“And Abraham said to his servant, the oldest in his household who ruled over all which were before him, ‘Please put your hand under my thigh and I will make you swear before Yahweh, the God of heaven and the God of earth that you will not take a wife for my son from the daughters of the Canaanites with whom I dwell. You must go to my relatives that are in my land and take a wife for my son, Isaac.”
It seems that people tend to dwell on the practice of setting one’s hand on the thigh (or loins) of another to swear an oath, a practice, it seems that was rather distinct to Abraham and Jacob (Genesis 47:29). Traditionally, Jewish commentators have held that the significance of the placement is related to the covenantal sign of circumcision given by God to all who would serve him. Christian commentators have also cited the significance of the loins as the place from which descendants come, again, tying the act to God’s promise.
Yet, the statement that is far more important is that which follows: Abraham does not want Isaac to take a wife from amongst the Canaanites. Here, Abraham surely must be remembering the terrible effect on the life of Lot and his family as a result of Lot’s action in taking a Sodomite wife. How typical it is that when a believer marries an unbeliever, the unbeliever drags the believer down, not the other way around. The Apostle Paul also builds on this idea, applying it to Christians:
“You must not be unequally yoked with those who do not believe; for what participation does righteousness have with lawlessness? Or what fellowship has light with darkness?”
(2 Corinthians 6:14)
Paul is using the Old Testament prohibition of plowing with an ox and a donkey together (Deuteronomy 22:10) to illustrate the effect of mismated people within marriage, implying to some degree that believers and unbelievers are different species (children of light and children of the devil!). In addition, when God formed Eve from the rib of Adam, he formed her to be his helpmate. The task given to Adam was obedience (you shall not eat…) and worship in his work (you shall work and keep this garden). Thus the wife’s primary task is to assist her husband in his worship of God in all he does. How can she do so if she is a pagan and not committed to the One True God of Heaven and Earth? How can a believing wife help a pagan husband to worship God when his heart is already committed to serving the works of his hands? How important it is that we be equally yoked together.
Thus, as Abraham has come to the point where he is too old for the task of traveling and finding a wife for his son, he entrusts this task to his eldest and most trusted servant — the steward over his household. Go back to my homeland and find a wife for Isaac. There is an interesting implication being made here, though God has made the Covenant with Abraham, it seems that those from whom he descended are not so idolatrous that they do not know of the God of creation. I would not venture to call them believers as there still are idols as part of their cultural worship, but they are not as “lost” as are the Canaanites that surround where Abraham has chosen to dwell. We must be careful not to push this inference too far, but there is significance in the idea that the children of Abraham’s brother are oriented in such a way that they will follow Yahweh’s call and serve him in covenantal fellowship.
Beloved, the account of Abraham’s life is coming to a close (though he will take another wife) and this is the one last covenantal task that he has left to perform. How alien it is to us in the west who are used to choosing our own spouses to see this action taking place. For most of the world through most of history, men and women’s weddings were arranged by their parents or by their guardians. In that context, you did not marry because you fell in love, but you fell in love because you were married. How, in today’s world of convenience marriages and divorces, we can learn a great deal from those who have gone before us and chosen the act of love because marriage was a life and death covenantal arrangement.
“Praise Yahweh, all ye nations!
Laud him, all ye tribes!
For his chesed is mighty over us,
and the truth of Yahweh is eternal!
How greatly our God blesses his people! How wonderful is our God’s faithfulness throughout the generations! How our God has given us so much more—abundantly more—than we need and deserve! And how our God has shown us grace even in disobedience! Oh, beloved, how we should praise the God of Abram, Isaac, and Jacob who has adopted us as children through his Son, Jesus Christ! But not only should we praise God for his goodness to us, so should the rest of the world! Let not only God’s people praise his glorious name, let all the peoples of the earth praise his name for God has been good to us.
This is a bold statement, and it is one that we often do not think of when we evangelize the nations. We usually speak to them about grace and about the truth of God’s word. We speak to them about Christ and about Him crucified, and we speak about forgiveness. Now all of these things are essential to our witness, but the psalmist presents this as one more thing that is essential—come to a relationship with God through Jesus Christ because God is faithful to his people. And we, of course, are not just talking about any general faithfulness, but we are talking about God’s ds,x, (chesed)—God’s covenantal faithfulness in spite of our covenantal unfaithfulness.
Yet, even if the nations never come to faith, they are to praise God—even laud him—because of God’s faithfulness to us. Why? Because their gods, being of wood, metal, and stone, cannot respond for they are nothing more than the works of craftsmen—how can they respond, for they are deaf and mute! The tribes of the world know nothing about a god being faithful to them—they know nothing of chesed. And as they look to Israel—now toward spiritual Israel—they should rejoice that there is a God in the land who does actually care for his people and who proves himself faithful over and over in spite of his people’s unfaithfulness. It is the principle that it is right to rejoice with your neighbor over your neighbor’s blessings even when you lack. Oh, and let us not forget that for the believer, God’s blessings are meant to be shared as a tool of the gospel.
Oh, beloved, do we really believe these words? Do we really believe that every nation in the world has an obligation to praise God because God has been good to us? Are we bold enough to tell the Muslims and the Hindus, for example, that are persecuting Christians so harshly in many places, that their sin is not simply in their persecution, but their sin is in a failure to worship God. Are we bold enough to tell our unbelieving neighbor, that even though he is not receiving blessings from God, he has an obligation to praise God because God has been good to us. Do not miss the gentile focus of these psalms; they provide an apologetic of God’s grace to his people—a testimony of God’s faithfulness and goodness throughout their history—a sign of our great God’s grace to us, a sinful and rebellious people.
Dear friends, oftentimes, when we think about evangelism, we think about going door to door handing out tracts or using the Evangelism Explosion method of witnessing—and these are good tools. Yet, should we not give strong consideration to the evangelism methods that our Lord gives us in scripture? Should we not also give preeminence to those ways which God communicates in his inerrant word? If this is so, let the words of this psalm sink deeply in your heart. The unbelieving nations are called to praise God because God has been good to his people—to us. Do you live your life in such a way that unbelievers see God’s goodness to you? Is your lifestyle such that causes unbelievers to see and desire what you have that they lack? Beloved, this is the evangelism method of the psalmist—live your life glorying in God in such a way that the world is drawn to join you in worship. Yet, I wonder which is harder for most professing Christians in our culture, to pass out tracts or talk along a memorized script, or to truly and genuinely exalt in worship—exalting in such a way that it shapes every second of their life and every activity of their day. Beloved, that will attract people to Christ, but it demands your life. Are you willing to give it?
All glory laud and honor,
To Thee, Redeemer, King,
To whom the lips of children
Made sweet hosannas ring.
Thou art the King of Israel,
Thou David’s royal Son,
Who in the Lord’s name comest,
The King and Blessed One.
-Theodulph of Orleans