“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…
“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.
“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).
“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.
“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.
“And it came to pass that Isaac had returned from going to Beer-Lachay-Roiy — he had been dwelling in the land of Negeb. So Isaac went out to walk contemplatively in the field toward the turn of sunset. And he lifted up his eyes and looked — Behold! — camels were coming!”
Beer-Lachay-Roiy, or Beer-lahai-roi as it is often transliterated, is a spot with a freshwater spring, located to the south and in the wilderness, and is the place to which Hagar fled from Sarai when Sarai had become jealous. It is also the place where God revealed himself to Hagar and promised her that because her child was from Abraham, God would bless and strengthen the child. God also promised Hagar (for better or worse, depending on one’s perspective) that Ishmael and his line would be a warlike people, always in strife with their neighbors — a promise that sums up the Arab lands to this day! Even so, Isaac had been sojourning in that area, likely to water some of his herds by the spring, and now had returned home.
And thus, once home, Isaac goes out for a walk one evening. There is a great deal of discussion as to what it is that the scriptures are telling us that Isaac is doing. The Hebrew term used here is jwc (sawach) and is never used again in the Hebrew Bible. While it is not unusual to have a unique word pop up periodically, when one finds such a word, one needs to do a little detective work to determine the meaning of that word. Sometimes context clearly is helpful, sometimes related or cognate words are helpful, and sometimes ancient traditions are helpful.
What we know from the context is that Isaac is going out to the field around sunset to do something…this word expresses that something. He is also going out alone. We also know that Isaac knows the mission that Abraham has sent Eliezer on and one might expect, with some room for unforeseen events, that Abraham and Isaac have some sense of when it is that Eliezer should be returning if everything went well. Thus, it is not unreasonable that Isaac, having returned at the right time, makes an evening trip through the fields to scan the horizon. Remember that Eliezer and his companions were traveling on camels cross-country, so likely they would be traveling by day and not into the night as one could not see well enough to locate ditches or other hazards. Assuming these cultural and contextual clues are correct, then it seems reasonable to suggest that Isaac is out for a walk.
But if that is all he is doing, why do many of our English translations render this word as “meditate”? While the term jwc (sawach) does only show up once in the Biblical text, it should be noted that in ancient Hebrew, the yod (y) and the waw were originally the same letter. Thus, if you alter the respective central letter of jwc (sawach) to make jyc (sayach), we do have a word that is used throughout the Biblical text, which means to ponder, reflect (meditate), or talk about something deeply. Thus, when you put this clue alongside of the clues mentioned above, it seems to make sense that he is out for more than a stroll, but it is a time where he is captured by deep thought, perhaps reflection on what God had planned for his future, or prayer. While meditate is a perfectly legitimate translation of the term, in English it carries a lot of extra connotations that probably are entirely alien to the situation at hand — so perhaps “contemplative walk” would be the most accurate rendering of the text that we can offer.
Interesting is the time of the day. Obviously, this time frame would have made sense for all of the right practical reasons. The work of the day was done, this would be the last hour of the day when travelers would be making distance, and activity would have quieted down some. At the same time, I think that there is something about a sunset that lends itself to deep reflection and contemplation. It is God’s own form of “mood-lighting.”
While I have no intention of building a theology around a sunset, I think that it is worth noting that God does fill his creation with things that are designed to point our hearts and minds toward Himself. From the vastness of the ocean to the multitude of stars in the sky. From the beauty of the sunset to the inspiration of a new sunrise — God has made these things to point our hearts and minds toward him. While I do not disparage science and scientific explanations as to the “how” of these natural phenomena, I remind you that science can never answer the question of “why” or “to what end” these events take place. Yet God answers us and says that they proclaim His glory and invite us to join in that proclamation. Sadly we often do not do so. Sadly, we get lost in the explanation of how and the joy of why is lost.
A final note on contemplation — take time to do so. God has made us to rest from our labors one day in seven — and part of the purpose of that rest is to contemplate and take satisfaction in those good things that God has allowed you to do in the week prior to your rest. Just as God took a step back from his work of creation and proclaimed it to be “very good,” so we are called to step back from ours and do the same. Sadly, though, we have gotten so caught up in the tyranny of the pursuit of wealth and “stuff” that we often forget the things we need the most — rest, reflection, and being focused on the God who you serve. May we all follow Isaac’s example, and take the time for that meditative walk at sunset. Behold! God may show you some things during that time that you had failed to see before.
“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?
“The girl ran and she told these things to her mother’s household.”
As simple as this verse is on the surface, it is once again a reminder to us of the humanity of all the people involved in this account. This is no fable; it is history. Yet, how often it is that when we read these ancient narratives, we mythologize them by forgetting that those facing these events and speaking these words were flesh and blood human beings just as you and I are. Rebekah had hopes and dreams just like any other young girl of her age and probably one of those dreams was what it would one day be like when she was wedded. Surely the events surrounding the arrival of Eliezer must have been different than anything that she had fantasized about, but how often that is the case when God works in the life of his people.
It is interesting that the narrative describes her as running to her “mother’s house” and not to her “father’s.” There are only three occasions in the Old Testament where this language is used in this way: here, when Naomi instructs Ruth to return to her mother’s household (Ruth 1:8), and then in the Song of Solomon where the Shepherd Girl sings of her love (Song of Solomon 3:4). In contrast, the phrase “father’s household” or “father’s house” is found in 172 verses in the Old Testament alone. We should be careful not to speculate too much as to the choice of language, but later on in this passage we will find Rebekah’s mother playing a significant role (along with her brother) in negotiations regarding the timing of Rebekah’s departure (see verse 55). Perhaps that is an indication as to the influence of the matriarch in the events that would transpire. We should be reminded as well of the manipulations that Rebekah would later engage in with respect to her own two sons and gaining favor for Jacob over Esau. Such may simply have been the only model that she knew. Again, we must be careful not to speculate too far lest we leave the text and pursue the fancies of our imaginations.
All of the pieces of the puzzle have now been laid out on the table and Eliezer is about to meet the rest of Rebekah’s family, including her brother, Laban, but we get ahead of ourselves. Again, do not lose sight of the human-ness of these people. They are not characters in a story told to thrill children and adults alike, but historical people whose lives are intertwined with God’s redemptive plan…as are our lives. May we never lose sight of that great truth.
“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.
“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.
“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.
“And Abraham said to the young men, ‘Keep yourselves here with the donkey and I and the boy will go up there. We will worship then we will return to you.”
At times, we are tempted to gloss over the language of this passage, but it is crucial to understanding the faith of Abraham as he is going up to the place of sacrifice with Isaac. After commanding the servants to stay with the donkey, he tells them that “we will go to worship” and “we will return.” In both cases, Abraham uses the plural form of the verb. It is clear that Abraham has every expectation that it will be both he and Isaac that come down from the mountain. Either God will provide a substitute or God will raise Isaac from the dead — either way, both will return down from the place of sacrifice. He has confidence in the fulfillment of God’s promises even if he does not fully understand how that promise will be fulfilled.
The confidence in God’s provision is a lesson that each of us could stand to be reminded up and learn from. How often do we take things into our own hands and seek our own ways and means of providing for our needs. God is gracious and he is gracious all of the time, yet somehow we forget and we worry and we wonder whether God will provide for our needs and preserve us in a given event even when God has been faithful in the past. How short our memories are when it comes to God’s grace. How often we are more like the unthankful steward who, having been forgiven 10,000 talents, neglects to forgive 100 denarii. How shameful we can be as those who carry the greatest treasure the world has ever known in our lives and who hold the key of truth in our arms.
Abraham and Isaac thus part company with the young men and head to worship God. An interesting point to note is the language for worship that is chosen here. The Hebrew word in question is the verb hÎwDj (chawah), which in itself is not overly remarkable. What is remarkable is that it is found in a rare verbal stem known as Hishtaphel. Technically, this stem is reflexive (the action is directed back at the one performing the action) and in the middle tense (the actor is performing the action upon himself). On the surface, that also may seem unremarkable. We might also add that in Hebrew, this is the only verb found in the Hishtafel construct, which in itself again is not overly remarkable given ancient verbal forms in the Old Testament.
What is remarkable is when you put all of these pieces together in the context of the event that we have before us. How can an act of worship be reflexive — that is turned back at oneself? How also can this verb be used in blessings over God’s people, suggesting that the nations will “worship” or “prostrate themselves” before God’s own (see Genesis 27:29)? The answer is found in the realization that the Hebrew language contains numerous words to communicate the idea of worship and that in this case, the aspect of worship that is in sight is that of one’s submission to another who is greater (as is the case with the nations to Jacob’s line in Genesis 27:29). Abraham understands that the act of worship he will be performing is one that is primarily focused on his own submission to God.
Our submission to God, though an act that honors our creator, is an act that we predominantly apply to ourselves (reflexive and middle). Our nature is to do our own thing; God’s demand on us is that we submit our will to his divine will. And in our submission we worship. How often we come into worship with no submission whatsoever. We say the words and go through the actions, but we withhold the one element that God yet demands from our being: our whole person. Believer, do not hold back from God, but give yourself in faith to His call and to His demand on your life. We may mouth the words of truth, but until our life is submitted to that truth, our worship is shallow at best. Abraham’s worship on this mountain will be far from perfect (for he is fallen), but he is offering everything he has in submission to God’s call; will you offer the same?
“And the words were very evil in the eyes of Abraham on account of his son.”
In the context, Sarah has seen the ridicule that is coming from Hagar and Ishmael and asks Abraham to cast out both from his household. Ultimately, the promise is to be through Isaac, not Ishmael, and thus allowing Ishmael to stay would threaten the claim of Isaac. Such must not be. Yet, Ishmael is still Abraham’s son…
In our discussions of God’s promise to Isaac and all of the good things that God was doing in his covenantal line, we sometimes forget to remember that Ishmael was Abraham’s son too and that Abraham was a father just like any other father, and thus had feelings toward his son. Here is the point where this first child of his is about to be cast from his presence forever. He has lost Lot, his nephew (whom he had raised for much of his life) to sin after the destruction of Sodom and now he is losing Ishmael. No one must share in the covenantal promise that is directed rightly at Isaac.
God’s promise and blessing to Abraham is a wonderful promise, but we sometimes forget that with God’s promises often comes a sacrifice. For Abraham, in this case, the sacrifice was of his firstborn son being cast out because he threatened the claim of Isaac to the covenantal promise of God.
How often God demands sacrifices from us as well. Perhaps none are as great as this, perhaps they are. Yet God says to us, “trust my design, for it is good.” Often, like Abraham at this moment, the design of God does not look good to us, but sounds downright evil. Yet God says, “trust me.” The question we must ask is whether or not we will trust him and whether we will walk forward in obedience to his calling. My prayer, beloved, is that we learn trust even in the presence of those things that by every human standard, we perceive to be evil.
“And Sarah said, ‘Laughter, God brings to me; all the ones who hear will laugh with me.’”
The emphasis that is placed here is on the laughter. Usually, this word refers to the way we might mock someone by laughing and jeering at him, but in this context a very different sentiment is being conveyed. Here is the joy of a lifetime of reproach being lifted. The desire of Sarah’s heart, to bear her husband a child, has been denied to her through her normal childbearing years, yet he has remained faithful to her. Now, in her old age, a gift has been given to this woman. The shame and reproach that came with being barren has been removed and her only response is to laugh with joy at the thing that God has done.
What a beautiful picture of the response of this woman. Sometimes, when one has walked so long in the darkness of rejection and then suddenly one is thrust out of that despair and into joy, there is nothing to do but to laugh — one cannot contain the joy one is experiencing. Here, this woman who has tried to bring that child for Abraham in a variety of different ways, even to the extent of giving Hagar to her husband as a surrogate wife, is given the desires of her heart; what a beautiful and a human response as we see her laughing and anticipating the laughter of others who will join in celebrating with her.
Yet is this also not what Jesus does for every believer? He removes the reproach of sin and judgment from us as we stand before God. He gives us life where death was our only state of being. We are brought by him into the household of the Almighty God of the Universe and presented as clean and as a child of that God and King; beloved, what can we do but laugh in joy? What can we do but celebrate? The laughter of the saints is a holy thing and it is a thing that brings healing because it stems from a heart that has been redeemed. When God’s people gather together to fellowship, joyful laughter seems to be one of the most basic characteristics of those gatherings; I can only imagine what the joyful laughter will be like when we are all joined together before the throne of our Lord and our joy made fully and irrevocably complete. I pray that you are ready to join with me there on that day.
Wonderful night! Wonderful night!
Dreamed of by prophets and sages!
Manhood redeemed for all ages,
Welcomes thy hallowing might,
Wonderful, Wonderful night!
Wonderful night! Wonderful night!
Sweet be thy rest to the weary,
Making the dull heart and dreary
Laugh in a dream of delight;
Wonderful, Wonderful night!