Monday, August 31, 2009

Isaac Makes a Request of Esau -- Genesis 27:1-4


Now it came about, when Isaac was old and his eyes were too dim to see, that he called his older son Esau and said to him, "My son." And he said to him, "Here I am." Isaac said, "Behold now, I am old and I do not know the day of my death. "Now then, please take your gear, your quiver and your bow, and go out to the field and hunt game for me; and prepare a savory dish for me such as I love, and bring it to me that I may eat, so that my soul may bless you before I die."

Isaac is now old and his eyesight is failing. Our senses have a way of doing that as we get older. For many, it is loss of vision. Perhaps for even more it may be our hearing that fades. Seldom is it our sense of smell, touch, or taste or if it is, these fail in a much less noticeable manner. Others of us will be hit with the loss of memory or the ability to think straight. I remember several times in my life being involved in a discussion as to which faculty one would rather lose if one had to lose any. For me, I still think it is the sense of hearing. While there are still many melodious sounds to hear, like birds and sound of cascading water and the comforting words of loved ones, the overwhelming ‘noise’ of this modern world I can do without. The words of loved ones can be written down on paper or like love letters in the sand, or etched with their fingers on my open palm as little children do with their mothers. And the beauty left to see in the world, as God created it, is still so great.

So recognizing his age, Isaac calls his eldest son, Esau, to come to him. We should point out here that sometimes we think we are going to die. One meaning of the Hebrew word used here for age is that of “showing great age visibly”. Yet, God may well have plans for us to live a long time. He does not want us to give up for the timing of our deaths is in his hands, not ours. Earlier today I read about a study that indicates Christians and their families do more in terms of delaying death during terminal illnesses than those that have no particularly strong faith beliefs. It is possible that our belief in the dignity for live gives us an instinct to fight for it, even to the point of resisting death to the extent possible, and leaving the timing of its actual arrival totally in the hands of God, despite all we may try to do.

Isaac calls Esau even though Esau and his wives were a sense of sorrow to Isaac and Rebekah, Isaac still held on to the tradition of the rights of the “firstborn”. These were both the ‘birthright’ and the ‘blessing’. Remember that Esau had sold his birthright to Jacob by now. And like a good son, Esau replies, “Here I am.” Regardless of how he felt about his parents, Esau knew what was expected of him as both a son and the eldest. He knew this time of blessing was coming.

Isaac explains to him why he called him, telling him that he was old and could die at any time and then proceeds to make a request of Esau. He tells him to get his hunting bow and some arrows and go hunting some game for Isaac. Then he asked Esau to prepare a tasty meal for him with whatever he caught and to take it to him so Isaac could eat it. Once he did that, he would then bless Esau with the blessing bestowed upon the eldest son, and then die.

There is a phrase there that we should not miss and it is, “a savory dish for me such as I love”. The request was specific. Isaac asked for something to be done with excellence, especially for him, and it was to be something that Isaac loved. I believe there is inherent in a parent, especially as one approaches the end of their life, the desire to see some evidence or assurance of their offspring returning the feeling of love and care that they have had for all these years from the parent. Such was Isaac’s desire. Such is the desire of all of us who have children. As I write these words, I have the satisfaction of knowing how my wife, children, and I took care of my father in the later part of his life until he died in his early nineties. This morning my wife is out taking her mother shopping and to the drugstore as it is senior’s day where she can get great discounts for the items she needs. My wife and I consider ourselves already blessed in a very special way that is rare these days in North America. We just recently moved into a new home that our second daughter’s family and us built together and this morning as I work on my devotions in my study, Esther made and brought me a savory breakfast, just for me, and such as I love. That is my particular joy of living, to the best of my ability, in obedience to what I believe God wants for me. Your experience and circumstances may be different. You may not be able to move in with your children and grandchildren. God may have for you a very different way of interacting with them so that in some manner (perhaps a special trip together, or by their providing for you in some other means), He will see to it that you get your “savory dish, just for you, and the way you will appreciate”.

And when that happens, your “soul will be able to bless them” as Isaac intended to bless his first-born, Esau.

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Saturday, August 29, 2009

Esau Marries Two Girls -- Genesis 26:34-35


And when Esau was forty years old he married Judith the daughter of Beeri the Hittite, and Basemath the daughter of Elon the Hittite; and they made life miserable for Isaac and Rebekah.

Esau stayed single until he was forty years of age, the same age as his father Isaac. We can update our timeline as follows:

• 3311 Isaac, at age 40, marries Rebekah (Genesis 25:20)
• 3331 Isaac, at age 60, becomes father to Esau and Jacob (Genesis 25:26)
• 3346 Abraham died at age 175 (Genesis 25:7,8)
• 3371 Esau marries Judith and Basemath (Genesis 26:34)
• 3394 The death of Ishmael (based on his birth in 3257 and Genesis 25:17)

Both Judith and Basemath were Hittites who descended from Heth, one of Noah’s great-grandsons. (Noah-Ham-Canaan-Heth). They lived among the Israelites. Abraham had purchased the family burial-plot from them. There is no direct reference as to their worship habits and whether or not they believed in, and served, God, as Abraham and his direct ancestors did, although most likely they did not.

This is the only place in scripture where the name Judith is used. Its root word in the Hebrew however is used one other time later in scripture with reference to the transliteration of “sanctuary”. As a name, it means “Jewess” or “praised”. Interestingly, she was neither. The name Basemath is translated as “spice”. She indeed did add spice to Isaac’s family but perhaps not the kind they had hoped for. The actual name is also given to one more person in scripture many, many years later.

Was Esau foolish in marrying Canaanites? The evidence indicates he was. For starters, they were not part of the blessing to Abraham. It also must have been heartbreaking to Isaac and Rebekah for Esau to marry without asking, as was typical, for his parents’ blessing. Isaac you will remember had a father who insisted that he marry among his own people.

Without going into a discussion here as to the pros and cons of marrying outside one’s faith, we will just note that Esau did just that. The phrase that is most troublesome, however, is the next one: “and they made life miserable for Isaac and Rebekah.” Do we know anything about the reason for that? Well, for starters, we know it was a significant misery that was evident to others or why else would the story go on for generations until it had been written down for us to read. The word used for ‘grief’ is also translated as ‘bitterness’. It is likely that the different customs, culture, and religions (worshipping different gods) of the two daughters-in-law were the source of the heartbreak both girls were to Isaac and Rebekah. Whatever it was, the problem was constantly on their mind. Family fellowship was indeed lacking once they joined, but admittedly that may have started with Esau’s earlier rebellion or at the time he made the decision not only to marry one Canaanite, but two. This was clear indication that he neither cared for the blessing, nor feared the curse of God in his life.

From personal experience, I assure you children sometimes rush into marriages that end up being hurtful to them and to their families. The problem is not always one’s faith. It may the degree of sincerity one may have in his/her faith and the amount of desire they have to put God first in their life. My friend William Troth has written about that very thing in his book, The Milk and Honey Man. He talks about Christians being saved but carnal vs. the Spiritual man or woman who has truly let God be on the throne of their lives. For the Christian parent, I would recommend four things if you are in this situation: First, ask God to show you what He wants to teach you, not your son or daughter, or their spouse, in this situation. Second, continue to pray both parties feel God’s presence in a clear and strong way so that His will is done. Third, support your son or daughter in his plans subject to them being moral and godly. Four, love him or her and their spouse no matter and unconditionally forever.

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Friday, August 28, 2009

“We see the Lord has been with you!” -- Genesis 26:26-33


Then Abimelech came to him from Gerar with his adviser Ahuzzath and Phicol the commander of his army. Isaac said to them, "Why have you come to me, since you hate me and have sent me away from you?" They said, "We see plainly that the LORD has been with you; so we said, 'Let there now be an oath between us, even between you and us, and let us make a covenant with you, that you will do us no harm, just as we have not touched you and have done to you nothing but good and have sent you away in peace. You are now the blessed of the LORD.' " Then he made them a feast, and they ate and drank. In the morning they arose early and exchanged oaths; then Isaac sent them away and they departed from him in peace. Now it came about on the same day, that Isaac's servants came in and told him about the well which they had dug, and said to him, "We have found water." So he called it Shibah; therefore the name of the city is Beersheba to this day.

Even though Isaac has resettled in Beersheba, Abimelech apparently kept a close watch on his progress. Eventually, he makes a trip to Beersheba from Gerar to see Isaac, and he brings along two of his key people, an adviser named Ahuzzath and his army commander, Phicol. You may remember the proper noun Phicol from Genesis 21:22,32. As the chances of this being the same person from the days of Abraham is not likely, we can assume that Phicol is most probably, like Abimelech, a title given to all army commanders of the Philistines. The word used for advisor, merea, is translated as a companion or confidential friend, yet the actual word Ahuzzath is translated as ‘possession’. One could suppose that the king’s friends were indeed his possessions. To this point in scripture, the word used here for commander, sar, is translated as either commander or in the case of Genesis 12:15 as ‘official(s)’. In either case, it is one or more people assigned to be close to the king and to represent sources of strength, force, or protection, as required.

When they reach Isaac, he meets them head on with a most fitting question – “Why have you come to me, since you hate me, and had sent me away?” I am not sure if Abimelech’s entourage was prepared for that, but they certainly responded in a most interesting manner. In simple terms, these men were saying, “Isaac, we can see now that the Lord has been with you, and if that’s the case, we can’t afford to be at odds with you. If you ever decide to come after us, with God on your side, we don’t stand a chance. So let’s be allies. Let’s swear an oath and make a covenant between us that you won’t hurt us just as we didn’t hurt you when we sent you away. You are now blessed of God an we can’t deny that or fight it.”

What was Isaac’s biggest secret to his success? Simply this – he allowed God to deal with his enemies, choosing not to fight, but to always seeking peace, and if necessary, moving on. When one would expect Abimelech and the world to view such action as a weak defensive retreat, God saw to it that Isaac became the one to fear and the oppressors sought a treaty with him. Some of you may have experienced something similar in your own life. People that once fought you tooth and nail, and who you released from you life long ago, somehow come back to ask for your help and friendship – either because the chips were down for them or because they realized God was on your side.

At this very juncture in time, Isaac has a choice to make (as we all do when this happens to us). Does he extend a hand of agreement or does he send them back without it? The Bible says, “he made them a feast, and they ate and drank” and spent the night within his dwellings. Not only did he agree to the covenant but celebrated with them and accepted them into his household. That is a beautiful picture of what true reconciliation should look like – both between non-believers and us and between believers themselves. Oftentimes, when members of a local church are at odds with each other, they pay lip service to a treaty or they accept an apology, but are never really prepared to “celebrate” it and act accordingly as Isaac did here with Abimelech. With very rare exceptions (one example of which follows), it behooves us to go that extra step.

There are times, however, that one can accept the apologies of another party (and extend apologies in return) as to the hurt that has been caused, but may believe it is inappropriate to continue the relationship. One such example is two partners going into business together and one hurts the other or both hurt one another. Apologies are extended and accepted by both parties. One wants to continue working together; the other does not because it is now clear the approach of the parties to both business and relationships are indeed very different and incongruent. There would be no point in working together from then on. It is sufficient to make peace, bless each other, and go your separate ways.

The last part of this small portion of scripture is also of interest with respect to its timing. It says “the same day” that Abimelech and his party left Isaac’s household having made a peace covenant with him, Isaac’s people reported finding water from the well that they had dug earlier. Do the right thing and the blessing of God may well be instant – if not materially, certainly within your spirit. There is great joy and often tangible blessings as well in being a peacemaker.

Isaac then names that well Shibah, meaning ‘an oath’ and to this day the place is called Beersheba, meaning ‘the well of the oath’. Some may feel there is a conflict at this point with the content of Genesis 21:31 where Abraham names this location Beersheba as well many decades earlier. Remember that we are talking about a small town, later city, that was built around a well and in this case a well named because of an oath that had been made there. The fact remains that in Genesis 21:31, Abraham and a previous Abimelech had indeed made an oath at that very well. And yes, Abraham named the place Beersheba. The Philistines fill the well up and it dries. Decades later Isaac’s men re-dig the well while a later Abimelech and Isaac are making another covenant. The men then find water from this well (God allowed it to flow again) and Isaac also names the well Shibah and renames the town that has grown around it Beersheba. There is a great parallel here between the life of Abraham and the life of Isaac, his son. The latter is certainly very conscious of honoring the actions of his father by keeping the names Abraham had assigned years earlier.

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Thursday, August 27, 2009

Meeting God at Beersheba -- Genesis 26:23-25


Then he went up from there to Beersheba. The LORD appeared to him the same night and said, "I am the God of your father Abraham; Do not fear, for I am with you. I will bless you, and multiply your descendants, For the sake of My servant Abraham." So he built an altar there and called upon the name of the LORD, and pitched his tent there; and there Isaac's servants dug a well.

As I read this Scripture portion, I understand it to say Isaac had moved to Gerar (Genesis 26:1), then moved to the valley of Gerar (26:17) and then moved within that valley again (26:22). Now in verse 23 we read that Isaac goes from ‘there’ to Beersheba.

Beersheba you will remember is where Hagar went after Abraham and Sarah had sent her away (Genesis 21:14). In Genesis 21:33 we learned that Abraham had planted a grove there and had called on the name of the Lord there. In Genesis 22:19 we read that this is where Abraham went to and dwelt after Isaac was spared by God from being sacrificed. And now here in Genesis 26:23 Isaac comes to Beersheba once again. Why he went there and exactly how far Beersheba was from where he last dwelt, is not clear. We do know that Beersheba was at one end of the country in Biblical times, the southernmost part. Given how God had used Beersheba in the past for Hagar and then Abraham, perhaps God wanted to take Isaac there, as a means of Isaac reconnecting with the Almighty as we see in this section. Sometimes God, even though we may feel ‘we’re finally home’ as Isaac did in verse 22, wants us to be totally reliant on Him and thus He moves us again and meets us where He takes us. The secret of a victorious life under His care is to be ready to pack up just when you think He’s allowed you to settle.

What happens at Beersheba? God does indeed meet there with him too -- just as the angel of God called to Hagar there when she was desperate and fearing that Ishmael was dying and just as God met there with Abraham his father. In many respects, Beersheba becomes the place where Abraham’s family meets alone with God.

Notice the text says the “Lord appeared to him the same night”. Those of us that are Type A personalities are often teased and sometimes ridiculed because of our “action- and goal-oriented” approach to life. Yet, throughout Scripture, I detect incidents where God acts very much like a Type A. This is one of them. He didn’t give Isaac a chance to settle in and get comfortable in Beersheba. That same night Isaac arrives there, God appears and tells him who He is. He assures Isaac of His presence with him and thus no need to fear. And He goes further, assuring him of being blessed and that his own descendants would be multiplied. But again, as we noted earlier, God is doing all of this for the sake of His servant Abraham. Never underestimate what God will do for your family and your descendants – grandchildren and great-grandchildren, and beyond – because of your relationship with Him. As I live my life and watch my grandchildren mature, this very thought of a blessing for them from God alone is, admittedly, a major driver in my desire to have a close and Holy relationship with God. I pray it may it be yours as well.

Isaac accepts the words of the Lord and in response he builds an altar there and he too calls upon the name of the Lord, just like his father did. Then he pitched his tent to stay there awhile, long enough that it was necessary for his servants to dig a well for them to have water. When God comes and meets us somewhere, we need to recognize His visit. Somehow, we need to establish a means whereby we give Him praise for that and then we need to stay awhile and cherish His words given to us there. We don’t build altars today as they did in Bible days, but we can identify a locale or a specific item in that vicinity that we will always remember as the place where God spoke to us, and we’ll want to visit there often. We’ll want to share that place with our children and grandchildren so they know that God had met us there and be open to His calling them, perhaps in the same spot.


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Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Letting Go and Starting All Over -- Genesis 26:18-22


Then Isaac dug again the wells of water which had been dug in the days of his father Abraham, for the Philistines had stopped them up after the death of Abraham; and he gave them the same names which his father had given them. But when Isaac's servants dug in the valley and found there a well of flowing water, the herdsmen of Gerar quarreled with the herdsmen of Isaac, saying, "The water is ours!" So he named the well Esek, because they contended with him. Then they dug another well, and they quarreled over it too, so he named it Sitnah. He moved away from there and dug another well, and they did not quarrel over it; so he named it Rehoboth, for he said, "At last the LORD has made room for us, and we will be fruitful in the land."

In his new location, Isaac found the wells that had been dug when his father Abraham inhabited the area. After Abraham had died, the Philistines had made them non-functional, likely by filling them in. Perhaps this was for purposes of safety or in order to save the underground water allowing it to flow more readily towards their own wells. Isaac’s servants dug the wells again and he named them by the same names that his father had used. What an act of respect and honor to his father’s memory and to the family history.

My wife and I, along with my second daughter, her husband, and three children just moved in to our new combined house on the very property where my father and mother’s home was built in 1953. Almost fifty-six years later, I find myself looking out on views I used to see when I was five years old. I can still picture in my mind my father and mother working around the house and in their huge vegetable garden. I can see my father climbing the fruit trees to prune them. I can see my mother hanging out the washed clothes to dry (something we would not think of doing with today’s modern clothes dryers). As a family, we are doing what we can to keep the memory of my parents alive for us their children, and for their grandchildren, and great-grandchildren. Isaac was doing likewise.

So Isaac’s men are digging out the old wells and perhaps some new ones. In the process, they find a strong-flowing artesian well. The well’s potential was soon realized by the herdsmen of the area and they fought with Isaac’s people for possession, claiming the well and its water as theirs. Because of this argument, Isaac names this well Esek, transliterated as Eseq in the Hebrew and translated to mean ‘contention’ in English.

Although the text at this very point does not say so, it appears from verse 22 that Isaac would rather ‘switch than fight’ and he had his men dig a second well, conceding the one named Esek over to the Philistine herdsmen. But they did not seem to be satisfied, arguing over the second well as well. As a result, Isaac calls this well Sitnah, translated from the Hebrew to mean ‘strife’.

There come times in our lives when we do experience both contention and strife even though we are doing what we believe is well within our understanding of what we can and are indeed to do as we follow and serve God. Unfortunately, others will not always see it that way, or even care about our desire to serve Him. So, contention and strife arises. Sometimes, it is necessary for us to do what Isaac did – to move away from the situation. Sometimes we need to put the quarreling behind us, let the issue go, and move on. Isaac moves away from that area of the valley and he starts all over again, digging yet another well. This is very similar to how his father Abraham dealt with the issue that arose between him and Lot. Abraham was always a peacemaker, not a compromiser. And Isaac followed that model. There were no quarrels over this third well. He named it Rehoboth (Rechobowth in Hebrew), meaning “wide places or streets”.

Isaac had finally got the desired freedom he had sought. God had finally made room for him and his household, providing him with a large expanse of land in which he could be successful. That should be the dream of every believer – not so much that we should own land necessarily, but that we should be free to succeed in our service and life for God. Admittedly, that can look very different for each of us. For some of our brothers and sisters, that could mean having great wealth and power and influence. For others, it could mean spending years in prison for their belief in God. What really matters is what we do with what God blesses us with.

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Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Dealing with the Envy of Others -- Genesis 26:15-17


Genesis 26:15-17: Now all the wells which his father’s servants had dug in the days of Abraham his father, the Philistines stopped up by filling them with earth. Then Abimelech said to Isaac, “Go away from us, for you are too powerful for us.” And Isaac departed from there and camped in the valley of Gerar, and settled there.

The opening of this small section of scripture seems to answer a question we had raised earlier with respect to how Isaac got the land he farmed in Gerar. Here we learn it was indeed the same land that his father Abraham had settled in when Abimelech let him choose whatever land he wanted. In fact, the Philistines had now plugged up the wells that his father’s servants had dug. This was envy acted out. The only way they could stop Isaac’s success was to cut off the source of water for his flocks, herds, and household.

This is an excellent picture of man in his true nature. When someone else is doing well, we try to knock him down rather than aspire to climb up to where he may be. It is easier to destroy the works of others than to work hard to achieve similar things ourselves. That was human nature in the days of Isaac and it has not changed at all, for most, right up to today. Man not only reacts this way to man, but if we watch carefully, we see human nature reacting this way towards God. We criticize His world, His achievement, and even His gift to mankind. We blame Him for all our woes. And many in the world today try to do whatever they can to “plug up God’s wells of living water”. They block prayers in the schools, they stop preachers from telling the truth about things God does not condone, and prohibit the teaching of anything that looks like or sounds like creationism, and so on. In fact, they pursue the ultimate act of saying they too can be gods and that God Himself is nothing special – nothing man cannot be.

Now here’s the next interesting thing that occurs in this story. Abimelech, the King, sides with his own people against Isaac and chooses to send him away. The reason? Well, the King says, “you are much mightier than us”. Perhaps this meant they could not defeat him because of how big his household was or they could not compete with him in day-to-day commerce. It is also possible that they may have seen God’s blessing on him and they started to fear for their own position. Perhaps God could bless him enough to make him able to take over the ruling of the Philistines and Abimelech would lose his influence, power, and means of wealth. One would think one would want people who had received the blessing of God around, for some of it might well rub off on them. But when evil and fear and jealousy or envy gets in the way, we cannot expect people to be thinking straight. Let us hope that we ourselves do not succumb to such feelings lest our thinking go astray.

Verse 17 tells us that Isaac departed from where he dwell and camped in the valley of Gerar. Two points worthy of mention. First, Isaac did not argue for his rights. You will remember that this same Abimelech that was sending him away was the same one who in verse 11 of this same chapter charged all the people that they were not to touch this man (Isaac) or his wife, for if they did they would be put to death. Isaac had the law of the King behind him. He could have used that in his defense but chose not to. Instead he put his rights aside and moved away from the area that he had cultivated and developed, likely close to where the King himself lived, and had to settle in another, perhaps less fruitful part of the country the Bible refers to as the “valley of Gerar” as compared to Gerar itself. Not only did he not stand up for his rights, but he was willing to give up his comfort also to avoid a fight or argument. What is the lesson for us?

Earlier this morning I spoke with a pastor who believes he was truly wronged by his staff, his church board, and his superintendent. The ramifications are significant on many counts -- ministry calling, emotional, social, spiritual, and financial. His legal advisors indicated he has sufficient evidence to pursue large damage claims. He does not want that, preferring instead to do everything in accordance with New Testament teaching. My dilemma as a counselor is how exactly to help him and his family heal, and to be reconciled with his church so that the work of the Lord may continue and be flourished there. We are both concerned about the possibility of this type of hurt, interference, and lack of support be repeated over and over again with other pastors in that particular denomination. In that instance, I believed that he had a responsibility to find a way by which he could lovingly and openly share his side of the story and then leave it totally up to God to work out all things for God’s own glory. In Isaac’s case there was likely no point in doing that perhaps. And that may also be the case most of the times when we are wronged. We must simply move on and trust God to replenish our loss a hundredfold. But I believe there are situations when we must have the courage, often at a great cost, to stand up meekly and without malice, state our position, and entrust the matter to God.

Second, one can, (whether one should or not I will not debate here) ask the question as to whether or not Isaac should have left. After all, in verse 2 of this chapter, God had very clearly stated, “stay in the land of which I shall tell you.” And between verses 2 and 17, there is no reference to God telling him to move on out. Only Abimelech told him to do that. I only point this out for as we study scripture together we learn from what has gone on ahead. Earlier in Genesis we were made aware of disobedience to God’s exact instructions and the consequences thereof. Simply put, Isaac obeyed Abimelech and not God at this juncture of our study. Our knowing of whether or not the consequences will be significant will have to wait for a point later in our study.

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Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Isaac’s Success and Wealth -- Genesis 26:12-14


Genesis 26:12-14: Now Isaac sowed in that land and reaped in the same year a hundredfold. And the Lord blessed him, and the man became rich, and continued to grow richer until he became very wealthy; for he had possessions of flocks and herds and a great household, so that the Philistines envied him.

The first thing we notice in this passage is that Isaac, remaining in the land of Gerar, went to work sowing the land that he had somehow obtained or rented. It is also possible that Isaac inherited the land from his father. You will remember that Abimelech had bestowed many gifts on Abraham in Genesis 20, and said to him, “Behold, my land is before you; settle wherever you please.” (Genesis 20:15). That land included Gerar.

Success always follows work. Fame and fortune may come without work, but success implies that someone tried and worked at something in order for him/her to ‘succeed’ at it. Sometimes, especially when we see others succeeding, we want that same kind of success but without any work. I can think of countless times when each of my children marveled at what they saw another child achieve – in music, skating, etc. But when we reviewed with them the cost in terms of work and practice and sacrificing of other things (like television, playing excessively with their friends, or just being lazy) that accompanied this success, they soon realized that they weren’t really ready to pay that price.

When we do work however God does bless. The text says in that same year that Isaac sowed the land, he reaped a hundredfold. That sounds like a bumper crop year to me. And it was so because God wanted to bless Isaac. Through the success of his sowing and the reaping accompanying it, God allowed Isaac to become richer and richer until he was very wealthy. He had lots of flocks, herds, and a large household of servants.

Isaac’s story is sufficient to stop all those who claim, “you can’t be a servant of God and be wealthy”. That is just not true. The issue is not our wealth. The issues are: who we believe is the giver of our wealth, our relationship to our wealth, our dependence on it, our ownership of it, and what we do with it. Genesis 26 clearly indicates that the ownership of land and livestock, other possessions, and even those who serve as employees or servants under your care (business or household), are not a sin. The Bible says, “the Lord blessed (Isaac)” in all these things. With that established, later throughout scripture we will be given further insights as to how we relate to wealth and what we do with it.

But for now let us simply be aware that God can and does bless people physically and financially and with possessions if He so chooses. And let us also be aware that when one has received such blessings, there will always be some that will envy them. The text says that because of all his possessions, “the Philistines envied him.” I am reminded a little bit of the envy that is sometimes expressed towards some hard-working immigrants to North America who do well because God has blessed their hard work. Such envy often comes from those that are nationals in the immigrants’ new country. And unfortunately, those that express such envy are those that have chosen not to work as hard or sacrifice as much so that their labor would be successful.

Finally, for the Christian, such envy may sometimes come from within the Body of believers and that is very hard to understand or accept. It hurts, especially when the person with the wealth is doing so much for the Kingdom with his/her finances and influence. Suffice it to say, there are no easy answers to this attitude save and except the indwelling of the Holy Spirit both in the believer with the wealth and in the believer without it.

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Saturday, August 15, 2009

"Been There, Read That." -- Genesis 26:7-11


Genesis 26:7-11: When the men of the place asked about his wife, he said, "She is my sister," for he was afraid to say, "my wife," thinking, "the men of the place might kill me on account of Rebekah, for she is beautiful." It came about, when he had been there a long time, that Abimelech king of the Philistines looked out through a window, and saw, and behold, Isaac was caressing his wife Rebekah. Then Abimelech called Isaac and said, "Behold, certainly she is your wife! How then did you say, 'She is my sister'?" And Isaac said to him, "Because I said, 'I might die on account of her.' " Abimelech said, "What is this you have done to us? One of the people might easily have lain with your wife, and you would have brought guilt upon us." So Abimelech charged all the people, saying, "He who touches this man or his wife shall surely be put to death."

As one reads this passage, several thoughts and questions come to mind. The first will likely come to someone who has been with us in this search for gems in Scripture from Genesis 1:1 to this point. It is this: “Have I not read this story before, perhaps more than once?” We have read two similar accounts. The first was in Genesis 12 and it related the story of Abram and Sarai traveling to Egypt. They decided to lie about their relationship because Abram feared the local men would kill him in order to have his wife.

The second account of a similar story was provided in Genesis 20. It took place in exactly the very town Isaac and Rebekah currently find themselves. Abraham and Sarah (their new names given by God) again had decided to lie about their married relationship. The reasons for doing so are discussed in Volume 1 of this series. Suffice it to say there were ulterior motives at play.

The second thought that comes to mind is that Isaac, in this current passage, is using the same rationale for his lie as his father used in Genesis 12. If we are totally honest with ourselves, we must admit that while reading about such a plot-line once is easily believable, reading it a second time in Genesis 20 starts to raise some questions in our mind, and reading it here a third time in Genesis 26 (this time about Abraham’s son) may well cause us to rethink the credibility of the author. I will admit that was the case for me. What saved me from rendering these accounts as conveniently construed fiction was first my basic assumption that I am reading the Word of God and it is Truth. [You may wish to refer to the section entitled What is the Bible and Why Study It? at the beginning of Volume 1 for rationale on this position.] The second reason is the fact that each one of these accounts, while starting off the same (i.e., a lie in order to deceive for some kind of personal gain), the story unfolds very differently in each case. In Genesis 12, Pharaoh ends up taking Sarai and rewarding Abraham well for her. But then God starts to inflict Pharaoh with plagues of various kinds until he discovers his wrong-doing and returns Sarai to Abram, gives him more gifts, and has his men escort him away from the land. In Genesis 20, Abimelech takes Sarah and then has a dream that he is ‘a dead man’ because of what he has done, taking another man’s wife. He returns Sarah, along with gifts, makes a covenant with Abraham, and Abraham ends up praying to God to end the barrenness of Abimelech’s wives that started with the taking of Sarah.

In this current Genesis 26 account, the story takes on yet a different course of events. We are led to assume that Isaac initially was able to convince the men of Gerar that Rebekah was his sister and he was allowed to live in peace with her. But after some time (we do not know how long), the text says that Abimelech, the king, saw Isaac caressing Rebekah and we assume the caressing was of the nature engaged in by husband and wife, as compared to brother and sister. In fact, the Hebrew word employed is transliterated as tschaq which is translated for us by Strong’s as laughing, mocking, playing, jesting, toying with, and sporting with. Abimelech then calls for Isaac and tells him off for lying. He points out what may have happened if he or one of the men had taken Rebekah. The outcome is that Abimelech issues a charge that anyone who touches Isaac or Rebekah will be put to death.

What we have in these accounts is three very different series of events; all of them stemming from a similar lie. I have to believe therefore that the desire of men to take as their own any beautiful woman that comes to stay in their land was a common practice in the days of Abraham and Isaac.

The third thing I notice about this story, especially as I compare it with the earlier accounts in Genesis chapters 12 and 20, is this. Regardless of the lies being told, the key characters in each (Abram/Abraham in the first two, and Isaac in this one) seem to end up either rewarded, blessed, or protected as a result. How is that? Is God rewarding lying? I don’t think so. God carries out His plan for our lives in spite of our sins. The lesson to be learned is that God takes care of His own, and not that it is okay to lie or sin. It is a lesson of forgiveness and God’s protection once we are committed to Him. It speaks of our humanity and God’s grace. It shows me that a relationship with God, like life itself, is a journey where we vacillate back and forth between our dependence on Him and trying to do things our own way. Thus, in a way, all those of us who have such a relationship, are embarked on our own unique ‘pilgrim’s progress’.

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Thursday, August 13, 2009

Isaac in Gerar -- Genesis 26:1-6


Genesis 26:1-6: Now there was a famine in the land, besides the previous famine that had occurred in the days of Abraham. So Isaac went to Gerar, to Abimelech king of the Philistines. The LORD appeared to him and said, "Do not go down to Egypt; stay in the land of which I shall tell you. Sojourn in this land and I will be with you and bless you, for to you and to your descendants I will give all these lands, and I will establish the oath which I swore to your father Abraham. I will multiply your descendants as the stars of heaven, and will give your descendants all these lands; and by your descendants all the nations of the earth shall be blessed; because Abraham obeyed Me and kept My charge, My commandments, My statutes and My laws." So Isaac lived in Gerar.

In this section we read of a famine in the land where Isaac and his family lived. The Bible is very careful to point out that this had happened before in the times of Abraham partly to distinguish the current famine from that one and perhaps partly to set the stage for Isaac’s actions that were in some ways learned from his father’s experience. In Genesis 12:10 we read about Abraham going down to Egypt in order to escape the famine in his own country. Likewise, Isaac goes to Gerar. This is a lodging place or town south of Gaza. Gerar, a Philistine town, had been mentioned previously in Scripture. In Genesis 10:19 we learn that this was were the Canaanites settled, Canaan being the son of Ham who was the son of Noah. In Genesis 20:1 we learn of Abraham and Sarah lying to Abimelech, the king at Gerar, about their relationship.

So Isaac journeys there and the land is still ruled by an Abimelech. This title implying “father king” was a common title given to the kings of the Philistines over a considerable period of time. Thus we do not know for certain from this passage that his father had dealt with the same identical person although that is a real possibility. It was there that the Lord appears to Isaac and tells him not to go to Egypt but instead to remain in a place that God will tell him. And then God proceeds to tell him to stay in Gerar and that God would be there with him and bless him. In fact, God, for the first time, goes so far as to share His covenant to Abraham with Isaac, personally. He tells him that He will give all these lands to him and his descendants. God restates His promise to Abraham and tells Isaac that He’ll bring it about for him. He reiterates the details of the Covenant He made with Abraham.

But most importantly, God explains why He will do all this for Isaac and his descendants. God lays it out very clearly, “…because Abraham obeyed Me and kept My charge, My commandments, My statutes and My laws.” Perhaps the only word that may need some explaining is the word ‘charge’ or in Hebrew mishmereth, which is translated as guard, function, obligation, service, watch; a keeping or preserving; an office or ceremonial function (as in the priesthood).

It seems to me that this is the foundational formula for success in the life of any child of God’s. We are to obey Him, serve Him by looking after what He has entrusted to us, and keeping His commandments, statutes, and laws that are still applicable to us in accordance with the work accomplished by His Son, Jesus Christ. That is a pretty complete formula in that it entails all of what we are to do.

The section ends by simply telling us that Isaac dwelled in Gerar. He could count on God to “establish” His oath that was made with his father. What a joy that must have been to realize that God’s favor on one’s life is partially due to the relationship that one’s father had with God. What an incentive that is for us who are parents as we live our lives today. The very thought of knowing that God may very well bless my daughters and son and my grandchildren partially on the basis of how well I obey Him, serve Him, and keep His commandments, is reason enough to do so. Finally, what a reason that provides for us to lead our children to a personal relationship with God in order that this blessing will continue in the generations that come after them. Besides our personal relationship with God, that is the greatest responsibility of any parent.

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Wednesday, August 12, 2009

A Birthright for Lentil Stew Genesis 25:29-34


Genesis 25:29-34: And when Jacob had cooked stew, Esau came in from the field and he was famished; and Esau said to Jacob, “Please let me have a swallow of that red stuff there, for I am famished.” Therefore his name was called Edom. But Jacob said, “First sell me your birthright.” And Esau said, “Behold, I am about to die; so of what use then is the birthright to me?” And Jacob said, “First swear to me”; so he swore to him, and sold his birthright to Jacob. Then Jacob gave Esau bread and lentil stew; and he ate and drank, and rose and went on his way. Thus Esau despised his birthright.

We do not know what the relationship of Esau and Jacob was as they were growing up, given their different characteristics. I am sure that their household would be most exciting at times as the two young boys kidded, fought, argued with, supported, and avoided each other at different times. They eventually learned to co-exist and go about their own preferences and responsibilities.

One day Jacob had cooked a lentil (small bean common to Egypt and Syria as well as parts of modern Europe) stew that filled the air with a most inviting aroma. Esau on the other hand had been out in the field working or possibly hunting, and he was famished. From my own experience, I know that when one is famished, priorities and the value of certain things change drastically. Not only do dishes one would normally pass on become most desirous, but also one is willing to pay extraordinary prices for an item of food. A good example is paying an exorbitant price for a hot dog at the ballgame. Esau was in that situation on this particular day that Jacob had prepared lentils. Notice that Esau asks for “a swallow” of the soup. At first one may think he does not want very much, just one swallow. In fact, the transliteration of Hebrew word la’at implies ‘to swallow greedily, devour’. Esau was basically asking to devour Jacob’s lentil soup. The text continues to state that it was for this reason Esau became known as Edom, which literally means ‘I will praise him’, for Esau was prepared to highly praise his brother Jacob whose soup satisfied his hunger.

But Jacob who was more attune to assessing the opportunities of a situation given his thoughtful character realized that something could be gained in return for his lentil soup. The fact that he very quickly asked Esau to sell him his birthright suggests that Jacob had been reflecting long and hard on the fact that Esau, born just split seconds ahead of him, actually had the traditional ‘first-born birthright’ over him. What exactly that entailed we learn about later in scripture, but suffice it to say here that its privileges included becoming the family priest and ending up with a double portion of inheritance.

Esau was not at all bothered by this request. One would have thought his reply would be, “Are you out of your mind, Jacob? Do you think, as hungry as I am, your lentil soup, as good as it smells, is worth my giving up my inheritance? You have to be joking, Jacob.” Instead, Esau, perhaps fixated on his starving state, or not caring for his birthright, or simply not thinking, responded as follows: “Some day I am going to die anyway and what good will my birthright and its privileges be to me then?” There is nothing in the text to indicate whether Esau was referring to his potential imminent death from starvation or his eventual death as any other human being. I prefer the latter possibility for two reasons. First, Esau had not been long without food and secondly, it reflects the mind of one who lives for the moment rather than one who considers consequences of one’s action for the future.

One of the most important things every growing child must learn in order to succeed in life is the process by which he or she overcomes the desire for immediate gratification and replaces it with patience and thoughtful consideration of how a given decision will impact his or her life both now and in the future. That is learning that many people continue to have difficulty with well into their adult years, yet it is a critical one for the Christian.

Now Jacob heard Esau say that his birthright would not be any good to him once he died, but realized the statement only gave reason as to why Esau may consider his request without any evidence that he in fact would turn his birthright over for the soup he was about to eat. With that in mind, Jacob proceeds to get that assurance by asking Esau to swear to him that indeed his birthright was now Jacob’s. Esau complied and the birthright was sold to Jacob for some bread and his lentil soup.

This short episode ends with Esau eating and drinking what Jacob had to offer, and then rising and going on his way. But there’s an epilogue to this account. It is the same type of epilogue that can be added to any man or woman’s story after they have made a bad decision in a moment of weakness. Here it is simply stated as: “Thus Esau despised his birthright.” He wanted nothing to do with it. Perhaps because he saw no value in it and he was trying to justify his decision. It is also possible that he despised it for it represented a spiritual right as God’s priest for the family that he wanted nothing to do with. He was in essence rejecting his family’s spiritual inheritance. His character and his decisions confirmed God’s right choice of Jacob to rise in history as more powerful and ruling over his brother, Esau.


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Monday, August 10, 2009

Isaac and Rebekah Had Favorites Genesis 25:27-28

When the boys grew up, Esau became a skillful hunter, a man of the field; but Jacob was a peaceful man, living in tents. Now Isaac loved Esau, because he had a taste for game; but Rebekah loved Jacob.

As one may have thought, given Esau’s ruddy and robust appearance when he was born, he took a fancy to hunting and became very proficient in it. The Hebrew text yada implies that not only was he good at this but that he had studied and came to know it inside out, having perceived all aspects of it. Today, he probably would have hosted his own hunting show on television although the focus of the program would have been hunting for food rather than pleasure. He was likely the means by which the family was able to enjoy many good meals of game. The use of the word ‘field’ here may have one of at least four possible meanings, only one of which implies a ‘cultivated land’. The Hebrew word sadeh is also used to mean ‘a land that is a home to wild beasts’ and even a ‘plain type of land as opposed to mountains’.

Jacob on the other hand is reported to be a ‘peaceful’ man who lived in tents. It is not clear whether or not the text intended to imply that Esau was not peaceful. I think we can take it to mean that Esau was most restless and had to be out and about all the time, while Jacob was more content to stay at home, perhaps reflecting on life, listening to stories told by his elders, or helping his mother with the affairs of the home. Some Bible versions use the word ‘plain’ for the Hebrew tam rather than translate it ‘peaceful’. In either case, the word not only means an ordinary, quiet sort of man, but also implies a complete or perfect being, one who lacks nothing in physical strength, beauty, etc. It is used with reference to someone who is sound and wholesome, morally innocent, with integrity, and ethically pure.

Clearly these two twins were very different. We could safely assume that the phrase ‘kindred spirits’ could not be applied to them. And their parents noted their differences. Unfortunately, these differences formed the basis by which their parents identified preferences for one over the other. Isaac ‘loved’ Esau simply because he was more into hunting which we assume Isaac himself enjoyed. Today this could be equated to a parent who favors one male son over another if the former has a knack for hockey or some other sport while the other one is more comfortable with writing, music, or other art. Rebekah on the other hand, the text says, ‘loved’ Jacob.

The use of the word ‘loved’ to describe the feelings of both parents to their respective preferred child is most interesting. That a parent should love their child is natural and healthy and desirable. That a parent should love one child more than the other, as the context seems to imply, is none of those. In my own mind I have tried to explain this verse in some other way, but I cannot. Isaac’s choice was based primarily on the fact that his son Esau often satisfied his hunger for venison. Rebekah on the other hand may well have made her choice based on what God had told her about the youngest child’s future. In general, though, favoritism towards one child over another is not a way to parent properly. If one feels they must make such a choice, for whatever reason, it should reflect the choice we believe to the best of our ability God would have made (although I would never purport to assume we could think in any equivalent manner with God).

I also want to distinguish between loving someone and condoning their behavior. There comes a time when a child makes decisions and/or exhibits behaviors that are not in keeping with God’s desire for his/her life. When we detect evidence of this, it is appropriate for us not to condone their actions. We should, however, make that decision not based not on what we as parents think is right, but on what the Word of God clearly and unequivocally says. This is not an area where we disagree on matters of interpretation or cultural practices, but rather where there is clear-cut sin involved. In circumstances like that, I believe it is appropriate to indicate that we oppose such behavior. I am not convinced, however, that we can ever, even under those circumstances, stop loving our child. If that were the case, God would have stopped loving many of us years ago. We still have a responsibility to make countless efforts to help them get back on the right track, and at the very least, always keep the door unlocked for them to return.

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Sunday, August 09, 2009

Esau and Jacob Genesis 25:25-26

Now the first came forth red, all over like a hairy garment; and they named him Esau. And afterward his brother came forth with his hand holding on to Esau’s heel, so his name was called Jacob; and Isaac was sixty years old when she gave birth to them.

When I come to think of it, I have not heard of two or more infants being carried by the same mother being born at exactly the same instant in time. One always has to come out of the mother’s womb first. And so it was in the case of Rebekah’s delivery of her children. One came out first and he was red, or as some versions state, ruddy. My understanding is that an infant is born red or ruddy when its blood is circulating well and is at the surface of his/her body. This seems to be a clear sign of a very robust child from day one. Rebekah’s first child was also very hairy and indeed looked like a garment or more precisely a cloak made of a fur or fine material when one considers the Hebrew translation. This boy was named Esau, a designation meaning hairy in Hebrew.

Right away he was followed by his younger brother who came out of Rebekah’s womb holding on to the heel of Esau. It was as if he was saying, “Hey, you can’t leave me in here; I’m right behind you and you can’t get away!” Isaac and Rebekah named him Jacob that is translated from the Hebrew to mean ‘heel holder’ or ‘supplanter’ according to Strong’s Bible Dictionary. A supplanter is someone who supersedes or replaces someone else. Interesting how these three things: what God predicted about the younger child, what the child was doing at birth holding on to his older brother’s heel, and his name all seem to be falling in line. How the story plays out is still to be discovered by us.

The Bible says Isaac was sixty years old when Rebekah gave birth to Esau and Jacob. We now return to our timeline (which started at creation) and insert the birth of these twins:

• 3311 Isaac, at age 40, marries Rebekah (Genesis 25:20)
• 3331 Isaac, at age 60, becomes father to Esau and Jacob (Genesis 25:26)
• 3346 Abraham died at age 175 (Genesis 25:7,8)
• 3394 The death of Ishmael (based on his birth in 3257 and now Genesis 25:17)

The timeline helps us see that grandfather Abraham lived another fifteen years after his grandsons Esau and Jacob were born. I wonder what his influence until his death was on the boys who at that time were fifteen years old. Grandparents certainly have a great opportunity to influence the lives of their grandchildren, as they stay involved with them, regardless of age differences. There was 160 years difference between Abraham and the twins.

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Saturday, August 08, 2009

Two Nations

Genesis 25:22-24: But the children struggled together within her; and she said, “If it is so, why then am I this way?” So she went to inquire of the Lord. And the Lord said to her, “Two nations are in your womb; And two peoples shall be separated from your body; And one people shall be stronger than the other; And the older shall serve the younger.” When her days to be delivered were fulfilled, behold, there were twins in her womb.

I do not know exactly why the author of Genesis used the phrase “struggled together within her” to express the physical feelings that Rebekah was having while she carried her twins. The actual Hebrew word is ratsats and it indicates that a sense of crushing was involved. Perhaps the twins were large and Rebekah small, causing her to feel each movement of one of them as ‘crushing’ against the other. In any case, the action and perhaps the pain associated with such movement over the pregnancy were sufficient to cause Rebekah to wonder why she was experiencing this conflict within her body.

Oftentimes things happen to us and we wonder why we are feeling the way we are. Many of us just keep on wondering. Some of us ask our friends while others take the next step and visit doctors and other specialists, but not Rebekah. She knew God had created her and all that was within her. She likely knew the twins were an answer to Isaac’s prayer. With those facts, Rebekah first inquires about her condition “of the Lord”. And God answers her. If we are truly seeking His answers, He does address our concerns.

God tells Rebekah that the two children in her womb represent two nations from which will come two peoples. One of them will be stronger than the other; and the older child and nation stemming from it will serve the younger child and peoples stemming from it. How does a young mother deal with such words from the Lord? Although the Bible does not tell us how Rebekah reacted, we can be sure it was with some anxiety as to what all that would look like in the years ahead. Sometimes we ask God a question and He gives us an answer that we only partly comprehend. The rest requires patience and trust, as well as, the necessary obedience.

Rebekah waited until it was time for her to deliver and sure enough, she gave birth to twins.

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