I was afraid, for I said, ‘Perhaps you would take your daughters from me by force.’ 32 With whomever you find your gods, do not let him live. In the presence of our brethren, identify what I have of yours and take it with you.” For Jacob did not know that Rachel had stolen them.

  1. From the perspective of men, Jacob had a logical reason for his stealthy flight: fear. Jacob knew Laban wouldn’t have sent him out with song & dance – there had been the opportunity for that long ago, and Laban didn’t do it.
  2. From the perspective of faith, Jacob acted entirely irrationally. God had promised to protect him; Jacob had no reason to be afraid! If God is for us, who can be against us? (Rom 8:31)
    1. Faith is trusting the promises of God, period.
  3. As to the charge regarding theft of the teraphim, this was something unknown to Jacob and he made a terribly rash promise: death to the one who stole the idols. Of course Jacob’s honor was at stake, but this wasn’t justice; it was (literally) overkill. Surely someone could be punished for the theft, without it being the death sentence. If Jacob had known it was Rachel, there is no chance at all he would have agreed to such a thing. 

33 And Laban went into Jacob’s tent, into Leah’s tent, and into the two maids’ tents, but he did not find them. Then he went out of Leah’s tent and entered Rachel’s tent. 34 Now Rachel had taken the household idols, put them in the camel’s saddle, and sat on them. And Laban searched all about the tent but did not find them. 35 And she said to her father, “Let it not displease my lord that I cannot rise before you, for the manner of women is with me.” And he searched but did not find the household idols.

  1. Rachel deceived her father (having learned from the best), as well as her husband. Was her act justified? It saved her life, but it was done without righteousness. No doubt everyone was in the wrong: Laban, for his repeated acts of deception that drove them to this point – Jacob, for his rash over-the-top vow – Rachel, for the initial theft, and her lie of coverup. It was just a bad situation overall.
    1. What do we do in bad situations? Stop making them worse. 1st rule of holes: stop digging. Confess & repent! (1 John 1:9)

36 Then Jacob was angry and rebuked Laban, and Jacob answered and said to Laban: “What is my trespass? What is my sin, that you have so hotly pursued me? 37 Although you have searched all my things, what part of your household things have you found? Set it here before my brethren and your brethren, that they may judge between us both! 38 These twenty years I have been with you; your ewes and your female goats have not miscarried their young, and I have not eaten the rams of your flock. 39 That which was torn by beasts I did not bring to you; I bore the loss of it. You required it from my hand, whether stolen by day or stolen by night. 40 There I was! In the day the drought consumed me, and the frost by night, and my sleep departed from my eyes. 41 Thus I have been in your house twenty years; I served you fourteen years for your two daughters, and six years for your flock, and you have changed my wages ten times.

  1. Jacob’s fuse blew! He let Laban have it for 20 years’ worth of deceit and mistreatment. From the time of his marriages, Jacob had endured lie after lie from Laban, even taking financial hits for things that weren’t Jacob’s fault. He labored harder for his father-in-law than any hired hand, yet was never once appreciated in sincerity. Should Jacob have lost his temper? Probably not – but it’s difficult to see how he can be blamed for doing so.
  2. The good news in all of this: Jacob had learned to work with integrity, despite the deceit and manipulations of others. He was a different man than when he first arrived in Padan Aram. In the past, he had schemed his way to the top; now he simply worked hard and trusted the Lord.
  3. The better news: Jacob ultimately credited God for his blessing. Verse 42…

42 Unless the God of my father, the God of Abraham and the Fear of Isaac, had been with me, surely now you would have sent me away empty-handed. God has seen my affliction and the labor of my hands, and rebuked you last night.”

  1. Once again, it was God who protected Jacob & God who provided for Jacob. God knew his needs, his afflictions, and his hard work. God watched over Jacob every minute of every day, just as God promised He would…and Jacob finally realized it for himself. He may have made a conditional promise to God, but God had made an unconditional promise to him!
    1. Jesus has made unconditional promises to us! He is our Savior, no matter what! His forgiveness is not something He takes back. He is our protection & provision. He sees us and knows our need – our greatest need being deliverance from sin. 
  2. Who is God? To Jacob, He is “the God of my father, the God of Abraham, and the Fear of Isaac.” The first two descriptions are clear, being perhaps repetitive. It’s the third description that stands out: “the Fear of Isaac.” “Fear” is exactly as it says in the original language: fear, dread, terror, trembling. The God before whom Isaac trembled was the God who cared for Jacob.
    1. We don’t often think of trembling in terror before Almighty God, but we should. Proverbs 9:10, “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, And the knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.” This is a good fear!
  • Covenant of witness (43-55)

43 And Laban answered and said to Jacob, “These daughters are my daughters, and these children are my children, and this flock is my flock; all that you see is mine. But what can I do this day to these my daughters or to their children whom they have borne? 44 Now therefore, come, let us make a covenant, you and I, and let it be a witness between you and me.”

  1. What Laban said is both true & false. Yes, these children (technically grandchildren) were his, but they were no longer his, due to the marriage covenant. Likewise with the flocks. They had been his, but his own agreement transferred ownership. Laban had no proper fear of the Lord, so he continued to look to his own selfish interests.
  2. With all of this animosity, why make a covenant with Jacob? This wasn’t to be a covenant of mutual blessing; this was to be a formalized contract as to how the two of them moved forward. This was to be more or less a restraining order or terms of separation.

45 So Jacob took a stone and set it up as a pillar. 46 Then Jacob said to his brethren, “Gather stones.” And they took stones and made a heap, and they ate there on the heap. 47 Laban called it Jegar Sahadutha, but Jacob called it Galeed. 48 And Laban said, “This heap is a witness between you and me this day.” Therefore its name was called Galeed,

  1. Covenants weren’t always made with pen & paper at the time (or stone tablets, as the case may be), but there were still to be physical reminders of the agreement. Two were set up here: a single stone pillar erected by Jacob, and a heap/pile of various stones put up by Laban’s other sons. Anyone coming back to this spot would immediately see the stones, and wonder the reason for their arrangement. If the traveler had come from either Jacob or Laban, they would instantly know they had come too far.
  2. The idea of “witness” plays heavily, being repeatedly requested by Laban, and the various stones were named as witnesses in two different languages. Why the emphasis on witnesses? Because they were required to establish a matter as legal and valid. Two arrangements of rocks = two witnesses.
    1. All covenants have witnesses: ways to remember what the covenant means. What are ours? The two ordinances given us by the Lord Jesus: baptism and communion.
  3. “Witness” wasn’t the only name or intent that Laban had for the stones. Verse 49…

49 also Mizpah, because he said, “May the LORD watch between you and me when we are absent one from another. 50 If you afflict my daughters, or if you take other wives besides my daughters, although no man is with us—see, God is witness between you and me!”

  1. Mizpah = “watchtower, lookout.” Laban certainly has gall! He does not worship the Lord YHWH, but he is willing to call upon YHWH to serve as an overseer for Jacob, guarding against any potential sin Jacob might commit against his wives. Laban was the one who made Jacob commit polygamy to begin with, but now Laban demands absolute faithfulness to these wives alone. Of course, Jacob had no plans to take other wives, and God never at all commands multiple marriages (one man + one woman, for life), but Laban was attempting to make himself appear more righteous than he was.

51 Then Laban said to Jacob, “Here is this heap and here is this pillar, which I have placed between you and me. 52 This heap is a witness, and this pillar is a witness, that I will not pass beyond this heap to you, and you will not pass beyond this heap and this pillar to me, for harm. 53 The God of Abraham, the God of Nahor, and the God of their father judge between us.” …

  1. Finally, the stones were to serve as boundaries. Laban pretends as if he was the one deceived by Jacob, wronged by his son-in-law, and needs protection against any future crimes. He acts as if Jacob is the one who needs to be exiled. As Shakespeare might have written of him, “The man doth protest too much!”
  2. Laban goes so far as to swear by the God he does not worship. He never once says, “My God” or “the God of my father,” but almost treats the God of Abraham as different than the God of Nahor – who likely worshipped the same God when originally called out of Ur of the Chaldees.
    1. Unbelievers are happy to call upon God when it suits their liking. They won’t worship Him, but they like to use His words when it fits their purposes. God knows the difference.

… And Jacob swore by the Fear of his father Isaac. 54 Then Jacob offered a sacrifice on the mountain, and called his brethren to eat bread. And they ate bread and stayed all night on the mountain.

  1. Unlike Laban, Jacob swore by the God he knew (at least, in part).
  2. He swore, and he gave a sacrifice. Words mean little without worship.

55 And early in the morning Laban arose, and kissed his sons and daughters and blessed them. Then Laban departed and returned to his place.

Conclusion:

Jacob ended his time in Padan Aram much like he began: on the run. This time however, he was (mostly) in the right, seeing the hand of God upon his life. Where Jacob was justified, it was the times he did things the right way, trusting Almighty God as his Defender & Provider. When Jacob took matters into his own hands, that was when he got into trouble.

As believers in Jesus, we have none other than Almighty God as our Defender & Provider! Trust Him to do His part – trust Him to keep His promises. When you act, do things the right way with integrity, giving glory to God. All the rest can be left in His hands.

Genesis 29:1-30:24, “ Four Wives, Twelve Sons, and One Big Mess!”

Weddings can be super-fun, but (as most brides and their mothers know) they can also be super-stressful. Of course, not all weddings are expected – some come as a surprise, and after the wedding night, surprises keep on coming. Such was the case with Jacob and his family. Because of some trickery on the part of his father-in-law, and favoritism Jacob showed on his own, Jacob not only had a surprise on his wedding night, but he (and everyone else) had a lot of heartache in the days to come.

The good news is that even though much of the heartache was due to sin, God is sovereign. God is even sovereign over our sin. He can take the things that people mean for evil – He can take our shortcomings, mistakes, and sinful shortcuts – and from these things He can bring great good. And that is exactly what God did with Jacob.

Of course Jacob didn’t arrive on the scene completely innocent and spotless. The very reason he had been sent so far away to find a wife from his uncle Laban was due to Jacob’s (and his mother’s) own scheming and deception. A not-so-friendly rivalry had long existed between him & his twin-brother Esau, primarily over the covenant blessing that Jacob had been prophesied to receive but Esau (as the older) tried to keep for himself. Esau and their father Isaac had together conspired to find a way around the prophecy that the covenant would go to Jacob, but Jacob and his mother Rebekah had a conspiracy of their own. Together, they worked to deceive the nearly-blind Isaac, manipulating him to believe Jacob was really Esau & receive the fatherly blessing that had been intended for the older son.

Upon realizing the truth, Isaac recognized that the blessing rightfully belonged to Jacob, but Esau now desired to kill him. Thus, Isaac sent Jacob to the region of Haran (in Syria) to find Rebekah’s family in order that Jacob might take a wife. Once on the road with the full knowledgeable blessing of his father, Jacob had a vision from God. He saw a ladder leading to heaven and received God’s assurance that He would never leave Jacob, and that God would fulfill all of His covenant promises to him. To this word, Jacob began a road of faith, but didn’t quite complete it – and he gave God a conditional promise of his worship once God brought him back to the promised land.

Jacob still had much to learn, and he’d receive many of these lessons the hard way with his uncle Laban.

Genesis 29-30 introduces Jacob to the family, shows his marriages and ensuing children – but it doesn’t happen without a lot of stress along the way. The man who had so often deceived his family himself was the victim of deception. The son who knew what it was like to suffer unjust sibling favoritism himself showed sibling favoritism. And all of it led to a lot of pain. Yet in it was good news: God was sovereign over all of it. Through all their pain, God still worked His plan, and continued to lay the foundation for the Messiah Jesus.

God is sovereign over our stress & our sin…and praise God that He is!

Genesis 29

  • Jacob finds the family of Laban (29:1-14)

1 So Jacob went on his journey and came to the land of the people of the East. 2 And he looked, and saw a well in the field; and behold, there were three flocks of sheep lying by it; for out of that well they watered the flocks. A large stone was on the well’s mouth. 3 Now all the flocks would be gathered there; and they would roll the stone from the well’s mouth, water the sheep, and put the stone back in its place on the well’s mouth.

  1. Arrived in Haran. When the writer last left off with Jacob, he had been in Bethel, still in the promised land. Now, the narrative finds him in Syria, several hundred miles to the north – the entire journey skipped over.
  2. Interestingly, Jacob arrives at a well – which ought to sound very familiar to the events of Genesis 24. At that time, Abraham’s servant also arrived in Haran and went to a well. Was this the same well as the one where Abraham’s servant met Rebekah? Perhaps, although that well was not described as having a stone lid. In any case, it is obvious that God was guiding Jacob just as God had guided Abraham’s servant – even if God is not specifically credited by Jacob as doing so.
  3. Why the stone? Probably to keep out dirt & animals. Easier to remove it once, and water all the animals, rather than to do it repeatedly throughout the day.

4 And Jacob said to them, “My brethren, where are you from?” And they said, “We are from Haran.” 5 Then he said to them, “Do you know Laban the son of Nahor?” And they said, “We know him.” 6 So he said to them, “Is he well?” And they said, “He is well. And look, his daughter Rachel is coming with the sheep.”

  1. Success! God led Jacob to exactly the right spot and people. He was in the right city – he met the right people who could lead him to his family – he was even there at the right time, just as one of his family members approached. Again, this is nothing less than a miracle of God, just as what had happened in the previous generation.
  2. This is the first of several parallels to earlier events among the Abrahamic family in Genesis. Jacob retraces a lot of steps – some good; some bad. At this stage, it is good – and it should have primed the pump of Jacob’s memory of the stories he had heard in his youth. If he remembered how things went in how Abraham’s servant met Jacob’s mother, he might find similar success himself.

7 Then he said, “Look, it is still high day; it is not time for the cattle to be gathered together. Water the sheep, and go and feed them.” 8 But they said, “We cannot until all the flocks are gathered together, and they have rolled the stone from the well’s mouth; then we water the sheep.”

  1. It seems as if Jacob was pushing to go ahead and have provision and water ready for Rachel, but the townsmen were not willing to budge. Jacob may have been in a rush, but they weren’t.
  2. That’s when Jacob took personal action…

9 Now while he was still speaking with them, Rachel came with her father’s sheep, for she was a shepherdess. 10 And it came to pass, when Jacob saw Rachel the daughter of Laban his mother’s brother, and the sheep of Laban his mother’s brother, that Jacob went near and rolled the stone from the well’s mouth, and watered the flock of Laban his mother’s brother.

  1. Show of strength! Jacob moved the stone himself. Keep in mind, this was a “large stone” (29:2) – it was likely that several men usually teamed up together to remove it. Here, Jacob was so excited about his opportunity that he couldn’t help but show off a bit. He saw Rebekah, and he was more than willing to go through great difficulties for her.
  2. Although the love that Jacob had for Rachel will soon be described, the emphasis at this point is on Laban; not Rachel. God had blessed Jacob, bringing him to the right family, and it was the family connection that Jacob stressed in his story.

11 Then Jacob kissed Rachel, and lifted up his voice and wept. 12 And Jacob told Rachel that he was her father’s relative and that he was Rebekah’s son. So she ran and told her father.

  1. Probably not a romantic kiss (yet!). This was an overjoyed greeting. Apparently, there was much shared excitement, as Rachel ran to tell her dad (leaving Jacob in the city square by the well?!), and her dad ran back to find Jacob…

13 Then it came to pass, when Laban heard the report about Jacob his sister’s son, that he ran to meet him, and embraced him and kissed him, and brought him to his house. So he told Laban all these things. 14 And Laban said to him, “Surely you are my bone and my flesh.” And he stayed with him for a month.

  1. Laban received Jacob with the same greeting Jacob had given Rachel. Despite the lack of wealth Jacob possessed (as opposed to Abraham’s servant), Laban was soon convinced that Jacob spoke the truth & he was truly family.
  2. Stayed much longer than Abraham’s servant! The servant arrived in town, refusing to even eat dinner before he told his business to find a wife for his master’s son. Once the arrangement was made, he left the next morning. In all likelihood, this is what Rebekah imagined Jacob would have done as well, as she believed Esau just needed a few days to calm his anger. As it turned out, Jacob lingered with Laban. He hadn’t arrived with the gold & gifts as had his grandfather’s servant, and he probably thought he needed to prove himself in the eyes of his uncle.
  • Love, marriage, deception (29:15-30)

15 Then Laban said to Jacob, “Because you are my relative, should you therefore serve me for nothing? Tell me, what should your wages be?”

  1. Eventually Laban knew something was going on…there was a reason Jacob stayed with the family for so long. Jacob wanted something – he just needed to come out and say it.
    1. BTW – There’s a good principle here: a worker is worthy of his wages (1 Tim 5:18). Just because we have a good relationship with someone (or because a contractor is a born-again Christian) does not mean that they don’t deserve adequate compensation.
  2. At this point, Laban seems to be an honest man. Just wait!

16 Now Laban had two daughters: the name of the elder was Leah, and the name of the younger was Rachel. 17 Leah’s eyes were delicate, but Rachel was beautiful of form and appearance.

  1. Genesis introduces the reader to both of Laban’s daughters, and there is an immediate comparison. Leah is said to have “delicate” eyes, though the meaning of the term is unclear. The Hebrew word could be translated as “tender, weak, faint, or fair.” IOW, “delicate” doesn’t necessary equal “ugly.” The interpretation possibilities range from a compliment to a complaint. What is clear is the comparison between the two sisters. Even if the term “delicate” was a compliment, this was the best thing that could be said about Leah, as opposed to Rachel who was described as being strikingly “beautiful” all over.
  2. BTW – The details about Leah’s & Rachel’s appearances are not comments on their value; it is simply a record of fact, which probably played into Jacob’s own desire for them (something that is sad enough on its own). Physical beauty is something that can be appreciated, but it is not the end-all-be-all for value. Jesus Himself had no physical beauty about Him that people would desire Him as king (Isa 53:2), but He to be desired above all!

18 Now Jacob loved Rachel; so he said, “I will serve you seven years for Rachel your younger daughter.” 19 And Laban said, “It is better that I give her to you than that I should give her to another man. Stay with me.”

  1. Jacob arrived in Haran penniless. This was his offer of a dowry payment. Seven years of fieldwork as a livestock hand was worth quite a bit of money – if Laban was willing to negotiate the deal, it would be very profitable to him.
  2. Laban agreed to the terms, saying that it was “better” (literally “good”) to give her to Jacob. Despite the way 21st century westerners might read his words, Laban wasn’t settling for Jacob as 2nd best; he agreed that this was truly a good thing.
  3. Note: Jacob’s terms were very He requested “Rachel your younger daughter.” This is something Laban soon conveniently forgets or (most likely) ignores.

20 So Jacob served seven years for Rachel, and they seemed only a few days to him because of the love he had for her.

  1. True love! Time flew by, and the time spent in the fields was nothing compared to the time Jacob would spend with his bride-to-be. Or so he thought…

21 Then Jacob said to Laban, “Give me my wife, for my days are fulfilled, that I may go in to her.” 22 And Laban gathered together all the men of the place and made a feast. 23 Now it came to pass in the evening, that he took Leah his daughter and brought her to Jacob; and he went in to her. 24 And Laban gave his maid Zilpah to his daughter Leah as a maid.

  1. Once time was up, Jacob had to prompt Laban to fulfill his end of the bargain. At first glance, everything appeared normal.
  2. They might have “appeared normal,” but they weren’t! Laban engaged in private deception.

25 So it came to pass in the morning, that behold, it was Leah. And he said to Laban, “What is this you have done to me? Was it not for Rachel that I served you? Why then have you deceived me?” 26 And Laban said, “It must not be done so in our country, to give the younger before the firstborn. 27 Fulfill her week, and we will give you this one also for the service which you will serve with me still another seven years.”

  1. Question: Why hadn’t Jacob known earlier? Answer: Weddings in that culture were very different. Between the darkness, the drunkenness, and the veil, Jacob wasn’t aware of the reality until dawn’s first light.
  2. Another parallel to the past. Jacob was deceived by Laban in much the same way as Jacob deceived his father. Isaac had been tricked by a disguised Jacob; Jacob was tricked by a disguised Leah (per the command of her father). It’s often said “What comes around, goes around,” and it was certainly true in Jacob’s case!
  3. Question: Was the idea of marrying off the older daughter first a true tradition in the culture? It’s possible, but it’s also just as possible that it was an invention of Laban to justify his unscrupulous actions. Whatever the case of the tradition, it was certainly advantageous to Laban. After all, he got another 7 years of free labor out of it!

28 Then Jacob did so and fulfilled her week. So he gave him his daughter Rachel as wife also. 29 And Laban gave his maid Bilhah to his daughter Rachel as a maid. 30 Then Jacob also went in to Rachel, and he also loved Rachel more than Leah. And he served with Laban still another seven years.

  1. The “week” was the wedding feast week. Jacob did not have to wait another seven years before being wed to the woman he had initially desired. Instead, it was only seven days, after which he was married a second time.
  2. Although Jacob was deceived, he was faithful to his promise. He didn’t try to weasel his way out of “still another seven years,” but rather served it as expected. Perhaps Jacob realized all that he experienced had been allowed by God, and even recognized it as a bit of divine retribution. He had been deceptive towards his father, and now his father-in-law was deceptive towards him. Galatians 6:7–8, “(7) Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap. (8) For he who sows to his flesh will of the flesh reap corruption, but he who sows to the Spirit will of the Spirit reap everlasting life.” This is not the eastern idea of karma; this is the Biblical idea of justice. God is not fooled by our actions and our attitudes. If we deceive, we need to expect deception – if we gossip, we need to expect to be gossiped about. The good news is that the reverse is also true! If we do things for the glory of God (loving others, showing compassion), we can expect the same. 
  • Sibling rivalry of the worst kind (29:31 – 30:24)

31 When the LORD saw that Leah was unloved, He opened her womb; but Rachel was barren.

  1. Jacob may have been faithful to his promise, but he showed favoritism among his wives. “Leah was unloved” – literally, Leah was “hated.” Granted, the word could be used as a simple comparison, but there’s little doubt this is exactly the way it felt to Leah. (Can you imagine it? Can you imagine the pain that went with it?)
  2. In this is another parallel. Just as there was favoritism between the twin brothers Esau & Jacob and competition for the attention of their parents, so was there favoritism shown by Jacob to his wives & it began a terrible competition between the two sisters for the attention of their husband.
    1. BTW – This also provides a great example why polygamy is never endorsed by God. Although He allowed it at certain points in Biblical history, God never once commended it as being something good or desirable. God’s intent for marriage from the very beginning was one man + one woman, for life in submission to Him & to each other.
  3. Yet Leah was not alone. God “saw” her, God knew her grief, and God acted: He “opened” the womb of Leah, but allowed Rachel to remain “” Rachel’s situation will be addressed in a moment, but take note of the grace of God towards Leah. God ensured that Leah would be fruitful in her pregnancies, knowing that although she did not have a husband who loved her, she would have many sons who would. God knew exactly what it was Leah needed, and He provided for her.
    1. God sees us! He knows our griefs & our pains – and He knows exactly the right answers to them as well. 

32 So Leah conceived and bore a son, and she called his name Reuben; for she said, “The LORD has surely looked on my affliction. Now therefore, my husband will love me.”

  1. All of the names of the sons of Jacob came with meaning (as was common in the day). The etymology is not necessarily historical from a linguistic point of view – many times, the name fit due to word-play or the way it sounded in relation to the experience of the mother.
  2. Here, the name was literal. Reuben = “Behold/Look, a son!” Not so much from the perspective of surprise, but that of proof. “Look, [I have borne you] a son!” Sadly, Leah believed she could earn the love of her husband. Her situation wasn’t her fault, but Jacob’s attention could not be bought.

33 Then she conceived again and bore a son, and said, “Because the LORD has heard that I am unloved, He has therefore given me this son also.” And she called his name Simeon.

  1. This name involved a bit of word play. God “heard” the plight of Leah, the Hebrew word for “to hear” being Shema (שָׁמַע). “Simeon” (שִׁמְעוֹן) has a related sound and spelling.
  2. Notice that in the first two sons, Leah directly credited YHWH. For all of her troubles, she at least understood the source of her children. She had at least some faith in Almighty God. 

34 She conceived again and bore a son, and said, “Now this time my husband will become attached to me, because I have borne him three sons.” Therefore his name was called Levi.

  1. The etymology for Levi is a little looser. It’s similar to the word for “attached” (לָוָה); Levi (לֵוִי) could be translated “joined/attached to me.” Leah is still thinking that her ability to bear children will make her loved & valuable in the eyes of her husband. 

35 And she conceived again and bore a son, and said, “Now I will praise the LORD.” Therefore she called his name Judah. Then she stopped bearing.

  1. Finally a right perspective! At this point, it didn’t matter what her uncaring husband did, Leah knew what she would do. She would praise the Lord! Judah = “praise.” (יָדָה ~> יְהוּדָה)
    1. Whatever we do, we are to do it unto the praise of God! In good times, in bad times, praise the Lord! Psalm 146:1–5, “(1) Praise the LORD! Praise the LORD, O my soul! (2) While I live I will praise the LORD; I will sing praises to my God while I have my being. (3) Do not put your trust in princes, Nor in a son of man, in whom there is no help. (4) His spirit departs, he returns to his earth; In that very day his plans perish. (5) Happy is he who has the God of Jacob for his help, Whose hope is in the LORD his God,” Whom do you trust? Whom do you praise?
  2. Note: the priestly tribe of Levi and the kingly (and Messianic) tribe of Judah both came from Leah; not Rachel. The wife Jacob never intended to have (and never truly valued or loved) was God’s intent for Jacob all along.
    1. This is the sovereignty of God at work! 
  3. BTW – For the writer to say “she stopped bearing,” is really for him to write “she stopped bearing for now.” More children would come in the near future, but the first wave of four sons came to an end.
  4. Leah’s abundant fertility is contrasted with that of her younger sister…

Genesis 30:1–24

1 Now when Rachel saw that she bore Jacob no children, Rachel envied her sister, and said to Jacob, “Give me children, or else I die!” 2 And Jacob’s anger was aroused against Rachel, and he said, “Am I in the place of God, who has withheld from you the fruit of the womb?”

  1. Envy led to anger. Anger led to exaggeration & blame. Rachel lashed out at her husband – he had loved her, but she blamed him for all her problems.
  2. Jacob’s response was truthful, but hurtful all at the same time. He spoke in anger. (Truth in love is better!)
  3. Theologically speaking, why does God allow some women to be childless? We cannot answer every question, though we can know a few. (1) We live in a fallen world, and our bodies have fallen with the rest of creation. Although God originally created all males and females to reproduce (humans and animals alike), not all can due to the physical corruption. (2) God is the Author of life, so all life comes from Him and His will. All children are a blessing and gift from the Lord, because there is no other source from which they can come. (3) God has His own reasons for His actions. Sometimes, He has His own perfect timing at work – other times, it may be His own hidden will as to why some couples can never have children. It can be extraordinarily painful for couples in this situation, and it’s something that ought never be minimized or trivialized. Even so, this particular hardship needs to be dealt with in the same way as other trials & hardship: through humble faith and trust in the Lord Jesus. Our value/worth is not found in the ability to bear children; it is in the fact that we are the children of God, made in His image. … We need to seek Him and His will for us, even when our own wills and desires may seem to be unfulfilled.

3 So she said, “Here is my maid Bilhah; go in to her, and she will bear a child on my knees, that I also may have children by her.” 4 Then she gave him Bilhah her maid as wife, and Jacob went in to her.

  1. This sort of surrogate marriage was culturally acceptable. But it doesn’t mean it was Biblically justified. This was another shortcut attempting to circumvent God’s plan, just as it had been with Sarah regarding Hagar two generations earlier. (Another parallel!)

5 And Bilhah conceived and bore Jacob a son. 6 Then Rachel said, “God has judged my case; and He has also heard my voice and given me a son.” Therefore she called his name Dan.

  1. Bilhah had the child desired by Rachel, and Rachel recognized this to be the work of God. (Interestingly, not YHWH, as had been repeatedly said by Leah.)
  2. The etymology of the name comes from the Hebrew word for “to judge,” (דִּין). She believed herself vindicated (judged) by the Lord.

7 And Rachel’s maid Bilhah conceived again and bore Jacob a second son. 8 Then Rachel said, “With great wrestlings I have wrestled with my sister, and indeed I have prevailed.” So she called his name Naphtali.

  1. Bilhah continued to conceive, and the second son was named regarding this idea of wrestling (נַפְתּוּלִים) – the root word referring to twisting (פָּתַל). Naphtali (נַפְתָּלִי) is literally “my wrestling.”
  2. Notice with whom Rachel was wrestling/fighting: her sister. This was all a sad competition, and Rachel now believed she had the upper hand since it was her maid who bore her husband two additional sons.

9 When Leah saw that she had stopped bearing, she took Zilpah her maid and gave her to Jacob as wife.

  1. Leah took a cue from her younger sister, and gave her own maid to Jacob as a second concubine. By this point, Jacob basically has four wives and 6 sons. His house is growing by leaps and bounds!

10 And Leah’s maid Zilpah bore Jacob a son. 11 Then Leah said, “A troop comes!” So she called his name Gad.

  1. Translations vary regarding Gad. It could either refer to a “troop,” or “good fortune.” On one hand, having another son come from the influence of Leah was like receiving reinforcements in battle – on the other hand, it was “good fortune” for Leah since she had personally stopped bearing children by this point.

12 And Leah’s maid Zilpah bore Jacob a second son. 13 Then Leah said, “I am happy, for the daughters will call me blessed.” So she called his name Asher.

  1. Happy” and “Blessed” come from the same root word: ashar (אָשַׁר). It is to be considered fortunate, thus the second son of Zilpah was named Asher (אָשֵׁר).
  2. Whether Leah viewed her blessedness as being from the Lord, or if she just thought she had a good reputation is unknown. Hopefully (ideally), we attribute our blessings to God, for every blessing is a gift of His grace.
  3. At this point, there’s a bit of a break in the child-bearing narrative, although the episode plays a part in it. Verse 14…

14 Now Reuben went in the days of wheat harvest and found mandrakes in the field, and brought them to his mother Leah. Then Rachel said to Leah, “Please give me some of your son’s mandrakes.” 15 But she said to her, “Is it a small matter that you have taken away my husband? Would you take away my son’s mandrakes also?” …

  1. What exactly the plant was is unknown. The Greek LXX associated it with the mandrake plant, which is certainly possible, although the Hebrew word is used only once in the Old Testament outside of this context (Song 7:13). The plant was viewed as an aphrodisiac, and the mandrake definitely fits as it is a hallucinogenic (although potentially dangerous). 
  2. This was basic superstition at work – another one of Rachel’s shortcuts around her infertility. She believed the mandrake might make her bear children, which is why she was so desperate to take it away from Leah and use it herself.

…And Rachel said, “Therefore he will lie with you tonight for your son’s mandrakes.” 16 When Jacob came out of the field in the evening, Leah went out to meet him and said, “You must come in to me, for I have surely hired you with my son’s mandrakes.” And he lay with her that night.

  1. Prostituting their husband! What did Jacob think of all of this? What kind of example was this for their many children?
  2. (NET) “The irony is that Rachel thought the mandrakes would work for her, and she was willing to trade one night for them. But in that one night Leah became pregnant.”

17 And God listened to Leah, and she conceived and bore Jacob a fifth son. 18 Leah said, “God has given me my wages, because I have given my maid to my husband.” So she called his name Issachar.

  1. Although Leah had previously stopped bearing children, God allowed her to start again. “God listened to Leah” – not that He had previously stopped His ears, but that He heard her prayers and gave grace.
  2. Unfortunately, it seems that Leah didn’t see it as grace, but was an earned wage. “Wages” is “sacar” (שָׂכָר = hire, wages, reward), which is the reason for “Isaachar,” (יִשָּׂשכָר). There isn’t a direct grammatical tie, but it’s a sound-based word play. 

19 Then Leah conceived again and bore Jacob a sixth son. 20 And Leah said, “God has endowed me with a good endowment; now my husband will dwell with me, because I have borne him six sons.” So she called his name Zebulun.

  1. The right perspective Leah previously had with the birth of Judah seems to have been lost by this point. Once again, she’s back at the point of believing that her husband would value her based off of the children she bore for him. Like Issachar, this was also viewed as a type of reward or payment. Zebud (זֶ֫בֶד) is a gift/endowment. A similar sounding word (זָבַל) refers to exaltation & honor. Zebulun (זְבֻלוּן) seems to call upon both ideas: a gift that would exalt her in the eyes of her husband.
    1. Where are our true riches found? Christ!

21 Afterward she bore a daughter, and called her name Dinah.

  1. The writer includes this almost as an afterthought, but it bears importance. Daughters are rarely mentioned in genealogies, and it’s possible that Jacob had more children than the ten sons listed to this point. Dinah becomes a central character in a later event once the family clan is back in Canaan, so she is introduced at this point.
  2. Interestingly, her name shares the same etymology with Dan, basically being the female form of the same word (דִּינָה). The reasoning behind naming her “judge / judgment” is unknown.

22 Then God remembered Rachel, and God listened to her and opened her womb. 23 And she conceived and bore a son, and said, “God has taken away my reproach.” 24 So she called his name Joseph, and said, “The LORD shall add to me another son.”

  1. Finally, after all this time, Rachel is blessed to bear a son. “God remembered Rachel,” not that He had ever forgotten her; God simply had her on His own special timeline. Like Sarah and Rebekah before her, Rachel was not able to bear children until God specifically allowed her to bear children. And like the generations before her, the child she bore would be viewed as special – and he was. Not only was he the favorite of his father Jacob, but he was the one through whom the entire clan would be saved and preserved.
  2. What was Rachel’s response to this son? “God has taken away my reproach.
    1. God removes our disgrace!
  3. Was Rachel satisfied with her son? Already, she looks forward into the future saying, “The LORD shall add to me another son,” and naming her current child after that hope. “Joseph” (יוֹסֵף) = “He adds,” (to add = yasaf – יָסַף).
    1. Was this faith? Was this prophecy? Perhaps also. It was certainly true. God did add to Rachel another son, though the birth of that son would come at the expense of her own life, which embittered her at the very end (Gen 35:18).
  4. Where should Rachel’s satisfaction have been? The Lord God. Likewise Leah.

Conclusion:

For all the joy that is normally included with weddings and childbirth, there was a lot of division & heartache among the family of Jacob! Jacob couldn’t get married without getting swindled by his uncle & future father-in-law. Once married, because of his lack of love, his wives (sisters) starting a tragic competition using their babies as bait. Division, deception, and devious plans of men (and women) seem to be the order of the day!

Yet in all of it, don’t miss the sovereignty of God. God showed Himself sovereign even over the worst of their sin. After all, if Jacob had received what he originally desired, he would have ended up with one wife and one child – neither of whom would lead to the fulfillment of God’s covenant promises. Where would be the nation? Who would inherit the land? From where would come the Messiah & blessing to the world? There is no doubt that Laban sinned against Jacob, that Jacob sinned against Leah, and that Leah & Rebekah sinned against each other – but out of all of that sin, God brought forth the foundation of the nation of Israel and the Lord Jesus Christ Himself. Our God is so sovereign, He can even turn our sins into blessings. As Joseph would later observe regarding his brothers: what man means for evil, God means for good (Gen 50:20).

That said, we don’t sin in order that we might see God work greater examples of His sovereignty. Granted, He will ensure His will is done (no matter what), but we might experience some pretty painful lessons along the way. There was a lot of heartache endured by Jacob, Leah, Rachel (and probably Bilhah and Zilpah as well) – not to mention among the kids themselves. God would spare us from that pain, and the way He does is through our humility.

Stop fighting against each other – stop trying to force your own will. Humble yourself under the hand of God, and see what it is He does.

Like Father, Like Son

Posted: May 17, 2018 in Genesis, Uncategorized

Genesis 25-26, “Like Father, Like Son”

Children often imitate their parents, particularly sons with their fathers. As is often said, “Like father, like son.” That includes the good, the bad, and the ugly. It can be cute – it can be funny – and perhaps downright scary! 🙂 Physical looks and habits aren’t the only things imitated; sometimes it is attitude and action.

Family habits and traits are seen among our Biblical heroes, too. Children pick up both the good and bad from their parents, and we need look no further than Abraham and Isaac for an example. Just as Abraham (though being the father of faith) had to learn through his mistakes what it meant to walk by faith, so did Isaac. And Isaac virtually made the same mistakes along the way!

Because so many previous events in Abraham’s life come to a conclusion, we need to back up a bit to get the full context. After 25 years of waiting, God fulfilled His promise to Abraham & Sarah by granting the birth of Isaac. His birth around jealousy in Abraham’s older son Ishmael, and because Ishmael was not the son of the covenant, he was made to leave (although God promised to bless him for Abraham’s sake). As Isaac grew, Abraham was called upon by God to offer his son as a sacrifice, and Abraham was willing to do so, having complete faith in God. Abraham’s obedience confirmed the covenant given him by the Lord, looking forward to the day when his descendants would be more numerous than the sand or stars. Time passes, Sarah dies and Abraham purchases land for her burial, and afterwards provides for his son’s future by arranging his marriage. A servant is sent to Abraham’s family in Padan Aram, and Rebekah returns to eventually become Isaac’s bride.

What happens next? The narrative of Genesis transitions to the next generation. Abraham’s life comes to a close, while the accounts of Isaac’s family begin. Although they are the Patriarchs, they are by no means perfect, and a lot of mistakes are made along the way…just as Abraham had made before them. Like father, like son.

As for us, the mistakes of our forefathers is written down for us. Hopefully, we can learn from them without having to make the same mistakes for ourselves. Have a simple trust in God, and walk by faith!

Genesis 25

  • Abraham’s end (25:1-11)

1 Abraham again took a wife, and her name was Keturah.

  1. Scholars disagree as to when Abraham took Keturah as a wife, whether it was after Sarah’s death, or sometime before. The most natural reading of the text is that it was after, although the text does not precisely say. Interestingly, the Chronicler describes Keturah as a “concubine,” rather than a “wife,” (1 Chr 1:32), though the term is clear here in Genesis 25. Perhaps Keturah was a chief concubine out of several (vs. 6), or perhaps she had a similar status as Hagar.
  2. What happened to Keturah past this point, we do not know. This is her only mention, apart from the genealogical list in 1 Chronicles. What we do know is that she bore Abraham many sons (and probably daughters, although daughters are not typically included in genealogical lists).

2 And she bore him Zimran, Jokshan, Medan, Midian, Ishbak, and Shuah. 3 Jokshan begot Sheba and Dedan. And the sons of Dedan were Asshurim, Letushim, and Leummim. 4 And the sons of Midian were Ephah, Epher, Hanoch, Abidah, and Eldaah. All these were the children of Keturah.

  1. Six sons were born directly to Abraham through Keturah, and they proceeded to bear children and tribes of their own, being associated with several regions throughout the Sinai peninsula. Considering the many descendants from the line of Hagar (Ishmael), Sarah (Isaac), and Keturah (the six), Abraham truly was a father of many nations!
  2. These were children of Abraham, but there was still only one son to whom belonged the covenant blessing and inheritance. 

5 And Abraham gave all that he had to Isaac. 6 But Abraham gave gifts to the sons of the concubines which Abraham had; and while he was still living he sent them eastward, away from Isaac his son, to the country of the east.

  1. It is not that Abraham did not love his other children or provide for them. To the contrary – he “gave gifts” to them out of his abundant wealth, ensuring that they were well provided-for. But they could not be allowed to complete for the covenant blessing, including the inheritance of the Promised Land. Just as Ishmael had to leave for the good of Isaac, so did the sons of Keturah.
  2. Be careful not to judge this through 21st century eyes. The culture was far different. Sons did not hesitate to murder one another in order to gain an inheritance. Competition between siblings could be quite cruel. Abraham’s act was not only one done in submission and trust of God as the covenant-provider, but also one of mercy and protection towards all his children. He stopped a problem before it had a chance to start.

7 This is the sum of the years of Abraham’s life which he lived: one hundred and seventy-five years. 8 Then Abraham breathed his last and died in a good old age, an old man and full of years, and was gathered to his people.

  1. Abraham lived to be 175 years old. He had been given 75 years with Isaac, enough not only to see his own son grow into adulthood, but also enough to see the birth and growth of his grandchildren (Isaac was 60 years old at the birth of his sons – 25:26). Such is the mercy and grace of God! 

9 And his sons Isaac and Ishmael buried him in the cave of Machpelah, which is before Mamre, in the field of Ephron the son of Zohar the Hittite, 10 the field which Abraham purchased from the sons of Heth. There Abraham was buried, and Sarah his wife.

  1. Although Ishmael had departed long ago, he returned to Canaan for his father’s burial. He and Isaac stood side by side as they paid their father their final respects. (Interestingly, no mention is made of any of the sons of Keturah. Perhaps they were unable to receive communication. Perhaps they were simply unmentioned in the text.)
  2. Abraham buried alongside his wife Sarah in the cave he had personally purchased. Only after his death did he finally enjoy any of the real estate that actually belonged to him. All his life, he lived as a pilgrim, looking forward in faith to the promises God made him. (Not unlike us. This world is not our home – we look forward to our inheritance!)

11 And it came to pass, after the death of Abraham, that God blessed his son Isaac. And Isaac dwelt at Beer Lahai Roi.

  1. With the death of Abraham, the covenant passed to Isaac, i.e. the blessing. This will be expressly stated to Isaac later.
  2. Although his parents were buried in Mamre, Isaac returned to the place he had earlier dwelt in the south (the Negev). This was the town in which he had met Rebekah and made a home with her.
  • Ishmael’s generations (25:12-18)

12 Now this is the genealogy of Ishmael, Abraham’s son, whom Hagar the Egyptian, Sarah’s maidservant, bore to Abraham.

  1. This is basically a summary and the end of the Biblical account of Ishmael. Many other men in the Bible have the name Ishmael, but apart from some references to his family, this is it regarding Abraham’s son. He was indeed blessed of God; he simply was not the son of the covenant. 

13 And these were the names of the sons of Ishmael, by their names, according to their generations: The firstborn of Ishmael, Nebajoth; then Kedar, Adbeel, Mibsam, 14 Mishma, Dumah, Massa, 15 Hadar, Tema, Jetur, Naphish, and Kedemah. 16 These were the sons of Ishmael and these were their names, by their towns and their settlements, twelve princes according to their nations.

  1. Twelve sons were begotten of Ishmael, each becoming princes & tribal leaders in their own right. Just as God promised to Hagar (16:10, 21:18), Ishmael became a great nation.

17 These were the years of the life of Ishmael: one hundred and thirty-seven years; and he breathed his last and died, and was gathered to his people. 18 (They dwelt from Havilah as far as Shur, which is east of Egypt as you go toward Assyria.) He died in the presence of all his brethren.

  1. 137 years of age is not nearly as old as his father, but it was still a very long life! His narrative concludes with his home being far beyond the land promised to Isaac, and him being surrounded by his family in death. Ishmael had a difficult start to his life, but things certainly turned around for him. God blessed him and provided for him in many ways. Whether or not Ishmael ever recognized the hand of God is a question that cannot be answered. (Sadly, his descendants long turned from the worship of the true God, as Ishmael is viewed as a patriarch to the Islamic faith.)
  • Isaac’s generations (25:19-34)

19 This is the genealogy of Isaac, Abraham’s son. Abraham begot Isaac. 20 Isaac was forty years old when he took Rebekah as wife, the daughter of Bethuel the Syrian of Padan Aram, the sister of Laban the Syrian.

  1. This is the next major transition in the book. Technically, Genesis had transitioned again with Ishmael, showing his “genealogy” (toledoth), the same as Isaac. But Ishmael’s account was simply enough to mention his children and move on. Isaac’s account is longer, though it is the briefest of the patriarchs. It begins with a recap of his marriage to Rebekah. His mother Sarah had died when he was 37, and sometime afterward Abraham had sent to his family for Isaac’s bride. However long that process took, Isaac was 40 at his wedding, his father being 140 at the time.
  2. From here through the end of Chapter 26, the author will show numerous parallels between the lives of Abraham and Isaac, the first being in regards to he and his wife’s struggle to have children.

21 Now Isaac pleaded with the LORD for his wife, because she was barren; and the LORD granted his plea, and Rebekah his wife conceived.

  1. Like Sarah in the previous generation, Rebekah also struggled with barrenness. For Sarah, her struggle was directly linked to the covenant promise of God. God had promised a massive number of descendants to Abraham, but the longer it took for Sarah to get pregnant, the more impossible God’s promise seemed. When Sarah was finally pregnant at age 90, there was no doubt this child was a miracle of God. But that was Sarah. What about Rebekah? It was the same thing. Rebekah would not have to wait nearly as long, but her dependency upon God was just as apparent. This too, would not be the natural-course of events, but a gift of grace provided by the Lord Almighty. This too, was God’s supernatural answer to His covenant promises. If Isaac was going to have descendants of his own, he needed God to provide them. (Which He did!)
  2. Note Isaac’s own part in this. His opportunity for children rested solely in the decision of God, but Isaac didn’t simply wait passively. He prayed. “Isaac pleaded with the LORD for his wife.” Isaac actively interceded for Rebekah, praying that God would move upon her and grant children. (Prayer is active ministry! Prayer is work.)

22 But the children struggled together within her; and she said, “If all is well, why am I like this?” So she went to inquire of the LORD. 23 And the LORD said to her: “Two nations are in your womb, Two peoples shall be separated from your body; One people shall be stronger than the other, And the older shall serve the younger.”

  1. That the children “struggled” is an understatement. The verb is more violent than that. They “smashed” together in the womb, no doubt causing far more discomfort than normal for a mother of twins. Going to the Lord in prayer (or through a prophet of some sort), she learned the answer: “two nations” were there. (No wonder she hurt!)
    1. What was prophecy for Rebekah became history for us. Edom and Israel were constantly at odds, and Edom even became symbolic through the written prophets of Israel/Judah’s enemies as a whole. Edom was always opposed to God’s people, just as Esau would always be opposed to Jacob.
  2. God’s will for Jacob was clear from the very beginning. For all of the manipulations that would follow in the years to come, God knew from the outset what His plan was, and which twin out of the two would receive the covenant.
    1. This is the sovereign election/choice of God. Romans 9:10–12, “(10) And not only this, but when Rebecca also had conceived by one man, even by our father Isaac (11) (for the children not yet being born, nor having done any good or evil, that the purpose of God according to election might stand, not of works but of Him who calls), (12) it was said to her, “The older shall serve the younger.”” Contextually in Romans, Paul is explaining God’s sovereign choice of Israel to be His people through the ages. They had done nothing to deserve His favor, but He chose to give it anyway. God is simply a merciful God.
    2. The same principle applies to our salvation. How is it that we are saved? God chose to show us mercy. Did we do anything to deserve it? Absolutely not, but God gave it anyway. He chose to send Jesus for us – He chose to extend to us His invitation – He chose to save us in spite of ourselves, even while incorporating our free response to His grace. There is nothing about our salvation for which we can claim credit – it is all the grace of God. (Which is available to all!)

24 So when her days were fulfilled for her to give birth, indeed there were twins in her womb. 25 And the first came out red. He was like a hairy garment all over; so they called his name Esau. 26 Afterward his brother came out, and his hand took hold of Esau’s heel; so his name was called Jacob. Isaac was sixty years old when she bore them.

  1. Not only were the babies fighting it out in Rebekah’s womb, the struggle continued down her birth canal. Although separated by mere seconds, one baby was first to push through, being a red-haired child & the other baby was grabbing at his heel. They were named appropriately, and their names fit them well for the rest of their lives.
  2. Interesting wordplay with the boys’ names (not uncommon in the Bible). Expositor’s Bible Commentary (John Sailhamer): “Esau” (עֵשָׂו [ʿēśāw]) was “red” (אַדְמוֹנִי [ʾaḏmônî], which is a play on אֱדוֹם [ʾeḏôm, “Edom”; cf. v.30; 36:1]), and his body was “hairy” (שֵׂעָר [śēʿār]), a play on his name ʿēśāw, “Jacob” (יַעֲקֹב [yaʿaqōḇ]) grasped the “heel” (עֲקֵב [ʿaqēḇ]) of Esau.”

27 So the boys grew. And Esau was a skillful hunter, a man of the field; but Jacob was a mild man, dwelling in tents. 28 And Isaac loved Esau because he ate of his game, but Rebekah loved Jacob.

  1. As might be expected, the boys had different personalities and different strengths. Sadly, this became the cause of parental favoritism between the two. (Never good!)
  2. Interestingly, the difference between them becomes ironically reversed in the account that follows. Here, Esau is described as a hunter, while Jacob was quiet (mild / peaceable / righteous). Yet what happens is that the hunter becomes the hunted, and the peaceable man becomes a source of strife.

29 Now Jacob cooked a stew; and Esau came in from the field, and he was weary. 30 And Esau said to Jacob, “Please feed me with that same red stew, for I am weary.” Therefore his name was called Edom.

  1. The “red stew” was a stew of lentils, which surely smelled delicious to a man hungry from labors in the field of his father (or from a long day of unproductive hunting). Authentic Texas chili was originally called a “bowl of red,” and it was probably as appetizing to Texans as the original “bowl of red” was to Esau. It ended up being part of his downfall, and another reason of his appropriate nickname.

31 But Jacob said, “Sell me your birthright as of this day.” 32 And Esau said, “Look, I am about to die; so what is this birthright to me?” 33 Then Jacob said, “Swear to me as of this day.” So he swore to him, and sold his birthright to Jacob. 34 And Jacob gave Esau bread and stew of lentils; then he ate and drank, arose, and went his way. Thus Esau despised his birthright.

  1. Although this sounds sneaky, it wasn’t. Obviously Jacob took advantage of a weakened Esau, but Jacob was straightforward with his offer. No deception was involved. If Esau wanted some of Jacob’s stew, then Esau would need to surrender his birthright. To any reasonable person, they would have laughed at the absurd offer and walked away. After all, it was just one meal, and doubtless there were other servants of Isaac who could have found Esau something to eat. He wouldn’t have starved to death on the floor of Jacob’s tent. Yet Esau was prone to the dramatic, and exaggerated his hunger to the point of utter desperation. It seemed he didn’t even hesitate on the matter, and he sold his birthright as quickly as he gulped down his meal. Perhaps Esau thought he would weasel his way out of the deal with his father – probably he wasn’t thinking at all, but rather just living according to his base desires of the moment.
  2. The result was that “Esau despised his birthright.” He saw no value in what had been available to him in God. – Do we value our birthright? Do we understand what it is we have received in Christ? Hebrews 12:14–16, “(14) Pursue peace with all people, and holiness, without which no one will see the Lord: (15) looking carefully lest anyone fall short of the grace of God; lest any root of bitterness springing up cause trouble, and by this many become defiled; (16) lest there be any fornicator or profane person like Esau, who for one morsel of food sold his birthright.” As born-again Christians, we dare not take our birthright for granted!

Genesis 26

  • Isaac and the Philistines (26:1-33). Isaac’s deception (1-11)

1 There was a famine in the land, besides the first famine that was in the days of Abraham. And Isaac went to Abimelech king of the Philistines, in Gerar.

  1. Famine = danger, and a natural reason to move to other areas. Famines were not totally uncommon in Canaan, although Isaac had more than enough reason not to fear them.
  2. Already, there is a link here to the history of Abraham, and there is a distinct parallel to the account in Genesis 20. 
  3. FYI: “Abimelech” is probably a title, rather than a proper name. Also, the term “Philistines” simply described the region; not the ethnic people. “Philistines” would have made sense to the Hebrews of Moses’ day as he compiled/wrote the book of Genesis, but that group of people would not arrive on the coast of Canaan until after the time of the Patriarchs.

2 Then the LORD appeared to him and said: “Do not go down to Egypt; live in the land of which I shall tell you. 3 Dwell in this land, and I will be with you and bless you; for to you and your descendants I give all these lands, and I will perform the oath which I swore to Abraham your father. 4 And I will make your descendants multiply as the stars of heaven; I will give to your descendants all these lands; and in your seed all the nations of the earth shall be blessed; 5 because Abraham obeyed My voice and kept My charge, My commandments, My statutes, and My laws.”

  1. As much as Isaac mirrors the actions of his father, God puts a limit on him as to how far he could go. Isaac could go to the city of Gerar, but he was not allowed to go south towards the land of Egypt. Isaac is unique among the Patriarchs as being one who never once left the Promised Land, always staying in the land of his inheritance. Even among the Philistines, he was still in land that God had promised to him and to his descendants. Isaac may be engaging in a struggle of faith, but God put limits on how far he would go.
  2. God knew the struggle in Isaac’s heart, which was why God reemphasized the covenant with him. God promised him life, provision, blessing, children, land, and even the Messianic promise. Everything God had promised to Abraham, God also promised to Isaac. Though the father had died, the word of God had not. God’s blessing continued, because God never fails!
  3. Why – why did God promise such a thing? Because of Isaac’s father. Abraham had been obedient, demonstrated beyond doubt when he laid Isaac on the altar. In fact, that may be one reason God said so much of Abraham’s obedience. No doubt Isaac would have remembered his father binding his hands and feet, and lying on that stone altar with a knife raised high above him. He would have remembered his father’s faith in God’s provision, trusting that God would raise Isaac from the dead, if need be. He would have remembered how God miraculously intervened and provided His own sacrifice in Isaac’s place. Or, at least, this is what Isaac should have If he had, he may not have made the decisions that he did!
  4. BTW – Was Abraham’s obedience important? Without question! God reiterated His covenant promise to Isaac “because Abraham obeyed.” Did Abraham’s faith earn the covenant of God? Absolutely not. The covenant was promised back in Genesis 12, long before Isaac ever existed. It was believed upon (anew) in Genesis 15, again before Isaac was born. Abraham’s faith was in God; it was demonstrated through his obedience. Yes, his obedience was important, in that his original faith was important. Because Abraham obeyed the commandments of God, it showed that his true faith was in the person and promises of God.
    1. That slight difference makes all the difference in the world when it comes to salvation. People either believe they earn heaven, or that they’re given heaven. Those who think they earn it, never do; those who rely on Jesus to give it to them are the only ones assured of going.
  5. Again, Isaac should have remembered the faith (and the previous mistakes) of his father. Instead, he continued to push forward with his own plans…

6 So Isaac dwelt in Gerar. 7 And the men of the place asked about his wife. And he said, “She is my sister”; for he was afraid to say, “She is my wife,” because he thought, “lest the men of the place kill me for Rebekah, because she is beautiful to behold.”

  1. This was exactly the mistake of Abraham. Isaac told the same lie to the same people of the same city as his father had done 90 years earlier. In fact, Isaac went one step further. Whereas Abraham could legitimately say that Sarah was his sister (being that she was a half-sister); Rebekah was truly Isaac’s cousin and not a sister at all. This was a bald-faced lie, told out of fear for his life. He had married a beautiful woman, but did not trust the Lord God to protect him, despite God’s specific promise to do so.

8 Now it came to pass, when he had been there a long time, that Abimelech king of the Philistines looked through a window, and saw, and there was Isaac, showing endearment to Rebekah his wife. 9 Then Abimelech called Isaac and said, “Quite obviously she is your wife; so how could you say, ‘She is my sister’?” Isaac said to him, “Because I said, ‘Lest I die on account of her.’ ”

  1. How long Isaac lived in Gerar is not said. Apparently his residence was not far from the Philistine king, because Isaac believed he could let down his guard with Rebekah, and they were close enough to Abimelech’s home that the king could see plainly that these were not brother & sister, but husband and wife.
  2. Regarding “showing endearment,” or “laughing” (ESV) or “caressing” (NASB), NET Bible: “The Hebrew word מְצַחֵק (métsakheq), from the root צָחַק (tsakhaq, “laugh”), forms a sound play with the name “Isaac” right before it. Here it depicts an action, probably caressing or fondling, that indicated immediately that Rebekah was Isaac’s wife, not his sister. Isaac’s deception made a mockery of God’s covenantal promise. Ignoring God’s promise to protect and bless him, Isaac lied to protect himself and acted in bad faith to the men of Gerar.” It’s also related to the word used of Ishmael when he mocked the baby Isaac long ago. Just as Ishmael had mocked the covenant promises of God, so did Isaac…and he was the recipient of those covenant promises!
    1. What should Isaac have done? Trusted the Lord!
  3. The bottom line? Abimelech quickly discovered the truth, and confronted Isaac. Thankfully, he had not attempted to take Rebekah for his own wife, as had the earlier Abimelech with Sarah, during Abraham’s deception.

10 And Abimelech said, “What is this you have done to us? One of the people might soon have lain with your wife, and you would have brought guilt on us.” 11 So Abimelech charged all his people, saying, “He who touches this man or his wife shall surely be put to death.”

  1. The king was rightly offended, understanding the guilt of sin far better than did Isaac at this point.
  2. In the end, Isaac and Rebekah received legal protection by an order of the king, but Isaac also greatly damaged his witness as a man of God.
  3. Thankfully, that witness would not be forever lost, as God Himself set about to restoring it. 12…
  • Isaac’s departure (12-25)

12 Then Isaac sowed in that land, and reaped in the same year a hundredfold; and the LORD blessed him. 13 The man began to prosper, and continued prospering until he became very prosperous; 14 for he had possessions of flocks and possessions of herds and a great number of servants. So the Philistines envied him.

  1. That’s a lot of prosperity! The original Hebrew is filled with superlative after superlative. God made the man Isaac greater and greater and greater – the blessings kept pouring in.
  2. Question: Why did God bless Isaac so much? Answer: God is gracious! God is merciful! God promised to bless Isaac, and that was exactly what He did.
    1. FYI: This isn’t an endorsement of the prosperity gospel; it is a demonstration of how God showed a difference between Isaac and the Philistines. Only one lived in a relationship with God – only one was a recipient of God’s covenant promises. This isn’t a roadmap of how we can get rich; it’s a picture of God’s undeserved grace.
  3. The problem for the Philistines is that they didn’t view God’s blessing as a reason to learn why Isaac was blessed; they simply became jealous. Envy leads to strife; strife leads to separation…

15 Now the Philistines had stopped up all the wells which his father’s servants had dug in the days of Abraham his father, and they had filled them with earth. 16 And Abimelech said to Isaac, “Go away from us, for you are much mightier than we.”

  1. Basically, the Philistines forced him out. If Isaac had so many herds to water, then the Philistines took steps to ensure he wouldn’t be able to water them where he was. They “stopped up all the wells” to which he had a familial claim, and told him to get out.
  2. Ironically, Isaac’s original deception of Abimelech was due to his fear of the Philistines & his lack of trust in the Lord. Now with God’s blessing, it is the Philistines who fear Isaac as they understood his wealth and might.

17 Then Isaac departed from there and pitched his tent in the Valley of Gerar, and dwelt there. 18 And Isaac dug again the wells of water which they had dug in the days of Abraham his father, for the Philistines had stopped them up after the death of Abraham. He called them by the names which his father had called them. 19 Also Isaac’s servants dug in the valley, and found a well of running water there. 20 But the herdsmen of Gerar quarreled with Isaac’s herdsmen, saying, “The water is ours.” So he called the name of the well Esek, because they quarreled with him. 21 Then they dug another well, and they quarreled over that one also. So he called its name Sitnah.

  1. Isaac retraced the footsteps of his father, revisiting old wells, finding success with each one. Yet the Philistines followed close behind, claiming each one for themselves. They didn’t want Isaac anywhere near them, so they kept pushing him out further & further.
  2. Why didn’t Isaac stand and fight? After all, they feared his strength. Scripture doesn’t say – perhaps Isaac simply wanted to live in peace. What is apparent is how God used the selfishness and fear of the Philistines to push Isaac back to where he ought to have been. If the famine was over, there was no reason for Isaac not to be back in the center of the Promised Land, away from the Philistine Gentiles. Yet Isaac seemingly became comfortable; it took a little discomfort to get him moving again.

22 And he moved from there and dug another well, and they did not quarrel over it. So he called its name Rehoboth, because he said, “For now the LORD has made room for us, and we shall be fruitful in the land.”

  1. Finally, Isaac ended up in a spot which the Philistines did not dispute. This was where God had wanted him all along, and Isaac recognized the sovereign hand of God.

23 Then he went up from there to Beersheba. 24 And the LORD appeared to him the same night and said, “I am the God of your father Abraham; do not fear, for I am with you. I will bless you and multiply your descendants for My servant Abraham’s sake.” 25 So he built an altar there and called on the name of the LORD, and he pitched his tent there; and there Isaac’s servants dug a well.

  1. Back where he needed to be, God reiterated the covenant once more. Isaac may have temporarily forgotten God’s promise to him, but God hadn’t. God is faithful, despite us! (What grace!)
  2. No longer did Isaac need to “fear” – he was right where God wanted him to be, both geographically and spiritually.
  3. Isaac’s response to the word of God: worship! Perhaps for the first time, Isaac didn’t build a well; he built an altar. He ensured that his heart was dedicated to the God who had been so merciful to him. (What is your response to God’s promises?)
  • Isaac’s covenant with the king (26-33)

26 Then Abimelech came to him from Gerar with Ahuzzath, one of his friends, and Phichol the commander of his army. 27 And Isaac said to them, “Why have you come to me, since you hate me and have sent me away from you?”

  1. After all the trouble, Isaac is understandably suspicious!

28 But they said, “We have certainly seen that the LORD is with you. So we said, ‘Let there now be an oath between us, between you and us; and let us make a covenant with you, 29 that you will do us no harm, since we have not touched you, and since we have done nothing to you but good and have sent you away in peace. You are now the blessed of the LORD.’ ”

  1. Notice the change. Earlier, the Philistines envied Isaac, and pushed him out due to fear. This time, they are perhaps still envious, but instead of fearing the hand of God upon Isaac, now they see it for what it is. Isaac’s testimony as a righteous man had been restored, and the Philistines now wanted a bit of what Isaac had.
    1. Live in such a way that others can see Jesus in you!

30 So he made them a feast, and they ate and drank. 31 Then they arose early in the morning and swore an oath with one another; and Isaac sent them away, and they departed from him in peace.

  1. After all of the previous conflict, why would Isaac agree to such a covenant? Because it was the right thing to do. Romans 12:17–19, “(17) Repay no one evil for evil. Have regard for good things in the sight of all men. (18) If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men. (19) Beloved, do not avenge yourselves, but rather give place to wrath; for it is written, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,” says the Lord.” Why punish the Philistines when Isaac could have peace with them? If God saw fit to do it, God would see it done. It’s no different with us…

32 It came to pass the same day that Isaac’s servants came and told him about the well which they had dug, and said to him, “We have found water.” 33 So he called it Shebah. Therefore the name of the city is Beersheba to this day.

  1. This was actually the second naming of the city. Back when the covenant of peace was made between Abraham and the first Abimelech and Phicol, they also had a well in the same area, calling it Beersheba. (One more parallel between Isaac and his father…this time, in a good way!) 

This is the most detail the Bible gives us about Isaac. Most of the rest of his days will be spent in the background between Esau and Jacob. Chapter 26 actually ends with a bit of transition to the next event, featuring his sons.

  • Esau’s Canaanite wives (12:34-35)

34 When Esau was forty years old, he took as wives Judith the daughter of Beeri the Hittite, and Basemath the daughter of Elon the Hittite. 35 And they were a grief of mind to Isaac and Rebekah.

  1. Esau was the same age as his father when Isaac was married, but instead of marrying a woman to help maintain the purity of the covenant, Esau continues to show disregard for the covenant altogether. He took wives from the Canaanites around him, to the disappointment of both of his parents. This later serves as an excuse for Rebekah to send away Jacob when his life is endangered (due to her own foolish scheming).

Conclusion:

Like father, like son. In many ways, Isaac followed in the footsteps of his father Abraham. With his mistakes, but (thankfully) also with his faith. It took Isaac a while, but eventually his trust was in the sovereign God who keeps His covenant promises.

God does keep His promises! We see it in the many sons & nations born of Abraham – we see it in the mighty nation that came from Ishmael – we see it in the provision & blessing that God gave to Isaac. God keeps His promises, no matter what.

God keeps His promises, even in spite of us! Isaac had heard the word of God, and what did he do? He immediately trusted in his own plans, endangering everyone around him. Even so, God was patient with him, sovereignly using even the difficulties in Isaac’s life to bring him back to the place he needed to be.

How much better it is to simply trust God the first time! Trust Him – don’t overcomplicate things… Trust His word – trust His sovereignty – trust His plan.

Finding a Bride

Posted: May 10, 2018 in Genesis, Uncategorized

Genesis 24, “Finding a Bride”

Proverbs 18:22 says, “He who finds a wife finds a good thing, And obtains favor from the Lord.” Every husband can attest (or should be able to attest, in an ideal scenario) that one of the best blessings they every received from the Lord was their wife. For some, this was an easier task than others. Some people marry their high-school sweetheart that they have known most of their lives – some meet in random scenarios and immediately hit it off. Others have to work hard, and search far and wide for the right person God has intended for them. It’s not always easy, but when it’s right, it’s worth it!

For Isaac and Rebekah, they had a bit of both. On one hand, Isaac had to search (or rather, have someone sent to search) far distances for a bride, traveling to ancient homelands hundreds of miles away, hoping to meet exactly the right family out of all of the families that were there. It wasn’t too unlike searching for a needle in a haystack. On the other hand, Isaac’s servant was led directly by the Lord God. If anyone could pick out a needle from a haystack, it is the Lord! He knew exactly the right bride for Isaac, and could (and did) lead the servant directly to her doorstep. When the provision is of the Lord, it’s no problem at all.

That is one of the main lessons seen throughout Chapter 24: the provision of God is given not only the father (Abraham), but to the son (Isaac). Just as the covenant blessing would soon pass from father to son, so would God’s covenant provision. Isaac was prophesied to grow into a great nation that would eventually lead to the Messiah, and that meant he required the right bride from the right bloodline, and Almighty God would see it done.

God’s provision was most recently seen in Genesis 22, when Abraham’s faith was tested by God in one of the most extreme ways possible: Isaac (the son for whom he waited 25 years) had to be given back to the Lord in sacrifice. Yet Abraham had faith in God’s goodness, God’s promise, and God’s power, knowing that God could & would raise Isaac from the dead, if need be. Isaac had been promised, and had been given…and God would give him again if that’s what it took for God’s word to be true. Abraham raised his knife, but God stopped the sacrifice, providing His own substitute (and foreshadowing the day when Jesus would become the substitute for all mankind, as the only begotten Son of God). In response, God reiterated all of the covenant blessings He had earlier promised to Abraham.

Time passed, and Abraham’s wife Sarah died, prompting Abraham to purchase the only piece of land he ever owned in Canaan: a burial plot/cave. Despite the greediness of the previous landowner, Abraham conducted himself with honor, trusting the Lord to provide for his every need…and God always did.

With Sarah buried, and his inheritance guaranteed to Isaac apart from any competitive claims from Ishmael (having been expelled), only one thing remained. Abraham wanted to find a wife for his beloved son. This wasn’t simply Abraham’s desire; it was to be God’s provision. Just as God was Jehovah Jireh (Yahweh Yireh) for Abraham, so He would be for Isaac. God would provide his every need, ensuring he received the covenant promises – even if that meant finding a needle in a haystack for Isaac’s wife.

We can trust God’s provision – we can trust His care for us! We know God leads us, so we want to be faithful in following.

Genesis 24

  • The servant’s oath (1-9)

1 Now Abraham was old, well advanced in age; and the LORD had blessed Abraham in all things.

  1. Although some scholars believe Abraham was 140 at this point, the text doesn’t actually say. He was 137 at the time of Sarah’s death, so it is reasonable to believe that some time had passed. Either way, he truly was “well advanced in age.” By this point, he was making final preparations for himself and for his family.
  2. And had God blessed him? Yes – immensely! God had given him a home, an inheritance, a promise, and a son. And that’s not even to mention the wealth, livestock, and good health the Lord gave to him. Abraham was not perfect, but he certainly had a blessed life!

2 So Abraham said to the oldest servant of his house, who ruled over all that he had, “Please, put your hand under my thigh, 3 and I will make you swear by the LORD, the God of heaven and the God of the earth, that you will not take a wife for my son from the daughters of the Canaanites, among whom I dwell; 4 but you shall go to my country and to my family, and take a wife for my son Isaac.”

  1. Who was the servant? Technically, we don’t know. Some scholars are convinced it was Eliezer of Damascus (Genesis 15:2), but that is under the assumption that Eliezer is still alive by this point. Just because Abraham lived a very long life doesn’t mean that everyone in his household did. Additionally, it seems strange that a servant who was named earlier would be left nameless here. In the end, it doesn’t matter. This was an elderly trusted servant of Abraham, and he was faithful to Abraham and to Abraham’s God. That’s the important part.
  2. By this point, Isaac was anywhere from 37-40 years old. He was no longer a young boy who needed caring for – why would Isaac not be personally sent to find his own bride from Abraham’s family? Perhaps there were several reasons, but the most obvious was this: Abraham loved his son! As is seen in the text, Abraham firmly believed that Isaac was meant by God to remain in the land of promise, and Isaac would be unable to do so if he went all the way back to Abraham’s family in order to find himself a wife. In the culture of the day, marriages were often arranged, so it was not unusual at all for a father to find a bride for his son. Obviously Abraham was too old to personally travel, so he called for his trusted servant to do it for him.
    1. Interestingly this changes in the following generation. Later, Jacob would personally make this same trip to find wife, but the circumstances were drastically different. His travel was not due to love, but fear. Jacob had to flee for his life, and it brought on a lot of heartache that might have otherwise been avoided.
  3. From Abraham’s perspective, the need at hand was that Isaac not marry any of the women of the Canaanites. These were women who worshipped foreign gods, and that would pose a constant danger to his son, especially in terms of the covenant blessing. Any time the Hebrews married the Gentiles around them, it was a snare to them, and Abraham would guard his son from that. 

5 And the servant said to him, “Perhaps the woman will not be willing to follow me to this land. Must I take your son back to the land from which you came?”

  1. Reasonable question! What would happen if the potential bride refused to be a bride?

6 But Abraham said to him, “Beware that you do not take my son back there. 7 The LORD God of heaven, who took me from my father’s house and from the land of my family, and who spoke to me and swore to me, saying, ‘To your descendants I give this land,’ He will send His angel before you, and you shall take a wife for my son from there.

  1. Abraham’s answer? It wouldn’t happen. He had faith that God would not allow failure. YHWH would “send His angel” to lead and guide the servant. Just like God had led Abraham out of Ur & away from Padan Aram to come to Canaan, so would God lead Abraham’s servant in the opposite direction. Not only would God lead the servant to the right city and right family, but God would lead the servant to a willing woman. Abraham had faith that this trip would end in total success.
  2. Was this simply good hopes & well-wishing? Was Abraham simply engaging in the power of positive thinking? Not at all. Abraham had faith in the goodness and grace of God. God promised Abraham a son, and God delivered. God promised Abraham a land, and God delivered. Now God promised Abraham a nation, and Abraham had no doubt that God would deliver this as well. That required a pure wife, someone unmixed from the current nations surrounding Abraham. After all, if Isaac married a Canaanite, then his descendants would have been thought of as Canaanites – there wouldn’t be the birth of a separate distinct nation at all. This is yet another miracle God would have to provide, but Abraham knew that God would provide it. God had proven Himself faithful too many other times for Him to fail now!
    1. God will always see His promises fulfilled! There is no word of His that He will not bring to fruition. Of that you can be sure!

8 And if the woman is not willing to follow you, then you will be released from this oath; only do not take my son back there.” 9 So the servant put his hand under the thigh of Abraham his master, and swore to him concerning this matter.

  1. Did Abraham’s faith waver? This is not a just-in-case “if;” this is a it-won’t-happen-but-I’ll-say-it-anyway “if.” Abraham’s faith is not in the persuasive power of the servant; it was in the promise and power of God. The servant would not be blamed if God failed to deliver…but God wouldn’t fail. Abraham was certain of it. (This is faith!)
  2. FYI: The practice of putting a hand “under the thigh” when making an oath was a way of strengthening the importance. According to some, it was a sign of swearing to the future generations of one’s own faithfulness. If the servant failed to be obedient, then the future generations of Abraham still within his body would rise up to punish the servant. The bottom line is that this wasn’t a pie-crust promise; this was a solemn oath made with the utmost sincerity.
  • The servant’s test (10-28)

10 Then the servant took ten of his master’s camels and departed, for all his master’s goods were in his hand. And he arose and went to Mesopotamia, to the city of Nahor.

  1. If it sounds like the servant took a lot of supplies, he did – and it was necessary. From Hebron to Haran was a distance of 520 miles, which would take an estimated 21 days via camel. The servant had the potential of being gone nearly two months in total.
  2. Eventually he arrived (all the travel time is left unnarrated as it was unimportant), and he immediately set to his task. 

11 And he made his camels kneel down outside the city by a well of water at evening time, the time when women go out to draw water. 12 Then he said, “O LORD God of my master Abraham, please give me success this day, and show kindness to my master Abraham. 13 Behold, here I stand by the well of water, and the daughters of the men of the city are coming out to draw water. 14 Now let it be that the young woman to whom I say, ‘Please let down your pitcher that I may drink,’ and she says, ‘Drink, and I will also give your camels a drink’—let her be the one You have appointed for Your servant Isaac. And by this I will know that You have shown kindness to my master.”

  1. The servant had a wise plan. He arrived during the time when women would most naturally be at the well. If he was searching for a woman, that was one of his best opportunities and locations within the city.
    1. Wisdom and faith go hand-in-hand. These aren’t mutually exclusive.
  2. The servant spoke a faithful prayer. On his own, he understood he didn’t have a chance in the world of just “happening” to run across Abraham’s family. Ultimately, his trust was in God’s “kindness” or God’s “loyal love” to Abraham.
    1. What is the source for any of our blessing? Only the grace and kindness of God!
  3. The servant had a test of provision. Although we are not to put the Lord our God to the test (Dt 6:16, Mt 4:7), what the servant did here was necessary. This wasn’t his temptation of the Lord; it was his trust in the Lord. He understood that his success was 100% dependent upon God’s work, and he needed some way in which to know that God was leading & working, so he came up with this. If the young woman watered not only himself, but his camels, then that would be the sign.
    1. Again, we don’t test God with signs today, but that’s because God has already given us a sign: Jesus’ resurrection from the dead. We can’t get a better demonstration of His power and provision for us than that!

15 And it happened, before he had finished speaking, that behold, Rebekah, who was born to Bethuel, son of Milcah, the wife of Nahor, Abraham’s brother, came out with her pitcher on her shoulder. 16 Now the young woman was very beautiful to behold, a virgin; no man had known her. And she went down to the well, filled her pitcher, and came up.

  1. This was a quick answer to the servant’s prayer! He hadn’t “finished speaking” his prayer to God in his heart before a young woman came to the well. And this wasn’t any young woman; it was exactly the right young woman! She was the perfect match, although the servant did not know it at the time. Before the servant was finished praying, God was already in the process of answering his prayer. In fact, before the servant had ever started praying, God had already set things in motion, causing Rebekah to start walking to the well at the exact moment that Abraham’s servant would arrive and be ready to look for her.
  2. Question: Should the servant still have prayed? Absolutely! God already knew the prayer that would be prayed, and He already provided the answer to it before he prayed it.
    1. What prayers is God ready to answer, of which you haven’t yet prayed? What ways is God prepared to show Himself faithful, of which you haven’t yet trusted Him? Step out in faith! You might just be surprised at what God will do.

17 And the servant ran to meet her and said, “Please let me drink a little water from your pitcher.” 18 So she said, “Drink, my lord.” Then she quickly let her pitcher down to her hand, and gave him a drink.

  1. So far, so good. Now what would happen? To this point, it was all basic kindness. The first part of the test wasn’t really a big deal. The second part was the real test…

19 And when she had finished giving him a drink, she said, “I will draw water for your camels also, until they have finished drinking.” 20 Then she quickly emptied her pitcher into the trough, ran back to the well to draw water, and drew for all his camels.

  1. This was the answer he was waiting for! She offered water not only to him, but all his camels. Remember, he had brought ten camels for his journey, and she faithfully watered each of them with the single pitcher she brought with her. This was hard-work, yet Rebekah did it willingly without complaint. It demonstrated not only her work-ethic, but also her servant’s heart.

21 And the man, wondering at her, remained silent so as to know whether the LORD had made his journey prosperous or not.

  1. Considering how the test seems to have been fully answered, why did the servant wonder? Because even in all of this, he still didn’t know Rebekah’s identity. To this point, he hadn’t asked her name or her family. Abraham’s charge was that the servant go to Abraham’s family in Haran; not simply any family in Haran. The truly difficult tests had been performed, but there would yet be only one way to know for sure if God had led him to this point. That’s when he generously paid Rebekah for her services in watering the camels, and then sprung the big question on her. 

22 So it was, when the camels had finished drinking, that the man took a golden nose ring weighing half a shekel, and two bracelets for her wrists weighing ten shekels of gold, 23 and said, “Whose daughter are you? Tell me, please, is there room in your father’s house for us to lodge?” 24 So she said to him, “I am the daughter of Bethuel, Milcah’s son, whom she bore to Nahor.” 25 Moreover she said to him, “We have both straw and feed enough, and room to lodge.”

  1. Success! This was exactly the answer he for which he hoped. Out of all the people he could have met upon entering the town – of all the days he arrived – out of all of the chances in the world, it was obvious this wasn’t “chance” at all! God led him to exactly the right woman, the great-niece of his master Abraham. And not only did she confirm her genealogy, but she also confirmed her family’s hospitality. Everything that the servant needed of the Lord God was laid graciously at his feet.
    1. The providence of God is incredible! Never doubt it – always trust in it!
  2. The servant’s response: what else, but worship!

26 Then the man bowed down his head and worshiped the LORD. 27 And he said, “Blessed be the LORD God of my master Abraham, who has not forsaken His mercy and His truth toward my master. As for me, being on the way, the LORD led me to the house of my master’s brethren.”

  1. Earlier, it was unclear whether or not the servant truly worshipped the Lord, or if he simply prayed to the God of his master, Abraham. Here, there’s no question. He worshiped YHWH! His response to the answered prayers and direct leading of God was for him to bow & prostrate himself before the God of heaven and earth in worship. He knew the Lord, and He knew the Lord had been faithful. God had not abandoned/forsaken His loyal love towards Abraham – God’s covenant promises to Abraham proved to be true, even when Abraham was over 500 miles away! God’s word was always true, because God is a faithful God! Centuries later, Moses would say this to Abraham’s descendants: Deuteronomy 7:9, “Therefore know that the LORD your God, He is God, the faithful God who keeps covenant and mercy for a thousand generations with those who love Him and keep His commandments;” God is the faithful God! He was faithful to Abraham – He was faithful to Israel – and He will be faithful to us!
    1. God keeps His word simply because of who He is. He can do no different, as He will never contradict Himself. He is faithful! Do you trust Him? Do you trust the promises of Jesus? Do you trust His character & His person & His mercies? He will not forsake them, thus He will not forsake you.

28 So the young woman ran and told her mother’s household these things.

  1. There’s no mention of any response of Rebekah back to the servant. No doubt, this was more than a bit surprising. She probably was so taken aback that she wasn’t sure what to do!
  • The servant’s tale & request (29-53)

29 Now Rebekah had a brother whose name was Laban, and Laban ran out to the man by the well. 30 So it came to pass, when he saw the nose ring, and the bracelets on his sister’s wrists, and when he heard the words of his sister Rebekah, saying, “Thus the man spoke to me,” that he went to the man. And there he stood by the camels at the well. 31 And he said, “Come in, O blessed of the LORD! Why do you stand outside? For I have prepared the house, and a place for the camels.”

  1. This is the reader’s introduction to Laban, who becomes more prominent in the account of Jacob. Here, he is shown with apparent hospitality, potentially even knowing the Lord God of Abraham (YHWH). Later, it becomes obvious he is a schemer & conniver. At the very least, he demonstrates the cultural hospitality at the time, inviting the servant to come and stay with his family, which he did.

32 Then the man came to the house. And he unloaded the camels, and provided straw and feed for the camels, and water to wash his feet and the feet of the men who were with him. 33 Food was set before him to eat, but he said, “I will not eat until I have told about my errand.” And he said, “Speak on.”

  1. The servant takes a few minutes to do what’s necessary, but he doesn’t let anything delay him from his mission. Even if the camels needed to eat, he himself could wait. The servant had demonstrated himself to be obedient this far, and after the demonstration to him by the Lord earlier that day, no doubt the servant was bursting at the seams ready to see what would happen next.

34 So he said, “I am Abraham’s servant. 35 The LORD has blessed my master greatly, and he has become great; and He has given him flocks and herds, silver and gold, male and female servants, and camels and donkeys. 36 And Sarah my master’s wife bore a son to my master when she was old; and to him he has given all that he has.

  1. Before he gets to the important part of his story, he has to first tell them about God’s blessing of Abraham. Keep in mind that there wasn’t much information that travelled back and forth between people at the time. They may have wondered how Abram’s name was changed to Abraham, and even been amazed that Abraham was still alive, considering that he was actually the uncle of Bethuel and great-uncle of Laban. Additionally, the servant speaks of God’s blessing upon Abraham. He was amazingly wealthy by the standards of the day, viewed as a prince by those around him. This would have been impressive, to be sure.
  2. The background stated, the servant goes on to recount the tale of his journey, repeating much of what has already been written for the reader…

37 Now my master made me swear, saying, ‘You shall not take a wife for my son from the daughters of the Canaanites, in whose land I dwell; 38 but you shall go to my father’s house and to my family, and take a wife for my son.’ 39 And I said to my master, ‘Perhaps the woman will not follow me.’ 40 But he said to me, ‘The LORD, before whom I walk, will send His angel with you and prosper your way; and you shall take a wife for my son from my family and from my father’s house. 41 You will be clear from this oath when you arrive among my family; for if they will not give her to you, then you will be released from my oath.’ 42 “And this day I came to the well and said, ‘O LORD God of my master Abraham, if You will now prosper the way in which I go, 43 behold, I stand by the well of water; and it shall come to pass that when the virgin comes out to draw water, and I say to her, “Please give me a little water from your pitcher to drink,” 44 and she says to me, “Drink, and I will draw for your camels also,”—let her be the woman whom the LORD has appointed for my master’s son.’ 45 “But before I had finished speaking in my heart, there was Rebekah, coming out with her pitcher on her shoulder; and she went down to the well and drew water. And I said to her, ‘Please let me drink.’ 46 And she made haste and let her pitcher down from her shoulder, and said, ‘Drink, and I will give your camels a drink also.’ So I drank, and she gave the camels a drink also. 47 Then I asked her, and said, ‘Whose daughter are you?’ And she said, ‘The daughter of Bethuel, Nahor’s son, whom Milcah bore to him.’ So I put the nose ring on her nose and the bracelets on her wrists. 48 And I bowed my head and worshiped the LORD, and blessed the LORD God of my master Abraham, who had led me in the way of truth to take the daughter of my master’s brother for his son.

  1. Few new details are given to the reader, mostly minor, such as the servant being the one to actually put the nose ring into Rebekah’s nose.
  2. In the telling, notice his emphasis on the work of the Lord God. Abraham’s faith in YHWH was known (40) – the servant’s dependence upon YHWH was seen (42, 44) – the work of YHWH was acknowledged through the servant’s worship of Him (48). For all the action that took place among the servant & Rebekah, the Actor who received the most attention and credit was the Lord God Himself.
  3. What is the servant doing? Sharing his testimony. He said where he had come from, how God had led him, the work of God for him, and his response to God in praise. That’s exactly what we do when we share our faith in Christ… And likewise, the emphasis in our testimonies needs to be upon the Lord Jesus; not us. We are witnesses of Him; not ourselves…
  4. The servant even gave an invitation. 

49 Now if you will deal kindly and truly with my master, tell me. And if not, tell me, that I may turn to the right hand or to the left.”

  1. The servant had already responded to the work of the Lord; now it was their turn. This was the moment of truth, and it was time for a decision. Would they acknowledge God, or not? (There comes a time for all of us, when a decision needs to be made!)

50 Then Laban and Bethuel answered and said, “The thing comes from the LORD; we cannot speak to you either bad or good. 51 Here is Rebekah before you; take her and go, and let her be your master’s son’s wife, as the LORD has spoken.” 52 And it came to pass, when Abraham’s servant heard their words, that he worshiped the LORD, bowing himself to the earth.

  1. Be careful not to get the wrong idea from verse 50. It’s not that Laban and Bethuel are apathetic, unwilling to take a stand on the matter; they readily acknowledged that this circumstance came “from the LORD.” The idea is that whatever opinion they might have had regarding the actions of the servant were irrelevant. If God ordained it, who were they to come against it? The will of God would prosper, regardless of their approval.
    1. BTW – interestingly, it seems that Bethuel, Rebekah’s father, was still alive, even though most of the decisions are voiced by Laban. It could be that Bethuel had become feeble to the point of handing off the day-to-day family responsibilities to his oldest son.
  2. In the end, Laban and Bethuel gave their permission for Rebekah to leave, thereby answering all of the prayers of the servant. Once again, he worshipped the Lord, properly giving God the glory for the things that had been done. Laban and Bethuel might be thanked, but it was only God who was to be praised. Ultimately, He was the one responsible. 

53 Then the servant brought out jewelry of silver, jewelry of gold, and clothing, and gave them to Rebekah. He also gave precious things to her brother and to her mother.

  1. Culturally, this was probably the equivalent to the dowry payment. Gifts were given to Rebekah, as an advance taste of what she would receive in the home of Isaac. Other gifts of wealth were given to her family (headed by “her brother”), both as a sign of goodwill, and insurance against future potential problems.
  • The servant’s departure (54-61)

54 And he and the men who were with him ate and drank and stayed all night. Then they arose in the morning, and he said, “Send me away to my master.” 55 But her brother and her mother said, “Let the young woman stay with us a few days, at least ten; after that she may go.” 56 And he said to them, “Do not hinder me, since the LORD has prospered my way; send me away so that I may go to my master.”

  1. Just as the servant had wanted to immediately state his request prior to even eating dinner, the servant did not waste time the next morning. A late night did not hinder his early departure, and he was soon ready to make his 21+ day journey back to Canaan.
  2. This time, there was a bit of a problem. Laban and his (and Rebekah’s) mother objected, asking for more time. And they didn’t just ask a little…they asked for a minimum of ten days. They were willing to stretch out the servant’s journey by nearly another two weeks. Question: why? The text doesn’t say, but it’s possible that they were seeking more gifts of wealth from the servant as a type of bribe. He was the proverbial “cash cow,” and they probably didn’t want him leaving so quickly.
  3. The servant wasn’t fooled at all. This wasn’t sentimentality on the part of the family; this was purposeful hindrance. Everyone had already acknowledged that the Lord God was at work, there should have been no problem in immediate obedience. Any delay at this point was purposeful rebellion, and the servant would have no part in it.

57 So they said, “We will call the young woman and ask her personally.” 58 Then they called Rebekah and said to her, “Will you go with this man?” And she said, “I will go.”

  1. The family was probably counting on Rebekah to fear the future and refuse to go. If so, they were disappointed! From the text, there is no indication that Rebekah hesitated in the slightest. When given the chance, she was willing to leave.
  2. At this point, we start to see Rebekah’s own faith. Think about it: the only thing she knew of this servant was from her encounter with him the previous day. She had only his word upon which to rely, and she was about to leave the only home she had ever known to go with him to a land hundreds of miles away, with no possibility of ever seeing her family again. She had barely 12-18 hours to know the servant and consider the matter, and yet she’s willing to go. Were not the Lord dramatically and obviously involved, this would be the height of foolishness! As it was, it was sheer faith. God was involved, and there could be no doubt. It was a miracle that had led the servant directly to Rebekah, and she understood this in her heart. Her only possible response was immediate obedience.
    1. That’s the way it ought to be with us! When God’s word is clear (as it is in the Bible), our response ought to be evident.
  3. With Rebekah’s commitment, Laban had no other choice. They let her go with their blessing…

59 So they sent away Rebekah their sister and her nurse, and Abraham’s servant and his men. 60 And they blessed Rebekah and said to her: “Our sister, may you become The mother of thousands of ten thousands; And may your descendants possess The gates of those who hate them.”

  1. Although they had no way of knowing, their blessing was truly prophetic. There’s no indication that Abraham’s servant told them of the many aspects of God’s covenant with him, yet this was all part of God’s plan for Abraham’s descendants. Rebekah truly would become a mother of nations, and they would experience the victory and blessing of God!

61 Then Rebekah and her maids arose, and they rode on the camels and followed the man. So the servant took Rebekah and departed.

  1. Off they went. How many maids went with Rebekah, we don’t know. 
  • The servant’s success (62-67)

62 Now Isaac came from the way of Beer Lahai Roi, for he dwelt in the South. 63 And Isaac went out to meditate in the field in the evening; and he lifted his eyes and looked, and there, the camels were coming.

  1. Fast-forward 21+ days, and the provision of God is still at work. The servant went past Hebron further to the south where Isaac dwelt, and who does he happen to encounter at the moment of his arrival? 
  2. Interestingly, Isaac was in the region of Beer Lahai Roi, the same location visited by Hagar when she was originally pregnant with Ishmael. At the time, she had run away from Sarai, and God coaxed her back, graciously demonstrating that He saw her. “Beer Lahai Roi” translates to “The well of the Living One who sees me.” God had seen Hagar, and God saw Isaac. Even here, Isaac lifted his own eyes and saw the provision of God before him. And he wasn’t the only one…

64 Then Rebekah lifted her eyes, and when she saw Isaac she dismounted from her camel; 65 for she had said to the servant, “Who is this man walking in the field to meet us?” The servant said, “It is my master.” So she took a veil and covered herself.

  1. Just as Isaac had seen Rebekah in the distance, so did she see her future husband. At this point, she did what was culturally appropriate at the time & veiled herself, as she would remain until the day of their marriage.

66 And the servant told Isaac all the things that he had done. 67 Then Isaac brought her into his mother Sarah’s tent; and he took Rebekah and she became his wife, and he loved her. So Isaac was comforted after his mother’s death.

  1. Isaac is told the news, and eventually the two are wed.

Conclusion:

Genesis 24 is the longest narrative account in the book, but how wonderful it is! Through this long narration, we repeatedly see the gracious provision of God. He had a loyal covenantal love for Abraham and Isaac, and His kindness to them would not be forsaken. God would lead a servant through deserts and into strange cities to exactly the right person out of any number of people, if that was what it took for God’s promises to be honored. No obstacle was too great, no journey too difficult. When God was leading, He could find a needle in a haystack – He could even bring forth the needle before the seeker knew where to look!

Our God still provides! Our God is still faithful! He does not forsake His promises or His people. What He has said, He will do – and He has proven this through what He has already done. We have no greater proof of the love of God than the cross and resurrection of Christ. In Jesus, He has already shown Himself to be abundantly faithful.

So believe Him – worship Him – obey Him – tell others about Him! Follow the example of Abraham’s servant, ourselves being servants of the Most High God!

Faith and Family

Posted: May 3, 2018 in Genesis, Uncategorized

Genesis 22-23, “Faith and Family”

Some moments are simply iconic. Mention the name Neil Armstrong or Buzz Aldrin, and you think about the first men on the moon, and the words, “One small step for man; one giant leap for mankind.” Mention the name Hiroshima, and images of terrible mushroom clouds rush our minds. Mention the names Abraham and Isaac, and most likely the events of Genesis 22 are what come to mind, as Abraham lays his long-awaited son upon an altar for sacrifice.

Thankfully, there is more to the story than that! Abraham does not lay his son on the sacrificial altar unto death; God intervenes in a miraculous way. But what Abraham does is amazing, in terms of faith. Abraham showed his faith in God to be total, trusting God’s promises to the fullest extent, even in terms of his own family. In the process, Abraham’s faith becomes our example, as we trust God not only for future hope in eternity to come, but we trust Him with our whole lives right here & right now. We trust Him with everything – He is our ultimate Provider.

The story of Abraham laying his son Isaac on the altar is dramatic by itself, but the drama heightens even more, when we remember the context. For 25 years, Abraham waited for God’s promise of a son to be fulfilled. He truly believed God, but as with anyone, Abraham’s faith had its highs and lows. At one point, he and his wife Sarah tried to manipulate their way into God’s promise by having Abraham father a child through a different woman (Hagar, to Ishmael). Yet that was not God’s plan, and the shortcuts and manipulations of humans were rejected. At two other times, Abraham almost invalidated the promise of God altogether when he feared for his life, and lied about Sarah’s identify as his wife – resulting in her being taken in marriage by foreign kings. Yet again, God intervened, preserving both Sarah’s purity and His promise to give Abraham and Sarah a son.

At long last, the son arrived, to the joy of his parents, and Abraham’s obedience to the covenant by having him circumcised. Sadly, the boy was soon mocked by his older half-brother, and Ishmael (along with his mother) were forced to be ejected from the camp of Abraham. Once more demonstrating His goodness, God promised to provide for Ishmael simply because he was Abraham’s son – and Ishmael would be blessed almost exactly as Abraham his father was blessed (with the exceptions of the Messianic line and physical inheritance of the land).

At this point in the text, Abraham is walking with God in faith, his son is being raised in the knowledge and provision of God, and the only thing Abraham now awaits is growing old(er) perhaps holding out hope to see his son married with children of his own. Yet there’s one more test of faith that awaits him – one that would stretch him to his limits. Abraham had seen the fruit of God’s promises, but did that fruit now invalidate his faith? In other words, did Abraham’s faith in God evaporate once Isaac was born? It’s one thing to believe for something in the future, but it’s another thing to continue believing once the promise is fulfilled. Was God now “out of sight, out of mind,” for Abraham, or was there something deeper to his faith? He would soon find out.

What kind of faith do we have? Is it for something short-term – is it for some physical blessing? Or, is our faith truly in God, trusting Him for who He is beyond any physical promise He can offer? Trust Jesus for who He is, for He is good!

Genesis 22

  • Abraham and Isaac (22:1-19)

1 Now it came to pass after these things that God tested Abraham, and said to him, “Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.”

  1. Although it cannot be said that God tempts anyone with evil, the Bible does show times when God tests His people, and we’re told from the outset that is what happens here with Abraham. Although Abraham didn’t know it, this was a deliberate test from God – an exercise meant to prove and strengthen the faith of Abraham. By this point, Abraham’s faith was already strong – no doubt, it would be much stronger by the week’s end!

2 Then He said, “Take now your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I shall tell you.”

  1. Before we get to the command, some of the details stand out. First, how many sons did Abraham have? How many did God describe? One: “your son, your only.” Ishmael is intentionally left out by God, not even included as a son of Abraham. This wasn’t cruelty; it was reality. When it came to the children God promised, God had given only one. Ishmael was not the son of the covenant; Isaac was. This is less of a commentary on Ishmael as it was on Abraham’s & Sarah’s previous slipup of faith. (Remember that God specifically promised to provide for Ishmael, Gen 21:18. Mercy to him was assured.)
    1. FYI, Islam (by & large) teaches the mirror opposite of Genesis 22. In their tradition, it was Ishmael that Abraham was supposed to sacrifice on the altar, and that Isaac was not yet born. It’s one more example of how Satan attempts to co-opt and corrupt the truth of God.
  2. Secondly, notice how the command to go to Moriah mirrors the original command to travel to the land of Canaan. It too, was a land that God would show to Abraham (Gen 12:1-2). Already, God is hinting to Abraham that he would have to walk by faith, and simply trust God. There was more to all of this than what met the eye, but Abraham would have to trust in God’s character.
  3. As to the command itself, it was awful: Abraham was commanded by God to sacrifice his son. He was supposed to go to one of the mountains of Moriah (the area of Jerusalem), bind his son, slit his throat, and allow his body to be totally consumed in a sacrifice of worship. Unthinkable – horrendous! Child sacrifice is rightly condemned throughout the Scriptures; how could God command it here? Remember that this was a test. God had no intent for Isaac to be slain, but Abraham’s faith needed to be proven through trial. God had all things under control, and His character remained good & unwavering…even if Abraham didn’t have all of the facts in front of him.
  4. Objection: “Yeah, sure, but that’s Abraham.” Do not underestimate how difficult this was – don’t write it off as Abraham understanding some kind of light-hearted theological symbolism. He fully understood that God was telling him to put his long-awaited son to death. God knew exactly how hard this would be – this was the son “whom you love,” the younger son truly beloved by Abraham, and the one who would inherit all of Abraham’s wealth and covenant blessings. Isaac was the living proof of God’s faithfulness to him, and now he was commanded to put him to death. This was just as hard on Abraham as it would have been on any person throughout history. There were no shortcuts to this command.
    1. It’s doubtful you’ll ever be placed in a situation as remotely as hard as Abraham – but it is highly probable that at some point you’ll be faced with a choice of trusting God despite the circumstances you see in front of you. Will you trust God when it seems He cannot be trusted? Those who do, have faith that shines like gold!
    2. Know this, our God is trustworthy! We know Him by knowing Jesus, and we know that Jesus is good, merciful, holy, just, righteous, perfect, loving, compassionate, etc. When we’re in a situation we don’t understand, we fall back upon what we do At the end of the day, if you know Jesus, then you know all you need to know.

3 So Abraham rose early in the morning and saddled his donkey, and took two of his young men with him, and Isaac his son; and he split the wood for the burnt offering, and arose and went to the place of which God had told him.

  1. Most of us, if faced with the situation Abraham faced, would drag our feet the next day, the next week, month, etc. We would procrastinate and put things off as long as possible. Not Abraham. Abraham did not delay. He did not argue. He just obeyed. If the narration at this point seems wooden and perfunctory, we can understand. This was not joyous obedience on the part of Abraham; he had to force himself to act according to God’s command. In this alone, Abraham demonstrated faith!
    1. Sometimes faith is simply moving forward. We cannot see what lies too far ahead, but we know what God has right in front of us, so we do that. We don’t put it off – we don’t use prayer as a pious excuse not to get started – we simply do what God has given us to do. Even if it’s only taking a few steps at a time, it’s something. It’s trusting God with at least that.
  2. It took some time to travel from Beersheba to Moriah. Three days’ worth, as a matter of fact. 

4 Then on the third day Abraham lifted his eyes and saw the place afar off. 5 And Abraham said to his young men, “Stay here with the donkey; the lad and I will go yonder and worship, and we will come back to you.”

  1. Once in the land of Moriah, Abraham saw the dreaded mountain, and gave notice to his servants to stay behind. That said, it’s evident Abraham had hope beyond his dread. Notice the “” Abraham had faith that both of them would return. Both he and “the lad” would leave, and both he and the lad would “come back.” Abraham might not have been able to describe how it would happen, but he knew it would happen.
  2. The New Testament actually gives us a bit of insight into Abraham’s thinking. Surely Abraham was hoping that God might some miraculously intervene, and that slaying his son would not come to pass. But even if not, Abraham still had faith in God. Even if Isaac lay dead and burned on the altar, Abraham still had faith in a God able to work miracles. Hebrews 11:17–19, “(17) By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises offered up his only begotten son, (18) of whom it was said, “In Isaac your seed shall be called,” (19) concluding that God was able to raise him up, even from the dead, from which he also received him in a figurative sense.” IOW, Abraham had faith in the resurrection! He knew that the God who had given life to Sarah’s barren womb – the God who gave life to his young son – this same God could give it all over again, if need be. God could be trusted with the life of Isaac because God is Himself the author and giver of life.
    1. Why do we have faith in Jesus? Because of His resurrection! The Author of life willingly gave up His life, and then He powerfully took up His life again when He rose from the grave. If He can do that, what is impossible for Him? Nothing! Jesus’ resurrected life proves the truth behind His every promise, and demonstrates that He has power to give life to all who trust Him.

6 So Abraham took the wood of the burnt offering and laid it on Isaac his son; and he took the fire in his hand, and a knife, and the two of them went together. 7 But Isaac spoke to Abraham his father and said, “My father!” And he said, “Here I am, my son.” Then he said, “Look, the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?”

  1. Isaac asked a good question! He saw all the supplies, and he saw the place of destination. What he didn’t see was a sacrificial lamb.
  2. Did he have any idea as to what was going on? It’s impossible to say. In the end, he simply trusted his father to do what was best.

8 And Abraham said, “My son, God will provide for Himself the lamb for a burnt offering.” So the two of them went together.

  1. Amen: God provides! Abraham was certainly sketchy on the details, but he had faith that God would provide in some He even knew that God would provide “the lamb for the burnt offering.” While it’s possible that Abraham referred to his son Isaac as the figurative-lamb, it seems more likely that Abraham knew that this act of sacrifice would not end with the forever death of Isaac. Again, Abraham had faith that God would raise Isaac from the dead, if need be – and if there was still a sacrifice to take place, God would provide the literal lamb in order to have it done. Either way, God would provide the sacrifice for Himself.
    1. That is exactly what He did through Jesus Christ!

9 Then they came to the place of which God had told him. And Abraham built an altar there and placed the wood in order; and he bound Isaac his son and laid him on the altar, upon the wood. 10 And Abraham stretched out his hand and took the knife to slay his son.

  1. Notice the faith of Abraham and of Isaac. Despite his youth, he gave no resistance to his 100+ year old father. Sometimes we get the idea that Isaac was a tiny boy, barely older than a toddler at the time of this testing. In all likelihood, he was much older. The same word used to describe him as “the lad” in verse 5 was also used to describe Ishmael, when God heard his prayers (21:17-18). At that time, Ishmael was around 16 years old, so here, Isaac could have easily have been a teenager. No doubt he had strength enough to fight his father, if need be…but he didn’t. He trusted his father, and showed a similar trust in the Lord God as did Abraham.
  2. This was the moment of truth. Once Isaac was tightly bound, unable to move, Abraham took the same knife with which he had slain so many other sacrificial lambs, raised it high in the air, and prepared to kill his beloved son. Tensions and fear are high – Abraham surely trembled at the act, but he was prepared to obey. Seconds seem like years, and then Abraham acts…and is miraculously stopped by the Angel of the Lord!

11 But the Angel of the LORD called to him from heaven and said, “Abraham, Abraham!” So he said, “Here I am.” 12 And He said, “Do not lay your hand on the lad, or do anything to him; for now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from Me.”

  1. Can you imagine a more welcome sound than that of the Angel of the Lord at that moment? Normally, a call from the Pre-incarnate Jesus Christ would strike terror into the hearts of men and women, but not this time. This time, the repeated urgent call to Abraham was probably the most joyous sound Abraham had heard in his entire life!
  2. The Angel stopped Abraham from action, calling out his name emphatically, commanding him neither to kill Isaac nor “do anything to him.” There was to be no misinterpretation of the command, no thought as to “maybe I’m just not killing him in the right way.” The Angel of the Lord stopped this act of sacrifice in its tracks, and it wasn’t to proceed any further.
  3. Why? Because the Angel knew the truth of Abraham’s faith. “Now I know that you fear God.” Did God already know what was in Abraham’s heart? Surely He did. But now Abraham knew it, too. The reverent fear of the Lord that Abraham had undoubtedly claimed for himself was made known, and all questions were answered. God had set out to test Abraham, and Abraham passed with flying colors!
    1. Question: Does God test our faith? Sometimes we might be a bit too quick to blame our circumstances upon God imagining it to be a “test.” But other time, who knows? It may just be one. God certainly has the right to test our faith. As the One who molds us and shapes us into the image of Christ, He proves us in trials like the strength of swords is proven and tested through flame. We come out stronger on the other side, because of the testing of the Lord. What He sees fit to do, He does. Our job isn’t so much to question whether every individual situation is a test; our job is simply to trust Jesus is all of it!
  4. Note: The Angel of the Lord IS the Lord God Himself. “You have not withheld your son, your only son, from Me.” On this more dire of all days in the life of Abraham and Isaac, God did not delegate this communication to any other angel; God personally showed up.
  5. Looking back thousands of years later from the perspective of New Testament Christianity, we see that what Abraham was willing to do, God actually did. Abraham had not withheld his son from God; God did not withhold His Son (His only Son) from us.

13 Then Abraham lifted his eyes and looked, and there behind him was a ram caught in a thicket by its horns. So Abraham went and took the ram, and offered it up for a burnt offering instead of his son. 14 And Abraham called the name of the place, The-LORD-Will-Provide; as it is said to this day, “In the Mount of the LORD it shall be provided.”

  1. Just as Abraham predicted, God provided the needed animal sacrifice. Whether Abraham was temporarily blinded to the ram in the thicket, or if he simply didn’t see the animal while his thoughts were consumed on his obedience, the Angel of the Lord (Jesus) pointed out the ram already available to be used as a sacrifice. God had provided the lamb, just as Abraham had told Isaac that He would.
  2. God provided…He always will! He is Jehovah-Jireh, Yahweh Yireh ~ YHWH provides / YHWH is seen. The unaltered form of the root word (רָאָה) means “to see/expect,” but in the particular verb stem used here, the word can mean “to appear / be presented.” The Lord God sees the need, and provides accordingly, ultimately presenting Himself as the solution.
    1. God always provides…always. Question: Does this mean that we can kick back, relax, and wait for God to bring us our daily bread & feed us hand-to-mouth? That is a misunderstanding of God’s character and an abuse of His grace. What it does mean is that God sees our needs, and provides according to His will. Yes, there are times in which we trust Him for our physical provision, and it is right to pray to Him as our provider. But that can’t be where it ends. If that’s the extent of our trust in God, then we don’t really trust Him at all. Ultimately, this applies to our spiritual provision. We’re trusting HIM for providing HIMSELF to us in the person of Jesus Christ.
  3. God wasn’t done providing for Abraham and Isaac. The ram of sacrifice took care only of that one instance & their immediate need for worship. But God had a far longer reaching provision in mind. Verse 15…

15 Then the Angel of the LORD called to Abraham a second time out of heaven, 16 and said: “By Myself I have sworn, says the LORD, because you have done this thing, and have not withheld your son, your only son—17 blessing I will bless you, and multiplying I will multiply your descendants as the stars of the heaven and as the sand which is on the seashore; and your descendants shall possess the gate of their enemies. 18 In your seed all the nations of the earth shall be blessed, because you have obeyed My voice.”

  1. Abraham’s obedience led to affirmation of God’s covenant. There would be blessing, multiplying, and a Messianic blessing to the world. All because Abraham obeyed, not withholding his son.
  2. Question: Does this mean that Abraham was blessed by God because of his work? God had already promised to bless Abraham in this way. Genesis 12:1-3 – Genesis 13:14-17 – Genesis 15:4-5 – Genesis 17:4-8 – Genesis 18:18…each one of these instances affirmed God’s work and promise towards Abraham. Over & over again, God had promised to act, just as He did again here. God’s work was (and is) one-sided.
  3. So why the emphasis on Abraham’s obedience? Abraham’s obedience showed the quality of his faith. Abraham believed God, and God accounted it to him for righteousness (Gen 15:6), but Abraham’s belief wasn’t merely ritualistic or based in words alone. The quality of his belief was demonstrated in the works stemming from his belief. … James 2:21–24, “(21) Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered Isaac his son on the altar? (22) Do you see that faith was working together with his works, and by works faith was made perfect? (23) And the Scripture was fulfilled which says, “Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.” And he was called the friend of God. (24) You see then that a man is justified by works, and not by faith only.”
    1. Keep in mind that James does not invalidate Paul. Romans 4:1–3, “(1) What then shall we say that Abraham our father has found according to the flesh? (2) For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. (3) For what does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.”” These are not contradictory statements; they are opposite sides of the same coin. Abraham was justified by God through faith, and the reality of his justification was demonstrated by his works.
    2. In the end, God blessed Abraham based on His one-sided grace. Abraham’s faith was in God, and God was his only hope. That showed itself true through his obedience, and God rejoiced and blessed Abraham even more. The point? Grace is always one-sided. But those who truly receive grace show a response. A “faith” that never responds to grace isn’t faith at all.

19 So Abraham returned to his young men, and they rose and went together to Beersheba; and Abraham dwelt at Beersheba.

  1. The conclusion of the event is a bit of a footnote, but it’s also a validate of Abraham’s faith. Earlier, he had confidently predicted that both he and his son would return to the men, and they did. Even this note of their travel is a testimony to the grace of God!
  • Abraham’s relatives (22:20-24)

20 Now it came to pass after these things that it was told Abraham, saying, “Indeed Milcah also has borne children to your brother Nahor:

  1. Who was Nahor? Obviously, Abraham’s brother – last mentioned in Genesis 11. Terah was the father of Abram, Nahor, and Haran back in Ur of the Chaldeans (Babylon), and Haran (the father of Lot) died there. The remaining family had originally set out with Abram when he first left the land, stopping in the town of Haran where Terah died. Apparently, Nahor remained in the general area (the land of Padan Aram), where he raised his family. 

21 Huz his firstborn, Buz his brother, Kemuel the father of Aram, 22 Chesed, Hazo, Pildash, Jidlaph, and Bethuel.” 23 And Bethuel begot Rebekah. These eight Milcah bore to Nahor, Abraham’s brother. 24 His concubine, whose name was Reumah, also bore Tebah, Gaham, Thahash, and Maachah.

  1. This is the only mention of the majority of these individuals. The text is here to set up the events of Chapter 24, in which a bride is found for Isaac. Abraham’s brother Nahor gave birth to Bethuel, and Bethuel fathered Rebekah. Thus Isaac would eventually marry his 2nd cousin (not unusual according to their culture and times).
  2. Is this just family trivia? Not really – it is an acknowledgement of the covenant blessing of God. The promises God made to Abraham did not end in Isaac; more descendants were required to come. The idea that Isaac would have access to a bride who was not a part of the Canaanite people meant that the covenant blessings of God had a chance to continue. Remember that out of all of the genealogies in the Bible, the one that is followed through to the end is that of Jesus. The Bible is completely consistent in showing His pure lineage back through David, through Abraham, and ultimately to Adam.

Genesis 23

  • Abraham’s grief and gravesite (21:1-20)

1 Sarah lived one hundred and twenty-seven years; these were the years of the life of Sarah. 2 So Sarah died in Kirjath Arba (that is, Hebron) in the land of Canaan, and Abraham came to mourn for Sarah and to weep for her.

  1. 127 years old is a grand old age to have reached, and yet another sign of God’s kindnesses towards Abraham and Sarah. Sarah was 90 years old when she became the mother to Isaac, but she did not immediately pass away after childbirth; she had 37 years to enjoy her son.
  2. Even so, death still came. Death reigned among men from Adam onward, and Abraham’s own lineage was no exception.

3 Then Abraham stood up from before his dead, and spoke to the sons of Heth, saying, 4 “I am a foreigner and a visitor among you. Give me property for a burial place among you, that I may bury my dead out of my sight.”

  1. By this point, Abraham was 137 years old. He first received his call from God at age 75, which means he had spent over 60 years in & around the land of Canaan. Yet even after six decades, he still considered himself to be “a foreigner and a visitor.” Although his wealth was immense, having massive herds and many servants, Abraham still did not yet own any land for himself. His familial ties were still back in Ur, and even though God promised him this land as his inheritance, that inheritance had not yet been fully received (and wouldn’t be for 400+ years to come).
    1. In a sense, Abraham demonstrates what it’s like to be in, but not of this world.
  2. Even though Abraham trusted God for a future inheritance, with the death of Sarah, he had an immediate need for real estate. No doubt Abraham had witnessed the death of servants over the years, and their graves were likely scattered throughout Canaan. But with Sarah, Abraham required something that was set apart – a place where he could lay his beloved bride to rest, and a place where he could one day join her when it came time for him to die. Thus he went to the local landowners to ask permission to purchase land.

5 And the sons of Heth answered Abraham, saying to him, 6 “Hear us, my lord: You are a mighty prince among us; bury your dead in the choicest of our burial places. None of us will withhold from you his burial place, that you may bury your dead.”

  1. Abraham was well-respected by all, seen as a “mighty prince” in the eyes of the community elders. Abraham was by no means perfect, but he lived his life above reproach, and the testimony of his life was evident to all. (A great example for us!)
  2. Question: Were the men offering to give/donate land to Abraham? Not really. They were simply saying that no piece of real estate would be “off limits.” Whatever tract of land Abraham requested, they would be willing to negotiate a price.

7 Then Abraham stood up and bowed himself to the people of the land, the sons of Heth. 8 And he spoke with them, saying, “If it is your wish that I bury my dead out of my sight, hear me, and meet with Ephron the son of Zohar for me, 9 that he may give me the cave of Machpelah which he has, which is at the end of his field. Let him give it to me at the full price, as property for a burial place among you.”

  1. Abraham had a place in mind: “the cave of Machpelah,” which belonged to “Ephron the son of Zohar.” Obviously, Abraham had done his research. He didn’t go in unprepared.
  2. Additionally, Abraham requested to purchase it at the full price. He wasn’t asking any special favors, and he didn’t want any question to remain regarding ownership. This was to be a full, legal transaction. (Doing things the right way!)

10 Now Ephron dwelt among the sons of Heth; and Ephron the Hittite answered Abraham in the presence of the sons of Heth, all who entered at the gate of his city, saying, 11 “No, my lord, hear me: I give you the field and the cave that is in it; I give it to you in the presence of the sons of my people. I give it to you. Bury your dead!”

  1. Ephron purports to donate the land to Abraham. No doubt, these were the cultural niceties, and the ritualistic song-and-dance that accompanied purchases between noblemen.

12 Then Abraham bowed himself down before the people of the land; 13 and he spoke to Ephron in the hearing of the people of the land, saying, “If you will give it, please hear me. I will give you money for the field; take it from me and I will bury my dead there.”

  1. Abraham insisted on the purchase, and insisted that it be done publicly and in the proper order. If it was a gift, then perhaps Ephron could later come back with a claim on the land. Abraham wanted the cave free & clear. No doubts as to ownership could remain.

14 And Ephron answered Abraham, saying to him, 15 “My lord, listen to me; the land is worth four hundred shekels of silver. What is that between you and me? So bury your dead.” 16 And Abraham listened to Ephron; and Abraham weighed out the silver for Ephron which he had named in the hearing of the sons of Heth, four hundred shekels of silver, currency of the merchants.

  1. In all likelihood, the land wasn’t worth anywhere close to 400 shekels of silver; this was simply the first round of negotiation. This was the ancient near eastern equivalent of haggling. Yet to Ephron’s surprise, Abraham didn’t haggle at all. He didn’t debate the price or try to argue it down; he simply paid it as it was listed.
  2. Why? This way, there was no question that it was his. Abraham didn’t just purchase the land; he more than purchased it! He was willing to take a loss if it meant that he could have the land with his integrity, and that is what he did. He was more concerned about the validity of the deal, rather than saving a few bucks along the way.

17 So the field of Ephron which was in Machpelah, which was before Mamre, the field and the cave which was in it, and all the trees that were in the field, which were within all the surrounding borders, were deeded 18 to Abraham as a possession in the presence of the sons of Heth, before all who went in at the gate of his city.

  1. Description of the property
  2. Over time, this has become the 2nd holiest site in all Judaism. 

19 And after this, Abraham buried Sarah his wife in the cave of the field of Machpelah, before Mamre (that is, Hebron) in the land of Canaan. 20 So the field and the cave that is in it were deeded to Abraham by the sons of Heth as property for a burial place.

  1. This was the first and only property ever truly owned by Abraham in Canaan. But it was just a small down-payment on what was soon to come!

Conclusion:

God provided for Abraham’s family in many ways: He gave Abraham a physical resting place for his wife, and He gave Abraham the possibility for a future pure bride for his son. These were both small aspects of God’s greater covenant promises of a land, a nation, and a Messiah. But even greater than these things was how God provided for Abraham a sacrifice. God saw that Abraham was willing to even offer his only son in worship to God, and in so doing, God saw a heart that reflected His own. God would not hold back from offering His only begotten Son for the sins of the world, including the sins of Abraham. The first sacrifice God provided for Abraham was the ram in the thicket; the ultimate sacrifice He provided was the Lord Jesus Christ.

Trust Jesus, our Provider! Yes, we trust Him for the daily mundane things of the world (food, water, daily bread), but we also trust Him for who He is. Too many people (even born-again Christians) express their faith in Christ for what they believe Jesus will give them. They look for their next blessing, claiming all the promises of God for their physical hands (and bank accounts) right here & right now. That is shortchanging both ourselves & God. What God desires to see in us is not only trust for the present-day physical needs of this life, but a trust in Him for simply who He is. We are to rejoice in God because He IS God, and we can know and believe that He is always good and always good to His word. We can trust Him when we see His fulfilled promises, and we can trust Him when we don’t yet see how His promises can be fulfilled. We simply trust Him, period. That’s what God desires from us, and in that He rejoices!

Not Again!

Posted: April 26, 2018 in Genesis, Uncategorized

Genesis 20-21, “Not Again!”

When it comes to movies, sequels are all the rage. Hollywood loves to film not merely stand-alone movies, but whole franchises. The Marvel Cinematic Universe, for instance not only has several films for each superhero character (Iron Man, Captain America, etc.), but is releasing the 19th movie in the franchise this weekend. People love to see something familiar, and Hollywood delivers.

Of course repetition isn’t always in good fun. Sometimes it indicates laziness or worse sinful habits. Among the proverbs of Solomon, Proverbs 26:11, “As a dog returns to his own vomit, So a fool repeats his folly.” So often, that’s us! We repeat the things we know to be wrong (and disgusting!). It’s not that we don’t know that they’re wrong; it’s that we simply don’t stop ourselves from doing it. We know better; we just don’t do better. (And we can do better! We just need to rely on the power of God to do it!)

We are not unique in this – the Bible shows many people struggled with sinful habits throughout history, including the usually-appropriately-named “father of faith,” Abraham. Although Abraham showed himself faithful to God & relying upon God’s promises at key times in his life, there were other times Abraham was not nearly so faithful. Occasionally he fell back into old patterns of doubt, which led to old patters of sin, which ended up with sad consequences.

Chapters 20-21 detail some of those accounts. There are three main stories in these chapters. The first details Abraham’s double-back into deception regarding his wife Sarah, as he nearly negated the long-awaited promise of God altogether. The second looks at the consequences of an earlier attempt to shortcut God’s promise. The third details some of the results from his earlier deception of Chapter 20, with his damaged witness & testimony.

Thankfully, among each of those instances, we don’t only read of the failings of Abraham; we also read of the faithfulness of God. God is merciful, in spite of us – He will always honor His word, even when we have difficulty trusting it. The key for us is two-fold: (1) trust God, and (2) do it His way the first time. That alone will save us a lot of heartache in the days to come!

Because Chapter 20 deals with repeated sin, we need to be reminded of the earlier events. What was it that happened before, that Abraham should have avoided this time?

It all goes back to his initial calling from God. Abraham (then known as “Abram”) had been called to leave his homeland of Ur in land of the Chaldees (near Babylon) to go to the land God promised to show him. God promised the elderly, but childless Abram & wife Sarai a son, a land, and a nation which would one day bless all the world. Abram followed God in faith, travelled through the land of Canaan, but unfortunately did not remain there. Due to a famine, Abram left the land of promise (not exercising faith in God), and went to Egypt. (Gen 12:10) Once there, Abram feared for his life due to Sarai’s beauty, thinking that an Egyptian would kill him in order to take her as a wife, so he asked Sarai to say she was his sister (a half-truth). Sure enough, Pharaoh himself desired her, and took her, while blessing Abram as the “approving” brother. Thankfully, God intervened, and Sarai was rescued, being sent out by Pharaoh along with great wealth to justify himself.

Time passed, and although Abram believed God and His promises, he and Sarai decided to speed up the process by having Abram impregnate one of Sarai’s maidservants, Hagar (who was likely acquired in Egypt). Hagar’s pregnancy was supposed to justify Sarai, but Hagar became proud & Sarai became jealous. Left in the middle, Abram sheepishly allowed Sarai to abuse Hagar, who fled into the wilderness almost unto her death. Once again, God graciously intervened, promising a future for Hagar’s son, although affirming he would not be the son of God’s covenant with Abram. Her son was soon born, named “Ishmael,” or “God hears.”

More time passed, and God appeared to Abram once more (this time changing his name to “Abraham”) promising to return within a year in order that his wife Sarai (now “Sarah”) would finally become pregnant. The idea of a 100 year old man & 90 year old woman having a newborn caused both Abraham and Sarah to laugh, one out of amazement & the other out of doubt – but that laughter would be the name of their son-to-be, Isaac. All they now needed to do, was wait.

From there, the book of Genesis followed a bit of a sideline with the account of God’s judgment upon Sodom, and God’s rescue of Lot from the wicked city. Sadly, the wickedness of Sodom had rubbed off on Lot’s family, which gave birth to two nations that would eventually be thorns in the side of Israel…but that would be in the future. Chapter 20 picks up once again with the narrative of Abraham, in the months and weeks just prior to seeing all of God’s promises come true. What was the nature of Abraham’s and Sarah’s faith? How would they respond to the waiting?

Like us, they sadly fell back into old habits. Thankfully, God has habits of His own: habits of grace & mercy! Beware of repeating past mistakes; do things new in the trust of God!

Genesis 20

  • Abraham’s deception, redux (20:1-18)

1 And Abraham journeyed from there to the South, and dwelt between Kadesh and Shur, and stayed in Gerar. 2 Now Abraham said of Sarah his wife, “She is my sister.” And Abimelech king of Gerar sent and took Sarah.

  1. When it says that Abraham went “to the South,” it isn’t necessarily meaning that he went very far. Gerar wasn’t nearly as far away as Egypt. Even so, it was a step away from God’s promise, rather than simply staying put and trusting God where he was. This is the same mistake he made the first time back in Genesis 12, when he left the land of his inheritance.
  2. His second mistake was falling back into the old deception that he pulled back in Egypt, namely the pretense of Sarah as his sister, rather than his wife. As Abraham dwelt among this different people, he sadly did not choose a different strategy. Instead of trusting God’s provision for him and protection of he and his wife, he chose to trust what he believed was a “proven” strategy. (It was “proven” in the idea that he had used it before, and even got wealthy from it. But it was faulty then, and faulty now. The only reason he had escaped with his life was due to the merciful intervention of God!)
  3. For many of us, this is our Christian walk in a nutshell. There are days we trust Jesus, and we worship God with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength. And then there are days we act as if we don’t know Him at all. It’s as if we just chucked our whole faith, and lived like we did before we ever knew Him. Is this an unforgiveable sin? No, of course not. Is it a desirable way of life? Not in the slightest! God has so much more for us than this sort of repeated sinful cycle of life. The more we walk according to our flesh, the less we walk in the fulness of the Spirit, and the less we experience the blessings of abundant life. Not once in the Bible are we promised anything easy, but we are promised blessing. The blessing is that we walk through our difficulties with Jesus, rather than without Him. The blessing is that we know the forgiveness of sin, and the fellowship of God, having been made His children. The blessing is that we are filled with the Holy Spirit, and empowered by Him to life as He desires us to life. Yet when we make the intentional choice to walk according to our flesh, we leave all of that behind. We harm ourselves, and (as will be seen with Abraham) we potentially harm our witness in front of others.
  4. Don’t miss the fact that Abraham isn’t merely harming his witness (as bad as that is); he’s potentially endangering the long-awaited promise of God for a son. Remember that God had told Abraham and Sarah that He would return to them “according to the time of life,” (Gen 18:10), meaning within the same year, in order that Sarah would become pregnant by Abraham, and bear Abraham’s son. If Sarah became the wife of Abimelech, and if Abimelech consummated that marriage, then who is to say whose child it was if Sarah became pregnant? There would forever be a cloud over the boy’s parentage. Would it have been the miraculous gift of God, or would it have been the child of the Gentile? Abraham’s lack of faith & fall into sinful habit had potential consequences he didn’t even realize!
    1. So often, that’s the case with us as well. We don’t realize the mess we’re making when we go back to sinful habits. We have no thought to the potential consequences of the long-term, when all we’re thinking about is short-term satisfaction. Be careful! Some choices last the rest of your life.

3 But God came to Abimelech in a dream by night, and said to him, “Indeed you are a dead man because of the woman whom you have taken, for she is a man’s wife.”

  1. God got his attention! Abimelech (which is likely a regional title for their king, much like “Pharaoh” was for Egypt) was sound asleep in his bed when God appeared in a dream with most unwelcome news. The king was declared as dead even before he had a chance to defend himself. This is exaggeration by the Lord (as is later evident), but it certainly would have made Abimelech take things seriously, which he did. 

4 But Abimelech had not come near her; and he said, “Lord, will You slay a righteous nation also? 5 Did he not say to me, ‘She is my sister’? And she, even she herself said, ‘He is my brother.’ In the integrity of my heart and innocence of my hands I have done this.”

  1. Was Gerar truly a “righteous” nation? Not in the strictest sense of the word, but perhaps relatively speaking. Basically, Abimelech was declaring his innocence. To slay the king was to slay the nation, and in his mind & heart, he had not done anything wrong. He was the victim of deception; not a purposeful adulterer or thief.
  2. And he was right. Abraham had deceived him. The father of faith & ultimate patriarch of the Hebrew nation was the one in the wrong. And he almost caused the death of a relatively innocent man.

6 And God said to him in a dream, “Yes, I know that you did this in the integrity of your heart. For I also withheld you from sinning against Me; therefore I did not let you touch her.

  1. God knew Abimelech’s relative innocence. This is where God’s intentional exaggeration is seen. God said what needed to be said to Abimelech in order to get his attention. Had Abimelech purposefully taken a known wife for himself, he certainly would have been judged unto death. As it was, God gave him the opportunity to make things right, having known the motives that were in Abimelech’s heart.
    1. BTW – This is why it’s impossible to lie to God. He knows what is in our hearts before we ever say anything to Him in prayer. We might as well be honest…God knows it anyway.
  2. Not only did God know his heart; God protected him from action. God guarded Abimelech from unintentional sin. Consider for a moment how merciful this was! Abimelech had no tie to God, other than being a man created in God’s image. By all reckoning, he was likely a pagan idolater, yet God still knew him & mercifully restrained him from engaging in sin which he would regret. God knew this was Abraham’s fault, and God wanted to limit the effect of Abraham’s sin.
    1. God doesn’t always stop us from our sin, but He protects us in far more ways than we realize. No doubt when we finally see Jesus face-to-face, we will become aware of multitudes of ways in which God protected us from ourselves. (Don’t abuse the mercies of God!)

7 Now therefore, restore the man’s wife; for he is a prophet, and he will pray for you and you shall live. But if you do not restore her, know that you shall surely die, you and all who are yours.”

  1. God commands restoration, with a warning. To this point, Abimelech had acted in relative innocence. Going forward, the king wouldn’t be able to claim ignorance. God had told him the truth, and he needed to act upon it with a righteous response. (Hence, the proper use of the law. It makes us aware of our sin, causing us to seek God in humble repentance.)
  2. Abimelech wasn’t the only one to whom God showed mercy. Even before Abraham knew it, God gave him mercy as well. To the king, God declared Abraham to be “a prophet.” Even in Abraham’s sin, he was still God’s chosen prophet! He was still the one to represent the Lord, and to act on His behalf. How many times had Abraham failed by this point? Too many to count…yet God still chose him as His own.
    1. How many times have we failed? Yet God still shows us mercy in Jesus!
  3. Abraham’s prophetic ministry: intercession. Just as he had done with Sodom, so would he do for Abimelech & Gerar, pleading that God would grant mercy and grace beyond what He had already given.
  4. Once he heard the warning, Abimelech didn’t waste any time. 

8 So Abimelech rose early in the morning, called all his servants, and told all these things in their hearing; and the men were very much afraid. 9 And Abimelech called Abraham and said to him, “What have you done to us? How have I offended you, that you have brought on me and on my kingdom a great sin? You have done deeds to me that ought not to be done.”

  1. Public warning to his servants. Not only did Abimelech need to know that Sarah was another man’s wife, so did his whole household. The sin of Abraham couldn’t remain private, as there were more people than just he and Abimelech involved. Any one of the servants could potentially mistreat Sarah, pressuring her to act as a wife towards the king. They needed to be warned, in order that all of them might be safe.
  2. Public rebuke to Abraham. Abraham had sinned against all, so he needed to be rebuked in front of all. Was it embarrassing? No doubt. Was it necessary? It fit the scope of the sin, especially for a public servant of God.
    1. BTW – A similar principle exists in the New Testament regarding church pastors and elders. Those who are caught in present sin need to be rebuked in the presence of all the church, in order that the proper fear & reverence of God is maintained. (1 Tim 5:20) If sin needs to be exposed in order for it to be forsaken, so be it. God will do what needs to be done to keep His people humble.
  3. Keep in mind that Abraham had caused others to sin. The prophet of God had become a stumbling block to the pagans around him. They were already guilty of their own sin against God – they didn’t need Abraham adding to it. Besides, how were they supposed to understand the righteousness of God if God’s own prophet wasn’t acting in righteousness? Not only had Abraham misrepresented himself and his wife to Abimelech; he misrepresented the Lord God.
    1. How important it is to maintain our witness & integrity! People look to us to see if our claims about Jesus are genuine, or if we’re just another in a long line of religious hypocrites. We can easily become stumbling blocks to someone else coming to faith…that ought to be a sobering thought.

10 Then Abimelech said to Abraham, “What did you have in view, that you have done this thing?” 11 And Abraham said, “Because I thought, surely the fear of God is not in this place; and they will kill me on account of my wife.

  1. Abraham’s excuse: fear. Fear caused him to walk according to the flesh, rather than faith… There’s a reason that the Bible so often commands God’s people not to fear: fear causes us to do foolish things. The right fear (the fear of the Lord) is the beginning of wisdom. The wrong fear is the beginning of sin.
  2. Not only that, but Abraham’s fear was unfounded. Who demonstrated the fear of God more: the prophet or the pagan? Abraham was willing to lie for weeks on end; Abimelech repented the very next morning.

12 But indeed she is truly my sister. She is the daughter of my father, but not the daughter of my mother; and she became my wife. 13 And it came to pass, when God caused me to wander from my father’s house, that I said to her, ‘This is your kindness that you should do for me: in every place, wherever we go, say of me, “He is my brother.” ’ ”

  1. Half-truth; full deception. Abraham may have given a technically true answer, but he certainly wasn’t honest. His half-truth was the cause of a lot of trouble.
  2. This had been Abraham’s habit, but old habits are not necessarily good habits.

14 Then Abimelech took sheep, oxen, and male and female servants, and gave them to Abraham; and he restored Sarah his wife to him. 15 And Abimelech said, “See, my land is before you; dwell where it pleases you.” 16 Then to Sarah he said, “Behold, I have given your brother a thousand pieces of silver; indeed this vindicates you before all who are with you and before everybody.” Thus she was rebuked.

  1. This was the restoration that God had commanded of Abimelech. He not only gives Sarah back, but he provides generous restitution for any appearance of wrongdoing.
  2. The NKJV “rebuked” is not the best translation of the word for Sarah. No doubt she participated in the deception, but this word doesn’t necessarily point to it. In this grammatical form & in this context, it is better translated “vindicated/justified.” The idea is that matter was legally settled. Abimelech had quit all claims to Sarah, and demonstrated he had not been physically intimate with her. It was as if her dowry was repaid. The whole marriage was annulled, as if it had never happened.

17 So Abraham prayed to God; and God healed Abimelech, his wife, and his female servants. Then they bore children; 18 for the LORD had closed up all the wombs of the house of Abimelech because of Sarah, Abraham’s wife.

  1. Notice how Abraham’s sin affected others. No one in Abimelech’s home had been able to get pregnant as long as there was a possibility of Sarah becoming pregnant by him. Sin always affects others. There’s no such thing as a “victimless” sin. There is always a ripple effect.
  2. Abraham was faithful to pray, and God heard Abraham’s prayers. Again, this was mercy. God had no reason to respond to Abraham’s prayers after the way Abraham had acted. But God is merciful. He promised Abimelech that He would respond to Abraham’s prayers, and He did.
  3. This isn’t the last we will read of Abimelech, nor of Abraham’s previous deception of him. This is going to have ramifications that last.

Genesis 21

  • Isaac vs. Ishmael (21:1-21)

1 And the LORD visited Sarah as He had said, and the LORD did for Sarah as He had spoken. 2 For Sarah conceived and bore Abraham a son in his old age, at the set time of which God had spoken to him.

  1. Grace in the midst of fearful doubt: God kept His promise! This was 25 years in the waiting, but it was right on time, according to God’s plan.
  2. God always keeps His promises!

3 And Abraham called the name of his son who was born to him—whom Sarah bore to him—Isaac. 4 Then Abraham circumcised his son Isaac when he was eight days old, as God had commanded him.

  1. Obedience in name. Abraham had been commanded to call his son “Isaac,” (17:19), as a reminder of his initial response of surprised laughter towards promise of God. יִצְחָק = “He laughs,” though one wonders who laughed more: Abraham or God. 
  2. Obedience in circumcision. Although Abraham endured circumcision as an old man, God had given it as a sign of their covenant, ideally to be administered eight days after a baby’s birth. (17:12) So it was with Isaac, as his father obeyed the command. (Remember, this didn’t make Isaac righteous; it just confirmed he was included in the covenant community with God.)

5 Now Abraham was one hundred years old when his son Isaac was born to him. 6 And Sarah said, “God has made me laugh, and all who hear will laugh with me.” 7 She also said, “Who would have said to Abraham that Sarah would nurse children? For I have borne him a son in his old age.”

  1. Initially Abraham laughed in surprise – later, Sarah laughed in doubt – now and in the future, people would laugh in praise! God did the impossible. (Do you take joy in the “impossible” promises of God?)

8 So the child grew and was weaned. And Abraham made a great feast on the same day that Isaac was weaned. 9 And Sarah saw the son of Hagar the Egyptian, whom she had borne to Abraham, scoffing.

  1. Children were normally weaned at 2-3 years of age, and considering the circumstances getting to this point, this was a big milestone. It was reason for celebration!
  2. It wasn’t reason for “scoffing,” yet that was what Ishmael (Abraham’s oldest son, by Hagar) did. The root word is actually the same as Isaac’s own name (“laughter”), so it could be said that Ishmael laughed at Laughter. Keep in mind, this wasn’t praise-filled joy, as spoken by Sarah; this was mockery of the chosen child. Isaac was his younger half-brother, but Ishmael would have always known that Isaac was the favored son of their father, while he would always be the son of the slave-woman.
    1. Sinful attitude? Ishmael’s fault? In-part. Blame also falls on Abraham and Sarah.
  3. Sarah saw Ishmael’s scoffing, and she took action. 

10 Therefore she said to Abraham, “Cast out this bondwoman and her son; for the son of this bondwoman shall not be heir with my son, namely with Isaac.” 11 And the matter was very displeasing in Abraham’s sight because of his son.

  1. Question: Was Sarah sinfully jealous – or did she see future potential problems? Perhaps a bit of both. She had always been envious of Hagar (even though Hagar’s marriage to Abraham was Sarah’s idea), and no doubt she always had one eye on Ishmael for potential trouble. That said, a bit of mockery towards a toddler could turn into something truly dangerous down the line. She only saw one solution: Hagar and Ishmael were to be cast out.
    1. Paul later calls upon this event with the Galatians to teach the difference between those in the covenant of enslavement to the law, and those in the covenant of grace. (Gal 4) If we want to be those of grace, we cannot share our loyalties with that of the law. Either we rely upon Jesus to save us, or we don’t…there’s no in-between position. What may have been a seemingly harsh response from Sarah towards Hagar is exactly the right response we are to have towards legalism: cast it out!
  2. It was no surprise that the whole situation tore up Abraham on the inside. It was “very displeasing,” or could be translated “exceedingly evil” in his sight. After all, both of these boys were his sons, even if one had been fathered for the wrong reasons. It wasn’t Ishmael’s fault he was born who he was. (It was just Ishmael’s fault in what he did with his birth!)

12 But God said to Abraham, “Do not let it be displeasing in your sight because of the lad or because of your bondwoman. Whatever Sarah has said to you, listen to her voice; for in Isaac your seed shall be called. 13 Yet I will also make a nation of the son of the bondwoman, because he is your seed.”

  1. In what may seem to be an incredible surprise, God commanded Sarah’s Hagar and Ishmael were to be cast out, expelled from the camp of Abraham. Why? There was only one son of the promise. The whole reason this issue existed was because Abraham and Sarah attempted to shortcut the plan of God, and there were now life-long consequences as a result. Yet those consequences did not change God’s plan. Ultimately, this was all part of God’s goal to bring forth the Messiah, and purity needed to be restored to Abraham’s house.
  2. That’s not to say that Ishmael was seen as worthless or disposable. Not at all! Even here, God promised mercy! The “son of the bondwoman” might be cast out of the home, but he would not be abandoned by God. God would also make him “a nation” simply because of Ishmael’s connection to Abraham. God would be Ishmael’s provider, and Abraham needed to trust God to act according to His word. (And after 25 year of waiting for Isaac to finally see the promise fulfilled, Abraham had no reason to doubt!)

14 So Abraham rose early in the morning, and took bread and a skin of water; and putting it on her shoulder, he gave it and the boy to Hagar, and sent her away. Then she departed and wandered in the Wilderness of Beersheba.

  1. Abraham gave supplies to the two, and sent them away. Some scholars believe that Abraham sent them out with as much as they could carry, but it almost reads as if Abraham sent them out with minimal provision. After all, Abraham was the owner of many oxen and other beasts of burden. Why not send them with more than the basics? Perhaps Abraham entrusted them to the Lord – perhaps he simply washed his hands of them. Ultimately, Scripture doesn’t say – in love, we ought to believe the best, when possible.
  2. BTW, although it is a legitimate translation to say “the boy,” the word is used of a male child of any age from grammar school years to adolescence. By this point, Ishmael would be around 16 years old – certainly old enough to travel and to carry supplies for his mother.

15 And the water in the skin was used up, and she placed the boy under one of the shrubs. 16 Then she went and sat down across from him at a distance of about a bowshot; for she said to herself, “Let me not see the death of the boy.” So she sat opposite him, and lifted her voice and wept.

  1. The journey was harsh, and the supplies were eventually used up. Apparently, Ishmael became weak, and Hagar believed the end was near. She prepared both him & herself to die, laying him in some shade, and wandering about 100 yards away to die by herself in grief.
  2. It was a dire situation, no doubt. But at this point, it was Hagar who wasn’t walking in faith. She too, had an encounter with the Living God regarding her son, and she forgot all of the promises God had given her about his future. Genesis 16:10–12, “(10) Then the Angel of the LORD said to her, “I will multiply your descendants exceedingly, so that they shall not be counted for multitude.” (11) And the Angel of the LORD said to her: “Behold, you are with child, And you shall bear a son. You shall call his name Ishmael, Because the LORD has heard your affliction. (12) He shall be a wild man; His hand shall be against every man, And every man’s hand against him. And he shall dwell in the presence of all his brethren.”” For this to come true, Ishmael would need to live. God promised Ishmael a life, and Hagar did not believe God for it. Granted, her primary examples of men and women who worshipped God unfortunately treated her like garbage, but this particular promise was God’s personal revelation to her, apart from Abraham and Sarah. She had the opportunity to believe; she just didn’t.

17 And God heard the voice of the lad. Then the angel of God called to Hagar out of heaven, and said to her, “What ails you, Hagar? Fear not, for God has heard the voice of the lad where he is. 18 Arise, lift up the lad and hold him with your hand, for I will make him a great nation.”

  1. Don’t miss verse 17! Who did God hear? His mother laid him down to die, but apparently Ishmael wasn’t quite dead yet, and prayed to the God of his father. And “God heard the voice of the lad.” Ishmael’s very name means “God hears,” and God did hear him.
  2. God heard Ishmael, but God spoke to Hagar, reminding her of His earlier promise. — Don’t fear; God hears!

19 Then God opened her eyes, and she saw a well of water. And she went and filled the skin with water, and gave the lad a drink.

  1. In her grief and despair, Hagar had been blind to God’s provision which had been right in front of her all along. (How often are we blind to God’s provision?)

20 So God was with the lad; and he grew and dwelt in the wilderness, and became an archer. 21 He dwelt in the Wilderness of Paran; and his mother took a wife for him from the land of Egypt.

  1. All associations to Abraham are severed by this point, and Ishmael did not even dwell in the land of his father. The Wilderness of Paran is in the Sinai peninsula, and Hagar took his wife from her own people, the Egyptians.
  2. It’s not the last the Bible records of Ishmael, but it demonstrates something important: God kept His word (again). Ishmael lived and thrived, being blessed by God even if he didn’t fully worship God.
  • Abraham’s covenant & conflict with Abimelech (21:22-34)

22 And it came to pass at that time that Abimelech and Phichol, the commander of his army, spoke to Abraham, saying, “God is with you in all that you do. 23 Now therefore, swear to me by God that you will not deal falsely with me, with my offspring, or with my posterity; but that according to the kindness that I have done to you, you will do to me and to the land in which you have dwelt.” 24 And Abraham said, “I will swear.”

  1. Apparently Abraham still lived in the area around Gerar, and Abimelech was able to finally see the results of God’s blessing on Abraham’s life. He wanted some of that blessing for himself, which is why he sought a covenant with Abraham.
  2. Notice, however, the one qualification to his request: that Abraham “will not deal falsely.” Abimelech knew two things about Abraham: (1) Abraham was a blessed prophet of God, (2) Abraham could be deceptive. The prophet had lied in the past, and it was possible he would lie in the future. Abraham had acquired a permanent stain on his testimony with this king.
  3. Once the covenant was sworn, it opened an opportunity for Abraham to deal with an issue which had arisen. 

25 Then Abraham rebuked Abimelech because of a well of water which Abimelech’s servants had seized. 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.”

  1. Abimelech claimed innocence. Who was being deceptive? There’s no way to know if Abimelech spoke the truth. He seems rather defensive: “you did not tell me,” although Abraham was telling him right at the time. Whatever his innocence or guilt, it didn’t really matter. 

27 So Abraham took sheep and oxen and gave them to Abimelech, and the two of them made a covenant. 28 And Abraham set seven ewe lambs of the flock by themselves. 29 Then Abimelech asked Abraham, “What is the meaning of these seven ewe lambs which you have set by themselves?” 30 And he said, “You will take these seven ewe lambs from my hand, that they may be my witness that I have dug this well.” 31 Therefore he called that place Beersheba, because the two of them swore an oath there.

  1. Abraham didn’t argue Abimelech’s claim; he just took the steps to solve the problem. In essence, he purchased back his own well. Just as Abimelech had gone above & beyond to demonstrate his innocence with Sarah, so did Abraham go up & beyond for his claim to the well. It was his, and always had been his, but he was willing to take a loss in order to ensure there was no future claim. This was the right thing to do, as Abraham maintained his integrity and trusted the Lord (just as he had done with Lot when determining where to live).

32 Thus they made a covenant at Beersheba. So Abimelech rose with Phichol, the commander of his army, and they returned to the land of the Philistines. 33 Then Abraham planted a tamarisk tree in Beersheba, and there called on the name of the LORD, the Everlasting God. 34 And Abraham stayed in the land of the Philistines many days.

  1. First mention of the Philistines in the Bible (at least, as an existing people, rather than a people yet to come), perhaps anachronistically. During the days of Moses, when the book of Genesis was written, the people living in that area would have been known as the Philistines, but during the days of Abraham, the first groups of Philistines had barely begun reaching the coasts of Canaan. Thus when Abraham swore a long-lasting covenant between his descendants and the descendants of Abimelech, it didn’t necessarily mean the whole of the Philistine people. They didn’t honor any ancient covenant anyway, being perpetual enemies of the Hebrews throughout the times of the judges and the kings.
  2. What’s the point in mentioning them? The fact that Abraham wasn’t quite home yet. Even though all of the land had been promised by God to be his, he still dwelt among the pagan people led by Abimelech. He needed to get back to his initial calling.
  3. The good news is that Abraham had not given up his faith! Even among the people of Gerar, he “called on the name of the LORD, the Everlasting God.” His initial witness may have been damaged, but he wasn’t going to abandon it. He still openly worshipped the one true God, the eternal, everlasting God. (One failure is not forever!)

Conclusion:

Be careful of old habits! It’s been often said that “If you do the things you’ve always done, you get the same results you always got.” Abraham was no different. When he walked in fear instead of faith, he got into trouble; when he called upon the name of the LORD in worship, he saw God’s promises fulfilled.

There’s a bit of encouragement in all of Abraham’s failings. If Abraham struggled, we will too. If Abraham was still beloved by God, we can be sure we are too! God showed an abundance of mercy towards Abraham & his whole family, always holding fast to His promises and extending His grace. He does that with us, too.

There will be times we fall into old habits, but there is good news for the Christian: we have the promise of forgiveness! We might fail in flesh, but we always have our Jesus! He always loves us, is always merciful, and always ready to forgive. 1 John 1:9, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”

There may be something in your life in which you’re experiencing consequences from the past. There may be a person in your life, with whom you’ve ruined your witness. In those things we’ve failed, no doubt. But you aren’t a forever failure. Confess your sins, and be cleansed! Walk in the freedom of forgiveness, and make the right choices going forward. Every day is a new beginning, and a new chance to walk in the mercies of God!