Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Genesis 25:7-10 The Death of Abraham

Genesis 25:7-10: And these are all the years of Abraham's life that he lived, one hundred and seventy-five years. And Abraham breathed his last and died in a ripe old age, an old man and satisfied with life; and he was gathered to his people. Then his sons Isaac and Ishmael buried him in the cave of Machpelah, in the field of Ephron the son of Zohar the Hittite, facing Mamre, and the field which Abraham purchased from the sons of Heth; there Abraham was buried with Sarah his wife.

According to scripture, Abraham lived 175 years. We last left off with our timeline study (moving forwards from Genesis 1) as follows:

• 3271 Abraham was 100 when Sarah bore Isaac to him (Gen. 21:5)
• 3308 Isaac was 37 years old when Sarah died (3308 minus 3271)

Now we can add the following:

• 3346 Abraham died at age 175 (Genesis 25:7,8)

The text says that this was a ripe old age even for those days. There is no record of his being seriously ill at the time of death; he simply breathed his last and died. But more importantly, we read that he was satisfied with life. I do not believe that he had no regrets, but simply that his regrets were well outnumbered by those areas of his life that brought him satisfaction. While Abraham may not have been keeping score, clearly satisfying times far outweighed those were not so. No matter what one’s age is, it is interesting to stop and reflect, “If I were to die today, would my life have been satisfying?” From there, we could go on to ask ourselves, “If not, why not and what can be done about it even now? If yes, to what do we primarily attribute this satisfaction?”

But let us take this one step further. Clearly there is no record of Abraham saying, “I am satisfied with life.” Instead, what we have is that those who lived on after his death were able to categorically state that Abraham was indeed satisfied with his life, so much so, that word got out through several generations to the human author of Genesis many years later. Perhaps, then, the hardest question we can ask ourselves with respect to being satisfied in life is this: “If I were to die today, would my family and friends say I was ‘satisfied with my life’?” As we draw our study of Abraham to an end, we are challenged to consider two ultimate goals for ourselves. The first is to have a strong relationship with God, to love Him, and serve Him in all areas of life. The second is to live life in such a way as to both be satisfied with it and to show our satisfaction. Abraham did that. We can do that.

Abraham was gathered to his people. This is an interesting phrase and little is written about it. Some like the famous commentator Matthew Henry believe Abraham “was gathered to the congregation of the dead, and his soul to the congregation of the blessed.” Henry, based on his knowledge of the entire Bible, divides the gathering of the body from the gathering of the soul in his interpretation of this ‘gathering’. My preference, based solely on what we have in this passage is that when we die, we go to wherever those that died before us go, without any mention of separation of body and soul. The simple points that can be made with some assurance though are that death for each of us does come and that it many have already experienced it before us.

It is also interesting to note that Isaac (the son of Sarah) and Ishmael (the son of Hagar) buried Abraham. The sons of Keturah had been sent eastward by Abraham before he died. But how is it that Ishmael was still in the picture? Back in Genesis 21:14, we read that at Sarah’s request Abraham reluctantly sent Hagar and Ishmael away, but now we see Ishmael here helping to bury his father. Perhaps Hagar and her son had not gone too far when they were sent away and ended up living somewhere nearby. When word got to them that Abraham had died, and with Sarah out of the way, the two parts of the family were re-united. Isaac, being the kind and gentle person that he was, welcomed his older former playmate with open arms and together they buried their father. This event also shows that Hagar’s child had a greater significance in the life of Abraham for you will remember that God had also promised Abraham that Ishmael would have his own special blessing.

Abraham gets buried in the field he had purchased for Sarah’s burial. The land was purchased after Sarah died. There is no suggestion here that we all need to purchase land prior to someone’s death, although there is nothing that says we should not. Sometimes, it makes good sense and saves a lot of poor decision during a time of great distress and sorrow. However, when land is purchased, there is some indication that it should be sufficient to bury both a husband and a wife. Abraham was buried with his wife Sarah. That is the preferred choice and some argument therefore can be made for us today to do all we can to return the bodies of those that died to be buried with their spouses.

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Saturday, December 27, 2008

Genesis 25:1-6 Abraham Marries Keturah

Genesis 25:1-6: Now Abraham took another wife, whose name was Keturah. She bore to him Zimran and Jokshan and Medan and Midian and Ishbak and Shuah. Jokshan became the father of Sheba and Dedan. And the sons of Dedan were Asshurim and Letushim and Leummim. The sons of Midian were Ephah and Epher and Hanoch and Abida and Eldaah. All these were the sons of Keturah. Now Abraham gave all that he had to Isaac; but to the sons of his concubines, Abraham gave gifts while he was still living, and sent them away from his son Isaac eastward, to the land of the East.

After Abraham loses his wife Sarah and then marries his son Isaac off to Rebekah, he finds himself alone as far as having someone special to share life with. It is also possible, as we may deduce from Genesis 24:1 that he was in poor health given his advanced age. Hear in this passage, the text records that Abraham took another woman named Keturah to be his wife. While her nationality is not given, the Hebrew translation of her name is ‘incense’, and she did indeed provide a sweet aroma for Abraham in his old age. She bore him six sons, at least three of which also provided Abraham with grandsons. From Genesis 23:1 we know that Sarah was 127 years old when she died and from Genesis 17:17 that Abraham was ten years older. So, we can deduce that he was at least 137 years old when he married Keturah.

We do not know how old Keturah was but in all probability given that she bore Abraham at least six children, she was younger. Remarriage under these circumstances was and continues to be an acceptable practice for a believer, even at a very old age.

Keturah never became a “full-status” wife and was more in line with Abraham’s concubines. Later scripture (I Chronicles 1:32) will confirm this. Perhaps Abraham realized that no one could really replace Sarah, the mother of his chosen son, Isaac. He did not want anyone after her to be considered as having been given the same status or dignity as he had shown towards Sarah. Keturah at least, unlike his other concubines, was important enough to be named in scripture.

The text also records that he indeed officially gave all that he had to Isaac. It is possible, given the next phrase of this sentence, that the word ‘left’ (upon his death) would have been preferable. This too was evidence of how special Sarah and her offspring were to him. It is also most likely that God’s covenant with him continued to be foremost in his mind and in his wishes for the legacy he would leave behind. God’s blessing would come ultimately through Isaac. He was the son of promise. So he gets the wealth and the land.

Finally, it is possible that this promise of God caused him to simply allot to each of the sons of his concubines gifts while he was still living rather than through an inheritance. I have observed in various families how sometimes older parents or grandparents tend to give some children or grandchildren numerous possessions while they are still alive, but save things that are very dear to them for one or two special descendants to be received after their death. This may include a family home or investments, etc. The idea being that the others were taken care of earlier while those closer to the deceased person would be recognized with more significant giving’s after one is gone.

The other point of interest is that Abraham continued to have more than one concubine right up to his death. Certainly that was a custom of those days for those that could afford it. Concubines were not mistresses per se, but were viewed as “lesser wives” with fewer privileges. A concubine lived in a lawful marriage arrangement with a man, but her status was regarded as being less than a wife. Concubines were respected, had legal rights, and their children were regarded as legitimate, although the children of the wife (or wives) were most often given preference in matters of inheritance.

As a wise patriarch, who remembers his own experience with his nephew Lot, Abraham decides, while he is still living, to separate the sons of his concubines from Isaac. To that end, he sends them all of them away from where Isaac would remain and eastward to a very different part of the land and at some distance. He wanted to make sure that he did all he could to avoid future conflicts between Isaac, the child of promise, and his half-brothers. As the six sons of Keturah left, they settled in various parts to the south and east of what became known as Palestine and each one represented an Arab tribe. It is through these sons of Keturah’s, as well as through the descendants of Hagar’s son Ishmael (whom she bore to Abraham when Sarah gave her to him), that Abraham became “the father of many nations” as promised in Genesis 17:4. But it is through Isaac that the chosen people would come.

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Friday, December 26, 2008

Genesis 24:61-67 Respect At First Sight

Genesis 24:61-67: Then Rebekah arose with her maids, and they mounted the camels and followed the man. So the servant took Rebekah and departed. Now Isaac had come from going to Beer-lahai-roi; for he was living in the Negev. Isaac went out to meditate in the field toward evening; and he lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, camels were coming. Rebekah lifted up her eyes, and when she saw Isaac she dismounted from the camel. She said to the servant, "Who is that man walking in the field to meet us?" And the servant said, "He is my master." Then she took her veil and covered herself. The servant told Isaac all the things that he had done. Then Isaac brought her into his mother Sarah's tent, and he took Rebekah, and she became his wife, and he loved her; thus Isaac was comforted after his mother's death.

So Rebekah stands up, along with those maids that were attending to her and they get on the camels, presumably brought by Abraham’s servant for this purpose, and they followed the servant.

Meanwhile back in Abraham’s part of the world, Isaac was living in the Negev. The King James Version of the Scripture translates this Hebrew word as simply the direction south, while the New American Standard and some others translate it as the desert region of Southern Israel. The Hebrews used it to mean both. The text also says that Isaac had just come back from going to Beer-lahai-roi. This you will remember was the “well of Him that lives and sees me," or, as some refer to it as "the well of the vision of life". This is the well where the Lord had met with Hagar (Gen. 16:7-14). The young man would have been aware, we could assume, of what had transpired there and how it was related to his own family.

At some point after his return from this well, Isaac also goes out to his family’s fields as evening approached, in order to meditate. The Hebrew word is ‘suwach’. It is unclear whether this refers to simply thinking, or chanting, or praying. It may involve walking. We do know its aim tends to be religious in nature. It is also possible that Isaac went out there with his men, or friends, and not alone. On the other hand, he may have been going to meet those working in his fields as they were returning home for the night. Clearly, Isaac was a thoughtful young man who took time to think and reflect on God, life, and the world, as well as those that were part of his life, no matter what the role.

In the course of his meditation, he looks up and notices that a caravan of camels was approaching. As the camels got closer to Isaac, Rebekah also looks up and sees Isaac (although we know from the next phrase that she did not know for sure who he was, though she well may have suspected), and she immediately gets off her camel. If at all there was any possibility that this was Isaac, then she did not want to be found seated above him in any way, but rather to get to get to a common level (as he was walking) in an act of symbolic submission to his headship in their forthcoming relationship as husband and wife. Isaac must also have made a striking image in the field that caught Rebekah’s eye and interest as she asked Abraham’s servant (and now her temporary guardian on this trip) “Who is the man that is walking towards us?” The servant simply states the obvious, “He is my master.” While the servant worked for and served Abraham, Isaac as the heir was also the servant’s master.

Learning who the figure approaching them was, Rebekah immediately takes her veil, perhaps a wrap or a shawl) and covers her face and head for the specific purpose of hiding or concealing herself. According to tradition, the veil is an essential part of female dress. While out in the countryside, it can and was often thrown aside, but on the appearance of a stranger, it is drawn over the face, as to conceal all but the eyes. In a bride, such as Rebekah was about to become, it was a token of her reverence and subjection to her husband.

The servant then takes the necessary time to bring Isaac fully up-to-date on all that had transpired between him, Rebekah, and Rebekah’s family. And without further questioning, Isaac takes Rebekah, the one that God has chosen for him as a wife, into what had been his mother’s dwelling, Sarah having recently passed away. The text simply states that he then took Rebekah as a wife and he loved her.

There was no courtship to speak of. Both Rebekah and now Isaac simply accepted what God had brought together in this unique way – working through Abraham, the servant, and through Rebekah’s family. Both simply accepted God’s choice as the very best for them. They respected each other as the one that God had given to the other and they accepted their roles willfully. Love entered the picture only after they had become husband and wife. This may not the way we may do things today, but clearly it is no less wonderful or effective, and perhaps even more lasting.

This section of scripture ends with the phrase, “thus Isaac was comforted after his mother’s death.” Isaac was Sarah’s very special and only son. She had loved him dearly while he was growing into a man. With her passing, an incredible void appeared in Isaac’s life and only God’s chosen one for him as a wife, could begin to fill it. God’s plan for many of his children is just that. This past Christmas I heard my three year old grandson Elijah, when he had lost track of where in the house his mother was at that given moment, say “Where’s my mommy; I always need my mommy.” I am sure there will come a day when he realizes that mommy’s love will always be there, but that he would then have another woman to be comforted by as Isaac was comforted by his wife, Rebekah.

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Saturday, December 20, 2008

Genesis 24:54b-60 Dealing with the Hesitations of Others

Genesis 24:54b-60: When they arose in the morning, he said, "Send me away to my master." But her brother and her mother said, "Let the girl stay with us a few days, say ten; afterward she may go." He said to them, "Do not delay me, since the Lord has prospered my way. Send me away that I may go to my master." And they said, "We will call the girl and consult her wishes." Then they called Rebekah and said to her, "Will you go with this man?" And she said, "I will go." Thus they sent away their sister Rebekah and her nurse with Abraham's servant and his men. They blessed Rebekah and said to her, "May you, our sister, Become thousands of ten thousands, And may your descendants possess The gate of those who hate them."

The next morning, Abraham’s servant and his team arise early to commence their journey, along with Rebekah, back to Abraham and Isaac as agreed to the night before with Rebekah’s family. And out of courtesy, but more as a “bid me well” request, he asks permission to be sent on his way to his master, expecting everything to be a go.

Unfotunately, Rebekah’s brother and mother have a different idea not being so quick to part with their sister and daughter, respectfully. They want her to stay with the family another ten days before she goes to Isaac. Maybe Abraham’s servant had wisely surmised that these two could have presented some obstacles to his plan and thus had given them the gifts the night before.

If you are a little like me, someone who likes to make things happen, you may well, during your life or service to God, have found yourself in a circumstance just like Abraham’s servant found himself that morning. He had gone to bed thinking everything had been worked and that God had blessed his task and he wakes up in the morning only to be told (or in today’s terms, he gets an email or a phone call) that there is hesitation on the part of others involved in the decision. What a letdown. What does one do in this particular case? How could God be allowing this to happen one may ask? It is in these most frustrating and disappointing moments in our life that God is more interested in our reaction and our steadfastness in trusting Him to see the matter through in His time and His way. It is also in these circumstances that God wants us to realize that there is a spiritual Enemy against whom we must do battle in times like this. The Enemy’s role is to convince us that there is no God and that indeed we were foolish to think He was with us even up to this point and he makes the going real hard. In the meantime, our heavenly Father is only interested in our own spiritual growth and development through all of this.

Before we see how the servant did react, let’s consider for a moment Rebekah’s father. There was no suggestion from him with respect to any delay in the plans that had been agreed to. Why was that? I like to think it is something that Tim and Darcy Kimmel, in their book Extreme Grandparenting (Tyndale House, 2007) refer to as the wisdom and experience of those that had lived longer and seen more in life. Bethuel was the older and wiser patriarch of the home. Through his many years of life, he saw God at work and he had learned not to interfere with what God wanted because that only made matters worse. He was more than willing to let Rebekah go as had been agreed, although here he remains silent, allowing the servant, the objectors, and God, to work it out.

When you or I are the older and the wiser in any given situation, we need to be able to reflect on how God has worked throughout our lives and to encourage others to just let God be God. We need to facilitate God’s will in our lives and in the lives of others, especially those that are younger.

So what indeed did the servant do when faced with Laban and Milcah’s hesitation? He pleads that they do not delay him because indeed God had already blessed his way. But not only that, he again asks them to send him on his way. He very wisely asked that they not interfere with what was clearly the plan of the Lord. Who were they (who is anybody) to interfere with what God had intended, especially as believers? And as such, that left them very little real choice. Secondly, the wise servant also wanted to make sure that he just did not take the girl and leave; instead, he wanted the family to endorse his going with Rebekah.

When dealing with others, especially God’s people, we need to engage their cooperation. We are not to use force but instead use the words, the wisdom and the rational that God has laid on our hearts and lips to convince them to be partners in God’s will for any given situation. And once we have done our best in attempting that, to leave the rest to God. That is exactly what Abraham’s servant had to do as Laban and Milcah replied to his plea.

Realizing that they could not go against God’s own will, Rebekah’s brother and mother try to involve Rebekah herself in the decision, hoping she has changed her mind about going right away as the servant had planned or perhaps not going at all. Were Laban and Milcah really that ahead of their times that they would actually allow their younger sister and daughter, respectfully, to make such a decision? I don’t think so. In fact, turning this kind of matter over to her in those days was most unusual. I believe it was a last desperate attempt to find a way out without them going against God’s will but willing that someone else might. It is amazing how the Enemy can hide himself in each of us, even as believers. He has this well-honed ability to find out what our own personal desire is and then works on us to pursue it, especially where it goes contrary to what God wants. They tell the servant that they would call the girl in and consult her wishes.

Rebekah, however, was resolved to fit right into the plan of God no matter what her family may have wanted. To the question “Will you go with this man?” that her mother and brother asked, she responds, “I will go.” Nothing elaborate, just a simple commitment to do God’s will and to keep her word. This was simply bonus evidence that she was indeed the woman that God would use to fulfill His covenant with Abraham.

Rebekah’s response was the final deal clincher. There was no turning back or any further objections that could be made by anyone. The family agreed to send Rebekah’s nurse or maid with her and Abraham’s servant. They all blessed her in the role she was to play in being available to fulfill God’s covenant, that she would through her offspring literally multiply into thousands of ten thousand and that her descendants would possess the gate of those who hate them. We referred to this phrase in discussing Genesis 22:17. To repeat, I believe it means that Rebekah’s descendants, since they would be Abraham’s descendants, would achieve both physical and spiritual victories. They will be able to defeat their political enemies as well as their spiritual ‘enemy’. And because that will be the case, through now Rebekah’s offspring, all the nations of the earth will be blessed.

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Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Genesis 24:50-54a The Family's Response

Genesis 24:50-54a: Then Laban and Bethuel replied, "The matter comes from the Lord; so we cannot speak to you bad or good. Here is Rebekah before you, take her and go, and let her be the wife of your master's son, as the Lord has spoken." When Abraham's servant heard their words, he bowed himself to the ground before the Lord. The servant brought out articles of silver and articles of gold, and garments, and gave them to Rebekah; he also gave precious things to her brother and to her mother. Then he and the men who were with him ate and drank and spent the night.

Abraham’s servant has presented Rebekah’s family with a serious question to which he must have an immediate answer: Will they agree to Rebekah coming back with him to be the wife of Isaac, the son of his master? Both the brother and the father reply in a most interesting way. They set aside any personal decision that they may make in favor of the fact that “this whole thing comes from God”. Their opinion does not matter. Since this is from the Lord, than what we have to say is not the issue here. These men had the desirable ability to consider what is presented to them, determine whether it is from God or not, and if so, to lay aside all their own personal desires or wishes, and then to be able to get fully involved in facilitating God’s will. What a wonderful attitude with which to face life as a believer in the Almighty. When life throws us surprises and even curves, we need to step back, assess the situation, and determine the source. If indeed it is from God, then we set aside our plans, our own way of pursuing things, and join God is His plans for us as we totally accept His providence and will on our life. Laban and Bethuel did just that.

The servant is told he can take Rebekah back to Abraham and Isaac, “as the Lord has spoken”. Are we prepared to agree to things “as the Lord has spoken”? What is interesting to note here is that God, as far as scripture records, did not actually say to anyone, “Take Rebekah back”. So what exactly does that phrase, “as the Lord has spoken” mean? What God did do was simply bless what Abraham wanted and what his servant did on behalf of Abraham. That’s important because sometimes we need to discern between what God has said directly in His word to us and what He may be telling us to do through the advice and counsel of others who are committed to serving Him. The latter requires more due diligence as well as having a feeling of peace about it that comes directly from God. We need to know who the messengers are and about their own relationship with God. Does what is evident in their word and their life match what we believe a servant of God should be like? If so, we have more reason to accept their advice and be willing to share in their goals. In the final analysis, however, it still needs to sit well with us theologically and spiritually before we agree to participate.

And of course, further evidence in favor of this messenger being indeed a servant of the Lord’s is that once again, having received Laban and Bethuel’s response, bows down and worships God, giving Him thanks for what He has accomplished.

The servant than gives more gifts to Rebekah, Laban, and Rebekah’s mother but poor old dad, Bethuel, gets left out. The lot of a father, I guess. Clearly Abraham’s servant knew that Rebekah had to be happy, Laban could have been trouble if he wasn’t pleased with the idea, and of course, this whole thing would have cost Rebekah’s mother the most as she would miss her dearly. With all that out of the way, it was time to celebrate what God had done.

This whole account is an incredible story with God as the central character. It was He who made the covenant with Abraham that Abraham’s seed would be multiplied through a child that Sarah bore him in her old age. It was He who put it in Abraham’s head to seek a wife for Isaac from his own people. It was He who was with the servant as he planned how he would discern God’s will. It was He who moved Rebekah and her family to behave as they did. It was He to whom both the servant and Rebekah’s family gave the glory and praise. In fact, is not all of the life of a believer about Him? Do we always recognize it as such? Sometimes, even when we do, we do not celebrate enough so that others may know about His part in it.

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Sunday, December 14, 2008

Genesis 24:33-49 Abraham's Servant Presents His Cause

Genesis 24:33-49: But when food was set before him to eat, he said, "I will not eat until I have told my business." And he said, "Speak on." So he said, "I am Abraham's servant. The Lord has greatly blessed my master, so that he has become rich; and He has given him flocks and herds, and silver and gold, and servants and maids, and camels and donkeys. Now Sarah my master's wife bore a son to my master in her old age, and he has given him all that he has. My master made me swear, saying, 'You shall not take a wife for my son from the daughters of the Canaanites, in whose land I live; but you shall go to my father's house and to my relatives, and take a wife for my son.' I said to my master, 'Suppose the woman does not follow me.' He said to me, 'The Lord, before whom I have walked, will send His angel with you to make your journey successful, and you will take a wife for my son from my relatives and from my father's house; then you will be free from my oath, when you come to my relatives; and if they do not give her to you, you will be free from my oath.' So I came today to the spring, and said, 'O Lord, the God of my master Abraham, if now You will make my journey on which I go successful; behold, I am standing by the spring, and may it be that the maiden who comes out to draw, and to whom I say, "Please let me drink a little water from your jar"; and she will say to me, "You drink, and I will draw for your camels also"; let her be the woman whom the LORD has appointed for my master's son.' Before I had finished speaking in my heart, behold, Rebekah came out with her jar on her shoulder, and went down to the spring and drew, and I said to her, 'Please let me drink.' She quickly lowered her jar from her shoulder, and said, 'Drink, and I will water your camels also'; so I drank, and she watered the camels also. Then I asked her, and said, 'Whose daughter are you?' And she said, 'The daughter of Bethuel, Nahor's son, whom Milcah bore to him'; and I put the ring on her nose, and the bracelets on her wrists. And I bowed low and worshiped the Lord, and blessed the Lord, the God of my master Abraham, who had guided me in the right way to take the daughter of my master's kinsman for his son. So now if you are going to deal kindly and truly with my master, tell me; and if not, let me know, that I may turn to the right hand or the left."

Abraham’s servant was certainly not a procrastinator when it came to the hard things that had to be done. So when all those wonderful dishes were placed before him, he did not dig right in even though he may have been hungry from his journey. Instead, he informed his hosts that he would not eat until he shared with them his mission. As humans, most of us find it so easy to procrastinate, to put off doing the difficult things we know we must do. It is much easier to get involved in things of lesser importance than what really matters. If we were honest with ourselves, we too would admit that we have some of those things we do not often rush to do. For me, these include writing an article or preparing a presentation I know is due soon. For some crazy reason, I usually wait until the last minute. Some people may treat exercising in the same way or worse, they may skip doing it altogether. Most business people find it very difficult to pass on unpleasant news to employees. Instead, we let it slide and ending up doing neither the employee nor the company any good. Others may find that prayer or personal devotions are difficult to get into. It always amazes me how when we go to pray in a group, prayer is often the last thing we do after spending most of the time just talking about what we will pray for. Small group Bible studies, unless well managed by the leader, spend very little time actually studying the Bible. We need to take a lesson from Abraham’s servant and deal with the important and difficult things we must do first.

So the servant explains to Rebekah’s family how it is that he came to accept this mission and how it is that he feels Rebekah is indeed the chosen one of God for Isaac. He repeats the whole story. He includes reference to Abraham’s wealth and blessing from God, with all the details about herds, money, and servants. There is also an appeal to Abraham’s desire to have his son, to whom all this inheritance belongs, marry someone from his own people and relatives rather than the Canaanites. Both of these statements and the facts they convey would also serve to endear Rebekah’s family to the success of his mission.

The servant shares Abraham’s faith as to what God wants to do with respect to his mission, as well as for Abraham, Isaac and the woman God has chosen. He then goes on to tell how he himself prayed to God to make him successful for the sake of his master, Abraham. He shares how he asked God to help him know who the right young woman would be and how Rebekah did indeed meet all the criteria. And finally, he explained how he worshipped and thanked God for guiding him to them as a family.

Imagine the situation that Rebekah and her family found themselves in. One moment they had a daughter in their midst and the next moment they were listening to a man explain how it was God’s will in every respect, as evidenced by the mission, the signs required, and the action of the young woman, that Rebekah should leave them and go to Isaac to get married. I am not sure how my wife and I would have responded in similar circumstances. Would we have accepted this from God or would we have wanted more evidence and certainly more time to investigate the whole thing? I wonder what was going through the head of Rebekah as she heard all of this?

And the servant, eager to finalize the deal, leaves Rebekah’s family and her very little time to think things over. He wants to make his goal perfectly clear and wants to leave no room for misunderstanding. He basically asked them outright, “Will you agree with my master’s wishes, yes or no? If not, I need to know so I can decide what I will need to do next -- whether to go back or to pursue the arrangements for what my master desires.” When one deals honestly and fairly with another, he or she has the right to expect that they will be treated honestly and fairly in return. This was the case with Abraham’s servant. He did not want any pretenses. He spoke his business clearly and appealed to them to respond in kind. If we handle our business and interactions in a similar manner, than we can expect that others treat us likewise.

Sometimes we wonder why things go wrong in our relationships and we only need to look as far as the way we treated others to find the answer. The ‘golden rule’ of doing to others what we would want done to us needs to be applied in all our relationships, including those involving business, either for ourselves or for our employers. Only then can we expect God’s blessing.

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Friday, December 12, 2008

Genesis 24:28-32 Rebekah's Brother, Laban

Genesis 24:28-32: Then the girl ran and told her mother’s household about these things. Now Rebekah had a brother whose name was Laban; and Laban ran outside to the man at the spring. And it came about that when he saw the ring, and the bracelets on his sister’s wrists, and when he heard the words of Rebekah his sister, saying, “This is what the man said to me,” he went to the man; and behold, he was standing by the camels at the spring. And he said, “Come in, blessed of the Lord! Why do you stand outside since I have prepared the house, and a place for the camels?” So the man entered the house. Then Laban unloaded the camels, and he gave straw and feed to the camels, and water to wash his feet and the feet of the men who were with him.

Between the previous verses and these ones, Abraham’s servant must have given Rebekah the ring and bracelets he had brought for this purpose for later in this portion of scripture we read that her brother had noticed them. So Rebekah, filled with excitement, runs to her house and tells them about all that had happened. If she were like any other young lady, we can assume that her excitement stemmed primarily from the gifts that she had received from the servant. What young woman would not rejoice when given such jewelry? Being married, having two married daughters and two young granddaughters I can assure you the reaction is innate in women, mastered early in life and maintained well right up into ones senior years. However, it is also possible that Rebekah was excited about having had an opportunity to serve a stranger and his entourage the way she did. After all, that is what she had been taught to do and she now had an opportunity to practice what she had learned. Finally, Rebekah’s joy could have been partially due to the opportunity of having this stranger and those traveling with him stay at her house.

It is appropriate to stop and ask a question here. Were the gifts that Rebekah received a bribe or simply a gift of appreciation? She had already given the servant and his company the drink they needed which would indicate appreciation. However, the gifts were given to her before he asked for accommodation for himself and those that were with him, which could indicate a bribe. We also know that she knew nothing of the servant’s purpose for his trip at this point. I believe the gifts had a dual purpose being given both as in appreciation of her kindness but also in hope of her being open later on to joining Abraham’s family in marriage to Isaac. Certainly there was no expectation that they would be returned if she decided not to do so.

Listening to her tell her story excitedly is her brother Laban. Although we are not given his age relative to hers, it is possible to assume that he either was older or at least played the role that a protective older brother would play. Immediately Laban runs outside to the spring to see who this man was and check matters out for himself.

Rebekah had shown her family including Laban the ring and the bracelets and told them what Abraham’s servant had said to her. In a situation like this, there is absolutely nothing wrong with another member of the family wanting to get involved as Laban did. Family members today are much more independent than they were in those days and perhaps much more independent than is appropriate or wise. Today, we often hear of family members at a very young age telling their siblings or even their parents to “mind their own business”. I am not convinced that is how God intended it.

As Laban greets Abraham’s servant, he points towards his house and invites him in, calling him “blessed of the Lord”. Whether Laban is sincere in using this salutation for the servant or not is not known. If so, however, it is proof that he was indeed a fellow believer and worshipper of the God of Abraham.

What is more problematic to me is that he told the servant that he had “prepared the house, and a place for the camels”. Was that indeed the truth? Did he have time to do so? While cynics may argue that he did not and had not, the issue could be explained as follows: Rebekah runs in and tells her story; Laban as perhaps the older brother decides to go and see the man and reinforce her invitation to him; as he is leaving the house he gives orders to the servants to get the house ready and to make room for the camels. [This is an excellent example of a report in scripture that may be questioned if one is so inclined. But, for the believer, it can easily be accepted as truth because there are possible feasible explanations.]

To be fair, Laban did a lot of work himself once the servant accepted his invitation. He unloaded the camels, gave them straw and feed, and then got water to wash the servant’s feet and the feet of those with the servant. While perhaps these were all customs of the day that needed to be followed, it is reassuring to know that Rebekah’s brother followed them willingly. Hospitality continues to be a major theme in the story of Abraham. As I write these words today, Christians are preparing to celebrate Christmas, the birth of Christ, in less than two weeks. And as I reflect on the world scene, I realize society seems devoid of love (what Jesus was all about) even though a few years back the song What the World Needs Now is Love was a big hit. Perhaps as Christians we need to start with hospitality and spending time with people. Love will be a natural outflow of that.

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Saturday, December 06, 2008

Genesis 24:22-27 "Success Confirmed"

Genesis 24:22-27: Then it came about, when the camels had finished drinking, that the man took a gold ring weighing a half-shekel in gold, and two bracelets for her wrists weighing ten shekels in gold, and said, “Whose daughter are you? Please tell me, is there room for us to lodge in your father’s house?” And she said to him, “I am the daughter of Bethuel, the son of Milcah, whom she bore to Nahor.” Again she said to him, “We have plenty of both straw and feed, and room to lodge in.” Then the man bowed low and worshipped the Lord. He said, "Blessed be the Lord, the God of my master Abraham, who has not forsaken His lovingkindness and His truth toward my master; as for me, the Lord has guided me in the way to the house of my master's brothers."

Abraham’s servant watches as all the camels are given water to drink. When they were fully satisfied, he took out the gifts he had wisely brought along – a gold ring and two bracelets. These were gifts of Abraham to be used just for this purpose. The two must have discussed this need for gifts and what was to be given should the need arise as Abraham was sure it would. It is not clear whether or not he had actually given them to Rebekah at this point in time when he asked her two questions -- “Whose daughter are you?” and “Is there room for us in your father’s house?”

These two questions were meant to serve as extra insurance that this indeed was the woman that God had intended for Isaac. The correct answer to the first question would confirm the appropriate lineage of the woman and the correct answer to the second question would confirm the type of home in which she was raised and thus reflect the type of woman she was. The servant asked for lodging not only for himself, but also for his entire party (later we will learn that there were others with him) and for his camels. A positive answer would reflect how Rebekah and her family viewed the blessings (human and otherwise) that God provides and how well they took care of such.

Rebekah responds most favorably in all aspects of the questioning. What is particularly noteworthy is how a young woman could commit her family to what many of us today would consider an imposition on the household. It reminds of a time when our eldest daughter was a teenager and one of her friends needed a place to stay. On her own, she told Jeannie that she could stay at our house – and Jeannie did, for many months. Our daughter was confident enough to know that this was the right thing to do and that her parents would agree. We did for to have done anything else would have indicated a high level of hypocrisy in what we were trying to teach our children and how we were trying to live our Christian lives. Many years later, as we prepared to jointly occupy a house with our younger daughter and her family, there was a possibility that someone we both knew might need a place to stay due to her own family’s circumstances. Because we were older now, our younger daughter first sought confirmation from us out of courtesy, but ultimately expected that the answer would be the same as it was for her older sister many years earlier. Children have a way of sensing what their parents would accept and what they would not. Rebekah was no different and all her answers served as a total confirmation that the servant’s mission was indeed blessed by God and he was successful.

Abraham’s servant did not hesitate. Right there and then he bowed down and worshiped the Lord who gave him this success and blessed his master. He recognized that God indeed had continued his loving kindness towards his master and furthermore that He had guided him to his master’s family.

There is phrase in this verse that is worthy of mention and that is “God…has not forsaken…His truth toward my master”. What is that truth referred to here? You will remember that God had promised to build up Abraham’s family. Yet, as Abraham got older, many in the household including this servant may well have started to wonder whether God was going to remain faithful to that truth that He had promised. Isaac’s future role in carrying out this promise of God’s was a central question in everybody’s mind. But now the servant realizes that God has not forgotten his master in this matter and is indeed providing a wife for his son so that God’s promise to Abraham can become a reality. We must always be on the lookout for how God is keeping His promises to us in our lives. Ravi Zacharias, in his book, Grand Weaver, instructs us to be constantly and pleasantly surprised by how beautifully God weaves the grand design of our life for His glory. What has God done for you lately as part of that special design He has for you? You need only to open your spiritual eyes to see it.

Finally, we must note the phrase “the Lord has guided me in the way to the house…”. The servant agreed to do the right thing but He needed God’s guidance to help him succeed. He did not really know how things would work out or whether he could even find what he was looking for when he set out from Abraham’s household. But God guided him “on the way”. If we want God to direct us, we need to start moving – start the action. It has always been much easier to steer a moving vessel than one standing still. There is a time to “be still” and hear God’s instructions, but then there is a time to move out in faith and obedience.

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Friday, November 28, 2008

Genesis 24:15-21 Was There Success and Was It from God?

Genesis 24:15-21: And it came about before he had finished speaking, that behold, Rebekah who was born to Bethuel the son of Milcah, the wife of Abraham’s brother Nahor, came out with her jar on her shoulder. And the girl was very beautiful, a virgin, and no man had had relations with her; and she went down to the spring and filled her jar, and came up. Then the servant ran to meet her, and said, “Please let me drink a little water from your jar.” And she said, “Drink, my lord”; and she quickly lowered her jar to her hand, and gave him a drink. Now when she had finished giving him a drink, she said, “I will draw also for your camels until they have finished drinking.” So, she quickly emptied her jar into the trough, and ran back to the well to draw, and she drew for all his camels. Meanwhile, the man was gazing at her in silence, to know whether the Lord had made his journey successful or not.

Abraham’s servant had not finished his prayer yet and Rebekah, Abraham’s grand-niece, the grand-daughter of his brother Nahor, comes to the well with her jar. Sometimes, once God gets the desired attitude from His servants, He moves very quickly to bring about an answer to our prayer. He certainly did in this case.

Neither Abraham nor the servant have made any demands on what the woman God chose for Isaac should look like or what her past history should have been. All that was requested is that she satisfy the short-term criteria that the servant had asked for as a sign. Yet scripture says that this woman was very beautiful and had never had sexual relations with a man. Bonus. Oftentimes, God does not only grant us what we ask for, but He satisfies that request beyond our wildest dreams or expectations.

Nor was Rebekah a dilly-dallier. From the text we see that she came down, filled her jar, and then started back up towards the city. She wasn’t at the well to gossip or chat. Abraham’s servant actually had to run to catch her. When he met her, he asked her for a drink in accordance with the plan. Rebekah obliges him right away in a most polite manner and moves quickly to give him a drink. When he was done, she quickly informed him that she would draw as much water as necessary for all of his camels to be satisfied. She did not ask if she could do this; she simply did it. This was not a young lady being disrespectful, but one who knew what the right thing to do was. The text says she drew water with her jar and emptied it into the trough for the animals to drink and she kept doing that until they stopped drinking. Rebekah would have done well working today at IBM where employees are taught to do “complete staff worker”. Rebekah was certainly thorough in her approach to her work, responsibility and in this case, hospitality.

Now the words she used were not exactly those that the servant had told God he would be looking for, but they were close enough if not better than expected. A cynic or a fool may have been looking for the exact words and anything else could have indicated that this was not of God. But the wise servant realized that God had arranged for the response of Rebekah to be far beyond what the servant had hoped for.

Now you would think with all this reassurance the servant would have been jumping up and down and rejoicing in his success and the blessing God had bestowed on his master, Abraham. But instead, he kept gazing at Rehekah in silence in order that he may know whether it was indeed God that had made his journey successful. What are we to make of this? Let me suggest that either the wise and cautious servant did not want to be fooled by his own emotions (which may have been ill-founded) or he simply felt the gravity of making a wrong judgment with respect to his assignment should what he was experiencing not have been from God. We would do well to follow suit as we allow God to direct our lives. We need to remember that the Enemy is also very much interested in causing us to falter in how we interpret things that happen to us.

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Thursday, November 27, 2008

Genesis 24:10-14 "God, Bless Me and My Master, Today."

Genesis 24:10-14: Then the servant took ten camels from the camels of his master, and wet out with a variety of good things of his master’s in his hand; and he arose, and went to Mesopotamia, to the city of Nahor. And he made the camels kneel down outside the city by the well of water at evening time, the time when women go out to draw water. And he said, “O Lord, the God of my master Abraham, please grant me success today, and show lovingkindness to my master Abraham. Behold, I am standing by the spring, and the daughters of the men of the city are coming out to draw water; now may it be that the girl to whom I say, ‘Please let down your jar so that I may drink,’ and who answers, ‘Drink, and I will water your camels also’; -- may she be the one whom Thou hast appointed for Thy servant Isaac; and by this I shall know that Thou hast shown lovingkindness to my master.”

In the opening of this passage, we see the servant doing what he had to do to equip himself for the task and then setting out to do exactly what he had promised his master he would do. Many times we make promises to either our earthly masters or to our heavenly Master, but we’re not prepared to equip ourselves for the task. We promise we’ll preach the Gospel everywhere but never study it ourselves or go to Bible school. Sometimes we tell God that we will use the talents He has given us (our voice, our ability to play the piano, our art, our physical ability in sports, etc.) to influence and reach thousands with his message of salvation but we are never really serious about it. We are not prepared to work hard to achieve the level of proficiency required for that kind of recognition and acceptance. We just don’t want to practice. If the truth be known, almost all of us would speak, sing, play, or compete, and give God the glory, if being good at it just came naturally without effort. While the ability does come innately for many, the success takes lots of hard work.

Abraham’s servant also knows what to take along with him as he packs gifts from Abraham’s family to take to the woman God will lead him to. Obviously, when you go to take someone’s daughter away to another land, you need to provide enough incentive and proof that she is joining a family able to take good care of her. At least that was the custom of that day.

The servant goes to visit the locale of Nahor, Abraham’s brother (Genesis 11:26) in Mesopotamia. This is the first time we come across this name of Mesopotamia. The word itself describes a land in the middle of or between (meso) and rivers (potamia) in the Greek. The rivers are the Tigris and the Euphrates, and today we find the countries of Iraq, northeastern Syria, southeastern Turkey, and the Khūzestān Province of southwestern Iran.

While we do not know what time he arrived there, we do know that he waited until evening time to cause his camels to kneel down by the well, outside the city. He knew that this was the time that the young maidens and other women would be coming to the well from inside the city to get water for their families. Abraham’s servant positions himself in the right place, at the right time, in order to carry out his assignment for his master. Many times we want to succeed in serving God but we are not prepared to be in the right place for doing so, nor are we patient enough to do it at the right time.

The servant then does something interesting – he prays. Scripture says that he prays to “the God of (his) master Abraham” but the two words prior to that may well indicate his own personal relationship with that God. Abraham had certainly modeled and encouraged the worship of God among his household and, as a faithful servant, this man may well have adopted God as his very own Lord. And what he asks for is even more interesting. He prays that God would show lovingkindness to his master by allowing him (the servant) to be successful. The servant’s success is the means by which his master will be shown lovingkindness by God. There is nothing in it for the servant except his rejoicing in being a vessel by which his master would be shown God’s favor. What an example for us as we go about our daily service to God. Our prayers for our success should be tied directly to God and to His Name being glorified in the world as a result.

Then the servant tells God what he has done by going to the well at the time the young women are coming to draw water. Now certainly God knew that the servant had done that; he did not need to tell Him. So why utter those words? I believe the servant was simply saying to God, “I have followed my instructions totally, and I went with the leanings of my understanding that you placed in my heart and mind, so God please honor my efforts with a sign in order that I may be able to know which one of these girls is the one you have appointed for Isaac.” And the servant proceeds to establish and suggest some very practical short-term criteria to define success so that he would know God’s will in this matter. We often do that ourselves. We set up certain conditions that need to be satisfied as a means of our understanding what God would have us do in a particular circumstance. Many times, however, people set up extreme criteria that if met would prove God’s existence, presence, and involvement beyond a shadow of a doubt. In fact, if God were to satisfy those criteria, there would no longer be any need for faith. It would be totally unreasonable not to believe in Him. God would not be quick to do that because even when He did, as we will see later in scripture, people still denied His existence.

Abraham’s servant on the other hand, picks criteria that, on the one hand, are practical enough and on the other beyond the realm of common practice in order to ascertain God’s will in this case. Think about it. Nine out of ten women that would be going to the well that day would have been taught to offer water to strangers. In fact, even those that were not taught specifically to do so, likely would simply out of common courtesy, especially when asked for a drink. Less likely, but still within the realm of possibility, would be that the same woman that gives him a drink would take the time and the trouble to also water the stranger’s animals. If that were to happen, most skeptics would chalk it up to a sheer coincidence. Those of us, however, who are looking for just enough divine intervention in their lives to know we are on the right track, would consider this occurrence nothing but God’s hand in our lives. We all need to be constantly seeking that kind of guidance and direction as we seek to do His will.

Finally, this passage concludes with the re-acknowledgement by the servant, that all he is asking for, and all God will do, would be for the sake of his master. That’s our job as well. “God, do this and allow this, strictly for your glory and your name’s sake.” Amen.

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Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Genesis 24:5-9 Seeking Clarification of the Task Required

Genesis 24:5-9: And the servant said to him, “Suppose the woman will not be willing to follow me to this land; should I take your son back to the land from where you came?” Then Abraham said to him, “Beware lest you take my son back there! The Lord, the God of heaven, who took me from my father’s house and from the land of my birth, and who spoke to me, and who swore to me, saying, To your descendants I will give this land, He will send His angel before you, and you will take a wife for my son from there. But if the woman is not willing to follow you, then you will be free from this my oath; only do not take my son back there.” So the servant placed his hand under the thigh of Abraham his master, and swore to him concerning this matter.

There is this need in good servants to make sure they have their instructions right. They do not want to mess up. Smart servants also think ahead and consider the possible outcomes of following their instructions. Abraham’s servant wants to know what would happen if the woman he chose for Isaac would not be willing to return with him. What is interesting about this question is that the servant was only told, at the end of verse four in the previous section, to “take a wife for my son Isaac.” He was not told how to do it exactly. Knowing his master well enough, the servant was able to figure out that Abraham would want the woman brought back and he was to ask her to return with him.

Sometimes men and women who want to serve God expect every detail to be provided in terms of every action they are to take in the process. Is this due to our inability to think for ourselves? I hope not, because God created us in His image. We are intelligent beings that have been blessed with the gift of creativity. Is it due to our laziness and the fact that our culture likes to spoon-feed us on just about everything? Again, I hope not, because serving the Lord requires us to give it all we have in terms of effort. One other possibility is that we do not know our Master well enough to ascertain what He would expect. If so, we need to spend more time with Him.

So Abraham’s servant asks the question he did, along with suggesting one possible answer – that he return alone and get Isaac and take him back there for the chosen woman to see. That was the last thing Abraham wanted and indicated so. But let us look closer at how he really answered the question. He simply shared with his servant that the God of heaven who has already proven His involvement in Abraham’s life, will indeed “send His angel before you, and you will take a wife for my son from there.” That is the kind of earthly master I would want to work for; someone who hears my suggestion, understands my concern, and who can reject it kindly while still addressing my need. And in the process, assuring me of success. Abraham told his servant that in no way should Isaac be taken back there, but instead God will send his angel and the servant will succeed. And as an extra measure of comfort for the servant, Abraham tells him that should the woman not be willing to follow him back, he will be free from the covenant or promise he made to Abraham. Do as I requested, and if it does not work out, you’re free from that obligation. Isn’t this how we often treat our children that we love so much when they hesitate to take a risk in life.

Even though I have been a people manager for close to four decades now, I am still learning the lesson that good employees who want to serve me and our organization well need not only clarification as to their instructions, but also a level of comfort that they can succeed or that they will be absolved of their responsibility under certain conditions. The secret of course in a situation like this is to have such a relationship between supervisor and supervisee that the former takes the time to address the needs of the latter and the latter has enough confidence in the former’s assessment of the task and his/her abilities to perform it, that they can commit themselves to it. Such was the case here. Abraham addressed the servant’s concerns and the servant was able to fully commit himself to the assigned task and swore to him that he would perform it.

We are called to be that kind of servant to God. Some of us are called to be that kind of servant to our earthly managers. Others are also called to be that kind of ‘master’ to those that are under our care as employees and as members of our household.

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Saturday, November 15, 2008

Genesis 24:2-4 Taking Care of Business

Genesis 24:2-4: And Abraham said to his servant, the oldest of his household, who had charge of all that he owned, “Please place your hand under my thigh, and I will make you swear by the Lord, the God of heaven and the God of earth, that you shall not take a wife for my son from the daughters of the Canaanites, among whom I live, but you shall go to my country and to my relatives, and take a wife for my son Isaac.”

It is probable but not certain that Abraham sensed his days were coming to an end. Isaac had also become a young man, eligible for marriage. So Abraham calls his most trusted servant to come to his side. Even though he was the longest-standing employee in Abraham’s household and the one in charge of all that Abraham possessed, I think it is noteworthy that the servant’s name is not mentioned in the text. At least it is not mentioned here. In Genesis 15:2 we read about Abram’s steward, a man called Eliezer from the house of Damascus. However, there is controversy as to whether this was still the same person or one who had been promoted to the job when Eliezer died. Regardless of who it was, what matters is that true servants do not get credit. Their service is all for and about their master. In this day and age, this aspect of service is hard for many to grasp and adhere to. Ultimately, people want to be recognized and praised for their part.

I recently considered that very issue. Does God really get cranky if one of us receives some recognition for our accomplishments? Aren’t most fathers thrilled when their children succeed? Does not every young person want to become great? Some, men in particular, also want to be recognized as such when they achieve something of significance. So, is this wrong?

There is no doubt that “to God be all Glory” is the modus operandi for the Christian that has an opportunity to achieve something great. But I believe that is different than giving credit and recognizing someone else who has achieved something great. While there is a fine line here, I believe our job as Christians is to recognize others and their achievements and then wait for them to give God the glory for what they have done. It is not to strip them of their recognition and credit.

We need to partner together to raise young men and women who will attempt and accomplish great things for God. But let us be clear. Greatness is not glory. Glory belongs to God. Greatness is reflected glory like the stars and the moon reflect the glory of the sun. As Christians we are to reflect the Glory of Christ. And if some seek the glory, don’t worry, God can take care of Himself, he knows those that are serving out of impure motives.

Abraham asks his servant to place his hand under his master’s thigh. This is believed to have been an ancient form of undertaking a very serious oath. It required the oath taker to swear his total commitment and deliverance of the request. It is interesting how Abraham makes his servant swear by the “Lord, the God of heaven and the God of earth” to make good his promise. We first came across this idea of “swearing by God” in Genesis 21:23 where Abimelech makes Abraham swear that he will not deal falsely with him, or his son, or his grandson. And Abraham obliged. Throughout the centuries taking an oath in the name of God is considered a most serious business. Even today in our court systems, we take an oath to tell the whole truth and nothing but the truth, “so help us) God” and we take that oath with our hand on a copy of the Bible. Abraham was the first one to take such an oath and the second one to require it.

So what was it that Abraham wanted his trusted servant to do? Simply this: that he makes sure that Isaac does not marry a daughter of the Canaanites, the very people among whom Abraham lived. Instead the servant was to go back to Abraham’s own country and to his own relatives to find a wife for Abraham’s son Isaac. Abraham knew that the promise had to come through as pure a lineage as possible from those that were true God worshippers.

He asked his servant to undertake this journey either because Abraham was too old to make such a journey, or more likely, because it was customary that one’s trusted servant or steward be entrusted with such responsibility as a representative of the parent. I would venture to say that should this have happened in this day and age, at least in North America, the valet’s response might be totally different than what we are told the servant responded with in the next passage.

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Friday, November 14, 2008

Genesis 24:1 Blessed in Every Way

Genesis 24:1: Now Abraham was old, advanced in age; and the Lord had blessed Abraham in every way.”

When Scripture says someone is old and advanced in age, you can be sure it means that his or her time is drawing near and that was indeed the case with Abraham. Overall life had been good for him. The text says, “…the Lord had blessed (him) in every way.” As I pen these words, I find myself in my sixty-second year of life. My wife of over 37 years is sitting in our den reading. Down the street my younger daughter and her husband are relaxing together, having put their three young children to bed. My youngest child and only son who lives in the city has finished work and is spending the evening with friends after making plans with us to go to the re-opening of our Art Gallery tomorrow. My oldest daughter, her husband, and two energetic young boys are swimming in their pool in South Carolina after talking to us about our trip to see them next week. Currently, everybody’s health is good. There is food on the table for all of us. And we all worship and serve God freely in our two countries of North America. Everyone that needs to be is employed. In short, even though I know I have neither deserved it for my past, nor deserve it now, God has blessed me.

I stop and think about my readers and I wonder how different ones would react to that. Some would, I believe, place themselves in a similar boat as I am in. Others could well say, “That’s easy for him to say. That’s not my experience.” And it may very well not be. But then I wonder whether the cause of the difference is indeed the circumstances or the person perceiving them. I know of people in similar circumstances as those I am in but much wealthier who do not consider themselves blessed at all. I know of others who have had many more struggles, have suffered incredible losses of all sorts including loved ones, and are depending on God daily for their survival, that consider themselves incredibly blessed. I have also reflected on some very difficult times in my own life – when I lost my mother just after our third child was born; when I slipped away from God and did my own thing; when I lost my dad to cancer; when I had to deal with my own cancer; and when my son separated from his wife, to name a few. I remember distinctly that at no time during those periods did I feel anything but blessed. Even in my sin I felt blessed, as God pulled me out of the trash and restored me to Himself.

Abraham was indeed a man who loved God and wanted to serve Him. And God blessed him. I believe God still does that today for those that love Him and want to serve Him. He does not always make us rich, our healthy, or famous – but He blesses us in ways that make a difference. He makes us content and give us peace and comfort and understanding and wisdom and patience and so much more. There’s something about loving God and serving Him that turns on the “internal blessings” tap.

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Thursday, November 13, 2008

Genesis 23:17-20 From Death to Burial

Genesis 23:17-20: So Ephron’s field, which was in Machpelah, which faced Mamre, the field and cave which was in it, and all the trees which were in the field, that were within all the confines of its border, were deeded over to Abraham for a possession in the presence of the sons of Heth, before all who went in at the gate of his city. And after this, Abraham buried Sarah his wife in the cave of the field at Mchpelah facing Mamre (that is, Hebron) in the land of Canaan. So the field, and the cave that is in it, were deeded over to Abraham for a burial site by the sons of Heth.

In this brief passage, the writer provides us with greater details about Ephron’s field that was sold to Abraham so that Sarah could be buried. From verse 9 we had learned the field was in Machpelah. Now we are also informed that Machpelah faced Mamre. We first heard of Mamre back in Genesis 13:18 (the place were Abraham, then called Abram, came and lived and built an altar to the Lord), and again in 18:1 (where the Lord appeared to Abraham as he sat in his tent’s door, in the heat of the day). The land that he bought to bury Sarah faced that plain of Mamre.

The actual word ‘mamre’ means strength or fatness in the original Hebrew, but it was also the name given to an Amorite who had aligned himself with Abram (see Genesis 14:13, 24). Strongs describes the actual plain as an oak grove on Mamre’s land in Palestine where Abraham dwelt and near the burial place of Abraham himself, identified as Hebron.

So Abraham gets this land that faces his home. He gets the field and the cave and all the trees in it and to seal the deal, Ephron gives him a deed of ownership in front of the sons of Heth and others that were going in and out of the city gate. We that all settled, Abraham buries Sarah his wife there.

Anyone who has been personally responsible for burying someone can identify with the relief that Abraham must have felt after laying Sarah in the ground. The time between someone dying and when they are buried is one of great sorrow, anxiety, weariness, loss, and so much more. But ultimately, God has given us a means whereby once we see our loved one’s body lowered into the earth then covered over, we can begin, ever so slowly for some, to breathe normally again and to attend to our other responsibilities in life – to those of our loved ones that are still with us, to our work, to our church, and to our relationship with God. Abraham started to do just that.

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Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Genesis 23:13-16 Fair & Above Board Exchange

Genesis 23:13-16: And he spoke to Ephron in the hearing of the people of the land, saying, “If you will only please listen to me; I will give the price of the field, accept it from me, that I may bury my dead there.” Then Eprhon answered Abraham, saying to him, “My lord, listen to me; a piece of land worth four hundred shekels of silver, what is that between me and you? So bury your dead.” And Abraham listened to Ephron; and Abraham weighed out for Ephron the silver which he had named in the hearing of the sons of Heth, four hundred shekels of silver, commercial standard.

The writer of this passage is very careful to include phrases that point to more of a cultural ritual of exchange between a buyer and a seller in those days. Thus he writes about this taking place “in the hearing of the people” and “please listen to me”. Abraham pleads with Ephron to listen to him as to why he should be paid for his land – the very thing that Ephron wanted. I am sure no one had to beg him to listen or to ask him to do Abraham a favor and accept money so he could get on with the business of burying his dead.

This was clearly about burying one’s dead and the exchange involving the acquisition of a burial place was a formality that one had to go through if they did not own land for this purpose. Ephron in the propose of pretending to say “no, no, it’s merely a piece of land and you need it to bury your dead” was very capable at the same time of sneaking in the desired price, “it’s only worth four hundred shekels of silver”. But he goes on, “we won’t let that small amount get between us; so I’ll oblige you and accept the money. Go ahead, bury your dead.”

The whole exercise is similar to working with a funeral services director in order to make arrangements for the funeral and burial of a loved one these days. The bottom line is you have to do it. Both parties know it. Yet, there is a formal ritual that one goes through to choose the casket and the arrangements while still trying to minimize costs. The funeral director on the other hand as sympathetic as he/she may be to your situation, still needs to make money for his services and products.

At the end of the day, Abraham gets the land he wanted to bury Sarah and Ephron gets the price he wanted. And it is all done in the presence of the sons of Heth in accordance with the “commercial standard” of the day. This may imply two things. First, that the whole deal was handled properly in openness and fairness and second, that the money was all paid in full up front. This is still an excellent goal for all even today in carrying out business.

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Thursday, November 06, 2008

Genesis 23:8-12 Abraham Negotiates A Burial Plot

Genesis 23:8-12: And he spoke with them, saying, “If it is your wish for me to bury my dead out of my sight, hear me, and approach Ephron the son of Zohar for me, that he may give me the cave of Machpelah which he owns, which is at the end of his field; for the full price let him give it to me in your presence for a burial site.” Now Ephron was sitting among the sons of Heth; and Ephron the Hittite answered Abraham in the hearing of the sons of Heth; even of all who went in at the gate of his city, saying, “No, my lord, hear me; I give you the field, and I give you the cave that is in it. In the presence of the sons of my people I give it to you; bury your dead.” And Abraham bowed before the people of the land.

Like a wise and experienced negotiator, Abraham knows that he has the general support of the sons of Heth. Whether he had preplanned in his mind exactly which burial site he would ask for or not is not clear from the text. We know he did ask for a specific piece of property to be made available for that purpose.

Zohar must have been a son of Heth and he in turn had a son called Ephron. It was this man’s property that Abraham sought to bury his dead. And in particular he was asking for the cave of Machpelah. Strong’s Concordance identifies this cave as being in a field near Hebron.

It is interesting to note that Abraham not only knew the land and the cave, but he knew who owned it and its exact location. Abraham must have been an inquisitive sort and possibly had his servants find all this out, likely between the time Sarah died and when he met with the sons of Heth. We have no other evidence to believe that he acquired this knowledge earlier but it is possible that he may have had business interests in this geographic area where clearly Sarah had some friends or possibly relatives.

Abraham offered to pay the full fair value of the land in order to have ownership of it. It was important to own one’s burial sites in order to prevent future use of the land beyond one’s control. We note that he did not try to get a deal but wanted to pay fairly for the land. And he wanted the transaction to be legal in accordance with the times. That is that the money be turned over to the seller in the presence of others.

Perhaps unbeknownst to Abraham, Heth’s grandson Ephron and a Hittite was present at this meeting and since it was his land being asked for by Abraham whom his kin had labeled a ‘mighty prince’, he spoke up so everyone, even the passers by, could hear him. Ephron was part of a nation called the Hittites who were descendants of Heth dwelling at and around Hebron. Strong’s indicates that later they became the people of central Anatolia which is now modern Turkey and then later also inhabited northern Lebanon.

Ephron also shows respects to Abraham addressing him as “my lord” but indicates he is not prepared to accept money for his property but rather wants to give it to Abraham – not only the burial cave but also the entire field so that he can bury his dead. And Ephron also wants witnesses to that effect. What was going on here? Well, for starters, Ephron had already heard Abraham say he wanted to pay the full value of the land. But cultural and social practices of the time required, as part of the bartering, Ephron to offer to give it away to such a great man as Abraham, likely knowing full well that Abraham would have nothing to do with it. The process was just common courtesy between businessmen. It is not too different than offering to pay for your meal by reaching for your wallet at the restaurant when someone else invited you and you know it is his/her responsibility to pay. The gesture is still made, however. So with Ephron; he makes the gesture to take the loss, knowing that a gentleman and lord would not accept it. Nevertheless, it is Abraham’s turn to respond. Notice Abraham bowed before the people, but in the next verse, we will see he spoke directly to Ephron, again evidence that this whole exchange was cultural in nature.

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Thursday, October 30, 2008

Genesis 23:3-7 God opens tightly shut doors

Genesis 23:3-7: Then Abraham rose from before his dead, and spoke to the sons of Heth, saying, “I am a stranger and a sojourner among you; give me a burial site among you, that I may bury my dead out of my sight.” And the sons of Heth answered Abraham, saying to him, “Hear us, my lord, you are a mighty prince among us; bury your dead in the choicest of our graves; none of us will refuse you his grave for burying your dead.” So Abraham rose and bowed to the people of the land, the sons of Heth.

Abraham mourns for Sarah and then reality sets in as he realizes he has to find a place to bury her. So he goes to the sons of Heth who possessed the land Sarah died in. We first heard of Heth in Genesis 10:15. Heth was the great-grandson of Noah. My own who died in his ninth decade of life actually had enjoyed five great-grandchildren. In the days of Noah and Abraham when people lived much longer, the opportunity for seeing great-grandchildren was even greater than it is now. The genealogy went as follows: Noah begat Ham who begat Canaan, who begat Heth. And Abraham is now speaking to Heth sons.

Having been blessed to be wise and having learned to be a peacemaker, we note first of all how he approaches the sons of Heth. He tells them that he is a stranger in their land and really at their mercy. But he has a need to bury his dead “out of (his) sight” (the Hebrew word is translated as away from his face or presence). Perhaps it is simply a practical desire. Perhaps it is an expression of real pain that he is experiencing, seeing his dead wife still unburied before him. Decent people respond to real needs. Sometimes we hesitate to share our needs out of pride. But God often wants to help us through others if we allow Him to by sharing our vulnerability.

Because he was a respected man, the sons of Heth answer him with total respect, calling him a “mighty prince among us”. What an honor that would be. What an awesome responsibility before God to represent Him as you go about your life being recognized as a prince. With that honor goes reward, definitely from God, but sometimes arranged by God through man. They inform him that he pick any grave he would like from all their graves. It’s his choice to make. And furthermore, they tell him, he won’t be refused by anyone of the brothers, even if he chose the most preferred burial place to bury his dead. What an honor. What otherwise tightly shut doors God can open for those that have been tested and passed.

How would you react to such an honor? The verses that follow explain Abraham’s most interesting reaction.

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Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Genesis 23:1-2 Abraham loses Sarah

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

A new chapter begins in the life of Abraham when Sarah, at the ripe old age of 127 years, died. In Genesis 17:17 we learned that Sarah was 90 years old when Abraham was 100 years old. We last left off with our timeline study (moving forwards from Genesis 1) as follows:

• 3257 Abraham was 86 when Hagar bore Ishmael to him (Gen. 16:16)
• 3270 Abraham was 99 when God appears to him (Gen. 17:1)
• 3271 Abraham was 100 when Sarah bore Isaac to him (Gen. 21:5)

Now we can add the following date:

• 3271 Sarah was 90 when she bore Issac to Abraham (from Gen. 17:17 & 21:5)
• 3308 Sarah died at age 127 (Gen. 23:1)
• 3308 Isaac was 37 years old when Sarah died (3308 – 3271)

The text says she died in Hebron. We last heard at the end of the previous chapter that Abraham lived in Beersheba. Strong’s Concordance tells us that Hebron is a city in south Judah approximately twenty miles south of Jerusalem and approximately twenty miles (30 kilometres) north of Beersheba. That is quite a distance for that time in history and thus we can only assume that for some reason, Sarah had been visiting or had traveled to Hebron when she died, some twenty miles from home. There is nothing that indicates that Abraham had been with her at the time or whether he had been back in Beersheba.

What we do know is that the scripture says Abraham “went in to mourn” for Sarah and “to weep” for her. The King James Version says, Abraham “came” to mourn for Sarah. In either case, he did mourn for her. Strong’s indicates that the Hebrew word used here implies wailing, lamenting, and beating of the breast. Anyone who has experienced Middle Easterners or even Europeans mourning would know exactly what is meant. Clearly Abraham loved Sarah and this was indeed a great loss for him. Those who have been married a long time and have shared life together, both the good and bad, suffer greatly when one of the partners dies. Those of us who still have our spouses of many years are never really prepared when that time arrives when our loved one is no more. May God give each of us the understanding to be patient with and loving towards those that lose a beloved spouse in their later years. May those of us that are married cherish each day with our spouse for one day we will be left alone.

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Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Genesis 22:20-24 The Importance of Genealogy

Genesis 22:20-24: Now it came about after these things, that it was told Abraham, saying, “Behold, Milcah also has borne children to your brother Nahor: Uz his first-born and Buz his brother and Kemuel the father of Aram and Chesed and Hazo and Pildash and Jidlaph and Bethuel.” And Bethuel became the father of Rebekah: these eight Milcah bore to Nahor, Abraham’s brother. And his concubine, whose name was Reumah, also bore Tebah and Gaham and Tahash and Maacah.

These verses are what I call a literary setup. Most readers of the Bible know that ultimately Isaac marries Rebekah. Up to this point in our study of Genesis we have seen how Isaac came to be and the role he would be playing in God’s covenant with Abraham and in the plans He had for the descendants of Abraham. But where did Rebekah come from? These verses provide an answer to that question.

We are told that Abraham’s brother Nahor had a wife and a concubine. We first heard about this Nahor back in Genesis chapter 11 and verse 26. He was named after his grandfather, an earlier Nahor (verse 22 of chapter 11). We first heard of Milcah, Nahor’s wife in verse 29 of the same chapter. Now she appears again in our current passage where we are told that she bore Nahor at least three sons, namely, Uz, Buz, and Kemuel. I particularly use the phrase “at least” because as I read chapter 22, verses 21 and 22, it appears the text is saying that Kemuel was “the father of Aram” and then the text continues “and Chesed and Hazo and Pildash and Jidlaph and Bethuel.” The grammarian in me wants to say that Kemuel begat Aram and these latter five as there is no semi-colon after Aram. However, the second part of verse 22 clearly indicates that Milcah bore Nahor eight children. This then causes most to believe that indeed these eight were made up of the first three (Uz, Buz, and Kemuel) and those listed after Aram.

The last of these eight, Bethuel had a daughter that was named Rebekah. In essence, Rebekah is Isaac’s second cousin as we would designate her today, but one generation younger than Isaac.

Finally, Nahor also had a concubine called Reumah and she bore Nahor four sons (according to the translation of their names) – Tebah, Gaham, Tahash and Maacah.

Once again through the writer of Genesis we see that God places importance in people and in their names and their specific place in their genealogy. Each of us has a part to play in God’s plan throughout the ages. When I think of this, I think of the family trees of great men and women of God in the 19th and 20th centuries. Each of them with a history that leads up to the men and women God used mightily in His plan for mankind. I also think of those that may come after each one of us. Each link of our heritage in the past was important. And our descendants after us may play an incredible role in God’s economy and in the history of His Church.

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Monday, October 27, 2008

Genesis 22:15-19 Abraham's amazing investment!

Genesis 22:15-19: Then the angel of the Lord called to Abraham a second time from heaven, and said, “By Myself I have sworn,” declares the Lord, “because you have done this thing, and have not withheld your son, your only son, indeed I will greatly bless you, and I will greatly multiply your descendants as the stars of the heavens, and as the sand which is on the seashore; and your descendants shall possess the gate of their enemies. And in your descendants all the nations of the earth shall be blessed, because you have obeyed My voice.” So Abraham returned to his young men, and they arose and went together to Beersheba; and Abraham lived at Beersheba.

After God tested Abraham and he was found worthy, the angel of the Lord calls him a second time and tells him “because (he) has not withheld his only son from God, He will greatly bless (him).” And furthermore, He repeats the blessing He had shared in Genesis 15 that his descendants would greatly multiply like the stars in the heavens. This time one other comparison -- that of his descendants being as many as the grains of sand on the seashore, is added. Clearly God wanted Abraham to know that he will be blessed in his legacy. And why? Because he was willing to offer to God the one son that he had, God will honor him with millions of descendants. What an investment that was!

And then the angel of the Lord makes a most interesting comment. He tells Abraham his descendants “will possess the gate of their enemies”. Try saying that to someone you know today and see what kind of reaction you will get. What does that mean? I believe it means that Abraham’s descendants will achieve both physical and spiritual victories. They will be able to defeat their political enemies as well as their spiritual ‘enemy’. And because that will be the case, through Abraham’s offspring, all the nations of the earth will be blessed. And just think, this all started because one man of faith obeyed God’s voice. As I consider the various places that God has placed you and me in this world, at this time, I just think of what could be accomplished for the good of the world and for the Kingdom of God if those of us in positions of responsibility were to totally and unconditionally obey God’s voice. How different things would be.

As I think about the missionary organization of which God has entrusted me with its leadership, I realize how important it is for me to hear God’s voice and then to obey it. That is my prayer for my ministry and I hope it is your prayer for your life and ministry as well.

Rejoicing in not having to sacrifice his son and in hearing more details of his blessing to come, Abraham goes down from the mountain with Isaac, meets his young servants waiting for them, and all return to Beersheba where Abraham continues to live. Life can now go on with the knowledge that God is indeed for, and with, Abraham and his legacy is secure. God tested him and Abraham passed. May we all do as well and live with the same knowledge that Abraham carried in his heart and mind as he returned home.

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Friday, October 24, 2008

Genesis 22:9-14 How could Abraham sacrifice his son?

Genesis 22:9-14: Then they came to the place of which God had told him; and Abraham built the altar there, and arranged the wood, and bound his son Isaac, and laid him on the altar on top of the wood. And Abraham stretched out his hand, and took the knife to slay his son. But the angel of the Lord called to him from heaven, and said, “Abraham, Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.” And he said, “Do not stretch out your hand against the lad, and do nothing to him; for now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from Me.” Then Abraham raised his eyes and looked, and behold, behind him a ram caught in the thicket by his horns; and Abraham went and took the ram, and offered him up for a burnt offering in the place of his son. And Abraham called the name of that place The Lord Will Provide, as it is said to this day, “In the mount of the Lord it will be provided.”

So Abraham and Isaac proceed up the mountain until they get to the place that God had told Abraham to go to. We do not know how quickly they had walked. Would Abraham be rushing or would he have dreaded every step? When he built the altar and arranged the wood on it, did he rush or take his time? How quickly or slowly would you, or I, have moved to those ends? And then scripture says, “he bound his son Isaac.” Think of that split second instance when Abraham reached out and took hold of his son. Think of how startled Isaac must have been. Think of doing that to your own child with the knowledge that you had to sacrifice him/her on an altar. How could you do it?

Then Abraham lays the tied Isaac on the altar. Talk about the ultimate sacrifice for a parent. And what about the next step more? Was it more difficult? Or, is it possible that because he had already tied Isaac and laid him on the altar, stretching his hand to get the knife and then raising it to slay him, was simply carried out in pure stupor caused by his utter feeling of sheer loss and emptiness, yet following the instructions of his God?

And then once more that amazing word when found in scripture -- “But.” “But the angel of the Lord” called to him from heaven, by name. What a relief that must have been to hear that angelic voice calling “Abraham, Abraham!” Surely that meant stoop. And right away he responds, “Here I am.” That’s the secret to peace with God – obedience and availability, even under the most difficult instructions from our Commander. Abraham was doing what God had asked him to do, against his own heart’s desire and a messenger from the command post had news – perhaps a change in plans from above. As I reflect on this scene, I am reminded somewhat of movie scenes in old westerns when men and women surrounded by their burning covered wagons were about to die from an onslaught of arrows being shot at them. And then suddenly in the distance they catch sight of the standard bearer and hear the sound made by the trumpeter of the cavalry riding towards them at full speed just in time to save them. I believe God sends His angels the same way and they come at full speed, eager to do His bidding.

And then the revised instruction, “Do not harm the child in any way for now I know that you fear God, since you didn’t withhold your only son from Me.” Can you imagine the sense of relief felt by Abraham, not to mention Isaac when his father started untying him?

[Now once again let me regress here for one moment for as a parent I cannot help it. What do you say to your son at that point? And how would Isaac feel towards his father the rest of his life? What damage would have been done and what baggage would the son carry when he grew up? I do not know the answers to these most difficult questions given that scripture seems to be silent on them. I would venture to say two things. First, if the father had brought up his son in a way that he had imparted to him a full knowledge of who God was, it is possible that Isaac could well survive the most frightful experience he had just lived through. Secondly, this same God that sent His angel is also capable of healing all emotional wounds. Many of us have been hurt and otherwise scarred emotionally in life, but God is able to restore such an individual fully.]

There are some other interesting ideas presented here in this passage that we cannot overlook. First, once again, we are faced with the dilemma here of who exactly is the “angel of the Lord”. We are told “the angel of the Lord” called Abraham from heaven. Now whether that is heaven as we understand it or whether that simply refers to “from the sky above”, I do not know, although I believe the former is more likely when one considers who “the angel” might be. What we do know is that in the sentence uttered by the angel of the Lord, there is reference to Abraham “fearing God” which can be taken as either being in the third person or as being spoken by God Himself and referring to Himself in the third person. The end of the statement, however, clearly indicates that it is God Himself that is doing the talking (as in “you have not withheld your son from Me). So what are we to make of this?

Nowhere in Scripture do we get a precise explanation of just who this “angel of the Lord” is. The New Testament never mentions this phrase. When “the” angel is used as compared to “an” angel of the Lord, we can safely say it is with reference to someone separate from the other angels. To this point in our study of scripture, we know only that sometimes the angel of the Lord speaks as God as in this case and this angel seems to identify as God. So as a very minimum then we may come to the conclusion that “the angel of the Lord” is, as Got Questions Ministries indicates on its website, “an appearance of God in physical form.”

Let’s review the sequence of events in this story: God wants to test Abraham and gives him a very difficult assignment. Abraham obeys God without hesitation and just as he is about to do the most difficult thing one could ask of a parent, the angel of the Lord appears and stops him. But the story doesn’t end there. God provides the sacrificial ram that will be offered in Isaac’s place. He brought it right near the altar at the right time and in a way that Abraham could just take it and offer it in place of his very own flesh and blood. And Abraham establishes for us all an incredible spiritual principle when he names that location of that altar “The Lord Will Provide”. As twenty-first century believer’s we carry out exactly what the scripture predicted would be the case when we utter the phrase “The Lord will provide.” If we discipline ourselves to climb the treacherous and physically difficult, and the emotionally tense, route that leads to the mountain of God, He will provide an escape and also the sacrifice with which we can praise Him for that escape. We have an amazing God.

Finally, we need to point out that God had no desire to have Isaac slain by Abraham. His desire was simply that Abraham would show his devotion to Him by being willing to offer his only son. Lots of times in trying to teach my grandchildren to share what they have, I would, rightly or wrongly, ask them for a bite of their chocolate bar or some other treat they really loved, and when they would offer me some, I would say, “hey thanks guys, but it’s okay, grandpa was just testing you to see if you loved him enough to share with him.” I think that was what God wanted to know about Abraham. And Abraham passed the test. My grandchildren passed their own test that I gave them, but I wonder if I would pass the level of testing that Abraham had to face.

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Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Genesis 22:5-8 Faith Beyond Obedience

Genesis 22:5-8: Abraham said to his young men, "Stay here with the donkey, and I and the lad will go over there; and we will worship and return to you." Abraham took the wood of the burnt offering and laid it on Isaac his son, and he took in his hand the fire and the knife. So the two of them walked on together. Isaac spoke to Abraham his father and said, "My father!" And he said, "Here I am, my son." And he said, "Behold, the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?" Abraham said, "God will provide for Himself the lamb for the burnt offering, my son." So the two of them walked on together.

Abraham tells his young servants to stay there with the donkey while he and Isaac go to the assigned place Abraham was instructed to go by God. And then he adds these words: “and we will worship and return to you.” For sure, Abraham knew that he was about to go and worship. After all, that is what making a sacrificial offering to the Lord is all about. But the statement “and (we will) return to you” as implied in the text, was rather strange. Of course, this is the man that twice misled others about who Sarah really was. So, he may have just wanted not to arouse any suspicion among his servants in case they tried to stop him and a small lie may have been in order in his mind. Or is it possible that Abraham’s words were uttered out of pure faith? Was He thinking, “God could not possibly allow me to sacrifice my child in this way”? Was his faith so strong that he really believed God would provide a way out? Was it just wishful thinking? We must be satisfied with the fact that we do not know what feeling or thinking drove his words.

The wood was taken off the donkey and loaded unto young Isaac. Abraham carried the material that was to start the fire on the altar and a knife that was to slay his son, making him the sacrifice God had asked him to offer up. Again, I cannot imagine what would go through the head and mind of a father who deeply loved his child as he held in his hand the weapon he would use to kill him/her. The thinking involved is complicated even more when that father considers the action he is about to take is a result of obedience to God, the very God that promised Isaac would be the covenant child and the means by which Abraham would become a great nation. With his son loaded down with wood, his knife in his own hand, and a heavy heart, Abraham walked on, with his son.

In due course, Isaac, like any young lad that is trying to figure something out that just isn’t clear, calls out to Abraham to ask him a question. Isaac’s means of addressing Abraham must have added extra pain to the old man’s heart as Isaac called out, “My father!” Oh, that must have hurt so much. Yet, like a loving parent, Abraham replies, “Here I am, my son.” What a bond these two must have had. And as far as the father knew at that point, this was all about to end that day. I do not know about you but I believe at that point I would be taking off and crying out to God like Hagar did. You will remember when Ishmael was thirsty and about to die she begged God not to let her see the boy die. I would have done the same here. “God, you can have my son. He’s yours. But let the servants kill him and don’t let me see the boy die.” Abraham did not do that. God had specifically said, “I want you to offer him up as a burnt offering.” Sorry, Abraham, you cannot delegate this one. You have to do it yourself.

Isaac asks his well thought out question. “Father, I see the fire-starter and the wood, but where is the animal or the lamb we will offer?” Even young Isaac was no stranger to burnt offerings and what they require. Can you imagine how Abraham must have felt when Isaac asked that question? I know I would not be able to face my son or talk to him without sobbing. But somehow Abraham was given the calmness, the constitution, the strength, whatever it took to simply say, in a most assuring way, “God will provide the lamb Himself, my son.” God provided the power to utter these words and He provided the words themselves.

“Dad, what are we going to do when we make the fire and there’s no lamb?” “God will provide my son.” Thankfully, we normally are not faced with the kind of situation Isaac and Abraham were facing that day. But among our family members, we are sometimes at our wit’s end to provide an answer to those that ask questions like, “But dad, what are we going to do if mom doesn’t get better and she dies of cancer?” or “Dad, what are going to do if you are let go from work?” or “Dad, what happens if we lose the house because we can’t pay the mortgage?” and so on. Have we got the faith it takes to say, “God will provide for Himself what we need”? And then are we able to “walk on together” trusting God to do just that?

‘God will provide for Himself.’ God does not need anything from us except faith and obedience. The rest He can take care of Himself. He does not need our money or anyone else’s for that matter. He does not need equipment. He does not need a miracle – He performs miracles. What He desperately wants is our trust and obedience.

This account of Abraham and Isaac is the ultimate story about faith for me. When I try, perhaps foolishly, to assess the extent of my own faith, I always come up against this standard set by Abraham. And I cannot help but think that I fall miserably short of the mark. My desire and hope would be that I would not, but my human fear dictates a different response in my very being. Oh that God would never test you or me in that way.

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