Faith of Our Fathers
“And it came to pass that Isaac and Ishmael, his sons, buried him in the cave of Makpelah — the one in the field of Ephron the son of Tsohar the Hittite which is in the direction of Mamre — the field which Abraham bought from the sons of the Hittites. There Abraham was buried along with Sarah, his wife.”
Abraham’s body is now placed in the same cave which he bought to hold his wife’s body — property that rightfully belongs to him. As we read in Genesis 23, Abraham goes to lengths to ensure that this property is rightfully purchased and belongs to him, not something given as a gift or a loan — not something that the Hittites would have any recourse to come and take back. But a piece of property that now belongs to Abraham and is meant as a covenantal foretaste of the reality that one day Abraham’s descendants will come back and take the whole land as their own. Compared to the whole, it is a small spot — yet it is a spot nonetheless and it is here that Abraham’s body will be buried alongside of his wife’s remains.
And notice that it is not all of the sons of Abraham that return to bury their father. Nor is it Isaac alone. But Isaac and Ishmael work together to this end. This may seem odd to us, but Isaac is the son of the covenant and Ishmael is a son that is covenantally blessed because of his lineage from Abraham (see Genesis 16:11-12; 21:18). From both men great nations will arise — nations that will perpetually be at war with one another even up until this very day. His other sons are sons nonetheless, but no covenantal promise is attached to them. They are simply a fulfillment of the promise to Abraham that his descendants will be as numerous as the stars of the sky.
And here ends the account of Abraham, the friend of God. What follows in this chapter is the transition of the covenant story to the life of Isaac, Abraham’s son. The baton has been passed from one generation of promise to the next. To cite God’s statement regarding Abraham earlier in his life — here is one who will “teach his household after him to keep the way of the Lord by doing righteousness and justice…” (Genesis 18:19). May that statement be made of each of our households as we seek to pass the baton of faith from one generation to the next…
He died with Good Grey Hair
“These are the days of the years of Abraham’s life which he lived: one-hundred and seventy-five years. Abraham perished and died with good grey hair, an old man and fulfilled. And he was gathered to his people.”
These are the final words recorded in the narrative of the life of Abraham. What follows relates his burial and the transition in God’s covenant story from Abraham’s life to that of Isaac. Even so, here we have the scriptural epitaph for this man of God. His days were full and long, he died with a full head of grey hair (a sign of maturity), and he was gathered to his people — his spirit joined the spirits of all those other believers who had passed on ahead of him in the presence of their almighty God. Though it is brief (as are all epitaphs), as far as epitaphs go, this is just about as good as it gets.
There is something that we have lost in our modern pursuit of youth, and that is the respect and honor due to those elders in our midst. Too often we see them as slow, not up to date, and a burden, when we ought to see them as a great treasure and repository of wisdom. Those grey hairs were earned and thus things to be held in honor, not hidden under layers of dye or relegated to being “old fashioned.” That grey head of Abraham signifies more than his old age — it signifies the wisdom that those many years brought to his life. His death marked not only the passing on of the covenant responsibility from himself to his son, but the passing away of wisdom and experience from this world — something that must be mourned.
Notice that the passing away of one with great wisdom is a community affair — all recognize their corporate loss as well as the family’s immediate loss. Again, in a culture that glamorizes the vibrancy of youth, often the wisdom of maturity is neglected. Yet, as the word of God brings a close to Abraham’s life, it does so with great dignity and grace and from that we can learn as we honor the passing of those in our own midst.
The Sending …
“But to the sons of the concubines of Abraham, Abraham gave gifts. And he sent them away from Isaac during his life — eastward, to the land in the east.”
Before Abraham sends his sons (those not of Sarah) away, he gives to each gifts — a practice that is remarkably ahead of his time. Many today seek to give a portion of their estate to their children while they are still living — this has tax benefits and gives you control over the disbursements — but Abraham’s purpose is rather different. Isaac will inherit his estate — he will be the one to assume responsibility for this great and wonderful promise that God has given to Abraham in terms of the covenant and the wealth that has been given in the context of the covenant. Upon Abraham’s death, there will be no squabbles over nick-knacks, but all will fall to Isaac.
Yet, Abraham still provides for his other sons. They are his children and this is a fulfillment of the covenant that God made to him at the very time of his calling — I will make you a blessing (Genesis 12:1). Thus, the account of Abraham’s life ends the way it began … with a focus on the nations finding their hope and blessing in the line of Abraham. And Paul writes that we who find our hope in Jesus Christ are counted as children of Abraham and thus heirs to the promise (Galatians 3:29). Again, while we tend to react to the sparkle of gold and wealth; those who are found in Christ have discovered what wealth truly is.
Thus, with their wealth, the descendants of Abraham head to the east and form many of the Arab tribes that will end up coming back to haunt the people of Israel, but that is an account for another day. Now, once all things are settled and each son is provided for and sent off to the east to find his own fortune, Abraham will finally be ready to lay down and rest, shuffling off this mortal coil and joining Sarah in the presence of the Almighty God who called him out of his homeland and would establish his line in Canaan — a God whom he called, “Friend” (James 2:23).
All He Had to Isaac
“And Abraham gave all that was his to Isaac.”
As with Ishmael, the other sons of Abraham are not meant for the covenant — the covenant line shall be set through Isaac. And thus Isaac is the inheritor of his father’s estate, but he is also the inheritor of something far more important — a covenant promise. It is for sure that the gifts mentioned in the following verse, given to the other sons, were substantial from an earthly perspective, but from an eternal view, they are like dust. The wealth of the nations will turn to dust but the promises of the Lord will last forever.
Why is it though, that so often we focus on the earthly inheritances that we are offered? When a man with great financial wealth passes away, people immediately begin dreaming of spending money and even professing Christians sometimes are reduced to bickering and fighting over what they perceive as their “fair share.” Yet, had Abraham given all of his earthly wealth and property to his other sons and left Isaac only with the promise of God’s covenant, Isaac’s wealth would have still infinitely surpassed that of his brothers’ and this statement, that all Abraham had was given to Isaac, would have been no less true. For all that Abraham had of any lasting value was the promise of God — all else was just a measure of earthly comfort.
In the west, we labor hard to provide an inheritance for our children, but sadly that inheritance for which we labor is often of no value. That which is of value is a spiritual, Godly inheritance offered in the name of Christ, Jesus. The children who inherit from their parents a knowledge of the Lord and a model of a life lived faithfully before the Lord, but not a penny in wealth, have received far more than the children who are given millions of dollars but nothing of lasting value. Take care in choosing that for which you labor. Set your efforts on things of lasting value, not on things of this earth.
Children of Midian
“And the sons of Midyan were Eyphah, Epher, Chanok, Abiyda, and Elddaah. All these were the sons of Keturah.”
Moses gives us the final listing of the grandsons of Abraham and Keturah, in this case through the line of Midyan (Midian). These are the sons who will establish the tribes of the Midianites that will give the people of Israel so many problems in the generations to come, hence their likely inclusion. There are others in the Bible who share the same name, but as with people today who are named John, Samuel, and Paul, these names were not totally uncommon in the ancient near east. Apart from the parallel in 1 Chronicles 1:33, we know little else about these sons and grandchildren.
- Eyphah (Ephah): Literally, his name is translated as “darkness.” Perhaps more literally, the idea conveyed by the word is the presence of that gloom whose effect is to create a darkened state — see Job 10:22. However you explore the nuances of this name’s meaning, its connotations are ominous.
- Epher: There is some debate as to the term from which this word gets its name. Traditionally it has been understood to be a derivative of rRpOo (opher), which refers to a young fawn or gazelle. It may also be derived from rDpDo (aphar), which refers to the dust of the earth. In either case, both are fleeting. The deer runs swiftly from its hunter and the soil, when dry, is scattered by the wind, much like the wicked before God’s judgment.
- Chanok (Hanoch): Typically this name is rendered as “Enoch” in our Bibles (see Genesis 4:17 & 5:18 for example) and means “dedicated.” In the context of the son of Cain, a city was dedicated to him. In the case of the son of Jared, he was dedicated to God. As this Enoch is not part of the Covenant line, most likely the former is the intended meaning, not the latter.
- Abiyda (Abida): Literally: “My Father has Known Me.” Here we probably have the most positive of the group, though again history makes clear that the Father in question is an earthly father, not a heavenly one.
- Elddaah (Eldaah): Literally: “One who seeks God.” Yet does anyone ever really seek after God of their own accord? No, not even one (Romans 3:11-12). Only those that the Father draws to himself will come (John 6:44).
The Children of Keturah
“And she bore to him: Zimran, Yoqshan, Medan, Midyan, Yishbaq, and Shuach.”
And here the children of Abraham and Keturah are remembered by name.
- Zimran: Likely derived from the Hebrew word rAmÎz (zamar), which refers to the playing of an instrument or the singing of praise to God. Children are indeed a blessing and God is the author of blessings, worthy of our praise.
- Yoqshan: Or, in many of our English translations, it is written Jokshan (the “Y” being exchanged for a “J” and the “Q” being exchanged for a “K”). This is a result of German scholarship in the 19th and 20th centuries and the way the Germans pronounced Hebrew words. It was left that way in English for consistency and for ease of pronunciation. Likely his name is derived from vAqÎy (yaqash), which means to snare something in a net or a trap.
- Medan: In Hebrew, this name means, “Controversy,” and is often rendered in the negative way of one who sows discord (see Proverbs 6:14,19). It is purely speculation as to why this name was given, but surely it reflects events that were transpiring in Abraham’s life at that given time.
- Midyan: A derivative of the word “Midian,” as well as “Medan,” again referring to one who is controversial or to one who brings controversy.
- Yishbaq: Likely borrowed from the Arabic word, qAbDv (shabaq), meaning to forestall or to obstruct. Like these other brothers, we know little about them save their name; nevertheless, as the name reflects much about the person’s character, it makes me wonder about these children of Abraham’s old age.
- Shuach: This is the Hebrew word that describes a gorge or a deep pit in rough terrain.
Again, we can only speculate as to the rationale behind some of these names; it should never be forgotten though, that names had a reason and a purpose in ancient times. They told of the character of the person but, like today, they identify the persons who happen to carry those names. These persons are not generic masses, but children of Abraham who are blessed by their connection to the “Father of the Great Multitude.” They had real hopes and fears just like you and me, and God the Holy Spirit thought it fitting to remember them if only in their connection to Abraham. Do not forget the human element of these texts. It is easy to get lost in the names and forget the people behind those names.
There is a reminder in these names for us as well. For most of us, there will come a day when our name will simply be an entry on someone’s family tree. May we remember that in the end, it is not about us or our legacy — it never was — it is about Christ and the legacy of Christ that we leave behind to our children.
“And Rebekah lifted her eyes and saw Isaac; she fell from her camel and said to the servant, ‘Who is this man walking in the field to summon us?’ And the servant said, ‘He is my lord.’ Thus she took her veil and covered herself. So the servant recounted to Isaac all of the things he had done. So Isaac led her to the tent of Sarah, his mother, and he took Rebekah to be his wife and he loved her. In this way Isaac was consoled after his mother.”
The journey has come to an end. Rebekah has returned with Eliezer; Isaac has returned from Beer-Lachay-Roiy; and Abraham surely is satisfied with the providence of God. This ending has all the marks of one of the great romance stories — the two, whom God has matched together, finally meet, though at first seeing each other from a distance. You can almost envision Rachael dismounting and covering herself as would have been the custom for those so engaged to marry, and Isaac running in their direction.
Now I do need to make a note of the language that is used to speak of Rebekah dismounting her camel. One might have expected a different term than the one that is used here. For example, when Achsah dismounted her donkey (Judges 1:14), the author uses the term jnx (tsanach), which means “to dismount.” Yet, in our instance, Moses chooses the much more generic term lpn (naphal), which literally means “to fall down.” Sometimes the term is used of someone accidentally falling, sometimes it is used of someone falling in battle or collapsing, and sometimes it refers to someone falling prostrate on the ground, but typically it refers to something done either in great passion or with some degree of awkwardness (or clumsiness). Though I am not suggesting a comic reading of the text where Rebekah falls flat on her face, I would suggest that the word choice is there to help relieve some of the tension of the account and remind us that Rebekah is just as perfectly human as each one of the rest of us — an awkward dismount from a camel after a long trip or otherwise.
Whether clumsy or graceful, Isaac takes Rebekah to be his wife, allowing her to take possession of his mother’s tent, something that would have been a proper privilege and thus Isaac finds comfort. Isaac was 37 years old when his mother died (Genesis 23:1 — noting that she was 90 when she gave birth, Genesis 17:17). While we don’t know the exact amount of time between the death of Sarah and the sending of Eliezer to find Rebekah nor how long the actual journey took, the combined span of time was a total of 3 years as Isaac is 40 years old at the point where he marries (Genesis 25:20), which means that at this point in history, Abraham is 140 years of age. He will live another 35 years before he passes away, even taking another wife (see Genesis 25), but the covenantal work to which Abraham has been called is complete and we are getting ready to see the baton be passed from Abraham to his son, Isaac. One generation following after the other.
As a father, one of the greatest blessings is to see your children walking in faith after you — and your grandchildren and further generations as well. Isaac is far from perfect (and even makes some of the errors of his father), but he is a man of faith and a man who knows the grace and covenant faithfulness of God. He has had a long journey under his father’s guidance and now is ready to raise sons of his own. It should be noted though that children rising up and calling their parents blessed is not something that happens without a great deal of work in the raising of our children. It seems that many Christians today have adopted the idea that their kids will automatically grow up to be Christians and then sit back and let their kids follow whatever course they happen to follow. Yet scripture is filled with reminders — teach these things to your children and to your children’s children. If we do not show our children the way we are going, why are we surprised when they do not follow? Do not simply take them to church, but live the Christian walk as you live before them and teach them why every element of your Christian faith is true, reasonable, and essential to life not only in this world but thereafter as well.
“So Rebekah and her young women got up and they mounted camels and followed after the man. In this way the servant took Rebekah and went on.”
And thus Laban and the rest of the family are left behind … for the moment at least … and Rebekah travels on with Eliezer to meet Isaac and Abraham. One must commend Rebekah as well as Eliezer for their faith, but in different ways. For Eliezer, his faith is demonstrated in his willingness to follow his master; for Rebekah, faith is demonstrated in her willingness to follow the instructions of Abraham never having seen him or having known his character. She trusts in his authority and follows; Eliezer knows Abraham’s authority and follows. Jesus said blessed are those who believe without having to see (John 20:29). Eliezer has seen Abraham and has witnessed the mighty works that God has done through this man; Rebekah has not, yet she still follows. Eliezer reasonably knows what the outcome will be when he returns home to Abraham; Rebekah does not.
Miracles and magnificent works really are overrated. While they can perhaps confirm faith, they are impotent in producing faith and the faith that Jesus commends is a faith that does not rely on such works. How often, when we are called upon by God to follow his leading in big or even in small ways, we hesitate. We desire confirmation while God desires obedience. We are often more like the child that always asks his parents, “why,” rather than the child who follows in obedience. Loved ones, obedience is the call to which God has called us; may we follow into the unknown — even sight unseen! — along the pathway that God has laid before us and see what God will do through our lives.
The Seed and the God of the Millennia
“And they blessed Rebekah, and said to her, ‘Our sister, you shall become like countless thousands and may your seed inhabit the gates of those who hate him.’”
“I will surely bless you and your seed will surely be great as the stars of the heavens and as the sand which is on the lip of the sea. And your seed will take possession of the gates of his enemies.”
“Now the promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed — it does not say, ‘To the seeds…’ as if to many, but as if to one. ‘And to your seed,’ which is Christ.”
It is hard not to make a connection between this blessing and to the Messianic promises that are to come. It could be legitimately pointed out that the term oår‰z (zera), or “seed,” is a collective singular (a singular term that refers to a group or a set of like things or persons) and thus nothing of great significance should be made of the language here. At the same time, given the covenantal significance of this event, a second look should be taken at what is being pronounced for even Nahor’s line understands that Abraham and his line has been singled out by God for a special purpose and, just as God did through the lips of Balaam, God sometimes speaks great truths through the lips even of non-believers.
It will be through Rebekah that the promised seed of Abraham will continue to descend that will ultimately culminate in the Great and true Seed: Jesus Christ. Note too, the similarity of this language to the language that God speaks to Abraham in Genesis 22. In part, of course, this will be fulfilled as the nation of Israel grows and then conquers Canaan. In full, this promise will find its completion in Jesus Christ — for it is in the church that True Israel will find its fullness, that the children of Abraham will be numbered like the sands of the sea, and that the gates of hell will find their demise (Matthew 16:18). Surely this promise, whether the family of Rebekah recognized it in full or not, is a promise that speaks of the coming of the Messiah through the line of Rebekah and Isaac.
How wonderful is the scope and plan of God. How puny our plans quickly become when placed alongside of God’s design. Isn’t if fascinating that we get so caught up in the moment — our successes and failures — our plans — our particular church’s rises and falls in attendance or fiscal numbers when God’s sovereign plan covers the scope of millennia. And why do we worry and fret? Why do we lose sleep over things that are meaningless in the scope of eternity? Friends, God is sovereign and he is the ruler of all of his creation. And he has a plan and a design for his church and kingdom of which he has graciously made us a part. Rejoice! Revel in that truth! And when faced with difficulties and opposition, trust in the wisdom and grace of God. Though men are not; God is good … and he is good all of the time — even in the midst of our trials and difficulties. What is it that God would lead you into doing and what is holding you back?
A Public Witness
“And so, when the servant of Abraham heard their words he bowed down in worship to Yahweh.”
Take notice at how many times this servant praises or worships God for his provision and for his grace. That is a fabulous thing, but is it not convicting to us? How often we neglect to praise God for his good works in our lives or we wait until a more “convenient” time. Here, the servant of Abraham bows before the Lord right there in the presence of everyone around. He does not worry about their reaction, their impression of him, or whether they will join him or not. He doesn’t even invite them to join in anything formal, but he simply bows before the Lord and worships.
How different the world would look were Christians to behave in this way, neither afraid or intimidated to kneel even in a crowded place and give God thanks for both big and small things. How different this world would look were Christians to pray with others on the spot, not afraid of the responses of onlookers, rather than to vaguely commit to praying for another and then going on their way without a second thought. How interesting it is that Eliezer, who is a relatively minor figure in these accounts, can teach us so much about living out the Christian life — he has clearly learned much by watching Abraham live out his faith. I wonder how much people learn about the Christian walk by watching us live out our own faith.
Whether we like it or not, the world is watching our lives and behavior and sadly what the world has often seen from Christians is that our lives look no different than any other person who walks the streets. In fact, I think that one of the the things that is attracting a younger generation to false religions like Islam and Mormonism is that they see a difference in the way these people live. Sad. Friends, may we too be intentional about living out our faith publicly as well as privately and may Christ be glorified in our witness, even that witness that takes place in the things that we do even apart from the words we use.
WIll You be Faithful to My Lord?
“Now, if it is in you to show steadfast love and truth to my lord, declare it to me; if not, declare it to me so that I may turn to the right or to the left.”
It is interesting to me how Eliezer couches his request for Rebekah to return with him. He does not say here, “Are you willing to wed your daughter to Isaac, son of Abraham?” What he says is, “Are you willing to be faithful to Abraham.” The first would simply be a yes or no question based on the wishes and preferences of the family. This way of asking bases the question on the relationship that Bethuel has with his Uncle Abraham. If Bethuel rejects this requests, it is no longer a matter of preference, but it is a rejection of the relationship that is had between these two men. Indeed, it is a rejecting of Abraham’s family line and right to find a wife for his son within his extended covenant family.
The idiom of the right hand and the left hand is often one that expresses a lack of knowing where else one should turn even to find what is true. God has led Eliezer here and Eliezer is basing his actions upon the principle that what God directs is true and right. If he is rejected, then where can he go? Can one hope to honor God by looking for a spouse in a place other than where God has led him? Abraham and Sarah know the difficulties that come as a result of trying to circumvent God’s design, for that is how Ishmael came into the world. How often we pursue our own ends rather than submitting to God’s and found we have embarked on that which will bring disappointment and failure?
Loved ones, it is God’s plan and design we are to follow. Indeed, discerning that design is the trick at times, though the principle that Eliezer is following is sound. Ask God to open the doors through which you are to go and wait on him to do just that in His timing. God is about to work in Rebekah’s life in a visible and magnificent way; he does that in our lives as well. May we be faithful to that call.
Fidelity to God’s Word
“And my lord made me swear, saying ‘You must not take a wife for my son from the daughters of the Canaanites in whose land I dwell. Instead, to the house of my father you should go and to my family. From them take a wife for my son.”
We have already discussed the importance of a believer not marrying a pagan in the plan and decree of God (see verses 2-4), though it is a principle of which we ought regularly be reminded. This does not mean we cannot do business with or be neighbors to an unbeliever, but it reminds us that for the covenantal union to make any sense whatsoever, both parties in a marriage must be committed to the same God who is forming the union. If both are not committed to Christ, how then can two become one? They would be a divided person at best. Thus Eliezer explains his vow to the family of Rebekah as commanded by his master, Abraham.
Having already discussed being unequally yoked, what is worth noting here is Eliezer’s fidelity to the call. Here he takes great pains to quote Abraham verbatim and not to simply summarize his master’s words. Because Eliezer recognizes that he is a servant and thus an emissary of Abraham, he recognizes that he does not have the liberty to insert his own interpretations here.
Inserting interpretations, of course, is what always gets us in trouble. It was Eve’s error when debating with the Serpent in the Garden and it is regularly our failure when speaking of God’s word with others in the community. We feel like we have the gist of the statement and just choose to summarize it rather than sticking to the literal word itself. When we summarize like this, we typically insert our own preferences into the teaching and we also tend to denude the Word of its sharpness and power.
Of course, unless we hide the word of God in our heart, regularly meditating on it and memorizing it, how can we have fidelity to that word that God has given us? We have often become lazy in our approach to God’s word and in doing so become guilty of making it say what we would prefer for it to say. When we do this, we cease to be a faithful servant, committed to God’s call upon our lives. Friends, mark the example of Eliezer well, for his fidelity to the very words of Abraham should be reflected in our fidelity to the word of our Almighty God.
Laban or Abraham; Managers or Leaders?
“And Rebekah had a brother and his name was Laban. Laban ran to the man which was standing by the spring. Thus it was when he saw the nose-ring and the bracelets over the hands of his sister and when he heard the words of Rebekah his sister saying, “This is what the man said to me,” he went out to the man and behold, he was standing by the camels by the spring.”
The temptation might be to see these two verses as somewhat redundant, the second just giving more detail than the first. Some have even gone as far as to suggest two sources are being combined here by a later editor, but such misses the point of what the author is seeking to do. One must remember that the audience would largely have heard these stories told orally and that this story is meant to be a dramatic one. Here too we are at the climax of the story when Eliezer has finally found and identified Rebekah and we are excitedly waiting to find out what might happen next. In addition, we are being introduced to Laban, who will once again become a major character in the life of God’s chosen people for it is to Laban that Isaac’s son, Jacob, will go to find a wife. So, as the story is told, all of these things are being combined together with narrative style to build tension and to give a taste of what is to come.
Thus, when we read the second verse, we should not see it as redundant but as a dramatic foretaste of the character of Laban. We are told that Laban ran to the man who was standing by the spring, but as Moses is writing this account many years later, he also wants to give us insight as to why Laban is running to meet this man. And the “why” begins with the fact that Laban has seen the wealth with which Rebekah so casually returns. It will not be until Isaac’s son encounters Laban that we see the extent of the man’s greed and conniving ways, but here we are given clear enough indication that money and personal gain is a focal point of his life, hence what some perceive as repetition.
Sadly, Laban is not all too different than many professing Christians. How often people take the mindset of, “what will this do for me?”, rather than “how can I serve you?” How often churches also fall into this trap, focusing on their own personal agendas rather than on the glory of Christ and on His greater kingdom. How often do we find one church helping to pay off the mortgage of another in the community? How often do we find one group within a church saying, “let’s work together to see your goals realized before we see our own goals met.” How often we have agendas and not goals, ideas but no vision? All too often we act more like Laban than like Abraham or even like Eliezer.
It is said that in church leadership what we usually get is managers, people who labor to maintain the status quo, keep people happy and content, and seek to make sure that the financial obligations of the church are met. Yet, leadership is not management. Anyone can manage; few can lead because leadership takes vision and direction and means walking forward and challenging people to follow. Management means keeping expectations consistent where leadership demands that the bar of expectations be raised and then reached for. Management will raise up Labans into authority; Leadership calls for Abrahams. The question is which will it be? Labans lead to churches, segments of churches, and people that are self-serving and who will protect their assets; Abrahams lead to churches and people who walk forward in faith no matter what the cost. Which looks more like the church that Christ has called us to be?
Beauty Redefined…Or Defined
“The girl had a very good appearance — a virgin which no man had known. She went down to the spring and filled up her pitcher and came back up.”
When we read this passage, it might be our first assumption to suggest that Eliezer was attracted to Rebekah because of her beauty, but remember, being “good of appearance” does not necessarily speak of one’s physical beauty, but can also be applied to the wholesome character and demeanor of the person in question. Peter writes:
You must not be external, elaborately braiding your hair and wearing gold, or wearing the clothes of the world. But let the hidden person of the heart [be your adornment], with the imperishable thing of a gentle and a quiet spirit, which is precious in the face of God. For in this way, the holy women who hoped in God adorned themselves, also being submissive to their own husbands.
(1 Peter 3:3-5)
In the west, we have become so obsessed with the physical that we forget God’s intent that we focus on the spiritual. Physical beauty only passes away; spiritual beauty grows and matures as one goes through life; which is more valuable? Paul says that our physical exercise is of some value, but godliness of life has eternal value (1 Timothy 4:8). Surely what distinguishes Rebekah from the others is not simply that she is an attractive young lady, but that her spiritual attractiveness (we might say, “grace”) also exceeds that of the other young women coming out for water.
Similarly, the language of Rebekah’s virginity stands out to modern readers in the west as being remarkable, yet in Abraham’s culture it would not only be expected, but her virginity would be one more “jewel in her crown” — a thing to be honored and celebrated as a part of her good character. How sad it is that in the western world we have sunk so deep into the morass of immorality that virginity is something that many young girls are embarrassed about rather than celebrating.
Friends, how quick we are to take the statement: “man looks at the outward appearance, but God looks at the heart” (1 Samuel 16:7) as the normative end of our interactions with others. Indeed, we cannot clearly see and read the heart, but does that mean we should not try? May it never be so! Let us strive with one another to look and interaction on the basis of the heart, the character, the integrity, the godliness of a person, not on the basis of their physical beauty. The things of this world are passing away, but the things of God will last forever. Which will you choose to honor in a person’s life?
Camels, Water, and Revival
“And he caused the camels to kneel outside of the city near the well of water; the time was evening, the time when those come out who are drawing water. And he said, ‘Yahweh, the God of my lord Abraham, please ordain success for me in my presence this day and demonstrate covenant faithfulness to my lord Abraham.’”
Abraham’s servant stops outside of the gate, a place to where visitors would come and a place where the animals could be watered at the end of the journey. A typical baggage camel can travel about 40 miles per day, so here they close about a 2-week journey from the wilderness of Canaan to the city of Nahor. This would be a typical place for a traveler to stop, water the camels, and inquire as to a place to stay for the night.
Though most of our English translations speak of the time of the evening as the time when women come to draw water, this is inferred from the feminine use of the term for those drawing. More specifically, we should state that these ladies coming out to draw would typically have been servant girls and young daughters in service of their mothers, not so much that all of the women of the community were coming out to draw at this time. Indeed, this sets the stage for the introduction of Rebekah, but before introductions are made, Eliezer goes to the Lord in prayer.
What is particularly interesting in this prayer is that he addresses it to “Yahweh, the God of my master (or lord) Abraham.” Here he does not say, “my God,” but only speaks of Yahweh as the God of his master. There are several things that can be implied by this choice of language. The first is that of the Federal Headship of his master, Abraham. As he is in the service of Abraham, he has chosen to submit to the authority of Abraham’s God in this task. Arguably, as second aspect is that Eliezer was a circumcised member of Abraham’s household (Genesis 17:12-13), and in submission to Abraham’s headship over his life and household, Eliezer himself has made Yahweh his God, but is praying in this way to reflect the authority of Abraham in his own life.
This is worth noting because in our modern, individualistic and pluralistic society, this idea of submission to authority and covenantal headship is something that has been all but forgotten. Rarely are fathers recognized as the spiritual heads and authorities in their homes and often families take the attitude that it is perfectly fine for children to choose their own religious preferences. Neither of these attitudes are Biblical, nor are they healthy to society, which is based on the Biblical institution of the family. If you don’t have a strong base of families upon which a society is built, you will not have a strong or vibrant society — and strong families are built on and around the idea of headship and authority…with the ultimate authority being God himself.
Loved ones, as Christians we often pray that God will bring revival to our land, and that is a good prayer that needs to be prayed. Yet often, those who pray for revival are unwilling to do the hard work of heart-work to prepare themselves for such a revival. Jesus told a parable about a sower casting seed and the seed falling on various types of ground, but only that which fell on fertile ground bore fruit (Matthew 13:1-23). Yet, we forget that it is preparation that makes fertile ground fertile in the first place. It has been cleared of weeds and rocks, fertilized, tilled, and irrigated — this takes the work of many hands. In terms of preparing our individual souls for the seed of the Gospel, this is work done through the Holy Spirit, though often the Spirit uses people as tools in that process. But for the soil in churches and in communities to be changed the Holy Spirit clearly demands that Christians order their lives according to God’s law and put away their evil practices. Are we willing and ready to do that? Sadly, I am not convinced that we are. One thing is for sure, though, God will never let go of those he has claimed as his own; yet when his own stray, he draws them back to himself and that process is not always a pleasant one. May God bless America with revival once again, but may he also bless the church with reform such as that his people reorder their lives in a way that would prepare them as a community to receive the anointing of his reviving grace.
The Continual Blessing of God
“And it came to pass that Abraham was old, toward the end of his days, and Yahweh had continually blessed Abraham in everything.”
What a wonderful way in which for a life to be marked: “And Yahweh had blessed Abraham in all things…” How often we feel as if God has withheld the blessings we desire; yet if we look at life in this fashion, we miss the point that is being made here at the end of Abraham’s life. By human standards, there is no question that God had withheld the blessings that Abraham desired. Abraham had to wait until he was very old to see children and never saw his grandchildren. He never had an estate or a piece of property in the promised land that God had promised him, save for a plot of ground into which he buried his wife, Sarah. And, he had to leave behind his kinsmen when he traveled from Ur to Canaan to be in the land that God had promised him. He never established even a city after his own name and after his death his family would continue to be wanderers and eventually become refugees (and later slaves) in Egypt.
Yet, when we remove ourselves from the earthly way of measuring things and look to heavenly blessings, we see a different picture. God walked with Abraham. In fact, the Bible remembers Abraham as being called “the friend of God” (James 2:23). Abraham got to witness and participate in mighty miracles, from the routing of armies to the humbling of kings. God provided for his every need, gave him the wealth of the nations, and even preserved his nephew from the judgment that rained down upon Sodom and Gomorrah. Abraham received the covenant of God and the promise to make his children like the stars of the sky and the sands of the seashore is still being fulfilled today as more and more people come to faith in Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior (Galatians 3:29). There is but one people of God (those who come to him in faith) and we all partake of the inheritance that God gave to Abraham.
Ultimately, God blessed Abraham with his presence. The promises would be partially fulfilled in Abraham’s life though the fullness of the promise was to come, but the greatest and most wonderful of all blessings is found in his presence with Abraham. How nearsighted we often become when we only think of God’s blessings in terms of our personal comfort. God blesses us first and foremost with himself and that makes us blessed by God in all things. Anything else that God may bring into our life and experience is secondary to this great truth. Thus, when God gives to Aaron the great benediction to be pronounced on the lives of his people, these are the words that he is to say:
May Yahweh bless you and may he keep you;
May Yahweh make his face to shine like a light upon you and may he be gracious to you;
May Yahweh turn his countenance (his presence) toward you and bring you peace.
Notice, the language is all about God’s presence with you and covering for you. There is not one word about worldly riches or comforts mentioned. Funny how quickly we can mix that up.
“And Sarah died at Kiryath-Arba (this is Hebron) in the land of Canaan. And Abraham entered to lament for Sarah and to weep for her.”
Grief for someone lost to us is an experience common to mankind in this fallen world, yet while common, radically is different from person to person. We often fall into the trap of judging another’s grief by the standard that we think we would hold ourselves to; yet that is neither right nor fair to the one struggling through that same time of loss. What we have here is a very simple picture of the grief of Abraham. The scriptures neither commends nor judges his grief; it is simply put forth as the natural expression of loss over the life of a faithful woman who has been Abraham’s companion, wife, and friend for many years. The simplicity of this statement is profound. He went into her tent to lament and to weep. Yes, he knows that he will see her again at the side of his Lord, but for now he weeps their separation in an honest and heartfelt way. To that, little more is added.
It should be noted that what follows in this chapter is the account of Abraham seeking a burial plot for his wife. Some may find Abraham stubborn in wanting to reject the gift of land and to provide fair payment for the location, but again we must recognize the grief of her husband and that in this state of grief, one of those things that is deeply important is being responsible for securing a place by his own hand. Do not think that when the weeping is done that the grief is over; his grief is being worked out in several of the things that follow. Even the search for a wife for Isaac is done in honor of Sarah (Genesis 24:67).
We are prone to wonder sometimes just what kind of impact we will have on the lives of those around us, and in some ways, I think that it is healthy that we don’t always know, lest our pride well up within us. Funerals often provide a place where people share what the deceased loved one meant to them, but at this point, we are with our Savior and truly giving Him the honor and praise for any good works that we might have been privileged to do in His honor. There is a trend in our modern culture, to have funerals before the death of an individual so that the person can hear all of the praises and accolades that people would say after their death, but I think that this is something that flows only out of the pride of men, not a humble heart committed to Jesus.
Grieving over the loss of a loved one is a task left to the living, not to the dead. Those who die in Christ will arrive in the presence of their Lord in joy and celebration. Those who die apart from Christ and will enter into judgment. And while mourning will then become an eternal part of their state; their mourning will be categorically different than what is experienced by those of us left behind on this earth. The mourning of the dead apart from Christ will contain no hope, no thoughts of joy to come, and no promise (or desire for) a reunion, just eternal lament. Such is not the character of the mourning of those still left with a promise of salvation in Jesus Christ.
If you are reading this and you know Christ, know that you have a promise that is sure and true in your Lord and Savior. If you do not know Christ, know that if you turn from your sins and accept Jesus in faith as your Lord and Savior, seeking to live out your life for Him, then you too can have this absolute assurance. If you are mourning a loved one; grieve and grieve deeply in a way that suits your soul. At the same time, if you grieve one who is a believer, remember that the person is only lost to you and is held by Christ in glory. If you have lost one who is not a believer, though that person is lost to all things good and meaningful in life, know that Christ is yet glorified even in the judgment that befalls those who reject him and know if you are believing in Christ, the same torment will not await you. Abraham is grieving, but grieving with hope; may each of you have the same hope that Abraham has for an eternal reunion at the foot of Christ’s throne.
Dwelling in Beersheba
“Thus Abraham went to his young men and they rose and went together to Beersheba. And Abraham dwelled in Beersheba.”
And so, Abraham travels back to Beersheba, the place of the covenant, located in what would later be southern Israel. Yet, for now, Abraham is still living amongst the pagans, Philistines and Canaanites. One must ask oneself, though, how an event like this would leave a man changed. When you have gone through an experience like this, there is no way you can go back to living as you once did.
At the same time, this becomes the climax of Abraham’s recorded life. What we have next are the accounts of the death of Sarah, the finding of a wife for Isaac, Abraham’s remarriage, and Abraham’s death. No more encounters with Melchizedek, no more engagements with enemy armies or kings. Largely, Abraham lives the rest of his days in some semblance of peace. God gives him rest from his wandering and we are told that Abraham dwells in Beersheba. The alien traveler has found a home. And, it would seem, Abraham and Sarah spend the next 20-25 years (until Sarah’s death) dwelling comfortably in the land promised to their descendants.
Because the Bible often does not give us a concrete timeline at the beginning of each chapter, we often do not do the homework to discover how many years take place in between events and thus are drawn to believe that one thing takes place then the other takes place immediately afterwards. Such is not the case. Just as God does with our lives, sometimes there are great periods of times between major trials and times of testing and growth. It is in these times that God gives us some rest and peace and it is in these times that our changed lives are to be used to minister to others.
The sad thing is that in these times of rest that God gives us, we often do one of two things. Sometimes we go back right where we were as if no lasting growth has taken place and sometimes we do not recognize the rest for what it is, and we create crises of our own design. Neither of these are healthy nor are they faithful to God’s use of times of trial and rest. Indeed, after great trials, we must be changed and we must never fall back into those old sins and doubts that God has delivered us from. At the same time, when we create crises, we rob ourselves of the rest we need and we rob those around us of the faithful mentoring we can give to them. When there are times of crisis, our focus narrows inward toward what we are struggling through and directly on God’s provision for us. When we are at times of rest, we need to focus outward to our brothers and sisters around us who are undergoing great times of difficulty and mentoring them through their trials.
May we not only be changed by the trials that God brings us through faithfully, but may we use the times of rest that God gives us not simply to feed ourselves or to manufacture problems of our own, but to feed others. May we indeed live in a way that honors God and teaches others to do the same.
The Ram in the Thicket
“And Abraham lifted up his eyes and he looked and beheld a ram behind him caught fast in a thicket by its horns. And Abraham went and took the ram and went up to make a whole burnt offering of it instead of his son.”
Substitution is perhaps the word for the day when it comes to the redemptive work of God. God substituted the ground in the place of Adam and Eve when entering into the curse (Genesis 3:17), animals were repeatedly substituted for the sins of the people (see the book of Leviticus!!!), and ultimately, God would send his Son to substitute his divine person in our place. Justice must be done and rightful justice for sin is death eternal. God sent his Son to bear the weight of death eternal so that we might be given life eternal.
Here Abraham is given a substitute for Isaac but only because a greater substitute is coming. The blood of animals, in and of itself, cannot purify, but can only demonstrate to us the horrid nature of our sin. Think of how the blood flowed in ancient Israel — sacrifice after sacrifice made for millions of people. The blood of animals was but a pointer that there was a need for a perfect sacrifice to be made … not the blood of an animal, but the blood of a perfect man who could intercede for us. God was the only one who could substitute himself in our stead, which is why his Son took on flesh. And, soon after the sacrifice of Jesus the Temple was destroyed, never to be rebuilt. And there is no need for rebuilding as Jesus’ sacrifice is the perfect and final sacrifice for his people.
The ram was a reprieve for Abraham and Isaac, pointing to the great Lamb of God who would come. It might be a bit of a stretch to compare the thicket in which this ram was caught to the tree (cross) upon which Jesus was hung, though it is worth noting that in this very place, the King of Glory would one day come to redeem mankind and perhaps here, in the redemption of his son, Abraham and Isaac not only got a taste for the grief of God in the death of his Son, but the joy of salvation.
How often, as Christians, we take the offer of salvation lightly and for granted. Arguably that is partly because we have such a low view of hell and the realty thereof. There are even some who reject the whole notion of Hell to begin with, considering it an antiquated tool to keep rambunctious children in line with the rules of the community. But the Bible does not let us draw such conclusions, indeed the Bible trumpets not only the reality of the place, but the horrors thereof. And the Bible insists that the only way one can avoid hell as a destination is through faith in Jesus Christ…something we neither deserve or can earn by doing good deeds. It is a gift of grace to those God equips and allows to believe. May we who have been given a gift we did not deserve be grateful for that gift. There is no questioning the extent of Abraham’s gratitude at this point in his life; may those who know us also say that there is no questioning the gratitude we feel for the work of Christ on our behalf.
The Active and Passive Obedience of Isaac – A Shadow of Christ
“In this way they came to the place which God had told him and there Abraham built the altar and arranged the wood on it. He bound Isaac, his son, and set him on the altar on top of the wood. Then Abraham stretched forth his hand and took the knife to slaughter his son.”
It is at this point where the faith of Isaac comes to surface next to the faith of his father. There is no longer any doubt as to whether Isaac understands what is going on for he has likely seen his father make many such sacrifices of animals. Even still, Isaac allows his father to bind his hands and feet like one would bind an animal for the slaughter and then lay his bound body on the fire. There is also no question that if Isaac chose to resist, this teenager could have easily maneuvered around his centenarian father. Yet, Isaac chooses to submit to his father’s will and his obedience to his father here moves from an active obedience to a passive one, trusting the call of God upon his life.
How, in Isaac’s submission, we see an image of Christ. Being God, Christ could have chosen not to go to the cross — yet such a choice would have condemned us all. In love for us and in submission to his Father, Jesus chose to go to the cross and submit to the cruelty of the sacrifice that was laid out before him. Isaac gives us a picture of that submission in his own life though we rarely give Isaac the credit for being a man of faith.
Abraham, too, stands as a man of faith, trusting God to fulfill his promise even through resurrecting his son from the dead. There will be another son (Jesus) who will indeed do just that — die and be raised from the grave to glory. While the promise to Abraham was through Isaac, the one who the promise is ultimately guaranteed by is Christ Jesus, who indeed is the seed of the woman promised in Genesis 3:15 as well as being the seed of Abraham (Galatians 3:16). Abraham believed the promise would be fulfilled through Isaac even if God had to raise him from the dead; God made his promise fulfilled and consummated through Christ, His Son, by resurrecting him from the dead that our hope and life may be in Him. Isaac is a shadow for us of the Christ to come. Praise be to God that he has indeed come and given us life and life eternal.
The Lamb of God
“And Abraham said, ‘God will himself see to the Lamb for the whole burnt offering my son.’ And the two went on together.”
Often when we read this passage we see this statement of Abraham’s as a means of placating his son and keeping him somewhat in the dark and in doing so, we miss the profound prophetic nature of what Abraham is uttering in faith. First of all, Isaac, as we have mentioned, is no longer a child but a young man and he is no fool. He knows that the elements for the sacrifice are there except for the sacrifice itself yet is continuing with his father in faith. He also must certainly see the emotional weight on the shoulders of his father as they approach the hill of sacrifice and while understanding that God can miraculously provide a lamb for the sacrifice, something ominous is soon to take place. Again, he continues with his father in faith.
Rather than seeing Abraham’s statement as elusive, instead we should see it as profoundly prophetic in nature. Now, one may object and say that Abraham got the spirit of the statement right but that the prophesy itself was wrong. Yes, God did provide an offering, but it was a ram and not a lamb as Abraham predicted. The two words are profoundly different in Hebrew, so there is no mistaking one for the other or some sort of scribal error as the liberal scholars might suggest. Abraham said that God would provide a lamb and in this specific instance, God provided a ram.
But is it this specific instance that Abraham has in mind? We have already reflected on the faith of this man in trusting God to raise his son from the dead even if Abraham had to go through with the sacrifice and we have already reflected on the fact that this event is meant to foreshadow the sacrificial death of God’s own son, Jesus — Jesus who was referred to as “the Lamb of God” (John 1:29). And herein we begin to make the connection as to what God is doing through Abraham’s statement. Abraham himself is prophesying not the presence of the ram that will substitute itself for Isaac, but the presence of the Lamb of God — God’s own son — who will substitute himself for each of us if we are trusting in Him as our Lord and savior. Jesus is the Lamb that was slain for our sins…your sins and mine…may you follow him with your whole heart and may every moment of our life be committed to the pursuit of his glory. Abraham understood (at least on a basic level) that his entire activity over those few days was one where he was to trust God implicitly but that God also would use that action to foreshadow someone greater — The Lamb of God who would take away the sins of the world.
Signposts in the Future
“And so, that place was called Beer-Shaba for the two of them swore there.”
And here we learn the origin of the name Beersheba, a place that has Biblical significance to God’s people throughout the Old Testament. It was at Beersheba that God appeared to Isaac to renew the covenant (Genesis 26:23-25), it was part of the inheritance of Simeon (Joshua 19:2), it was the place from which Samuel’s sons would judge Israel (1 Samuel 8:1-3), and it is the first place to which Elijah fled when he feared Jezebel’s threats to kill him (1 Kings 19:19:1-3). As a whole, Beersheba is located in the southernmost region of what would later become national Israel, and thus be juxtaposed with Dan (in the northernmost region) to speak of the whole of Israel: “from Dan to Beersheba.”
The term “Beersheba” comes from two Hebrew words. The first, rEaV;b (beer, pronounced as two syllables, with the first “e” being short and the second being long: be-ear), is the word that describes a well or a shaft into the ground. The second term, oAbDv (shaba) or oAbRv (sheba) depending on the occurrence, carries with it several connotations. Literally, in Hebrew, this is the number seven. Yet, the number seven carries with it the connotations of completeness and eternality, hence the connection with a covenant that has been made in this place. Thus, Beersheba has been variously translated as “the place of seven wells”, “the well of covenant”, or “the well of abundance.” All of these are correct translations, but since the scriptures tell us the purpose of naming the well (being the covenant made between Abraham and Abimelek), we ought to prefer the second term or translating Beersheba as “the well of covenant.”
The discussion is important on several levels, but most importantly because it illustrates a principle that was part of the bedrock of the Protestant Reformation — the principle that scripture can interpret itself. Given that scripture has one ultimate author, then we ought not be surprised that all of scripture is useful in the process of interpretation and thus we don’t really have permission to import our own preferences into the text. While “the place of seven wells” might be a legitimate translation of the Hebrew, it is not consistent with the rest of the text, thus it ought to be rejected.
Thus we have the word of God before us and we have the origin of the name to this location of Beersheba that becomes quite prominent throughout the rest of the Old Testament. Isn’t it remarkable the way God uses isolated events of our lives like this to make a lasting statement about his sovereignty. This name is given simply as a result of a dispute over water rights; yet the place of covenant between a believer and an unbeliever becomes a monument for all time. The question is what events in our own lives will God so use to work in the life of future generations?
O God, our help in ages past,
our hope for years to come,
our shelter from the stormy blast,
and our eternal home.
Time, like an ever rolling stream,
bears all who breathe away;
they fly forgotten, as a dream
dies at the opening day.
— Isaac Watts
Swearing an Oath
“And Abraham said, ‘I swear.’”
My mother always told me that it wasn’t nice to swear… Of course, she was talking about something a little different than what Abraham is doing at the moment. In this case, Abraham is taking an oath and promising an alliance between himself and Abimelek. Yet, doesn’t Jesus also say that we ought not take oaths (Matthew 5:34-37)? What shall we make of this action? Can we say that Abraham is sinning here and be done with the discussion? No, for in the very next chapter, we find God swearing an oath (Genesis 22:16, Hebrews 6:13), and we certainly don’t want to accuse God of sin, confusion, or otherwise making a mistake. So what do we do with this apparent contradiction?
The first thing that we must affirm is that Abraham is swearing an oath to a pagan leader. And, as we mentioned before, this is a mark of the fulfillment of God’s covenant with Abraham (that the world will find their blessing in Abraham and in his seed). And along with that affirmation, then, we must conclude that what Abraham is doing is a good thing and indeed scripture never condemns him for this.
So what about Jesus’ statement that we should not swear an oath at all, but simply let our word be “yes” or “no”? The answer is found in the context of Jesus’ teaching in the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus has been intensifying the Law of God so that we can begin to get a handle on how we are intended to live that lies behind the Moral Law and as to just how sinful we are. In verse 33, Jesus begins a section of his sermon that focuses not only on the 9th Commandment, but also the 3rd Commandment. Both of these commandments deal with a kind of false witness — one toward our fellow man and the other toward heaven, and both typically for personal gain. Often, people use the name of God as a way of getting others to believe that a contract will be fulfilled or that a promise will not be broken, and the 3rd Commandment says that this is sin. Jesus says, don’t do this, but let your “yes” be “yes” and your “no” be “no.”
Yet, in the case with Abraham, we do not find him swearing for his own gain — the same is true for the scripture that speaks of God swearing an oath. Neither God nor Abraham benefit, but the oath is designed to bless those who would hear the oath, those who would draw assurance from the fact that an oath was stated, not just a “yes” or “no,” but with the emphasis of an oath. Thus, in application, when we are debating where an oath might be permissible, the same principle holds true. Who will benefit from the oath? If you are the one who will benefit, then you are using God’s name for your own gain. But if others will benefit (as happens when you swear an oath to tell “the truth and only the truth” on the witness stand), then it does not stand out of accord with the teaching of Jesus and with the teaching of the rest of scripture.
Bottom line is that Abraham is choosing to bless Abimelek and in this blessing we find a partial fulfillment of God’s promise that the nations will find their blessing through Abraham and through Abraham’s children. As Christians, we are the descendants of Abraham (Galatians 3:9,29). The question that we must pose to ourselves is whether or not those who live in the midst of the Church would believe that we are a blessing to them. Would unbelievers say, “I never have any interest in becoming a Christian, but I am glad that the Christian Church is there because their presence is a blessing to me and to my community.” Sadly, my concern is that so many Christian churches have become inwardly focused and self-serving that this is not the case. May indeed we repent of our selfishness and live in such a way (individually and corporately) that unbelievers will come to us, as Abimelek did with Abraham, and ask for our blessings.